Balancing Act: Why a Balanced Life is Good for Your Health
Balance is vital for all of our everyday activities from walking to reaching and putting on pants one leg at a time. When we were younger we’d balance train every time we’d step outside to play. From hopscotch, to skateboarding, to bike riding without training wheels, we continually worked our balance while strengthening our core. Even today’s elite athletes recognize the value of balance training as super bowl champs and Olympic medalists alike are quick to note balance & stability training as one of their key elements to success.
Without balance we will stumble when we walk on uneven ground, we will fall when stepping into the bathtub, and we wouldn’t be able to put one foot in front of the other when we run. There’s no arguing that balance is an integral element of our overall health and fitness.
On a scale more grand we might see that balance is essential to life as we know it. If you look at the things around us, at the order of life, balance is a requirement. The earth is a perfect sphere faultlessly balanced on its axis. The depths of the sea are perfectly balanced with the height of the mountains in a scientific phenomenon called isostacy. The human body must maintain a constant balance between temperature, water levels, salt levels, oxygen levels, toxins levels, and pH for physical & psychological function, called homeostasis.
We are therefore created to have balance all around us. Just as surely as we will fall without physical balance and we’d have considerably greater troubles if the earth were off its axis, so too will we find ourselves in ill health if we don’t have balance in our daily life. So why is it that we are so quick to excuse away our over-worked, under-rested, socially inept daily habits?
A Balanced Life
If we are to view the elements needed to create a healthy body as if they are spokes on a wheel, with our mind, body, & spirit being the center of the wheel, we’d more easily understand that there needs to be balance in order for the wheel to roll smoothly. The “spokes” of a healthy life are physical exercise, nutritious eating, rest, positive relationships with friends & family, productive work, and spiritual devotion.
Creating balance does not mean that you have to spend equal time in each of these categories anymore than balancing on a unicycle means you can’t sway and teeter. However, it may mean that you need to readjust the amount of time you’re spending in one area to make up for the lack in another while investing more quality time into each category.
The Bible says “Teach us to number our days, so that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Even if we live 90 years, our time on this earth is but a vapor so it is wise to recognize our limited time and be productive with it. In an article entitled “Held in Balance” by Cameron Lawrence he says:
“It’s often said that in our last moments, we won’t wish we accumulated more belongings or greater wealth, or received better promotions. Instead of achievements, we’ll think of the people we love and the time we did or didn’t spend with them. But while this advice is helpful, too often it misses the greater point that our labor does in fact matter. In striving for balance, we can have a tendency to set our jobs in opposition to our non-work lives, making one the hapless victim and the other a villain. But the truth is, all of life is one interdependent, integrated whole. It is ordained by God, and its vitality depends on the harmony of all parts working together—much like our bodies.”
The first step in creating balance is recognizing that there are multiple “spokes” in your wheel—understanding that there is more to life than just the one thing that you’re really good at or that you have to achieve—and when you invest in these other areas, you will not only reap the rewards of a healthier mind, body, & spirit, but you will be a more productive employee, a more patient parent, and a more adoring spouse at the same time.
Health Benefits of a Balanced Life
If you’re feeling guilty about putting in fewer hours at the office or taking time away from your family to exercise, consider these health benefits from each “spoke” in the wheel of your life to help motivate you towards a more balanced life:
Physical Exercise- The National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends exercising 30-60 minutes a day on most days of the week. Benefits include decreased blood pressure, decreased blood glucose, decreased weight & fat, hormonal stabilization, mood improvement, improved cardiovascular functioning, increased joint function, increased balance (of course!), increased mental alertness, increased metabolism… and that’s just the beginning!
Nutritious Eating – Along with many of the same benefits as exercise, a diet rich in fresh fruits & vegetables improves immune function, increases energy, improves physical performance, is essential for proper cell functioning, decreases the risk of chronic diseases, increases cognitive function, optimizes digestive functioning, and aids in maintaining a healthy weight… just to name a few.
Rest - Sleep plays a critical role in immune function, mental alertness, metabolism, memory, and learning. Adequate sleep reduces stress, inflammation, and the risk of cancer, depression, & heart attack. Lack of sleep has been associated with worsening of blood pressure and cholesterol, all risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Positive Relationships with Friends & Family - Social connections help relieve harmful levels of stress, which can harm the heart's arteries, gut function, insulin regulation, and the immune system. One study concluded that dementia risk was lowest among individuals with a variety of satisfying contacts.
Productive Work -Individuals who work, both volunteer or paid, have the advantage of social engagement, intellectual stimulation, a sense of purpose, satisfaction of productivity, and a feeling of autonomy. Paid positions can afford workers medical care, nutritious meals, and fitness memberships.Retirees who maintained part-time employment status were found to be less prone to high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, stroke, psychiatric problems and arthritis. They were also less likely to undergo "functional decline," which refers to how sharp and capable they are in doing day-to-day activities.
(Note: playing on Facebook during work hours is not only robbing your boss of time, it’s robbing the other areas of your life as well. So when you go to work, just work! Reap the benefits and get out of there.)
Spiritual Devotion - There are a number of studies that show a positive relationship between religion and depression, anxiety, marital satisfaction, social support, and substance abuse. A Duke study of a group of 4,000 people found that those who prayed regularly had significantly lower blood pressure than those who prayed intermittently. At Dartmouth Medical Center, one of the best predictors of survival among 232 heart patients was the degree to which they drew comfort from prayer. In studies at several medical centers, prayer had been shown to speed recovery from depression, stroke, hip surgery, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attacks, bypass surgery, and alcoholism.
Just like physical balance, the balance of life takes discipline, commitment, and practice. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it! When your days come to an end, what will you have left behind? What effect will you have on the people and the world around you? Start your balance training today, for your days are numbered!