Who knows you better than you? No one. And while doctors can explain things, they can’t tell you how you feel. Only you know this.
In my last blog, we talked about waking up to the idea that you have to be proactive in your choices about health, and I shared the 7 habits I created to stay on the path to better health. So today, we’re going to talk about taking charge of your health.
Your good health requires a strong captain, and that’s you. I learned that the best way to be this strong captain is to:
- Focus on prevention,
- Be proactive about my own well-being, and
- Remember that simple changes can make a big difference.
Picture, if you will, the shore of a lake or ocean, where someone has pushed a stick into the sand. The stick stands straight up, supported by a mound of sand piled up around it. If that stick starts to lean to one side, you can prop it up by reinforcing the pile of sand at its base. Over time, the waves and wind will scoop away some of the sand. Without intervention, a little more sand will wash away, and then a little more, until the stick is about to topple over.
Your body is like that stick—sturdy but vulnerable. If you don’t take care of your body, or if you ignore the signs that its foundation—your health—is compromised, you’ll have a problem. When we don’t support our bodies with healthy habits, we’re wearing our bodies down. There is no stasis. We’re either strengthening our health or weakening it.
Dr. Becky Su, a brilliant practitioner of Western and Chinese medicine, introduced me to the sandpile metaphor. She has been a healing presence—and friend—in my own life and has helped me learn how to actively strengthen my body and health.
Ownership of Our Health Means Partnership
Traditionally, we haven’t looked to ourselves to ensure our health. We looked to our doctors.
But gone are the days when we can think of our doctors as the ultimate authorities who tell us exactly which tests, medicines, and procedures to have. Doctors and patients alike are bombarded with new information and treatment options, and our care providers seem to be busier than ever. That means you need to be a proactive, informed partner.
Now, the goal is not to replace our doctors; the goal is to become our own best medical advocates and personal medical historians.
To that point, I track my health numbers daily. I want to know my trends so I can help my doctors spend less of their limited time assessing me, and more time diagnosing and treating me.
For most of us, monitoring and tracking our bodies constitutes a paradigm shift. Yet you know your body and how you feel better than anyone else does. Yes, it takes some investigation, work, and education, but when you take charge of your own health, you help your doctor help you.
Always go into your doctor appointment prepared. I get ready for mine like I do for a business meeting. I don’t wait for the doc to ask me questions. I hand over my health log with all my numbers and tell the doc what is going on right away. Ninety percent of her or his job is assessment, but because I track my health, my doctors can get right to diagnosis and treatment. That is how to help your doc help you the best.
An Evolving Understanding of Cures and the Role of Healthy Habits
The nature of health at midlife and beyond has changed. Many diseases—even some cancers—are becoming chronic conditions that we can treat and sometimes live with into old age.
Sadly, many people are trained to quickly reach for medication when we aren’t feeling quite right. We cheat our body’s natural healing abilities and become dependent on artificial means to make us feel better. Instead, try this simple formula:
- Hydration.I drink a glass of room-temperature water when I wake up and a good deal of water throughout the day.
- Meditation. Twenty minutes of transcendental meditation twice a day works for me.
- Medication. If you still are not feeling quite right, then try medication, but I think you will be shocked at how hydration and meditation will rebalance your body.
In addition, getting more and better sleep, consciously taking care of our emotions and relationships, and maintaining a lifelong sense of purpose are important. These are the habits that affect our health and the longevityof our cells.
Developing a wellness habit means taking charge and believing that simple changes make a tangible difference. Looking for miracle pills, cures, and elixirs misses a bigger truth: even if you’re a cancer survivor, even if you’ve experienced a heart attack or a stroke or have an ongoing medical condition, the healthy choices you start making—or intensifying—can affect your life now and your health and happiness in the months and years ahead.
Science is proving the miracle that many of us are missing: there are enormous benefits that come from healthy habits and meaningful, simple living that so many of our grandparents enjoyed. The aggregate benefits are huge.
Attitudes Affect Our Actions
Wellness isn’t only an intellectual idea—it’s an emotional and psychological one, too. Wellness has to do with our beliefs.
Too many people define getting older not as aging, but as declining. This leads us to (1) ignore the changes of aging or (2) succumb to them and just give up.
Ignoring these changes can lead us to act like 30-year-olds with the potential for danger everywhere, so you need to be practical about who you are and know your health limits.
At the same time, you want to stretch yourself. I’m not going to run a marathon, but I’ll lift moderate weights that would be too taxing for many people. I’ll go on hikes, exercise at the gym, swim, and try new things in tune with my health.
The other side is succumbing to the changes. If your mind tells you that the negative effects of aging are inevitable, you’re predisposed to accept limitations and incapacity rather than pursue your potential for extended and even improved health.
I love this story: On a ski vacation in Sun Valley, I stepped into a small shop to pick out a gift for my wife. The woman who came over to help me seemed like a really sweet, older lady. As we got to chatting, I asked if she’d ever skied. To my astonishment, she answered that she started skiing in the 1950s. So, of course, I had to ask if she still skied. She said, “Oh sure. In fact, I’m in a race tomorrow.” “A race?” I said. “Yeah,” she replied, “I’m a downhill racer.”
She had raced in Sun Valley for years, and at 84 years old, was involved in senior ski competitions, and had even been in an Olympics qualifier.
When I asked her if she’d ever been hurt, she paused for a minute and then answered, “You know, I broke a thumb in the ’60s”
Here’s a woman living at her healthy edge. If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, then don’t go racing on the slopes. Put yourself on the health scale and be responsible, but don’t succumb to limits in your head.
I want to encourage you to remove those limiting beliefs. Make today count. If your doctor says you’ve got a clean bill of health, you can maintain an active, adventurous life consistent with your personal limits. Take charge of your health, Wellness Warrior! You can do this!
In my next blog, I want to share more about how you can be a proactive patient!
In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you take care of yourself. What are some of the things you’ve done recently to take charge of your health? Or if you haven’t, what is 1 thing you will start to do to take charge of it?
Live Well, Live Long, Wellness Warriors!