Don’t settle for ‘good enough' when your body is capable of so much more.
Heather Eastman, NSCA-CPT, CF L1
What’s the difference between optimal health and acceptable health? Well, let’s start with defining the terms. If something is ‘acceptable,’ it means it’s tolerable, adequate, good enough. A lot of people settle for ‘acceptable’ in their health. They figure if they aren’t sick or injured, then there’s nothing to worry about, right?
Now, let’s look at ‘optimal.’ If something is optimal, it is the best, the most favorable, the most desirable. It is ideal.
Are you someone who wants to bank your health on ‘good enough’?
Or, would you rather have what is the best, the most favorable, the ideal version of your physical health and fitness. Read on to find out what optimal health is and how you can achieve it in your own life.
What is Meant byOptimal Health?
Before we can define optimal health, we need to take a closer look at the other key term in that phrase: health. Health, or rather, good health, is a state of complete physical and emotional well-being absent of disease. According to this definition, as long as you are physically and emotionally well and have no obvious signs of illness, you are ‘healthy.’
Sounds simple, right?
Not so fast. According to the CDC, the average life expectancy of the U.S. population is 77 now years, a drop of 1.8 years since 2019. This means that with all our technological advances in medicine and preventative health care, we are seeing a decrease in life expectancy.
While the pandemic can account for some of the decrease, the fact still remains that the U.S. lags behind other developed nations in total life expectancy. What could possible account for this discrepancy?
One explanation might be too many of us are settling for ‘acceptable’ health when we should be striving for optimal. We tolerate poor diet, lack of sleep, and prolonged stress, just as long as our health remains ‘acceptable.’ As long as we aren’t sick or dead, we must be doing OK.
What are the Key Factors to Optimal Health?
Think of your body like a performance sports car: if you put regular gasoline in an engine that runs on premium, you might get away with it once or twice (even if it voids your warranty). But do this long enough and you’ll damage the pistons and ruin the vehicle’s performance.
The same is true of your body.
Your body is an extraordinary machine, and just like any machine, it has an optimal way of performing. It is efficient, resilient, and capable of extraordinary feats of strength and endurance.
If you take care of it.
The key factors that drive optimal health are diet, hydration, exercise, sleep, and avoidance of stress and toxins. If you a balanced diet of whole foods, drink plenty of water, engage in regular resistance training and cardiovascular exercise, get 7-8 hours of deep restful sleep each night, and take time to relax, unwind, and limit or avoid chemical-laden foods and alcohol, it will put you on the path to optimal health.
How do You Determine Optimal Health?
You understand the key factors that contribute to optimal health. The question is, how do you measure it? You can certainly look at resting heart rate, VO2 Max, cholesterol levels, liver enzymes, and other standard metrics for measuring health. But if optimal health is the goal, shouldn’t you be looking to optimize your health on a deeper, more fundamental level. What’s the most essential building block of the human body? The engine that powers this incredible machine?
Each one of the trillions of cells in your body need optimal levels of specific compounds to function at their best. We can measure the levels of these compounds to determine whether or not your body has what it needs to perform at its best on a cellular level. As you may have already guessed, these levels peak in your early adulthood and then slowly deteriorate as you age.
One such compound, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD+ for short, is a coenzyme that assists with a multitude of essential cellular functions, including DNA repair and energy production. While NAD+ levels naturally decline as we age, certain behaviors accelerate this decline, such as alcohol consumption, exposure to UV rays and pollution, inadequate sleep, and poor diet, just to name a few.
The factors that determine optimal health – healthy diet and hydration, proper sleep, avoidance of stress and toxins – can help slow down this decline, but these factors alone cannot reverse it.
How to Achieve Optimal Health
While there is certainly an ideal time to begin optimizing your health, the truth is anyone at any age can benefit from applying these key factors of optimal health. If you take the time to improve your what you put in your body, how you work hard and recover, and what supplements you take to improve how your body functions at a cellular level, you are well on your way to breaking free of the acceptable curse and achieving a level of health that is truly optimal.