What is Health?

Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  There are many avenues to achieve this state and they all work inter-dependently.
The words “fitness”, “wellbeing” and “health” are to some degree interchangeable; but they can also have different meanings in different places, times and contexts.

A link between someone’s fitness and someone’s general wellbeing has been recognised for some time.  There is a connection between body and mind health – each has the power to influence the other.    So as described above, wellbeing is a state of mind closely linked to health.  If you are feeling happy and energetic, you are more likely to get moving and exercising (even if you simply walk more or a gentle cycle around the park), which in turn affects your general fitness level.  Once your fitness levels increase or your body shape improves through the increased exercise, you may experience an increase in self-confidence and a healthier attitude towards your own body representation. As a result, your attitude towards the benefit of exercise is influenced and you may be inclined to do more. This effect also works in reverse, whereby regular exercise can lead to a more positive outlook and enhanced wellbeing.

It is extremely important to understand that states of fitness and wellbeing are cyclic.  One positive action or reaction initiates the next, but it should also be noted, this cyclic effect can also take place when someone is experiencing a negative emotional state and low fitness levels.   For example, if someone is feeling low, they may eat as a comforting act, this in the short term may lead them to feel sluggish, and have lower energy and feel less inclined to exercise. If this is a habit, over a prolonged period of time, excessive emotional eating can lead to weight gain, which may make someone feel even less inclined to go walking or swimming. This may be due to discomfort, reduced motivation, low energy levels and/or decreased self-esteem. 

An example of when physical fitness affects mental state has been identified in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sufferers.  IBS leads to a variety of symptoms for the sufferer; however interestingly, poor bowel health has now been linked to decreased serotonin levels in the blood. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or hormone which is made mostly in cells which line the inside of the digestive tract or colon and is linked to anger and aggression control, feeling calm and being able to deal with stressful situations).  IBS sufferers’ cells do not secrete normal levels of serotonin from the digestive tract into the blood as efficiently as they should and so the sufferer may experience pain associated as a symptom of IBS. Similarly, lower levels of serotonin in the blood and brain means they don’t have the same ability to deal with situations and may become depressed, stressed or angry more easily or frequently. 

This link between physical health and mental health is something doctors and health professionals have recently recognised.  When treating poor mental health, specialists now must consider the possibility of a physical health problem being related to or attributing to the mental health of the individual.  For you as a fitness professional, you must be familiar with, be able to recognise and understand this connection.     

Some people thrive on pressure, whereas others have a very low tolerance level. Whilst everyone is vulnerable to stress, different people cope in different ways, whether it is a natural ability to handle stress, or the implementation of stress management strategies.
Do you Fight or Run Away?

Physiological instincts support a fight or flight response – determining whether to stay and confront the danger or run away. These instincts developed to keep us safe. The fight or flight response is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, one path of the autonomic nervous system. When this response is initiated, physiological changes occur to prepare the body for action. Through a combination of hormonal and nerve signals, adrenaline and cortisol are released, increasing heart rate, elevating blood pressure, and increasing glucose levels amongst other things to allow the body to achieve the strongest response possible. Functions that would not improve a fight or flight response are consequently being curbed – such as digestion, immune functioning, the reproduction system and growth processes.

Twentieth Century man is confronted with a different type of danger that can maintain a constant stimulation of the fight or flight response - traffic, people, pollution, noise etc.  Generally speaking, the modern man can’t run away from, or fight these problems - he must learn to cope with these everyday torments.  Yet the physiological responses to stress remain the same. It is easy to see that over time, being in a constant state of stress can have damaging effects on the human body. Some issues that may arise include heart and blood pressure problems, reduced immune functioning, infertility and digestive disorders.

Relaxation is important for wellbeing. It is the opposite function to the fight or flight response, and is controlled by the parasympathetic nervous system. Relaxation is important not just for psychological and emotional purposes, but also for our overall physical health. Relaxation provides the body with time to recuperate and heal. It allows the body to re-balance after times of stress, and to restore health and vitality. It is easy to see how so many people in this society struggle with stress-related conditions due to the lack of time given to relaxation.

Relaxation can refer to a state of physical stillness, where the muscles are allowed to relax and the body to rest, but relaxation is also inextricably related to mental relaxation. The body will reflect what is going on in the mind, so even if someone is sitting still and attempting to relax, if they are thinking about things that cause them stress, their body will remain in a state of agitation. Whilst relaxation comes naturally to some people, many people find it beneficial to engage in techniques that assist in relaxation. This might include meditation, yoga, massage, a warm bath, or a holiday. Identify a technique that suits the individual, and is appropriate to their lifestyle to assist in health and wellbeing.

Do you have Self Esteem?
"Self Esteem" (how we feel about ourselves) is influenced by many factors.  A persons upbringing, peer group pressure, current employment, physical appearance are just a few.  Self esteem is the key to a successful, happy, fulfilled and productive life. It is one of the foundation stores of mature, useful, self actualised living, it affects the state of our personal happiness for we cannot be happy if we do not like ourselves, it can affect the way we do our job, the kind of relationships we have, and the success or failure of raising our children.  It is the generator of human motivation!

Are you Satisfied at Work?
Work satisfaction is an important component in securing a fulfilling and productive life.  Career management finding the right pathway to happiness can be a tough assignment for anyone.  Self-assessment is a major criterion when appraising our current work situation.  When beginning to manage our own careers self-motivation is needed to get started and maintain a high level of momentum.  Unfortunately, many career moves tend to be a process out of our control.  They are often precipitated by negative events such as loss of employment, failure to achieve promotion, health deterioration, divorce or death of a loved one.  Being in control of our own destiny is a major weapon in the survival of these hectic times.

Are you Secure and Decisive?
He who enjoys positive criticisms learns as much as he can from everyone he meets, has positive ideas and long term goals which are usually achievable; and evaluates himself on a regular basis They are "self assured". 
These are people who were given affection, approval and consistency from an early age. 

Many people struggle with effective decision making, and this can evoke a high level of stress. Because life is essentially a series of decisions, being able to make appropriate decisions will have a profound effect on where your life takes you. There are numerous strategies to master effective decision making, and obviously, different strategies will be more appropriate for different situations.

Nutrition also has a role to play in managing stress. A healthy diet can help with stress management, especially a diet of wholefoods with lots of fruit and vegetables. Highly processed foods and food containing lots of sugar can stress the body, which can lead to mental stress as well as poor health. People living a hectic stressed lifestyle may be predisposed to consuming lots of coffee and energy drinks to “keep them going”. Whilst this may give an initial boost, overall these drinks will place further stress and agitation on the body, and ultimately reduce overall health.


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