According to WHO, good health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being - and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity . Our body is constantly giving us clues about our health - all we have to do is look out for them and address what doesn’t seem quite right. Here are some fundamental indicators of good health, along with suggestions on how we can achieve them:
1. Restful and consistent sleeping patterns
Our modern lifestyle comes with great potential to hamper our sleep quality - from an inconsistent bedtime routine and too much sleep to consuming too much caffeine or alcohol, or even being stressed.
Why is our sleep so important to our health?
Sleep is essential for our body and mind to recharge - keeping our body clock aligned with nature, and our restorative cycle stable. Our sleep affects practically everything in our body - from how we feel, to our cognitive functions. Its quality is, in turn, a reflection of our overall well-being [2, 3].
If you’re unsure whether you’re getting the kind of sleep you need -
Here are some indicators of good sleep :
- You fall asleep in under 30 minutes.
- You sleep straight through the night without waking up more than once. If you wake, you fall back asleep in under 20 minutes.
- You feel rested, restored, and energized upon waking up in the morning.
A few things that can help optimise your daily sleep:
- Prioritising your sleep, and following the same sleeping pattern every day. (Adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night) .
- Making sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool (15-16° celsius) [6, 7].
- Keeping the electronic devices away, at least 30 minutes before bedtime .
- Avoiding drinking alcohol within three hours of bedtime, and caffeine within five hours .
2. Good energy levels
While repeatedly over-caffeinating, running on too little sleep, dehydration and deficiencies are plausible causes of having low energy levels, this shouldn’t be the norm [10, 11, 12, 13]. So how do we figure out whether our energy levels are good?
Here are some indicators of good energy levels:
- You can do regular daily activities without any major strain, aches, and pains .
- You are able to perform extracurricular activities without affecting your energy levels .
A few things that can help optimise your energy levels:
- Exercising regularly. A minimum of three days a week, for a minimum of 20 minutes a day can leave you with more energy than before [16, 17].
- Replacing refined foods with whole foods, especially carbohydrates [18, 19].
- Practise meditation and other stress-reduction techniques as excessive stress can cause fatigue and reduce your quality of life.
3. Healthy bowel movement
If we’re passing stool too quickly or too slowly - neither is natural and could be indicative of digestive issues. If either goes on for a long period of time, it’s best to actively find ways to address it.
Here are some indicators of healthy bowel movement:
- While there is no defined number of how many times a person should poop, you should empty your colon often enough that you don’t feel bloated or in pain [20, 21].
- You poop comfortably, without needing to strain. Here’s a chart describing what you should see before you flush - it’s called the Bristol Stool Scale.
- Drinking plenty of water, around 2-4 liters per day.
- Consuming at least 30-40 grams of fibre every day - this adds bulk to your stool, which stimulates the bowels to move.
- Eating 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables and introducing whole grain foods to your diet.
- Consuming probiotic foods, which benefit the gut microbiome.
4. Healthy Urinary System
Our urinary system is very important because it filters our blood and eliminates toxins (healthy kidneys make “detox diets” quite redundant), extra water, salt, and other waste products . A healthy urinary system keeps our body optimally functional and, to put it simply, clean.
So how do we keep a check on its health? Here are a few points that could help:
Indicators of a healthy urinary bladder include:
- Pale yellow color urine. When you’re staying properly hydrated, your urine will be a light yellow, almost similar to a clear colour .
- You are able to perform daily activities (including exercise) without any urinary discomfort or leakage .
A few tips that can help maintain urinary bladder health:
- Drinking plenty of water (at least eight glasses of a day, where 1 glass = 240 ml) can help flush bacteria out of your urinary tract .
- Keeping your genitals clean. Urinating shortly after sexual intercourse and wiping down properly has been shown to reduce the odds of developing an infection .
- Practising kegel exercises for better bladder control .
5. Healthy, dewy skin
Our skin is a protective layer that shields us from external aggressors like pollution. In order to do its job well, it needs constant protection . It also says a lot about our health - healthy, dewy skin is a reflection of a healthy, nourished body .
So, what are the indicators of healthy skin?
- Skin that has an even tone .
- Skin that’s hydrated and supple .
- The absence of any irregular sensations like stretching, burning, or itching .
A few actionable tips that can help maintain skin health:
- Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen to avoid sun damage .
- Consuming antioxidants, especially lycopene, which is found in red fruits like tomatoes; these act in a way that can be thought of as internal sunscreens [36, 37].
- Consuming enough omega-3 fats, which improve its ‘barrier function’ (its function of sealing in moisture and keeping out irritants) .
6. Healthy hair
Our hair is one of the most prominent features of our body and one of the most noticeable indicators of our state of health. Changes in the appearance, texture, or volume of our hair could be signs of underlying health conditions . The amount of hair we shed is also symbolic of the hormonal and nutritional balance in our body [40, 41].
- You shed between 50 and 100 hairs a day, only.
- It doesn’t feel brittle, dry, or frizzy.
- It’s shiny, meaning that the cuticles are laying flat, as they should, and are creating a smooth, flat surface for light to bounce off.
- The hair on your head grows about 6 inches a year.
A few tips to help maintain hair health:
- Consuming a diet that’s rich in healthy plant-based food and seafood, and relatively lower in animal-based foods .
- Avoiding tight hairstyles like ponytails, especially while sleeping .
- Avoiding excessive sun exposure, which can make hair brittle and more prone to breakage [45, 46].
- Avoiding overdoing chemical treatments like dying, bleaching, and heat styling .
- Avoiding crash diets, and keeping a watch for signs of nutrient deficiencies [41, 48].
- Consuming adequate protein, to strengthen our hair strands .
- Avoiding harsh shampoos, especially the ones with ingredients like ammonium lauryl sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate. Conditioning after shampoo is also important to help keep your hair soft, shiny, and manageable .
- Adding omega-3 fats to your diet, which help reduce inflammation of the hair follicle, creating a healthy environment for hair growth .
7. Good oral health and neutral-smelling breath
Our oral health boils down to general lifestyle habits - things as little as brushing our teeth daily.
So, let’s look at -
The indicators of good oral health:
- You are able to consume cold and hot beverages without any discomfort or sensitivity .
- Your gums are pink and healthy, and don’t bleed while flossing or brushing .
- Your breath smells neutral .
- Your teeth have a smooth texture (it means that you have a healthy enamel which protects teeth from decay and damage) .
The best ways to prevent oral health problems:
- Brushing with a fluoride toothpaste, at least twice a day .
- Flossing at least once a day (one of the most beneficial things you can do to prevent disease in your oral cavity) .
- Having your teeth checked and cleaned by a dental professional every six months .
- Following a high-fiber, low-fat, low-sugar diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables .
- Brushing for two minutes, twice a day may reduce your risk of heart disease .
8. Regular menstrual cycles
Regular menstrual cycles are a sign that our body is healthy and functioning normally. It also suggests that our hormones are active and balanced, and that our body can support natural conception . Menstrual health is important, because it is related to our hormones on more levels than one and an imbalance in that can affect our mood, behaviour, and how we feel on a daily basis .
Here are the indicators of a healthy menstrual cycle:
- A consistent cycle. An average cycle consists of 28 days, however, anything between 21 and 45 days is considered normal.
- Menstruation lasts for anywhere between two to seven days .
Here are few tips to help regulate the menstrual cycle:
- Taking vitamin D and B-vitamins if levels are low (these help regulate the menstrual cycle and reduce PMS(As a side note, fish oil supplements also help reduce menstrual cramps) [68, 69, 70].
- Exercising can regulate your cycles while also possibly reducing pain before and during your period [71, 72].
- Practicing yoga for 35 to 40 minutes a day, five times a week, may help regulate hormones and menstruation cycles. Yoga can also help reduce premenstrual symptoms .
9. Healthy brain function
A healthy brain is essential for living a long and full life - for obvious reasons. It controls all our senses, constantly receives and translates messages, and handles countless thoughts simultaneously. Unlike other organs, our brain is responsible for both our emotional and physical wellbeing .
Here are the indicators of healthy brain function:
- You're better able to concentrate, solve problems, and communicate .
- You have a reliable memory, both long- and short-term .
- You are able to and are good at making decisions .
- You are able to let go of negative experiences without having repetitive thoughts and ruminations about it .
Actionable tips for improving brain health:
- Making changes to your daily lifestyle - getting more sleep, doing things that help reduce stress like meditation, writing in a journal, or reading a book, etc [79, 80, 81].
- Indulging in music, art, dance, and other activities that help express creativity and stimulate your brain in new ways .
- Eating fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, nuts, fish, and eggs - these contain nutrients that support brain development and help protect your brain from damage .
- Exercising regularly, which stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance your mood, thinking, and learning [84, 85].
- Sleeping on your side may help remove brain waste that could boost memory, language, reasoning, and social behaviour .
- Outdoor walking for 60 minutes twice a week boosts the hippocampus, thereby improving memory .
10. Healthy heart
Our heart pumps blood through our body to circulate oxygen and nutrients that our organs need to work properly. It also helps get the carbon dioxide back to the lungs so we can breathe it out. When our heart is doing its job efficiently, our body is getting the blood-borne oxygen and nutrients it needs, fueling us with enough energy to maintain our active lifestyle .
Here are the indicators of a healthy heart:
- Breathing normally during regular physical activities is a positive sign of heart health. You can measure your heart rate and other health parameters using your smartphones or a fitness tracker .
- Good oral hygiene is a positive sign, too. Research suggests that the bacteria that cause gum disease can also raise the risk of heart disease .
- The ‘stairs test’ is an easy way to check your heart health: climbing four flights of stairs in less than a minute indicates good heart health .
Actionable tips for improving heart health:
- Getting at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise every week, to strengthen your heart and lungs. Getting more than 300 minutes per week is linked to additional benefits.
- Introducing heart-healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, omega 3 fats to your diet and limit saturated fats, trans fats, and added sugars [92, 93].
11. Strong Immune System
Our immune system is what protects us against diseases or other potentially damaging foreign bodies. When functioning properly, our immune system identifies any potential threats (including viruses, bacteria and parasites) and eliminates them from our body. This is our inner system that heals wounds, prevents illnesses, and protects us from infections and foreign bodies [94, 95].
Here are the signs of a good immune system:
- Your wounds heal in time .
- You can do your daily activities without feeling tired. You also feel well-rested after sleeping .
- You have a healthy gut (mild symptoms of imbalance in the gut microbiome could be gas, bloating, and discomfort) .
- You don’t have auto-immune diseases such as arthritis, dermatitis, type 1 diabetes, or inflammatory bowel disease .
Things one can do to strengthen the immune system:
- Managing your stress levels by writing, meditating, dancing, exercising, or talking to a loved one can go a long way. Prolonged chronic stress can impair the body’s ability to fight infection, reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, suppress the immune response, and much more .
- Exercising leads to a ten-fold increase in the immune cells that help your body fight infection. Healthy adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, like walking or dancing, weekly. Alternatively, at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity, like swimming, weekly [101, 102].
- Getting seven to nine hours of sleep also helps the immune system function properly. Consider setting up a sleep-promoting routine with calming activities such as meditation, lavender inhalations, and reduced gadget exposure before bedtime [103, 104, 105, 106, 107].
- Eating a balanced diet and making sure there are no key deficiencies, given that nutrients such as protein, omega-3 fats, vitamins (A, B6, B12, folate, C, D, and E), and minerals (zinc, copper, selenium, iron) play key roles in supporting the human immune system [108, 109, 110].
Our body is a complex and a very intelligent system with its unique ways of telling us things. We can solve most of our problems by just listening to it.