To develop the “whole health” of youth and young adults, it is not enough to address just one or even a small number of similar health risks. This is because today’s young people are exposed to multiple diverse and co-occurring risks. Furthermore, these risks are often interrelated and therefore influence each other to either promote or hinder physical and mental health among youth.
That is why it is essential to encourage broad, positive youth development through connecting substance abuse prevention with wellness promotion. How can this be achieved? One proven approach is to simply make youth aware of specific positive images associated with key health enhancing behaviors which constitute a healthy lifestyle, and the risk behaviors which interfere with healthy living and those positive images.
We’ve identified five critical positive behavior-image pairings essential to achieving a fully healthy and well-balanced lifestyle. We list and describe each of these encompassing behavior-image pairings below.
Behavior-Image #1: Getting Regular Physical Activity/Being Fit
This first behavior-image pairing serves as the foundation for a “whole health” lifestyle and self-identity. Key behaviors include physical activity, sports, and physical or athletic skills development. Physical activity encompasses moderate aerobic activity, vigorous aerobic activity, muscle strengthening exercise, and stretching exercise.
In addition, sports, both organized and unstructured, along with opportunities to participate in physical skills training and activities such as walking, running, swimming, skiing, throwing and kicking a ball, etc., can likewise be fun and develop a self-image of physical and athletic competence. At the same time, it is critical to avoid alcohol, tobacco and drug use that can interfere with desire, motivation, and ability to be active, engage in regular physical activity, learn and execute complicated physical skills, and experience success in sports.
Regular physical activity is linked to the universal desired image to look and feel physically fit and appealing, along with being physically or athletically competent. These are some of the first elements of a developing self.
These self-images begin in early childhood and last throughout most of our life span and, as such, are key motivators of behavior. Images associated with being fit can include being active, strong, in shape, athletic, and skilled.
Behavior-Image #2: Eating Mostly Nutritious Foods/Being Healthy
Behaviors associated with healthy nutrition include eating a well-balanced breakfast to start out the day, and eating a diet consisting primarily of healthy foods, like getting five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables, and eating lean protein and whole grain foods daily.
It also includes being an aware consumer by avoiding too many fast, highly processed, and “junk” foods and beverages which have excessive sugar, fat, or calories. This involves avoiding alcoholic beverages which are high in calories and low in nutrition, as well as not using marijuana which can increase your consumption of high calorie junk foods leading to unhealthy weight gain.
Eating mostly nutritious foods is associated with the desired image to be healthy, as well as look and feel fit. It is linked to the self-identity domain of physical appearance, but also peer acceptance, friendship, and relationships.
The desire to look and feel healthy and address personal hygiene is particularly relevant in adolescence and young adulthood, but it is also salient even in older adulthood with a focus on health status. Images associated with being healthy can include being vigorous, fresh, natural, clean, and hearty.
Behavior-Image #3: Getting Adequate Sleep/Being Energetic
Behaviors linked to getting adequate and sound sleep include practicing a relaxing bedtime ritual, going to bed the same time each day, turning off all electronics at bedtime, and getting at least eight hours of sleep each night. Avoiding alcohol, tobacco and caffeine which can interfere with sound sleep is also critical to getting to sleep quickly and enjoying deep, rejuvenating sleep.
Getting both adequate and high quality sleep is related to the desired image of feeling and looking energetic or being high energy. This is a salient image associated with self-identity elements of athletic, academic, and career competence, which develop in late childhood or adolescence and continue throughout most of our lives. Images related to being energetic include being alive, active, competent, aware, and successful.
Behavior-Image #4: Practicing Regular Relaxation/Being Calm
Practicing regular relaxation includes behaviors such as doing deep breathing or yoga, placing yourself in a quiet environment, listening to soothing music or sounds, and communicating regularly with supportive friends and family. Practicing relaxation and avoiding unnecessary stress also means avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and drugs that can increase stress on your central nervous system, and social environmental stress such as fighting, arguing, and negative situations with friends, family, and others caused by substance use.
Practicing relaxation approaches on a regular basis is related to the desired image of being calm. This important image is associated with a number of self-identity components throughout the lifespan, including friendship and relationships, as well as athletic, school, and job competence. Images related to being calm include looking and feeling relaxed, in-control, stress-free, competent, and self-confident.
Behavior-Image #5: Practicing Spiritual Habits/Being Positive
Practicing spiritual habits include praying, reading Holy Scripture, meditating, participating in religious services or activities, and reaching out to help others. Practicing spirituality also means avoiding misusing alcohol and using drugs that would interfere with motivation or ability to regularly participate in spiritual activities, or help others who need it.
Practicing spiritual habits on a regular basis is related to the desired image of looking and feeling positive. This image is associated with healthy friendships and relationships, and certain types of personal competence, but is most directly linked to personal conduct and morality components of self-identity.
These identity domains typically develop in adolescence and continue throughout ones’ life. Images associated with being positive include being happy, peaceful, kind, gentle, and loving.
In conclusion, it’s not enough to address just one or even a small number of related health risks if your goal is to develop the “whole health” of youth or young adults. One proven approach to promoting broad, positive youth development is to make young people aware of specific positive behavior-image connections, and how substance abuse habits interfere with healthy lifestyles and achieving those images.
We presented five behavior-image parings that are critical for motivating and achieving physical and mental health, while developing a lifestyle protective of substance abuse. Young people need to be made aware of these behavior-image connections, and be given opportunities to work toward achieving these positive behavior-images by setting multiple behavior goals leading to greater overall health, well-being, and personal improvement.
Providing youth with the necessary physical and social support to successfully achieve their behavior goals to become more fit, healthy, energetic, calm, and positive will lead them to live a life absent of substance abuse, and complete with positive behaviors and self-identity.