“Science has determined 70 percent of our health is dictated by our lifestyle…” and by lifestyle, author Tiffany Cruckshank isn’t talking about diet or exercise but about stress, mood, and attitude.
Her book on meditation, Meditate Your Weight, goes on to cite studies about stress and health: “A study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that the more a group of stressed-out overweight women meditated, the greater their decreases in anxiety, markers of chronic stress, and belly fat – without any changes in their diet.” Meditate Your Weight, p. 66 (Harmony, 2016).
Mood Plays a Bigger Part in Health than Most People Realize
When people talk about health, they tend to focus on diet, exercise, and weight. These things are important, of course, but ignoring emotional health (not uncommon among lawyers) can have consequences.
Research shows that people with depression have greater reports of body pain and actually perceive their overall health as worse than comparable non-depressed people. Emotional health is essential in moderating stress. Regulating your emotional health may be outside of your control, at least in part; none of us can anticipate things that can have a massive impact on emotional health like health emergencies or the loss of a loved one.
Life stressors like a hectic work schedule or a new baby can impact your physical health in serious ways. Two common bodily responses to stress include increased blood pressure and the development of stomach ulcers.
Since you can’t control what happens to you in life, the goal in regulating emotional health is to work on improving how you react to those unplanned events.
That control over your reactions is related to the concept of resilience, the idea of being able to withstand unplanned events. Improving your knowledge of your emotions and what might increase positive states or decrease them can be helpful. The most recommended way to learn what triggers both positive and negative emotional states is to unplug, literally. Finding time to take note of your emotional wellbeing, either physically in a journal or by reviewing your thoughts, is noted by corporate emotional intelligence experts as the best way to improve emotional intelligence. This downtime might include meditation, but can also include time where your brain can quiet. Runners Pete Villa and Bryan Gould of the podcast How Was Your Run Today often talk about running to gain a sense of “void time” — time where their brains are quiet. Take note, however: Restorative activities aren’t the same as rest, which is also vital in a healthy lifestyle.
It May Seem Obvious, but Rest Is Essential to Living a Healthy Life
Less well-known effects include an increase in C-reactive protein, which is associated with heart attack risk, for those who sleep less than six hours per night. But rest also means more than just sleep. As life balance proponent Mara Glatzel teaches, the concept of rest includes restorative activities. She defines that as things that bring you a sense of calm and order.
You can increase your chance of getting a good night’s sleep by avoiding caffeine, sugar, and nicotine at night, keeping a regular sleep and wake schedule, keeping your bedroom between 60 and 70 degrees, and avoiding working out after 7 p.m. While Glatzel chooses to detail her car as a restorative activity, spending time with a pet is a popular way to unwind. That could be because the body releases serotonin and oxytocin when you pet animals.
A Healthy Lifestyle Includes Social Activities and Community Involvement
Studies show that social and emotional support is linked to preventing health issues like heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Increasing community activities by volunteering can drastically increase your chance of surviving a heart attack; those who had limited social interaction were almost twice as likely to be readmitted to the hospital after their first myocardial infarction. Volunteering with local charities has been shown to have a significant increase on how people report their health. Social support seems to increase emotional wellbeing and raise resilience levels.
So as you think about ways to take care of yourself in the limited time you have away from work, don’t leave it at just diet and exercise. Take note of what makes you feel good emotionally, insist on regular sleep, and spend time doing good in your community to round out your physical and psychological health.
Get serious about the psychological aspects of your health: Make restorative activities, sleep, and social interactions a priority over the next month, and note any changes in your mental or physical wellbeing.