What Does It Mean To Own Your Health?
I have patients who see me in the clinic all the time desperate for me to “fix” them. As a chronic pain specialist, I have access to certain tools (procedures, medications, and minor surgeries) that may help reduce pain. It may also improve quality of life and function. But unfortunately these treatments often fail when there’s no internal motivation to get better. The following are 10 reasons to start making healthy choices today.
1. Your Health is All You’ve Got
Your health is your number 1 asset. If you don’t have your health, then what does it matter if you have a nice car or fancy clothes? You either won’t be around long enough to enjoy them or you’ll be too wrapped up in your medical care to have time for them. When you start to prioritize what’s important in your life, where does your health fall on that list? Friends, family, career, health. Take a minute and sit down and give this some deep thought. Where have you been prioritizing your health and should you change it? Are you ready to start making healthy choices today?
2. What You Do Today Will Affect How You Feel Tomorrow
What does it mean to prioritize your health, especially if you don’t have any health problems today? It might not seem natural to emphasize making healthy choices when you’re already in good health. In my 20s I’d eat Burger King for breakfast and then train for an ultramarathon by running 20 miles before lunch. I was always training for a race- an Ironman, an ultramarathon, a powerlifting meet, or a Crossfit event. And I felt great.
In those years I recovered easily and quickly from training sessions and most overuse injuries. What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that it wouldn’t always be that way. As I got older, my muscles didn’t heal like they used to and injuries that I easily recovered from before no longer healed as well. By my mid-30s my body began storing the damage. I am reminded daily of these injuries, and while I don’t let it hold me back, I am careful now to give my body the rest and recovery it needs to be healthy tomorrow. What can you do differently today to start making healthy choices?
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”
3. Prevention Over Treatment
What can we do to take care of ourselves now, while we still have the health we do, rather than trying to fix all the problems we may have down the road? There’s no guarantee that making healthy choices today will prevent a heart attack or cancer in the future. However, if you eat fast food every day, the data is pretty compelling that your risk of heart disease will increase significantly. One study published in Circulation in 2015 found a 57% increased chance of dying from heart disease in individuals who ate fast food twice per week or more.
Countless other studies have shown a correlation between diet, stress and lack of exercise and health problems in the future. Unfortunately, even though we know what the data says, we don’t necessarily take steps to follow the best advice when we still have time to avoid the outcome. This is why we practice sickcare not healthcare.
4. You’ll Feel Better
When you start making healthy choices, you’ll feel better. You may notice that you sleep better, have more energy, have fewer aches and pains, and have improved gut health. Your skin may clear up and you might notice you look younger and more full of life. If you don’t notice any significant changes right away, know that these healthy choices are still having an important impact on your long term health.
Eating foods rich in antioxidants, cultivating a state of happiness, and exercising regularly will reduce inflammation and improve your immune system. Making these choices daily is really about looking at the long game. How do you want to feel next year, in 5 years, in 10 years? How can you make healthier choices today?
5. In The Long Run, It Will Free Up More Time
Imagine having to go to the doctor every few months for an injection or to follow up on a medication that was recently prescribed. I don’t enjoy having to schedule my annual exam with my primary care provider, let alone having to schedule monthly visits for any reason. Now what if I told you that by making better decisions today, you could avoid that altogether. By reducing the underlying inflammation in your body by eating healthy and exercising regularly, your blood vessels and pancreas will work better to regulate your blood pressure and blood sugar. It will even help with improved pain control, one of the leading causes of doctor’s visits. Now, what are you going to do with all that free time?
6. You Don’t Know What Got Till It’s Gone
Just like the lyrics from that song you probably heard on the radio once, “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” It is so relevant here. Your health fits right into this. My patients come in every day, many of them in the 60s and 70s telling me if only they had been easier on their bodies during their younger years. I often feel the same way and I’m only in my 30s.
If only I could go back and tell my younger self all those hours of training and injuries would add up some day. I probably would have still done many of the extreme things I did back then- running in Ironmans and ultramarathons, but I would have done it in a more mindful way. I would have listened to my body more and my training plan less. I would have spent more time stretching and doing yoga, to undo all of the repetitive stress of running, biking and lifting that was tightening up my body.
You can’t undo injuries. You can treat them and sometimes you’ll get full function back, but in most cases the muscle and biomechanics have changed. Even partially torn muscles can develop scar tissue and inflammation. That muscle may never work the same way it once did. Your best bet is to avoid the injury and preserve function, rather than trying to recover from it later. Take care of yourself now and your body will thank you later.
7. How Do You Picture Your Future
Do you want to be galavanting around the world and running marathons in your 60s, 70s and 80s? Or do you see yourself sitting in medical offices, getting treatment for your high blood pressure, uncontrolled blood sugar, and chronic pain ailments? I think I know the answer.
For some, it won’t matter what you do today. You’ll either get sick or you won’t. There is a hereditary component to illness that we must embrace. But for most of us, the things we do today will absolutely determine our health in our later years. Make choices today that will help prepare you for a healthy and fulfilled life later on.
8. It Only Takes Small Changes Now To Make A Huge Difference In Your Future
The concept of compounding interest is well established in the financial world. Unfortunately, it is rarely applied to healthcare, despite being very relevant in this world as well. Check out Atomic Habits by James Clear for a great in depth dive on the 1% rule and the incredible power of how small, daily habits can have a huge impact over time.
The relevance is clear when you consider cholesterol and the effects of a diet that is high in saturated fats. You’re probably not going to notice your arteries clogging today or tomorrow, but the inflammatory state caused by oxidative stress from diets that are high in cholesterol and saturated fats will eventually lead to narrowed blood vessels and prime conditions for a heart attack in the future. In the same way, if you choose nutrient dense foods that are high in antioxidants, you’ll prepare the body for an anti-inflammatory state that will allow for healing and good health.
9. Avoid Medications and Costly Treatments
The current healthcare system focuses on treating disease rather than preventing it. There are many articles that are questioning the paradigm of sickcare versus healthcare. In the US, our “healthcare” system really focuses on providing “sickcare”. We are treating preventable diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic pain rather than providing the tools and systems to prevent them in the first place. Here, I am promoting healthcare. Healthcare should emphasize preventative measures to maintain your health and avoid the need for medications and costly treatments (in both time and money) in the future.
10. You Are Not Alone
You don’t have to do this all by yourself. As you begin down this path of making healthier choices, you’ll naturally begin to attract others who are also making these choices. Building community is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. One of the 9 lessons learned from the locations where the highest concentration of centenarians live (known as the Blue Zones) is that community is an important part of leading a long and healthy life.