With the holidays over and the calendar flipped to 2018 many people have probably made their New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, but what exactly does that entail?

For starters, “healthy” is not one set look or appearance. Being a certain size or weight does not equate to being healthy. So what does it mean to be healthy?

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

In an effort to understand how a person can go about improving their health, Arts & Leisure reached out to several health experts in the area.

We spoke with a dietician, a medical director at a psychiatric hospital and a health coach/personal trainer. Despite our best efforts we were not able to speak with any general physicians about health prior to publication, but it is advisable to speak with a physician about any plans to improve your health as they know about your medical history.

What does it mean?

Ridgefield Visiting Nurse Association registered dietician Meg Whitbeck described being healthy as “to be free of disease and illness while also being filled with a sense of happiness and well-being, too! Health is not just physical, but it is emotional, mental and spiritual. Good quality nutrition can enhance all of these areas.”

Dale Rowley, a health coach and personal trainer at the Darien YMCA, defined being healthy as “feeling energetic, feeling alive, being able to do really almost anything that you want to do physically or mentally [and] to not have any limitations.”

According to Silver Hill’s medical director, Dr. John Santopietro, anyone can achieve good health. “I would say right off the bat there is no secret sauce or one way for people to be happy or healthy. Everybody can find their way to it.”

All three also assured us that health comes in all shapes and sizes and that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to health.

“Every person is unique, and finding their keys to wellness is an individual journey. For some, being healthy and active might be running marathons while for another, it may be walking to the mailbox and back and touching their toes,” Whitbeck said. “It all depends on the history and ability of that individual.”

Rowley said that being healthy is feeling comfortable with your body and not caring about what magazines or tabloids claim a healthy body looks like.

“It’s really just what you feel good at and if you’re a recreational athlete, what you feel good at to perform or do, or wear whatever you want,” she said.

Being mentally healthy

Now that there’s a basic understanding of being physically healthy, what exactly does it mean to have good mental health? Santopietro said that people with good mental health are able to cope with stress and connect with others. “There’s no way to have a life that doesn't have stress in it so your capacity to manage stress is a sign of being healthy,” he said. “We often think that you’re mentally healthy as a person alone, well that’s not really true. Part of mental health is really being connected to other people; we as a species are built, our biology and our brains are built to be connected to other people.”

He also said it’s important to understand that having a mental illness does not automatically exclude a person from having good mental health.

“There is a difference between mental health and mental illness. I think that’s an important distinction that we don’t make in this country. We understand that people have depression or they have anxiety or they have substance abuse [problems]; that’s having a mental illness. People that don’t have it don’t have a mental illness. So you can be mentally healthy and have a mental illness,” Santopietro said.

Mental health, like physical health can be improved.

“If I want to get in shape mentally, what do I do? That’s the psychological gym and that again is where everybody has their own psychological gym,” he said. “For some people it might be activities like sports, for some people it might be meditation. For others it could be psychotherapy, which helps lots of people get mentally strong and work on strengthening their psychological muscles.”

He also said it’s important for people to practice self care, which is some sort of activity that is done to care for a person’s emotional or mental well-being.

“Take an inventory of oneself and think about what you need to do for self care. Now that’s going to be different for everybody. For some people it’s going to be meditation, it may be reading, for some people it’s exercise, for some people it’s getting out and being with others and playing sports, but it’s all under the category of self care.”  

Advice for the journey

Whitbeck advised people interested in improving their health to set realistic goals about what changes they want to make.

“Take some time to think about where you are now and where you want to go. How do you feel today? How do you want to feel? What are you willing to invest to get there? Then, start keeping a journal that includes everything you eat and drink, when you go to bed and wake up, whatever exercise you are doing and how you feel,” she said. “After a week of keeping track, see if you can identify any areas in your life that need some help and go from there.” Santopietro suggested that those working to better their mental health can keep a mood journal to track how they’re feeling on a day-to-day basis.

Rowley advised individuals to try their hand at cooking so people have more control over what they’re eating. “I think we could all be eating healthier and that means eating more vegetables and eating less processed foods would be a good rule of thumb for most people,” she said. “Or learning how to cook and cooking more of their own foods, so you really have control what ingredients or what quality of ingredients are going in the food instead of relying on take out.”

She also said individuals shouldn’t be too hard on themselves if they’re not seeing results right away, and reminds the public to “be gentle with yourself.”

Keep in mind bettering yourself takes time, it’s not going to magically happen overnight. “We wouldn’t expect every day to be a great day, there will be some ups and downs,” Santopietro said.

Here’s to your good health in 2018.