There are millions of websites and books out there about health, nutrition and fitness, all encouraging you to lead a healthier lifestyle. And yet, few health experts ever fully answer the question why you should actually try to improve your health behaviour.
The most mentioned benefit of a healthy lifestyle is to prevent life-threatening diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes from happening to you. We’ve all heard that behaviours like smoking, excessive drinking or sun tanning increase your risk of suffering from health problems, while habits like eating plenty of vegetables and exercising can add extra healthy years to your life.
But what if you’re already suffering from a serious illness?
When you have a permanent, incurable health problem, why shouldn’t you just ‘live life to the fullest’, with all the chocolate you crave to comfort you? Why should you push yourself to take really good care of your body and mind?
That’s a choice only you can make. But here’s what I’ve found:
Being happy and living how you want to are much harder to do when you feel sick and tired all the time. Not only do you want to avoid more health complications in the future, but you’d also like to feel as energised and symptom-free a possible right now. It is possible to improve your current health status by gradually incorporating more healthy habits in your daily routine.
When I was a teenage girl, I was diagnosed with rheumatism and chronic fatigue syndrome. For many years, my days were spent lying on the couch with burning joint pain, limited mobility, exhaustion and severe brain fog. As I experimented with small lifestyle changes – with varying success – my body became a little stronger, my mind a little clearer. Over time, these gradual physical improvements have added up: My health has hugely improved and, to my luck, I can do so much more now.
What’s been most important to me during this process is knowing that I’m doing everything I can to become as healthy as possible.
After spending all my teenage years sick at home, I want to live. I want to explore the world, laugh with my friends, care for my family, dance and sing more, go on spontaneous mini-adventures. I want everyday living to be as happy and fulfilling as it can be.
Yes, sometimes it’s a real struggle and I still can do far less than I would like to. But now, when I’m having a bad day, I no longer feel frustrated and sad, because I did my part. The rest is out of my hands. And the 15-year old version of me who lay in bed all day would’ve been so happy if she’d known that her life would turn out to be like it is now.
That’s why it’s worth it to live a healthy life.
To help you slowly improve your health habits, The Health Sessions will give you detailed information about a healthy lifestyle and the tools you need to implement them into your daily routines.
When it comes to your health, it’s a challenge to find out to what extent your behaviour and lifestyle influence your wellbeing and which aspects are out of your control.
Not too long ago, doctors were authority figures, the only reliable sources of knowledge on health. The condition of your health seemed to be mainly determined by your genes, viruses and biological processes. In more recent years, we’ve come to realise that lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical activity and stress can have a significant impact on your health. The focus has shifted from purely trusting your doctor’s advice to active self-management of your health condition.
But by acknowledging that you can actively manage your own health, some wellness practitioners have lost sight of the other factors that play an important part in determining our health. Your health condition is the end result of complex interactions between your psychobiological vulnerabilities and strengths (like your genes and personality traits), your social and physical environment, your behaviour, thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes, no matter how healthy you live, your body and mind just can’t heal themselves (yet). When we forget the role that our genes, early childhood experiences and environment have in shaping our health and in shaping our health habits, we leave people with serious diseases vulnerable for “blame”.
It annoys me when someone casually remarks, “you should just think more positive” to a person with clinical depression, or when people preach about that one perfect diet that cures everybody from every disease.
Here at The Health Sessions, you’re considered an individual with unique physical and emotional needs. It’s up to you to determine which (healthy) lifestyle works best for you. My goal is to provide useful tips on the health aspects you can change and to help you cope with the problems that you cannot change (yet).
When you become seriously ill, you spend a lot of time explaining your health problems to doctors and worrying about what’s wrong. After receiving a diagnosis, you probably search for all the information you can find about your disease and how you can get better.
Following this hectic phase you really start to notice the impact that the persistent health problems have on your life. The physical complaints and limitations in everyday living can create an emotional turmoil. During this process your illness can become the central part in your life, something you’re reminded of every moment of the day. The diagnosis can become a label – you no longer have an illness, you are ill.
You often see this phenomenon on patient forums, where people can exchange experiences on their specific health issues and possible solutions. And yes, seeking a listening ear, understanding and social support are important steps in learning to deal with chronic diseases.
But never forget that you are more than your illness. You’re more than your overall health, even more than your body and mind. You’re a strong person, with hopes and dreams, fears and sorrows.
So don’t spend your precious energy fighting against the pain and suffering in your life. Use it positively, to strive towards your goals and dreams, towards a better quality of life. Focus on increasing the good instead of eliminating the bad.
While I don’t want you to identify with your illness, I do want to acknowledge that some days – and during some periods most days – it just sucks to not be healthy. To feel pain, to always be tired, to suffer from annoying, awkward or plain-right debilitating symptoms. It sucks when you’re not able to work, or have fun with your family and friends, or to perform the simplest tasks. It sucks when you have to worry about financial problems or what your future will turn out to be.
So many websites on health and wellness only voice the ‘think positive’ – side. On a really bad day, I find such well-meaning statements offensive to people with serious problems of any kind. And although positive thinking can definitely help you pull through tough times, The Health Sessions will take a more realistic stand on what it’s like to deal with health problems daily.
Encouraging? Yes. Motivating you to fight like hell to make the best of your situation? You bet. But The Health Sessions will strike a balance between stories meant to inspire and motivate, and attention for the difficulties you might be facing.
So if you’re looking for detailed information about how you can achieve a healthier and happier lifestyle as well as the support to help you cope with (chronic illness), you can sign up for free, weekly updates from The Health Sessions by entering your e-mail here.
Which quotes or mantras describe your core beliefs about health, happiness or living with chronic illness? Please share them with us in the comments!