All Well and Good

by Caitlin Gipson

What does it mean to be “well”? The World Health Organization defines wellness as more than simply good physical health, but as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease and infirmity.” A growing body of research documents the benefits of wellness and the interconnected nature of its parts. “We are created as multidimensional beings,” said William “Jody” Wilkinson, MD, associate professor of exercise and sport science. “Our physical health is key, but we are also spiritual, emotional, and relational, and these areas can’t be separated—they affect the whole person.” Thus, APU supports students, faculty, and staff in the development of a wellness mindset, laying a sound personal foundation for making a difference in the world.

For Christians, the concept of wellness takes on a heightened level of importance. While the Bible addresses spiritual and mental health, encouraging believers to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37 NIV), it also stresses the importance of physical bodies, calling them the “temples of the Holy Spirit” and encouraging believers to “honor God with your bodies” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Romans 12:1). “Christ himself provides a model of self-care, intentionally taking time away to rest, spiritually connect, and physically prepare for the work ahead,” said Christopher Schmidt, Ph.D., ATC, associate professor and director for the M.S. in Athletic Training program.

Jesus knew that holistic wellness would play an important role in ministry. Lizzy Perrigo ’16 made this connection on a summer nursing mission trip to India led by Catherine Heinlein, Ed.D., RN, associate professor of nursing and associate director of APU’s Neighborhood Wellness Center. “We prepared ourselves physically by increasing our walking, mentally by learning about the culture and language, and spiritually by grounding ourselves in why God was calling us to go,” Perrigo said. That preparation came in handy. “We walked everywhere. I ended up physically lifting patients from wheelchairs to beds, and they would kiss my forehead to thank me. At one point, a teammate sat behind a dying woman as a living backboard so that I could spoon-feed her her last meal.” These encounters presented physical, mental, and spiritual challenges.

Heinlein emphasizes this total mind-body-spirit connection as she prepares her students for the trip. “All of these areas affect each other,” she said. “As believers, we strive to do our best in every area, which includes what we put in our mouths. Good nutrition will help you feel your best physically, which leads to feeling better emotionally, which then allows you to focus on God’s purpose for your life and helping others.” Research supports this connection. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that high levels of personal well-being resulted in higher levels of empathy. “We have to take care of ourselves in order to do His work,” said Heinlein.

While it’s critical on the mission field, this wellness mindset also applies to Christians at home. “We all know what to do, but that knowledge rarely translates into actual behavior,” said Wilkinson. “The first step to real change is developing a vision. Think about your motivations. Ask, ‘Why is this important to me? What benefits am I looking for?’ Then identify your personal barriers to success, and create concrete goals and strategies to overcome them.”

One of the most common barriers is an all-or-nothing mindset. “When dealing with change and major health goals, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and put it off,” said Schmidt. “However, research shows that small, incremental changes are more effective. Make small efforts and changes that are manageable on a daily basis.” Schmidt emphasizes that recording data also assists change. “Write down what you’re eating or invest in a device to track your activity levels to keep yourself accountable.”

When it comes to lifestyle changes, accountability often equals success. “Find a trainer, class, or workout buddy,” said Annette Karim, PT, DPT, Ph.D., assistant professor of physical therapy and a member of APU’s Wellness Council, a group of APU faculty focusing on improving the health of APU’s faculty, staff, and students. “Find someone to connect with for support. Much like our need for spiritual mentorship, we have a need for overall wellness and health.” Karim encourages the APU community to take advantage of multiple wellness programs, such as discounted fitness memberships, walking groups, Weight Watchers classes, and brown-bag lunch talks on wellness topics like stress management, social health, and emotional well-being. “APU’s Four Cornerstones touch on each area of wellness,” said Karim. “In order to be effective in the Kingdom, our community must be grounded in Christ (spiritual), Scholarship (intellectual), Community (social, emotional, psychological), and Service (physical).”

“God calls us to abundant living today, a life where we love him fully by using our gifts and passions to serve others,” said Wilkinson. “Being mindful of how we’re taking care of our body and taking practical steps for change will keep us moving forward on our journey toward health, wholeness, and service.”

Steps for Change from APU’s Wellness Experts:

Identify your end goal, what motivates you, and the wellness benefits you care about. Example: “I want to play with my kids without getting winded.”

Identify your roadblocks for change and make a plan to address them. Example: “I don’t have time to cook healthy meals, so I need to identify fast, healthy food options.”

Determine small, realistic, achievable, measurable goals. Example: “I will add one extra vegetable serving to my diet each day.”

Write it down or invest in an app or device to track your progress. Examples: MyFitnessPal, MyPlate, HealthyOut

Choose an accountability partner or group, and share results regularly.

To read more about mindfulness and its place in the Christian life, see Reclaiming Mindfulness by Regina Chow Trammel, Ph.D., LCSW, assistant professor, Department of Social Work, in the fall 2015 issue of APU Life.

To learn about steps pastors can take to increase their levels of wellness and longevity in ministry, see Tending the Shepherds: Helping Ministers Thrive by Chris Adams, Ph.D., associate professor and executive director, Center for Vocational Ministry, in the winter 2017 issue of APU Life.