When we think of health, we often think of food and exercise. If both are perfect, then I’ll be healthy – right? But it’s just not that simple. Food and exercise are the best places to start for most people, but often other factors will make the difference.
True wellness is a lifestyle. Many wellness advocates now teach that there are seven factors to complete health: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, social and environmental. Each piece hinges on and impacts the others.
Physical. This is what we first think of as health: the absence of injury and the presence of every proper function. I remember two boys when I was in high school who’d both lost the use of their legs in accidents, who switched gears and became athletes, accomplishing more in their handicaps than they ever had before. It made me rethink my definition of health and wholeness. Physical health is using what you have to the best of your ability. It is also caring for the seemingly lesser parts of you so that they can continue being the unseen necessity (because your pancreas may seem insignificant until it doesn’t work.) This means watching your food intake and your exercise output, and being intentional about what you do with your vessel.
Intellectual. This is making sure your mind is stimulated, that you are learning new things and using your mind productively. It usually has to do with your career path, and making sure that you aren’t allowing your knowledge base to stagnate. Keeping your mind healthy also means that you aren’t allowing negative voices (your own or others’) to stifle your efforts toward productivity.
Emotional. Are you solid? Or do you fall asleep too many nights worrying? Emotional health impacts your nervous system, your bodily pH, and the strength of your immune system. Love heals a multitude of ills. Depression affects your sleep and eating habits, most notably, and other aspects of overall health, which then impacts your physical health and contribution to society. Anything that takes you down emotionally literally drains your life. Alternatively, anything that feeds your soul really does build you up.
Spiritual. This is where you stand with your god. Either you follow your own god or you follow the one God. Whatever you choose, this will govern your worldview and priorities. Are you living according to what you believe? If there is discord here – like when I professed to be a Christian during college, I was doing Campus Crusade rallies on Tuesday and frat parties on Thursday – I couldn’t stand myself. Your body is a sensible organism, taking cues from all sources and deriving balance and health from every input. With contradictory inputs, health suffers. Choose your way and ensure that all of your beliefs and actions are in accord with one another.
Financial. If you don’t have enough money to get by, you cannot eat well or sleep in security. The worries of daily necessities will overwhelm your best intentions, if you even have the energy for good intentions. You’re more likely just trying to make ends come together. Your financial health can make or break the best health regime.
Social. Do you have people who care about you, who will be there if you have a flat tire or a birth to celebrate? Loneliness is a disease of epidemic proportions in our media-saturated world. Although it hinges on the mental and emotional factors, it has more to do with the support structure of your safety net. We were designed for communication, with language and a need to love and be loved, face to face. Social contact helps us to know that we exist, and that we matter. It is a foundational need. This is also where the need to give back, be productive and make a positive difference in our world comes into play. A peaceful, interworking internal environment is a reflection of a strong, solid external network.
Environmental. This is our world. If the skies or soils are full of poison, nobody is healthy. I live in Central Texas, where seasons are determined by which tree is debilitating the population. If the world outside (or inside your house) isn’t conducive to being well, our bodily systems are completely occupied with maintaining homeostasis. The slightest bacteria or virus, when the body is already drowning in toxins, can become the final straw. Clean air and pure water are the baseline from which we derive vitality in all other areas.
True health comes from taking care of what matters. Making sure that you are fed and clothed well enough to do what you love for people who matter. It means doing what is right when nobody sees. It’s being able to look yourself in the mirror and achieving your purpose in life. It’s finding the road of life to be rough and long and desolate and finishing well anyway. True health is looking at the endgame and doing what needs done today to reach it.
Do the best you can with what you have today.
It’s all you have to work with.