Modern life can be stressful, and stress affects our health. To solve a problem, it first helps to know what that problem is. In our modern world, stress combines emotional, environmental, nutritional, postural, and dental factors, some obvious, while others get little attention.

While problems in modern life seem to become more complex, the solutions can be straightforward and simple. The key is to build physical, mental and emotional resilience. To support this, it’s useful to focus on five pillars of health and wellness.

These five pillars of health are based on Dr Ron Ehrlich’s book, A Life Less Stressed, the 5 Pillars of Health & Wellness.

1. Sleep

Sleep is the most essential part of the day. It’s the foundation for any wellness journey. A consistently good night’s sleep is a function of quantity, getting enough sleep, and quality, breathing well while asleep. Getting both right improves every health measure, physical, mental and emotional. Getting these wrong could shorten life.

The vast majority (90%) of people need 7-9 hours sleep. People who sleep for only a few hours usually acknowledge they aren’t getting enough sleep. The most interesting are the people who consistently sleep 6 hours who share many things in common with people who are sleep deprived.

The Five Pillars of Health

Poor sleep affects memory, with the chance of dementia increasing; insulin resistance increases, predisposing to prediabetes, diabetes and obesity; the hormone responsible for fat metabolism, leptin, is reduced, and the hormone responsible for hunger, ghrelin, increases.

This, in turn, often leads to poor sleepers eating more, increasing weight gain; sex hormone production diminishes, affecting sex life; the immune system is compromised; thyroid hormone, which helps regulate metabolism, is involved; chronic inflammation increases.

Quality is about breathing well while asleep. Snoring indicates a restricted airway, but there is another condition called obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), which means breathing stops or is restricted frequently throughout the night. In severe cases, it can be life-threatening.

A consistently good night’s sleep is the body’s built-in, life-support system.

2. Breathing

People give little thought to breathing, but there is a big difference between just breathing and breathing well. Breathing quality affects sleep quality, body chemistry and posture.

Breathing through the nose is ideal, warming, humidifying and filtering the air; nasal breathing also improves head posture.

Breathing at 8-12 breaths per minute helps regulate body chemistry, affecting every system in the body, physical and mental; using the diaphragm utilises greater lung capacity and reduces strain on neck and shoulder muscles.

The Five Pillars of Health

3. Nourish

To nourish well is to have a whole, fresh, diverse diet, free of sugar and artificial chemicals, with vegetables of many colours as the foundation.

Incorporate ethically raised pasture-fed animal products and healthy fats (e.g. from natural sources including avocados, olive oil, nuts, seeds, coconut oil, fatty fish, and grass-fed animal fats.

Avoid unhealthy vegetable oils (such as canola, soybean, and corn.) Healthy alternatives are olive oil (extra virgin), coconut oil and avocado oil.

Include filtered water and healthy salt (such as Himalayan rock salt or Celtic sea salt, which contains 50-70 minerals) compared to ordinary table salt (which only contains sodium and chloride).

Minimise refined carbohydrates and sugar intake to keep insulin levels low.

Explore the power of intermittent fasting, acknowledging that scarcity has always been part of our human journey.

The Five Pillars of Health

4. Movement

Incorporate functional movements into your daily life, such as weight-bearing exercises, standing while working and walking. These are sustainable, safe, sociable and empowering activities for life.

Moving regularly impacts positively on every health indicator and treatment outcome. It’s surprising how little movement is needed to make a big difference.

The Five Pillars of Health

5. Thought

While it is not always possible to change events or people around us, we can change our attitude toward them, and that can make a big difference, with the power of thoughts impacting how genes are expressed and how we respond to the stresses of life.

According to a 75-year study by the Harvard School of Public Health, relationships are the best predictor of longevity, health, and wellness, so value and nurture them.

Expressing gratitude is accessible and positive for both the provider and the recipient. From practising mindfulness to exploring meditation, the power of the mind is profound.

The Five Pillars of Health

FAQs for The Five Pillars of Health – Some Key Questions and Answers to Consider

Why is sleep considered the most essential part of our day for health and wellness?

Sleep impacts almost every aspect of our physical and mental health. Getting enough good quality sleep sets us up for better health, while not getting enough can negatively impact our risk for many diseases.

What are some of the short and long-term consequences of poor sleep?

Short-term effects include increased stress, poorer quality of life, emotional issues, and memory problems. Long-term risks include high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers.

How can focusing on proper breathing technique positively impact health?

Proper breathing improves sleep quality, balances body chemistry affecting all systems, and improves posture by reducing strain on muscles. Even just a few minutes of deep rhythmic breathing can calm the body.

Why is eating a diverse, balanced, whole-food diet important?

It provides nutrients to improve digestion, mood, and brain function. Minimising processed foods, sugar, and refined carbs helps keep insulin levels stable, so we have steady energy.

What are some benefits of incorporating more movement/exercise into daily routines?

Movement positively impacts every health indicator. Just 30 minutes a day can improve strength, endurance, mood, anxiety, and depression. Movement helps you maintain a healthy weight.

How can our thoughts and attitudes affect our health?

Outlook and thoughts impact how our genes are expressed and how we handle stress. Relationships are key to longevity and wellness. Practicing gratitude is beneficial. Meditation and mindfulness are powerful.

Why is sleep considered the foundation for wellness?

Because it impacts almost every other aspect of our health, without enough good sleep, the other pillars of health suffer.

What are simple ways to improve breathing technique?

Breathe through the nose, use your diaphragm, and aim for 8-12 breaths per minute, all of which can be done during regular activities.

What are tips for eating better within a busy lifestyle?

Plan ahead for healthy eating, prepare meals well, keep healthy snacks on hand, and focus each meal on veggies and protein. Prioritising proper nutrition is easier when you keep the five pillars of health in mind.

How can I incorporate more movement into my daily work routine?

Take walk breaks, stretch regularly, set alarms to get up and move every 30-60 minutes, have standing or walking meetings, take the stairs. Small bursts of activity add up.


The key is to build resilience while identifying and minimising the stresses of modern life to fulfil potential and be the best you can be.


Dr Ron Ehrlich, a co-founder of the Sydney Holistic Dental Centre, is the author of A Life Less Stressed, the 5 Pillars of Health & Wellness, and delivers keynotes and wellness workshops. He has a weekly podcast, Unstress, with Dr Ron Ehrlich. Visit: