You will be totally forgiven here for getting bored of National and International days on social media and beyond. ‘Talk like a pirate day’ drew a new line in the sand for dubious International celebrations, and ‘walk like a biscuit day’ – well, it doesn’t exist yet, but doubtless it will if you watch this space long enough.
Today is ‘World Health Day’ though, and we’re working with it. Yes, it’s linked to Diabetes and the astonishing growth of this disease in the UK and beyond, but it is much more than a single, specific condition. World Health Day really does give us a general and helpful jab in the ribs and remind us how important it is to look after our minds and bodies so we can enjoy long and healthy lives.
‘Health’ is a broad term, defined as such by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 1948 constitution as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This definition is well worth reading three times. Understanding what constitutes good health is a necessary first step in a journey towards improving it, in practical and achievable ways.
What affects our health and wellbeing?
There are a number of factors that directly affect how healthy and how content we are. Some we are born into, such as our genetics, gender and even our culture. These, alongside our social and physical environment, shape the person we later become. The way we are nurtured shapes our personal health practices and our ability to cope with situations too, hopefully encouraging us to develop into healthy and kind human beings. The way we are educated helps us reflect our qualities back into the world and literacy helps us express ourselves confidently and intelligently. Social networks develop in school and throughout life, helping us share, empathise and learn the complexities of socialising.
As adults, amongst other factors, our income and status add to the social elements that define us and we learn to adapt to the new challenges this brings. We continue to thrive or wither according to the nature of our employment and our conditions at work. When our bodies suffer, we are backed up by our health system [insert lively debate here]. Our experiences with healthcare, in the UK at least, may differ according to geographical location, individual competency of medical staff – and luck of the draw.
Many other health-related factors are driven forward by our constantly evolving lives and personalities, making the quest for general wellbeing complex and fascinating. In amongst the tangled and delicate web of life, physical, mental and social wellbeing are states we should all be aspiring to. These three factors are commonly referred to as the ‘health triangle’ and look very different from one individual to the next.
Take a moment to consider YOUR health triangle…
Do you create opportunities for movement? Even the iWatch now instructs us to stand up and move, and rightly so. It’s important. Exercise strengthens your muscles and improves the cardiovascular system making you less prone to injury or illness. Even when you’re not moving much and sitting at a computer, are you looking after your posture (the right chair), your eyes (the right lighting) and giving yourself regular breaks?
Finally, are you eating properly and staying hydrated? Look at your daily diet and ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to make positive change.
Good mental health isn’t just the absence of a mental condition – it’s so much more. WHO describes mental wellbeing as “a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”
Is this you?
Happiness – we talk about this a lot. Exceptionally good or bad days aside, most of us have a general sense of how happy and content we feel with our lives. We are sociable beings by nature, so getting involved with social networks has positive effects on our sense of self. Research shows us that being actively engaged with other people has a direct influence on how happy we consider ourselves to be. Do you engage with others enough? What more could you do to add enjoyable social activity to your calendar?
The rules of how to create long-term happiness come from within you, and they are as unique as your fingerprint.
Define your triangle
The World Wide Web is saturated with professionals and amateurs telling us how to be the best version of ourselves, but even if we eliminate the dubious or unsubstantiated advice, opinions usually focus on a single field of healthcare.
In the face of information saturation, it is often helpful to strip back to the basics, making the ‘health triangle’ a useful building block.
Defining your own triangle provides clear perspective, and helps lay the groundwork when it comes to your wellbeing pursuits. For example, spending two hours at the gym per day is impressive and your six-pack will be the envy of the Twitter selfie crew – but it won’t necessarily add to your long-term happiness. Likewise, the happiness you feel at home will be negatively challenged if you are unhappy or unfulfilled in your place of work – and vice-a-versa. When you define your triangle, make sure to address all three points with equal reverence.
The rules of how to successfully create long-term health and happiness come from within you, and they are as unique as your fingerprint. Don’t rely on other people to find the answers for you, but take some time, perhaps today, on World Health Day, to at least raise some questions.