Updated: Feb 4
Round and Round we go!
People I have coached often say that they know they are compromising their health by not paying enough attention to their diet, exercise, and other behaviors. The argument is 'it's my life and if I die 5 years too early so be it'. Indeed that is true. However keep in mind that you are affecting other people by these decisions. My father had this attitude and could have lived 10 years longer had he taken care of his health. I would give anything to have that extra 10 years with my dad. He started having heart problems in his 40s.
It is also easy to avoid thinking about what "might" happen in the future if you feel ok now. Life is short however, and it creeps up on you. Isn't it better to be proactive than reactive?
In addition, the concern should not be just about dying but about quality of life and your impact on the healthcare system and others. What good is living until 80 if you have limited movement or other diseases and will depend on expensive drugs and healthcare services? Living the healthiest life you can has the potential to counteract or ameliorate many of these problems.
Many factors can affect your health. Some you can control and some you cannot, such as inherited illness. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can mitigate even genetic and inherited problems. Hippocrates first observed this. http://www.greekmedicine.net/Principles_of_Treatment/Principles_of_Dietary_Therapy.html
Below is a diagram depicting the health vs disease cycle. As you can see, there are many aspects that we can all work on to live a healthier lifestyle. It is never ever too late!
Diet and Lifestyle are certainly within our perview to change. The hardest part about changing your diet is withdrawing from the addictions associated with sugars, additives, and refined carbs that makes this food taste good. Having gone through this withdrawl I can honestly say I don't crave these foods anymore. But it does take perseverence and time. The way I felt after eating those foods was enough of an incentive to prevent me from going back there. The assumption that healthy cooking is time consuming and expensive is simply not true. See my previous posts for more on this subject.
Living a more active lifestyle is possible without having to run marathons or ride the Tour de France. Start by just being more active than you are. Get a step counter and start tracking your steps. If your norm is 2000 steps a day, try to increase to 3000. If you sit a lot for work or for other reasons, get up and walk every 30-60 minutes, even if it is just for 2 minutes. It is difficult to do sometimes when you work in a stressful environment with meetings and tight deadlines. If you can't get up regularly during the day, try taking a walk at lunch in your building or outside. If you have a smart watch or phone you can also set a timer for every hour that you are sedentary. If you have multiple floors, go up and down the steps between floors multiple times a day. Just moving more in general will have positive effects. Some other techniques are parking further away when going to a store or to work. When I go to the grocery store, I walk every aisle whether I need anything or not just for the activity. Of course you do have to be cognizant of impulse buying :). If you have steps at home, use them often. Instead of avoiding that extra trip upstairs, make it part of your daily activity.
Of course, living a healthy lifestyle is not just about food and exercise. Other high-ranking factors include weight management, smoking cessation, and stress reduction. There are many techniques available to reduce stress and stop smoking and they are well documented and widely discussed such as meditation and yoga. I therefore won't comment further on these but they should definitely be considered.
It is easy to get overwhelmed if you feel like you have to change all of the unhealthy behaviors noted in the chart. When I get overwhelmed I become paralyzed and can't do anything. It's like being caught holding a live wire while it is raining. The charge is radiating through your body but you can't move. It is important to prioritize and break goals into manageable pieces that are accomplishable and will provide satisfaction. You don't have to figure it all out before you get started or tackle too many issues at the same time. Be realistic regarding your time, family commitments etc. Making 'New Years Eve' type of resolutions can be a setup for failure. Just begin. If it helps you, make a weekly plan and stick to it. I started exercising after my oldest son was born. I was a late starter. My first attempt was walking up and down 1 block in my neighborhood. After 2 weeks I ran that one block for another 2 weeks. Before I knew it I was running around the block and eventually 3 miles or more. I built up very slowly (no more than 10% every week or two). After 6 months I was hooked. I have not stopped exercising since. When I miss long bouts of time due to illness or injury, I get easily agitated. Exercise is the best stress-reducer for me. On any given day I can start my exercise program feeling depressed, sad, angry etc and I always feel better at the end.
The word cycle in the chart below is meaningful. Most people know that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over but expecting a different outcome. Change is hard. I struggle as much as anyone. But until I break the cycle of the unhealthy behavior the result won't change. Once I break that cycle and stop fighting change, it becomes easier.
I used binge eating as a control mechanism. No one could tell me what to do! What I learned is that the food was controlling me, not the other way around. It will always be a daily struggle for me and I am not always successful but I keep trying!
I hope you find this meaningful and that it motivates you to make even one change! I would love to hear from you.