As a Health Scientist I have the opportunity to look at health from a number of perspectives- quality of health care; equity of access to health resources; and improving individual health outcomes. I've come to appreciate that there are 6 key elements to improving your health, and thus decreasing your risk of acquiring a chronic disease or dementia as you age.
Generally we spend a lot of time looking at our health outcomes - how healthy are we? Are we the correct weight? Can we run fast enough? How often do we get sick? I think it is important that we think about our health systems - this is the way we organise our systems to look after our health. These systems need to be in place and coordinated to work well in times when we are feeling well or feeling sick. If these systems are working well, we may be sick less, but they will also help us to have improved well being while we are sick. The six areas that need to be addressed are:
Choose Nutrition: You are in control of your food choices for most of the time. When you have the opportunity, ensure you choose options that give you maximum nutritional value. Then you won't be impacted as much when your food choices are outside your control.
Seek Adventure: Ensure that you have a place in your life for fun, and adventure. A time when you are not working or contributing but you are enjoying yourself. Adventure might be climbing Everest, or it might be finding a new bookstore in a new city. It's whatever it is for you that takes you out of your usual comfort zone and opens up your world view.
Create Energy: Be active and improve your physical health. This may include cardio activities, strength conditioning and flexibility. All of these things are important to your overall physical and emotional health.
Demand Rest: Plan time to rest, both throughout the day and each day. The number of hours you sleep is as important as the quality of your sleep (work on both). And take time out from the pressured busy day, to relax your brain and rest by taking a walk, meditating or stretching.
Release Stress: Find time each day to consider the things that are causing you stress or anxiety and look at ways to release that. You might talk to a friend, journal, pray or make a plan. Face the things that cause you stress and try to eliminate them from your life so they don't build up. We can't always prevent stress, but we can take action to ensure it doesn't have a cumulative build up in our life.
Be Informed: Keeping up to date with the latest scientific evidence means that you will be able to put into practice often simple changes to your lifestyle to make a long term difference to your quality of life.
It can be difficult to remember these six elements so I have linked them each to a room in our house, so that we can think of them as The House of Health.
Kitchen - Choose Nutrition: Where you cook up nutritious meals and treats
Garage - Choose Adventure: Where you get your equipment and drive out towards new places
Gym - Create Energy: To work out or stretch and build strength, cardio and resilience
Bedroom - Demand Rest: A place to step away from the rush, and make sure you sleep
Bathroom - Release Stress: Take a bath, or a warm shower and relax
Library - Be Informed: Learn about your health and individual needs, to prepare a quality health system that will work for you.
Now that you are aware of these six rooms in the House of Health. Think about each of them individually. We often tend to focus on doing the healthy option that comes easily to us, and might neglect one of the other areas that are equally as important. Which one of these are you best at? Which one of these are you most neglectful of? Is this the hardest for you to manage because of your current lifestyle, or is it something that you haven't considered needed addressing.
For me, I'm really focusing on 4 and 5 (Demanding Rest; and Releasing Stress). I have habits which lead to an increase in stress as there are deadlines to meet which I've not planned for; and I have so many interesting things to do that I often don't get enough sleep. I am focusing on 'sleep first, jobs later'. Quality sleep results in a better capacity to handle the day.
Brendan Burchard says 'Common Sense isn't always Common Practice'. This is so true. We need to ensure that in our House of Health, the six rooms are all managed as a part of our common practice, even though it may seem like common sense.