The start of the new year is associated with making New Year=s resolutions. For many, this involves resolutions to improve their health habits. Exercising more, eating an improved diet, and losing weight are examples. Focusing on improving one=s health is a common theme.
If you ask someone if they are healthy, they will usually say that they are. If you ask them what they base this opinion on, they will say something like, AI am not sick, so I must be healthy.@ I believe the absence of illness is a poor measuring stick for health. Instead, think of your health like a bank account. Just because you have $5 in your account does not mean you are rich. It just means that so far today you are not overdrawn. You can have $5, $5,000 or $50,000 worth of health in your account and each level represents a different level of health. Clearly, the $50,000 level is more desirable and useful than $5. Life is about adapting to the changing circumstances of your life. Adapting to these requires spending some of the capital in your health account. If you are only making withdrawals and no deposits, at some point your health account will become overdrawn. Exercise, health diet, maintaining proper weight, good mental health and emotional habits along with effective stress management are examples of things that can be considered a deposit. So also are things like Tai Chi Chuan, Chi Kung exercises, meditation and yoga. These practices are best done daily to maintain optimum health.
If you ask someone if they plan on retiring and how they will support their retirement, you will get a range of replies from Social Security, Individual Retirement Accounts, investments, real estate and the like. Most everyone appreciates it is important to plan for the future (retirement), long before it arrives. Many set aside some money today for tomorrow. However, not as many think and plan on what type of body and mind they will have when they retire, and what shape they will be in then. In order to be in good health at retirement, some work is needed today to be fit and healthy. Typically, this involves exercise, weight control, and healthy eating habits. However, just like retirement funds, it is almost impossible to wait until the last minute and make an 11th hour investment. Health is something that is best maintained over time and not taken for granted or abandoned. Regular exercise and healthy eating and lifestyle habits are the secret to long term success. Moreover, staying healthy and in good shape, will help avoid many pharmaceutical drugs that control some of the symptoms of our bad habits, like hypertension, obesity, and diet-influenced high cholesterol. Not needing to go on these medications also avoids some of the long-term problems and side effects that accompany some of these drugs (like Statins). Staying healthy by our habits and actions is far better than relying on a pill.
In order to assess how we are doing, it is important to look closely to how things are going in our lives. Are there areas of your health where you struggle? Frequent colds and flu? Airborne or dietary allergies that produce strong sinus or digestive problems? Loss of range of motion, flexibility or strength of body or limb? Heartburn, acid reflux disease, digestive or elimination disorders? Prolonged muscle pain or fibromyalgia? Strong mood swings, sudden, inappropriate emotional outbursts or bouts of anger? Depression or emotional withdrawal? Sleep problems or insomnia? Skin rashes? Menstrual or reproductive problems? Any one or more of these, if they persist over time, suggests a person=s health is weakened or compromised. If these symptoms were like warning lights on the dashboard of your car, you would address them immediately. You should treat them as similar warning signs for your health. Over time, if left untreated, the amount and quality of health in that person=s health account can be drawn down, making them more susceptible to other health problems. Pay attention to changes in sleep, digestion, and emotional and mental health. If ongoing, they may be warning signs.
Increasingly, we are discovering the important role that stress (and our inability to manage it) causes in our life. Recent studies suggest that stress can damage or lower our immune response and make us more susceptible to getting sick. We are continuing to discover the insidious problems that unresolved stress can cause in our lives.
It is important to make an honest assessment of how we are handling the stress in our life. Examples of stress are: Mental stress (overthinking problems); Emotional stress (fear, anxiety, worry and anger); Depression and withdrawal; and Lack of physical and mental activity; and Overeating and an unhealthy diet. These are some of the most frequent causes of the imbalances in our life. These create stress on the mind and body that predispose one to succumbing to illness.
It is not possible to eliminate stress totally from our lives. It is continuously around us. What we can do is better manage it by changing or adding some new mental health habits. Look at some of the things that annoy you and work on another way to deal with them, as well as creating other habits and responses to them. Develop daily practices to relieve stress like exercise, meditation, Tai Chi, Chi Kung, and yoga. We can work on releasing stress before it builds up and creates problems.
Focusing on just one element like diet or exercise alone is not enough for a total health package. That is like trying to make a pie better one slice at a time. Instead, the slice is a reflection of the whole pie. Exercising while neglecting one=s diet, regulating diet while continuing to smoke or drink alcohol to excess can neutralize or negate the otherwise healthy new habit. You need to focus on the whole pie and not just one slice of it. There are numerous examples of people who have focused on one area, like exercise, and still died of a heart attack. Overemphasis on one element cannot always make up for deficits in other areas. It is essential to evaluate total body health, the entire, holistic, total package. Having a health care provider who is able to look at the total big picture is much better than focusing on only one element of health. Recently, we are becoming aware that some medicines which are necessary and useful will nevertheless cause other health problems down the road. Better to be so healthy that there is no need for such medicine in the first place.
Looking at health as a package deal is a very useful approach. It allows a person to look more closely at some of the causes of our illnesses and health problems and implement some new strategies to better manage our stress and increase our health. In a world of increasing costs for medical insurance, medical care, treatment and co-pays, a strategy of self-help that can help avoid unnecessary health problems and their associated expenses is definitely worth considering.