By Julie Downing, Health and Human Performance
So I was asked to give a presentation about wellness for the Fall COCC Staff Retreat. I, of course, said yes because I’m really bad at saying no and I’m a big mouth and like to have an audience, ha. I thought and thought about what to share with this group of highly-educated, creative, driven individuals. I decided on presenting a list of the top 15 ways to achieve & maintain good health. I thought it would be fun to get the audience guessing what the 15 were and I knew that some of the ways I presented would be a surprise to them.
I was hoping that it wouldn’t be just me in an empty room with one other health nut sitting in the corner. I was relieved when we actually had to bring in extra chairs since my room was packed with over 40 people. I don’t know that it was actually that my topic was SO exciting but probably more that the other topics were very academic and staff wanted a session that focused on them and less on work. I was pleased and nervous at the same time to have the President of the College, Dr. Middleton attending my session, too. He even took notes. Dr. Middleton rocks!
I started out my talk by telling staff that in terms of health education, knowledge is not always power. I used the example of who in here doesn’t know that smoking is harmful to their health? It’s not that we don’t know what to do, it’s that we don’t know how to implement it into our busy lives and possibly we don’t know the specifics about what to do. So, we talked about the trans-theoretical model of health behavior change where one goes from pre-contemplation where s/he is not even thinking about making a health behavior change, to contemplation where s/he is mulling it over, to preparation where s/he starts planning how to make the change, to action where s/he makes the change in their life, to maintenance where s/he keeps doing the new healthy behavior for at least 6 months, to finally long-term maintenance (aka termination stage) where s/he has been doing this behavior now for at least 5 years and it’s just part of who they are. For example, I’m Julie the runner.
I shared some websites with the group where they could type in data about themselves and the sites would give them guidance on how to get healthier. The two I mentioned during the session were realage.com for over-all health and USDA.gov/cnpp where they can assess their nutrition. Both are fun, user-friendly, and informative. Lastly before I got to the top 15 countdown, I encouraged staff to learn CPR / First Aid making sure they take a class that teaches them how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator). On to the fifteen…
I put together this list after doing my homework on all the current research out there. It is not by any means a stand-alone list, meaning there are obviously many other things one must do to have full wellness but instead items made my list if they had good quantity and quality of research behind them. Certainly you could argue to add others in to the list but let’s not argue; let’s just agree that these 15 are important and leave it at that.
- Coming in at 15: Be a safe driver. Don’t talk on your cell phone, don’t multi-task, pay attention, and by all means, don’t text!!
- 14. Get enough sleep. We need 6-8 hours every night as adults, 9 is too much and 4 is WAY too little. Maintain a regular sleep schedule and get quality sleep.
- 13. Work towards good oral health. Gum disease is likely linked to heart disease (ADA & AAP). If gums are inflamed, it is likely the over-all body has inflammation and a greater risk for inflamed, clogged arteries. Curing dental problems can reduce arthritic pain, number of swollen joints and the degree of morning stiffness (as noted in the April 2009 Journal of Periodontology). There is new research out that Deb Davies (COCC Allied Health Professor) e-mailed me that poor oral health may even be linked to osteoporosis.
- 12. See the MD regularly. Regular screening such as blood pressure, blood glucose, blood lipids, physicals, clinical breast & testicular exams, PSA screening, mammograms, PAP smears, vision, hearing, etc. are all critical components to maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle. Make sure you have had all necessary vaccinations and boosters for herd immunity.
- 11. Perform regular self-exams. Monthly breast and testicular exams are key – feeling for anything different than before (textural differences, lumps, bumps, thickening, tenderness, etc.). Breast exams should be performed from a few days to about a week after a woman’s period. Don’t forget regular skin checks. Look for moles or skin patches with ABCDs: Asymmetry, Borders that are irregular, Coloration that is dark brown or black, and a Diameter that is large or growing. Call a dermatologist right away if you detect any ABCDs.
- 10. Socialize and/or have a pet. Social support & social embeddedness moderates stress (Karren, et al). The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that people have exercise partners in order to increase adherence to physical activity. Finally, think of your dog as an exercise machine with fur. Being around animals can reduce stress levels as show by biofeedback.
- 9. Prevent Cancer. Cancer is the #2 cause of death in our country and the most feared. Educate yourself as to carcinogens (cancer causing agents) that you may be around. Wear sunscreen when outside as people DO die from skin cancer. M. Holmes reports breast cancer survivors who spent 3-5 hours / week exercising had best survival rates. For prevention of breast cancer recurrence, the American Cancer Society recommends that you exercise for 30-45 min at least 5 days / week.
- 8. Challenge your mind. An active, stimulated brain reduces your odds of developing Alzheimer’s 2008 Wall Street Journal Review. Try to learn something new every day, practice memorization, solve riddles and puzzles, follow the road less traveled (example – take a new route home).
- 7. Have happy relationships. According to Science Daily Aug 5, 2008, happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill. As a result, happy people live longer. The size of the effect on longevity is comparable to that of smoking or not!! Wow!
- 6. Know your family history. Knowledge IS power when it comes to genetics. According to the National Cancer Institute, 5-10 % of women who are diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer have a hereditary form of cancer due to mutations in genes. If you think you may be at risk, go to Checkyourgenes.org so that you can do something about it.
- 5. Have a positive attitude / optimism. While positive attitude alone will not cure cancer, a negative attitude will most certainly doom a patient.
- 4. Manage stress effectively. Eliminate the stressors you can and learn to effectively cope with the stressors you can’t get rid of. According to Blonna, laughing, meditating, pet therapy, socializing, releasing (example jogging or swimming), relaxing, (example yoga or tai chi), getting organized, and deep diaphragmatic breathing are all possible ways to help reduce the effects of stress.
- 3. Don’t smoke & Avoid chemicals / drugs / alcohol. 87% of lung cancer is caused by tobacco and greater than 30 % of all cancer is caused by tobacco (Hoeger). Smoking causes more deaths from cardiovascular disease than lung cancer. Finally, excessive alcohol consumption is the 3rd leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. today (CDC.gov).
- 2. Eat right. There’s so much misinformation out there but here are a few accurate, helpful tips for good nutrition: avoid processed foods with lots of chemicals you can’t read on the label, buy local whole organic foods, take a multi-vitamin, adequately hydrate throughout your day, carbohydrates ARE necessary to eat since they are what fuel you for moderate or high intensity physical activity, decrease consumption of red meat, and increase consumption of “super foods” such as blueberries, green tea, nuts, seeds, lentils, peppers, sweet potatoes, broccoli, etc.
- 1. Get regular physical activity. If there is any magic bullet out there to good health & well-being, it is regular exercise. In fact if the benefits of exercise could be bottled, it would be the most widely prescribed drug in the world. Remember that in prevention of osteoporosis, one needs to perform weight-bearing exercise. For great information on the benefits of exercise please go to: Exerciseismedicine.org.