Wellness becomes a simple way of life

Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2010

While growing up, I was always aware that good health was important, something to be protected and cherished. My parents were immigrants, so starting out in a new country meant that money was limited at first. As with any family or individual on a budget, a trip to the doctor meant financial hardship to be avoided if at all possible. Staying healthy was priority No. 1.

In addition to ensuring we spent money on nutrient-dense foods, my sister and I were encouraged to participate in low or no-cost physical activities available in our town. My parents also concerned themselves with our emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual well-being. They asked us to always keep an open mind and to maintain a positive attitude because to them, a person's outlook on life played an important role in their overall health and personal success. Without realizing it, my parents cultivated a culture of wellness in our family, and they did this with very few resources and a lot of dedication.

While we all come from diverse family backgrounds and life experiences, each one of us has the power to influence our own progress and healing, and to share this with others. A friend of mine, whose family and health history differ from my own, recently went through difficult health issues that led her to the brink of total physical and psychological deterioration. At the darkest hour, she told me that despite seeing numerous doctors, psychiatrists and medical professionals, she finally realized that she was the only person who could truly make herself healthy again. My friend made a commitment to focus all her energy on healing, to change her lifestyle, and to believe in herself. Today, she is an exuberant young woman whose successful recovery serves as an inspiration to those around her to do the same with their own personal battles, no matter how large or small.

The World Health Organization defines wellness as "a dynamic process of becoming aware and making conscious choices toward a more balanced and healthy lifestyle. It includes learning new life skills that address both the positive and negative aspects of human existence." Wellness is a way for anyone to improve their health while at the same time cultivating mindfulness and greater meaning in one's life. It is a disease-prevention strategy of making gradual lifestyle changes one step at a time.

Just as the cells that make up our bodies are constantly in a cycle of renewal, wellness is an ongoing process of improvement. As we pass through different stages in life, our needs change and our health experiences new challenges. A commitment to wellness can start anytime for anyone, regardless of current state of health or income level, and it will increase the quality of life for the long-run. We not only nurture wellness in our own lives but also learn how to reach out and encourage wellness in those around us through our actions and the way that we treat each other with respect and understanding, just as my parents did for our family.

As a contributor to this column, my role is not to offer medical advice. Instead, I will bring you practical knowledge, tips and highlights from my experience working in this field, and from your neighbors in Southeast Alaska who currently lead wellness efforts at their workplaces, in the community and in their own lives. Stress-management, intuitive eating, the art of listening, self-esteem and eating healthy on a budget are only a few of the topics that will be covered. Thank you for joining me as we learn together on this journey towards creating a culture of wellness in our community.

• Jennifer Nu is a freelance writer and also works at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service in Juneau and the Southeast Alaska Health Consortium (SEARHC).

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