This is a fact: How you treat you body when you are young affects how your body will age and what chronic diseases and/or challenges it will face. I remember growing up, my mom would say, “Put your sunscreen on.” She was ahead of her time, as putting SPF on when I was young was absolutely, 100%, NOT cool.. “We” all wanted the tan that we somehow thought emulated health and beauty. My mom knew better at the time; she had already gone through skin cancer.
So, here I am, looking at my arms and hands as I am writing this and seeing an endless mass of freckles on my arms, random white patches of damaged skin and age spots showing up on my hands. Looking at my skin, I certainly am not emulating health and beauty….urgh, I should have listened to Mom.
I have a sincere desire to age gracefully. I really want to be functionally fit, have healthy eating habits and practice good self-care. Yet, for the past seven years, I have distanced myself from exactly that. Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about how much work I need to do to get my mind, body and spirit to a better place. Then again, I also forget how worth it it is to take those small steps and how much better I felt when I did treat myself better.
As someone who has worked for two of the major leading health organizations (American Heart Association and American Cancer Society), I am quite knowledgeable about how lifestyle affects our bodies. There are always stories of people who “ran everyday, ate well and didn’t drink” that died at 50. Then the logic of “well, healthy living didn’t pay off, did it?” These are the types of stories that stick out because it is so uncommon, people talk about it.
The stories not emphasized are about the 65-year-old that spent most of her life 50 pounds overweight, that had a heart attack and is now on heart medication the rest of her life. (By the way, she is now also at a higher risk for stroke.) Why doesn’t anyone talk about “these stories?” I believe it is because it is so common place in this culture, that no one questions it. Our lifestyle is such that we have become accustomed to taking medication for our chronic health conditions, rather than addressing them “head on” and tackling the core issue: lifestyle.
As an advocate for healthy living and as someone who has struggled with healthy living, the hypocrisy is not lost on me. I am a wonderful, healthy living preacher. Now I need to practice what I preach. I also understand that living healthily is not an easy task. How we are taught to treat our bodies as a young person has a tremendous impact on us as adults. Most people are surprised when I tell them that 80% of cancers are preventable. A lot of times, I will hear, “Cancer runs in my family.” But the actuality is that the lifestyle that has been carried through generations, i.e. poor nutrition, lack of movement, tobacco use, etc., is what has “run in the family.”
Learning and implementing good self-care is not easy. I did not grow up in a family where we had unhealthy eating habits. However, on my own, I did find food as a great escape to handle the stress in my life. Now, as a midlife adult, I am continually working on trying to handle my emotional triggers in a healthier way. It is not easy, folks—living a healthy lifestyle can be a very complicated situation.
This is what I know for sure: How I treat my body today is a factor in my health as I age. That means I need to start, TODAY, taking steps to better self-care. I need to forgive myself for the years that I have not been good to myself and focus on what I can do now to be good to me. As I said, it’s complicated, isn’t it?
Good references for healthy living:
American Cancer Society Guidelines on Physical Activity and Nutrition
American Heart Association – Healthy Living