These Are the Only 3 Things You Really Need to Do to Stay Healthy
The seemingly never-ending optimisation of self can be overwhelming. Even if you're lucky enough to be generally healthy, it sometimes feels like you should be doing more. Doing better.
It can be easy to get caught up in obscure wellness techniques, but if you are lucky enough to already be in good health there are really only three things you really need to do to stay that way. According to Sydney-based family doctor Sam Saling, the secret to maintaining good health is simple:
"The best way to stay healthy and avoid getting sick," she says, "is to live a well-rounded life."
From Western medicine to the more holistic approach central to many Eastern philosophies, this boils down to three things: good sleep, good food and a good amount of vitamin D.
But if it's so simple to stay healthy, why can it feel so challenging?
"Living a well-rounded life is simple in theory, but it can sometimes mean making hard decisions, such as prioritising self-care over other tasks," says Dr Sam. "But lowering your stress levels is essential for your mental, physical, and emotional health."
Because of the global pandemic and the increase in time spent at home with time for self-reflection, Dr Sam says that many people have become more self-aware in regards to their health.
"I am seeing greater numbers of people wanting investigations to look into causes of poor health, immune system functioning being one of their concerns among many," she says. "Holistically, we know that stress can have an effect on all body systems, so it can be effective to get back to basics and focus on your sleep, your diet and your vitamin D intake."
Keep reading to discover the three things you need to do to stay healthy in 2020 and beyond.
1. Sleep well
"Sleep is fundamental for our immune system, and provides restorative time for our body to rest and heal," says Dr Sam.
It's true—getting roughly eight hours of sleep at night can go a long way to supporting your overall health and wellbeing, and keep infection and illness at bay.
"Poor sleep hygiene is one of the worst things you can do for your general health. You're setting yourself up to fail! I see fatigue so commonly, often due to bad sleep hygiene, with excessive screen time the driving factor. This leads to people being run down and sick. Practising good sleep hygiene is the best way to boost your health."
2. Eat well
Nourishing, nutrient-rich food is vital to a well-rounded life. It's all about diversity, and plenty of fruits and vegetables—as much as you want, for the most part, according to Dr Sam.
"A diet rich in vitamins and minerals, including lots of fruit and vegetables, is essential to support a healthy immune system," she says. "Animal proteins are also rich in zinc, which is excellent for immune cell functioning. Fresh, frozen, organic, supermarket bought—it's all good for you. High in vitamins, nutrients, and fibre, which are all important for our health."
3. Get some sun
"Studies have shown that vitamin D is associated with healthy immune cells," Dr Sam says. "We get our vitamin D from sunlight, and it is advised that ten minutes of sun exposure is enough to maintain adequate levels, sometimes more in winter months."
"This does not mean everyone needs to have vitamin D testing," she continues. "One way to support your vitamin D levels is to ensure regular sun exposure (with sun safe slip/slop/slap precautions of course!). Some people may require vitamin D supplements, but it is best to speak to your GP about this first."
When it comes to relying on supplements, Dr Sam says many of the companies who manufacture the products promise health benefits beyond what you can get from a well-rounded lifestyle.
"I think the boom in the supplement industry is a big detriment to our health," she explains, "as people rely on pills and powders for a quick fix rather than the often harder process of preparing healthy meals, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol and drugs, and getting eight hours of sleep. What people don't realise is that we excrete most of these excess substances rather than absorb them. So they're useless the majority of the time."
"Generally, following the principles of getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and regular exercise and sunlight is recommended for all people of all ages. Vitamin D levels can fall particularly low in people who have minimal skin exposure to sunlight. For example, in some religious groups, women wear full body coverings and these women should be tested for low vitamin D levels for a variety of reasons. Other disorders can also affect immunity simply because they affect absorption of nutrients maintaining your wellbeing, such as undiagnosed coeliac disease."
Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition. This is general advice only.
For more ideas on how to support your immune health with food, check out our Ask a Dietitian series.