• Megan Schall

The Foundations of Health

So here’s a random question for you: do you remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from whatever Psych 101 course you may have taken at some point?

Yes? No? Maybe sort of?

Just in case, here is the basic summary: It’s a pyramid model of a human beings needs, with our basic physiological needs at the bottom (food, water) and the very top of the pyramid being self-actualization and fulfilling one’s full potential (whoa). The idea being that unless the base levels of the pyramid are satisfied, you won’t be able to achieve the levels above it. So without food and water, good luck with accomplishing self-actualization.

A similar model exists for your health and wellness needs, and while it may not be quite as exciting as self-actualization, when it comes to your overall health it is quite important nonetheless. It looks like this:

Notice something interesting about this pyramid? Exercise is at the very top, the smallest piece of the puzzle, and thus the ‘least’ important or impactful when it comes to your health goals. Obviously, exercise is awesome and has a ton of health benefits, so this is certainly not to say that you should forget about your workouts and focus only on sleep and nutrition (I would be a bad personal trainer if I were pushing that philosophy!).

But it does highlight the idea that if your sleep and/or nutrition practices are lacking, exercise is only going to get you so far in terms of helping you achieve health and wellness. And these three components are synergistic – is your sleep is lacking, it will impact your food choices and your ability to exercise (and recover from exercise). If your nutrition habits are so-so, your exercise and sleep will be affected. And if you’re not getting any exercise, your sleep and nutrition are likely to suffer as well.

Imagine you’re building a house: if you start with an unstable foundation, the rest of the house isn’t going to be very functional or strong no matter how great the materials or building plan. The same is true for us humans; without the foundation of proper sleep and eating habits, our long-term health goals will be compromised, even if our exercise routine is spot on.

It’s not uncommon to feel that if you aren’t seeing the results you want from your workouts that you just have to work out harder. But oftentimes, simply getting more sleep and fueling yourself a little better can work wonders. And improving your sleep and nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated, there are many simple strategies you can implement right now to make things a little bit better. (Although, just because these are simple ways to improve sleep and nutrition doesn’t necessarily mean they are easy. If you’d like help implementing changes, let me know!)

When it comes to sleep:

- Aim for at least 7 hours of sleep per night

- Have a consistent sleep and wake time as much as possible

- Create a sleep routine that helps you wind down before bed (eg: avoiding screens, doing relaxing activities, dimming lights)

- Keep your bedroom cool and very dark (blackout shades or an eye mask can be game changers!)

- Avoid caffeine in the afternoon (fun fact: caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours, so if you drink a cup of coffee at 4pm, half of that caffeine is still in your system at 9pm. And depending on your ability to metabolize caffeine, it could take even longer! Even if it doesn’t affect your ability to fall asleep, it does still affect the quality of your sleep...)

When it comes to nutrition:

- Eat enough protein (~1-2 palm sized servings per meal)

- Eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day (~2-3 handfuls at each meal)

- Stay hydrated (one easy way to tell if you’re hydrated: keep an eye on the color of your urine, it should be pale yellow)

- Enjoy your food, eat slowly, and chew well!

If your sleep is solid and your nutrition habits are supporting your needs but you’re still not meeting your health or fitness goals, then it may make sense to home in on the exercise portion of this pyramid and see what adjustments can move you in the right direction.

But if you feel your sleep or food choices are not as dialed in as you’d like, taking some small steps to improve those areas can provide a huge boost for your overall health and wellness, and may even be the missing link between you and your long-term health aspirations!

I could go on and on about sleep (and probably will in future posts), but for more ideas on improving your sleep and how it impacts health, check out these articles:

Onward and upward, and sweet dreams!

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