optimal health explained
Hello and welcome to my site. I'm going to dive straight in and firstly give you the generally held consensus view of what optimal health is. Later on there with be room to consider the scientific view of optimal health and ways to influence it, including references to well conducted studies that show associations between certain behaviours and the incidence of preferred outcomes. Associative studies do not prove cause and effect but might give some indication of what is the best path to follow to achieve optimal health.
Hopefully I can present a range of suggestions to help you on your road to optimal health.
Stephen Thomas BSc (STEM)
What is health?
Here is a very general list of what most people would include as indication that they are near to optimal health. Remember that this list is simply opinion. As you go through the site you will see well referenced articles that offer signposts to what might be the best way to achieve your health goals.
Deep and restorative sleep
Good gut health / digestion
Thick lustrous hair
Optimised hormonal balance
Lean muscle mass
Adequate bone density
If you can not tick all, or even one of those things on that list don't give up!
Reaching optimal health appears to be achievable and there are many strategies you can adopt to improve your life at any age.
The path to health
I believe that a good place to start when considering your health is examining what you are eating. What you eat will have an impact on your health. It really is that simple. Here are a few reasons why.
Take the last thing on the list above regarding strong bones. Bone density is important in many ways, one example being that it helps to reduce the incidence of fractures. In layman's terms, eating the most appropriate diet for your physiology can make a big difference.
Certain nutritional habits, such as eating animal-based protein seems to be associated with improved bone density compared to plant-based protein for example. (1)
Here are the geeky 'sciencey' conclusions from the study. " These findings, along with the intriguing observation of a negative association between vegetable protein consumption and BMD, have significant implications for osteoporosis prevention strategies and warrant further investigation in elderly cohorts."
As you commence your journey towards optimal health consider how it will be manageable for your body and your lifestyle to adapt.
For example, introducing some small changes that over time will add up and make big differences can make changing your ways easier. Many people seem to obtain 'instant success' improving their health by just reducing or eliminating sodas, sugary foods and processed-food-like products. I have not referenced this claim as it now seems common place in anecdotal evidence.
Lean muscle mass often referred to as skeletal muscle has two prime associations to optimal health;
Metabolic rate influence,
Your metabolic rate is influenced by muscle due to the nature of its thermogenic tissue (i.e., energy consuming). For the majority of people this is the largest single contributor to daily energy expenditure. It seems to be for this reason that any decline in skeletal muscle mass is associated with an increase in body fat mass.
In layman's terms this means that the more muscle you have the more energy you'll be using up, even when asleep. Muscle uses up energy just to maintain its mass. So good levels of lean muscle mass is associated with longevity and good health.
The geeky bit for those that want to know WHY this is...
"Because of its oxidative capacity (i.e., mitochondrial content) skeletal muscle is also a large site of fat oxidation, potentially playing a role in maintaining lipoprotein (cholesterol) and triglyceride homeostasis. Skeletal muscle is also, mostly by virtue of its mass, the primary site of blood glucose disposal; hence, maintaining skeletal muscle mass would also play a role in reducing risk for development of type II diabetes. Finally, the decline in maximal aerobic capacity with age, and with other muscular wasting conditions, including weight loss, has also been found to be due, to a large degree, to a decline in skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle quality." (2)
Optimal hormonal balance seems associated with better long-term health outcomes. Understanding what hormones are and what they do could help you make better decisions regarding how to maintain your health. Studies suggest that most people believe chronic stress has a deleterious effect on health. Many participants in studies already knew that stress releases cortisol and adrenaline and that those hormones can cause various responses in the body. A hormone can be defined as
Dietary factors as well as environmental influences can have impacts on the hormonal balance with the physiology of the human body. Various studies for different conditions have looked at lowering carbohydrate intake as a tool for better regulation of hormones, many with promising results. "Other potential benefits of carbohydrate restriction may include fat mobilisation and oxidation and reductions in the TG/HDL ratio, a marker of insulin resistance" (3)
restorative sleep and time restricted feeding
Sometimes optimising health is not just about what you eat, it can also be about WHEN you eat.
Fasting is basically not eating.
When you are asleep you are fasting.
The time between getting up and eating and when you finish eating for the day is called your 'eating window.' In recent times there has been a lot of studies on what is called 'time-restricted-feeding.' One study concluded, "We detected improved sleep, prevention of body weight gain, and deceleration of cardiac ageing under TRF, even when caloric intake and activity were unchanged." (4)
Basically if you start to eat at midday and finish by 5pm then your eating window is just 5 hours. Time restricted feeding "prevents excessive body weight gain, improves sleep, and attenuates age- and diet-induced deterioration in cardiac performance" (5)