Health is important to everyone. The paradox of health is that people don’t always act in accordance with their beliefs. Every day we all do things that go against our working definition of a healthy life. I believe this happens for a surprising reason: we aren’t defining health accurately, or in a way that is meaningful to us.
If we don’t define health for ourselves, culture will do it for us. And culture’s tendency is to make good health all about the physical — eating right, exercising, and being at an acceptable weight. It’s a narrow definition that is mostly focused on what we do, which is why it hasn’t been effective at inspiring people. Your kid doesn’t eat veggies, they aren’t healthy. You have extra weight, sorry, you gotta lose it to get in the game. There are these narrow unforgiving markers we have to meet and when we fall short we feel guilty and run to enjoyment.
There’s a growing body of evidence that good health is not just about what we do but how we feel. It’s not a high BMI that causes emotional problems in children, researchers find, but weight-based peer discrimination. Another review found people who score high on feelings of well-being live longer than those that don’t. After thinking about it, I came with three factors that impact health the most: mental health, physical health, and well-being.
|The quality of our thoughts, emotions, and self-regulation, and feeling calm, alert, and focused.||Taking care of our body: quality food, sleep/rest, movement/physical activity, and strength.||Life satisfaction, quality relationships, feeling connected/community, enjoyment, and giving back/meaning|
These are connected so it can be hard to separate one from the other. We know diet and exercise boosts both mental health and feelings of well-being. Someone who increases their well-being is more likely to start taking care of their physical self. Feeling stressed (mental) usually means less care in the physical and well-being realms.
We get in trouble when we equate health only with the physical. With kids, for example, making the dinner table a battleground in order to get them to eat healthy comes at a cost to their well-being, and relationship with food. Someone can become so stressed about food, exercise, and weight, it becomes a mental and emotional drain. Some people benefit from letting up on the physical to improve mental health and well-being, even if it’s just opting for smaller steps. Other times, a renewed focus on the physical is needed, while noticing how it benefits mental health and feelings of well-being.
So this week let’s be mindful of this broader definition of health, and the actions we see in our family’s lives that are in line or contradict it. What can you change to keep these three factors in balance? What health benefits do any changes bring you and your family?