My role as a family physician extends beyond treating patients when they are sick, although that is an important part of it. I also partner with my patients in their pursuit of optimum health and wellbeing. For some, this might mean losing weight or achieving a fitness goal. For others, it could be finding ways to manage stress or reduce their cholesterol levels. These are examples of some of the most common conversations I have with my patients on a daily basis.
When it comes down to it, much of our health is shaped by our habits. It’s those small, seemingly insignificant things we do each day (often without conscious thought) that impact our health in big ways over the long haul.
With this in mind, I wanted to share a few behaviors shared by my healthiest patients who are consistently achieving their wellness goals.
They’ve found enjoyable ways to stay active
The key word here is enjoyable. Exercise is a four-letter word for a lot of folks. It conjures up images of slogging through a torturous workout routine in a state of sweat-covered misery. It doesn’t have to be this way. My patients who’ve made exercise a consistent habit have found ways to stay active that they truly look forward to, and this looks very different from person to person. I often find myself saying to my patients, “If you hate running, don’t go running! If you hate it, how can you hope to make it a consistent part of your daily routine?”
The American Heart Association recommends two and a half hours of moderately intense physical activity per week. This translates to about 20 minutes per day, or a half hour each weekday if you’d prefer to not worry about your routine on the weekend.
Mini-tip #1: My healthiest patients schedule their exercise just like they’d schedule a doctor’s appointment. Put it on the calendar!
Staying active doesn’t necessarily have to mean joining a gym and hitting the treadmill in the wee morning hours before work. It could be joining a dance class, walking the dog, taking the stairs, parking further away at the grocery store, or joining an ultimate Frisbee league. Start slowly and don’t be afraid to try out new things. With a little dedication, the odds are in your favor that you’ll find something that’s both fun and good for you.
Their diet is healthy but sustainable
Obviously one of the most important contributing factors to our health and wellness is what (and how much) we eat.
Today, more than two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and over a third are obese. These numbers have been rising for decades. All the while, the diet industry – products and programs promising rapid and dramatic weight loss – is valued at over $66 billion dollars. For some perspective, that’s enough money to put $200 into the hands of every man, woman and child in America.
The problem with crash diets and quick-fix solutions is they simply aren’t sustainable. The vast majority of people who lose weight from dieting do not manage to keep the weight off over the long haul. Most of my patients who achieve and maintain a healthy weight over time are not cycling through fad diets. Rather, they have made healthy, portion-controlled eating a long-term habit while allowing for the occasional indulgence.
Your primary care physician can provide tips and strategies for implementing sustainable healthy eating habits. It’s a process that often takes time, patience, and practice, but the payoff – avoiding the numerous health risks associated with being overweight or obese – is absolutely worthwhile.
Mini-tip #2: Try downloading a free calorie counting app just to get started. I’d suggest My Fitness Pal or Lose It!
They’ve found effective coping strategies for stress
When it comes to stress, it’s not about avoiding or ignoring it, but rather finding ways to manage it effectively. While certain personality types are more susceptible than others, stress affects most of us in some capacity on a regular basis. When it becomes severe and chronic, it can cause a range of health problems including a weakened immune system, gastrointestinal issues – it has even been strongly linked to heart disease.
If we’re not intentional about developing healthy coping strategies, unhealthy ones like overeating or binge drinking can quickly creep in. Effective and health-promoting stress management techniques are integral to my healthiest patients’ lifestyles, and what works well for one patient may not be the solution for the next. Some key coping strategies might include exercise, meditation, journaling, and setting aside designated time to “unplug” and relax.
Mini-tip #3: If you’re curious about mindfulness and meditation, there are some fantastic apps that can guide you through the process. Many offer free trials. I recommend checking out Headspace, Calm, and 10% Happier.
They prioritize getting a good night’s sleep
In addition to making you feel sluggish and unmotivated, studies have shown that repeatedly not getting enough sleep is correlated with chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Plus, sleep is deeply tied to our mental health, as problems with sleep are caused by and shown to be contributing to depression and anxiety.
My healthiest patients have developed routines that promote healthy, restorative sleep. These include avoiding electronic screens at least an hour before bedtime, naps in the afternoon, and stimulants like caffeine later in the day, alongside exercising regularly.
Mini-tip #4: Has anyone else noticed that exercise has now come up in three of my separate tips for health?
If you struggle with insomnia – the chronic inability to fall or stay asleep – you should discuss it with your doctor. He or she can help you get to the root of its cause so that you can get the sleep that you need to feel your best.
Their approach to healthcare is proactive
It may surprise you that I see my healthiest patients just as often – or in some cases more often – than those whose health is poor. This is due to the fact that my healthiest patients take a proactive approach to getting the care they need. They schedule appointments for check-ups, routine screenings, and to discuss various matters of concern rather than only visiting the office when they are sick.
While these proactive behaviors are encouraged by Everside Health doctors, we recognize that many of our patients may not be used to the level of access and amount of time they have with their doctor. Typical primary care offices are booking patients several weeks out and schedule appointments in close proximity to one another, leaving patients and providers feeling rushed.
The way we practice medicine at Everside Health is different, empowering patients to form a real relationship with their healthcare provider. We are passionate about partnering with you in the pursuit of better health. Interested in connecting with us? Stay up-to-date on new developments, news, and helpful content by liking and following the Everside Health Facebook page.