Last updated 21 February, 2023

Beyond the gym: a holistic approach to physical wellbeing

Physical wellbeing is an essential component of overall health, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Putting too much focus on your physical fitness and health can lead to neglecting other aspects of wellbeing, creating an imbalance that affects overall health and hinders your progress.

Do you ever become so focused on making physical changes through diet or exercise that you start neglecting your inner self? Or maybe you frequently force yourself to hit the gym, even when you’re feeling depleted, sick, or burnt out? Maybe your pursuit of physical fitness and health has meant spending far less time on activities or relationships that bring you joy? Achieving and sustaining true physical wellbeing requires a holistic approach. If you find that you’ve been struggling to hit your physical wellbeing goals, it might be time to look beyond your diet and exercise habits to assess your overall wellbeing.

Your mental, emotional, spiritual, and social wellbeing all have a profound impact on your body. These dimensions of wellbeing can help to speed up injury recovery, prevent chronic illness, lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, increase energy, improve immune function, and more. Whether your physical goals involve running a marathon or simply playing with your grandkids without aches and pains, it’s important to recognise how your physical wellbeing can be enhanced through nurturing your entire self.

Mental Wellbeing

Mental wellbeing refers to the state of your mind and its ability to function optimally. When you have good mental wellbeing, you’re able to manage stress, think clearly, and plan well. When mental wellbeing is poor, it can trigger a host of physical ailments.

The mind-body connection is a powerful thing. When you experience stress, anxiety, or depression, your body responds by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Over time, these hormones can take a toll on your physical health, contributing to weight gain, high blood pressure, and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sleep, another key element of mental wellbeing, is also essential for physical health. Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep can weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illnesses. Poor sleep is also associated with increased hunger, decreased blood sugar regulation, and a slower reaction time – which can increase your risk of accidents and injuries.  

Ways to nurture your mental wellbeing: 

  • Use stress management techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga

  • Practise good sleep hygiene such as sticking to a regular sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and avoiding screen time before bed

  • Seek professional help from a doctor or therapist if you’re struggling with a mental health issue, and work with a coach to improve mental wellbeing when not in crisis

  • Avoid alcohol or drug use which can cause both short- and long-term changes in the brain

  • Spend time in nature to help lower stress, boost focus, and improve mood

By prioritising your mental wellbeing, you’re helping to decrease the negative impact of stress hormones, enhance immune function, and make it easier to engage in healthy behaviours – all of which lead to a healthier body.


Emotional Wellbeing

Emotional wellbeing refers to your ability to identify, understand, and manage your emotions. When you have strong emotional wellbeing, you’re able to better experience positive emotions like joy and contentment, while also being able to cope with difficult emotions like sadness or anger.

Chronic stress and emotions like anger, depression, and anxiety have been shown to trigger the release of cortisol, a hormone that can cause inflammation in the body. And that inflammation, in turn, has been linked to a range of serious health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

Not only can good emotional wellbeing help you combat the damaging effects of stress on your body, but it can also motivate you to embrace healthy behaviours and cultivate a positive self-image with high self-esteem, which can help you in reaching and maintaining optimal physical health.

To improve your emotional wellbeing, try the following:

  • Practise self-care, such as taking time for yourself to relax, unwind, and do things you enjoy

  • Cultivate positive self-talk and challenge negative thoughts

  • Practise gratitude and mindfulness, focusing on the present moment and appreciating the good things in your life

  • Engage in activities that bring you joy and a sense of accomplishment

  • Connect with your emotions and express them in healthy ways, such as through journaling or talking with a trusted friend

By taking care of your emotional health, you can increase your motivation, reduce stress, and develop positive habits that contribute to a happier, healthier you. 

Spiritual Wellbeing

Spiritual wellbeing involves finding meaning, purpose, and a sense of connection to something larger than oneself. This can involve developing a sense of inner peace, engaging in religious or spiritual practices, and cultivating a sense of gratitude and awe for the natural world.

Research has shown that spirituality and religion can have a strong positive impact on physical health outcomes. Specifically, they are associated with improved pain management, better health outcomes following surgery, and even an increase in lifespan. Spiritual practices help individuals develop a sense of inner strength, resilience, and purpose, which can provide a buffer against stress, anxiety, and depression.

Ways to cultivate greater spiritual wellbeing:

  • Meditation or prayer – These practices can help individuals develop a sense of mindfulness, inner peace, and connection to a higher power or inner wisdom. They’ve also been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improving immune function and decreasing inflammation in the body.

  • Engaging in activities that bring joy – Spending time in nature, pursuing creative hobbies, or volunteering can promote spiritual wellbeing by promoting a sense of purpose, connection, and inner fulfilment.

  • Try mind-body techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, qi gong, mindfulness or biofeedback. Studies have shown them to be effective in managing chronic pain by reducing stress, promoting relaxation, and increasing pain tolerance.


Social Wellbeing

Social wellbeing is about building and maintaining healthy relationships with others, developing a sense of community and belonging, and engaging in activities that promote social interaction and engagement. One way to improve social wellbeing is by building and maintaining healthy relationships. This can involve seeking out positive relationships with family, friends, and peers who offer support, empathy, and a sense of community. Joining groups or clubs, volunteering, or engaging in activities that involve social interaction can also promote social wellbeing by providing a sense of purpose, belonging, and connection.

Having a strong support system is associated with improved physical health factors such as lower rates of chronic disease, lower stress levels, and better overall health outcomes. Building and maintaining healthy relationships can also promote positive emotions, reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, and provide a sense of purpose and meaning; all of which have secondary effects leading to better physical health.

On the other hand, individuals experiencing social isolation and loneliness have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other negative health outcomes. In fact, one study found that social isolation is as strong a risk factor for heart disease as smoking or high blood pressure.  

Ways to improve social wellbeing:

  • Make a conscious effort to connect with others. This could include regularly catching up with friends, reaching out to family members, joining a community group or club, or participating in social events.

  • Set healthy boundaries in your relationships and learn to say no to things that don’t serve you.

  • Pursue shared interests – find others who share your hobbies or passions and connect with them. This will help you to build meaningful relationships with like-minded people.

  • Joining a support group can be helpful if you’re dealing with a specific challenge or issue, such as mental health concerns, addiction or chronic illness. Connecting with people who are going through a similar experience can be a great source of emotional support and validation.

  • Work with a coach to get insights and tools on how to improve your communication, deepen your existing relationships, or expand your network.


Wellbeing as a sphere

Improving your wellbeing is a multidimensional task. Every aspect of your wellbeing is interconnected and can influence other areas. As you aim to reach your physical health and fitness goals, it’s important to remember how these relationships can both harm and help you. If any area of your wellbeing is being ignored or sacrificed in the pursuit of your physical wellbeing goals, you may not be progressing as much or as quickly as you could be. Just as powerfully, strengthening other dimensions of your wellbeing can lead to better, healthier, happier and longer-lasting outcomes.  

Action Steps

Here are three things you can try to approach physical wellbeing in a more holistic way:

1. Make time to connect with a friend or family member and engage in an activity that you both enjoy, such as going for a walk, swimming, attending a fitness class, or trying a new healthy restaurant.

2. Find ways to incorporate nature into your daily routine, such as hiking in the forest, doing yardwork or gardening, or even practising deep breathing while seated outside. These activities can reduce stress and also promote spiritual wellbeing by fostering a sense of connection with nature and the world around you.

3. Volunteer for a physical cause, such as cleaning up a park or participating in a charity walk or run. Not only will you be improving your physical health, but you’ll also be promoting your social, mental and emotional wellbeing by giving back to your community and enhancing your sense of purpose and meaning.


Need support to take a more holistic approach to your physical wellbeing? Book a session with one of our expert coaches today, and get started on the path to your best self!




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