Baseline Your Health
Roadmap to Health
To get to where you’d like to go, you first need to know where you are. On the road to better health and greater vitality, you will need a map that shows you exactly where it is that you are now. This is your baseline. And rather than thinking of it as just a point on a map, consider it more like an atlas of your health that is created with information from a variety of sources.
What is your definition of wellness?We all know what illness is; even if we are lucky enough to be pictures of health ourselves, we could describe the toll sickness has taken among friends and family. But what comes to mind when we try to characterize wellness? And, even more importantly, how do these images of health change, depending on who we are and where we are in life? READ MORE
Turn on the TV or open up a magazine and ignore the programs and articles and instead just look at the images of vitality, health and beauty that constantly surround us: vibrant, young people with beaming 1000 watt smiles, impossibly fit and attractive and extravagantly happy. You don’t have to be a cynic to wonder what planet these people live on—or wish that you lived there too.
So what is ‘wellness’ on this planet? There are many different definitions; international organizations, national health institutes, university research centers, academic journals, professional societies and standard dictionaries all have their own definitions of health and wellbeing. While the exact wording differs, nearly all definitions emphasize that wellness is not a single, static, one-size-fits-all condition. To the contrary, wellness is dynamic, the outcome of many different elements that are constantly interacting, wellness is a continuum in terms of our age and individual circumstances, and wellness involves all aspects of our minds and bodies.
And (very importantly) wellness is not just reserved for the perfectly healthy. We can all aspire to different degrees of wellness, no matter how old we are or what our immediate physical situation is. To believe that is to open up the possibilities to live to your full potential. Wellness is physical, yes, but it is also larger than that. There are emotional, psychological and social components of wellness. The umbrella of wellness is large enough to encompass us all. LESS
What are your goals?Most people believe that they “should” improve their wellness; too few, however, believe they actually can. Understanding wellness involves information, responsibility and decision-making, which, in turn, require people to set goals and make choices. Goals will vary widely according to all of the details and circumstances of your life; goals can be personal, as in “I want to do this for myself,” but they can also involve others, as in, “I want to do this for my family or children.” READ MORE
It’s easy to scoff at New Year’s resolutions (and marvel at and/or resent those rare individuals who manage to keep them through February), but they embody the very real and serious challenge of how to effectively set goals. A middle-aged man with diabetes, a 40-year-old woman having her 3rd child and a 75-year-old undergoing hip replacement clearly won’t have identical goals. And yet the basics of goal setting will indeed be similar.
The method actor’s cliched question: “What’s my motivation?” applies to all of us. Trying to figure out if goals are too ambitious or not ambitious enough also applies to all of us. That hardly makes it easy, however, explains Dr. Michael Stein of Brown University, author of The Lonely Patient, among several other books “Most people stick with things over the long term because they’re fun and enjoyable. And the fact is that behavior change is hard. And it’s rarely fun.”
You might be able to convince yourself it’s fun (or at least virtuous), especially when you are young, explains Stein, but you may find that less convincing as time goes on. Fear might be a persuasive motivator for some patients, but it usually isn’t enough by itself (too many people have a knack for fighting fear with denial). There is clearly no single, magic motivator. And yet we know, says Stein, who often writes on the psychological aspects of health and wellness, that “it has to be self-generated and it has to be autonomous.” The key is to accept that it’s hard work and to keep taking steps forward.
One of the most helpful tools, says Stein, is to understand the tradeoffs. “I mean, there are very clear reasons that smokers continue smoking. And they will trade off some things by giving up cigarettes, such as gaining exercise capacity, but they will also tend to gain weight and lose concentration. The question becomes: what’s the tradeoff going to be? Are you willing to give that up in order to get these other benefits. Or are you not. But as a doctor I can’t act as if everybody knows these are the obvious goals in life, and everybody should want them... My job is to present the facts, explain and discuss the information and discuss the possible outcomes. Here’s scenario A, if you do nothing, and scenario B, if you commit to change.” LESS
Where are you starting from?READ MORE
Too many of us wait for a pain or a problem, something “out of the ordinary,” before we make an appointment to see a doctor. And as a result, most of us walk into the doctor’s office with a certain amount of unrecognized health baggage. What’s more, this approach of seeing doctors “only when you need to” also makes it more difficult to understand the context of your current health issues. The goal of establishing a comprehensive wellness baseline is to not only address current health issues or even spot unrecognized problems, but to also lay the essential groundwork of prevention. LESS