Your healthy life is about more than what you eat and drink and how much you move your body. These things are important, but a more holistic approach to vibrantly good health includes your mental and spiritual well-being. We often use the term “wellness” to refer to this more complete and integrated idea about health.
Though the concept of wellness is ancient, it was Halbert L. Dunn, M.D. who brought this term to the realm of modern medicine in the 1950s. Dunn defined wellness as, “an integrated method of functioning which is oriented toward maximizing the potential of which the individual is capable,” going on to state that a person must have balance and “purposeful direction within the environment where he is functioning,” that is to say, “much more than the absence of disease.”
At first associated with alternative medicine, wellness has gone mainstream. Not only is the term in use within mainstream medicine, but one-third of global employers invest in “full-blown wellness programs.” These programs work with individuals on specific, targeted goals, helping them take responsibility for their own health outcomes.
What does wellness mean to most of us today? There are many factors which contribute to wellness, including eating healthy food, getting regular physical exercise, keeping a balance between work, family, and relationships, maintaining mental and spiritual health, and living in a clean environment.
Much like Dr. Dunn explained more than a half-century ago, the University of California, Riverside, also says that wellness is “more than merely physical health, exercise, or nutrition. It is the full integration of states of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.” Their Wellness Program proposes seven dimensions of wellness: social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, occupational, intellectual, and physical.
Using UCR’s Seven Dimensions of Wellness as a guide, let’s take a look at some specific steps you can take to maximize your health—and more than that, your wellness:
SEVEN STEPS TO A HEALTHY LIFE
Let’s face it, some of us just aren’t very social. Nowadays, we know that the brains of introverts work differently and that their alone-time requirements are higher. This means that what defines healthy social relationships varies. Let your inclination be your guide, and aim for moderation.
If you’re an introvert, be sure to commit to alone time for yourself. It helps you to reboot your brain, increases creativity and productivity, helps you to work through problems more effectively, and enhances your relationships with other people.
On the other hand, if you’re an extrovert, especially if you think you’re not getting out enough, find an organization that is meaningful to you and commit to attending regular gatherings. Choose a religious or volunteer organization, a neighborhood or community organization, a class, or a group associated with work or a topic that excites you.
As with your social and alone time, strive for moderation in your emotional life. Address toxic relationships in straightforward ways. If you cannot take steps to improve them, remove yourself from them.
Consider your own emotional makeup: are you always positive or are you more pessimistic? Are you highly reactive or bored all the time? These and other emotional characteristics are at opposite ends of a spectrum, and you will address them in different ways.
Let’s look at the example of positivism versus pessimism. Neither outlook is necessarily wrong; each contributes to a healthy society. It’s when one or the other becomes a permanent and inflexible state of mind that problems begin. One way to develop a more balanced, flexible approach to your life is by keeping a journal. Reserve 15 minutes each morning to write in your journal without stopping. Positivists: write about one potential problem area that requires your attention. Pessimists: write about one thing for which you’re grateful.
Spirituality is a sense of connectedness to something greater than ourselves. We all experience connectedness in different ways: through religion, meditation, participating in a social service project, living in nature, reading a story that connects us to a universal human experience, or hearing a symphony, to name a few. Find your connection space.
Is your environment safe and healthy? There are many ways the environment endangers people, from crime to toxic substances. Identify the sources of danger in your environment and take steps to eliminate them as much as possible. No environment is perfect, but there are things you can do in any situation: neighborhood watches, healthier cleaning methods, removing hazardous substances and objects.
The best work is meaningful and engaging. Of course, there are repetitive or annoying tasks involved with any job, but these are just the punctuation marks in stories that generally keep us reading. Yet in America, for example, more than 70% workers are not engaged at work. This disengagement contributes to ill health. Wellness requires that we confront our own disengagement and find ways to reinvigorate at work. You’ll feel better—and so will your boss!
A Forbes article tells us that what means the most for employee engagement is “human connection, peer recognition, self-expression, a stimulating career path, personal growth, sense of community, and other intrinsic incentives.” The critical factors are neither what the work is nor how much it pays. Are there ways to enhance the things that do matter in your work situation? If talking with superiors about improving your work environment or self-generating more meaningful contacts doesn’t do help you to engage, it may be worth considering other options.
Like any other part of your body, your brain needs exercise!! What interests you? What stimulates your curiosity? Figure it out and find ways to explore those things more. Take a class, read a book, visit online forums, attend a discussion group, conduct interviews, or go exploring in your backyard or in the larger world.
Our physical status is where we usually start (and end) talking about health: what we eat and drink and how and when we move our bodies. Physical well-being is the easiest to address, yet it is dependent on all the other aspects of well-being. If you are overly pessimistic and depressed, you won’t feel like exercising. Conversely, lack of exercise contributes to depression. You need to address wellness in all areas.
Here are two easy ideas for rethinking your approach to physical health:
1. Visit drfuhrman.com to learn about eating for nutrient density, emphasizing foods that provide maximum nutrition with minimum calories. Simple ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) Food Scores provide an easy way to make good food choices.
2. Get a pedometer. This is an easy way to make sure you’re getting enough body movement over the course of a day. Ten thousand steps per day is a good goal; four short walks, a little under a mile each, plus your normal activity in the course of a day will get you there. It’s better to take walks at intervals than all at once since long periods of sitting have such negative health effects.