Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.
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Who’s heeding health advice?
A story came across the wire recently with the headline, “Do health care workers practice what they preach?” The answer was yes and no.
Health care workers are just as likely to be overweight, get sunburned and skip dental visits as people who don’t work in health care fields. They’re also less likely to keep up with mammogram screenings. On the upside, they’re more likely to exercise and get routine checkups, and they’re less likely to drink heavily, the story said.
In other words, they’re imperfect like most of us — knowing what needs to be done but not always doing it. No wonder so many of us have trouble sticking to our health resolutions.
The story got me to review my own lifestyle choices and motivational issues — something lots of people are doing in the new year. I dole out advice on a near-daily basis to readers of Healthy Life Virginia and the Health Living section. Do I practice what I preach?
Mostly. I walk 3 brisk miles every day and do yoga once a week. I eat lots of fruits and veggies, though probably still not enough. I sleep well. I don’t smoke, rarely drink, and my blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight are all good.
But like those health care workers, my health choices aren’t perfect. I’m a sucker for potato chips. If they’re in the house, I eat them, so they can only be in the house sometimes. I’m inclined to slack off on exercise — though my bigger, more energetic dog pretty much demands that I walk. And I haven’t gotten a mammogram, though I was due for my first screening last year. That’s a hard one to admit.
What’s easy is pinpointing the four reasons I mostly take good care of myself.
FIGURE OUT WHAT MOTIVATES YOU
If you’ve made a New Year’s resolution to take better care of your health — to put into practice all the advice you’ve been given — it can help to identify the things that motivate you to be well (and the things that undermine your efforts). Here’s what gets me moving:
Supportive spouse and friends: My husband is a yoga teacher, runner and swimmer who has exercised regularly for decades. While the culture in some homes doesn’t involve exercise — and changing that culture can be challenging if only one spouse is eager to get fit — the culture in my home is the opposite. We think of exercise as life’s great drug. And we’ve cultivated a community of friends who are intentional about taking good care of themselves. So alcohol rarely plays a role in our social gatherings, none of us smoke, the food is good and sometimes we even do yoga together. I’ve read studies showing that people whose friends overeat and are overweight are more likely than others to suffer weight problems as well, so I’m grateful to my friends for caring about their health.
My dogs: I might want to skip a day of walking, but they don’t. In the freezing rain recently, I hoofed it two miles in the morning, then another mile in the evening, and my lab mix would have kept going. The wind and rain were blowing in my face, I was cold and wet despite bundling up, and I wouldn’t have gone out on my own. But an unwalked dog is a restless dog, more likely to chew something or keep the family up at night. So out I went. If you need motivation to exercise, get a dog.
Family history: My family is probably a lot like yours: Diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other maladies run through the family tree. It may be inevitable that I’ll come down with something someday, but I’m doing my best to fend off preventable illnesses.
Childhood sports: I grew up playing lots of sports, so the joys of physical activity have been ingrained in me for a long time. I feel off when I don’t exercise — a little glum, less energetic, less strong. After my high school sports hall of fame induction ceremony earlier this year, I talked to a fellow inductee who also has stayed fit in the decades since graduation, and she agreed that childhood athleticism played a role in helping her develop healthy habits and an appreciation for how exercise makes you feel. (Another aspect is that she’s a Navy officer and has to take regular fitness tests. If only every workplace required that, we might all stay fit.)
You can’t go back and create an athletic childhood if you didn’t have one, and you can run only so far away from your family history. But you can assess whether the people in your life are helping or hurting your fitness efforts, and work to surround yourself with people who will encourage you to be your best — maybe even better and healthier than those health care workers in the survey.