Physical Health: A Holistic Perspective
By Beatriz Martinez
reviewed by amadou barrow
SolaVieve is dedicated to making a difference in your overall health and wellbeing by helping you discover and maintain a healthy lifestyle that contributes to your happiness. Optimal physical health has endless benefits for our wellness, including better stress management and boosting self-esteem, motivation, and productivity. This series of articles connects the six dimensions of holistic health to understand how prevention through lifestyle and empowerment can improve our overall wellness.
What is physical health?
Physical health is the state of wellness in which our body functions optimally, as it’s designed to. As a dynamic state, physical health is a process in which our bodies develop its functions to their fullest potential, including not only biological, physiological, and mental functions, but also work and social activities. Physical health goes beyond the absence of diseases or painful conditions to include the ability to adjust to the constant changes of the external environment. Research shows that physical health depends on four main factors: genetics, health status, the state of the environment, and a person’s lifestyle. According to the same study, we experience three phases throughout our lives:
- Development from birth to mature age: the phase to form and develop our physical health;
- Maturity: the phase to strengthen our physical health;
- Involution (older age groups): the phase to preserve our physical health.
What are the benefits of optimal physical health?
- Avoiding chronic diseases;
- Quality of life and positive outlook;
- Feeling capable of accomplishing daily activities without restrictions;
- Strength and energy to face life’s challenges;
- Healthier and happier personal and work relationships.
What are the components of physical health?
- Physical activity: When physical activity comes to mind, we tend to think about exercise; however, it actually involves every movement of our body on a daily basis. Our routines usually require movement, such as walking to our workplace, shopping, cleaning, etc. Pain, discomfort, lack of confidence, being sedentary at the office or at home can all impede us at being physically active. To be healthy, it’s important to carry out either moderate activities such as walking or doing chores, or more intense activities like lifting weights or jogging, on a daily basis. The amount of time spent on these activities needs to match our goals and lifestyle.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure”. Therefore, physical activity includes any kind of movement during leisure time, commuting, or work. Regular exercise helps prevent and manage diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, several cancers, and hypertension. It also helps maintain a healthy body weight and it can improve mental health, quality of life and wellbeing.
- Nutrition: In the case of nutrition, we tend to think first about weight and our desired body image. However, nutrition is not just about physical appearance. A good diet enhances our mood and energy level, strengthens our immune system, lowers the risks of a wide variety of diseases, and can help us live longer and better. The foods we eat define our overall health and in many ways, our outlook on life. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all concept. We’re all unique with different nutritional needs, tastes, and lifestyles, which need to be accounted for and melded with standard guidelines to achieve sustainable success.
According to the WHO, a healthy diet will vary depending on individual characteristics (such as age, gender, lifestyle, and degree of physical activity), cultural context, locally available foods, and dietary patterns. The WHO states that consuming a healthy diet can help prevent malnutrition and noncommunicable diseases and conditions. Nowadays, the consumption of processed foods high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt/sodium has increased, and people do not consume enough fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. This change in dietary patterns can influence the physical health of individuals.
- Sleep: The quality and quantity of sleep and rest are vital for our wellbeing. Good sleep is necessary for our physical and mental health and a good quality of life. Sleep sharpens our mind, repairs our body, boosts our mood, strengthens the heart, increases our physical stamina, and helps our immune system ward off illnesses. According to the WHO, sleep deprivation can have different health effects. Lack of sleep can cause:
- Physical effects, such as sleepiness, fatigue, or hypertension;
- Cognitive impairment: deterioration of performance, attention, and motivation; less mental concentration and intellectual capacity, and an increased possibility of accidents at work or on the road occuring;
- Mental health complications.
Lack of sleep or getting inadequate sleep can affect our ability to think, to handle stress, to maintain a healthy immune system, and to moderate emotions, according to the WHO. Studies show that “insufficient sleep is prevalent across various age groups, considered to be a public health epidemic that is often unrecognized, under-reported, and that has rather high economic costs”. However, the amount of sleep we need is personalized and dependent on our lifestyle.
How does physical health connect with the other dimensions of holistic wellness?
- Mental: Physical symptoms can be caused by our mental state. When feeling stressed or with low self-esteem, we can notice alterations in our physical health, such as fatigue or digestion issues. Furthermore, these physical alterations can negatively affect our mental health, as our motivation and energy can decrease. Studies prove the negative effects of mental distress on physical health, including the development of depression, anxiety, and hostility.
- Spiritual: Spirituality helps us create a meaningful and purposeful life, as well as develop a connection with ourselves and our environment. Feeling well physically can have positive effects on our motivation and interests, making us aspire to get more out of life by following our passions and building a life based on our values.
- Social: It’s important for our social health to feel supported by our loved ones, and if we surround ourselves with people that take care of their physical health, we might be more empowered to follow their example and adopt healthier lifestyle habits, too. For example, we might feel motivated to do physical activities and eat healthier if we pursue such habits with friends or family.
- Environmental: Studies show that different factors of the environment can affect our health, such as harmful substances (air pollution, proximity to toxic sites, etc.), access to resources (healthy foods or health care, for example) and our surroundings (land use, roads, transportation…). Being physically fit enables us to freely experience our environment. For instance, we can feel empowered to walk or bike to work, thus avoiding cars or public transportation that contribute to pollution. Likewise, the more in tune we are with our body, the more conscious we are about the quality of our surroundings. We become less tolerant of harmful chemicals in our food, poor air quality, substandard living, and working conditions. We might also feel the desire to be in natural environments more often, while also becoming more motivated to preserve nature and diminish our impact.
- Economic: Good physical health can improve our concentration and productivity. Preventing illnesses also leads to reduced absence from work, in addition to increased motivation and energy. All of this can have a positive effect on our work performance and relationships while enhancing our career opportunities. By focusing on the connection between physical and economic health, we can avoid physical health disorders such as digestive issues, migraines, high blood pressure, disease, or muscle pain.
SolaVieve is dedicated to making a difference in your overall health and wellbeing. We invite you to explore your physical dimension by finding out what works best for you, building on your potential, and continuing your holistic journey with us.
I am a journalist specialised in international relations, and writing is my absolute passion. I translate my knowledge and feelings into words, a process that has become my profession and at the same time my personal healing practice. I believe that being curious about what surrounds us is the key to educating ourselves and to further being able to express it to others. I love reading and am mostly interested in politics, human rights, social movements, and the passionate world of health.
My areas of expertise center around climate change and global health; Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH); environmental and occupational health; health education and promotion; and health risk communications. I have experience as a lecturer at both university level in the area of health psychology, health education & promotion, water supply & sanitation, biostatistics, epidemiology and research methodology. I have published several scientific manuscripts in various reputable journals on maternal & child health morbidities and mortalities in LMIC settings. I am a passionate digital health enthusiast with a special focus on holistic wellbeing at all levels.
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