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Healthy Living

HOW TO STAY HEALTHY: MIND, BODY & SPIRIT

Our lives are fast-paced and hectic—there are so many goals to accomplish, so many experiences to savor and so many dreams towards which we strive. Though everyone lives different lives and has varying dreams and goals, it’s im-portant to stay healthy, not only to help us achieve our long-term ambitions, but also to help us through the day-to-day. Physical health is important, but so is mental and spiritual health. Whether it’s taking some time to clear the mind or scheduling in a little self-care, here’s how you can weather the winter and stay at the peak of health.

It seems as physical health might be the easiest of this triad to attain, right? After all, being physically healthy is about not be- ing sick … but it’s more than that, shares Dr. Dennis Lipton, an internal medicine specialist at Vail Health. “Physical health is not only the absence of disease,” Dr. Lipton says. “It is the presence of vigor, vitality and resilience. It’s the op- posite of frailty.” What does this healthy strength look like? It’s the person in the office who avoids the cold that’s passed around or who recovers from a sprain or other minor injury quickly without additional issues. “Resilience” is the word that Lipton uses. But how can you reach this state of resilience? “Physical health has to be earned,” Lipton says. “It’s the benefit achieved by paying attention to things like proper diet, exercise, sleep and stress management.” As with so many things, it’s all about balance: Eat enough nutrient-dense food to promote health, but don’t overeat; give your body enough physical exercise so that it’s strong and resilient but not so much that it’s over-stressed and wears down; get enough restorative sleep to maintain both physical and mental health.

ut Lipton also shares that another important and often neglected aspect of physical health is tied to the emotional and/or spiritual side. For example, he says that married peopleoften live longer than singles and people who are more socially active are generally healthier. Your physical health can impact your mental health as well— those who are less physically healthy have more mental illness. For example, diabetics have about 40 percent more depression on av- erage; those patients who have heart disease who are depressed have much worse outcomes, he says. The good news is that it’s never too late to work towards better physical health and optimize what you have.“The most important thing to remember is that it’s ALL important,” Lipton says. “You can’t out-exercise a poor diet. If you eat a diet that leads to inflammation and endothelial damage you can still get heart disease, no matter how much you exercise. You can be doing everything else perfectly but if you are sleeping poorly, your health will suffer. A high-stress lifestyle, if not managed properly, can lead to high levels of stress hormones that cause avariety of metabolic problems and difficulty with weight loss, even if you are doing everything else right with diet and exercise.” Everything is connected, so take stock of what your physicalhealth is like currently and start taking steps to improve your physical health.

An element that should be considered in your road towards physical health is your mental health. The two are inextricably con- nected and there have been recent studies that show some serious benefits of meditation, for example. There are various styles of meditation that provide different ben- efits for staying mentally healthy, explains Karen Anderson, yoga director at the Vail Athletic Club. “Mindfulness meditation is the most well-known in the west,” Anderson says. “In this practice, we train the mind to stay relaxed and clear, which feels healthy all of the time,but particularly when faced with challenging thoughts or emotions. This mind-state provides a sort of spacious well-being that allows for more skillful action at times when we might usually lose the plot and act and feel in conflict.”

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Along with mindfulness, there are also heart meditations, which can help cultivate positive emotional states, which lead to being able to experience a positive mental state while brushing off the negative. Insight meditation can help create an open and fearless mental state, which can lead to a life that creates meaning through caring. “All of these styles of meditation cultivate not only mental health, but also physical and spiritual health,” Anderson says. “Among the physical benefits, meditation and yoga promote parasympathetic dominance, reducing the frequency of flight-or-flight nervous system responses in which we stop digesting food and our cells stop healing, and so increase overall physical health. “Ultimately, these practices were designed to promote spiritual development—the mental and physical benefits are practically side effects, traditionally. Meditation is designed to help us to orient ourselves toward what we truly value, and so can support anyone’s spiritual path.”=Meditation is not difficult, Anderson says, and it doesn’t necessarily involve “turning off your mind,” as some maythink. Start with instruction,whether it’s through a teacher, a book or online recordings, she suggested. With all ofthe resources available, it’s possible to pick a practice that personally suits you.

For local support in beginning a practice, the Vail Athletic Club offers five 20-minute meditation classes per week; this can be a great option as community can be helpful in getting started. Anderson also offers by-donation online courses on her website.

When considering health, physical and mental health seem to be at the forefront. After all, knowing how you feel mentally and physically can be determined with a quickcheck: Do you feeltired?Run down? Sad? Connected? But what about your spirit? This type of health is often pushed to the wayside in the day-to-day rush. Spiritual wellness is an inherently personal matter com- prised of the values and beliefs that provide a purpose to life, providing an impetus to strive to reach a state of harmony, balancing the inner needs with those of the rest of the world.

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For anyone who has felt the push-and-pull of doing what’s best for others when it comes in conflict with what’s best for you, this may have a ring of truth to it. But it’s important for each person to explore and understand their own, personal sense of purpose and to stay true to that idea. According to The University of California, Riverside, “the path to spiritual wellness may involve meditation, prayer, affirmations or specific spiritual practices that support your connection to a higher power or belief system.” While yoga and meditation can help develop spiritual wellness, this is not the only path. The term self-care has recently become popular, but it could simply be under- stood as another avenue to spiritual health. Taking time for relaxation, being present in the moment, decluttering (both physical and mental clutter), practicing gratitude and sim- ply gettingt outside to soak up the sun can all assist with spiritual wellness. In the end, being healthy spiritually, mentally and physically are all intertwined. It takes time and dedication to improve your overall health, making the choices that will help a ensure a long, happy life. After all—you’re worth it.s