Many people feel they have good health, but that is not necessarily the case. Even if an individual feels healthy, the medical profession may later discover signs of disease that the person was unaware of.
Modern concepts of health include a positive conception, based on “a state of complete physical mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1).
Physical health is the normal functioning of a person’s body and represents one dimension of total well-being. It includes eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and staying active to maintain strength, flexibility and aerobic fitness. It also includes having a healthy weight and avoiding tobacco, excessive alcohol use and harmful substances.
Regular physical activity, both moderate and vigorous intensity, improves health by decreasing the risk of noncommunicable diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, while promoting healthy weight management, preventing hypertension and reducing stress levels. Physical health is the ability to work and play in everyday life with vigor, without undue fatigue or injury. It also includes the ability to meet unforeseen challenges and emergencies.
Mental health is the ability to think and react in ways that allow people to function productively and play an active role in their communities. This includes sensory strategies, emotions, social relationships, sleep, and energy management.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions that affect the way a person feels, thinks and behaves. They can make it hard to cope with everyday life and may interfere with work, school or family. They are not caused by personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing and they can be treated.
Research suggests that a combination of factors — genetics, environment, stressors and lifestyle — influence whether someone develops a mental illness. It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis and stick with treatment – including psychotherapy (talk therapy) and/or medications.
When people think of health, they often focus on symptoms such as a cough or back pain. But health also includes other aspects that affect how you feel about your life and your relationships. These are called social determinants of health.
Hundreds of studies show that supportive interactions with others promote mental and physical well-being by reducing the stress of life’s challenges, promoting feelings of self-efficacy, and minimizing unpleasant arousal that may provoke risky behaviors. Physiologically, supportive social ties improve immune and endocrine function, reduce allostatic load (the wear and tear on physiological systems caused by chronically overworked stress responses), and foster sense of meaning and purpose in life.
Researchers have identified multiple psychosocial mechanisms that explain why social ties influence our health behaviors, including support, personal control, symbolic meanings and norms, and mental health. These mechanisms are interconnected and help explain why healthy habits tend to spread through networks.
Spiritual health is a sense of meaning and connection to the universe and your place in it. It’s the belief that life has purpose beyond physical things and short-term happiness and the desire to contribute positivity to the world.
Participants who reported having spiritual wellness also reported lower physiological reactivity to stress and more positive emotional responses. The spiritually healthy also exhibited higher levels of generosity, empathy, altruism and optimism.
Although further research is needed, these results suggest that there may be a correlation between health-related behaviors and spirituality/religiosity and psychological well-being. This further supports the theory that the body, mind and spirit are interconnected. It’s important to nurture all three of these aspects of health to be at your best. Meditation, yoga and other mindfulness practices are great ways to improve your spiritual health.
Emotional health includes your feelings, relationships and capacity to cope with stress and difficult times. It’s important to note that emotional health is not the same as mental health, which focuses on addressing and managing psychological disorders.
Emotionally healthy people can keep problems in perspective, and they’re able to bounce back from hardships. They can also maintain healthy relationships with others.
This area of wellness takes intentional effort to achieve and maintain. To get started, check out these book titles that offer empirically backed content on fueling resilience and emotional health: