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By Betty Harrison
As America's interest in health continues to grow, it can seem as though we are being bombarded with information on how to achieve, maintain, or regain optimal health. People grapple daily with questions about the best ways to stay healthy and how to simplify the process of managing one's own health.
According to Betty Harrison, MA, CWWS, CWWPM, chair of the Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness program and Nutrition Science Department at Kaplan University, it helps to understand a few basic principles about healthy living in order to best maintain health. "At Kaplan University, we start by understanding the fundamental building blocks of what constitutes optimal health and wellness," said Harrison. In short, great strides in health can be made by paying closer attention to just a few basic lifestyle choices. The following list includes several areas to consider when making changes toward a healthier lifestyle:
1. Exercise and Fitness: Regular exercise improves blood circulation, strengthens muscles, and helps to maintain a healthy weight. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, more than 60% of U.S. adults do not engage in the amount of exercise recommended for optimal health. "In addition to keeping us healthy physically, regular exercise also improves our mental health and our mood and helps lower risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health conditions," said Harrison.
2. Nutrition: Good eating habits promote overall health. While certain nutrients in foods nourish our muscles, others are good for our bones, our joints, and our skin. Harrison references author Michael Pollan's advice to "eat food, not too much, mostly plants." An individual's health is affected by the amount and types of food eaten, and risk for certain diseases and conditions rises due to poor nutrition. "We need to choose our foods wisely, and make sure to consult reputable sources or professionals when making big decisions regarding our diets," said Harrison.
3. Sleep: Not only does lack of sleep make us tired, it has been linked to various diseases and conditions including depression, substance abuse, hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. Adults should strive for 7 to 8 quality hours of sleep each night, while teenagers need up to 9. When people don't get enough sleep, the body cannot function as well.
4. Stress Management: In small doses, stress is invigorating and can even improve one's productivity. However, when stress is constant or intense it can cause both emotional and physical damage. "At Kaplan University, we recommend learning stress management techniques ahead of time, so that when stress arises in life, it can be identified and managed properly," said Harrison.
5. Psychological and Spiritual Wellness: Not to be confused with religion, spirituality is a broader concept that includes connection to others, nature, or a higher power. Acknowledging the importance of this aspect of our psychological health is often referred to as the mind-body-spirit connection and is usually part of any holistic approach to health. "Longing to feel connected to something bigger than oneself is a significant aspect of the human condition," said Harrison.
Harrison explains that to thoroughly appreciate holistic health, one must understand how each of these factors is intertwined with the others. For instance, exercise is more effective when the body has had proper sleep and nutrition. Stress management techniques may be more successful for people who feel psychologically healthy and connected. "Even in today's health-conscious culture, many people avoid focusing on health until a crisis develops," said Harrison. "We benefit from being reminded that our lifestyle is an integral element of our overall health."
Betty Harrison is the Chairperson for the Health & Wellness and Nutrition Science departments at Kaplan University, and is the Director of the University’s Center for Health and Wellness.
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And if you are considering pursuing a health sciences degree, we invite you to find out more about Kaplan University's School of Health Sciences and explore our undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.
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