We are living in unprecedented times right now. Times when people in the United States who have “non-urgent” medical conditions are having to cancel or forego important surgeries because we’re dealing with a virus. You know the one: coronavirus. All of the canceled surgeries and people wondering when their “non-urgent” condition could be become urgent is for the greater good. It gives some hospitals breathing room to take care of patient during this pandemic.
All of this got me thinking about personal health and what it means to take care of yourself and be proactive about your health and wellness. In grad school I studied public health with a concentration in community health and health behavior. We studied a lot about how people can make small changes in their lifestyle which can lead to huge improvements in the health of themselves and their larger community.
As a society, we don’t pay enough attention to personal health and prevention. We’re so busy being wallflowers in the rooms of our health and wellness, passively watching while unhealthy habits make changes in the layout and remove pieces of furniture altogether. And then we don’t take action until something bad happens. Let me tell you something: it’s much harder to get involved in something that has been happening for YEARS than it is to be involved from the very beginning.
So, I’m here to give you some actionable advice on how to take personal responsibility of your health. You definitely know most if not all of these to be true, but do you know how to implement them and make them work for you?
And yes, it’s YOUR responsibility. It’s not just up to your doctors or your mom. You’ve got to know what’s going on within you and stay on top of it. There’s really no way around this if you want to feel your best for years to come. Let’s get right into it, shall we?
6 ways to take personal responsibility for your health right now:
1. Eat enough nutrient-dense food
Keyword here: “enough.” AKA, eating a salad every once in a while is not going to cut it. Each day, it’s important to give your body the fuel it needs to keep going. And since it’s likely someone else isn’t spoon feeding you, you’ve got to make that happen for yourself. Knowing what you put into your body is essential.
When I say “nutrient-dense” I’m talking about food that is minimally processed and is packed with micronutrients and minerals like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins. The opposite of nutrient-dense is calorie-dense, which are foods that are high in calories, highly processed, and offer little to no micronutrients or minerals. Examples include things like chips, cookies, soda, juice, fast food, and most foods that are packaged. You know, the food that makes you feel sluggish after eating.
There are so many ways you can implement nutrient-dense food into your day. If I had a day where all I ate was cereal and French fries, I like to make a smoothie with water, protein powder, spinach, banana, and berries. It’s tasty and provides my body with some greenery and nutrition. Another hack I like to try is when I make eggs, to cook spinach or other veggies in the scramble. Yum Yum.
The bottom line is, you’ve got to find the nutrient-dense foods that you enjoy and will eat long-term. Making sure you’re eating more fruits and vegetables at each meal than processed food is a start!
2. Move your body on a regular basis
Keyword: “regular basis.” AKA, you should be doing this each day in some shape or form. The reason I didn’t say “exercise” is because this leads people to believe that you need to push your body to the limits with strenuous and high-intensity workouts in order for it to count. Not true. You simply need to do what the human body was designed for: movement, continuously throughout the day.
And I know it’s easier said than done, right? We’ve got jobs that require us to sit hunched over at a computer for 8+ or maybe bosses that’ll question our productivity if they see us taking a “walking break” every hour. This is where you can get crafty.
If you have a 9-5 job where you don’t get to control your time as much, make sure you get some movement in each morning after you wake up (yes, this will require you to get up earlier). When you get to work, park your car far from where the building is, or walk the long way to work. While you’re at work, even getting up and stretching or doing so while seated is better than being stiff as a board all day. And if you’re lucky to get that coveted lunch break, MOVE YOUR BODY. When you get home, make time for movement before you sit down on the couch for the night.
Simple, yes. Easy, not always. You’ll be tired and feeling lazy sometimes, but showing up for yourself now will ensure improved quality of your overall health later on. Just do it.
3. Drink enough water each day
When was the last time you took a sip of water? No matter when that was, go do it now. Water is the most overlooked beverage in our society. To this day, I’ll never understand why they give people soda and juice while they are in the hospital (probably for things that drinking too much juice and soda caused their hospital stay in the first place). It’s maddening. Your body is made up of about 60% of water. So, like, you need water!
There’s really no way around this. And before you tell me that soda and juice have water in them, they do. But they also have TONS of sugar which renders them unhealthy. Plain water. Don’t just drink more of it (because the word “more” is relative), drink ENOUGH of it. Water keeps you hydrated and healthy. It keeps things moving along as they should in your digestive system. It helps lubricate your joints to help you move better. It balances your internal body temperature. It is the holy grail.
So, how does one drink more water? You just do. You get yourself a nice refillable water bottle, and you fill that bad boy and drink up. The key to drinking more water, is having it close at hand. Something I do is I have a 40oz water bottle that I try to refill 2-3x per day. People always look at the bottle and tell me “Wow! That’s a lot of water!” But here’s the thing: it’s not a lot of water when water is the only thing you’re drinking (besides coffee–I’m not a crazy person!). Of course it’s difficult to fit 40-120oz of water in your day when you’re also drinking 40oz of soda, juice, and the like.
People who drink a lot of water do so because they don’t drink much else besides water. They don’t go to the store and purchase sugary beverages. They keep water close at hand. Getting into that frame of mind will help shift the behavior tremendously. Now, go ahead and take another sip of water!
4. Get enough quality sleep
Ha, such basic stuff so far, right? I mean, sleep: everyone does it in some shape or form. I’m not sure it’s physiologically possible to go without sleeping at all. Yet, so many people struggle to get enough of the thing and even purposely avoid sleep for work or to catch up on Netflix shows. As you probably know, getting enough sleep is vital to your overall health and wellness. But do you know why?
While you sleep, your body essentially repairs itself. Sleep helps strengthen your immune system. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, poor mental health, and even early death. Whoa. To think that some of the most deadly conditions can be prevented if you just slept enough.
Now, I know it’s not easy, you have a LIFE and maybe kids or other family members that depend on you not sleeping. But, if you want to be around for those people for the long run, you’ve got to try. Here’s some news you already know: the average adult 18-60 years old needs at least 7 hours of sleep. That’s 7 hours of QUALITY sleep. In order to do that, there are some things that need to happen.
If you didn’t know, I’m the OG of sleep. I love sleep. I can sleep for VERY long periods of time if you let me. Yes, much of this is natural but I also make sure my sleeping environment is top notch. If I don’t, I have trouble falling asleep.
Before I go to sleep, I make sure I wind down from the day–if I try to sleep after watching an action movie or right after an exciting event, it won’t go well. To wind down, I read, journal, or just relax before jumping into bed. I also make sure my room is quiet (invest in ear plugs and thank me later) and dark (invest in a sleep mask). The most important thing I do is make sure I get to bed at a decent time and that I am consistent with that time. Your body will adapt to anything it’s exposed to on a regular basis–good or bad. Remember that.
5. Get in tune with your mental health
Have you ever felt anxious or depressed and had no idea why? It’s an inexplicable feeling that impacts the way you view the world and even impacts your productivity. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I can yell you first-hand why it’s so important to keep in touch with your mind. The mind is an all-powerful force that if left unchecked, can do some interesting things! Being stressed, anxious, or depressed all the time can manifest into unwanted physical symptoms.
So, how do you keep in touch with your mind, exactly? In my experience, just stopping to smell the roses does the trick. We’re so busy and bogged down by noise like social media, people’s opinions of us, work, kids, and every day life that so many things go under the radar. The kicker here is that, those same things will definitely make their way back onto the radar, often with a BANG.
Taking a couple of minutes each day to check in and asking yourself how you felt that your day went (or is going) is going to be a game changer. You check on other people and ask how they’re doing, why not do this for yourself? And yes, this essentially involves talking to yourself. No, it’s not weird. In my opinion, talking to yourself is normal. I mean, if you don’t, how can you truly know yourself?
Anyway, asking yourself how you’re doing each day will reveal any ill feelings. Once you know what those ill feelings are, you can begin to question why they are there in the first place. It takes practice. In order to facilitate this, I try to write down the progression of my thoughts in a journal or on my phone if I’m not near my journal. Usually, I’ll come to an answer as to why I feel stressed or anxious and I’m then able to take action to alleviate those feelings.
Checking in with yourself every day allows for you to process your thoughts and happenings, and to help prevent any blow ups in the future. Start doing this and I bet you’ll begin to feel a lot more connected to yourself.
6. Be your own health advocate
How many times have you left the doctor’s office with unanswered questions? Not because the doctor refused to answer, but because you just didn’t ask? Are you taking medications that you’ve never even done your own research on? Have you ever experienced pain/discomfort in your body and just brushed it off? If you’ve answered “yes” or “mhmm” to any of those questions, I’m going to need for you to advocate for yourself a little more.
In my experience working in the clinical setting (as a nuclear medicine technologist), I often saw people taking a backseat when it came to their medical issues. I would go to explain a procedure to a patient and they would stop me and say something like “just do what you gotta do.” I would then let them know that I would continue to explain so there wouldn’t be any surprises. I get it: ignorance is bliss. But that ignorance could cost you your livelihood and that of others around you.
One of my passions is helping people get to a place where they feel comfortable enough to advocate for themselves in their health, even in front of their doctor. Here’s the thing: while your doctor arguably can’t be replaced by you alone, your doctor does not live in your body. They don’t know exactly how things feel, they do not carry your body around with them each day. So, like, you must be an active participant in your health and health care. Health is personal, period.
Do yourself a favor and be knowledgeable. If you have questions about anything related to your health (including why you’re on certain meds or why you need a certain treatment), call up your doctor. If your doctor refuses to help you or answer your questions, get a new doctor.
Never go into a procedure or swallow a pill blind; do your research and know why you’re expected to do these things. We live in a world where anything we need to know is right there on the Internet. While the Internet could never be you or your doctor, there is lots of reputable information out there regarding health. Ask your doctor where you can find it.
I’ve said “ask your doctor” a bunch of times because you really do need to ask your doctor when you’re unsure of something. A doctor-patient relationship should never be one-sided. Don’t walk blind when you don’t have to–make bold!
How are you going to take responsibility for your health?
What things can you implement in your life to be more knowledgable and proactive about what’s going on with your health? Even if you start with one category (eating healthy, movement, drinking water, sleeping better, mental health, and health advocacy), you’re well on your way to feeling your best!
I hope you know that much of the power to improve your health and wellness is inside of you. So, what’s it gonna be? Comment below and let me know what your thoughts are!