By Deborah Schwartz, LCSW-C
With the arrival of 2014, we start to get excited about the possibility of change. For many of us, the New Year ignites our motivation to make changes in the way we take care of our physical and mental health.
Our generation is set to become the first in history that dies younger than our parents. Baby Boomers may have a longer life expectancy than their parents, but they also have higher rates of chronic illness and disability than the previous generation. How can this be, with all of today’s medical advances? The answer is that we are not doing a very good job of taking care of ourselves. We think, “Why take medicine for a cold or call the doctor after feeling poorly for a week?” We tell ourselves “time heals all,” but if our body is not rebounding, then it’s time to seek medical advice.
Being young and healthy now doesn’t mean you’re invincible. Your twenties are the time to form healthy habits, which will continue to serve you in midlife and beyond. This can be done in small ways such as brushing your teeth, exercising, and choosing healthy foods, like a hearty salad instead of French fries. Consider giving up soda, which has no nutritional value. Going to the dentist may not be among your favorite activities, but those regular cleanings will help preserve both oral and cardiac health. Don’t give up on investing in yourself and your health, just because you’re feeling pretty good now.
Being healthy and taking care of you doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but it does take commitment, education and some hard work. Yes, there is a learning curve as with any new venture, but the outcome makes a difference in your life and for those who count on you.
What happens to those New Year’s resolutions we make to take better care of our health? Gym memberships soar in January, yet by March, the dropout rate is astonishing. The initial excitement slowly evaporates and we give up and sink back into our mundane rut and bad habits. The problem with those resolutions, while made with the best of intentions, is that we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. Here are some tips to help you focus on more realistic goals, and succeed this time around in making the changes you want.
- Take small steps. Do things incrementally to achieve better long-term and permanent results. This is especially true for weight loss, exercise and eating a healthy diet. Making changes one at a time will gradually improve your health.
- Practice preventive medicine. Take care of your body and focus on good health while you are well. Get regular checkups and exams to catch any problems early. Many companies offer “rewards” for employees who get an annual physical or complete an on-line wellness survey. Take advantage of exercise, weight loss programs, and other preventive programs offered at work.
- Review your health habits and choose one or two aspects that need improvement. Start slowly. Perhaps you can get an additional half hour of sleep at night, walk with a friend a few times a week, or increase vegetables and fruits in your diet and cut back on cakes and junk food.
- Reward yourself along the way. What will you do for yourself when you reach your goal? Get a massage? Go on a small vacation? Take a day off from work and cozy up with a good book? Try to avoid food as a reward. When you’ve done something that was difficult for you, when you are able to change a negative behavior, it’s a huge accomplishment. Give yourself credit!
- If you fall off the wagon, hop right back on. It happens to all of us. When you learned to ride a bike as a child, you likely fell many times before you succeeded. The same is true for adopting new behaviors and making positive changes. Distractions will always be there. You just have to start again and refocus.
Staying healthy does take work. The rewards may not be obvious at first, but in time we notice that we have more energy, our stress level is reduced and our annual health report shows a marked improvement. The hidden benefits may be longevity, which means more time with the ones you love and a better quality of life. Remember, there’s only one of you, so take good care of yourself. May you have a happy and healthy new year!
By Deborah Schwartz, LCSW-C, JCS Therapy Services
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.