What Does Wellness Really Mean?

Many of us never stop to think about our health until something goes awry. We assume that just because we don’t have a disease or an ailment that requires immediate attention, we are “healthy.” This strategy can be costly—not just in terms of money, but also in how it prevents us from optimizing our physical and emotional health, which can set the stage for complications and the onset of chronic conditions down the road.

If you aren’t sure whether you’ve been proactive enough with your health goals, reflect on the following questions:

  1. Do you wait for an injury, illness or other ailments before you take measures to protect your health?
  2. Do you hold a black-and-white view of health, thinking about it only in terms of disease or lack of disease
  3. Are you taking a proactive role in disease prevention by learning about your family health history and responding to this information?
  4. Have you reflected on the more holistic elements of health, such as happiness, the expression of creativity, enjoying the moment, utilizing your senses and sharing love?

If you answered yes to the first two questions, you may need to redefine what it means to be healthy. Rather than thinking about two poles—healthy versus sick—consider the many different degrees of health and wellness in between. Even when you’re not suffering physical symptoms, there are still things you can do to feel even better and measures you can take to safeguard your future health. Likewise, a quick fix to address an illness may not be the only thing worth focusing on.

The third and fourth questions examine different ways you can take control of and evaluate your health. If you answered yes to these, you’re on your way to better long-term wellness. You know that your health is not just about the physical manifestations and conditions that exist at one moment in time, but also less tangible factors like your family history, emotional wellness and overall quality of life. True health is not merely the absence of disease. It’s a reflection of the state of your body, mind and spirit. Use this description as inspiration, and explore the suggestions below to start living your optimal life.

Make a Personal Health List. Begin writing down questions or concerns about any unresolved heath issues you may have, whether physical, mental or emotional. Discuss them with your family and physician.

Schedule Health Screenings and Doctor Visits. It’s easy to cancel or postpone an appointment when you feel fine, but preventive medicine could literally save your life. A routine test may catch disease in its early stages, while a check-up may alert you to conditions you didn’t know you had. Call your doctor as soon as possible to make sure you’re up-to-date on your screenings and schedule an annual physical. And while we’re on the subject, it’s also important to find a doctor who understands your goal for overall wellness. “Health and wellness can be improved by having a doctor who is not only a medical expert, but who will partner with you,” says Param Dedhia, M.D., a doctor at Canyon Ranch in Tucson.

Exercise Regularly. It can’t be said enough. This essential part of a healthy lifestyle will help you control your weight, boost your brain power and keep your heart and cardiovascular system healthy. Find something you enjoy, whether it’s running or walking, an exercise or dance class at the gym or a workout video in your living room, and make a goal to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days.

Commit to a Healthy Diet. Focus on the quality of nutrients you’re eating in your meals and snacks: They help protect you from illness and disease and help you feel your best. Avoid foods high in sugar (especially processed sugar and carbohydrates), saturated fat, sodium and preservatives and try to get more produce, lean protein, whole grains and plant-based foods in your diet.

Log Quality Sleep. If you’ve been living with chronic sleep deprivation or a sleep disorder for an extended time, you may not even realize the effect it’s had on your health. Really think about your sleep habits, your energy levels during the day and your bedtime routine. Do you toss and turn before falling asleep? Do you feel tired even after a full night’s rest? Do you know you should get more sleep, but feel you just don’t have enough time to get everything done during the day? Talk to your doctor if you answered yes to these questions.

Manage Stress. It may seem that you have no control over outside stressors that negatively affect your emotions and your wellbeing, but there are strategies—including meditation, breathing exercises or seeking professional help—that will help keep you both physically and emotionally balanced. Ask yourself what parts of your life are causing you unhealthy amounts of stress and develop strategies to eliminate, improve or cope with them.

Nurture Your Emotional Health. Developing a passion, feeling joy, cultivating spirituality and self-expression, and improving relationships with family, friends and spouses are all important parts of your wellbeing that may take a backseat to your physical health. Promise yourself to address these basic human needs in order to truly practice a healthy lifestyle both inside and out.

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