We cannot measure health on a single spectrum or sliding scale. To get a better understanding of a patient’s health, we have to piece it together like a puzzle. A patient may put effort into personal nutrition, but struggle to exercise due to joint pain. Maybe another patient exercises, but only gets five hours of sleep every night. Another patient could sleep well and still be under constant stress. To understand a patient’s health, we need to look at the bigger picture. Here are some small things that have a big impact on health.
Exercise is just one component of movement. The eight hours (or more) we spend sitting, kneeling, or standing at work every day has just as big of an impact on our health as the hour of exercise we may practice each week. Sitting or standing for too long can contribute to future aches and pains.
To combat this, make sure you find little ways to move throughout the day. Do some wrist stretches with coworkers while you’re waiting for coffee or find alternative positions while working. If you sit frequently, find time to stretch between meetings or while watching TV at night. If you stand more than five hours a day, take breaks and make sure to stretch out the lower back and legs.
Sleep plays a huge role in our health! Rest is vital for improving memory and focus, but it also plays into your physical health as well. Your body uses sleep to help repair damage to the heart and blood vessels. It also helps regulate hunger. Studies find that lack of sleep is linked with increased risk for obesity.
The idea of getting more sleep is often more appealing than finding time to do so. Sleeping in isn’t always compatible with our lifestyles, leaving one other option: going to bed earlier. It can be difficult to change one’s schedule, but with practice, it will eventually feel natural. Turn off electronic devices 30 minutes before shut-eye, and establish a familiar bedtime routine so your body can prepare for a good night’s sleep.
Diet is one of the most impactful, and sometimes hardest, things to change in order to improve health. Especially for physical therapy patients, one thing to consider is the nutritional impact of inflammatory foods. Typically, a healthy amount of inflammation helps your body fight off disease or infection. Too much inflammation and your body is on “high alert” all the time. This leads to an increased risk of heart disease and buildup of plaque in the blood vessels. It also increases joint pain and the effects of arthritis.
Not only are foods with processed sugars, trans fats, omega-6 fats (not to be confused with omega-3 fats) higher in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, but they also increase inflammation. To improve your nutrition, start small. Pick one kind of pop, dessert, or unhealthy snack to cut from your life and build from there.
Without a clear head, it can be hard to focus on other components of health. When stressed, some people turn to unhealthy food. When anxious, people can lose sleep at night. We cannot fully and successfully manage our physical health without also managing our mental health.
To decompress, find an activity that helps you unwind. Draw, read, practice yoga, walk, run, skip – whatever helps you chill out. Taking time for purely recreational activities a few times a week will help prevent mental overload so you can focus on what matters.
Remember, your health is not measured by one single thing. It is our combination of daily choices that make us who we are.
Looking to improve your health? i’move Adult FIT classes are back (outdoor social distancing training only) and we’re so excited to see you in person again! Sign up and join our supportive fitness community. We also offer nutritional counseling to work on your physical and mental relationship with food. Sign up and see what daily steps you can take toward a healthier you.