Published:
September 8, 2022
Last Updated:
September 9, 2022

What Is the Health Triangle? Balancing Physical, Mental, and Emotional Well-Being

The health triangle serves as a graph for measuring someone’s mental, physical, and social health. Originally created as a class project for an Alaskan middle school in 1997, the health triangle has been adapted by the World Health Organization (WHO), which defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Maintaining balance in all three areas is essential to having a healthy lifestyle.

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Why the Three Components Matter

Health is more than being fit enough to lift weights and eating a healthy diet. True health encompasses all aspects of wellness, including physical health, mental health, and social health. Making decisions about what you eat, how you move your body, and who you spend time with affects your risk of disease and your health overall.

Physical Health

Physical health involves anything related to your body, including exercise, what you eat, your drug and alcohol use, your weight, and your water intake. Living an active lifestyle is one way to ensure your physical health, but this isn’t the only key to physical health.

Exercise

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise each week. This amount is often split into 30-minute increments across five days and can include everything from a walk around the block to an intense cardio session. The AHA also suggests including strength training activities at least twice weekly.

Physical activity impacts many – if not all – of the internal body systems that work together to keep you healthy and happy. All these systems are connected in intricate ways, but overall, physical activity is key to helping these systems function in harmony. Exercise improves muscle and bone health and can increase flexibility, prevent chronic diseases, enhance your immune system, and even improve your sex life.

Exercise has also been shown to have a substantial impact on mental health. Research has found that exercise can increase serotonin levels, helping your brain better regulate mood and appetite. It also sparks the release of endorphins, natural hormones produced in the brain that promote feelings of happiness and well-being.

Nutrition and water intake

What you put into your body is one of the most important aspects of physical health. What we choose to eat can impact not only our physical health but our mental well-being, too. The WHO confirms that nutrition plays a critical role in our health, and good nutrition leads to stronger immune systems, lower risk of developing diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and living longer lives.

Food often plays a particularly significant role in social settings. Most holidays are spent enjoying (or abstaining from) foods, and each event has its own food traditions. The social aspect of meals is just as important as what we’re eating when it comes to fulfilling our primary food needs.

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Our bodies are 60% water and rely on proper daily hydration to support proper function. Dehydration can cause headaches, weight gain, fatigue, dry skin, and dizziness; but poor water intake doesn’t just affect us physically. Studies have shown a correlation between dehydration and feelings of depression, confusion, and anxiety.

Sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things you can do to keep your body healthy; people around the world suffer from chronic sleep problems. Stress, anxiety, illness, and poor diet can all affect sleep quality and quantity. As with water intake, getting the right amount of sleep – and good-quality sleep – affects more than your physical health. Lack of sleep also affects mental health, and the Sleep Foundation found that “sleep is tied to a number of specific mental health conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders.” And mental health impacts sleep health: People with anxiety and depression are more likely to suffer from poor sleep hygiene than people without the conditions.

Mental Health

Mental health includes your emotional well-being – your inner thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and emotions and how you talk to yourself. Being mentally well means being able to handle life’s difficulties and overcome feelings of stress and anxiety. Mental health impacts both your physical and social health, causing bodily symptoms (fatigue, weight loss, digestion problems) as well as antisocial behaviors as you become more withdrawn from your social circles.

Stress is an inevitable part of the human experience, but there are tools we can develop to combat stress and improve all the sides of our health triangle. It can be hard to find the motivation to exercise during periods of depression and anxiety, so it’s best to start small. Small, incremental goals are crucial to success.

Affirmations are another way to improve mental well-being. Having the power to influence our thoughts and behaviors can be helpful in regulating our stress levels. Affirmations are short and encouraging present-tense statements that validate and confirm a desired feeling or outcome. They can also help us feel more confident, to believe in our dreams and that our aspirations are achievable.

To preserve your mental health, it’s important to treat mental illness just as seriously as you would treat a physical illness. Although the symptoms of a mental illness may not be visible in the way they are for a broken arm or an upper respiratory infection, they can be just as damaging. Making time for activities you enjoy, spending time with friends, and engaging in your wider community are all ways to improve your social and mental health at the same time.

Social Health

Social health deals with the way we react to people in our environment. These include family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, peers, and the public. Family relationships are our first – and often most important – relationships, formed from the time we’re born. Having a healthy, stable relationship with your nuclear family can set the tone for how you form other relationships in your lives, but this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. If you’ve had an unstable upbringing, you may develop and maintain your social health through forming bonds with people outside your family. These relationships may even end up being more important than your initial family bonds.

Strong and supportive relationships of any kind increase happiness and self-esteem and can reduce stress levels. Stronger relationships can also affect your physical well-being. Loneliness has been found to double (for women) or nearly double (for men) the risk of early mortality. One research journal also found that “loneliness was associated with significantly poorer physical health,” leading to increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Having a community around you is important, not just for your mental health but for your physical health, too.

The Bottom Line

While physical health is important, you can’t be physically well unless you’re mentally well – and you can’t be mentally well unless you’re socially well. The three sides of the health triangle are equally important, and you need to address each aspect to live a balanced life.

Author Biography
Katy Weniger
,
IIN Content Writer

Katy holds a bachelor’s in English with a concentration in creative writing and advertising from Rider University. After jobs in the field of finance, she wanted to transition to an industry that focused on helping others be their best selves, and discovered IIN.

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