The 3 Pillars of Physical Health — A Practical Guide

The 3 Pillars of Physical Healthcare — Physical Activity, Sleep and Nutrition

1. Physical activity

Getting sufficient physical activity conveys an immeasurable amount of benefits to the body — reducing the risk of chronic diseases (i.e. diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc.), increasing life expectancy and even improving mental health. Although we might assume physical activity involves an arduous trip down to the gym, it can be as easy as taking the dog for a walk or even gardening. According to the global recommendations made by the World Health Organisation (WHO), we should be getting in at least:

150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (breathing harder but able to talk afterwards) OR 75 minutes vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (breathing harder and unable to talk afterwards) OR a combination of both


2 days of muscle building/strengthening activities (i.e. home exercise regime, gym)

Sounds reasonable? You’d be surprised. As stated by the WHO, physical inactivity is currently the 4th leading cause of global mortality. Unconceivably, this surpasses other risk factors such as alcohol usage, obesity and high cholesterol. As busy individual, it can be easy to neglect something so simple yet important. Not to worry however, below are a few simple tips to get us going.

  • Sign up for social sports (e.g. exercise classes, recreational basketball etc.). This is a great way to meet people and to become motivated to exercise. Sometimes that hardest step is the first one.
  • Do activities that you enjoy. Don’t fall for the latest fitness fad or begrudgingly hate the exercise you’re doing. Perform activities you genuinely enjoy such as sports, push-biking or even gardening.
  • Get your friends and family involved with your exercise plans. Creating a healthy culture within your immediate circle is an excellent way of adhering to your regime.
  • Consistency. 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week is very achievable if you can perform between 20–25 minutes per day. This can be as simple as walking during your lunch break or having a structured home exercise routine.

2. Sleep

Epidemic. A word we’d constantly associate with disease and death. But how does this relate to sleep? Well according to Dr. Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at UC Berkley, we’re in the midst of a ‘globlal sleep-loss epidemic.’ Insufficient sleep is catastrophic to our physical health and can lead to numerous problems such as:

  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks
  • Reduced fertility
  • Impaired brain function and learning
  • Promoting depression and anxiety
Average recommended sleep duration relative to age. Retrieved from:
  • The regularity of sleep. Make sure you sleep and wake up at the same time consistently.
  • Exercise during the day. Avoid exercising 2–3 hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t hit the snooze button repeatedly! The first morning alarm should be the last one.
  • Avoid using light-emitting devices before sleep such as laptops and phones. Try and dim/turn off the lights around your home prior to sleep.

3. Nutrition

Even with the abundance of research about food and nutrition, there has yet to be an overall consensus about an optimal meal plan. However, this is also dependant on various individual factors such as our age, current medical history, genetics and our desired goals. We all hear about the benefits of the keto, veganism, paleo etc. but the most important variable is often ignored — sustainability. Even though certain diets may convey benefits, if we reluctantly and disdainfully consume our meals, we’re less likely to adhere to it. Obviously, no one would advocate for binging on junk food, but a healthy medium between pleasure and wellbeing should be recommended for most people.

  • Minimising red meat consumption to 50–100g per day. Scientists have sufficient evidence to link excessive red meat consumption with risks of cancer. Opt for other healthier proteins such as dairy, eggs, beans, seafood and tofu.
  • Try to prepare your own meals. Pre-packaged meals/snacks often have hidden and unwanted ingredients such as preservatives, saturated fats, sugars and salt. Even healthier low-fat and reduced salt options will be jam-packed with other flavour enhancers (i.e. sugar, artificial flavours)
  • 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit daily. They are excellent sources of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to maintain a healthy functional body.
  • Everything in moderation. As mentioned above, sustainability is very important. If that means having a slice of cake or a handful of Pringles to reward yourself, then so be it. I’m a firm believer of the 90%/10% rule. As long as healthy habits stay for the majority, you can afford a cheeky cheat meal every now and then.



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Leon Mao DPT

Leon Mao DPT

Australian (VIC) physiotherapist with a passion for educating, sports and healthy living. For more info please visit: