People measure health in many ways. Some metrics are more accurate, or more useful, than others. For example, the American Heart Association has 7 factors that define optimal cardiovascular health: physical activity, controlled cholesterol, a healthy diet, normal blood pressure, a normal body-mass index (BMI), controlled blood sugar, and being a non-smoker. What percentage of the U.S. population has all 7 metrics in their favor? Just 2 %!

Another problem with this system is that it only measures physical health. There are other, less physiologic, lists of health factors that may be more accurate. One example is ‘Blue Zones’. These are communities where the local population lives approximately 10 years longer than the surrounding population. These communities include, Ikaria Greece, Nicoya Costa Rica, Okinawa Japan, Sardinia Italy, and Loma Linda California (due primarily to the large amount of Seventh-Day Adventists living there).

What have they found in these Blue Zone communities? They are more physically active (the elderly populations walk a lot), have purpose to life, have strong social connections, eat mostly plant-based diets, have less stress, and don’t smoke. As you can see, these communities were evaluated based on a many factors, instead of looking at physical health alone.

There is MORE to total health. Many experts divide up health into 9 separate, but overlapping areas. These criteria are the most comprehensive and accurate ones I have seen. They include these factors:

  1. Emotional health
  2. Exercise habits
  3. Diet
  4. Occupational health
  5. Environmental factors
  6. Financial situation
  7. Intellectual development
  8. Social life
  9. Spiritual beliefs

Let’s discuss each of these briefly.

Emotional- Are you stressed? Stress causes increased blood pressure, difficultly sleeping, and it actually makes it harder to lose weight! Need to let things go? Bearing a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping to kill someone else. Forgive those who have wronged you, take control of your schedule, and focus on the blessings (instead of the negatives) in your life.

Exercise- Just being more active makes a huge difference. Studies show that just 15 min of exercise a day reduces your risk of death. Conversely the more you sit at work, the less healthy you’ll be. It is important to incorporate movement into our lives—even if it is only a few minutes here and there. Exercise is the BEST therapy for low energy, depression, joint aches, fatigue, and most chronic medical conditions.

Diet- Simple things like eating a bit less can have huge results. Once you’re full, stop eating. The extra food is just extra calories you don’t need. A whole food, plant-based diet is the best. Although nuts are high in fat, they are actually protective for your heart and do not contribute to weight gain. Another pitfall is beverages. They can pack in a lot of extra calories. For example, they say if you skip 1 soda a day you’ll lose 15 lbs in 1 yr!

Occupational- Do you have a chronic repetitive motion that you have to do at work? Such as answering calls, typing, etc? Those can lead to chronic pain, which leads to stress. Be kind to your body, take the time to get a headset and adjust your computer monitor and chair appropriately. Pay attention to your body. Do your feet hurt because you wear high heels? Is your neck or back hurting from carrying a huge heavy purse that could double for a survival bag? If your kids are schlepping around huge backpacks for school, get a rolling bag or unload it. This goes for purses and briefcases as well.

Environmental- Besides the obvious issues of pollution are you aware of your environment? Do you text and drive? Do you text and walk? One girl fell into an open manhole that was surrounding by yellow cones because she was texting. Another woman fell into a mall fountain while texting. The security video went viral! The best self-defense technique in the world is not martial arts or carrying a gun, but being aware of your surroundings.

Financial- Are you in control of your money, or does it control you. Proverbs says that the “borrower is slave to the lender”. Is debt slowly killing you? Do you dread doing the monthly bills? Money problems are one of the main reasons for divorce and a leading cause of stress. Get financial stress out of your life. If you need help, check out DaveRamsey.com.

Intellectual- You are what you put into your noggin, just like you are what you eat. Do all the romance novels a woman reads benefit her marriage? If a child plays violent video games all the time what will he do when he gets offended? If you read the Bible a lot what will come out when you are under stress? Fill up on good stuff.

Social- We all need to feel like we belong. Being isolated and lonely is one of the toughest feelings to go through. That is why family, friends, and social support groups are so important. It is also important to reach out and comfort people who are going through difficult times. If we truly look out for each other, the world will be a much nicer place.

Spiritual- This is the one that ties everything else together. Our beliefs give us the WHY; they provide purpose and meaning to our lives. Goals such as money, being famous, or physical pleasure don’t last that long, which is why people who chase those things are never satisfied. Belief in God is also a key ingredient for people who make major changes in their lives, as most don’t believe they can do it on their own. If you live with spirituality in mind, the last 8 things usually fall into place.

So how healthy are you? Remember, no matter what situation you’re in, there is always room for improvement. On a personal note, I was once really unhealthy—which isn’t something you tend to hear a cardiologist say. However, I am now on the right track to total health. I sincerely hope you all are able to take stock of your lives and go 9 for 9.


About the Author

Harvey Hahn, MD, FACC

Dr. Hahn graduated from Loma Linda University in 1994. He is currently the director of the Cardiovascular Fellowship Training Program at the Kettering Medical Center in Kettering Ohio.

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