The first step toward healthy living starts with choosing something that poses a health risk. It can start with committing to eat one healthy meal each day.
By: Dr. Luke Fortney, Family Medicine at Meriter McKee
The Holy Grail of medicine has been and continues to be healthy lifestyle change. Basically this means 1) identifying something in our daily routine that adds significant risk to our ability to live a long and happy life (e.g. smoking, eating too much of the wrong kinds of foods, not getting enough exercise, too much stress, etc.); 2) weighing the pros and cons associated with doing x, y, or z on a regular basis, and; 3) committing to the idea that it is possible to be well and feel good. Just by entertaining the possibility that something different is possible, we open ourselves to more opportunities and likelihood for success.
There are 3 main pillars to health: 1) how we move—or don’t move—the body, 2) what we put into the body, and 3) how we address stress and the mind-body connection. What each of us does specifically in each of these three main areas may be different from one person to the next.
No matter the person, every human being is dealing with, working through, and experiencing some kind of health issue. For example, even seemingly perfect healthy people will catch a cold from time to time or occasionally experience some kind of ache or pain. What’s more, no matter our background or station in life, everybody knows what it is like to have a restless night of sleep due to stress or feel fatigued from being pulled in a million different directions.
The point is we’re all working on some aspect of our health, ultimately toward the same general goal: I want to live more fully and feel well over a long lifespan. Nonetheless, the basic blueprint will always be the same: move more, eat better, stress less.
Two Basic Aspects to Lifestyle Changes
The first step toward healthy happy living is easier than we think, and should give us encouragement: pick something—anything—that we know with certainty poses a health risk. Gandhi once said that, “it doesn’t matter where you start, because all steps toward self-improvement lead to the same place.” These proverbial “first steps” are crucial toward making positive change because they set the stage and become the focus for the next crucial stage of behavior change: to keep going!
No matter where we start, or what our goal is, it is important to remain patient and persistent in our daily efforts. For example, it might be something simple like, drinking a full glass of water before each meal, or committing to eating at least one healthy meal a day. Other simple ideas might be doing some kind of physical activity over lunch breaks when possible, or beginning to think about quitting smoking everyday. It might even mean getting out of a stressful or bad situation. There are literally millions of options that can be available to us if we step back and consider our lives from the perspective of long-standing wellbeing.
Be Inquisitive and Have an Open Mind
Try new kinds of physical activity or recipes. Just like investments and the stock market, think long term. Be resilient and flexible when challenges present. And if there is any secret to healthy living, it’s simply this: it actually feels really good to be healthy and can help avoid future disasters. There are a lot of beautiful places to go, people to meet, experiences to have with a body and mind that allow these opportunities to actually happen. Just ask a patient who, after a knee replacement, lost weight, became stronger and more agile, and got to experience the awe and wonderment of a sunrise on a hiking trip through Yellowstone National Park. Or another who—plagued by acid reflux, sleep apnea, and daily fatigue started to feel more energetic and alert after cutting out soda from his diet. Another found a way to minimize her Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression by getting outdoors in show shoes and capturing breathtaking wilderness scenes with her new camera.
Why make change?
This is the best question. Why consider any of this? It shouldn’t be a leap of faith to simply believe that healthier lifestyle habits—in addition to improving risk of death and injury significantly—can also make us feel great. Over my years of clinical practice, I have had the wonderful opportunity to be present and witness the exciting process of healthy lifestyle change. Real change happening in people who say yes to this process is the most inspiring and rewarding aspect of my job, hands down. Even though every person’s way of doing this may be different and unique, the general theme has and always will be the same: keen awareness of one’s situation, paying attention and considering all possibilities, and being patient and persistent with the process. Perhaps most importantly, we too often forget to be kind and compassionate toward ourselves as we progress through the process of change.
With this in mind we encourage you to take these points into consideration:
- Pick something, anything
- Think about it a little bit everyday
- Commit to a healthy habit no matter how big or small
- Seek information and get help if you get stuck
- Be open, honest, patient, and persistent with the process
- Be flexible and adapt as you go along
- Relax, do what you can, and keep going