Tag Archives: health and fitness

Breath book cover

The four pillars of health: breath

The final installment of this series has arrived! Inspired by books and my own personal curiosity and quest for knowledge/wisdom, I have enjoyed sharing what’s I’ve learned.

Once again, the four posts in the series are:

Recently, I started using a new app geared towards healthy eating and weight loss. In their course curriculum, they have repeatedly mentioned the four pillars of health. Interestingly, the first three on their list are identical to mine. The difference comes in on the last one, where I have chosen breath; they put stress/stress management.

I don’t disagree with them that stress management is a key component of a healthy lifestyle. However, I’m not convinced it ranks higher than breathing.

All my life, I have suffered from allergies and sinus problems. When I was around 10, I had repeated sinus infections, bronchitis and was at risk for needing sinus surgery. At that time, allergy medicine, HEPA filters, and reduced exposure to my allergens (dogs, cats, dust, dust mites) seemed to be enough to clear it up.

As an adult, I have had frequent colds, severe congestion, coughs that last for 6-8 weeks, dry eyes, and postnasal drip. These symptoms seemed to be seasonal and highly likely to be caused by a cold or virus. Until recently, I rarely sought medical care, except for a few times for the extended cough.

Over the last few years, I have been talking to my doctors about my sinus issues and postnasal drip. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a doctor that’s really invested in helping me find a solution. Doctors only want to treat my symptoms, and if whatever they give me works, at least short-term, then they consider it resolved.

I was ok with this until the pandemic. Working from home since March of last year, about 20 months, I really don’t go out in public and see only a handful of people. As far as I can tell, I have not had a cold or any viruses during this time. However, I have had persistent postnasal drip. It can be very mild some days, and other days I can barely talk because my throat hurts so much.

After reading Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor, and seeing my mom also struggle with sinus issues, I have gone on a quest for answers. I don’t have them all yet, I will post back when I know more.

So, all of this has led to my inclusion of breath as the fourth pillar of health.

Now, it seems pretty obvious to me everyone should see why breath and breathing is important. Humans can live days without food or water or sleep. And exercise is (almost) entirely optional! However, humans will die within minutes if they don’t breathe.

A good approximation is the rule of threes: three minutes for air/breathing, three days for water, and three weeks for food.


Of course, breathing is something we do all the time. It’s routine, it’s subconscious. But are we doing it right?

“We assume, at our peril, that breathing is a passive action, just something that we do: breathe, live; stop breathing, die. But breathing is not binary. And the more I immersed myself in this subject, the more personally invested I felt about sharing this basic truth.”

Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor

As it turns out, how you breath can have a huge impact on health. In Breath, James Nestor does an experiment where he breathes only through his mouth for 10 days. They recorded significant increases in his blood pressure, pulse, as well as increases in snoring, and sleep apnea over the course of the experiment. After removing the nasal plugs and returning to normal breathing with an emphasis on nose breathing, all these vitals quickly improved.

For anyone who suffers from allergies, snoring, sleep apnea, or any breathing affliction, I highly recommend reading Breath. In it, you’ll find a lot of scientific research on breathing, and well as an entire section on breathing techniques.

As I work with my doctors to figure out breathing issues, I will also be taking a closer look at the breathing techniques from the book, and adding those into my wellness routine.

What do you think? Does breath warrant the place I’ve given it as the fourth pillar of health? Were you expecting something else?

Green smoothies!

I’m trying (again) to cultivate a habit of a healthy breakfast. This week, I’ve been making a modified version of Reese’s green smoothie.

I’m using only 1 head of romaine, and I swapped the spinach for kale, plus peanut butter, celery, and protein powder. Next batch, I am going to cut back on the lemon as the acidity is not sitting well in the morning.

The four pillars of health: sleep

It’s taken me longer than expected to get to this one. Sorry for the delay. I promise pillar four won’t be as far away.

As a reminder, there are four pillars in this series of posts:

There is overwhelming evidence that proper sleep is just as important, if not more than almost anything else when it comes to health.

Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day—Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker

Did you know there’s a fatal type of insomnia? What about a 24% increase in reported heart attacks in the US, every year on Monday after the 1-hour change of the clocks for Daylight Saving Time (caused by the loss of that 1 hour of sleep)? There are also more car accidents at this time as well.

Operating on less than five hours of sleep, your risk of a car crash increases threefold. Get behind the wheel of a car when having slept just four hours or less the night before and you are 11.5 times more likely to be involved in a car accident

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker

Numerous data points and studies indicate the importance of sleep. For example, there is a significant decrease in the effectiveness of vaccines for people averaging less than 6 hours of sleep per night (most notably the week before the vaccine) compared to those getting seven or more. So I’ll be making sure I get at least seven hours of sleep per night for a week before getting my flu shot this year!

Sleep, along with exercise, affects mood, cognition, and our basic abilities to function. Chronic sleep deprivation (less than seven hours per night) results in:

  • Impaired memory
  • Lack of alertness
  • Increased risk of heart attack, stroke, seizures, mortality
  • High blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Increased appetite leading to weight gain
  • And many other not so great things…

… studies have confirmed that poor sleep is one of the most underappreciated
factors contributing to cognitive and medical ill health in the elderly, including issues of diabetes, depression, chronic pain, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker

Also, according to this study, after losing just one hour of sleep, it takes your body four days to recover. And the effects of too little or poor sleep accumulate over time.

Ten days of six hours of sleep a night was all it took to become as impaired in performance as going without sleep for twenty-four hours straight.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker

If all of this hasn’t convinced you, perhaps the correlation between sleep and income might be more persuasive?

Those who sleep more earn more money, on average, as economists Matthew Gibson and Jeffrey Shrader discovered when analyzing workers and their pay across the United States.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker

I used to be very guilty of not sleeping enough. I’m inclined to be up later in the evening, and I struggle to get to bed or sleep before 11 pm. Often, it’s closer to midnight or 1 am. This doesn’t work well when you need to be up (and alert and dressed, etc.) for meetings at 7 am. Now that I don’t have meetings before 8 am, this has become easier, and I’ve been more consistent with my sleep. I am also trying to break my habit of staying up extra late on the weekends and sleeping in, which leads to me staying up later during the week.

If you’re interested in more about sleep and why it’s so important, I highly recommend reading Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams.

The four pillars of health: food

We’ve been sitting at home for over a year now, and I know many feel like they haven’t been living a healthy lifestyle during quarantine. With a global pandemic, and many people forced into quarantine, daily routines have been disrupted, gyms have been closed, and eating habits have changed.

So what is a healthy lifestyle? I like to think of this as the four pillars of health, almost like supports that hold up a building. The first one is food. You can probably guess the second, but the final two might surprise some – I’ll talk about all these in future posts, so look for those coming soon!

I chose to name the first pillar food rather than diet for several reasons. First off, the word diet has multiple meanings. I want to discuss, in the most general sense, what healthy foods and healthy eating habits look like. If I say diet, many people will initially think about methods for losing (or gaining!) weight such as macro or calorie counting, calorie limitations, and so forth. This is not my focus.

Here in the US, the joke is our diet is SAD – standard American diet. This is the fast food, high fat, high carb/sugar, too large portions, and almost entirely processed foods diet that has become mainstream. This is not healthy eating.

So what does healthy eating look like? First off, I don’t think there’s one specific magic diet and I don’t think the same things work for everyone for weight control or weight loss. What I want to talk about instead is general healthy eating.

Plants. Ok, yes, I’m a vegetarian. Still! Everyone should be eating plants, specifically vegetables, and fruits. There’s a saying I’ve heard “eat the rainbow”. This is great advice. Different colored fruits and veggies have different benefits, mainly in the form of vitamins and minerals.

carrot salad
carrot salad with tofu, peanuts, mint, and bean sprouts

I’m a firm believer that sugar, specifically processed or refined sugar, is the worse thing for us, health-wise. There’s a lot of evidence it causes obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other “diseases of western civilization.” I will admit that I am a little teeny teeny tiny bit addicted to high sugar content drinks. I am REALLY trying to kick this habit, because I feel this the number one thing that I personally could do to be healthier. (If you’re interested in more on this topic please go read this book, it might change your life!)

So…eat lots of plants of various colors, and avoid refined or added sugars. I could go on to say eat low carb, or keto, or do intermittent fasting, but those don’t work for everyone, they aren’t necessary for healthy eating, and I’m sticking with the pillars, the basics, for this post.

Also, I’d like to add that I don’t think there’s anything that you should never, ever, eat. (Well maybe not cyanide, or dog poop, or … you get what I mean…). Honestly, I think moderation is everything, but also that moderation doesn’t work for everyone. So if you love ice cream, HAVE ICE CREAM. Just don’t eat a gallon of it at a time, every day. But if having a little bit of ice cream, occasionally is hard for you, if you’re like me and you’ll go nuts having it in the house, then maybe being more restrictive is better. I’m not really a fan of cheat days, because I feel often that’s just an excuse to overindulge and eat really poorly. Rather than shoveling a huge amount of unhealthy food into your mouth on a cheat day, why not allow yourself small amounts of these things when you want them? Again moderation is not for everyone, however, if it works, you may find that you actually eat healthier food in general, overall with this approach.

Drop a comment if you have questions or thoughts on what I’ve said. Any guesses on what the other 3 pillars are?