“Use it or lose it; just do it; just say no; if you have your health, you have everything.”
Sound familiar? Statements like these have become part of our American vocabulary. Not a day goes by that we don’t hear or talk or read about the latest way to lose weight, reduce stress, and improve ourselves in some way. We are exhorted to be strong, exercise our willpower and our bodies, avoid harmful substances, fling ourselves into the social arena, and be all we can be. Our society seems to have turned itself onto the idea that we can and should make a difference in our personal health and well-being. Hype aside, there are some very good reasons why Americans need to be concerned about the lives they lead. In the United States, the leading causes of death and disability are due to the lifestyle practices. Although the extent to which illness or death could be prevented by altering our lifestyle is debatable, it is clear that the choices we make every day influence not only how we live, but also how long we live.
While many Americans have begun to take action to improve their own health, the majority remain on the sidelines; and it is easy to understand why. The slogans sound good, but putting them into practice is another matter. Many people view problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes as things which happen only to someone else or to older people. “What’s it got to do with me?” and “what could I do about it anyway?” they may ask. Some people are overwhelmed by the barrage of conflicting messages about what is good for us and what is bad. How can we know the experts to believe and where can we obtain accurate and reliable information? Often people would like to develop healthier habits, but just do not know where to start.
Chances are you’ve had similar thoughts or concerns yourself. How healthy are you? What are the greatest threats to your health? What difference might it make if today you began to change your lifestyle in certain ways? These questions are common, but you are a unique individual and you must find the answers which are right for you. Rather than telling you “just do it” or because everyone else is doing it, I want to share with you the scientific reasons for asserting a certain lifestyle now referred to as wellness.
Wellness is the active process of becoming aware of and making choices to create a healthier life in all of life’s dimensions. Wellness describes a lifestyle in which the physical, social, intellectual, psychological, spiritual, and environmental components of health are integrated. The person committed to wellness is continuously striving to achieve the optimum level of health within the framework of his or her own limitations and potential.
The well person takes an honest look at his or her own capabilities and limitations and attempts to change those negative factors in life that are within the individual’s power to change. Wellness behaviors include:
- Exercising aerobically at least three times per week and engaging in other forms of exercise daily
- Not smoking
- Limiting the consumption of alcohol to no more than two drinks per day and seven drinks per week
- Taking actions to preserve the environment
- Eating wholesome, nutritional foods
- Reducing caffeine intake
- Practicing safe sex
- Engaging in practices of meditation or reflection which enable you to reduce stress
- Consciously avoiding inappropriately hostile or aggressive behaviors
- Avoiding inappropriately passive behaviors
- Balancing work, social, and fitness behaviors
Our outlook on life, our relationships with others, our general appreciation of the world around us, and our respect for the well-being of others are all major elements of the wellness lifestyle. Thus, wellness is not dependent upon age, sex, or intelligence but a mindset which will help you attain a sense of well-being.
Just as certain influences predispose us toward various behaviors or make it more difficult to change a given behavior; reinforcing factors serve to help us to maintain our motivation to change. Without them we slide backward toward negative wellness behaviors. Having a strong social support group to give you positive feedback, having a friend to call when you’re craving that cigarette or rich dessert and knowing others really and actually care about you may actually help you to continue your diet and exercise efforts. The extent to which you perceive yourself as feeling better and the feedback you receive from others following an adoption to a given behavior may encourage or discourage your continuation of the behavior. While some people participate in a 10K run for the T-shirt they get for entering the race, others participate because they feel good about the value they place on the exercise and finishing the race is their true reward. Ask yourself, “What did I do for myself today, yesterday, and what about tomorrow?” Begin a wellness approach by:
- setting realistic goals
- adjust priorities
- identify your resources
- develop a plan and time frame
- take action and give yourself time to make the behavioral change.
In conclusion, we are what we are – as individuals and as a society, we allow ourselves to become products of a lifetime or positive and negative lifestyles. We either make our own choices along the way or are influenced by environmental and social forces. Once we recognize and accept our limitations and have a realistic perspective of those things we can and cannot change, we need to examine our personal priorities honestly. Any behavior change designed to achieve health will only be as good as our ability to live with the plan of action which we have selected. Making lifestyle choices that include all the dimensions of wellness is a key factor in establishing a life-long pattern of positive health behavior.