Living a long, full life is the dream that almost every American pursues on some level. Although achieving that goal sounds tough, most experts agree that the first big step towards getting the most out of life involves wellness.
But what is wellness? Like many broad terms used in everyday conversation, wellness is a tough one to pin down. However, one of the more commonly accepted definitions for wellness is that it’s a state of total physical, mental, and social well-being.
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Achieving Physical Wellness
With regards to the physical side of wellness, the American population still has a lot to learn. According to a recent study published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only a third of children participate in daily physical activity.
And the results for adults are far more staggering. In the United States, less than 5% of adults participate in at least 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only a third of adults participated in the recommended amount of physical activity each week.
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With these kind of numbers, it should be obvious to anyone striving for increased wellness that dedicating some time towards healthy, physical activity is a good place to start. But what about the other forms of wellness—specifically mental and social well-being?
Feeling good on a mental and social level can mean a lot of different things. For the sake of brevity, let’s call that happiness. According to an article published earlier this year by the Washington Post, on a scale of 1 to 3, where 1 represents “not too happy” and 3 means “very happy,” Americans on average gave themselves a 2.18, which is only “pretty happy.”
Happiness is much more complex than the physical side of well-being. Researchers at the University of Maryland argue that it involves a number of resources, like coping with feelings, creating satisfying relationships, and resiliency. But achieving happiness also involves learning to deal with stressors and self-care.
At every busy intersection, behind the door to any job, and inside even the most beautiful home lies some type of stress. At times, stress is beneficial. It can help us meet deadlines, take on tough tasks, and increase our overall productivity. But most of the time, it hurts more than it helps.
The Effects of Stress
Despite a few positives, stress is usually very harmful. Although the human body is capable of handling stress in the short-term, it can become debilitating over time, and that can lead to serious health issues.
According to the American Psychological Association, stress can cause people to indulge in comfort eating, poor diet choices, smoking, and inactivity. The resulting health defects associated with stress include heartburn, insomnia, high blood sugar, fertility issues, increased depression, and weakened immune systems.
The APA also states that 43% of all adults suffer adverse health effects caused by stress. And that chronic stress can be even more debilitating. In the long-term, ongoing stress can increase the risk for hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.
One of the difficulties associated with stress is that it can stem from a wide variety of sources. Financial issues, work related problems, a dark political climate, and neighborhood crime are some of the more common catalysts of stress that are around every corner in America.
More people are realizing that stress has an impact on well-being. But they don’t take the necessary steps to prevent stress or manage it, although time management may be a significant barrier preventing people from taking the necessary steps to improve their health.
The good news is that following a few simple guidelines can help reduce stress. In addition to regular exercise, health experts recommend seeking out a licensed psychologist to help identify stressors, along with keeping a healthy social network and getting enough sleep.
Whether it’s taking a jog, riding a bike, or hiring a personal trainer—exercise is one of the best ways to keep stress levels at a low, manageable state. Health officials, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts all agree that it’s one of the simplest yet most effective ways to promote wellness.
If practiced effectively, yoga can be a soothing way to relax mentally, since it encourages good breathing habits, creates mind and body connections, and releases negative emotional energy. And yoga is classified as preventive medicine by physicians across the country, because it encourages the body to heal itself and then stay healthy. The American Osteopathic Association reported that yoga can help increase flexibility, add muscle strength or definition, improve respiration, stimulate energy and vitality, weight reduction, cardio and circulatory health, athletic performance, and protect from injury.
If becoming a yogi isn’t appealing, meditation is another readily accessible way to alleviate stress and promote wellness. According to a study released by the American Heart Association, meditating can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure.
According to the study, meditation is also beneficial, because of its low cost and ease of accessibility. Practitioners may focus on the breath or on an object, sound, sensation, visualization, thought, or repeated word or phrase. This can all help alleviate stress and minimize some of the problems that people face during stressful phases of their life.
The Overall Benefits of Self-Care
Overall, the key take-away is that wellness means practicing self-care, which involves addressing the needs of the mind and the body. A busy professional, for example, should incorporate a few minutes of self-care into their everyday routine, instead of waiting for an illness to set-in and then taking a much needed break to slow down.
Experts agree that inviting self-care serves as armor to protect the energy that people need in order to survive and thrive. Self-care goes a long way in managing stress, promoting wellness, and most importantly—getting the most out of life.