Cultivating Balance and Resiliency for Better Health



Dr. Andrew Weil

Is it better to savor and relax, or restrict and worry?

Good health can be defined as a positive state of dynamic balance and wholeness, one that supports optimal functioning in any environment. Anyone that practices tai chi or yoga can attest that balance requires focus and effort. By extension, the same is true regarding optimal health. Extremes of effort—too little attention to health or overdoing it—can tip us out of balance and negatively impact resiliency, the ability to bounce back from challenge. Moderation may not be exciting, but it is the most reasonable way to cultivate balance and resiliency, especially in making lifestyle choices that can help prevent disease and optimize health.

Of course, you want to avoid toxic activities, such as smoking and excessive alcohol intake, but you should also go for positives. Meals should give you satisfaction and pleasure—you need not sacrifice taste and enjoyment to eat healthy fare. Over time, gently incorporate aspects of Mediterranean, Asian and other cuisines that help control inappropriate inflammation—the root cause of most serious chronic diseases.

Steer clear of the latest, greatest fads, as restrictive diets rarely work, and go for informed eating plans that can be very effective. Intermittent splurges are fine, even important (high- quality dark chocolate, yum!) provided they are truly occasional and that portions are not excessive. Don’t be swayed by marketing hype, especially regarding vitamins and supplements that promise everything under the sun. Let common sense be thy guide, and learn some of the science at the upcoming Nutrition & Health Conference right here in Boston, April 30 to May 2.

Extremes of exercise can also be harmful. Too little and the proven benefits on the cardiovascular system, metabolism and mood aren’t enjoyed; too much and immunity can be impaired, or an injury can occur. Some people develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise that borders on compulsion, a pattern incompatible with balance. Hold to a regular program of moderate activity and trust the wisdom of the body. Some discomfort after exercising can be expected, but persistent or significant discomfort is not normal; it signals the need for rest and perhaps medical assessment.

Most people know that inadequate sleep over time—less than five to six hours per night—contributes to weight gain, diabetes and increased risk of cardiovascular disease, yet few know that too much sleep (more than nine to 10 hours each night) is also potentially harmful. Aim for seven hours and create some space in your calendar for rest and stress-management practices. Explore techniques never tried before, perhaps yoga or meditation. Don’t overdo the classes since once the basics of the class are learned, there is as much benefit from practicing at home.

For most of us there is more than enough to worry about without adding concern over whether we are doing enough to promote health and well-being. Start slowly, set reasonable goals and proceed gently. This approach best supports resilience and dynamic balance, the core components of optimal health.

Dr. Andrew Weil is the author of many scientific and popular articles and 11 books and cookbooks including Mind Over Meds: Know When Drugs Are Necessary, When Alternatives Are Better and Fast Food, Good Food: More Than 150 Quick and Easy Ways to Put Healthy, Delicious Food on the Table. He is the program director and a featured speaker at the annual Nutrition & Health Conference, taking place this year in Boston, April 30 to May 2, at the Boston Westin Waterfront. For more information, visit NHConference.org.

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