Part II: Mental Health
Part III: Emotional Health
Last post we declared our office’s intentions to ramp up its healthy living and discussed a few observances and strategies to promote a healthy lifestyle. Today, we’re going to jump into one specific type of health: physical health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Physical health is arguably the most obvious and visible of the three and, as such, is the reason it gets the most attention when discussing a healthy lifestyle.
At this point, you may have asked yourself, “Why does an insurance company care so much about promoting a healthy lifestyle?” Well, this particular insurance agency has made it part of its mission to help our customers make intelligent and informed insurance purchase decisions in order to protect their property, assets and futures. Implicit in that mission is educating our customers and this post is an opportunity to educate them about the benefits of good health and how it can save them money on their policies, specifically on life insurance.
In addition to the monetary benefits you can receive with good health, other more obvious benefits include controlling weight and combating conditions like heart disease (the number one cause of death in America for over 90 years), diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Additionally, physical activity and exercise have been proven to lift energy, confidence and mood. So, if you’re in need of a boost, getting active can be a good pick-me-up. It also can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better (exercising before bedtime will likely leave you too energized to sleep, however). Lastly, regular exercise can improve your sex life. This isn’t new information, nor do we expect the aforementioned benefits to be earth-shattering in any way. The challenge lies in convincing yourself to get started and to keep going, especially when you’re not feeling it on any given day. The mind controls the body and the body is capable of enduring more than you think, but controlling the mind is where you will make all the difference.
Check with your company’s Human Resources department or Benefits Coordinator to learn what benefits you may be eligible for based on your group’s plan. Most providers will provide discounts on gym memberships, classes, equipment, coaching, seminars, vitamins, supplements and more. Insurance providers want their insureds to be healthy because it will result in fewer claims and they’re willing to spend money on the front end to support that goal.
So, you recognize the benefits of improving your health. You found that you qualify for a membership discount at the local gym. Now you’re ready to hit the weights and the treadmill, right? Possibly, but the best place to start any change in your physical health is in the kitchen. Our bodies are vehicles and the muscles and organs inside them have to be fed the proper fuel in order for us to perform at our fullest potential, both mentally and physically. First, one needs to understand what kinds of food can be considered “proper fuel” and then strategize ways to maximize the intake of these foods and limit the intake of improper foods. A great place to start a formal education of what is “proper food” is with Michael Pollan’s book, “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto”. I don’t intend to give way the secret, as it were, because there is great information throughout but the simple rule he leans on is: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” These seven words are the answer to the question of “What should I eat?” The challenge then becomes determining what exactly food is. It’s no secret that today’s culture of highly processed meals and adding corn and sugar to everything can make this an arduous task. For a list of other books about healthy eating worth your time, enjoy this article: “5 Books to Help You Decide What Healthy Eating Means to You”.
Once you’ve managed to get a handle on what constitutes “proper fuel”, the next task should be to meal plan. Meal planning seems to be the latest buzz word or catch phrase in the pop-culture circles that discuss health and fitness but it really does provide a lot of benefits if you’re trying to maintain or maximize the amount of good, clean food you eat. Firstly, it will save you money because you will no longer be wasting food or letting it spoil. Additionally, you won’t be spending your money at restaurants during your work week. Secondly, consider how much mental energy is being used each day when determining what you want to eat for each meal. It can be exhausting trying to figure out what you’re in the mood for or where you want to go. Take this one out of the equation by already knowing what’s on the menu because you cooked it the other day and all you have to do now is heat it up and enjoy. Thirdly, and arguably the most important in terms of overall health, you’ll be able to control just how much you eat by portioning your meal ahead of time and you will control what you put in your body when you buy the ingredients from the store rather than rolling the dice at your average American restaurant.
There are plenty of strategies and best practices floating around the interwebs about how to meal plan so we won’t dive too deeply into it here. The important things to consider are picking a day (Sundays seem to be most popular), or possibly two depending on how much food you intend to prepare for the week, and knowing ahead of time what you intend to make and how many meals you’ll be preparing. Planning this out will save you time and energy when it comes to making it happen. Lastly, and this one is more of a personal tip, consider using more staple foods that will keep well for a few days. Grilled chicken, rices, potatoes, turkey, vegetables, et al. are where you want to focus your efforts. Save the fancy meals for when you can cook for the same day.
Technology, social media, phone apps and the like can be overbearing at times but there are a handful of apps available that can really help a person throughout the journey to a healthier lifestyle. There are a number of apps that will track what you eat and calculate how much protein, carbs, fats, and other components of your diet you’ve consumed or the calories that you’ve burned on that day, which can be very useful when developing your goals and strategies. A personal favorite is MyFitnessPal which allows you to select from a plethora of foods to add to your meal diary (where you track what you’ve consumed throughout the day). You can even scan the barcode on your food’s packaging for easy searching and its nutritional information will load in the app. Other great apps that can be used in combination with your goals, strategies and meal prep can be found here.
Alright, now you’re motivated, educated and ready to burn some calories! There are vast amounts of ways to get physical exercise, so don’t feel like your only option is to join a gym if you don’t think you’d feel comfortable there. It’s important to do something you enjoy so you’ll be encouraged to continue doing it, and that includes feeling comfortable where you’re working out. If you’re not interested in joining a gym, go for a run in the morning before work. Or workout from your living room while watching an exercise video on YouTube. Take your bike for a ride. Play a sport. Go for a walk. Take a class or a boot camp. Climb a wall. Hit the punching bag. Do some yoga. Jump rope. Again, motivating and convincing your brain will be the limiting factor here because being active doesn’t require much more than the willingness to begin.
If you do join a gym, consider working with a trainer in the beginning if you’re unfamiliar with proper exercise technique or strategies. If you’re unfamiliar with weight resistance training or how to use exercise equipment properly, you’re increasing your risk of injury, so don’t be too shy or stubborn to ask for help. It’s what trainers are there for.
If you are familiar with the gym and just need to get back into your old routine (even if it was from 20 years ago), you can also work with a trainer, but you might also consider finding workout routines online. A number of sites offer video demonstrations of the proper way to exercise and how to work out so you’ll maximize your energy and effort. Don’t rush back into it either. We all know someone who started getting healthy, got hurt (if only mildly) and never returned to their workouts after telling themselves they would wait for whatever was bothering them to heal. Don’t be that guy – take your time and ease your way into it.
The hope here is that you realize there are a number of ways to stay active and increase your health. There are also a number of ways to incentivize yourself, including one app that pays you to work out. Pact (available on Android and iOS) is an app that pays you money when you reach the workout goals you’ve set for yourself. You put up how much money you’re willing to wager that you’ll complete your workout goals and when you achieve them, you get paid by those who put up their money and didn’t meet their goals. For a look at other apps that can help motivate or track your workout progress, including ones that allow you to map a course to run, take you through a seven minute workout, track your progress in the weight room, and coach you along specifically designed workouts just for you, visit PC Mag’s “25 Best Fitness Apps of 2016”.
Remember, a healthy lifestyle is just that – a lifestyle. It’s not something you can do occasionally or only when it’s convenient for it to be most effective. When transitioning into that lifestyle, you’ll get frustrated and sore and tell yourself you want to quit but pushing through those thoughts and feelings is the real exercise. Controlling your thoughts and consumption is the process through which your health develops. If you go for it, there will be times when you fall back into old habits or miss workouts and that’s okay – it happens to everyone. It’s getting back on track each time you have a slip-up and treating your body with the respect it deserves that will keep your vehicle humming along and the benefits piling up!