Statistically Speaking: How Does Your Lifestyle Affect Your Health?

by Michele Howe

Like most people, when I hear about an alarming new health trend, I check myself to see if I’m part of that unfortunate national shift. And when I read the statistic that more than 80% of all visits to a doctor are lifestyle-related, and in up to 90% of these incidences stress plays a significant role, I was at first skeptical, then disheartened. Consider that lifestyle-related conditions are typically those related to high-blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and high cholesterol. While I can happily say I don’t suffer from any of those illnesses, I am unhappily part of the majority of individuals who deal with chronic stress. Built for tough times, sometimes

Our bodies can handle acute episodes of stress—those emergency occurrences when our adrenaline pumps through our system to cope with emergency situations that face us. But chronic stress takes a significant toll on the body and tempts individuals to fall into unhealthy lifestyle habits. Those moment-by-moment choices we make without even giving them a second thought create a chain of health issues—good or bad—that either enhance or detract from our overall quality of life.

If we aim for 100% perfection and miss our mark (and we will), it becomes too physically, emotionally and mentally burdensome to continue making good health choices. However, if we adjust our thinking to an 80/20 plan, we tip the odds in favor of long-term success. Instead of making unrealistic demands on ourselves and our lifestyle, it is far more effective to ease into reasonable dietary, exercise, and sleeping patterns.

Physicians see this trend toward extremes and failure rates in their patients every day. Either patients come in for every little ache and pain, or they wait until it’s almost too late for a cure. And, as with any extreme approach, it’s almost always a failure waiting to happen. Where people fail most is when they adopt the all or nothing approach to health, saying to themselves, “If I can’t do it right all of the time, I give up!” The fact is we can aim for the ideal, but we live in the real world. And none of us can afford to give up when we fail, because fail we will.

Avoid becoming a statistic

-De-stress your healthy lifestyle choices and beat the statistics. Make an 80/20 plan for eating, exercising and sleeping. Write down realistic goals for all three areas, including a 20% margin for relaxing these standards when needed.

-Find ways to make getting healthy more fun. This can be as simple as taking a cooking class or joining a dance class with a friend.

-Make note of your triumphs when you hit a low moment and want to give up. Everyone wants to give up at times—even the fittest folks you know have days when they struggle to stay at it.

-Think as kindly of yourself and your achievements as you do of others and theirs. Give yourself credit for taking responsibility for your health. That’s the first and most important step that many people never even consider.

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