Active Seniors

The Hierarchy of Health

When trying to improve upon our health we often skip to the things we feel are most important based on the available information that we are exposed to. A different approach to this is to look at the hierarchy of health to help guide us to a more holistic view. What is the hierarchy of health? It is simply taking into account those factors necessary to sustain health by prioritising those factors that can harm the body sooner if they are neglected.


On top of the list is oxygen. The purpose of the heart and lung systems is to deliver this vital nutrient to the cells and tissues to keep them functioning. Oxygen is required by almost all of the tissues in the body (aside from the cornea and the red blood cells themselves). Of course oxygen delivery relies not only on the blood cells and heart to deliver it throughout the body, but most importantly relies on breathing to acquire oxygen from the atmosphere.

Within a minute of not breathing our brain cells start to die, and 3-4 minutes of not breathing (and without intervention) is all it takes before this lack of oxygen will result in death. Unfortunately concentrating on breathing efficiency is not always high on peoples priority list. People who are stress breathers and have chronic diseases often required 2.5 x more breaths to extract the same amount of oxygen as a healthy individual.

Are you a stress breather?

Place one hand on your chest area and one on your abdomen, relax and take a deep breath in. Why hand did you feel move first and did one hand move more than the other?  If the hand on your chest moved first and significantly more than the hand on the abdomen, the chances are you are not using your diaphragm efficiently and hence you are more likely to be a stress breather.


Next on the list is hydration. Most people will become extremely sick if they do not get any fluid intake over the course of 3 days and by 11 days virtually no one would survive. Our bodies are made up of 60-70% water and relies on water for most cellular processes. So how much water do we need? Just as we all come in different shapes and sizes, our water requirements vary accordingly. A good guide for intake is around 30ml per kg of body weight per day. Where possible this should be just pure water rather than tea, coffee and flavoured drinks. Of course if your daily water intake is very low and your calculated water requirements are significantly greater, it may be necessary to gradually increase your intake as your body adapts until you reach this point.


Similar to hydration is the need for sleep. Around 1 full day (20-25 hours) of sleep deprivation causes most people to act similarly to someone who is intoxicated. The maximum amount of days we can survive without sleep is said to be around 11 days. At this point, we are minimally responsive to any stimulus. Most people require around 7-9 hours of sleep per day (inclusive of naps). Sleep is essential for normal body function as it supports cell healing and regeneration. In addition sleep is important for brain function as the consolidation of memory and learning occurs during this time.

Some of the important things to consider that may help you in getting enough sleep include consistency. It is important to try and have a small window of time in which you both go to sleep, and in which you wake up from sleep. This helps to regulate your body’s natural rhythms. In addition limiting your exposure to blue lights before you sleep can help to ensure that your sleep quality is much improved. Blue lights (such as televisions and computers) stimulate the retina and block the release of the sleep hormone melatonin. Finally timing your naps is important to ensure that they improve your energy levels rather than detracting them. For the average person who wakes around 7-8am, the best time to nap is around 2pm in the afternoon for a maximum of 40minutes. Naps that are taken earlier, or that extend over hours can leave you feeling more tired when you wake up than you were to start with.


The final thought in the hierarchy of health relates to food. Nutrition is an area that receives significant focus and attention when we look at health. While much importance is placed on food, it is interesting to note that most people can actually survive for between 3-4 weeks without eating (as long as the other factors mentioned above are sustained). When we are sick this reduces to around 2 weeks. Please note that the information presented here is not trying to detract from the importance of good nutrition, however is merely trying to draw attention to some of the lesser known/ emphasised constituents of health.

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