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Staying Healthy for Our Most Vivacious Self

healthy lifestyleIf you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. That’s what a physical trainer I met at a friend’s 40th birthday party told me several years ago. Frankly, it scared me. Not being an exerciser by nature, I pictured myself before too long stooped and wrinkled beyond recognition, like Mr. Magoo’s mother. Staying healthy, strong, toned, and fit, I decided, was the way to go. That, along with nutritious eating, adequate sleeping, quiet contemplation, and loving and being loved, I eventually discovered, is what is most needed to stay on the path of wellness. Wikipedia defines wellness as: health, freedom from disease, and in the context of population as: well-being.

Wellness has become the new trend in health care, though it is having trouble gaining a solid foothold in the current health care system. Prevention and preventative approaches are touted as the new health care mission statement, shifting the focus from disease and cure to preemptive healthfulness. An ounce of prevention, the saying goes, is worth a pound of cure. That has never been truer than today with rising health care costs, and mounting medical debt that is breaking both people’s backs and spirits.

“Since lifestyle has been found to be the single most important factor determining your pattern of general health, it is important that you be educated to ‘take charge’ of your daily life and to set healthy lifestyle goals,” states the website, Definitionofwellness.com. “The secret is not in medical care, but consistent self-care. While traditional medicine concentrates on alleviating or curing disease, the wellness approach encourages you to take personal responsibility for your well-being.”

There are 10 areas that the website suggests be worked on to improve wellness, or in other words, to self-actualize into our optimal, most vivacious selves. Those areas worthy of self-appraisal and intervention are:

(1) Social wellness
(2) Occupational wellness
(3) Spiritual wellness
(4) Physical wellness
(5) Intellectual wellness
(6) Emotional wellness
(7) Environmental wellness
(8) Financial wellness
(9) Mental wellness
(10) Medical wellness

An examination of this 10-fold wellness report card is a good way to assess areas in which life-choices are working toward greater wellness, and those in which choices are a detriment. I wish I could report that in my own personal wellness journey I have been able to tackle all 10 areas with equal gusto. I wish, in the name of happy endings, I could report that aerobic exercise has become second nature to me, and, toned and fit, I am ready for the Mrs. America Contest. But it didn’t happen that way. To be honest, I’m still not much good at physical fitness. But the things I have learned to do, I like to believe, I have learned to do effectively: eat well, get plenty of restful sleep, practice mindfulness, and love others (and myself) full-heartedly. Wellness is the most important undertaking of our lifetimes really, because without it, we have no foundation on which to build, in a creative way, our unique and particular life story.

In order to see one’s choices clearly, and therefore base decisions on skillful analysis of all the options, it is extremely useful to retreat to a quiet, contemplative space: prayerful, silent, still, indwelling in nature; or choosing to rest the mind in meditation in order to access the deepest part of ourselves, our inner resources of love, compassion, empathy, and joy.

Since the world is busy and constant — Internet fast, in fact — if we want to continually avoid confronting our roadblocks to wellness, it is an easy enough task. As pointed out on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website, maintaining wellness requires dedicated effort: The website was developed “to provide…a wide range of information and services to enhance wellness… [and] a valuable resource toward improving your quality of work/life…by keeping the ‘Focus on You’.”

Wellness as a “focus on you,” prioritizing self-care, improving the ability to retreat from the world and re-connect with the self; these are important life skills in order to cultivate our best selves, live our best lives, and be our most healthy. Various endeavors that the NIH lists as contributing to wellness include: Akido, badminton, theater, bicycling, photography, chamber singing, Qi-Gong, Martial Arts, line dancing, fencing, golf, running, hiking — pastimes that help nurture our souls, and hence our long term well-being.

The ways to wellness are not that hard to figure out, yet we can find it diffi cult to carry them through. We often resist nurturing ourselves, yet are quick to criticize and undermine — self-sabotage instead of self-inspire. Why do we treat ourselves more harshly than we would treat our own child? We need to become more gentle, and learn how to use each day to “begin again” in our quest for optimal wellness. Perhaps the first step to wellness is learning how to be a little kinder, treating ourselves more tenderly, in the same way we would treat our own child. In the accepting space of this approach, our potential is unleashed, and we naturally reach toward our personal best.

Eyeing the treadmill in my basement, I tie up my sneakers, stretch out my hamstrings, click on the TV, and step onto the moving walkway. On this brand new day, I begin again.

This first appeared in Ambassador Magazine, Detroit, Michigan.

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