Most of us aspire to be healthy, however, the definition of good health may vary from culture to person. It is all too common to underestimate the impact happiness and wellbeing can have on your physical health. Taking a holistic approach means defining good health as more than just being free from physical or mental illness. Holistic health is about feeling calm and relaxed; having a sense of meaning and purpose and maintaining an optimistic outlook. Research shows that those who have good overall wellbeing are less likely to suffer from long-term ailments as well as having faster recovery from illness or disease. Whilst managing overwhelming responsibility and pressure in everyday life, most people don’t even realise when they are feeling stressed or unbalanced. Practising a holistic approach means taking steps to protect your health and wellbeing on a regular basis ensuring long-lasting benefits in all areas of your life. Having a good diet, exercise and sleep routine, as well as resilience and purpose, are all factors contributing to a healthy lifestyle. Understanding the interaction between these lifestyle factors and overall health may be the key to defining the pathway for your own holistic wellbeing.
Most of us understand of basics of a healthy and balanced diet; eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, try to limit sugar and salt, drink less alcohol etc. Easier said than done when faced with the temptation of a takeaway and a beer after a long week at work. But although good for a short-term fix, fast food nutrition is likely to make you feel much worse in the long run. Laden with sugar, salt and fat which trigger the release of placating chemicals in the brain, the next day, you may find yourself more tired and irritable than you were before.
The food we eat effects our energy-levels, mood and even the ability to concentrate day to day, so, is an important component of holistic health. Besides releasing chemicals in the brain, a large part of nutritional wellbeing can be attributed to the health of the gut. Digestive problems can make a person very uncomfortable and impact overall wellbeing at a surface level, however, the presence of certain microbes in the lining of the intestine has also been linked to common mental disorders such as depression. You may have heard of ‘good bacteria’ supporting a healthy digestive system; it is the balance of bacteria in the gut which enables optimum health and wellbeing. Foods rich in probiotics e.g. yogurt, are good for supporting this balance, whereas foods which are processed or high in sugar or salt are likely to inflame the gut and cultivate an unhealthy environment. Eating well is about so much more than just watching your waistline!
Exercise is an essential part of staying fit and healthy but getting to the gym may not feel like a priority when you’re busy. Contrary to the common-sense excuse (I’m too tired), however, exercise actually increases energy levels as well as boosting mood and overall wellbeing. Dependant on your level of fitness and physical ability, a minimum of 30 minutes cardiovascular exercise (something that gets your heart beating fast), 3 times per week is essential for keeping you going day to day. By releasing mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, exercise is an important part of protecting your mental health as well keeping you physically healthy and strong.
Ask anyone who plays a regular sport and they will tell you that although starting out is hard, exercise can become an important and meaningful part of your life. When you haven’t been to the gym in a while, it can feel uncomfortable to get going, and many people worry about looking bad in front of others who they would rather impress. Exercise can be a valuable social opportunity, however, and there are classes and activities for all levels of fitness available at most gyms. Exercise is key to holistic health not only for improved physical fitness, mood-regulating and disease fighting properties, but it can be an important part of social wellbeing and boosting self-esteem.
Sleep is commonly undervalued, but when you’re not getting enough, the impact on day to day life may be considerable. Those essential hours in the dream world are important for the regulation of hormones affecting several important processes e.g. insulin regulation. Insufficient or inadequate sleep can lead to hormone imbalance, which has a considerable impact on physical as well as mental health e.g. leading to weight and mood fluctuations. Poor sleep has also been linked to several physical health complaints such as weakened immunity or high blood pressure. It is important to have a healthy bedtime routine e.g. allowing time for relaxation, avoiding stimulants such as tea or coffee before bed and limiting the use of phones or computers. This is to enable a solid 6-8 hours of rest; giving your body adequate time to do its thing.
Often not considered part of a healthy lifestyle but having a sense of meaning and purpose is an essential part of holistic health. It is becoming increasingly common for people to seemingly live the ‘good life’ whilst feeling depressed, anxious or lost. Social media enables quick and easy communication with others but perpetuates poor self-esteem by encouraging peer to peer judgement. It is essential for overall health and wellbeing not to live by the approval of others. We are all unique and having individual purpose is what gives meaning to our lives and helps us to feel happy and fulfilled. Finding purpose may mean trying new things whether it be a new hobby, going to a new place, or meeting new people. If you are unhappy in the life you currently lead, finding purpose may mean a career or lifestyle change. It is important to look beneath the surface and explore new ideas or ways of living. This may mean limiting the use of social media to avoid abstract pressures which distract you from personal fulfilment. It can also be helpful to talk to someone close or professional, if you are unsure about the meaning or purpose which feels right for you.
Although it may seem obvious when considering overall health and wellbeing, it is a bit simplistic to advise simply reducing the stress in your life. Climbing the career ladder, managing finances as well as family and social pressures are often an essential part of daily living. Stress will inevitably come and go throughout your lifetime; it is how you handle it which determines overall health and wellbeing. It is important to find ways of managing stress which work for you to reduce the long-term impact on your physical and mental health. Effective techniques may include scheduling regular time for rest and relaxation, talking to a trusted friend or family member or finding a creative/ physical outlet for pent-up emotions. Incorporating regular stress-releasing activity into your daily routine is a key component of holistic health.
Mental and physical health are almost inseparable by their mechanisms and outcomes. Living a traditionally ‘healthy’ life is inadequate without due consideration to your overall happiness and wellbeing. Diet, exercise and sleep are all essential for helping you to look and feel good, but without resilience and a sense of purpose, you may not fully experience the benefits. Working towards a happy and fulfilled life is a journey we are all taking. It’s not as easy as it looks but don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand. Good luck!