By Anthony Fleg, MD
As a family physician, one thing that I find in listening to people tell me about their lives is that most of us (health professionals included!) have our own health as a very low priority in our lives. I will hear people tell me how they go out of their way in sacrificing for their job, their children, their significant others, and their communities. Rarely do I hear the same degree of effort being put toward appreciating one’s own body and health.
I like to give the simple scenario of an alien looking in from outer space and seeing New Mexicans rushing around 8-10 hours a day for their jobs, but unwilling to take 30 minutes of the day to exercise, relax, or prepare a healthy meal. Ironically, we are ignoring the very bodies that allow us to do all of the other things we are so focused on doing. That vantage point gives a true look at how we value our health.
My hope is that you will take some time away from family to think about how you can make your health a more central part of your life in the year to come. What activities do you already do for your health? What areas of your health would you like to improve?
I do not think there is a recipe I can give for how to do this, but I will offer a few thoughts to help start you thinking in this realm:
1) You may find it helpful to write down your goals, and to make monthly journal entries a way to track your own progress. Some people find that giving themselves grades helps as well: if improving your diet was an area of focus, you might give yourself a diet grade on a 1 to 10 scale. If your starting point is a 5, the initial question becomes, “What can I do to get to a 6?”
2) Small changes will be more sustainable! Many New Year’s Resolutions are long forgotten by February each year because they involve such large changes to one’s life that they are hard to sustain. Pick small challenges, and once you have accomplished each one, make new goals to work toward.
3) Consider all of the dimensions of health – spiritual, mental/emotional, physical, and intellectual. For some of us, the most important health issue might be to find ways to reduce the stress we bear at the workplace, or even a small step of beginning to take lunch breaks. Others may feel that more attention to their spiritual practice, beginning to learn a new language, or finding healthier ways to resolve conflicts in relationships are important. What is most important is that you choose the areas that are most important for you, and then work on specific goals in those areas
4) Exercise is powerful medicine! Whether it is to relieve stress in a healthy way, a time to breathe, relax and pray, or being done for specific health benefits (e.g. preventing high blood pressure, improving sleep, treating fibromyalgia), our bodies are meant to move! A good simple goal is to work toward a lifestyle where you are getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days a week. Pick something that is fun to do, and get a friend of family member to go with you – both of these will make it more likely to be successful.
Happy New Year and Ya’ at’ eeh Keshmish to all! Best wishes for the blessing of health for you, your family, and our communities in the year to come!
Anthony Fleg is a family physician with the Native Health Initiative, a partnership to address health inequities through loving service (www.lovingservice.us). If you have questions or comments, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org