What does “health” mean to you? It has been wisely noted that health is not merely the absence of chronic problems or disease. As respected author and nationally recognized leader in the holistic health field Dr. Deepak Chopra
states, health is “a joyfulness that should be inside all the time. It’s state of positive well-being which is not only physical, but emotional and ultimately even psychological and spiritual.”
There exist many models of health: Western (which is largely symptom-focused), Ayurvedic (India’s ancient system of natural healing that uses one’s body type to dictate treatment), Chinese medicine (a system that recognizes different elements in the body and then attempts to balance them) and integrative (a blend of ancient healing practices with
modern science), to name a few.
Regardless of one’s preference,however, the basic indicators of or contributors to sound health are universal: ample energy to sustain daily activities, adequate sleep, decent appetite, unblemished skin, regular digestion, the ability
to carry out one’s activities free of pain, and falling within “normal” ranges for BMI (Body Mass Index), blood pressure and cholesterol.
This is not to say that lacking any one or even several of these indicators would mean that a person is unhealthy. The examples noted above are simply some of the typical functions that health professionals use to assess the presence of health concerns. A logical question then is: What are the things that affect our health?
Of course there are numerous answers to this question, but some of the “biggies” are as follows: lifestyle (which includes schedules kept; sleep; use of OTC medications, prescription and/or illicit drugs, as well as the ingestion of any other known toxins, including coffee or alcohol; exercise – or lack thereof; and stress management), environmental toxins (that end up in our food, air, water, homes and workplaces), relationships, emotions, satisfaction with our work and, finally, diet.
All of these areas can either contribute to or detract from our health and well-being. Exploring the topic of diet can
be mind-boggling. There are seemingly sensible eating plans and nutritional suggestions from respected sources that are diametrically opposed to each other. Contradictions abound. While each plan certainly has its merits, one or some of them may seem a much better fit than others.
Often, if one can learn to “tune in” to his/her body, clues will emerge. Pay attention to how your body responds to certain foods. While obviously adhering to an eating plan can be challenging, there really should not be ongoing
discomfort. After all, food is meant to be enjoyed. The exact same dietary guidelines under which one person thrives may be a complete disaster for someone else. The logic in any particular diet plan is irrelevant until you apply it to an individual.
Of course any pre-existing medical conditions should always be considered as well – ideally by
discussing them with one’s physician. Finally, it may also be helpful to look at any similarities between various diet plans. Nutritional trends will most likely be indicative that a particular suggestion is medically sound and that it works.
A discussion of health would not be complete without at least mentioning the importance of emotions. Numerous studies have demonstrated the link between emotional and physical health, right down to the cellular level. It can be a real eye-opener when we realize, for instance, that one’s daily episodes of road rage can actually cause higher levels of cortisol to circulate throughout the body. Cortisol is a “stress hormone” that, if repeatedly triggered, can accelerate the aging process.
It is also widely known, for example, that depressed people will show a decreased immune response, as will college students under stress during exams. The “Type A” personality – known for a tendency towards aggression and/or anger – has now been repeatedly linked to the incidence of cardiac events. We cannot underestimate the significance of the mind-body connection. Remaining aware of the relationship between our emotions and our health can be an important element in our wellness equation.
One other aspect of overall health that is important to keep in mind is what could be referred to as “energetic expenditures.” Basically, we all are endowed with a certain amount of energy – some of us naturally have more
than others – and we need to look at how we use that energy. In today’s frenetic society, with faxes at the beach, cell phones on our bodies, and the average night’s sleep a mere six hours, many of us “burn” more than we replenish. When we continue to do this, we will eventually pay the price.
Chinese medicine embraces this issue with the concept of “qi”(pronounced chee). Simply put, qi is our life force – that which gives us our capacity to move, think,feel and work. Some things we do not need to see to realize their existence. Chinese medicine recognizes the effect of the unseen on the visible. Symptoms typically manifest when something is out of balance, and our bodies have a perfect accounting system. We need to pay attention to more subtle signals. We are not trained to “listen” to our body; instead, we take our aspirin or our sleeping pill and tune out.
When it comes to caring for ourselves, it is all about our day-to-day choices. From the thoughts that we think to the food we put in our mouths, everything impacts on our health. Therefore, it is better to try and make conscious choices rather than have our habits dictate our futures.Awareness can be the first step then on the path to wellness.