Good health is something most of us strive for during our lifetime. What does it mean to be healthy? What constitutes good health? Well, I believe being healthy is tied to three main components: physical, mental and social health.
7 Factors Influencing Health
Whilst health can be broken down into physical, mental and social aspects, I think the following factors have a great influence over these attributes:
- Stress (more specifically stress management)
- Social interactions
- Life goals
Here I’m going to take a deeper look at each factor influencing health and the changes we can make to improve the way they influence our health.
You are quite literally what you eat. The food you consume is broken down into small molecules which are essentially reassembled to form the cells within your body. Providing your body with high-quality food full of the micronutrients it needs to thrive optimally will lead to improved health from a cognitive and physiological standpoint. These nutrients are used to make the neurons inside your brain.
Much of the problem with diet is the western diet culture which is high in sugar, additives and fat. Manufacturers cleverly mix these ingredients together to trigger such a large dopamine response in the body that it leaves you craving more. When it comes to diet some of the most effective things you can do to improve your health are:
- Lower your body fat to a healthy level (reduce food and calorie consumption).
- Reduce sugar intake to less than 30g sugar daily, ideally lower if possible (I’m trying to be realistic for most people).
- Remove industrial seed oils from your diet (due to the high omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acid ratio which can be inflammatory).
- Eat more whole foods like animals and plants.
- Consume less ultra-processed foods.
People are always trying to find ways to save time. Some people find ways to accelerate their workouts in the gym by being more time-efficient with which exercises they do, some people eat less frequently and others try to cut back on one or two hours of sleep in order to squeeze more time in the day. If you are or you’re considering cutting back on sleep for extra hours during the day, don’t do it!
Sleep is so important to the human body. We wouldn’t sleep on average for a third of our lives if sleep wasn’t so important. Our brain is literally creating neural connections while we sleep, memories are forming, muscle tissue is repairing. Sleep is an essential process for humans.
Lack of sleep increases cortisol which automatically makes you more stressed. If you lose weight it’s more likely to come from muscle loss. You’re more likely to make poor choices. The immune system is suppressed which makes you more susceptible to tumours and disease. To make matters worse your body’s cells are more insulin resistant so less glucose is absorbed. It’s simply not worth it.
Get your sleep folks. Even better if you don’t need to use an alarm. Aim for a minimum of 7 hours daily, ideally 8 hours.
In the modern world, life is full of stressors. The alarm in the morning, the time we need to be at work, rushing reluctant kids out of the house to school, traffic on the commute to work, arguments with colleagues, chronically elevated insulin levels, work deadlines to meet, worries about people judging you, lack of sleep, finding food to cook for dinner, the intense workout you performed before dinner – the stress never ends.
It’s human to be stressed, but we also need to know how to deal with stress so that we’re not adversely affected by it. Small bouts of stress aren’t necessarily a bad thing and it’s your body’s way of responding to what it perceives to be a fight or flight situation, the real problems occur when stress becomes chronic. This can even include working too frequently and too intensely in such a way that your body cannot adequately cope with physical stress accumulated. Stress can cause damage to the heart and quite literally speed up the ageing of cells – not a good thing.
First, we need to try to manipulate our environment to make it less stressful. This could mean:
- Preparing lunch and having the ingredients ready for dinner the day before.
- Working out less frequently so your body can recover better.
- Commuting to work earlier so traffic doesn’t stress you out so much.
- Prioritising sleep so you don’t wake up tired and need coffee for a caffeine jolt.
One of the best ways to reduce stress in the present moment is to do deep breathing exercises, in through your nose and out through your mouth, focusing on pushing the air into your belly as you inhale.
As trivial as they may seem, social interactions can have a profound impact on your health. Ever heard the saying that you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with? Well, it’s likely there’s some truth to that.
If you’re around the right people who inspire positivity, motivation and support you then you’ll feel much better about yourself and inevitably your health will improve since you’re around people that care about you. If you spend time around depressed people who have a negative attitude, your attitude is likely to reflect much of that in the way ou speak and act.
Without being too pedantic, choose carefully who you want to be around as it could have a larger impact than you realise on your health and aspirations. This is certainly one of the reasons why a lot of parents don’t want their children being around certain children – because they don’t want them to be influenced by them.
Your outlook on life and your various experiences can play a large role in how you feel and by extent your health. Simple things such as smiling can reduce your perception of pain. Being grateful for what you have, giving to others and always looking at the glass half-full can go a long way when it comes to improving your health. You’ll feel much better about yourself and others will appreciate you as a person much more! If you radiate positivity, people are sure to enjoy spending time with you which will only make you feel better.
Negative self-talk will only make you doubt yourself and possibly lead to small bouts of depression. You’ll spend more time thinking ‘what if’ instead of being proactive and doing something which could benefit yourself or others.
A positive mindset can lead to the following health benefits:
- Increased longevity
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- Better ability to cope with stress
- More happiness and fulfilment in life
- A greater sense of purpose in life
- Lower levels of distress
- Improved immunity to disease
As much as the physical aspects of exercise are well documented, mental and social benefits can also be obtained from regular exercise. Although exercise is a form of stress relief, it is inherently another form of stress upon the body with a profound number of health benefits which come from physiological adaptations.
Some physiological health benefits of exercise include:
- Enhanced strength
- Increased muscle mass
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased production of antioxidants within the body
- Increased bone density
- Increased longevity
Your body will become more robust from exercising on a regular basis and you’ll feel great due to the various hormones such as serotonin and dopamine released during exercise. Exercise will make you stronger and simply by feeling more physically capable you’ll feel better about yourself which brings us onto the mental health benefits of exercise.
The mental health benefits of exercise include:
- Increased pain tolerance (from learning to deal with exercise-induced pain)
- Sharper memory and cognitive ability
- Higher self-esteem
- Reduced stress (from non-physical activity)
- Elevates mood
As well as that, more benefits of exercise can accrue if you perform exercise in a social setting such as a group training run or a gym class.
A few social health benefits which you can get from exercise include:
- Forming bonds with other people
- Improved communication and coordination skills
- A sense of belonging
- Learning to support others
- Dealing with authority
- Dealing with frustration
- Controlling emotions towards other people
Many of these social benefits of exercise are applicable to daily life and can help in your daily interactions with other people, allowing you to better understand them and accept your position amongst other people within a social setting.
Goal setting in life is extremely important when it comes to life purpose. I think you should always have a goal in life just so you’re not drifting aimlessly unsure of what to do. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t convinced about the goal you’ve set, as long as you have a goal, then you know what to work towards. Along that journey, you may find a new goal you aspire to achieve. If you feel it’s appropriate to do so, then consider changing goals and make the switch.
Always having some sort of goal in life gives you a sense of purpose. You have something to strive towards. Having a sense of purpose in life is important when it comes to being satisfied with who you are as a person so have a few goals and make them meaningful. These goals will allow you to have a sense of control over your future and will allow you to get results faster since you know what to work towards. Take some time to figure out what you want to do within your life and don’t be afraid to change your goals if you feel differently midway. Just please don’t set life goals based on what you feel others expect of you.
Some people go along that route and do fine. Others, not so well, and they regret it.
This post was a bit deep and meaningful, but I hope you can appreciate the deeply complex relationship these factors have when it comes to our health. If you found this post insightful, I’d really appreciate it if you could share it with others!