What does it mean to be healthy?
There are many variables in the definition of health, and many different explanations for what health means to different people. An 80-year-old would most likely describe health differently than an 8-year-old.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “health” as the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit with freedom from physical disease or pain.
Health has been a lifelong passion of mine. I have always wanted to enjoy a healthy life, and I chose a career where I could help others with their health. For many years, I worked as a critical care nurse and was focused on disease and treating patients who were no longer healthy. When I transferred to Public Health Nursing, I was struck by the emphasis on preventing illness and supporting people to remain healthy. I resonated with this approach and felt aligned with the focus on wellness, as I supported people to equip themselves to invest in healthy habits and lifestyles.
I noticed the dilemma of giving out information for a healthy life and the resistance that often showed up.
There would be initial interest, and then there would be a lack of follow-through and changes in behaviour. The thing is, I saw this in myself. I had all the information I needed to be healthy, and yet, I often made choices that undermined my intention to improve my health.
I was intrigued by the question: what motivates me to be healthy?
The first step for me was to get clear on what I wanted. I knew I wanted to be healthy, and underneath that knowledge was the bigger question: why did I want to be healthy?
This is a significant question for each of us to answer. Each person will have their own reason. Here is what I discovered for myself: I want to be healthy in order to live a life in which I am energetic, optimistic, pain-free, playful, calm, and grounded for as long as I live.
Your “why” probably looks different than mine. There is no right or wrong. The important thing is that you are committed to your personal reasons for being healthy.
As I reflect on this, I realize the power of my thoughts.
They are the precursor to my actions, and often I am unaware of what I am thinking about. I mindlessly go about my day, and then wonder at the end of the day why I made the choices I did. Choosing a powerful “why” is the secret to being willing to notice my thoughts and change them if necessary. I chose to become an observer of my thoughts, and experiment with what might happen if I changed how I thought about my health.
This is an ongoing journey in my life, and I invite you to join me as I share what happened.
1. I used to think about my body as my enemy—something I must subdue and control in order to get it into shape or to reach that “perfect weight.” My relationship with my body was a constant battle. I rarely looked into the mirror without telling myself all the things that were wrong with my body.
I remember the session years ago, when my life coach and I were exploring the concepts of body image and self-acceptance. She asked me, “What would happen if you would take a breath and thank your body for all it has done for you over the years?”
This simple suggestion stopped me in my tracks. I started listing all the gifts my body has given me over the years. I was showering love and gratitude on my body, and no longer felt the tension of enmity that used to be the norm. I could see myself being in partnership with my body. This has become a regular practice for me as I walk in nature or before I fall asleep. Thanking my body fills my heart with joy and love, which adds to my emotional health.
2. I became aware of the language that I used around making healthy choices. I stopped using words like deprivation when I eliminated certain foods from my diet. Instead, I said I was devoted to nourishing my body by choosing foods that were life-giving. Rather than thinking about what I was giving up, I focused on what I was adding to my eating plan.
3. I used to punish myself for failing to stay on a plan, whether it was exercise or eating. I would get angry at myself and throw up my hands in despair. Why bother even trying to be healthy? It’s no use. I can’t do this. Then I would either starve myself or binge on junk food.
I am choosing a different approach these days. I am taking a playful attitude as I experiment with new foods that are filled with nutrients. I am kind to myself when I mess up. I acknowledge that I can start again and keep going on this path to health.
4. In the past, I was quick to blame others for my situation. I would rant about my family history, my job schedule, or the cost of healthy food as an excuse for not caring for my body with regular movement or nurturing meals. I saw myself as a victim and gave up on my goals to be healthy. I would think to myself, “I should eat more healthy. I must work out more.”
Now I remind myself that I am 100 percent responsible for my experience. Even though the external situation may not change, my attitude does. I eliminated the words “should” and “must.” Instead, I thought about the power of having choice and creating the life I wanted to live. I started saying, “I choose to eat more greens. I want to be more active.” No one else is going to ensure that I remain healthy and strong all my life. Once I realized it was up to me, I changed my way of being. I could be the healthy person I wanted to be.
5. I am not a patient person. I used to think it took too long to see results. I thought to myself, I will never reach my goals—my life will be an endless treadmill of failure. It doesn’t matter if I miss a day on my plan to be healthy. Who will notice anyway?
I now know that it takes time to develop consistency. Each action done regularly does make a difference. I am learning to celebrate each small step along the way. My actions today are an investment in my future. They matter!
6. I would sabotage myself by comparing my progress with that of others. It was a recipe for despair when I did this. I would read about the magic plan that worked for this particular person. Why didn’t it work for me? I would never be healthy and fit and strong at this rate.
Once I accepted myself as unique and a woman who could trust her own wisdom, I let go of comparing myself to others. It was up to me to find a way that worked for me. There is no “one-size-fits-all” recipe for health. I could experiment and trust that I would discover the path to health that was mine.
7. I never used to slow down and pay attention to my body. If I had an upset stomach, I took some antacid pills. A headache, and I popped some Tylenol. A sore back meant I better take more medication and keep on going. Life was too short to stop and listen to my body’s messages that changes were required for me to enjoy renewed health.
One of the things I am realizing is that my body has its own wisdom. It is whispering messages to me all the time. When I ignore it, the messages get louder. The pain may get stronger. I now know that pain is a message, and I am better off to pay attention. I seek professional help, I rest when necessary, and I practice patience. I focus on what I have control over, and I accept what is happening to me. Health includes my emotional state, and I am much more peaceful when I surrender to the present reality.
The changes that I describe did not happen instantly.
The truth is, I am continually being reminded to change my thoughts and refocus on loving myself along this journey.
I encourage you to be patient as you consider possibly changing how you think about your health. There is help available. Life is not meant to be experienced alone. This is especially true these days when so many of us are isolated and distanced from family and dear friends.