Is being too healthy unhealthy?

Each month, leading integrative health expert, Dr Andrew Weil, gives his definitive answer


Is being too healthy unhealthy?

Good health can be defined as a positive state of dynamic balance and wholeness – one that supports optimal functioning in our environment. As anyone who practises tai chi or yoga can tell you, balance requires focus and effort. By extension, the same is true regarding optimal health. Extremes of effort, whether too little attention to health, or overdoing it, can tip us out of balance and negatively impact resilience – our ability to bounce back from challenge.

Moderation may not be exciting, but it is the most reasonable way to successfully participate in healthy habits to enhance balance and resilience, helping to prevent disease and optimise health. Identify the rational blend of healthy diet and lifestyle practices that works for you. Toxic activities – smoking and excessive alcohol intake – should be avoided but, outside of the clearly harmful, there is room for moderation. Make sure meals are satisfying and good for you – you need not sacrifice taste to eat healthy fare. Incorporate aspects of Mediterranean, Asian, and anti-inflammatory diets for good health. Steer clear of fads – diets of disallowance rarely work, whereas healthy eating plans that allow for occasional splurges can be both enjoyable and effective. Intermittent splurges are fine, even important (mine is high-quality dark chocolate – yum!), provided they are occasional and portions are small.

Don’t be swayed by marketing hype, especially for vitamins and supplements that promise everything under the sun. Let common sense be your guide.

Extremes of exercise can also be harmful. Too little and you don’t get the benefits to your cardiovascular system, metabolism, and mood; too much and you may impair normal immune system function as well as incur injury. Some people develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise that borders on compulsion – a situation that’s incompatible with balance. Stick to a regular routine and trust your body: some discomfort after exercise is normal, but persistent or significant discomfort is not, and signals the need for rest.

Most people know that inadequate sleep over time – less than five to six hours per night – is bad for your health, contributing to weight gain, diabetes, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease; yet few know that too much sleep (more than nine hours) can also be harmful. Aim for seven hours, and create time for rest and engagement with healthy stress-management practices. Explore techniques you may not have tried, perhaps yoga or meditation. Don’t overdo classes – once you have the hang of things, you can get as much benefit from practising at home.

There’s more than enough to worry about without adding concern over whether we are doing enough to promote health and wellbeing. Start slowly, set reasonable goals, proceed gently. This approach supports resilience and dynamic balance – the core components of optimal health.

Se more from Dr Andrew Weil at and @drweil 

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