The greatest of follies is to sacrifice health for any other kind of happiness.
When I was working with Brian Preston from BP Media Works www.bpmediaworks.com to develop Partners in Health | Conversations, (huge kudos to Brian for his genius and his patience by the way), we spent a fair bit of time thinking about what types of images would best reflect the theme of the website. My own approach to health has evolved largely because of my experiences caring for patients and loved ones through chronic illness and at the end of life but also from having been a patient myself more than once. Years ago, I started thinking a more deliberately about what health and wellness really mean – to me. Before long, the images that came to mind were associated with nature, spiritual practices, and time spent with family. For me, one intervention is the walk I take every day after work to clear my head. My husband recently reminded me that my walks are my lifeline, literally. You’ll often find me, sometime after 6pm most days, sweat clothes on, ear buds playing music, head up, and power walking around my community. When it’s bitterly cold, I walk at home! https://walkathome.com/
The ways that I have come to define health specifically for me have influenced what I do to preserve it. I feel healthy when I am well rested, clear headed, creative, and energetic. The practices that support my definition of health include being out in nature, practicing my faith, spending time with my tribe, enjoying music, contributing to my community, and creating space for ‘me’. When I am in pain I walk more. When I have a headache, I get outside and spend time in my garden or head to my studio where my creativity can emerge. When I’m feeling down, playing tag with the dog or preparing a great meal with a bottle of wine and sharing that with friends (admittedly pre COVID) are all legitimate practices that I use to manage my own health that should never be overlooked.
However, when we think specifically about health care, what comes to mind for most of us are images of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals, all wearing lab coats or uniforms with stethoscopes and other scary looking equipment nearby. Those people are the foundation of any good health care system and it is essential that we reach out to our health system providers when we need them. But if we stop there, we limit ourselves in our efforts to explore the myriad of ways that we can take control of our own health. When I need the expertise of my physician, I want to know how the interventions she proposes will impact my life in the most absolute ways – like whether it will affect my walks, limit my time outdoors, affect the pleasure I feel over sharing a meal and a great glass of wine, and so on. She and I have had some great conversations over the years by the way. And just so you know – in the last 36 years I’ve had exactly two physicians. The first retired 10 years ago and the second is still my family physician. We have established a trusted relationship or more fittingly a partnership. At Partners in Health | Conversations we’ll soon talk in more detail about the value of a medical home that is anchored around a relationship such as the one I have with my own family physician. But first, let’s talk about how we can become personally accountable for our own health. And that starts by taking a personal health inventory and finding the supports or resources that work for us!
Here are a few resources I have come to rely on that fit with my values. I’m a big believer in the Blue Zones and their “power nine” list. https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/ If you haven’t been introduced to the Blue Zones, Dan Buettner, a National Geographic journalist and his colleagues discovered five ‘blue zones’ in the world where people live far longer and with far greater quality of life than in most of the remainder of the world. What he discovered was that there are themes or practices that seem to shape every one of those blue zones. Those 9 practices include: move naturally, have a purpose (or an Ikigai), down shift to reduce stress, apply the 80% rule where you stop eating when you’re 80% full, rely on more of a plant based diet, drink moderately (wine in particular and preferably with friends), foster a sense of belonging, put your family members first in your life (even before work…) and belong to a tribe or a social network of people who live and believe the way you do. Check it out!
Another great resource is Michael Pollan who coined “eat [real] food, mostly plants, and not too much.” https://michaelpollan.com/reviews/how-to-eat/ Or “eat anything you want but cook/bake it yourself!” Now I’d like to emphasize that I am not a vegetarian, but I love vegetables and fruit. And while I cook and bake a lot, I don’t do it every single day. But most of what the Blue Zones or Michael Pollan promote is not strictly vegetarianism but a focus on a plant-based diet more than reliance on our ‘western diet.’ Regardless, these are merely resources that I have come to rely on. There is a vast array of resources to support you based on how you choose to define health for yourself.
So, I ask you. What does health mean to you? For you it may not mean getting outdoors in nature. It may be wrapped up in your relationships with people or pets. It might be influenced by where you live (more on that another day as well), your social connections, or your hobbies. How do you define health care? It may be closely associated with the resources you’ve come to rely on to help you manage a chronic illness. For you, it might also mean reaching out to a pharmacist or another practitioner as a primary care giver before calling your physician. Regardless, if you can define health from your own point of view and describe the ways you believe the system should support you in your efforts to achieve your own goals, you will undoubtedly be more prepared to take accountability for your own role in preserving and protecting what is your greatest asset. And who knows, perhaps you willingness to share what you believe about health and health care might contribute to a system that will one day better reflect our shared values.