Updated: May 21
If you have read my previous two articles in this wellness series, then you knew that THIS day would come. Where I start talking about the one topic that tends to make the leisurely of us squirm, physical wellness. I had to stand with the woman in the mirror this morning and get myself together on this one so please know I present this information this week from the stance of fellow traveler because hey, I could do better. So here we go.
When we think of health and wellness the main thing that comes to mind is physical health. WHO uses the following definition: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." It is more than just physical exercise. The physical dimension of wellness can be thought of as the balance of activities that include sleep, movement, nutrition, hygiene, sexual health, relaxation, management of illness and injury, usage of drugs and alcohol. Physical wellness starts with our recognition of our personal responsibility to make choices that fulfill our bodies in a way that is meaningful for us as individuals, prevents illness, and also allows us to thrive.
No matter whether you are talking with your doctor, therapist, or coach all discussions regarding wellness will include some discussion around sleep. It is just that important. Sleep allows our bodies to repair.
Adequate sleep supports healthy brain functioning, affects our cognitive functioning, our moods, and even our physical responses to different stimuli. Repairing the brain takes time and energy which is why we wake up in a fog if we spend most of our night tossing and turning. During our sleep cycle, the brain is able to dump information that isn't essential to growth while filing away the information that is. This restorative process aides in our decision making, concentration, and memory during waking hours.
Every year my doctor asks me the dreaded question: "Do you get exercise?" Perhaps you have this experience as well. Now mind you there are times that I do better than others. I can get in those 30 minutes to 1 hour walks 3 times per week. Then there are those periods (usually during the winter months) that my body decides it's simply too cold and I should just hurry up and get home. Or maybe my brain decides it. At any rate, it doesn't happen like it should. However, movement is important. It helps strengthen our muscles, build bone density, maintain our coordination and balance, and strengthen our lungs. Movement also helps reduce the risk of disease and strokes.
Calories are used for energy. The body doesn't too much discriminate between a good nutritious calorie food from a not so good calorie food. It is going to process and expend the energy. Problem is, if we aren't getting in more of the good nutritious calories, we won't have as much energy on a long-term basis. More nutritious foods help us have more long-term energy. A diet well balanced in vitamins and essential amino acids helps cellular function, muscle and brain development, prevents malnutrition, and increases immunity thus helping prevent illness.
The daily practice of showering, washing hands, brushing teeth and flossing not only keeps us healthy but can even boost our mood. Bathing regularly helps remove dirt, bacteria, external substances, and dead skin. Trimming nails regularly help reduce risk of infection under nails due to bacteria. Brushing and flossing help limit oral bacteria, prevent tooth decay, and limit gum infections. Washing hands helps reduce risk of contaminating food; it should also be done before eating, touching your face, or preparing your sleep space. However, there is more to hygiene than just this. Hygiene also includes preventative services such as physical exams, dental exams, eye exams, and gynecological exams for the women and eventual prostate exams for the men. Our immune systems function better when we practice good hygiene thus limiting preventable infections. Poor hygiene in social settings can cause others to shy away from us; however, those with good hygiene decrease barriers connecting with other people socially and professionally.
In the section on hygiene, we reviewed how gynecological exams for the women and the eventual prostate exams for the men are important medical exams for physical wellness. An article on WebMD also explains some other benefits of sexual health. Safe sex helps with immune system, boosts your libido, helps with female bladder control issues, lower's blood pressure, counts as exercise (who knew), and eases stress. Check out the article, "10 Surprising Health Benefits of Sex" for the full list.
The relaxation response is an actual physical state in which a person's heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension decreases. When we are able to elicit this response, we can help reduce stress in our lives and increase our physical wellness. You can elicit this response by focusing on a repeated word or phrase (calm, relax, breathe) and focus on your breathing. You can elicit the relaxation response through guided imagery or visualizations. However, one of my favorite ways to elicit the relaxation response is by using progressive muscle relaxation in which you purposefully tense for 5 seconds and then release muscles starting in your feet and slowly moving up your body to your legs, then glutes, then stomach, then shoulders, then arms and hands, and finally your face.
Management of Illness and Injury
It is important to have routine exams and to always seek care immediately following an injury. This section will not include an exhaustive list; however, there are a few illnesses that it is important to manage and keep under control to not only increase physical wellness but also emotional/psychological wellness.
Adrenal fatigue: prolonged stress may affect your adrenal glands. Unchecked, it can make you become more anxious when faced with stressful situations. Symptoms can include insomnia (sleep), light-headedness (movement), lethargy and fatigue (movement, hygiene, and sexual health), allergies to food (nutrition), and low stress tolerance (relaxation).
Thyroid imbalances: when your thyroid function is low associated symptoms can be depression (movement, hygiene, and sexual health), low energy (movement and sexual health), weight gain (nutrition), fatigue (movement, hygiene, and sexual health), cold intolerance, and menstrual problems (sexual health). When your thyroid is overactive symptoms can be anxiety (relaxation), difficulty sleeping (sleep), weight loss (nutrition, personal hygiene), increased heart rate (relaxation), and elevated body temperatures.
There are other illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and cancers that require close medical monitoring. Whether it is illness or injury, please remember that ignoring any problem in one area will often lead to problems in other areas thus creating a domino effect. It is the same for injuries, it is important to ensure that there are no internal complications (internal bleeding, etc.) and delaying treatment could cause even bigger complications later.
Where to start? Reading through a list such as this can cause a sense of information overload and overwhelm. Many times, we are pressed for time in our day, and we aren't very motivated to add more on our plate. We want to be sure that the changes that we make do not feel like a chore and can be incrementally added into our current routines or habits. Engaging the power of the habit loop will help us begin to make needed changes on autopilot.
Our habits cost us very little energy because we spend very little time consciously thinking about it. It's how our brains are wired-to look for ways to save effort. The process is a three-step loop. There is first a cue that tells our brain to go into autopilot mode. There is the routine or what we do. Then finally there is the reward what we get. Charles Duhigg author of "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business" helps us see how we can achieve success by understanding how habits work. Our habits can be changed and replaced over time, if we know how to incorporate new routines with environmental cues.
Which habits to incorporate? The answer depends entirely upon you and your situation. We as individuals have to be self-aware and identify what our values are, identify where we feel unbalanced, and what our identified current medical needs are. Then incrementally, we imbed the new needed habit into our current routines. It is not a process that you have to begin alone. Having an accountability buddy through this process can help us stay focused and continual identify and detect rationalizations we may use that keep us stuck.
The purpose of this article and each of the articles of the wellness series examining the Wellness Wheel is to help you learn more and begin identifying areas and strategies to make changes so that you can begin to live life more fully and allow yourself to become the best version of you. As you begin this journey, do not worry about getting it perfect; just get it going.
As always, we appreciate your readership and would love to hear from you. Which activity above caught your eye that you want to implement to increase your physical wellness? Let us know in the comments below. Until next time. Happy reading.
Shameless plug: Please note this article contains affiliate links to some items that you may enjoy as you embark on your wellness journey. Please know that if you click through the links and finalize a purchase, I will earn a commission. This of course is at zero additional cost to you. Affiliate links in this article include the book, "The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business."
"You will never 'find' time for anything. If you want time, you must take it. ~Charles Buxton
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