By Gary Gales, DPT
The World Health Organization defines health as 'a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'.
With this definition in mind, what are the important factors that lead to this state? Are we physically strong and pain free? Do we have the endurance to complete the tasks that need to be done, and energy left over to do the fun and social activities? Do we live in a positive state of mind with optimism and joy for the coming times in our lives? Are we in balance with our environment, both internal and external?
These are important questions we need to ask ourselves. We need to spend time looking outward and inward to determine our balance and then look at what tools we can incorporate to achieve this balance. Tools to improve our physical, mental, and social well-being are many and all within our control with a firm commitment to making them habits. We are run by our habits and mainly our subconscious mind and need to cultivate these good habits. We may need to reduce our bad habits that interfere with our health.
Exercise is one tool that is non-negotiable, we need daily meaningful movements to program the body to build and maintain our physical systems. The fancy term is “mechano-transduction”. We are programming our body and our mind by inducing good stress on our body which tells our mind/body to physically build stronger with strength and endurance. Other benefits of exercise are releasing feel good hormones to improve our mood. We also burn up our negative stress hormones from spending too much time in a fight or flight mode or situations that our mind determines are a threat or danger to us. We are not made to be in this stressful state for long, but our subconscious mind cannot determine potential stress from true physical danger. When we are in this stressful state our body releases hormones to increase our adrenaline, our blood sugar rises, and shunts blood to our muscles to get us ready to flee. Exercise can help utilize this excess blood sugar instead of the body storing it as fat. Stress also negatively impacts our digestive system.
We can help reverse our fight or flight response by utilizing breath work. Our autonomic nervous system works to balance our body between the fight or flight response and the rest and relax response. We are not designed to stay in the fight or flight response for extended periods and it will inevitably interfere with our health and sense of well-being. A practice of deep breathing can upregulate our rest and relax response and tamp down the fight or flight. We must consciously turn our attention inward when we are stressed to see how we are breathing and refocus our breathing patterns to help reprogram our systems. There are many well-researched breathing techniques out there, but mainly breath work helps you tune in to what is happening within your body and mind at that moment in time. Much like regular exercise, making a conscious effort to bring awareness to your breathing and your state of stress a habit will take the time to do, but it is highly worth the effort.
Another habit to cultivate is getting good sleep. Making sure you get sufficient and refreshing sleep as often as possible is critical. During a full night of sleep your body undergoes a lot of physical restoration and mental reprogramming. Adequate sleep can help sort out the activities of the day and restores our mental well-being.
Diet is another area that is vital to our health. It’s been said that “we are what we eat” and this is extremely important to supply our body and mind the good resources to build ourselves mentally and physically. Try to make a balanced diet of nutritious eating a habit!
If you feel you need professional help reaching your wellness goals, or pain is keeping you from exercising, check out Alpine Physical Therapy. We are experts in movement and helping you meet your specific goals.