Updated: Mar 13, 2018
Lately, I’ve been working on coursework for workplace wellness certification, which has me thinking more about the concept of wellness. Some would define wellness as the state of being in good physical and mental health. Others would say that wellness is more of a process of being aware of and working toward being healthier, but both associate wellness with health.
Feeling ill or un-well from time to time seems to be a fact of life, at some point we will deal with a headache, a stuffy, runny nose, head congestion, or the stomach bug as we live our busy lives.
So this begs the question, do we have any control over this state of being unwell or ill? You may be surprised by what the research is saying today.
Wellness or illness has to do with the body but also the mind, spirit and our physical environment. For example, our body can become unwell if we subsist on food items devoid of nutrients and packed with chemical additives, surround ourselves with negative individuals, don’t connect to God each day, or live in a house with mold.
Research indicates that more than 75% of our chronic illnesses are preventable with lifestyle changes such as better nutrition, exercise, reduced exposure to toxins and a reduction in our level of daily stress.
Chronic illness such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers, are preventable with lifestyle modifications. So, what constitutes a healthy lifestyle versus an unhealthy lifestyle so that we can prevent these chronic illnesses, let’s take a look…
Health can be defined as the overall sound condition of the body, mind, and spirit, relatively free from disease or abnormalities, or the condition of optimal well-being.
Let’s take a look at what contributes to a healthy body, mind, and spirit.
Healthy body: The human body has basic needs, such as proper nourishment (nutrients), adequate movement (exercise), adequate sleep, and managed stressors.
Nutrients provide energy and support proper growth, development, and maintenance.
Nutrients such as protein, fat, carbohydrates, and water, are the macronutrients that we need in larger amounts daily.
Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are also necessary for proper physiological function.
We must consume these necessary nutrients daily in the diet through the food we eat and beverages we drink.
Certain foods, such as vegetables and fruits, will also provide compounds that our bodies use to protect us from diseases, such as antioxidants like vitamin C, and fiber, associated with reduced risk for diseases such as cardiovascular diseases.
Healthy food choices include choosing to eat a variety of whole foods that are nutrient-dense, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, lean meat, and wild-caught fish each day.
Balancing energy intake with the amount of physical activity you are involved in each day will help you maintain a healthy weight.
Adult sleep needs are estimated to be 7-9 hours per night, and children of different ages will require between 8 and 14 hours depending on the age of the child or adolescent.
Certain stress can be good for the body (eustress) such as exercise and work that is challenging but fulfilling.
Healthy mind: Simple daily lifestyle choices such as exercise, exploring new ideas (focused thought), being creative, creating and maintaining human connections and bonds, seeking inspiration, and balancing your energy intake with activity are all said to be habits that lend to a healthy mind.
Current research indicates that our brains are malleable (neuroplastic) and shows how experiences can initiate reorganization and growth in the brain throughout an individual’s lifetime.
Researchers identify four ways in which experiences can alter or change the structure and function of the brain.
Experiences can alter the structure and function of the brain through the creation or strengthening of neural connections (synaptogenesis); creation of insulating sheath along axons for quicker neural processing (myelinogenesis); differentiation of neural stem cells (neurogenesis); and the turning on or off of genes based on environmental influences (epigenesis).
Based on these findings, a healthy mind is associated with several activities. These activities are sleep, physical activity, time spent focusing the mind, connecting with others, downtime, and being mindful. For example, individuals benefit from sleep as this is the time in which the body is best able to consolidate the days learning into long-term memory.
Healthy spirit: Of the three, a healthy body, mind and spirit, the spirit may be more challenging for some to consider. The body and mind can be seen and analyzed, while the spirit has been defined as the force or principle that animates the individual, and is unseen.
As God gives the spirit (2 Timothy 1:7), we must turn to His word to gain a better understanding of the spirit.
In Job 32:8, God tells us that “there is spirit in man.” Strong’s dictionary defines man's spirit as breath/wind, the rational soul, and life (ruach/pneuma).
James 2:26 tells us that “the body without the spirit is dead.”
Just like the body, the spirit can be either healthy or unhealthy.
Knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 17:27; Proverbs 29:23) can produce love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control, which lead to a healthy spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Here are some things that contribute to an unhealthy body, mind, and spirit:
Unhealthy body: Overeating or consuming the wrong type of food can lead to excess weight or obesity, which is a major risk factor for disease states such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
A thin person may also be unhealthy if exposed to toxins that negatively impact the body, or if they do not consume necessary nutrients for proper growth, development, and maintenance of the body, among other factors.
Just as a diet consisting of highly processed convenience foods can lead to overweight status, a lack of physical activity is also associated with higher percentage of body fat which can lead to an unhealthy state.
Sleep deficiency can lead to higher risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, difficulty in learning or focusing, irritability and increased risk for depression, as well as an increased appetite that can lead to weight gain, according to Dr. Axe.
Negative stress (distress) can arise from events such as high demands at work or home, troubled relationships, tragic losses in our life or even excessive exposure to toxins. If left unchecked, this chronic distress can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Some signs of an ill or un-well state of physical being can include chronic constipation or diarrhea, skin disorders, frequent colds that indicate a weakened immune system, fatigue or chronic tiredness, anxiety and excess weight.
Unhealthy mind: Physical and mental health are connected. For example, disturbances to our hormones, the chemical messengers in the body (endocrine system), can lead to depression, anxiety or sleep disorders.
Further, endocrine disorders can be related to lack of nutrients in the diet. For example, low maternal vitamin D levels have been associated with increased risk for type 1 diabetes in the child (Miettinen et al., 2017).
Just as proper sleep, physical activity, time spent focusing the mind, connecting to others, getting enough downtime and being mindful can lead to a healthy mind, the converse of these, such as not enough sleep, can lead to an unhealthy mind.
Unhealthy spirit: We have read that a healthy spirit is produced by obtaining knowledge and wisdom that leads us to love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control, so the converse of each of these mentioned would be the outward findings of an unhealthy spirit.
When an individual does not work to gain knowledge and wisdom that leads to the healthy behaviors mentioned above and is continually deficient in these godly attributes, such as peace and self-control, this can lead to an unhealthy spirit (Mark 5:2).
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the workplace wellness program coursework that I am currently studying. The curriculum focuses on three types of programs that can be developed as the company begins to initiate a workplace wellness program for their employees. Programs can be thought of in terms of “Good,” “Better,” and “Best.” And, in each area that the company works to develop, whether organizing a cohesive wellness team or crafting the operating plan, it can be thought of in terms of “good,” “better” or “best.”
One reason for the good, better, and best platforms is that when you start a new initiative it can seem daunting, and if it appears too big a task, it may seem unmanageable. So, thinking in terms of beginning with a “good” plan and then moving it to “better,” and ultimately “best” can break the barrier of not wanting to begin at all.
We can think of individual wellness programs in much the same way. Begin with a good, move to better, and ultimately the best program for you. Removing the barrier of feeling overwhelmed by starting will help move you to make changes that lead to better health and overall wellness.
The process will look different for different people. For example, one person may drink soda with each meal and decide to replace the soda with unsweetened tea or lemon-infused spring water. This one choice will move this individual toward reducing daily caloric intake and supporting the body with more nutrients and beneficial substances such as antioxidants while removing potential toxins that can harm the body.
Studies, such as Vlassara et al. (2009), reveal that even small, incremental reductions in consuming highly processed food and beverages, such as soda, can reduce body inflammation and lead to the restoration of natural defenses.
Taking small steps toward a healthier body, mind, and spirit, and building upon each step will help to move you from a good plan to a better plan, and ultimately the best wellness plan for you that can lead you to your optimal state of wellness.
Mark_12:30 “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Romans_12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
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