What if I prioritize my health and wellness

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At the start of the new year, resolutions to get fit or lose weight equal crowded gyms and entire Target ads devoted to fitness gear.

As 2018 approached, I knew I didn’t want to create resolutions. I’ve never stuck to them. Going to the gym or eating more vegetables are wonderful goals. And I’d probably be able to stick with them for three, maybe six, weeks. But that’s it.

There are many reasons why resolutions haven’t worked for me in the past. But the most important reason - meaningful behavior change requires that we know ourselves better.

It means soul work. Understanding our motivations, our hang-ups, our resistance. We can’t just slap down a resolution and make it stick.

If I don’t understand why healthy behaviors aren’t already a daily part of my life, I’m not going to get anywhere.

Because, let’s face it, we all know what we need to do to get healthy, lose weight, become fit. But we still can’t seem to do it.

I had a bit of an a-ha moment while listening to The Good Life Project podcast. In this particular episode, Sheri Salata (of Oprah fame) talks about how she and her business partner have set out to re-invent their mind, body, and spirit in mid-life. They asked themselves the question, “what if I prioritize my health and wellness (as well as their other foundational pillars)?” What would their lives look like? What would they have to let go of? What would they need to add to their lives?

When I heard this, something clicked. I knew I needed to approach my health and wellness with this “what if” question. To truthfully answer the question, I’d have to get real about what health meant to me. More importantly, I’d have to honestly decide if it was an important pillar of my life.

Facing resistance

I set it aside, knowing I’d want to come back to this question once the new year began. While I could prioritize my health any Tuesday of the year, a new year feels like a fresh start to make some serious change.

When it was finally time to come back to this question, well, I stared at the screen for hours. I would type words onto the screen and then immediately delete them. I’d do a few Google searches and type some more. Paragraphs would be incomplete, there would be no transition from one thought to the next. A big, giant, enormous wall of resistance would not let me put together a coherent thought.

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So I scrapped the document I was working on and started over. I decided to free write until I was able to remove a block from the wall of resistance.

This was the first brick that came down - “Is my health even important to me? Is it worth prioritizing?”

Wowzers. That one was a punch to the gut.

I had to sit with that one. Because health should be important, right? But was it really important to me? And if not, why the frack not?

This all meant yet another question, “how do I define health?”

Up until this exercise, I would say that health was a measure of my body’s ability to fend off illness and recover from injury. Health was about the state of my physical body.

When I ask myself “is my health important to me?” I immediately think of health in the strict annual physical sense. Whenever I go to the doctor I hear that I’m the healthiest person they’ve seen all day. My blood pressure is great, my cholesterol and fasting blood sugar are fine, and my BMI is on the high side of “normal”.

If that is all that health really is to me, it’s no wonder I’m not motivated to make any changes. Because I am fine going about my usual business.

But what if health is more than the results of my annual exam?

Beyond the annual physical

I began to expand my definition of health beyond my blood pressure and cholesterol. Even staying within the narrow confines of my physical body, my definition broadened.

Let’s consider perimenopause, which I am smack dab in the middle of. With its arrival, I now experience severe menstrual cramps and hormonal migraines. But many women’s health experts say that I don’t have to experience PMS at any point in my life. In fact, PMS is a warning sign that something is off.

They also suggest that your experience in perimenopause is a good predictor of your experience in menopause. Rough perimenopause equals rough menopause.

When I start expanding my definition of health to include hormonal health over my lifetime, it starts looking important. If perimenopause predicts my future well-being, what else does my current state of health predict?

If I'm prioritizing my health now, can I make my 50’s, 60’s, and beyond more enjoyable and more independent?

When I think about turning 80, I understand why my health is important. I want to be one of those old ladies that does yoga and multi-mile hikes every day. I want to be able to get off the floor without help. I want all my original joints.

But we all know how hard it is to work for something in the future when immediate, short-term rewards are right there for the taking. In fact, our brains don’t even confront these two options the same. When faced with short-term rewards, the area of our brain associated with emotion lights up. But long-term rewards are considered by the abstract-reasoning part. When faced with long-term vs. short-term rewards, two areas of our brain compete with one another

I can try to fight this, but that feels like a losing battle. Plus, I’m striving to be more present in the here and now. Not waiting to live years down the road.

So is my health important to me right now, in 2018?

Health as a resource

In 1948, the World Health Organization (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

WHO updated their definition in 1986. They clarified that health is also

a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.
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If I look at health as a resource for living a full life, or as Oprah would say, my best life, what does that mean? And when I branch out and consider the other sides of myself (mental, emotional, spiritual, social) does this shift my view of health and its importance?

Let’s start with the question “do I want the highest quality of life possible?”

Damn straight I do. Of course, some factors that contribute to quality of life are outside my control or more difficult to address than my health. And yes, I could be diagnosed with cancer no matter how healthy my lifestyle.

But many factors surrounding our health (physical, mental, and emotional) are within our control. And we can reduce our risks for diseases like cancer by making different choices.Health related quality of life

I started to brainstorm all the ways my health impacts my life. Things like taking long hikes with one of my dogs or not dealing with monthly three-day migraines. When the list was done, everything fit into at least one category.

  • Energy

  • Endurance

  • Strength

  • Resilience

And that’s where I have landed. If I prioritize my health, I prioritize my energy, my endurance, my strength, and my resilience. If I work to build these to their optimal level, my quality of life will increase. Not my quality of life when I am 80, but my quality of life TODAY.

Back to my original question

Let’s go full circle here. Now I know that my health is important to me because it will improve my quality of life, almost immediately. Improving my energy, endurance, strength, and resilience means life is easier, more enjoyable, today and in the future.

So, what if I prioritize my health and wellness? What needs to happen?

Well, there’s about a bazillion things, really. But I’m going to take James Clear’s and Leo Babauta’s advice. Start small. Insanely small.

For 2018, I’m going to pick 4 things to focus on, and each will get my attention for a quarter of the year. I’ll inch my way along, improving at 1% every day for 3 months with each.

Those areas are:

  • Improve my quantity and quality of sleep (energy, resilience)

  • Sustain steady blood sugar levels throughout the day (energy)

  • Hit at least 10,000 steps every day (endurance, strength)

  • Eat more than 5 servings of vegetables a day (energy, resilience)

I’m starting with my sleep, because if your tired, every aspect of life is just too damn hard. If I’m tired, I’m going to reach for refined sugar at 2:00 pm. And there goes my blood sugar. If I’m tired, I’m not taking my dogs for a walk or I’m having frozen pizza for dinner instead of a fresh salad.

So there you have it. If I prioritize my health and wellness in 2018 I will work to improve my sleep, focus on my blood sugar levels, walk more, and eat more veggies. Took my 1500 words, but I finally arrived at place I feel I can manage.