The Six Pillars of Personal Health

We all have that friend or acquaintance whose laser focus on diet and exercise keeps her body in seemingly perfect shape. She might preach healthy living, but when you get to know her, you realize there are some major issues in her personal life, or maybe she is questioning her purpose in life, or has a poor connection with her community. She might be paying an arm and a leg at fancy private facilities to achieve her fitness and other health or wellness goals. But sadly, she is probably not getting the total wellness support that she needs.

Complete, sustainable health is so much more than the size of your waistband or the number on your scale. Health is an approach to life; a mindset and a lifestyle. It’s about being good to your body, mind and spirit, and taking care of all the parts of yourself lovingly and responsibly, as you would your own children.

Balanced, complete personal health cannot be limited to one or two aspects of your life. In our opinion, there are six pillars of ideal health, including physical activity, nutrition, mindfulness, connection with others, life intentions, and medical health. Let’s look at each in detail.

Get Active for Good Health

Our bodies need to move. End of story. When we neglect our need for physical activity, we become increasingly sluggish and moody. Our joints begin to hurt. We lose energy, and our minds dull. Most important, inactivity can lead to a long list of chronic conditions and diseases, such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, stroke and osteoarthritis. A healthy, active lifestyle doesn’t have to mean training for triathlons or becoming an elite athlete. What it does mean is making exercise part of your daily life; whether it’s walking, running, weight training or dancing!

Nourish Your Body

Nutrition doesn’t mean broccoli. Or rather, it doesn’t mean only broccoli. A healthy, nourishing diet has nothing to do with deprivation. On the contrary, it has to do with feeding your body a wide range of delicious, healthful foods that give your body and mind the nutrients they need to function at their best, leaving you energized, happier and, yes, looking better. Sure, you can still have dessert (but not every day). Yes, you can still indulge in the foods you love, like that chocolate you just can’t live without. Know which nutrients your body needs on a daily basis, and learn how to eat foods you love that will boost your energy and prolong your life. And feel amazing.

Be Mindful

The simplest definition of mindfulness is living in the moment. But does that really affect your health? The answer is that it absolutely does. Mindfulness, meditation and learning to “live in the moment” have been proven to lead to a greater sense of well-being and perceived health. Studies show that mindfulness can very effectively help counteract rumination and worry, which contribute to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Mindfulness can also help alleviate stress, relieve pain, and assist in the treatment of addiction. Your emotional existence is an important factor in your medical health and overall wellness. Mindfulness is one of the keys to emotional health.

Connect to Your Community

Fostering close, intimate connections with friends, family and your community is an important part of your health and wellbeing. People who feel valued and accepted by their communities are more likely to be healthy. Studies indicate that stronger relationships make us less likely to suffer from poor health, and more willing to engage and take action in our communities. A growing body of research shows us that “social capital” – relationships with friends, acquaintances and community – has important implications for good health. According to a Stats Canada study, people who felt very strongly connected to their local community had nearly twice the odds of reporting excellent or very good health. Your friends, family and community are a very important part of your life – and your health.

Set Intentions

Intentional living is a concept that has come to the western world largely through yoga practice. The concept of “intention” comes from a Sanskrit term meaning “rule or commitment we make to support our highest truth.” Rather than the more punitive goal-setting (like the 10 pounds we vow to lose every January), which often focuses on negativity or failure, setting intentions helps us let go of the negative and focus on what makes us truly happy. Intentional living has been proven more effective than the classic goal setting when it comes to improving overall health. Setting intentions can also help you find purpose, whether you intend to read more books, become more of a global citizen through volunteer work, find a fulfilling career, or have quality time with your children.  

Focus on Prevention

Medical health is of course still the crux of every health program – meaning physical exams, tests and check-ups. But too often, we think of “going to the doctor” as a last resort when we are already ill. Preventative health is the key to long-term wellness; and it starts before illness has a chance to take hold. Preventative health means living a healthy lifestyle, supported by your family doctor and allied health care professionals. It means taking ownership of your health, having access to evidence-based resources you can trust, and following a personalized plan that takes into account your age, gender, family history, and health concerns.

And that is the Zili mission. Our endeavour is to provide access for all to healthy lifestyle initiatives and personalized health plan reviews from family doctors and other allied health care professionals, working synergistically to benefit the individual. In doing so, we can improve lives and give back to our communities, both locally and around the world. 

A Vision for Preventative Health

In this time of turmoil south of the border and around the world, we are reminded of the importance of our Canadian health care system. As a country, we take pride in our socialized medicine that provides adequate healthcare for all – but no system is perfect. Perhaps the most important area in which patients need further support is in preventative health planning.

The Medical Quarterback

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in ten years of practicing family medicine, it’s that if you want to take control of your health, it is essential that you have a quarterback to guide you. Just as you might hire a personal trainer to keep you accountable to exercise, or a life coach to guide your vision, your family doctor is one of your most valuable health advocates. Your family doctor should be the person you trust to guide your mental and physical wellbeing. More than that, your MD is the best person to advocate for you in our current health care system.

But there’s a catch: your family doctor has only 10 to 15 minutes for each visit, so how are they supposed to talk prevention with you? The Canadian government reimburses physicians via Medical Services Plan (MSP) about $30 to $40 per visit based on the patient’s age and location – not the problem or time spent. This creates an environment in which patients are often unable to ask questions, or feel rushed or guilty for taking the doctor’s time. Physicians spending more time with patients can lead to crowded waiting rooms and lengthy wait times.  

Finding Prevention

If you are a healthy individual with no chronic conditions or unhealthy habits, and would like to engage in preventative health planning with your physician, it may not be covered by your MSP plan. You may need to do it privately – which means you need to pay. The question is: should you?

The answer, of course, is absolutely. Prevention will be the hallmark of our medical health in the future. Preventative health planning, counselling and check-ups will give your family doctor a baseline to work from, empowering him or her to guide your medical care over time.

Your medical history, family history, mental health, physical examinations, and the details of your life and relationships over the years will inform and instruct your doctor. He or she can requisition the appropriate tests and investigations, while avoiding unnecessary testing that can be very costly and cause anxiety for the patient. Armed with all this information, your doctor will understand the current state of your health and be able to plan a yearly health review with you. 

A Vision for a Healthy Future

There are many phenomenal physicians advocating for Medicare and healthcare policies, but my vision is to give all patients across Canada ownership of their health. Patients need to be as connected as possible to their family doctors, who can work in conjunction with health care providers covered or not, including physiotherapists, massage therapist, dentists, optometrists and traditional Chinese doctors. When we work together towards preventative health, it translates into better health for patients, and decreased burden on the universal Canadian health care system. Perhaps, that way, preventative health can one day be covered for all patients.

The key to this universal preventative health movement is to give ownership to the patient, while giving the family doctor the role of quarterback. Until the day when preventative health is covered by Medicare, the biggest investment you can make in your healthcare is to get to know your family doctor, and together come up with a preventative health plan – even if it may cost you outside of MSP coverage. After all, the best investment you can make is in your health.

My hope is that one day, we will understand the importance of preventative health and the role of family doctors in overseeing it; and that preventative health will be covered for all individuals. One day, a universal preventative language will be spoken amongst all health care professionals, conventional or nonconventional, for the better health of all patients. 

Dr. Maryam Zeineddin was born in Tehran and lived in Athens, London and Stockholm prior to moving to Vancouver more than two decades ago. She completed her B.Sc. (hon) in physiology at the University of British Columbia (UBC). After volunteering at a children’s hospital in Honduras, Dr. Zeineddin returned to UBC to attend medical school. She then attended  two years of family practice residency at UBC St.Paul’s program and the day after the completion of her residency program she started her family practice office. She manages a group based clinic and they offer full  service family practice including preventative health and lifestyle counselling. Dr. Zeineddin is also an avid teacher and faculty for UBC family practice residency program. Her quest is to pursue the most comprehensive patient centered care with preventative health measures as the key element of healthy living.

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