The short answer to that question is: a whole lot. Lets look at five factors that most experts would likely agree go a long way towards determining a person’s level of physical health:
- Sleeping Habits
- Quality of Diet
- Physical Activity Level
- Stress Level
- Social Connectedeness
All of these are extremely important regarding one’s health and sense of well-being. Some of them are obvious, others less so. We’ve all heard again and again from our doctors and other health professionals that in order to be healthy, we’ve got to watch what we eat and make sure to vigorously move from time to time.
Stress is another area that has profound effects on our level of health. Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford neuro-scientist and leading researcher on the effects of stress on the human body, has written an entertaining but informative popular book on the subject entitled Why Zebras don’t get Ulcers. In it he runs down the ways in which chronic stress negatively effects many of our body’s systems; from cardiovascular to immune to neurological.
Additionally, the quality of our social connections are an important determinant of health. We are social animals, and isolation tends to have ill effects. Conversely, when we are engaged with others, there is evidence that we tend to experience beneficial feelings and physiological responses.
Finally, sleep. Sleep gets a bad rap sometimes. It is common in our fast-paced society for folks in the Type-A set to wear their lack of sleep as a badge of honor, a demonstration that they are so engaged that they don’t have time for sleep, and that they are tough enough to get by without it. It may be that they can function well enough on 5 hours a night, but their body is likely hurting for it. According to Harvard Health, chronic sleep loss can contribute to “health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the immune system’s power”.
These five lifestyle factors make up what I like to call “The Big Five for Health.” One of the things they all have in common is that they are behaviors that all of us have a certain amount of control over.
Just because we have the ability to control our choices does not mean it is easy to do so. There is a reason why many of us get stuck in unhealthy lifestyles, and contrary to popular belief, it is probably not just laziness. In our high stress, busy modern world, we’ve got a lot on our plates. Lifestyle change can mean a major life overhaul, not simple tweaks.
These changes inevitably run into challenges with our own ingrained patterns of behavior and thought. This is where psychological tools and services such as counseling can offer a tremendous amount of help. Change is hard. I’ll continue to use this space to write about ways in which psychological and behavioral tools can help shift you from unhealthy lifestyles towards fulfilling, vigorous ones.
Please visit Spoon River Counseling & Wellness!