Because humans are complex creatures, wellness includes different dimensions of life that are all interconnected.
When we look to reinforce and enhance our wellness, most people consider the physical realm as the highest priority. This dimension encompasses understanding your body as it relates to physical activity, rest and nutrition. As you might imagine, it involves eating well, building strength and endurance and practicing resilience.
It also involves taking responsibility for our health. This is to include taking good care of yourself, reducing stress whenever possible and seeking medical help when necessary.
These are things that we immediately think of when we think wellness. And this is a great start. But did you know that there are five other dimensions to wellness?
Social. This dimension involves community and environment, and recognizing the interdependence of people and our natural world. This is about making choices to build better personal relationships, a better living space and a better community.
Intellectual. This sphere is expanding your knowledge and skills through creative and engaging mental activities. Think about ways you pursue personal interests and develop your intellectual curiosity. How do you stay on top of current issues and ideas, and challenge yourself to be a lifetime learner?
Occupational. This is the dimension of contributing your gifts and skills to a cause that is meaningful to you. Are you developing new skills, volunteering, mentoring, teaching or coaching others?
Emotional. This area is general awareness and acceptance of your feelings, as well as the ability to express them in a productive and healthy way. This includes how positively you feel about yourself and your life, the ability to manage your feelings, coping with stress and realistically assessing your limitations.
Spiritual. This realm involves developing an appreciation for life and the world around you, searching for meaning and purpose and letting your actions become more consistent with your values and beliefs. Some people follow specific religious practices, while others lean toward a more general pursuit of harmony and self-awareness.
What are the actual tangible benefits of covering all of your bases above?
• A Yale clinical study found that seniors with a positive view of their lives lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those with less favorable views.
• Older adults who are physically active have lower mortality rates, plus higher levels of functional and cognitive health. In addition, they are less likely to have heart disease or type 2 diabetes.
• Memory function in seniors is improved by regularly doing tasks that require active engagement and that are challenging like learning a new skill.
• Volunteering is associated with health benefits such as enhanced cognition, delayed physical disability, reduced risk of hypertension, lower mortality and an improved sense of well-being.
• Religious and spiritual involvement is associated with higher levels of well-being, lower rates of hypertension, fewer strokes and less pain for illness. One study estimates that spiritual involvement prolongs life by about seven years.
Could it be that a large part of aging well is determined by lifestyle choices we make every day? The data tells us that the more comprehensive we are in improving ourselves in these six dimensions, the closer we are to the secrets of a longer and happier life.
Laura Nissen is a dementia specialist for Luther Manor Communities in Dubuque.