Do you remember middle school heath class? Why would you? Did it have an impact? I mean, really, what is physical health?
What IS physical health anyway?
Where did you learn the definition of physical health? Are you still trying to figure it out? Most likely, whatever you learned was fragmented. You probably learned about it in “age appropriate” pieces. Which makes sense as you are growing up, however, as an adult, you have to put the pieces together, you have to find ways to organize your life.
This is the third post in my series, Life Is A Puzzle. Generally, we all are constantly trying to find ways to put our lives together. Sometimes we put some pieces together, and sometimes they get knocked apart by life. And then we must put them together again. One thing that I’ve found is that as we’re putting them back together, just like with a regular puzzle, it can help to find a corner and start from there. In the last post, I talked about how there are eight “corners” to the puzzle of life: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, financial, environmental and vocational.
This post is all about the “Physical” corner of your life puzzle. What is physical health? The things that pop into your mind first are probably what you learned in school, which is basically generic “exercise”. As I thought about this, and did some research, as well as from being a counselor for Personal Fitness Merit Badge for Scouts BSA (Boy Scouts of America, 2023), I knew that there were several areas that comprise “physical” fitness/health. (Shaw, 2020)
My research led me down several rabbit holes, and I learned that there are really at least four areas of physical health, each with their own sub areas. So, yes, there’s the traditional Activity Related aspect of physical health, however, there’s also the Skill-Related aspect, an Internal/ Diagnostic/ Metabolic aspect and finally, the Non-Traditional aspects of physical health. These four aspects blend together to create what we call, physical health. (GCSE Edexcel, n.d.)
Traditional Activity Related Aspects
I’ll start with the easy one, Traditional Activity Related aspects of physical health. These are: Endurance, Strength, Flexibility and Cardiovascular. What does that mean?
Endurance is your ability to continue doing a physical thing for a duration of time. Ways that you can work on endurance are going to be setting a specific length of time and continuously moving for that length of time. Think running/swimming/walking/biking at a pace that you can maintain for a while (whatever length of time “a while” might be for you on any given day).
Next up is strength. This part of Traditional Activity Related fitness is along the lines of how much weight you can lift one (or a couple) of times. This aspect might be measured at the gym with pull-ups, push-ups, deadlifts, etc. This is the classic, how strong are you?
Third is Flexibility, or how is your range of movement in your joints? Can you touch your hands together behind your back? Can you do a split? Many times when you are recovering from injury or surgery, your physical therapist and doctor will look at your range of motion (flexibility) to gauge how your recovery is going.
Finally, there is Cardiovascular, or can your heart and lungs keep up with the rest of your body? Can your body keep up with your heart and lungs? We are all puzzles within puzzles. The various pieces of our systems need to work together.
With relatively good health in this aspect of physical health, you can do the things that you want to do in life. Move around, participate, live an active life, whatever that may look like for you. (Farnsworth Aerospace Lower Campus, 2023) (Hoebeke, 2015) (National Institute on Aging, 2021)
Skill Related Aspects
There is a second, related aspect of physical health, though, and that is Skill Related Physical health. Think of Traditional Activity Related Physical health, as the building blocks. It’s a foundation for the next step, which is the Skill Related category. In this category are things like: Agility, Coordination, Speed, Power, Reaction Time, and Balance. This is where we move from just surviving, to living with style. You might think that only professional athletes are in this category, however, we ALL have these aspects. While we may not have them as highly developed as a professional or Olympic level athlete, having some level of fitness in this category allows us to enjoy life more, and possibly live longer.
There is some evidence that Balance in particular is an indicator of length of life. Those with better Balance, are less likely to suffer a fall, or related injury, and therefore more likely to live longer. Balance is super important, especially as we age.
Agility, Coordination and Reaction Time are also super important, think about how often you use these skills in everyday life. While you are driving, for certain. Equally, while you are doing compound things, like laundry, dishes or yardwork. Replacing a light bulb or playing with your children or grandchildren. All these are times when your level of Skill Related fitness comes into play. Having a higher level of fitness in these first two categories may help prevent injury, as well as speed recovery after injury. (Physiopedia, n.d.)
Internal/ Diagnostic /Metabolic Aspects
Third is the category that we are most likely to be uncomfortable with, and that is Internal/ Diagnostic /Metabolic aspect. This aspect of health includes all the doctor related things: Digestion, Body Composition, Blood Pressure, Pulse, Insulin, Bone Density, Thyroid/Liver/ etc. function, Dental care and Eye Care. Diving deeper into this aspect, it can include things like hydration, allergies (both food and environmental), dietary choices (Macro and micronutrients), as well as managing chronic conditions and illness.
This is such an important and interesting aspect of physical health, because so many of these things are strongly impacted by choices that we made earlier in life. While there are things that we can do, with our doctor’s recommendation, of course, these are also things that are determined by our genetics. Having those conversations with our doctors and other health professionals about what we can do now to improve these aspects of our physical health is super important. Getting screened, so that our doctor has an accurate view of where we stand will allow them to give us the best advice possible. Doing whatever we can to nudge these things in positive directions will pay dividends now and in the future by extending the length and quality of our life. (Physiopedia, n.d.)
Finally, we have the fourth aspect of physical heath, and that is what I’m calling the Non-Traditional aspects: sleep, hygiene and relaxation/stress management. Now we are back to things that we can directly impact regarding our health. In some ways, these are the most fun(damental).
I mean, who doesn’t like sleeping? Well, I mean a really good night’s sleep, the kind that you wake up from 5 minutes before your alarm goes off. The kind of sleep, where you feel rested and ready to tackle whatever the day throws at you.
And hygiene? Showers, brushing your teeth, taking care of your skin and nails, just really feeling put together? That’s the best.
And while I think we can all agree that stress sucks, relaxing in the bomb! Putting your feet up with a good book and a cold beverage (or hot, depends on the day). Breathing deeply in fresh mountain (or beach) air. Hearing the birds chirp and the wind rustle the leaves. The sound of a brook babbling away, or the ocean waves in their constant rush in and out. Whatever it is that sets you in a relaxed frame of mind, it just feels so good!
What does Physical Health look like for You?
While to goal is, of course, to find whatever your personal balance in for the season of life that you are in, if the Puzzle of your life has been thrown into disarray, these are some of the areas where you can start putting the pieces back together. Maybe you don’t feel like everything has been tossed around, but you feel like there’s something missing, or you want to go to the next level. Hopefully, this will give you some ideas for where to start, or what to focus on next.
The thing is, in life, just like a puzzle, you can really only focus on one area at a time. So if this is the right area for you right now, I hope that you’ve found something to work on. Doing the work to organize your life is ongoing and rewarding. If you’ve been looking for an updated vision of what does physical health mean, especially as you move into and through middle age, I hope that you’ve found it here. Or at least a jumping off point for more information as necessary. (Northwestern University Student Affairs, n.d.)
Really, only your doctor, or other qualified health professional, can help you figure out what is right for you. There are some general recommendations that you can read about and use as a starting point in those discussions. The World Health Organization (WHO) has this page that details their recommendations for people in various points and seasons of life. (World Health Organization, n.d.)
And I like to reference this graphic when I’m planning my fitness activities for the week / month / year.
What do you think? What’s your strongest or best aspect? What do you need to work on? Comment below!
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Boy Scouts of America. (2023). Personal Fitness. Retrieved from scouting.org: https://www.scouting.org/merit-badges/personal-fitness/
Farnsworth Aerospace Lower Campus. (2023). 5 Components of Physical Fitness. Retrieved from spps.org: https://www.spps.org/Page/18206
GCSE Edexcel. (n.d.). BBC. Retrieved from The 11 components of fitness: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zxd4wxs/revision/2
Hoebeke, V. (2015, July 9). Resources to Recover. Retrieved from 5 Key Aspects of Physical Wellness: https://www.rtor.org/2015/07/09/physical-wellness/
National Institute on Aging. (2021, January 29). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from Four Types of Exercise Can Improve Your Health and Physical Ability: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/four-types-exercise-can-improve-your-health-and-physical-ability
Northwestern University Student Affairs. (n.d.). Wellness at Northwestern. Retrieved from Eight Dimensions: https://www.northwestern.edu/wellness/8-dimensions/physical-wellness.html
Physiopedia. (n.d.). Physio-Pedia. Retrieved from Physical Fitness and Its Components: https://www.physio-pedia.com/Physical_Fitness_and_Its_Components
Shaw, J. (2020, January 28). LinkedIn. Retrieved from The Six Components of Health and Wellness: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/six-components-health-wellness-jennifer-shaw#:~:text=Physical%20health%20includes%20our%20endurance,to%20move%20through%20the%20world.
World Health Organization. (n.d.). Newsroom. Retrieved from Physical Activity: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/physical-activity