by: Kelly Fliller
We hear the word health all the time. There always seems to be a new health craze on the market promising to help us lose weight, make us look younger, feel better, more energy – you name it, there’s a craze for that. So, what will make us healthier? If you ask my friend, he would say drinking less soda. If you ask another friend, she would say getting her autoimmune disease under control. If you ask me, I would say eating well, working out and good blood work results.
Merriam-Webster defines health as “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit.” But what does “being sound” actually mean? The answer to that is not simple and it’s different for everyone. At a recent meeting of the Toms River Family Health and Support Coalition (funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), we asked each person to bring a memento that represents their definition of health. The responses were eye-opening and thought-provoking. Some people chose their FitBits, gym tags, water bottles and other items that most of us would immediately identify with health. Others held up items that required a bit more explaining such as an iPod, employee ID, photo of their dog or a special t-shirt. Each person’s definition made me think about what health means in its entirety and not just from one angle.
We can all agree that to be healthy means being without illness or injury. But how do we stay in a healthy state? Here are some of the pieces (that we can control) that fit together to create the bigger picture of health.
- Nutrition – it’s important to our overall health to get the right amount of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats) in our diets. Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and lots of water are all important parts of a healthy diet. There will be days when the occasional glass of wine, french fry or bowl of ice cream sneak in, but it’s all about moderation and balance. And of course, it depends on other factors such as diabetes, cholesterol, etc. Carlos M. Rodriguez, Executive Director of the FoodBank of Monmouth & Ocean Counties said, “A balanced, healthy diet, achieved with access to proper nutrients, plays a considerable role in disease prevention and overall good health that helps fuel your body and brain with the energy needed to function at your daily best.”
- Exercise – many of us have jobs where we sit for several hours each day. By the time we get home at night, we are exhausted from work and just want to sit on the couch and watch TV. It’s important to get some movement into the day whether it’s a walk at lunch, jumping jacks during commercial breaks or a sweat session at the gym. Pick something that is enjoyable for you. A walk after work with a friend, discussing your day can be a great way to get some exercise into your routine. Our bodies are meant to move! Peter T. Rosario, President & CEO of the Ocean County YMCA said, “At the YMCA, we encourage our members to understand that “it is not about what you do, it is about how it makes you feel.” Many health seekers stop and start exercise programs because they subscribe to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy, which can lead to injury or lack of motivation. We want members to feel good about themselves and start slowly to build their fitness levels in a gradual and sustainable manner.”
- Sleep – how many of us actually get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep? Sleep is so important for us to function each day and without it, we’re headed for a burnout. You may not feel like you need more sleep now, but lack of quality sleep can cause some unwanted daily symptoms such as mood changes and difficulty concentrating. What’s even more alarming is that sleep deprivation can cause long-term, more serious health issues. Make that shut-eye a priority!
- Stress relief – in today’s world, we are constantly on the go and always connected to technology. It is very important to get some quiet, downtime to recharge. Whether it’s a yoga class, ten minutes of quiet meditation, going for a run or doing something fun with family and friends, finding activities to relieve stress is another way we can achieve health and wellness. Mitchell A. Little, Chief of Police of the Toms River Police Department, started a program for his officers in the hopes of reducing stress. Chief Little said, “The proper management of stress is so important. Physical fitness is a major component in that, and is why I started this program to educate all of my officers in the importance of the entire health of themselves.”
- Financial – financial health is also a piece of the puzzle. Cigna did a study which found good health is strongly tied to financial security. When we feel confident financially, we feel better all around. Timothy C. Hearne, President & CEO of United Way of Monmouth and Ocean Counties said, “Health is about a continuum of care, from healthy children who can succeed in school to healthy adults who can have financial security for their family with access to affordable healthcare.”
- Social – having a social network of friends, family and colleagues to support you is very important to health and can help you deal with stress and positively impact how you feel overall.
What else would you add to the list above as part of your total health package? What areas of health do you find easiest to manage? What is your biggest challenge? It’s important to know what works for you and what doesn’t – there is no one-size-fits all approach to health!