optimal health

Note: An updated and expanded version of this post is available here.

A few posts ago, I wrote about the “one bite at a time concept” from my previous website tagline. Today, so let’s turn our attention to the phrase “optimal health” that was also in my tagline. What is optimal health, exactly?

First, let’s get official. In the preamble to its constitution, the World Health Organization says: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

I love that definition, largely because it includes mental and social well-being. However, it can be hard for some people to get to a place of “complete physical, mental and social well-being.” To my mind, optimal health is personal. It depends on where you’ve been, healthwise, and where you are today. For example, optimal health for a college athlete is going to look very different than it is for a 60-something woman with diabetes and high blood pressure. That said, two things are universal:

Optimal health is about being as healthy as only you can be when adopting behaviors and forming habits that are sustainable

Optimal health is helped by eating nutritiously and moving your body regularly in ways that are appropriate for your fitness level, but there are many other facets to health.

So how can you reach optimal health if you…

…have a chronic health condition? There’s no cure for most chronic health conditions. Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and asthma are a few examples. That doesn’t mean you can’t manage these conditions, and managing them reduces your risk of serious complications. Once the horse is out of the barn, so to speak, and it’s too late for prevention, a managed condition puts you in a much better health position than unmanaged.

…are at high risk of developing a chronic health condition? Are your health habits not as strong as they could be? Is your doctor warning you that, your blood sugar, or maybe your blood pressure, is a little too high? Believe it or not, you are in a powerful position. If you change your habits now, odds are good that you can move yourself into a healthier place—perhaps without needing medication. An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

…have so-so health habits, but seem to be “getting by”? As years of poor nutrition, lack of activity, chronic stress and so-so sleep habits stack up, you are allowing the kind of slow, steady damage to your body that sets the stage for disease. Don’t wait until you receive news you don’t want to hear from your doctor. Make changes now that will help you feel better and more energetic every day while protecting your future health.

…currently enjoy “good health” and have health-supporting habits? Don’t rest on your laurels, and watch out for signs you’re in a rut. Ask yourself if your fitness routine is well-rounded — would adding strength training, stretching or balance exercises enhance your well-being? Mix up your meals by playing with new-to-you whole grains, maybe try more meatless meals, or consider experimenting with cooking some dishes from different cultures.

The bottom line

Nutrition and exercise plays a role in many, many, many health conditions, especially the ones we all really want to avoid like heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Eating a not-very-nutritious diet and spending a lot of time being sedentary may not seem to matter right now, but it might eventually (part of this depends on genetics). Even if you “get away” with unhealthy habits, you probably don’t feel your best every day (which you may not even notice, because it’s become your “normal”). Don’t be that person! Self-care isn’t all about bubble baths — it’s about taking care of yourself in fundamental ways, for yourself and for the people who care about you.

Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, is a Pacific Northwest-based registered dietitian nutritionist, freelance writer, intuitive eating counselor, author, and speaker. Her superpowers include busting nutrition myths and empowering women to feel better in their bodies and make food choices that support pleasure, nutrition and health. This post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized nutrition or medical advice.

Seeking 1-on-1 nutrition counseling? Carrie offers a 6-month Food & Body program (intuitive eating, body image, mindfulness, self-compassion) and a 4-month IBS management program (low-FODMAP diet coaching with an emphasis on increasing food freedom). Visit the links to learn more and book a free intro call to see if the program is a good fit, and if we’re a good fit!