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Complete health involves keeping physical, mental, spiritual, and social health in balance. These four essential components of health can be compared to a jigsaw puzzle, where all the parts must come together to bring the whole picture together. But while the concept of a balanced life sounds good in theory, it may be harder to achieve in the real world. With the constant demands from work, family, friends, and other commitments, there’s not a lot of time left to stop and focus on the direction your life is taking. Are you neglecting your physical health by concentrating solely on your social life, or do work and family occupy time you need for prayer or meditation?

We tend to think of the physical, mental, spiritual, and social aspects of our being as individual concepts, yet their interconnection and synergy is the very foundation of our well-being. Instead of trying to take things apart and deal with the pieces in isolation, consider the concept of complete health.

All aspects of your body—including your internal organs and systems, your thoughts and emotions, energy and spirituality—interconnect. Your thoughts and beliefs affect your behavior, and ultimately your health. Living in harmony with your values and beliefs can generate energy and wellness, while repressed emotions can trigger illness.

Separating your spiritual life into a specific time for worship or prayer instead of integrating it into everyday life can lead to health problems.

Do you ever stop to think about what is important in your life, and how close you are to achieving your true potential? You may be wondering exactly how to achieve more balance in your life and reap the benefits that come with it. Following is a list of four key strategies that work together to offer a balance between your physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being:

1 Set personal goals

To get the most out of your life, you need direction, so goals are valuable, acting like signposts. Goal setting has application far beyond just your career and can help you know where you want to end up in all aspects of your life.

A proven strategy is to write down two or three important and specific things you would like to do, achieve, or possess for each aspect of your physical, mental, spiritual, and social health in the short term, that is, the next 12 months. You might like to lose five pounds, learn three new stress management techniques, spend more time in prayer, or go on a camping vacation with your family.

When you have completed your goal list, write down an action list, outlining several steps you will need to take in order to achieve these goals.

This could include tasks like joining a gym, visiting your library for books on stress management, reducing your television viewing time, or contacting a travel agent. By reviewing these two lists every day, you’ll be reminded of what’s important to you, what you want, and what you could do that day to help you get there.

Finally, make a concerted effort to enjoy the stepping-stones as you travel toward your final objective.

2 Get exercise regularly

A critical component of achieving balance is making exercise a top priority—then staying committed to it. Many common ailments and illnesses can be traced back to inactivity, which is considered as damaging to your health as cigarette smoking, heightened cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Regular physical activity is about as close as you can get to the “fountain of youth.”

Generally, exercise will increase your mental sharpness and physical endurance and improve the quality of your life. An energized body helps give you a positive outlook on life, plus you look and feel better, and it reduces your risk of disease. Some of the specific health benefits of regular physical activity include a reduced risk of developing coronary heart disease, a stroke, diabetes, various cancers, and osteoporosis. Regular exercise can also help you to sleep better and protect you from injury when you accidentally fall, and it can go a long way toward warding off depression.

3 Nourish your body

A healthy diet can significantly boost your energy level, improve your overall well-being, and prevent illness and disease. Following are some of the most important dietary strategies:

Lower your fat intake. If you eat meat, trim fat from the meat and the skin from poultry, use low-fat dairy products, reduce your oil in cooking and with salads, and reduce or eliminate the amount of margarine you have on bread. Low-fat alternatives to meat include beans, peas, lentils, tofu, and nuts.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients and fiber and are virtually fat free (except for avocadoes and olives). Eat two or three servings of fresh fruit daily—on your breakfast cereal, as a snack, or as dessert. You should also try to eat three or four servings of vegetables each day—in sauces, soups, sandwiches, and main meals.

Choose healthier snack foods. It’s best to avoid eating between meals at all. However, if you do eat a snack, choose low-fat, low-sugar, high-fiber items instead of fatty ones. Fruit, bread, breakfast cereal, yogurt, and low-fat soy milk smoothies are just a few ways.

Limit treats. Avoid eating foods like chocolate, French fries, donuts, and take-out foods. One such treat a week is OK, but not every day. Also, enjoy these treats in smaller portions.

Have a healthy breakfast. Make sure you have a good, healthy breakfast every day. This reduces your chances of eating junk food later in the day, and it will improve your mental performance and physical stamina throughout the day.

Avoid alcohol. Many people are unaware that alcoholic beverages can lead to additional pounds on the body. The calories consumed from alcohol are a priority fuel source for your body, which means that the high-fat foods commonly consumed with alcohol are not being used but stored as fat.

Drink plenty of water. Water helps transport vital nutrients, regulates body temperature, eases digestion, keeps joints supple, cleans out your body, and keeps skin healthy and young.

4 Build your spiritual side

We human beings have a need to worship, to give thanks, and pay homage to God. The more you live without spirituality, the more you will need the material things in life to keep the sense of emptiness and futility at bay.

A lack of faith is also linked to poor health. Studies have shown that religious people experience a wide range of health benefits that prevent illness and promote wellbeing. There is power in prayer and actively living your beliefs.

Religion provides a social network, by means of which you are able to spend time with people who live by the same values and beliefs as yourself. Religion also gives you a value system to live by, which you can constantly practice and improve. So become familiar with the values and moral standards of your religion and do your best to live by them.

When you live in harmony with your beliefs, you have peace and happiness flowing into your life. So give generously to those who have less, pray and care for those in need, and share the joys and sorrows of the people who matter most in your life.

Seek out people who enrich your life and contribute to your sense of fulfillment and well-being. Find people with whom you can discuss important life experiences and interests, and spend as much time as you can with them.

Avoid negative people, especially those who live by society’s generally low standards.

Never put people down or make fun of others, and place equal emphasis on your personal accomplishments and possessions with those of others.

Aspire to help others do well, and try to boost the self-esteem of everyone you meet.

Learn from others, and even where you disagree, try to understand why people believe and act differently than you do. Seek to understand before you criticize.

And what, then?

It’s all too easy to become overwhelmed by negative thoughts, people, and circumstances, but you can take steps to live a balanced life.

If you want to feel truly well and be open to life’s opportunities, look carefully at your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Identify any shortcomings, and make the necessary changes so that you have the best possible health and enjoyment of life.

The Complete Picture of Health

by Andrew Cate
From the October 2009 Signs