What does it mean to be healthy? The answer is different for everyone, and depends on where you’re starting from. What chronic conditions already plague your body? Are they optimally treated? Are you living the rest of your life to maximize your health?
Health, Medicine, Doctors, Drugs – most of us rate our health based on our position in the sickness cycle. For some that cycle involves bed at home with the flu, and for others that cycle is six weeks in the Intensive Care Unit on life support.
If you have chronic lung disease, you will have different expectations of health than a person with a sick liver. Each of you will have different challenges to overcome, different trajectories through the medical system. But both of you will benefit from maximizing other health factors in your life.
Work, kids, spouse, taxes, renovations, pain – the stress erodes our health. The food we eat, the television we watch – we make choices in life that weaken our bodies.
Fast, processed, preserved food. Our western diet just doesn’t hold the nutrition necessary to allow our bodies to heal. It is not enough to take a multivitamin. We need to eat lots of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Processing breaks down nutrients and removes the fiber.
Not enough exercise. Our sedentary lifestyles are the number one killer in North America. If a cigarette is the bullet, not exercising is your blood spilling to the floor.
Exercise is Health. Movement is Life.
Think about it. How much do you exercise when you are really sick? And the sicker you are, the less you feel like doing. It is a vicious cycle that can be very difficult to escape.
Which brings me back to health.
People who don’t smoke, limit their alcohol and meat, eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, drink water and exercise regularly… Those people live healthier lives. Independent of their baseline in the cycle of health.
If your health is not where you would like it to be, I’d like you to consider the following. How does the previous paragraph describe you? Read it again. Is there anything that you can make improvements in?
Small increments matter. It is a myth that you have to make massive changes at once. Diet does not mean depriving yourself of anything – it is about filling yourself with things that are good for you.
Instead of white bread, switch to whole wheat. Compare labels on all your products – the one with the highest fiber wins.
Fill the refrigerator with fresh vegetables – the farmers’ markets are open this time of year. Fresh nutritious food does not have to be slow. A bunch of spinach will disappear into any soup or tomato sauce, yet leave behind all its nutrients.
Consistency and moderation are key. Whether it’s diet or exercise, consistency produces far greater returns than intensity.
Aim for twenty minutes of continuous movement a day – walking, running, tai chi, yoga, swimming, sex.
Stretch. Dance. Move.
If you move for 20 minutes every day you will naturally increase intensity at your own pace. If you can’t do twenty, do five minutes four times. And if you need to use a timer to keep yourself from cheating – set it!
Nobody’s perfect. You’re not perfect; I’m not perfect. Perfection does not exist, so don’t be disappointed when you don’t achieve it.
Be conscious of your health. Read this article again. Make one small change today and don’t worry if you stray from it tomorrow as long as you remember to turn back.
Finally, and if you hate me for saying this, then chances are it is directed at you, YOU are the biggest barrier to your health. Decide that you want to live healthier. Make those small choices every day until they become the new habits. Avoid the fads and fashion and just do what you already know is right.
Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor.