When most people think of how to achieve a ‘healthy lifestyle’, I suspect they may often limit themselves to thinking only about what they eat and what exercise they do, which is important, but is also quite a narrow view of health and one that will probably not give long-term satisfaction and probably not even the desired results. There are a few more very important aspects to consider if we want to be truly healthy, which means expanding our focus from being solely concentrated on physical health, and incorporating our mental, emotional and spiritual health into the picture as well.
So, as my nerdy title suggests, I have listed below 6 main areas that need to be addressed if we are going to attain the kind of health that will sustain us through the kinds of ups and downs most people face in a lifetime. Points 1, 2 and 3 are primarily physical, although they do impact our emotional and mental health as well. Points 4, 5 and 6 focus more on the emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of health and are just as important. I could probably even argue a case for them being more important, but that’s for another day.
So the areas to focus on if we want to achieve a totally healthy life are:
- Nutrition. Everyone knows you are what you eat. Some people don’t care, but I imagine if you are reading this, you are probably not one of those people. Plus there are ads on the tele that bang on about this all the time. So it’s a no brainer. I’m not going to harp on here about it. Food is important for our health. I will be harping on about it in future blogs though, so if you don’t care about food, best to unsubscribe now.
- Movement. I told a friend of mine the other day that I was calling point # 2 (which some would just call ‘exercise’) ‘Movement’ and his response was – “that is so wanky George”, and I guess if you are an exercise buff you might be forgiven for having the same opinion, or you’ll just completely disagree with me. But I don’t necessarily believe that all exercise is good for you (which I will expand on in a future blog) so I am highlighting that point # 2 is not about running for as long or as far as you can or pushing your body to its limit every day. It is about keeping your body as strong and limber as possible without overtaxing your cardiovascular system or your muscles or your joints. You need these body parts to be working as well as possible as you get older, so if you don’t look after them they might just pack it in, and then what?
- Sleep. This one has been getting a bit more attention in science, news and other media lately, and I only began to appreciate its absolutely VITAL importance once I restricted my sleep to only 3-4 hours a night for about 4 years (not a smart idea, I thought I was invincible back then). I don’t know how to convey in this small space how important this is – but getting a good night’s sleep is one of the MOST IMPORTANT aspects of being healthy! This means good quality sleep for a good length of time, every night. If you ignore good sleep habits for too long, your health will suffer. It’s a fact.
- Breathing. Everyone who practices yoga, meditation and Tai Chi already knows how important breathing is for your health. And funnily enough, smokers know it too (stay with me on this), although I’d say most don’t even realise what they are doing as they inhale-exhale. If they weren’t breathing in smoke and all sorts of dangerous toxins, their inhaling and exhaling rhythm would be an excellent example of healthy, focused breathing. This is the reason so many smokers go for a cigarette when they feel anxious; the regular, deep inhale and exhale is incredibly calming. There are also many other benefits to be had if you concentrate on your breathing, aside from relieving anxieties. Even if it’s only 10 minutes, incorporating some form of focused breathing into your day will improve your mental focus, make you feel more relaxed and improve all sorts of below-the-radar physical functions.
- Thoughts. Thoughts affect our feelings. If you didn’t realise this, just think about someone you love. This will hopefully make you smile, which you may notice relaxes your face, or you might get little bit excited about seeing them, or feel sad if you haven’t seen them for a while. Same situation if you think about your favourite food, or your favourite place to holiday. Just thinking about something sets off all sorts of emotional reactions inside our bodies. So if you can see how thoughts that are positive can make you feel good, then it’s not a big leap to realise that thoughts that are negative can make you feel the opposite of good. And the more negative our thoughts are and the more often we have them, the worse we’ll end up feeling. Now I know there will always be times when negative thoughts creep in and I guess we wouldn’t be human if they didn’t, but if we let these kinds of thoughts dig in, and lay down some roots, then we may just find that we become that angry, bitter, resentful old person who can’t find anything at all to smile about. Even someone they love. Being conscious of what we focus our thoughts on is profoundly important for a healthy emotional and mental state.
- Social Interaction. Human beings are social creatures. We thrive when in contact with other humans and when we are isolated all aspects of our health suffer. We feel better physically and emotionally when we have good friends or family around us, whether it is a small handful of people or a large social group. Does it go without saying that these relationships need to be the kind that add good things to your life, rather than the toxic kind that do more harm than good? I hope so. And contact with others can also nourish our mental health by challenging distorted ideas that may take hold if we are left alone for too long. We get a more balanced perspective when exposed to different ideas and opinions, especially if we don’t hold the same ideas and opinions as the other person. In lieu of human contact, pets have been shown to have a number of benefits for our health. So my hot tips for point # 6: Talk to a wide variety of people. Choose your friends wisely, stay in contact with your family and take time to nurture your relationships with both. Or get a pet.
Each of these areas could be (and I’m sure they will be) a blog or two of their own. There is way too much scope in each area to do it justice in just a few sentences. But it’s a good place to start – to be aware that good health is more than just eating good food and keeping active.