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Pillars of Health: Let’s Start with the Basics

Updated: Sep 16, 2022

August 2022

Angie Agrawal Holstein, MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist

Physical Exercise

Nutrition (including hydration)


Social Connectedness.

The key is to pay equal attention to each pillar. Ignoring one of the pillars can affect our ability to support the others; thus affecting our overall well being and the functioning of the brain and body.

Just like a house there are certain foundational elements required to keep the house in safe and working order. Similarly for humans, these foundational pillars are the first place to start to assess when you notice changes in your overall wellness. In addition to being reactive, let’s consider the ways we proactively build healthy habits for preventative medicine and disease management.

The WHO Regional Office for Europe released a publication in 2013 entitled “Health Literacy” as part of the “Solid Facts” series which states: “Ideally, a health literate individual is able to seek and assess the health information required: to understand and carry out instructions for self-care, to plan and achieve the lifestyle adjustments required for improving their health; to make informed positive health-decisions; to know how and when to access health care when necessary; and to share health-promoting activities with others and address health issues in the community and society”.

Physical Exercise

Inactivity has been identified by the (WHO) as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality causing an estimated 3.2 million deaths globally. Approximately 6% of these deaths are directly related to physical inactivity. Globally, around 31% of adults aged 15 and over were insufficiently active in 2008 (men 28% and women 34%) (WHO).

Thirty to sixty minutes of moderate to intense exercise, 5-7 days per week is recommended. Exercise such as walking, sports, cycling, aerobic, dancing, yoga etc.


  • Improve your memory and brain function (all age groups).

  • Protect against many chronic diseases.

  • Aid in weight management.

  • Lower blood pressure and improve heart health.

  • Improve your quality of sleep.

  • Reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and depression.


The food you eat is the basis for your long term health. That includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, protein, nuts and healthy oils. Poor nutrition and overeating have been linked to causing diabetes (genetically a risk factor for South Asians), obesity, cardiovascular disease, forms of cancer and other non - communicable diseases.

It is also understood that mood and eating habits are deeply connected. Poor nutrition contributes to anxiety, depression, negative thinking and overall stress in the brain and body.


  • Achieve energy balance and a healthy weight

  • Increase fruits and vegetables, and legumes, whole grains and nuts

  • Limit the intake of simple sugars

  • Limit salt (sodium) consumption from all sources and ensure that the majority of salt consumed is iodized

  • Drink 2 liters of still water a day for cellular health and brain functioning.


Often we put our focus towards eating and time for exercise while disregarding the need for good sleep. In the mindset of today’s society, we often prioritize accomplishments and glamourize stress and lack of sleep as our commitment to success.

Good sleep is measured by completing four REM cycles per night in order for the brain and body to fully restore and process information. The long term effects of sleep disruptions include impaired glucose tolerance, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, hypertension and increases in anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Recommendations for Good Sleep Hygiene:

  • Develop and stick to a schedule. Generally going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time in the morning….even on the weekends.

  • Stay away from caffeinated drinks, heavy meals and high amounts of sugar and alcohol before bedtime.

  • Use your bed for only sleeping, reading and meditating.

  • Create a soothing sleep environment so your body can settle into calmness.

  • Create bedtime rituals such as quiet music, dimming lights, non caffeinated tea or reading.

  • Avoid screens; the blue light from the screens blocks melatonin which is the hormone that you need to make you sleepy.

  • Don’t keep lying there if you can’t sleep. Get up after 30 minutes and try a calming activity in another room, reading and trying again with perhaps a sleep meditation to aid with settling.

Social Connectedness

Referred by WHO as social health, this by definition is a person’s ability to interact with others and develop and maintain satisfying interpersonal relationships. That’s not to say that we need to be with others at all times. Loneliness and solitude are both parts of human existence. Time with self is important for introspection, reflection, self awareness and growth. Loneliness once in a while is also normal and needed as a time for existential reflection.

Socially healthy people tend to have:

  • A sharper memory

  • Recover faster from illnesses

  • Amore positive and flexible mindset

  • A stronger immune system

Recommendations to Improve Social Health:

  • Develop kindness towards other and to yourself

  • Maintain your self esteem; it’s normal for it to fluctuate throughout life.

  • Prioritize quality of connections versus quantity

  • Manage stress

  • Have good boundaries with others

  • Eliminate the people from your life that are toxic and negative

  • Find people with similar interests through direct conversation or technology

  • Smile and engage people as they pass by; smiles are contagious

Maintaining and caring for the four pillars of health is essential for overall well being and a rich and fulfilling life. When they are out of balance we can expect mental and emotional distress. Remember that it is not possible to maintain habits perfectly. Expect setbacks and be compassionate with yourself as you get back on track. If you need support in any area of health, seek out professional help from your doctor, health coach, nutritionist, naturopath or therapist. You don’t have to do it alone.

Angie Agrawal Holstein, MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist

Creating change can feel overwhelming, but through supportive, non-judgmental dialogue, you can begin to better cope with the feelings, thoughts and behaviour patterns associated with your life's challenges.

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