You’re doing everything right.
You’re in the gym every single day, lifting HEAVY ass weights and drinking your protein shake on the way home.
And you’re making some gains, sure, but you aren’t getting the *amazing* feeling you thought you would from taking control of your health.
That’s where the four pillars of health come in: the most underrated, overlooked part of being a healthy person.
If they’re so important, why have I never heard of them?
Because people sell you on the idea that doing cardio for ten hours a day or lifting super heavy is the most important part of taking control of your health- but it’s not.
These four pillars focus on the vital, underlying issues that may be causing you to see a delay in your progress.
Pillar #1: Daily Movement
One of the simplest ways to change your life is through daily movement.
I’m not talking about going to the gym every single day. I’m talking about your NEAT- your non-exercise activity thermogenesis. (big word, I know). All this is talking about is the movement you get outside of a daily exercise routine, like going on a walk, getting up off the couch, taking your dog outside, or walking around the grocery store. Your NEAT is what helps you burn more calories throughout the day, which helps you hit your fitness goals.
What you do inside the gym is important, but what you do outside of the gym is even MORE important.
Becoming more aware of our NEAT is the starting point for long-term metabolic health- we can’t lift as much weight or run as far as we get older, but we can always develop habits to increase our non-exercise activity.
We have to make movement a priority in our daily lives. We have a lot more time each day than we think- we just tend to manage our time poorly. Instead of senselessly scrolling through social media, throw on a podcast or some music and take your dog for a walk. Instead of ordering in the drive-through, walk inside and get your food using a mobile app. Park in the back of the parking lot at the grocery store.
Over time, it gets easier and easier to find ways to increase your NEAT every day. The first small step you can take is setting an attainable step goal for each day. This should be based on how much you move per day, and always start small. You can even start by taking a weekly average of your steps instead of having a goal to hit every single day.
As with any goal, work to crush it and then keep increasing it until you get to where you want to be!
Pillar #2: Spine Health
The average person looks down 5 hours a day and only looks up for 24 minutes. And we wonder why our backs hurt so bad. We are constantly leaning forward, which is causing our neck to shift and our spine to start aching.
Ever heard of gravity? The more forward our head is, the heavier it is because of gravity. Our body responds and tries to maintain balance by putting pressure on our spine to hold our head still. The spine is SO overlooked as the main cause of back pain.
So, how can you fix it? The first step is increasing your knowledge about this pillar of health. Your spine is made up of three different sections: Cervical, Thoracic, and Lumbar. The cervical spine is in charge of stabilizing your neck and head. Think nodding your head yes and no. The thoracic spine is in charge of your middle/upper back, holds your rib cage, and protects your heart and lungs. It’s pretty important. Your lumbar spine is in charge of your lower back, which has one of the most important jobs- it holds basically the weight of your entire body.
Knowing which area you have the most pain in can help you look into a solution for that pain. Improving your posture by focusing on your spine health can help with so many things that people don’t consider.
Your posture health can help with pain management (so you can recover faster), better sleep, overall confidence, and increase blood flow.
In the end, your spine is literally your backbone in this life. Take care of it.
Pillar #3: Stress Management
Managing your stress is absolutely crucial if you want to see results in your fitness and health. But, don’t get me wrong- stress is something we actually can’t live without. You don’t have to be completely stress-free to see real results.
When you start to look at your stressors in life, know that there are several different types of stress: perceived stress, metabolic stress, circadian stress, and inflammation. Perceived stress is any stress that comes from an external source. This could be stress from your new job, stress from your financial situation, or stress from your significant other. This is the type of stress you tell yourself is stressing you out.
Metabolic stress is internal stress from catabolic hormones breaking down the molecules in your body to produce energy. You can’t see it, but it’s always happening inside you.
Your catabolic hormones are things like cortisol, adrenaline, and glucagon, and they all help to regulate this metabolic process.
Circadian stress is all about your sleep. Sleep is what manages and regulates your catabolic hormones so that they can regulate your metabolic processes. Having a consistent sleep schedule is the best way to manage both internal and external stress.
Lastly, inflammation is often not considered stress, but it truly is. Not only is inflammation itself a type of stress, but it’s also affected by internal and external stress. When you exercise, your muscle fibers break down and the healing process begins. It takes- you guessed it- energy to repair the torn muscle fibers, the energy created through your metabolic processes.
We can’t live without stress- we need to go through metabolic stress to generate energy, and we need to have a consistent sleep pattern. But, what we can do is manage our sources of external stress. Over time, too much stress on your body can cause gut dysbiosis, which can then spiral into an infinite number of health issues.
Scary, I know, but it just emphasizes why stress management is one of the four pillars of health.
Pillar #4: Gut Health
Some people refer to your gut as the second brain of your body.
Seriously – the same chemicals that are found in your brain are also produced by your gut.
The gut is responsible for nutrient absorption, detoxification, inflammation, the neurotransmitter, vitamin production, hunger control, carbohydrate and fat utilization, and immune system function.
So yeah, a lot of important stuff here.
The food you eat makes its way into the stomach, where it breaks down the food. The small intestine (your gut) is where all of the nutrients are absorbed into your body. Without these nutrients, we wouldn’t be getting what we need from our food to survive or make any progress on our fitness goals. That’s why your gut health is one of the most important pillars of health.
The small intestine or “gut” is lined with trillions of bacteria. The overall health of your gut is a direct reflection of the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria present.
If there is an imbalance (too much “bad”) in your gut, you may develop gut dysbiosis, as I talked about in pillar #3. This is just a really fancy word for an unhealthy gut. If your gut is unhealthy, you’ll experience things like gas, bloating, acne, rashes, constipation, heartburn, nausea after meals- so many things that people go through every single day.
Many health professionals also believe that an unhealthy gut is linked to poor mental health.
Things like depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders could be caused just by ignoring poor gut health over time.
The good news is that fixing your gut health is pretty simple.
Simply start by eating more fresh, whole foods instead of processed ones. Foods like fruits and vegetables are packed with micronutrients that help improve your gut health.
Also, starting to add more low fodmap options can be incredibly helpful with regulating digestion and fight constantly bloating. I actually have a free resource on low fodmap diets that you can download here. https://abcalisthenics.kartra.com/page/lowfodmap
Increasing your water intake can also help tremendously with this! A simple rule of thumb I use for daily water intake is your ((weight (lbs) / 2 ) + 15 oz).
Overall, if you aren’t focusing on these four pillars of health first, things like injuries, mental health, or underlying issues will cause you to be out of the gym for longer than you’d expect.
I used to not drink enough water daily. I use to not pay attention to my posture or how much I was moving outside of workouts. And it leads to multiple injuries and time away from training. The time I could have been progressing turned into time maintaining for many months. Since gaining more information about the four pillars of health, I’ve been able to change my focus and stay in the gym training all year round.
And you can too.
These four pillars are way more important than what you’re currently doing in the gym. So step back, and take it all in. Be willing to try a different approach.
Learn how you specifically can implement focusing on the four pillars of health into your fitness goals, and I promise, it will change your life.