Wellness and health are often used interchangeably albeit, erroneously. These two concepts are in reality non-synonymous because health denotes a lack of disease or abnormality. Wellness, on the other hand, is defined as the overall process of maintaining or the pursuit of good overall physical, mental, and emotional health. Wellness involves conscious decisions on the part of the individual, whereas health simply describes a person’s condition.
It’s interesting that the definition of wellness includes the maintenance of both “physical” and “mental” health, particularly because as practitioners in the field of Neuro-psychophysiology, we believe that the mind and body are tightly interconnected and regulation or conversely, dis-regulation of one system would have a profound impact on the other either positively or negatively.
Wellness from the perspective of neuro-psychophysiology – a scientific discipline that integrates Neurology, Psychology, and Physiology, is in simple terms about attaining a state of balance that paves the way to achieving optimal health & performance. This definition can be illustrated by way of a performance-mental/physiological alertness curve (see figure 1, below). A child that is stuck in a mental or physiological pattern of “under-engagement” tends to manifest poor motivation, narrow interest, is easily distracted and inattentive, especially in a learning context.
On the other extreme, a child that’s stuck in a state of “over-engagement” would tend to have a greater propensity for poor stress tolerance, a lower threshold for anxiety and agitation.
To attain wellness would mean finding and maintain delicate balance on top of the performance curve. This may sound like a tall order for a child who is only in kindergarten or even high school. However, there are a number of simple principles that when adhered to consistently, would put your child on the path to long-term wellness. I’ve broken it down to a few practical routines and habits that parents can immediately apply to maintain and improve a child’s wellness.
- Maintain a balanced diet. Keeping to a balanced, nutritious diet is more practical than taking a range of ultra sophisticated health supplements. The rule of thumb here is to plan your child’s meal around vegetables then add grains, fruits, dairy and protein.
- Eat a “rainbow” of fruits and vegetables. The more colorful your child’s diet is, the more anti-oxidant he gets. For instance, orange boosts heart health and the immune system; green protects the cardiovascular system; red colored fruits/ vegetables protect the lungs and heart.
- Eat more frequent but smaller meals regularly. Eating 4 to 6 small meals as opposed to 3 meals daily means that your child is getting a regular supply of nutrients she needs to help her with her development.
- Cut down on processed food and foods with a lot of added ingredients.
- Use Virgin (or extra virgin) coconut oil as a salad dressing or as a cooking oil instead. Recent research has pointed to the many health benefits of virgin coconut oil, particularly because of a fat found to be abundant in virgin coconut oil called Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT). The body requires a certain amount of fats in order to function optimally. MCT is crucial to good health because the cells in our body (including brain cells) require energy from two sources, either glucose or MCT. Because our brain cells do not require special receptors to utilize energy from MCT, the mitochondria – the energy storehouse of the cells – can actually directly access MCT right through the blood brain barrier.
- Exercise regularly. With the proliferation of televisions and computers and a growing litany of handheld games on tablets targeted at the 21st century child, play has by and large moved indoors. Regular physical exercise and play – particularly of the outdoor variety has immense benefits for your child including increased energy, better motor flexibility and control, stronger bones, etc. Neurologically, physically exercise also helps to increase the rate of new neuron production in your child’s brains.
- Exercise Mentally. Mental stimulation helps a child’s mental dexterity and agility. Whereas physical exercise can influence the rate of new neuron creation, mental exercises increase the survival rate of neurons and influences how neurons are used.
- Learn – continuously. Encourage your child to be curious, explore his environment, expose him to new and varied learning opportunities where he could pick up new life skills.
- Computerized brain optimization programs for personalized learning.Computerized brain fitness or optimization programs based on sound scientific research can offer a great workout as they are customizable and is able to isolate and target specific functional area(s) that your child is weak in for training. For instance, areas such as mental processing speed, maintaining focus, cognitive efficiency can be optimized using a methodology called EEG Biofeedback where a child learns to optimize her mental and cognitive performance by producing certain beneficial brainwave patterns or learn to adopt a posture to regularly perfuse the frontal lobes – which is the control center of the brain -with oxygenated blood.
- Develop Emotional Health & Resiliency. Proper emotional development is critical to a child’s sense of self-worth and how she well she is able to respond with empathy, sympathy and compassion when relating to other often determines her ability to adapt socially and at the workplace as an adult. As such, parents have a vitally important role to play in helping to shape the emotional health and wellbeing of their children.
- Self-compassion. Compassion toward and development of self-compassion in a child is about helping your child to accept the fact that she’s human and therefore isn’t perfect and that it’s ok. In the increasingly competitive world our children live in, very often self-criticism, self-isolation, and self-absorption take the place of self-acceptance and self-compassion. Parents need to stop patterns of isolation and from their child getting stuck in a cycle of beating themselves up and ruminating or avoiding the things that caused it.
- Cultivate “mindfulness” & a positive outlook. A wise saying goes that “life is 10% what happens and 90% how you respond to situations”. Mindfulness means teaching your child to take a receptive and non-judgmental stance toward emotions that may be negative or self-defeating and responding in ways that are balanced rather than extreme. Encourage your child to adopt an optimistic attitude and an expectation of good even in the midst of crises. It would go a long way in building resiliency in them to weather the toughest storms in life.
Written by the Brain Optimax Clinical Team