Raising the bar: tackling health issues with actions

Published 1:38 am Sunday, April 28, 2013

Two men walk into a bar. Ouch! They both get concussions. What’s the problem with this scenario? The first fellow saw the bar and warned the other, but did not duck. The second man saw the first do it so he did it, too. We live in a society where our actions speak louder than our words.  Alfred Adler hit the nail on the head when he said, “Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.” This creates a challenge for each of us to live out our words, so we can greater impact those around us. The Get America Fit Foundation shows 60 million Americans, 20 years of age and older are obese. Nine million children and teens ages 6 through19 are overweight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of diseases such as breast cancer, heart disease, type II diabetes, sleep apnea, colon cancer, and stroke. Our lives may be the only health book some people ever read. Our actions may be the only health-related public service announcement our community ever responds to. When we walk through our neighborhoods, you may motivate an entire family to become more active. When we put down our cigarettes, we may be the factor that helps eliminate lung cancer or high blood pressure in a close friend or co-worker. So — mothers, physicians, nurses, exercise instructors, and every other health role model — how do we stay motivated to influence others toward healthy lifestyles?

First, we must understand this important concept: it matters how we live. The way we live our lives is of great value to our community, family, and our personal well-being. We cannot be careless with our health, saying things like, “I’ll worry about exercise and checkups when I’m a little older” or “I don’t have time for my health right now, I’ve got more important things to take care of.” Taking care of your health should be the number one priority. I was recently speaking with a client on his 89th birthday. Being curious as to what he attributed his longevity, I asked him what his secret was. Without a blink, he said “My lifestyle” and zipped in to his aerobics class. I was sold. Your lifestyle reflects the controllable characteristics of who you are: your habits, attitudes and moral standards that constitute your mode of living. Recognizing that it matters how you live your life is important, but it is only effective with application.

What is the driving force behind our actions? The driving force is the legacy we leave behind. We can, we will and we must adopt a healthy lifestyle because the next generation will inherit our lifestyles. Imagine the possibility of our children having diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease before the age of fourteen? The New York Times paints a picture of this very reality. According to the New England Journal of Medicine the prevalence and severity of obesity is so great, especially in children, that the associated diseases and complications — Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, cancer — are likely to strike people at younger and younger ages. The report says the average life expectancy of today’s adults, roughly 77 years, is at least four to nine months shorter than it would be if there were no obesity. That means that obesity is already shortening average life spans by a greater rate than accidents, homicides and suicides combined. We can live healthy by eating nutritious foods, regularly getting physical activity most days of the week, and getting regular checkups with our health care providers. We will live healthy by recognizing that it matters how we live and adopting healthy choices, like stairs before elevators, and home cooked before fast food. We must live healthy because we impact and influence our generation and the generation coming up.

In one of the most iconic public service announcements during the late 1980s, a father walks into his son’s room and sees him listening to heavy music. As his son takes his headphones off, his father begins to reprimand him for some questionable behavior (Dad has the evidence in his hand). The father gets louder and louder and asks him where he learned to do such a thing. With a tear soaked eye and nervous voice the boy looks up and says, “I learned it from you dad, I learned it from you!”

Nurses, your patients learn smoking is ok when they see you taking a smoke break. Dads, your children think eating a triple cheeseburger and sitting on the couch all afternoon is cool because that’s what you do. We have so much influence on others, let’s use it for good. Make an extra effort to not only encourage our loved ones and friends to be healthy but to live the example. That way, instead of walking into the bar, we can raise it higher so everyone can avoid the headache.

Derrick Boyce, BS, ACSM HFS, is an exercise physiologist and personal trainer at Vidant Wellness Center and may be reached at 975-4236.