“Health is not valued till sickness comes.”
Thomas Fuller, English churchman and historian
It is no secret that with increasing biological age, the risk of health issues rises. You may feel that the last thing you need is another guide on how to stay healthy. Health topics are present in so many magazines, books, TV shows… and it is evident that health is one of the most important aspects for our entire life and our quality of living. 92% of the persons interviewed in preparation for this publication saw health by far as the most important category for people when thinking about later life planning. But still, you can imagine that a “but” is about to come: Again, there is our weaker self.
What are the factors that influence our health?
As you see, firstly, there is a certain relationship to other domains. We already talked about financial aspects (and unfortunately they also play a certain role here), about mental and physical fitness, emergencies and housing. And secondly, not every factor can be influenced, our genes for example are simply given to us.
So let´s concentrate on some aspects on which we actually can influence:
Some things that cannot be repeated often enough:
- Keep yourself physically fit
- Keep your brain working
- Enjoy life
The World Health Organisation gives 12 tips how to be healthy:
Let´s have a closer look at some of them with some practical suggestions!
1. Keep an eye on your stress level:
Up to a certain level, stress is part of life. But being under constant pressure makes you ill which has consequences for your current and later life. It helps to deal with the things that trigger stress and to put them in some kind of order so that stress can be systematically reduced.
So start identifying what stresses you, ask yourself if you are taking on too much, if you can delegate something, if you can do things in a more leisurely way and start prioritizing to reduce pressure that comes from trying to do everything at once.
The Eisenhower Matrix’s four quadrant model help us get clarity on what’s really important. It organises activities by urgency and importance: So something can be important or not and urgent or not.
- Quadrant 1 – The FOCUS QUADRANT: We have things that are both urgent and Unfortunately, way too many activities fall into this category. We need to do a much better job at reducing the amount of things that show up here or they will constantly make us stressed and burned out.
- Quadrant 2 – The SCHEDULE QUADRANT: We have things that are not urgent, but This is our ‘magic’ quadrant. It is where our real impact occurs, as scheduling your activities helps you to be proactive rather than only reacting to things.
- Quadrant 3 – The DELEGATION QUADRANT: We have urgent but not important things; these are really just interruptions we want to identify and reduce or delegate, otherwise they will consume our time and we will get stressed for not having addressed tasks in quadrants 1 and
- Quadrant 4 – The ELIMINATE QUADRANT: We have not urgent and not important This is pure time wasting: surfing the internet, checking your phone for notifications every 5 seconds, etc. Spend enough time here and you’ll get stressed.
How to work with the matrix:
- Identify the area of stress you want to work on (high workload, an argument with family or friends, financial problems, life changes ). There can be times where one stressor builds on top of another one. During these situations you may feel threatened or upset and your body might start reacting.
- Classify all tasks that you do in that area according to the axes of the matrix (urgent-important).
- Discuss with a friend, family member or colleague on how you can apply the strategies suggested:
Focus – Schedule – Delegate – Eliminate
- Focus on tasks that are both urgent and important. Do these tasks first.
- Schedule tasks that are important but not urgent. Put them in your calendar
- Delegate tasks that are urgent but do not help you accomplish your goal
- Eliminate tasks that are neither urgent nor important. These are not worth your time
2. Take care about your nutrition:
Eating healthy is important in every phase of life but becomes even more so as we reach midlife and beyond. What is important is that it doesn’t have to be about dieting and sacrifice but enjoying fresh, tasty food, wholesome ingredients, etc. – maybe also with others. Cooking and eating together makes nutrition far more enjoyable.
Harvard University has published a simple model to help you make your meals healthier:
Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications, www.health.harvard.edu.
Fruit and vegetables should make up half of your plate, then there follow whole and intact grains as well as proteins, in moderation healthy plant oils. In addition, don´t forget to drink enough water, tea or some coffee and stay active.
This all sounds very clear and logical? It actually is! Now we just have to convince ourselves to stick to it a bit more. We should not strive for perfection, life should be fun and small “sins” are simply part of it. It’s the right balance that counts.
Health – important for everyone individually but also for society
A good practice example from Italy: Healthy Lifestyle Portal
The Italian Ministry of Health provides an online collection of good health practices and manuals on different topics called the Healthy Lifestyle Portal. There, users find different helpful materials on health-related themes and topics, how to manage everyday situations, sports, diet issues, etc.
It’s very useful as adults can find answers to many topics and very simple infographics on many everyday themes.
Similar tools probably exist also in your countries by state institutions or health insurances. A healthy lifestyle is not only important for you personally, but also in the interest of society. The costs for health care are enormous, especially in an ageing society. That is why there are many exciting initiatives, guides and often also free courses. Why not use them?
3. Watch out for prevention and take care about yourself when you become ill:
Government-provided health benefits and plans vary from country, so planning starts with gathering general information:
- What sort of preventive check-ups are covered by your health insurance?
- Are there recommended vaccinations for your age group, etc.?
- Are there any individual health concerns such as already existing conditions and hereditary diseases in the family?
- What health-benefitting measures are you willing to take?
Talk to your doctor to discuss your health planning and to develop a strategy.
And if you do get sick, give yourself time to relax and recover. Go to the doctor, inform yourself about the illness, stick to the medication plan, search and accept help and also make important decisions in the case of serious illnesses. Do you want the most aggressive care until the very end, or do you prefer hospice care and a do-not-resuscitate order?
What are advanced decisions?
Advanced decisions, often called living will, allow you to express your wishes to refuse medical treatment in future even if this might lead to death. They are legally binding and used in case that you cannot make or communicate decisions yourself anymore.
In many countries there are templates for this. Check websites of your Health Authorities or ask your doctor. Make sure that your wishes are known to your family and the health care professionals treating you.
The advanced decisions concern topics like clinically assisted nutrition and hydration, artificial or mechanical ventilation and antibiotics but also resuscitation.
Thinking about these questions is difficult, but it saves you and your loved ones a lot of problems and anguish when such decisions are necessary.
References & further reading
- Mental Health Foundation. How to manage and reduce stress. 2 Nov. 2016, https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-manage-and-reduce-stress.
- Together Counts. An Adult Guide to An Active, Healthy Lifestyle. National Osteoporosis Foundation, https://cdn.nof.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Adult-Guide-to-an-Active-Healthy-Lifestyle.pdf.
- World Health Organisation. 12 tips how to be healthy, https://www.who.int/healthpromotion/conferences/9gchp/infographic_health_promotion_12_tips.jpg?ua=1
- “Healthy Diet”, https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/healthy-diet