I was on a vacation the last weekend, and it was a wonderful time. I felt really healthy, but not because I ate perfectly healthy and worked out every day.
I don't now about you, but the type of getaways I tend to enjoy more are the ones where I can be in peace and quiet, spend time in nature, and just relax. Parties and late nights have their place and time, but in general, I don't prefer them.
Spending the weekend in nature, snowshoeing, being outdoors, meeting up with friends for great conversations, spending time with my husband, having nice dinners, having a glass of wine — all that got me thinking: Health is so much more than working out a certain way or eating “the right foods”.
What We Think Healthy Means
When we think how to tell if someone is living a healthy life, here's how we define it: They eat a really good and healthy diet and they exercise regularly.
That's not entirely wrong. Food is what fuels our bodies and gives us the energy. By eating (mostly) high quality foods, our bodies are happy and can perform well.
Secondly, we think that a really healthy person is someone who works out regularly. That's also true, exercise is a huge part of our well being. I'm a strong believer that we're meant to move.
However, our society seems to rely only on these two things — food and exericse. We're taught that if we truly want to be healthy, we have to be perfect, eating healthy 100% of time with no exceptions. We're supposed to work out every day — nope, just moving ourselves is not enough, we must work out to be healthy… That's what we're told.
You Don't Have to Be 100% Perfect to Be Healthy
But we absolutely can be healthy without eating perfectly all the time or working out 7 days a week.
We don't have to spend 5 hours a day on our vacation working out. If we do, we're losing the importance of fun and enjoyment. We're trying to do our regimented exercise every single day and forget to ever ask our bodies how they really feel like moving today.
We're trying to watch our diet and its nutritional value so carefully that we totally ignore our emotional needs and cravings. What if you really wanted to have that piece of chocolate cake? Believe me, you should eat it. It's not only about nutritional value of foods that makes us healthy.
Why Health is More Than Food and Fitness
When it comes to health, other things besides food and fitness are never really talked about. We just can't seem to think beyond food and fitness. We treat our bodies like math tasks: Eat less, burn more, that makes you healthy,
But we are not that simple machines like that. We're not calculus tasks. We also need our hormones to be balanced. We need to feel happy, joyful, and have meaning in our lives to be truly healthy.
Here's what I think also matters, if we really want to be healthy:
Joy & Laughter
It's proven that people who laugh a lot and have a lot of joy in their lives, are healthier. I bet you've experienced that yourself as well. How do you feel after seeing a really funny comedy (anyone else is still watching Friends every now and then? Joey doesn't share food, anyone?)
Let me tell you a secret: Watch puppy videos on Instagram or YouTube. Better yet, watch baby goats.
I feel my body really relaxed after a good laugh. It's so important!
It's crucial to get our minds off from everyday life and problems, it's necessary to totally unplug from any sorts of obligations, and just laugh.
If you want to get healthier, think how you could add more joy and laughter to your life.
Couple of weeks ago, I felt really, really stuck. I knew that I needed to change something, I also knew that I needed to do something that gets my mind off from things that were causing me trouble, even just for a little while.
So I went to a dance class…
It was going to be a hit or miss though, because I am not a very coordinated person and dance classes have always been hard for me. However I love Latin music and I have always wanted to be able to dance.
I took this class which was actually meant for older people and very beginners but I thought: So what if I end up being the youngest in the room (which I did), I do it anyway! I just felt like doing something that could bring me joy, and that beginner level zumba class was actually amazing. Because it was meant for beginners, I was able to follow the choreography and left the class feeling really happy. (Had it been too difficult, I would have been really, really frustrated. I know myself.)
Think, is there a way that you could increase your joy and/or laugh more today? By boosting your happiness hormones serotonin and dopamine, you increase your health.
For very introverted people, this can be hard to take, but we do need to feel connected and we need meaningful relationships in our lives.
I'm saying it because I am an introvert and making deep connections has never been easy for me. I'm the one who prefers to stay in and turn down invitations often, to the extent where it sometimes may look that I'm trying to escape the world…
And then there are times when I pay for it — I am okay just by myself most of the time, but every now and then, I do miss someone I could call any time. And then I realize that all these people are in a very different time zone, mostly in Estonia and Finland — which is only because I haven't really gotten out of my comfort zone to make really close friends locally.
That way, I am not the best person to lecture anyone about the importance of meaningful relationships. However, I do know how much they matter. Feeling loved and loving back, being listened and listening to others, having someone to share your success as well as worries with, and being that same person for someone else, are so, so important and absolutely make you more satisfied with your life — and therefore, healthier.
Work can be one of the biggest stressors in our lives. Ask your friends, family members — and of course yourself — how satisfied they are/you are with what they/you are doing, and you probably find that not too many people love their jobs.
But if something that we spend a huge amount of the time on is so stressful to us, it's obvious that it makes our health worse. Chronic stress is extremely bad for our health.
I know it very well because the last few years of my PhD program were a real struggle. I was sitting in a library by myself doing work that didn't mean much to me anymore. When I took a look at the comments my submitted articles had received, I was thinking to myself: Who the heck cares about all these nitty gritty details??? How does it change the world? Even if I'm going to make these suggested changes, will anyone even ever read this article that I didn't even want to write?
I had absolutely lost my interest to what I had committed to. I realized that what I was doing caused me to get more and more depressed every day. My binge eating episodes became more frequent as well because of it. I was so done and all I wanted to do was quit.
When we think about what makes someone healthy, we mostly think about his or her diet and exercise. Things like relationships, joy, laughter and meaningfulness in the job we do, are often overlooked, but they're really important in reducing our stress levels, balancing hormones and making us healthier.
I know I personally need to work on creating deeper relationships. What about you — what can you do, to get healthier (let's not include eating and working out)?
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