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What ‘wellness’ really means – why health is about more than just illness

‘Prevention is better than cure’ – it’s a concept we’ve all heard many times before. Yet for so many people, health is seen as an absence of illness. But it is so much more than that – wellbeing is emotional, spiritual and psychological as well as physical. Understanding this is so important when it comes to safeguarding your own health

For this blog I collaborated with Jeannie Di Bon. Jeannie is a qualified Pilates instructor, nutritionist and health and wellness expert. It was wonderful to hear Jeannie’s story – a different angle from my own experience with health as a medical professional.

However you enter the mindset of taking control of your own wellbeing, it is important to see health and wellness as holistic – requiring balance in all aspects of your life.

The foundation of wellbeing:

Mark:

For me, the foundation of wellbeing is understanding the connectedness of mind, body, emotion and spirit. Your thoughts and your emotions impact your habits, behaviours and in turn influence your physical health – you have more control over them than you might think.

Naturally, the foundations of great physical health include getting enough restorative sleep, real wholesome food, plenty of exercise as well as movement throughout the day. Of course knowing your own body and getting regular check-ups is important as well.

In addition, psychological fitness is the essence of great mental health. Self awareness, keeping a journal, building on your strengths and a meditative practice are all great tools for looking after your mind. As is cultivating more emotional contentment and inner happiness by being kinder to others and to yourself and expressing gratitude for what you already have in your life.

Valuing your relationships and ensuring you have positive people around you that strengthen and support you.

Jeannie:

Having people around you who support you will certainly make a difference. It is important to have support – it’s hard to change lifestyle if the people around you are not behind it.

This is also part of what I see as the most important aspect of wellness – enjoyment. It is essential for success that we don’t see exercise, eating well and looking after ourselves as punishment.

You are not being punished by not eating cakes, and you shouldn’t be telling yourself off because maybe you ate something you shouldn’t have. It is vital to see it as a journey to health. You are taking care of your body in order to prevent future illness and disease.

We can do so much for ourselves to prevent illness – diet, exercise, sleep are all proven to help but mindset  – the way we approach wellness – makes a huge difference. Be consistent in your approach – again, make changes not to punish yourself, but because you really believe that you are making positive changes for yourself and your family.

Misconceptions around wellness:

Indeed, one of the worst misconceptions around a committed healthy lifestyle is that it is hard, that it is boring, that it is time consuming. As with any new venture, it does take time to get organised, to gather the resources and information you will need. For example, take making a fresh meal – it takes time to get the ingredients, but once that is done, you are already well on the way; it doesn’t have to take hours.

People often think they don’t need to worry about this sort of thing as they feel ‘fine’, or it ‘isn’t for them’ or ‘it will never happen to me’. But fine doesn’t mean well, and illness can strike anyone.

Change can be challenging. It takes commitment. But if you want to prevent illness, and really turn your lifestyle around, it is important to understand that wellness is for everyone.

People are often quite happy to ‘pop a pill’ to ‘cure’ an ailment, but all too frequently, illness is a sign that something is wrong, and that there is an underlying health issue that goes deeper than pills.

Mark:

This is an issue I have noticed. People often view wellness as ‘soft’, flowery term, not something science-based. There can be a tendency to look at pills and medication as science, and wellness as something else, despite our understanding of it being based in knowledge of how the body works.

Another part of the problem is that it is a catch-all term that means different things to different people. But what we are talking about is the World Health Organisation’s definition of health; looking holistically at the integration between minds, emotion, body, and spirit.

The first steps towards change:

Jeannie

Speaking from my own experience, I want to emphasise that you should take your health into your own hands. Don’t wait until illness decides for you. Prevention is the key.

The first step is to sit down and be totally honest with yourself. Really think about your lifestyle and how it might be affecting your health and happiness. Are you exercising? Does your diet contain a lot of processed foods? Are you getting enough sleep? Is sleep even a priority for you? Something in particular to consider is if you have ailments that you have accepted as ‘normal’ – aches, pains, headaches, digestive issues, insomnia, or mood swings. All of these things are signs of being out of balance.

Mark:

This is also what I would recommend. Knowing yourself should be the priority – know your why. Recognising and accepting the reality of where you are at the moment in terms of diet, sleep, exercise, and mindfulness is the best way to begin. I would suggest keeping a journal as a terrific way to confront your current lifestyle habits and your health goals. This will clarify the distance of your ‘gap’ – the gap between where you are today in terms of your health and a healthier version of you.

Jeannie:

Once you have been honest with yourself in this way, you can make a plan. Start small, with simple steps – if you’re not exercising, start with a small walk every day or join a gentle exercise class. Set yourself a ‘bedtime’ – and stick to it. Lower your intake of processed foods and try cooking from fresh ingredients.

Mark:

If it seems daunting to start with, maybe pick one thing you can do to improve your health and build this as a sustainable habit over the next two to three months.

It is essential you frame your commitment positively. Positively phrased statements generally work so much better – for example ‘getting more sleep’, ‘starting strength training’, ‘eating more green vegetables’ – seeing it as taking something up rather than giving something up.

Small improvements every day will lead to healthy choices becoming sustainable habits.

Jeannie:

Once you start, you will notice how different you feel, and this will make it easier to continue. Finally, look for support – someone you can talk to, who will encourage you on your new journey.

Final thoughts:

Jeannie:

If someone was to only take one thing away from this, I would like it to be that be truly healthy is really possible for everyone and anyone at any age. All it requires is small, steady changes.

You are never too old to make changes – it can have really amazing impacts on your overall health and happiness. It doesn’t have to be scary or hard – in fact once you start, you’ll never want to go back!

Mark:

If you want to read my final thoughts and to learn more about Jeannie and my personal experiences with wellness and how modern attitudes to health affect us, the other half of this blog is on Jeannie’s website – read it here.

Learn more about Jeannie Di Bon at http://jeanniedibon.com/