I’m about to hit you with some tough love. The subject of my post today is personal responsibility. With respect to your health, personal responsibility is really about owning the repercussions of the decisions you make every day that impact your health. Today, people often throw themselves at the mercy of their doctors and bring their physicians a laundry list of problems to manage or solve for them. All too often, we expect a quick fix or some kind of “miracle” in a pill form – or even a not-so-quick-fix in the form of a surgical procedure – that will make our problems go away or at least help us manage the symptoms that are annoying us. Don’t get me wrong; there are times when those pills or procedures are truly what you need, and there are times when your medical issues come from a place beyond your control.
But often, we don’t want to consciously make the connection between where we are with our health and the lifestyle and diet choices we make that contribute to our problems.
Why is that? Is it because we truly don’t understand that things like the food we decide to eat, the amount of sleep we get, whether we decide to move or be sedentary, how we manage the stress we are dealing with, among other things, can have a profound impact on our health – both short term and long term? Or is it that we don’t want to face those facts and make an effort to change our behaviors – even if we know they are detrimental to our health? If you know that the choices you are making are not the best ones for your health, you are in the second camp, and my message of tough love and personal responsibility is directed towards you.
Unfortunately, it seems like mainstream health care supports this “fix me” relationship we have with our doctors. As insurance companies reimburse them less and less, health care providers need to manage their costs, so the time they spend with us is limited. Pharmaceutical companies have a stronghold on the industry, so drugs are hustled to doctors and pushed at us in the media. If you don’t read the fine print about all of the side effects and risks, drugs seem like an easy out. Even in situations where you need to take medications, there are always things you can be doing to help support your body’s functions. Your doctor can’t do these things for you, and they can’t make you do them. Educating yourself and choosing to do everything you can to be the healthiest – that’s taking personal responsibility for your health!
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about how poor lifestyle choices and lack of personal responsibility drive up the cost of health care for all of us. There is no doubt this is true. The cost of treating avoidable diseases and illness weighs heavy on our health care system and manifests itself in exorbitant insurance rates. But ultimately, you pay the highest personal price for not making the best decisions on how you live your life because the quality of your life suffers. You pay for it in how you feel every day and what you can and can’t do. They are your choices to make – your penalties for making bad ones and your rewards for making better ones.
The fact of the matter is, where we are with our health at any given moment is the accumulation of what we’ve done in the past and what we are doing today. In my case, years of wearing shoes with too high of a heel and bad arch support caused me to have problems with my feet. I sought chiropractic care and saw a podiatrist to get relief and answers. I never knew I had high arches that needed extra support until my podiatrist identified it, but I did know that wearing heels hurt my feet, so who was I fooling but myself? Now the onus is on me to wear shoes that support my arches and don’t further contribute to my problems. Flats and sneakers make up most of my wardrobe; I have custom-fit orthotics for some of my shoes and extra arch supports in most of them, and my feet are happier for it!!! I had to make lifestyle changes in the name of health. If I wanted to move freely without pain – to take long walks with my dogs in the morning – I couldn’t be a slave to fashion – LOL. That was me taking personal responsibility for my health.
We all need to OWN our health and face the fact that our day-to-day choices and behaviors are the biggest contributors to our health. EMBRACE that fact. Be energized by the fact that YOU CAN CHANGE YOUR HEALTH by changing those choices and behaviors. So much of your health is in YOUR CONTROL. How cool it that?!! Seriously – HOW COOL IS THAT! It is a powerful fact that your body truly wants to be healthy. You need to set it up for success. If you work with it to provide it what it needs to function best, your body will repay the favor by doing its best to serve you well.
Where do you need to take personal responsibility? What choices are you making every day that are working against your desire to be healthy? Or, in a more positive light, what choices can you make TODAY and CONTINUE that will support your health?
What can you do STARTING NOW that will give your body its best chance to function well?
Here are some areas of focus to get you started:
1. Prioritize sleep and plan your life to allow for a full night’s restorative sleep. Start tonight by winding down early and heading to bed to allow for 8 hours and see how you feel tomorrow.
2. Cut out processed foods. All calories are not created equal, and a diet packed with fast food, sugar, and carbohydrates is not what your body was designed to use as fuel. As Michael Pollan put so eloquently in his book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” Eat real food! Not sure who said it first, but adopt the mantra of “nothing tastes as good as healthy feels.”
3. Evaluate how much stress you have in your life and whether it is affecting you negatively. If it is, seek help to reduce it where possible and reframe it (more on this important topic coming in a future post).
4. Add more movement to your life. Our bodies are amazingly complex objects of engineering that were meant to be dynamic, not static. Adopt a more active lifestyle. Be THAT person who takes the stairs, shovels snow, tends to the garden, walks the dog, sweeps the floor, parks in the spot furthest from the store. You can also add exercise practices that you love: join a fitness class at the local rec center, take a dance class, find a tennis partner, join a league for an organized sport, practice yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong. Add as much movement as you can in as many ways possible.
The list above contains some “low-hanging fruit” – the areas where you will readily see a lot of positive impact for your effort. Ultimately, YOU ARE YOUR PRIMARY CAREGIVER, and your doctor should be your supporter, educator, investigator, troubleshooter, and partner in health care who fixes those tough problems that need his or her expertise to get you back on track. Look for ways to take charge of your health STARTING RIGHT NOW.