Holistic Health: Why a Whole-Body Approach to Health Matters
Our bodies are complex systems, yet we often expect optimal health results from changing only one thing in our lives. Staying healthy requires juggling a number of lifestyle habits and monitoring ourselves to keep everything in balance. Read on to learn how your body’s systems interact to keep you healthy, the dynamic nature of health and well-being, and how to use a holistic approach to support your health.
How the Body’s Systems Interact
According to current research, a man weighing 154 lbs (70 kg) is made up of approximately 30 trillion human cells and an additional 38 trillion microbial cells.1
Each cell has its own function, but specialized cells can group together to create tissues and organs. Even when cells become organs, they do not work entirely alone. Instead, our organs form organ systems.
We have 11 organ systems to serve important roles in our bodies. These systems include our endocrine system, digestive system, nervous system, reproductive system, and circulatory system.2
Together these organ systems help us achieve homeostasis, a dynamic process of maintaining equilibrium while adjusting to a changing environment. To achieve homeostasis, our bodies must maintain balances of oxygen and carbon dioxide, various nutrients, waste products, body temperature, blood pressure, glucose levels, pH levels, and communication molecules.3
Exploring The Dynamic Nature of Health
Health is not a finish line that you can cross or something that you can definitively achieve at the end of the day. The state of our health is dynamic, meaning that it is constantly changing due to our environment, personal lifestyles, social well-being, and economics.6
Because there are so many factors that impact health, it is important to look at our health holistically - in a way that considers the interdependent functioning of our body’s systems and our external lives.
When one organ is not functioning optimally or an external need is not met, it can impact the entire body. Our biology is one complete system and thus requires a system’s biology approach treating the entire body as a whole and not just separate systems that don’t interact.
For example, experiencing chronic mental or physical stress can worsen memory, decrease cognitive function, decrease immune function, disrupt hormonal balance, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and negatively affect the digestive system.7
Nutritional intake is another dynamic factor of health. Nutrient deficiencies can arise from food insecurity, a lack of knowledge concerning healthy food, increased nutrient needs due to our lifestyles, chronic conditions, or genetic causes.
When our nutrient needs aren’t met, not only can it negatively impact our body’s normal functioning, it can affect our mental well-being. Research finds that getting certain nutrients from a balanced diet can reduce inflammation in the brain, support normal sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and help brain function.8,9
Financial stability is another factor that impacts health. Poverty increases health disparities by limiting access to healthy foods, increasing pollution exposure, increasing stress, and increasing the overall risk of illness.10
How to Approach Your Health in a Holistic Manner
Being healthy involves putting together many moving pieces. Some social determinants of health require large-scale interventions on existing infrastructure to support communities, but there are some things that can be done on an individual level.11
Here are some everyday actions you can do to take care of yourself using a holistic approach:
Nutrition: Eat a varied diet of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins to support your health. Remember to hydrate regularly and support gut health by eating fermented foods containing probiotics and healthy fibers.
Physical Activity: Engage in 150 minutes of movement or exercise that includes aerobic and strength training, flexibility, and balance. Find movement that is also joyful, which can contribute to mental wellness and stimulation.
Mental Wellness: Learn how to cope with stress in a healthy manner by working on mindfulness, having a spiritual practice, or engaging in relaxing activities such as journaling or meditation, or doing yoga.
Mental Stimulation: Give your brain a workout daily! Try doing puzzles, reading fiction and nonfiction books, or starting new hobbies like crafting or learning an instrument or language.
Lifestyle: Work on healthy habits like smoking cessation, getting six to eight hours of sleep nightly, regular oral care, and getting regular health checkups.
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