During one of the presentations when I was at Nestle's headquarters for a sponsored trip last week, we discussed a survey that looked at how people defined health. It was really interesting to see the different ways people thought of health, and I was happy to see "healthy body weight" ranked towards the bottom. Small wins! Some of the answers included "feeling good about myself," "being physically fit," "having energy," and "absence of illness."
In our society, health is often talked about as if it's black and white. You're healthy or not healthy. Slightly more nuanced conversations about health talk about it as if it were a spectrum. Health is not a binary thing though, and looks different for different people based on their values, life situation, and outlook. As I was thinking about writing this post, I read this article by Isabel Foxen Duke that talks about health as a multidimensional matrix, and I think that's a much more useful way of thinking about it.
The dualistic idea of health crumbles away when you start to really think about it. Imagine a young person living an active, healthy, and carefree life. Then one day they're diagnosed with incurable stage IV cancer. While they had the cancer inside of them, they were still considered healthy.
Imagine that despite their diagnosis, that same person maintained a positive attitude, stayed active within their limitations, laughed, spent time with friends and people they loved, and did all the things they enjoyed. People wouldn't consider that person healthy because they were dying, but I mean, aren't we all? And how does that life compare to someone that's absent of illness, but occupied by anxiety, fears, sadness, and social isolation?
I think those examples demonstrate that how we define health is...odd. Personally, I think health is much less about absence of disease, and more about how we live and cope with life circumstances. It's more mental part that matters in quality of life more than the physical. Yet most of the discussion about how to improve health centers around physical health, specifically food and fitness.
While there are factors in health that are out of our control (genetics for one), there are others that we do have some control over. Physical activity and dietary patterns do play a role, but it's not all of it. When we look at health-promoting behaviors, I think we need to look beyond food and fitness. Here's 8 ways to improve your health that have nothing to do with diet or exercise
Developing Good Sleep Hygiene // We all know from experience how lack of sleep impacts mental health (y'all, don't mess with me when I've gotten less than 7 hours), but it also has a huge impact on physical health too. Aim to get in bed at close to the same time each night, develop a bedtime routine (like drinking a cup of hot tea and reading a book), turn off the TV about an hour before bed, and do some light stretches or deep breathing to relax.
Talk to a Therapist // I'm a big believer that we can all benefit from therapy, regardless of whether you have any big things to talk out. I actually recently signed up for Talkspace for online therapy, because even though I feel really good right now, with my history of anxiety, sometimes things happen that I just need to chat out.
Get a Pet // Even if it's a goldfish, pets can improve health. I'm also pretty sure there's research that shows big fluffy dogs are best for health, so you should probably get one of those and bring it by my house for playdates.
Meditate // There are so many health benefits to meditation. For me, I find just 5 minutes of meditation in the middle of a hectic day is incredibly grounding. I really like the app Insight Timer, which has a ton of different guided meditations.
Do a Puzzle // Whether it's a crossword puzzle, sodoku or Words with Friends, doing a puzzle each day has been shown to keep your brain sharp as you age.
Nurture Closer Relationships // Let's stop talking about processed foods and sugar being deadly - it's not. But loneliness is. Talk to friends regularly, even if it's just over text. Whenever I text or call a friend I haven't talked to in awhile, it makes me feel good because I know that it's improving their health too. If you have a partner, try to do things together that nurture a closer connection, both just the two of you, or with others.
Make an Appointment With Your Doctor // If you're having a hard time finding a doctor who can treat you without a side of weight stigma, check out these two lists of HAES practitioners, or read this post for advice on how to communicate with your provider.
Create Something // Doesn't matter if it's a painting, a poem, or a page from a coloring book, creating something can be incredibly gratifying. Personally, I'm not the most artistic (I think my perfectionist side gets in the way), but one way I like to create is through cooking. That's part of the reason why some of my recipes might seem a bit more complicated - because I'm looking at it as a piece of art.
How do you define health? How do you take care of your health outside of food and fitness? Share in the comments!
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