As a new year begins, it’s common for people to look at ways to change certain things in their lives—improving health and fitness habits or losing weight. I am a firm believer in the idea that good health is the hub of everything else in our life. If you want to sleep better, be happier, be more successful in your career and improve your relationships in the New Year, good health is key.
So instead of making a resolution, I’m suggesting that this year you join me in a commitment to good health, making it as much a part of your daily routine as brushing your teeth.
Fitness for your body—and your mind
And while we’re making changes, let’s start by looking at good health as more than eating right and exercising. When you’re creating a fitness program, let’s expand your view to include emotional wellness. Instead of focusing on changing your waistline, start with your head and work your way down.
Committing to head-to-toe wellness is different from our conventional approach to wellbeing, but it also can change our lives in lasting and powerful ways.
Make emotional wellness a habit
One of the biggest obstacles to practicing wellbeing is that most of us think of it as something that’s unpleasant. Many people don’t like to exercise, and while they might like the results it provides, until it becomes a habit or its physical and mental benefits are realized, it feels like a chore. That’s why I’m hoping that this year, you’ll remember to add emotional wellness as part of your new commitment to a healthier year. If your mind, spirit or emotional state is weak and vulnerable, it’s impossible to have a truly healthy body.
Emotions in motion
Joining an exercise class is a great starting point. While most people join an exercise class to lose weight, there’s a much stronger argument to be made for exercising, and that’s about what you’ll gain from it. It’s how it makes you feel, the way it lifts your mood, improves your level of happiness, fights depression and strengthens your relationships.
You’ll find vital social connections by joining in an activity with others, and receive incredible emotional benefits from the physical activity. It’s something I’ve seen not only in my own life but also in the lives of my patients.
Prescription for wellness
When a 54-year-old registered nurse I’ll call Kay came to see me, she had a laundry list of health complaints. Kay had been the primary caregiver for her mom, who had recently died, and she came to my office with several complaints, from weakness and nausea to neck and shoulder pain.
I recognized her symptoms as reactive depression—certainly not unexpected, given what she had been through—and suggested that she take a SoulCycle spin class. When my nurse called to check up on her a few days later, Kay was a different woman.
She had attended two classes in four days and felt better than she had in months. She was sleeping better and had more energy. There’s no pill I could have given her that would have been nearly as effective.
Like sickness, wellness is contagious
One of the great things about engaging your mind and spirit as well as your body—whether it’s through meditation, yoga, SoulCycle or something else—is that it dramatically improves your vitality, happiness and overall wellbeing. It can even inspire others in your circle, from co-workers to family members, to join you.
You might be surprised at how romantic an evening run with your spouse can be, or how much more connected you feel as you explore a new activity together! And what better way to spend time with your children than by doing an activity that is improving their overall wellbeing? That’s a gift and a lesson that will last for the rest of their lives.
Feeling fit inside and out
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about pursuing fitness and wellbeing is to maintain realistic expectations. Exercise is about much more than what size you wear; every time you do something good for your body and for your mind, you’re improving your heart, your blood circulation and lowering your risk of disease. But you’re doing so much more because you’re also lifting your mood, empowering your spirit and boosting your mental clarity—and those are the things that can truly create lasting change in your life.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton is a co-host on the Emmy Award-winning talk show The Doctors, a practicing board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and senior medical contributor for ABC News’ Good Morning America and World News Tonight with David Muir. She is a wife, mother of two and a committed ftness enthusiast/triathlete. Learn more about Jennifer at jenniferashtonmd.com.