By Carlee Frank

It’s week nine of A Healthier You and we’re about to change things up. Unlike usual, I won’t ask you to drop and give me 50, or even eat your fruits and vegetables – instead, I’m asking you to kick back and relax as we discuss wellness. Some may roll their eyes and mutter something about hippies, but rest assured, wellness is based purely on science and requires no flower crowns.

To be exact, wellness is the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal. How then, are you pursuing wellness? If you aren’t sure, use the following methods and tips to achieve better health.

First, however, we must define health. It is the state of being free from illness or injury; and the World Health Organization even stated in its constitution’s preamble that, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (NY Times 2010).

So, how do we achieve this total state of health –remembering the physical, mental and social aspects? Previously in the series, we’ve discussed a healthy diet, exercise, hydration and stretching –and while these are all key components of wellness, it’s time to discuss lesser known topics in the health and fitness world.

Physically, the body requires sleep and rest. In this case, sleep is classified as a period of unconscious rest greater than four hours. Sleep improves memory, reduces risk of weight gain, strengthens your immune system and, not surprisingly, improves mood regulation. Several Harvard Medical School studies have found that sleep can even stave off dementia. Sleep is necessary for our survival –and in a population hooked on caffeine, it’s important we don’t forget. Through neuroimaging, sleep deprivation and chronic sleep disruptions are found to foster negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.

Rest and relaxation are duly important to our wellness. Rest –in this case, also known as napping –is classified as 20-30 minutes of light sleep during the day. Naps longer than 20-30 minutes can cause grogginess as a result of waking from a deep sleep. Many cultures revere napping, such as Italy, where businesses commonly shut down around noon to 2:30 p.m. to allow employees to go home for a “riposo.” Naps can improve mood, alertness and performance.

Mentally, the human brain also requires relaxation. Too much mental stress can actually increase your chances of heart disease, high blood pressure, and, most frequently, decrease immune response. Relaxation, on the other hand, can improve mood, memory and mental resiliency. In order to maintain wellness, the brain needs an avenue of stress relief. Whether as an artistic endeavor, sport or even reading a good book by candlelight, everyone needs an outlet. If you paused for a second to remember your outlet –good, keep at it –if you realized you’re lacking an outlet, consider taking up a new hobby. Think about what you find enjoyable, or even mindless and relaxing, and set up more time to decompress.

Furthermore, if you struggle with mental illness, don’t be afraid to get yourself checked out. Honoring your wellness is not weak, but exactly the opposite. It often times takes more courage to step out than to stay hidden.

Finally, we will dissect social wellness. This area of wellness can be achieved with our friends, families and even co-workers. If you’re having a hard time in life or are simply making a big decision, communicate your thoughts and feelings with your loved ones. You will feel supported, less burdened and you might even receive some good advice along the way.

Good luck as you pursue wellness this week!