As we conclude our look at health, let’s take a more expansive view of health.
Mental health is health! If you are feeling mentally unwell (not uncommon in the present situation. Studies have indicated a substantial increase in depression and anxiety among US adults.) Your primary care physician can do a basic screening and should be able to provide a referral if needed. If you are feeling well, take a few minutes and look into what mental health services your insurance covers. It’s good to know your options before you need them.
Your health is affected by many things: genetics, environment, lifestyle, and even luck. Most of those, you can’t change, so let’s focus on the one over which you have the most influence: lifestyle. The best things about looking at your lifestyle is that even relatively small changes can have a significant impact over time.
Let’s start with sleep. The average adult should get 7-9 hours of sleep a night. That may not always be possible, but let’s look at a few things you can do to make it more likely. Make sure that your bed is comfortable. (A mattress topper is cheaper than a new mattress and can make a big difference.) Is the room warm enough or cool enough? Dark enough? Quiet enough? Do you need blackout curtains or a white noise machine? You can get a better night’s sleep if you limit caffeine, especially in the afternoon and evening, don’t eat heavy meals late in the evening, and step away from screens for at least 30-60 minutes before bed.
Exercise is important too! That doesn’t mean you have to join a gym or start training to be on American Ninja Warrior. At least thirty minutes a day, five times a week, is a great goal. Walking is a great exercise. Get into the habit of taking a walk in the morning or during your lunch hour or after dinner. I’ve been going on long walks since the pandemic started and I have discovered so much about my neighborhood! (I know where all the Little Free Libraries are!) If you are ready to take it up a notch, add some strength training (with moderate weight) and some training to improve balance and flexibility, like stretching and yoga. Look out for household chores – like mopping, sweeping, and yard work – that provide good exercise.
Finally, let’s turn to nutrition. I’m not going to tell you to lose weight. I am going to suggest some things you can do to eat better:
Finally, take a look at any bad habits you might have. Do you smoke, vape, or chew? Do you drink too much or too often? Do you always wear a seatbelt? If you have a bad habit or two, your primary care physician or mental health practitioner can help with resources. (Unless it’s the seatbelt thing – then just tape a sticky note to your dashboard already and refuse to turn the key until everyone buckles up.)