Holistic health is a term that’s becoming used more popular, but what exactly does it mean? According to the Mirriam-Webster Medical Dictionary, the definition of holistic health is:
“relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis of, treatment of, or dissection into parts holistic medicine attempts to treat both the mind and the body holistic ecology views humans and the environment as a single system”
Traditionally, in the world of health and fitness, we looked at things in an individual way. If you had a problem with your fitness, we encouraged you to move more (and often at high intensity). If you had an issue with digestion, it must be down to what you’re eating. If you have an issue with body composition, it must be down to eating too much fat. As our philosophies have evolved, we’ve become much more aware of just how interlinked all the different aspects of health are. It is our belief that you can’t look at overall health, fitness and wellbeing without taking into account the body and mind as a whole; everything is connected. Let me explain.
Sleep is the force multiplier
Sleep is the force multiplier, in that it’s the one thing that underpins good holistic health. Not only is sleep anabolic, i.e. it helps us to grow and repair our cells, muscles, brain cells and strengthens the immune system, but it also profoundly influences the immune system, the enteric nervous system (the gut) as well as the endocrine system (our hormones). We are now starting to learn much more about the links between sleep and our gut (nick-named our second brain but also referred to as the microbiome), but it seems clear that the two are heavily linked.
Mental health and sleep
Sleep is also strongly connected to mental health – we all know how we feel if we haven’t had enough sleep or if we are starved of quality sleep for several days or even weeks at a time. It’s vital to having good mental health that we get the right amount of sleep and that the quality of that sleep is good. (Good means being comprised of a decent amount of REM sleep, deep sleep and light sleep and the right number of sleep cycles).
Mental health can also be influenced by what we eat, and when we eat. And because the foods we eat affect the microbiome and our gut bacteria, this also affects our mental health. For example, foods or supplements that contain fish oils, vitamins B1, folate, zinc, vitamin D3 and amino acids like tryptophan are known to be very beneficial for mental health.
Food and fitness
What we eat and our sleep patterns will also affect our fitness levels. It’s tough to maintain a consistent fitness regime, or have the energy to move, if you’re very tired or eating the wrong foods. If you’re trying to gain muscle mass, what you eat and how much you eat is crucial. Physical fitness is so much more than just exercise, and fitness is so much more than just cardiovascular and strength training.
Our body composition is dictated by sleep, fitness, the health of our digestive system, the amount of energy we have and by the state of our mental health. If you’re very stressed and struggling to lose body fat, it might be that cortisol is suppressed fat oxidation (this can happen is your cortisol (stress) levels are elevated for a prolonged time). When you’re stressed, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (responsible for our fight/flight reactions) shuts down the digestive system to divert blood to where it thinks it’s needed (the muscles). Your executive functions in the brain also shut down, and the survival part of the brain switches on – this can take up to 90 minutes to shut down again hence why stressful situations can make you crave carbohydrates as a quick-and-easy form of glucose.
Energy comes in many guises
If sleep is the force multiplier, then energy is its trusted lieutenant. A lack of energy is one of the biggest problems I see today, especially in the working world. Energy is much more than the conversion of adeno-triphosphate (ATP) – we can get energy from many sources apart from food. You can energise your mind and body by the people you spend time with; by altering your physiology through stretching and meditation; movement – exercise and walking in nature; recovery protocols like massage, and sunlight. There are many ways we can energise ourselves but if I had to give you one tip, it’s this: move your body.
The Six Signals®
Bodyshot have identified six main areas where we see clients having issues. We call these areas the Six Signals® because they are strong indicators of how healthy you are:
A client will have a red flag going up in one or more of these areas – usually two or three.
- An example of a sleep signal is waking early and being unable to go to sleep.
- An example of a mental health signal is anxiety, chronic stress or burnout.
- An example of an energy signal is fluctuating energy levels or being unable to energise yourself for certain activities or when at home with your family.
- An example of a body composition signal is rapid weight gain or difficulties absorbing nutrients from food.
- An example of a digestion signal is acid reflux or loose stools.
- An example of a fitness signal is sudden loss of fitness, mobility issues or unexplained aches and pains.
If you’re reading this, you’re are probably in a reasonably senior position, running your own business or have a busy life running the home and juggling other responsibilities. Either way, you’re busy. The convergent pressures of work and family life have probably meant that the time you did have to spend on health and fitness has disappeared. Why not talk to us and see how we can help.
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Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest in our services and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.