Health is Everything
It’s common knowledge that health declines as we age, right? At around 40 or 50, the wheels start coming off the bus as our doctors start prescribing medicine to control cholesterol, lower our blood pressure or starts mentioning concerns about our blood sugar. This is just how it is. Everyone we know is in the same boat so it must be normal, right? Just part of what it means to get older.
Or we could question what role our choices play in determining if or how our health will decline as we get older. We have all met a 70 or 80 year old who inspired us, who made us say, “I want to be like her when I grow up.” But how many of us really take that to heart, give thought to how it might be possible and take steps to help ensure that outcome? Or maybe, it’s just luck of the draw and that person won the genetic lottery or they must just be lucky?
Remember the famous serenity prayer – ‘grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference’? Okay, so let’s talk first about the things we cannot change. Growing older is a necessary element of continued life so think we can all agree that piece is out of our control. What else? Genetics? Maybe, but even dealt a less than optimal genetic hand, in most cases, our choices still have some influence on whether or not the ‘bad genes’ get their way. What else?
Right, so I think we are up to the ‘courage to change the things I can’ part. Health is cumulative, plain and simple. That is to say taking care of yourself consistently over time increases the likelihood that you will remain in good health for the long haul. “But, I knew this guy who was a total health nut who dropped dead one day out on a run. What good did it do him if I’m still here sipping my coffee and eating my donut?” Fair point but not well informed. Who knows why that guy dropped dead and I’m sorry for his family and friends, but it sounds like something was missed. There was something he didn’t know about his body or his choices that likely could have prevented what happened. The American Heart association tells us that eighty percent, 80%, of heart disease and stroke events may be prevented. Add in the stats about the connection between Alzheimers, dimentia and heart health (the brain receives 15% of cardiac output meaning compromised cardiovascular health puts you at risk for more than a heart attack) and I might think that skipping the donut and taking the dog for a brisk walk is starting to sound like a good idea.
But high blood pressure runs in your family… and cancer runs in mine. Neither is an excuse to not take care of yourself. I mentioned earlier that the ‘bad hombres’ of genes aren’t always allowed across the border. If you have a known or suspected genetic predisposition to some scary disease, there are, in most cases, things you can do to decrease the likelihood that those genes will be expressed. As mentioned cancer runs in my family – my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 36, I was diagnosed when I was 29, we both subsequently tested positive for the BRCA mutation. Main stream media would have us believe, in cases such as ours, that surgical removal of the risky parts of our body is all we can do. While this is absolutely the right choice for some, it is not the only choice. There are no guarantees that we can prevent our genetics from stirring up trouble but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth changing the things we can to prevent them from doing so.
So, what can you do? The goal is to live long and drop dead – no slow decline, no wheels coming off said bus. There are many voices out there espousing the secret to health and many people out there who want to do right by their body but simply get overwhelmed trying to figure out what to do. The best place to start is to look at what you are currently doing to take care of yourself then ask, on a scale of 1 to 10, how well your efforts are working:
– How ‘healthy’ do you feel by which I mean do you experience sustained, high energy throughout the day?
– How clear headed, bright and vibrant are you most of the time?
– How often do you sleep well and wake up rested?
– Does the food you eat leave you feeling energized and comfortable?
Next, looking at those scores, ask yourself what you would need to do to double your wellbeing this year? Consider what strategies you have already tried that worked and didn’t work to make an intentional choice about what to do more of and what you can stop doing. Think about what holds you back the most and what simple strategies you can employ to move beyond those obstacles. Because here is the thing, we are all a better version of ourselves when we feel good so why not keep trying? None of us knows when our ticket will be punched, we can only hope it isn’t until the distant future and that when it is, we’ve done what’s needed to ensure the ticket puncher has a hell of a time catching up with us!