There’s more to good health than most people realize. In honour of World Health Day which is on April 7, we just published an article on, What does it mean to be healthy? It’s clear that physical health, mental health, emotional well-being and overall wellness are all tied together.
Your general well-being, chances of suffering from certain illnesses, and overall longevity are all connected to a variety of factors which can change throughout the course of your life. While genetics and lifestyle habits certainly have a role to play in your long-term wellness, your health is also shaped by society, your access to education, the state of your relationships, and many other complex elements.
Health isn’t just something we pursue when speaking to a doctor, or taking our daily supplements. Health is a dynamic concept fed and influenced by our communities, schools, workplaces, relationships, state of mind and surroundings.
In celebration of World Health Day, we’re exploring some of the most significant factors that can influence your health, and how you can bring about positive change.
What Determines Your Health?
As public health experts often advise, our health is largely determined by the social, cultural, economic, and physical environments we live in. Everything from your access to healthy food and water, to the kind of pollutants you’re exposed to at work each day will determine how healthy you’re likely to be in the long term.
According to the Health Foundation’s study on the “social determinants of health”, the endless series of factors which contribute to our health also don’t act in isolation. All of these determinants are woven together in a mutually reinforcing way.
For instance, if you don’t do well at school, you’re less likely to have a high-paying job, access to good housing and healthy food when you’re older. However, the reason you don’t do well at school could be because you have a poor home environment, or because your community doesn’t have the right educational resources to support you.
Usually, the “social determinants” of health fall into a range of segments, from family and community influence, to access to certain forms of nutrition. While there are aspects of each of these areas beyond our control, there are often steps we can take to protect and enhance our health by looking at these factors in greater depth.
Influences on Your Health
We’ve just discussed how many factors help determine your health. Let’s review some of the main factors which might influence your health.
Family, Friends, and Communities
To be healthy, one could easily argue the importance of healthy relationships. Similarly, a supportive social circle and access to community support is commonly associated with better health. Studies show deficiencies in social relationships are frequently associated with a 30% higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Isolation and lack of social relationships also lead to increased risk of various mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression.
People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and their community live longer lives because they have various forms of support helping them to thrive. A good family helps you to develop positive habits, such as eating well and exercising. Supportive friends can help you to deal with common causes of stress, and overcome various challenges. Being part of a good community also ensures you have ways to develop good habits, including joining local exercise groups.
While you can’t control who your family members are, you can improve your social health by:
- Removing toxic, negative or unhelpful people from your social circle.
- Looking for ways to develop new friendships and form lasting connections with people.
- Joining community groups and exploring new hobbies regularly.
- Investing into your relationships by setting aside time for bonding and meeting people.
Financial Wellness: Money and Resources
As of 2020, around 37 million people in the USA lived in poverty, equating to just over 11% of the population. Many of these people also live in working households, indicating their exposure to poverty isn’t a result of unwillingness to work.
While money might not be able to buy happiness, studies have found wealthy people often live longer. If you have a lot of cash, you’re also more likely to unlock better health care, and more nutritious food. You can spend more time exercising and looking after yourself, rather than trying to earn a higher income, and you can avoid many common stresses.
According to a report from the APA, around 72% of Americans report suffering from stress as a result of money issues. Lack of access to money isn’t always something we can control. For instance, the opportunities in your area can dictate what kind of jobs you can get. Your education during your early years, or lack of access to it can impact your earning potential too.
However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from the negative effects of poverty, such as:
- Seeking financial help and guidance when you need it from experts and professionals.
- Turning to your social circle and family for support and advice.
- Training and expanding your education whenever possible to unlock new opportunities.
- Learning how to budget carefully and live within your means.
- Finding healthy ways to deal with money stress (such as mediation and exercise)
Our houses are more than just four walls and a series of rooms intended to keep us comfortable. Homes are a source of reassurance, security, and warmth. They help to keep us healthy by ensuring we can live throughout changes in weather and climates.
Healthy homes are warm, stable, and affordable. According to some reports, children living in cold homes are over twice as likely to have respiratory issues as children in warm homes. A good home can also be an excellent way to connect yourself to a wider community, work and various services.
On a wide, global scale, we can all contribute to better health through housing via contribution to local housing schemes. Individually, you can protect yourself by:
- Choosing housing that’s both affordable and comfortable for your family.
- Committing to keeping your home in a good condition (with regular maintenance).
- Finding housing opportunities with access to local amenities and opportunities.
Education and Skills
There’s a significant difference between education and intelligence. People born with high intelligence can end up struggling with access to limited job opportunities, earning potential, and nutritious food simply because they don’t have the right education.
According to one report, a 25-year-old American with a university degree could live up to a decade longer than someone who drops out of high school. Education helps us to build the skills we need to live safely and independently. It also ensures we have better opportunities to work in high-paying jobs which support our lifestyles.
Education empowers successful problem-solving, and helps us to connect with other people in some cases too, so we can benefit from stronger social circles. Some of the best ways to ensure your education doesn’t negatively impact your health include:
- Dedicating time to education and learning new skills throughout your life.
- Finding opportunities to learn out of conventional school environments (such as through experiences and online).
- Practicing skills and challenging yourself regularly to ensure you have the right talents.
According to psychological studies, 43% of people who were unemployed had poor mental health, compared to only 27% people in employment. Lack of a good job means we’re more likely to experience stress about financial issues, or worry about not contributing to society.
Jobs offer a stable income and security, but they also provide us with another source of social support from the people we work with. We develop connections with our colleagues and strengthen our social skills through regular interactions.
Work environments can also provide us with access for additional learning and skill development, which can equip us to handle a range of challenges throughout our lives. While you can’t always control where you work, you can:
- Work on transferrable skills to ensure you have access to a range of jobs.
- Ensure you’re constantly committed to giving the most at your workplace when employed.
- Looking for work opportunities where you’ll fit well with the internal culture.
- Equip yourself for success with a good CV and well-practiced interview skills.
Transportation and Mobility
Transportation is an important part of many people’s lives. First, it’s of the utmost importance to be healthy enough to be mobile in case you need to walk somewhere. Furthermore, access to transportation ensures we can get to work, school, doctors offices, and community locations more easily. While most of us can walk to get to certain places, there are limitations on how far we can go without access to public transport.
Ensuring you have a source of transport you can access, whether it’s a bicycle, a ride-share with your friends, or public systems such as buses and trains, will give you access to more healthy opportunities. However, relying too heavily on some forms of transport can be dangerous. For instance, driving too frequently negatively impacts the environment, and reduces your opportunities to exercise.
To improve your health from a transportation perspective:
- Bicycle or walk to work and other locations more often, to increase your exercise.
- Experiment with different forms of transportation, including public transport.
- Try to avoid living or working in places with no access to public transport.
Your Environment and Surroundings
Your surroundings play a significant part in your chances of living a healthy life. Unfortunately, our surroundings can often be one of the most difficult factors to change, particularly during the early years of our lives.
Your health is influenced by how your surroundings make you feel, as well as the opportunities they provide. Children in deprived areas are nine times less likely to have access to spaces where they can play and expand their knowledge or social connections.
Access to easy-to-reach green spaces improve your chances of spending more time outdoors and being physically active. Being close to facilities and services including shops and schools makes it easier to access them and reduces social isolation. While altering your surroundings can be tough, try:
- Researching your area and forming your own communities if they don’t exist already.
- Finding new ways to exercise and stay active if your surroundings don’t allow it.
- Leveraging the internet for things you can’t access nearby, such as educational opportunities, or even source of remote work.
The Food You Eat
Finally, it’s probably no surprise the food you eat has a significant impact on how healthy you’re likely to be. Diet plays a critical role for energy, mood, weight, and even your self-esteem. Unfortunately, poor diet is a common source of illness for most of us.
A major problem for many people today is it can often cost more to eat healthy food regularly than to get the calories and energy we need from unhealthy food. Many of us also don’t develop the skills we need to cook for ourselves early in life.
While there are some factors which can make it difficult to eat healthily on a regular basis, such as lack of access to ingredients and wealth, you can use your diet to improve your health by:
- Growing your own food. Learn how to grow fruits and vegetables so they’re always available.
- Learning how to cook in your free time with courses and recipes online.
- Making meals in advance so you’re more likely to eat them when you’re low on time.
- Looking for deals when buying healthy food in bulk.
- Freezing fruits and vegetables so they last longer.
There’s no doubt that genetics influence your health. However, just because you’re genetically at higher risk of a particular disease or health condition, doesn’t mean it can’t be prevented through lifestyle changes.
Understanding What Influences Your Health
Ultimately, there are a number of factors which can have a significant impact on your health. Knowing what determinants are most influential when it comes to your health can help you come up with ways of potentially protecting your health.
As we approach World Health Day 2022 this April, let it motivate you to start thinking about what kind of lifestyle habits, relationships or issues might be negatively impacting your health.
CircleDNA can help you take back control of your health, by providing comprehensive health reports you can use to guide your strategy of improving your health. One quick at-home CircleDNA test provides you with over 500 reports about your health and wellness, including information about your mental health.
If you’re wondering what can bring about change to your health, remember that prevention is much better than hoping for a cure. Many health conditions can be prevented, even if you’re genetically at higher risk.
We are committed to helping you live the type of life that could prevent health scares, by enabling you to make small yet cumulatively impactful decisions through genetic insights.