For many people in America, a new year means new resolutions. Many of those resolutions will be centered around health. My resolution is two years in the making. On December 21, 2017, I lost the person that I looked up to most in the world, my best friend, my mentor, my idol, my Dad. My father passed away after his fourth incredible battle with cancer. Since the time he passed, I have questioned and contemplated almost everything about life. Everything from happiness, quality of life, work-life balance, to deeper things like religion and fate. The one take away I have ultimately decided is that in life there are many things that we can control, and many things that we cannot control.
One thing that I know, as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, is that we can control the extrinsic factors affecting our health. While the intrinsic factors (genetics, age, gender, etc) are not under our control, the extrinsic factors (diet, exercise, attitude, stress) are things well within our ability to manage. I have had this discussion with many patients (and myself) and have heard every barrier to why we can’t be healthy, many of which I have experienced myself. I have had the excuses of depression from family loss, work stress, financial decisions, and believe me, when you have a three and one year old, dad bod is a real thing. After losing my dad, I didn’t want my kids to go through what I went through. Nor do I want to go through what he went through. It isn’t easy, and I don’t always do my best, but I am trying to take back my life.
So here it is, my time to take control. I have read, researched, and tried many health fads, enough that you can get lost in. However, there are three main takeaways I have decided to live by. My first takeaway is concerning diet. I don’t believe that there is really any one “diet” that anyone should adhere to. When it comes to diet, I believe you need to eat the rainbow (many different colored fruits and vegetables), eat varieties of foods, and try to limit known cancer causing foods such as animal proteins, sugars, carcinogens (sugar replacements, charred food, etc), and inflammatory foods (mostly gluten and dairy). Take note that I said limit, and not eliminate. Unless you have an allergy or intolerance, I don’t believe in eliminating any foods, and you should be able to enjoy yourself and your food.
The second take away is regarding exercise. It is something I am sure everyone has heard before, but you need to have some exercise in your life. I have an advantage when it comes to this, because I work on my feet and move all day long (my apple watch says I average 5 miles just at work every day), but I still need to get at least two bouts of exercise per week that elevate my heart rate for a sustained period of time. I won’t bog you down with the extensive list of health benefits of exercise, but if you are curious, one google scholar search will likely return at least a few thousand articles on the subject.
My last, and possibly most important conclusion, I have made is the need to change my stress levels and attitude towards life. I have been guilty of not practicing what I preach. At work, I have told so many of my patients that the source of their pains are stress. As for me, I am now finding outlets for stress, ways to relax, trying to be optimistic, and enjoying life more. I don’t like to admit that this wasn’t easy for me, but as I open up, I learn that this is the case for most. Relieving stress can be as simple as a long walk or watching a movie while “unplugged” from the world.
I have tried to implement all of these things separately over the past two years (eating healthy for a few months, hitting the gym and exercising for a few weeks straight), but it seems it works much better when all three are working in coordination with each other. “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands, they just don’t.” Name that movie!
I will not lie, this is not an easy adventure. It takes time, planning, and conscious thought. Once you get into a rhythm, it becomes a way of life. I know that if I can continue on this path I have started out on, I can feel better, be happier, and hopefully stave off illness to be able to stick around for myself and my family.