Wednesday March 3, 2021

Getting or Maintaining Health: There Just Aren’t Enough Hours in the Day



Do you know that on average only 20% of people care about their health all of the time?  The other 80% only care about their health when they are sick, or are having a problem.  As a physical therapist, I see this all the time.  Most people who contact me have a problem.  They hurt, they can’t do something, they aren’t as mobile, flexible, strong, balanced or coordinated as they once were.  I don’t often hear “it’s been a while since I’ve seen you.  I’m doing well, but want to make sure I’m not starting to slip in these important areas”.  

We take our car in for routine maintenance (oil changes, etc).  We change our furnace filters on a regularly scheduled basis.  We engage in preventative maintenance around our home to prevent major issues in the future.  Most of us see the dentist not because our teeth hurt but because we go for routine cleanings and check-ups.  A smaller percent of us (estimated 20%) go to the doctor each year for annual check-ups, in the absence of specific problems or needs.  Why is it that we invest in our home, vehicles, but are less likely to invest in ourselves?  

I challenge you to think about how you invest in yourself.  Emotionally, physically, spiritually?  How do you fare?  As a busy mom of 2 kids ages 3 and under, with a full-time career, never-ending household responsibilities shared with my husband who also has a full-time career, members of our local church, and my own emotional, physical, spiritual needs (on top of those I’m also invested to tend to), I have found myself saying:  “There just aren’t enough hours in the day!”.  

COVID has presented great challenges to us all.  We are isolated from our loved ones and have ongoing fear of the unknown ahead of us.  It has really forced me to consider the question I posed in the paragraph above.  As a result, I have a great deal of empathy for my patients when we discuss what is needed to help them feel better and achieve their physical goals in treatment, and overall time and exhaustion of committing to another thing creeps in to reality.  We know that patients do best when they are engaged in a treatment plan, perform the work they have to on a daily basis, and show up for their appointments.  I say it during every evaluation:  “I don’t have a magic wand that can just bippity-boppity-boo make it all better”.  

How can you set yourself up for success and transition from that 80% that only cares about their health when they are sick to the 20% that cares about it all of the time?  You must see yourself and your health & body as one of the greatest investments you can make.  Here are some of tips and suggestions that have worked for me:

  1. Reflect on how you spend your day now.  There are 24 hours in each day.  How do you spend them?  Write it down.  You may have work, school, family events and responsibilities.  Sleep.  What fills in the gaps?  Do you have gaps?  Most of us find we do have gaps and those gaps quite easily get filled in with distractions on social media, tv, etc.  It may shock you to write it down and realize how those little minutes here and there really add up.  
  2. Set specific goals for your health that are measurable, attainable, and time-bound.  It’s helpful to also identify WHY you want to achieve this goal.  Our “why” may be to “be more healthy” “have more energy” “become and stay active without needing medications” “keep up with my kids or grandkids” etc.  After you establish your WHY, write a specific goal.  Resist the urge to simply wish but actually identify a start point and an end point that you can measure and know when you have achieved it.  Example:  I would like to go from (insert current weight) to (insert goal weight) by 6/1/2021.  
  3. What specific behaviors are you going to do in advance to set yourself up for success?  We can call these leading behaviors because they are things you can make the choice to do each and every day to move yourself closer to your goal.  Focus on a specific desired outcome, and break it down.  What are the steps you need to achieve to put you on that path for success?  Make THOSE steps your goal.  Let’s stick with our weight loss example:  “I know to lose weight I need to eat better” can become small focus points of “I should educate myself on how to properly fuel my body” or “I should meal plan and prep in advance” (behaviors you can engage to move you closer to your goal).  Write down and track your leading behaviors.  And celebrate the victory of performing those specific behaviors.  
  4. Seek out an accountability partner.  This is someone you can reach out to and share your goals, what you learn in the process about yourself, and ultimately your progress.  This could be a partner at home, or possibly someone engaging on a similar journey as you at work or amongst your friends.  
  5. Track your progress.  Journaling can be a great way to track progress towards your goal, reflect back on your “whys”, make connections between leading behaviors you complete and success in your journey, identify areas you may need to further troubleshoot, and overall learn more about your body.  Having a visual scorecard that you can see and that can be a constant reminder can help you prioritize your day and behaviors.  
  6. Seek professional medical help when needed.  Google can be a great thing.  It can also be a dangerous thing.  When it comes to your health and your specific needs, be cautious of “one size fits all” advice.  At the same time, don’t simply and blindly trust someone in front of you because they are “a doctor” or “self-proclaimed expert” of a particular field.  Select reputable sources (either online or people) that go beyond “opinion” pieces and cite specific research and evidence on the topic.  Know who had a financial interest in that research – if that was the person writing the article, there may have been bias involved.  Review their background, training, experience in working with people in your situation before.  Be aware of “quick fixes” or transformations.  Once you selected a trustworthy and reputable individual, ensure they understand your specific goals and needs and are on board with guiding you to achieve your goals.  This should be someone who empowers you to be better now and in the future.  

 

What will your first steps be to invest in yourself?  I have been blessed to be a part of so many people’s journeys towards achieving a more active and pain-free life.  Please do not hesitate to reach out to me (maryroses@newlifept.com) with any questions about my experience in investing in myself despite at times not feeling like there are enough hours in the day; or if you desire to reclaim your active life.