I pay a lot of attention to what I feel makes me healthy; working out, eating right (except for chicken wings) and trying to step away from things, or people, that give me too much stress. Am I doing enough? Not really; because I’m not always focusing on my overall health, or whole health.
The basic principle of a whole health approach is that your optimal health results from a balance in the physical, mental, environmental, spiritual, and social aspects of your life.
When I first learned about it, I never factored in a couple of them. But they’re all important.
Here’s a little more detail and why each one matters.
To improve your physical health, you want to reach your peak energy and vitality levels. You’ve probably heard these tips a million times before, but combined they put you in your top physical form. And I’ll apologize upfront about reiterating them for the millionth and one time!
Breathe through your abdomen. I decided to start with the lesser known tip so it would increase the odds that you wouldn’t skip over it. Breathing through your abdomen instead of your chest improves energy, increases your oxygen flow, relieves stomach pain and diminishes stress.
Exercise regularly. I just can’t talk about physical health without mentioning exercise. Make it a priority in your life. Schedule it in if you have to, at least 30 minutes a few times a week. If you’re not into hitting the gym, there are many other options out there for you. Do anything that you’ll stick with, and that you’ll enjoy. Swimming, running, biking, hiking, skiing, sports boxing, and dancing are just some of the options you can work into your routine.
Eat a balanced diet. Another “We’ve heard it before” tip is to eat well. Canadian and USA guidelines can steer you in the right direction about the amounts of food that are appropriate. Make sure to include lots of fruits and vegetables, avoid foods with chemical additives and reduce your intake of sugar, red meat, unhealthy fats, caffeine, salt, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol.
Drink water. Most people are chronically dehydrated. I’m one of them. How much water is necessary depends on the study, but most experts believe you need to drink eight to 10 cups of water a day to replace the water lost through your regular metabolic processes.
Sleep. Apparently the three hours of sleep I get a night isn’t even close to being enough! North American guidelines suggest approximately eight hours of sleep for adults a night and 10 for teens. Some tips to help you sleep better include, taking a warm bath or stay away from technology close to bedtime; reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake, and doing some light yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
Mental health is a main factor in our overall health. Here are some ways to take care of your mental health.
Seek professional support. I can’t stress enough that you should get help from a professional if you need it. You can’t sweep some things under the rug, and you magically can’t “get over it”, nor should you even try. Anyone that tells you otherwise may not have a full understanding of what might be happening.
Replace negative beliefs with positive ones. When you find your thoughts veering into negative territory, try to replace them with positive ones. For example, instead of saying that you will fail at something, tell yourself that you’re getting a new opportunity.
Meditate, use deep breathing or visualization. Done regularly, some of the benefits of these activities include reducing stress, increasing your oxygen intake and relieving headaches. If you feel stressed or sense a headache is coming on, try to meditate, deep breathe or visualize for at least 10 minutes to reduce some of the effects.
Write. Start a blog, or create a private journal to describe your daily experiences and feelings. It can help you increase your self-knowledge and writing can be therapeutic and acts as an outlet to get some things out.
Have some fun. Regularly do something you enjoy such as going to the movies or talking to people who make you happy. Anything that you like doing can help make you feel better.
Laugh more. Studies have shown that laughter improves your emotional state as well as strengthens your immune system.
Remove or reduce negative influences. You need to decrease the negative people and things in your life. If someone constantly puts you down or tries to stop you from meeting your goals, they probably don’t have your best interests in mind. If that person is in your family or someone at work, try to reduce the amount of time you spend with them and focus on the positive things people say instead.
To optimize whole health, you need to be in harmony with your environment, which means you’re not harming it, and it’s not harming you. Here are some tips to improve your environmental health, regardless of where you live. You can try to use as some of these in your workplace if allowed.
Go outside. Indoor air can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air so try to get outside to breathe in fresh air as much as possible.
Let in some fresh air. Whenever possible, open up your window(s) to let in some air. Even during winter months, it’s a good idea to open them up for short periods of time. I’ve tried it because my place gets so dry and stuffy. Granted, some winter days it’s much harder, so I’ll only do it for about five-10 minutes at a time.
Keep plants. Plants produce oxygen and can make a difference to improved breathing indoors.
Flee from technology! I don’t like labels, but I’d have to call myself a tech junkie. I’m attached to my phone and laptop a lot for work. Frequently move away from your computer, TV, phone, tablet or gaming system. Leave them behind every hour, move around, and take that time to open a window or step outside and get some fresh air.
Clean your floors regularly. Make sure your floors, particularly carpets and rugs, are cleaned with non-toxic cleaners to prevent the buildup of mold and bacteria.
Improve the ventilation. You can help improve your air circulation by opening up doors and windows periodically. For example, try sleeping with your bedroom door open, even if it’s just slightly ajar.
Spiritual health is about finding meaning in your life, and how it affects you and those around you. There are some ways you can discover or improve your spiritual health.
Meditate. Meditation has been used for thousands of years to connect spiritually.
Take private time. Make some time for yourself every day. It can be in the shower, while you’re brushing your teeth, just before you go to sleep, or when you’re driving home.
Be open. Spiritual experiences can happen anywhere and at any time. Try being non-judgmental and have an open mind. Allow yourself to believe in things that aren’t easy to explain.
Be grateful. By becoming more aware of what you have, no matter how small you may think it is, you can strengthen your connection spiritually.
Social health focuses on the importance of having a strong positive connection to family, friends or people at work or school. You may only have one or two people that you feel strongly connected to, but these connections are vital to your overall well-being. Here are some ways to improve your social health.
Forgive. Positive relationships can’t exist without forgiveness. Learn to forgive yourself and others.
Make a close friend. Most adults have acquaintances, but few have a close enough friend to confide in when needed. If you find that you need a good friend, remember it’s never too late to restore an old friendship or make a new one. Work, classes, the gym or book clubs are just some places to try to strike up a new friendship.
Volunteer. Helping others can make you feel connected and give you the recognition that in giving your time to others, you’re ultimately giving to yourself.
Encourage committed relationships. Make a commitment to become more conscious of all your relationships, especially those closest to you. Don’t forget to connect with someone, even if it’s a quick hello or to catch up. Set up reminders if you’re someone that forgets to reach out to those around you from time to time. I’m that person. If I don’t set up reminders, or regular touch bases, time can pass by before I remember to keep in touch.
How many of the five parts of whole health do you focus on regularly?