This past Tuesday during my Health Issues for Elementary Educators class, we were given a handout called a “Health Knowledge Exam’. It was a ditto that our professor used with his older elementary school students to access their knowledge of basic health principals. Below are the 12 true or false options:
- Fruits and vegetables are foods that provide many essential vitamins and minerals.
- Regular exercise can keep the heart healthy.
- Cigarette smoking can cause lung cancer and other health problems.
- Stress can cause serious health problems.
- Drinking alcohol can cause liver damage.
- Positive and supportive relationships with others can help a person stay healthy.
- Brushing and flossing your teeth can help prevent tooth decay.
- Recycling can help prevent environmental damage.
- Spending too much time in the sun can cause skin damage, especially if you get burned.
- Seatbelts can prevent injury in the case of a car accident.
- Wearing a helmet while on a bicycle can help prevent head injury.
- Abstinence from types of sexual contact can greatly decrease your chances of contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
I doubt that anybody needs an answer key on this one, right? In fact, if you had any difficulty with this, I’m honestly concerned with how you were raised. Once you get to the fifth or sixth statement, you begin to realize that these would all be answered ‘true’. Easy, right? Unless you’re a fan of making obscure and vague arguments, we all believe these to be true.
Now, let me ask you this: How many of these beliefs do you turn into behaviors? Most likely, not very many. If you think about this list of risky behaviors, why do we know what we should be doing, but don’t actually do it.
If you know what you should or shouldn’t be doing, and you consistently do the opposite, that doesn’t make any sense. Honestly, I think it’s just stupid. In our information filled age, we have an explanation for just about everything (except for the tides), and there isn’t really an excuse for not following these rules. Unfortunately though, our culture routinely allows us to rationalize our reasons for not being healthy, instead of assisting us in becoming healthier. We’re tired after long days at work, or school, or working after school. We don’t have the time to prepare food for ourselves in the morning, so the only thing there is to do is live out of vending machines and fast food. We have poor interpersonal relationships, this stresses us out, so we smoke and drink to relax. That’s allowable, because life is difficult, right? Wrong, jackass.
We live in a world with the highest life expectancies ever, yet our quality of life has gone down and our health as a culture is atrocious. We are a response-based culture, that is we respond to predicaments instead of preventing these predicaments. You were diagnosed with diabetes? Okay, take your insulin, eat your whole grains, and go for walks. This is what you’d expect to hear right? Well, unless you were born with it, you shouldn’t have diabetes in the first place! People are responsible for 8 out of the 10 leading causes of death, and diabetes is on that list. It is atrocious that we allow this to happen to ourselves, yet people are consistently making the same mistakes.
We stay up late, we skip breakfast or have bagels and coffee, we smoke during our lunch breaks, we go to happy hour, and we fill in the time between these by trying to make our naturally round bottoms square. Not a good look.
However, we all know what we should be doing. However, very few people turn these beliefs into behaviors. It’s not very difficult to do this, once you eliminate the excuses, but you need to stop making excuses! Here are some of the simplest rules you can follow to turn what you know into what you do.
Go to bed before midnight. Preferably, allow yourself between 7-9 hours of sleep. If this is foreign to you, and you’re saying, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” then keep missing out on your sleep; you’ll die sooner.
Eat your first meal within 15 minutes of waking up. Start with a protein, add fruits and vegetables. Greek yogurt with dried fruit. Eggs scrambled with spinach and mushrooms. Throw some berries, spinach, and nuts in a blender. Just eat, and it better not be cereal.
Drink more water. It’s one of the simplest things that you can do, and you’ll feel a lot better. So you pee more? Big deal, your pee will be clear.
Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants. This simple advice is from Michael Pollan. You might want to read his books if you’re absolutely clueless on how you should be eating. It’s good advice though. If you’re eating mostly plants, and lots of protein, you’re set.
Get stronger. Running 5k doesn’t make you stronger. Using the leg extension doesn’t make you stronger. I mean do push-ups, deadlifts, pull-ups, squats, overhead presses and rows. Develop a full range of motion. Now do them three times a week, one of these days being heavy. If you say you don’t move better, feel better, and look better, you’re lying.
Be active when ever you can. This is in addition to getting stronger. Take the stairs when you can, walk to work, play with your kids, play with your dog, and play with your kids dog. Walk when you play golf. Play pick-up basketball. Choosing simple activities that keep you on your feet and moving around will keep you on your feet, not on your butt like your neighbor who drinks beer and watches baseball.
Have good manners. Smile. Hold doors open. Say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Ask people how their day is, and listen to their response. Smile again. Interact with those around you, and not through your iPhone. Smile again. Don’t you feel better? Thought so.
Don’t put toxic substances in your body. This means don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke on occasion, and don’t limit your drinking to the weekends. Why? Well, because then you binge drink on the weekends, and you smoke when you drink. Don’t try to explain to yourself or others that smoking weed is better than cigarettes; it’s not. I’ve never done any of these things, and I’m better off for it. You might think, ‘Wow, you don’t drink?’ No, I don’t, because I’m responsible for my body. Are you?
Are these rules that hard to follow? No, in fact, they are relatively easy to follow, and you should already be following them. You should be eating real foods, not processed sugary crap. You should get yourself to the gym at least 3 times a week, preferably more. You should get more sleep, drink more water, and have better relationships. You should be taking better care of yourself. You should be doing all of this. But none of this is news to you, is it.
You knew this already. You were taught it from a young age, and you have strayed from these beliefs. Your parents never enforced these beliefs, you got away with breaking these rules, your friends think it’s cool. You don’t need me to tell you that you should be living these things, that knowing them aren’t enough. Well if you know what you should be doing, then why aren’t you doing it? If you consistently do the wrong thing, you hurt your body and your health. If you consistently do the right thing, you feel better, live better, and look better.
Turn your beliefs into behaviors, and take control of your health.