What does “health” really mean?

This page is from 2017 and is mostly unedited. If I gave it a good overhaul this year, I’d probably add social connections as the #1 item, shifting everything else down. –jfial 2023

The purpose this page is to provide a top-down health philosophy, which is critically lacking in the United States.

(To jump to the original, actionable, /pills page, click that link. There I recommend /lithium as an important nutrient, which may surprise most people.)

Table of Contents

#1: Air

Air is the most important health factor. Disagree?

Hold your breath.

Yup: air wins!

And while air quality/pollution is important, let’s focus top-down: on oxygen. We use up O2 and breath out CO2. Outside, this hardly matters. The problem is that today, we live our lives indoors, which means we need to think about indoor CO2 levels.

For most of human history, CO2 levels of roughly 300 parts per million (300ppm) were normal. Background planetary CO2 levels are now rising above 400 ppm. Worse, most westerners spend 90+% of our time indoors, and indoor levels are often above 1,000ppm. Sometimes they can rise beyond 1,500ppm.

Practically speaking, indoor CO2 levels are the most important health factor in the modern age.

Indoor CO2 levels are more important than nutritional supplements, food, water, or even air pollution. What is the level of CO2 inside the indoor space? Sadly, a CO2 monitor is required to know for sure (and they usually cost at least $100). Because if the CO2 is high, it’s almost certainly high because the oxygen (O2) level is low. That level is low because it has been used by humans, other animals, or by fire, like gas-fired stovetops.

I’m very happy with my CO2 monitor from the “CO2meter.com” company ($110, amazon.com link), but only you can decide if you need to spend over $100 to monitor your indoor CO2 levels. For a well-ventilated home that doesn’t use gas stovetops, a CO2 meter probably isn’t necessary.

A solution for O2/CO2 levels:

Combine ventilation with fresh (outside) air and indoor plants to reduce indoor CO2 levels as far away from 1,000 ppm and as close to 300 ppm as possible. Reducing indoor CO2 levels below current outdoor levels (400ppm and rising) is only possible with plants, oxygen tanks, or other similar methods.

Our CO2 monitor, air filter, and a fraction of our indoor plants. Both are expensive and may not be the best use of your money, but are worth it for us. (Nutritional lithium is probably the best $10 you can spend. See the /pills page for that information.) Opening the window — even if your city has poor air quality — is an excellent idea. Later, if you can afford it, the air filter is worth the money. ||| Without our plants and with two people in a small space, the CO2 easily exceeds 1,000. *With* our plants and two people, the CO2 rarely gets above 650 (unless we are using the gas stove). although with four people the CO2 can easily reach 1,000 in an hour or two. In a closed room, your CO2 is likely far higher than you think.

After O2/CO2 levels, reduce pollutants in the air.

Combine air circulation and indoor plants to increase oxygen and reduce CO2 levels.

Then, if possible, combine a minimalist philosophy and indoor air purifiers to reduce air pollution (VOCs, etc.). I like Coway’s 1512HH air purifier ($230, amazon.com link), which I purchased based on the recommendation by The Sweet Home.

#2: Focus vs. Distraction

Movement of all sorts (walking, “exercise,” yoga, etc.) and “meditation” of all sorts (sitting, walking meditation, etc.).

This section starts out with the philosophical “focus,” but I’d like to make it practical: focus on whatever you’re doing. Stay with me for a moment. I’d like to convince you that it’s an important health factor… more important than water and food, I believe.

If you’re doing something, really do it, rather than let yourself be distracted by several things at once.

If you’re walking, walk. Focus on walking.

Conversing? Converse, relax, think before you speak. Pause. Converse.

Sitting? Sit. Breathe.


Why is focusing on what you’re doing more important than water and food? Why is “movement” more important than water and food?

Because we should be able to fast for long periods of time. We should also be able to fast from water for a number of hours at a time (almost all of us do this, although we all have the crazy office gymrat who drinks a liter per hour). But focus or distraction? Our minds — and our bodies — want to be focused on something for long periods at a time.

Try staying still for any long period of time (hours), excluding sleep, and you will likely agree that movement is far more important than food, and still slightly more important than water. “Out in nature,” we had to move to be rewarded with water and food, of course.

On another note: hospital beds?

Great place to die. Great place to prolong death. Terrible place to promote recuperation/regeneration.

#3: Sleep, Sunlight, and Water.


Many Americans find they sleep better after supplementing with certain minerals like lithium, magnesium, and calcium (see the /pills page).

However, the best way for American adults to increase their sleep is to do what they already know they need to do: set a bedtime, charge the phone in another room, buy an actual physical alarm clock, exercise in the morning, etc. Feel busy at night? Most of the “tasks” we do that feel important at night aren’t nearly as important as our sleep-deprived brains think they are. Anything actually important will still be there in the morning.

Sleep more. Sleep more even if it means you have to procrastinate more!


As I argue on the /pills page,

The benefits of sun exposure outweigh the risks of UV damage. Supporting arguments?

  • Office workers get more melanoma than outside workers;
  • quality food acts as a natural sunscreen;
  • sunlight has a greater positive effect on mood and “wellness” than the vitamin D molecule alone would predict;
  • our cells developed to combat DNA damage;
  • etc…

Want to feel like a kid again? Accept that what you think you know about sunlight is wrong. (Many experts are simply wrong, too, as they’ve built their lives out of recommending sunscreen and focusing on research into a single type of cancer versus the bigger picture.) Spend a few minutes in the sun. Then, the next day you’re able, spend a few minutes more than that. Avoid sunburns and stop immediately if light skin becomes pink, but repeat and adapt over the long term. Most importantly, trust your body!


Remember that your water may be void of necessary minerals which would otherwise be present in “naturally” occurring water, highlighting the need for supplementation of minerals like lithium, magnesium, calcium, and others. These supplements are cheap; accordingly, expensive mineral water or water filtration systems are often unnecessary. (Unless you are living in Michigan or other areas where the a real risk of lead poisoning exists from lead or other problems regarding old pipes. If you already have the money to spend, a water filtration system is likely a good long-term idea, but it isn’t necessary for most people. See the Sweethome’s kitchen page and read their two “water filter” articles. I’m very happy with their pick for best water pitcher filter, although I’d prefer an under-the-sink filter.)

#4: Food.

Reduce processing. That’s it, in two words.

Personally, I choose to base my diet on an “ancestral” approach, which has worked well for me for many years.

However, it’s simpler to recommend what should work for 99% of human beings: reduce processing, get food close to the source, increase colors, chew your food, take your time, etc. The simple stuff. (Michael Pollan’s Food Rules has some excellent advice, and my book notes are here, but “reduce processing” is the most important.)

However, I do believe an ancestral approach should be a starting point for any diet. The worse your health, the more likely you are to benefit from a 2-6 month “paleo AIP” approach, eliminating anything even remotely suspected to cause problems. (Do a web search and follow one of the protocols if you’re very, very unhealthy.) After that period, everything is slowly reintroduced, like eggs, dairy, chocolate and coffee. Everyone learns something about what they can and cannot tolerate. Many of us tolerate dairy just fine — especially dairy from non-American cows — and the occasional binge on junk food really doesn’t hurt in the long run.

Remember that if you’re healthy, you should be able to fast for a few days without problems, and although it’s challenging, fasting for 1-5+ weeks (depending on body fat) is possible with minimal risks. If an adult human cannot comfortably fast for 24-36 hours, there may be severe problems with either liver and/or brain function.

#5: Pills/Supplements:

Supplements are important, but I believe even more firmly that supplements shouldn’t be necessary. One should be able to pass perhaps a week, or at least a few days, without any supplements without significant negative effects.

Unfortunately, we aren’t getting enough sunlight and we’ve depleted many minerals from our water sources, so supplements are practically necessary.

I created this “health” page to explain this general philosophy.

No one is telling us this information because there are few reasons to do so. Pharmaceutical corporations do not care about spreading this information because it does not make them money (a $10 pill of minerals or a $753.59/month prescription drug?!). The medical community does not care about this information because the community is distracted and focused more on performing procedures than improving health. And of course, our governments do care, and they *may* eventually get this information to you, but are you willing to wait 10-20 years? The federal government wants to focus on fighting its own “healthcare bill,” and fifty individual state governments are a mess in sheer number alone. We’ll all be dead before anyone is reliably telling us which supplements are worth our time. I’m not waiting for a doctor to improve my health.

Please read the /pills page for my answer to the question, “What pills and supplements should I take?”

Comments & Feedback

Comments on individual pages are disabled for several reasons. However, I’d love your feedback regarding this page: 

  • How should the sections be organized?
  • What do you agree or disagree with?
  • What else should this page include?

Please use the /contact page. Thank you!

Update Log

[16 June: changed title to “What does “health” really mean?”]
[9 June: Added photo of air filter/CO2 monitor.]
[19 May: Added infographic, mics other edits.]
[4 Apr 2017: Added sleep, reorganized to 5 sections.]
[29 March 2017: Significant edits and clarification.]
[March 2017: Created.]