“Holistic” has become such a buzz word. But do you actually know what holistic health is?
In philosophy, the term holistic is characterized by the belief that the parts of something are intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
When it comes to health, holistic refers to the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms[i].
In holistic health, the mind, body, spirit, and emotions are integrated and inseparable.
The 3 main categories in holistic health are :
- The Mechanical Aspect of the Movement: There appears to be a linear relationship between physical activity and health status. Studies show that physical inactivity is a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases[a]. Additionally, when you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins not only interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain but also trigger a positive feeling in the body.
- The Chemical Aspect or Food: Food is information for the body. It has the ability to make us feel good or bad. Research suggests that “healthy” food choices such as eating fruits and vegetables have not only physical but also mental health benefits[b].
- The Emotional Aspect or Thoughts: Research shows that emotional distress creates susceptibility to physical illness. Exam stress for example increases susceptibility to viral infection, and work-related stress creates susceptibility to cardiovascular diseases and gastrointestinal disorders[b].
Why is Holistic Health Important?
Holistic health can be used to prevent illnesses but also to treat and possibly reverse chronic conditions. Addressing any chronic condition from a holistic health perspective can help a patient recover better.
However, despite having access to a variety of complementary healing modalities (Traditional Medicine, Chinese Medicine, Psychology, Nutritional Therapy, etc…), the vast majority of healthcare practitioners still dissect imbalances into their smallest possible components, failing to make the connection between the illness and other pillars of holistic health.
This could lead to patients spending years taking the medication without seeing any significant improvement.
This could also lead to misdiagnosis if the root cause, triggers, and contributing factors to the illness have not been identified.
Now that you understand the importance of having a holistic approach to health, how do you get started?
It can be daunting to get started when every day, you are bombarded with a new health trend. My best tip is to keep it simple. Identify 1 thing in each pillar that is feasible and that you would enjoy doing.
Consistency is the key to success because holistic health has no timeline. It is a lifestyle, not an end goal.
Now, I’d like to share with you some of my best tips – backed by science – that can support a holistic lifestyle.
- Walking in Nature – Also called Green Exercise- has been shown to immediately enhance mental well-being. A study showed that lunchtime walks in nature may provide a greater restorative effect than equivalent built walks[d]. So make it a habit to go out in nature over the weekend if you don’t have access to a park near your work.
- Consuming Fruits – Less than 10% of most Western populations consume adequate levels of whole fruits. Evidence shows that fruit fiber has a prebiotic effect – which means that it feeds the good bacteria inside the gut – and plays a role in long term weight management, improved colonic gastrointestinal health and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease[f]. Additionally, nutrients in fruits help in maintaining a healthy body. Citrus fruits, for example, contribute to cancer prevention, because they are loaded in vitamin C and other antioxidants. Studies show that vitamin C destroys cancer cells[g] so don’t refrain yourself from eating oranges, strawberries and grapes. They will make the perfect morning or afternoon snack.
- Mindfulness – Mindfulness is the human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. A study by Zhang et al. (2019) demonstrated that mindfulness meditation could improve emotional states[h]. It is not needed to sit in silence though. Mindfulness could be listening to classical music, reading a book, painting, cooking, dancing, as long as it makes you focus on the present moment.
If you are interested in a holistic lifestyle, you will have to start building new habits. Every year, about 90% of our New Year’s Resolutions fail.
It is because our goals are far too big and also because we want to change everything at once. This is why it is crucial to start small and repeat consistently.
The process of building a habit can be divided into four steps: a cue, a craving, a response, and a reward.
The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. ( James Clear, Atomic Habits)
Let’s take the following example: Every day, when you wake up, you drink a cup of coffee to feel energized.
- The cue is: YOU WAKE UP
- The craving is: YOU WANT TO FEEL ENERGIZED
- The response is: YOU DRINK YOUR CUP OF COFFEE
- And the reward is: YOU SATISFY YOUR CRAVING TO FEEL ENERGIZED, SO DRINKING COFFEE BECOMES ASSOCIATED WITH WAKING UP.
Once you know how it works, you can start putting a strategy in place to create a sustainable holistic lifestyle.
In order to create new habits, you need to make the cue visible, the craving attractive, the response easy, and the reward satisfying.
Let’s say you want to improve your fitness level and go to the gym in the morning. If we use the same example as before, when you wake up, you know you’re gonna get your cup of coffee.
One trick to increase your likelihood of going to the gym would be to leave your gym gear on your bedside table or next to your coffee machine so that it is visible and over time, your brain will associate the gym with something you enjoy doing – drinking your cup of coffee.
This way you will feel more satisfied and will be more likely to stick to your new holistic habits.
Holistic health is accessible to everyone and can benefit everyone. It is not a fancy trip to an exotic country nor is it an expensive spa day.
It is the sum of all the little things that you do consistently that contribute to your overall wellbeing. It is the best way to live your life to the fullest and prevent chronic illnesses.
e. James Clear, Atomic Habits