Of all the dimensions of wellness, the physical aspect is the one most often agreed upon and the one focused on the most in wellness programs. Two main reasons why we focus on the physical dimension so often are the activities involved and the criteria for measuring improvement.
Exercise and diet are big components of our physical wellness, and, conveniently, are something we’re hyperfocused on as a society. (A little funny considering our hunter-gatherer ancestors had the whole thang figured out.) When a school, workplace, or organization implements a wellness program, these two tend to be a top priority.
Since poor exercise and diet contribute to being overweight, it’s easy to measure the “success” of a program by monitoring participants’ weights. The success of more abstract components of our wellness, like social, emotional, and spiritual, is a lot harder to measure. For a hypothetical committee in charge of improving wellness scores, it’s easier to implement a wellness program that focuses on diet and exercise.
Of course, there’s so much more to physical wellness than just moving and eating nutritious foods! Hopefully, I can expand on the more common activities and suggest some habits and activities that will be helpful for even the more developed wellness practitioner.
Practice Personal Hygiene
Current global pandemic aside, practicing personal hygiene is a good idea any day. From brushing (and flossing!) your teeth to washing your hands before eating, personal hygiene keeps us all healthy and in good shape.
Monitor, Manage, and Prevent Illness
If you know you have a disease, such as diabetes or anxiety, it’s important to educate yourself and practice monitoring your symptoms so you can notice if it gets worse. This may mean monitoring with medical equipment, or simply being mindful of your body.
By understanding how your body reacts to stressors, you can intervene before your illness becomes serious and requires medical intervention. For example, knowing what dehydration looks like or learning to notice symptoms of depression means you can get help as soon as you need it.
Even if you’re healthy, you should practice awareness of your body so you will know right away if anything goes wrong. Monitoring your body’s signs helps prevent illness from the beginning. This includes getting necessary medical check-ups, like x-rays of your teeth and pap smears (for those who need them).
Stress, as the name implies, is a heavy burden on our bodies. The best cure is to reduce stress as much as possible. This may mean different things to different people, but some simple suggestions include taking time to relax, focusing on what you can change, and not overcommitting.
Foster a Healthy Sexuality
For most people, sexuality is an important and intimate part of who they are. Taking time to explore your interests and set boundaries will create a strong foundation for personal connections. In the wise words of RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”
Practice Safer Sex
High School Sex Ed likes to show gnarly pictures of STIs, but sometimes you can get an STI from someone who isn’t showing symptoms. Practicing safer sex helps protect you and others. It’s not rude to insist on using protection with someone; it’s smart.
Additionally, for maximum enjoyment (and to prevent tears that hurt and let in bacteria) make sure everyone is warmed up and use lube liberally. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for wanting to use lubrication (on that note, I recommend a water-based lubricant without any fragrances.)
A part of safe sex that I don’t see mentioned often is the understanding between partners. Feeling uncomfortable or unsafe creates feelings of stress which can affect your physical wellness in the long run. It’s important to discuss boundaries, needs, and desires in a safe, non-sexual environment with your partner.
Limit Alcohol and Tobacco Use
Humans have been consuming alcohol and tobacco for thousands of years. Winemaking has a rich history, and the Mediterranean diet, which strongly features red wine, is correlated with long lives marked by good health. Tobacco has cultural and spiritual roots in South and Mesoamerica.
Our modern lives are full of stresses our ancestors didn’t have to deal with, and some people turn to substances such as alcohol and tobacco to deal with them. This is unhealthy in two ways; it doesn’t actually address the problem (only puts it off) and abuse of these substances is damaging to our minds and bodies.
When consuming substances such as alcohol or tobacco, be mindful of the amount you’re consuming, the quality of what is entering your body, and the reason why you’re using.
We’re made out of water! We really are. If you don’t already, carrying around a big water bottle with you everywhere makes it easy to keep sipping. Plus, you’ll save money and resources by not buying plastic water bottles AND when you finish your water bottle you get the awesome feeling of knowing you just drank a bunch of H2O.
Keeping hydrated helps your body work at it’s best. Plus, sipping on water all day is an easy way to prevent headaches and avoid snacking when you’re not hungry.
Get Adequate Sleep
Sleep is so good. We all know this, but we’re probably not getting enough. Getting enough sleep improves the functioning of your mind and body. It’s an important time for our minds and bodies to grow and repair.
Having a wake-up and bedtime that stays consistent can help you create a sleep schedule. Additionally, putting away electronics before bed can help you fall asleep faster.
Exercise (or Just Move) Daily
You’ve heard it a thousand times; exercise is vital for a strong body and a strong mind. When choosing an exercise activity, we want to make sure we’re equally building our endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. This means mixing up your routine with a handful of different activities is beneficial.
Setting fitness goals for yourself can create motivation and a feeling of achievement to keep you going.
For more information about how exercise strengthens the mind, I recommend Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, by John J. Ratey.
Focus on Eating More Vegetables and Less Processed Foods
Information surrounding diet and nutrition is cloudy and full of misinformation. However, there are some key principles that remain strong: eat more vegetables and less processed food.
Vegetables (and fruits) are not as calorie-dense as many other foods, so filling your plate up with them makes it easier to avoid overeating (check out this article I wrote about how understanding calories makes it easy to lose weight). Additionally, vegetables have lots of good nutrients and organic chemicals that are awesome for our cells and our gut biome.
The dimensions of wellness extend well beyond the body. But creating a strong foundation of physical wellness will help you as you continue on your wellness journey.
If you like this post, I’m doing a whole series about improving each aspect of wellness. So far, I’ve covered financial wellness and intellectual wellness. Subscribe to my email list so I can let you know when I post!