We all say we want to be “healthy,” but what does that mean? Is “health” just the absence of illness? If so, then there are a lot of unhealthy people here in the US, where almost half of all adults have at least one chronic disease. In fact, continues the CDC, 70% of all deaths each year are caused by such diseases, especially heart disease, cancer and stroke.
The picture isn’t much prettier globally. Noting that 36 million people died from these kinds of diseases in 2008, the UN predicts that number to rise to 52 million within two decades, eclipsing deaths from “communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional diseases.”
But here’s the most distressing thing: these diseases are largely preventable. What we put into our bodies and how we use them have a big impact on whether (and how) we get sick.
In this light, health is less a state of being than a way of being.
A while back, the American Heart Association ran a health views survey of young adults. According to the LA Times, most participants “said they felt they were living a healthy lifestyle.” The youngest (ages 18 to 24) “strongly claimed that living a long, healthy life was important to them. On average, they said they wanted to live until age 98.” Yet 1/3 said that “they don’t believe that doing healthy things now…will make any difference….”
Maybe one of the problems is that we don’t really know what we’re talking about when we talk about “health.” Just what is a “healthy lifestyle”? How could anyone ever achieve it if they don’t know what it is?
The Wholeness of Health
As a holistic dentist, I take a “whole-body” approach to dentistry, treating the teeth and gums in their relationship with the rest of the body. Simply put, oral health affects systemic (overall) health, and vice versa. Likewise, physical health can’t be treated as something severed from our mental life. What happens to us physically also affects “how we feel inside,” and mental states can manifest physically – for instance, a headache or stomachache when you’re anxious or stressed.
Everything is connected. So it’s not hard to see how “living healthy” both involves the whole person and benefits the whole person – body, mind and spirit.
Below are 5 key facets of a healthy lifestyle. While acting on them is no guarantee of perfect health, it can dramatically lower your overall disease risk.
5 Facets of a Healthy Lifestyle
- Good diet/nutrition – A good diet is based on whole foods, including lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It’s low in added sugars and other refined carbohydrates. Junk foods are a rare indulgence, if eaten at all.
- Physical activity – Though most of us lead sedentary lives, this inertia isn’t normal. We evolved to move. Regular exercise and physical activity are a must.
- Avoiding toxins – No tobacco. No drugs. Alcohol in moderation. Minimize exposure to toxic chemicals as you are able. (See EWG’s Healthy Home Tips to learn how.)
- Rest & sleep – Constant “busy-ness” is a surefire recipe for burnout. We need time off – for fun, for relaxation, for simply being. Getting enough quality sleep also matters, since that’s when our bodies do most of their repair work (e.g., rebuilding muscle, consolidating memory).
- Nurturing mental & spiritual well-being – Our overall sense of wellness is enhanced when we give time to ourselves, our loved ones and the things that interest us and give our lives meaning. We find emotional fulfillment. We keep our lives in balance. And this supports our physical well-being.
Modified from the original.