Friday, October 3, 2014

The Wellness Continuum

The lives and states of well-being of every person on earth is described by the wellness continuum.  It is adapted here from the work of W.J. Travis MD (Ardell, 1975). The wellness continuum represents a scale of health and fitness that spans between optimal health and well-being on the one end and extreme illness and premature death on the other.

The wellness continuum is described by the following diagram: 

Right in the center of the continuum is the neutral point. This point indicates a balance between the two extremes of optimal health and premature death. An individual at this point has no discernable difference between wellness and illness. They don't have abs but also aren't showing any signs of disease. Someone at the neutral point does not take any proactive actions to improve their health and fitness, nor are they seeing and feeling any ill effects from their current unhealthy lifestyles.

It is extremely dangerous to live at the neutral point. It gives us a false sense of well-being. We may feel perfectly fine because nothing is happening to us. We're not ill nor do we feel unwell and so we do nothing to promote our own health and fitness. We may be heading for ruin fast and we wouldn't even know it. It is this lack of knowledge which makes the neutral zone so very dangerous. All it takes is a very small nudge to fall to the left hand side of the continuum, characterized by illness, disability and premature death. And trust me, that is a road no one wants to go down. Let me explain.

I could be living a lifestyle in which I drink, smoke and eat unhealthy junk food on a regular basis. And I may even feel perfectly fine. In fact, I may even feel great on some days. This naturally leads to thinking that everything's OK and that I am well, but in actual fact I'm at the neutral point on the continuum, heading for the left side very fast. All it's going to take for me to fall to the left side of the scale is that one cigarette, that one drink or that one burger that's just too much. But why would I worry? I feel fine! I'll worry about eating healthy later, for now everything's A-OK.

Most of us fall into this neutral space unfortunately. We think we’re OK, but our lifestyles are still too unhealthy, and it's only a matter of time before something shoves us down towards the left side of the scale. We're not doing anything to make our lives better because we don't have the necessary information which shows towards which end of the continuum we're heading. And even worse, we don’t even realize that what we’re doing is dangerous to our health, even our lives.

In general, people only start to take action when they move from the neutral point towards the left hand side of the continuum. That is, they only start to do something about their state of well-being when they start to become ill and feel unwell. We as the human species are very timid when it comes to taking action to stay healthy but we wait patiently for obesity, diabetes, cancer and lung disease to destroy our lives before we're willing to do something. 

Very few people realize that it would be much more beneficial to remain within the right hand side of the continuum, the side which includes not only health, wellness and energy but also confidence, self-esteem and success. The right hand side equals life in abundance but many choose to take the road to premature death. Society and history has proven this time and again. The sad fact is that it is actually so very easy to remain healthy just by being a little bit more proactive everyday, but many just won't do it.

Why are we like that? Why is it that we don’t want to be proactive to remain in the right hand side of the continuum? Why do we only take action when we start to notice problems, when we're already dying? In my opinion, there are a number reasons for this.

Reason # 1. People generally do not want to put in the effort required to remain in the wellness side of the continuum no matter how small that effort may be. Yes, it takes a little effort to remain fit and healthy. You need to make an effort to eat healthy and exercise and for many that's just too much to ask. We would rather stay in that neutral spot for as long as we can. Because in that spot nothing has happened to us yet which means we don't have to do anything yet. In that spot we don’t have to do any strenuous work or worry about eating healthy, it’s easy going. We can sit back and relax, because apparently everything is fine. At least that's how we convince ourselves that everything is alright so that we can be lazy for just a little while longer. Until it becomes too late...

Reason # 2. People generally do not want to take responsibility for anything if they don't have to. This even includes the responsibility of looking after themselves and their well-being. It is much easier to place the responsibility of our well-being on doctors and medicines. In that way we can absolve ourselves of the burden of our health and give it to others to worry and do something about. In this way we don't have to be confronted with difficult questions like: Why didn't I go to the gym? or Why did I eat all that unhealthy food? or Why did I allow myself to deteriorate like this, even though I knew I had to do something? No one likes to be placed on the spot to answer difficult questions like that, especially about themselves. Because the answer is always a combination of I was too lazy to try to do anything to make it better or I did not care that I was slowly killing myself. Those are answers that make us look bad and feel very, very guilty and no one wants to feel bad and guilty if they can avoid it.

No, no, no, those realities are way to hard to face, so we try to place the responsibility and blame on others to feel better about ourselves. That's how some people end up suing McDonald because they got fat, which makes no sense at all. We make our health and well-being the responsibility of doctors and medicines and others. When we show symptoms of illness or disability, then it becomes the hospital’s or the doctor’s or the medicine’s problem, not ours. Like it was their fault we put all the bad stuff into our bodies.

Reason # 3. People are genuinely unaware of what they’re doing to themselves and how and what to do to move towards the right hand side of the continuum. This may happen in very traditional communities where life has remained the same for years and years. My grandmother for instance, used to believe that it was not bread consumption that made you fat, but rather the toppings. And so they would eat mountains of bread and could not understand why they were fat and felt so unwell. With outdated beliefs and no knowledge of better alternatives, people would soon fall toward the bad side of the continuum.

Reason # 4. It may just be that some people just don’t care. They have no desire, no drive, no ambition, no motivation and a general lack of care about their lives. If you find yourself in this category, I strongly recommend you take yourself to a therapist. Because without desire, drive, motivation and concern your life will be empty, devoid of love, friendship, happiness, laughter and well-being. These are the things that make life interesting, fun and worth living. Without them there simply cannot be any life for you. Please don’t be this person, get help fast.

So why should we bother living on the wellness side of the continuum? For all the amazing benefits a healthy lifestyle offers of course! Not to mention the gift of living your life to the fullest possible extent that you can. For me personally, the greatest benefits of living a healthy lifestyle are the increased energy I have every day and the fact that I’ll most likely be able to extend my years and live to a ripe old age. With more energy I can live a fuller live, give more love to my wife and family and perform better so that I may be more successful and make more money.

On the right hand side of the continuum, there’s no need for expensive medication, you're not tied to a doctor's prescription and you save a lot of money that you would have wasted on killers like cigarettes and booze. Imagine the savings, money that could have been put away to become financially free. Imagine not having to work a day in your life again! Just imagine the freedom that a healthy lifestyle affords. Freedom from medicine, freedom from doctors, freedom from killers, freedom from unhealthy desires and even freedom from work. Would you rather live in the killing prison of an unhealthy lifestyle, or soar like a bird on the winds of freedom? I know what I would want to do!

Now, the million dollar question: What can I do to move on to the right hand side?

Well, it all starts with awareness and education. We must know where we stand and we must remain vigilant and in control of our conditions. And we must find out about healthy living and exercising and which actions to take to improve our health and well-being. This blog is an excellent resource and if you're interested you can check out out as well. Once we become aware and we know what to do, it becomes a simple matter of doing a couple of small things, consistently, on a regular basis.

You don't have to walk around with a "no pain - no gain" mentality. Staying healthy and fit and on the right hand side of the continuum is easy and simple. It can be done by deciding to take control of your life. Simple as that. Just decide. And then, once the decision has been made, taking the responsibility to make your life a health and fitness success.

You don’t have to sweat buckets in a gym or starve yourself. Regular sessions of light exercise and small dietary changes have been shown to dramatically improve health and well-being. Even a little thing such as walking the dog every day is often enough to kick start your move towards the right hand side of the continuum scale. Check out these posts to see just how little is required to maintain health and well-being: How to lose fat without going on a "diet" or stepping one foot in the gym and Training thresholds - The minimum amount required for healthy living.

There really are no excuses for not living on the right hand side, the side of health, fitness and well-being. You’ve seen how easy it is to start moving towards the right hand side. And I’ll bet that as soon as you start to feel the benefits of a healthy life, you’ll want more.

We must all realize that health and fitness is our own responsibility, we cannot give that job to someone or something else. And we must realize that it is important to become aware of our states of health and what to do about it, lest we allow ourselves to die a premature death.

Ask yourself the question: Do you have what it takes to remain on the right side of the continuum? I believe you have, I believe everyone has what it takes and I believe we can all start to do something about it right this moment.

Until next time friends, STAY TRUE AND TRAIN HARD!

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