In this article I want to ask you a question that, on the surface, appears pretty simple. That question is; are you responsible for your health?
I say simple because the answer seems obvious. “Of course I am responsible for my health”.
Yet, in order to be responsible for your health, it stands to reason we have to act responsible.
So then, this leads us to the next question – Do you act responsibly to maintain good health?
The Cost Of Lifestyle Related Diseases
In the UK we have free healthcare known as the NHS. The news stories always paint the NHS as stretched to its limits.
No beds & A&E resembling a warzone with its chaos. The solution regularly falls to the area of – more money needed.
However, let’s take it from another perspective. In 2016 Public Health England announced that health problems related to poor diet, drinking and smoking costs the NHS £11bn a year.
The Head of the NHS said, more is spent on treatments related to overweight & obesity than is spent on the police or fire service (£16bn a year).
According to the British Medical Association, Annual deaths related to poor diet stands at around 70,000 a year. This represents around 12% of total annual deaths.
For the living, two thirds of adults are overweight. This appears to flow through to children as well due to a third of children being overweight by the time they leave primary school.
The Cost of Physical Inactivity on Health
Physical inactivity is estimated to cost Primary Care Trusts (PCT) around £940 million in England alone.
This is in part due to physical inactivity. This has an influence on the onset of heart disease, cancers and type 2 diabetes.
It is widely seen you can reduce the risk through a quality diet, good sleep and low stress levels. However, it is easy to also pose the counter argument that it can also be genetic.
So, lets points to a condition that is solely lifestyle related; type 2 diabetes.
Based on figures from 2012 (so could be even more now) the annual cost of treating type 2 diabetes is £11.7 billion. This includes drugs and in/out patient treatments.
Interestingly the annual cost of treating type 1 diabetes (which is genetic) stands at just over £1 billion. It is predicted the type 2 diabetes costs will rise to £17 billion by 2035.
So, we spend up to 11 TIMES MORE treating a condition that is caused through lifestyle choices than we do on its genetically contracted sister.
The Domino Effect Of Your Body
The challenge with your body is, most conditions do not happen in isolation. If you are overweight, you increase your chances of heart disease. If you have heart disease you will be medicated.
With Medication, it is common you get side effects outside of what you are taking the medication for. As a result you may end up taking medication to counter the side effects of the medication.
When you are overweight, you can be placing a higher burden on your joints making it more likely of getting joint issues. You may end up getting medicated for this as well.
This is not unusual.
You don’t need me to tell you your health is your life blood.
Consistently good health enables your weight to be stable. It helps prevent ‘opportunist illness’ (colds & flus) by making your immune system iron clad and it goes a long way towards keeping your outside appearance (skin, hair teeth) from premature aging.
So why can health so easily fall into the background? Why do some not think about health until it is too late? Through conversations with clients and observations I have come to 3 reasons:
1 Our Perception of Time:
Imagine I followed you around each and every day pointing a gun to your head.
The only way I pull the trigger is if you engage in unhealthy behaviours (long periods of inactivity, abundant processed food eating, smoking, heavy drinking). The chances are you’d lead a pretty healthy life.
The reason being is the threat (gun) is immediate. Yet, for many, health is some abstract concept whose consequences stretch very far into the future.
I remember watching a documentary about areas around the world that had high levels of people living to over 100 years old.
Not being kept alive by high levels of medication and looked after in care homes but living with all their faculties in working order.
102 Year Old Vs. 50 Year Old
One part of the documentary showed a 102 year old lady living in Okawara mowing her lawn and living independently. Next, they showed a 50 year old from Glasgow who was recovering from his second heart attack.
It would be interesting to see what the 50 year olds representation of health was.
In a meta analysis looking at over 30 studies spanning 10,000 participants, a strong correlation was found between obesity and the inability to delay gratification.
The Link Between Obesity & Gratification
The researchers found those categorised as obese were more likely to opt for smaller immediate rewards than a larger future reward.
This has large ramifications because the concept of immediate vs delayed gratification affects every single human at various parts of the day, week and year;
“I could eat the lunch I made at home or I could go to the buffet with the others.”
“That cake looks amazing but I’ve got that birthday meal this evening”
“I know I’m supposed to go to the gym, but I just want to go home & crash on the sofa”
“I could get my 7 hours shut eye or I could watch another 2 episodes.”
In order not to succumb to immediate gratification consistently requires you to value health in a way that it influences your decisions.
How Health Can Influence Your Food Choices
For example, let’s say when choosing what food to eat on a daily basis, the main factors that influence your decision on what to eat is convenience and price.
If that is the case, it won’t matter how many calories are in the food or what the food is made of. As long as it is edible (processed food is specifically designed to be deliciously edible) it will be an option for you to eat.
If one of the factors that influenced what you ate was ongoing good health, price and convenience could still be important but you will be less inclined to get take aways 4 days a week and see pot noodle as a realistic lunch option.
Why? Because you will be more acutely aware of the long term consequence (perception of time) of eating in his way.
2 Our Perception of What is Necessary
“Ok, I want to get healthier. Does that mean I’m going to be eating salads and sweating on a treadmill for the rest of my life”
Already, you know this person isn’t creating an image of health in their mind that is sustainable!
We will only do something long term if there is significant enough drive to do it. Why does an olympic athlete get up every day at some ungodly hour, train for many hours a day where no one is watching, seeing their struggle etched on their face?
Because they have that image in their mind of standing on the podium with a gold medal in their hand.
How Do You Think About Health?
Health tends to be an abstract concept that people rarely think about unless they are in the health field or in a GP surgery being told you got heart disease.
The most explicit form of health that gets thought about most is weight. As you think about your own experiences you can probably bring to mind the most common ways of looking at what is necessary to stay at a healthy weight;
“It is a constant struggle”
“The food i need to eat to lose weight is so boring”
“I’m just not a gym person. I start but I find an hour on the treadmill is so mindnumbing”
One of the things I notice when talking with people who wish to lose weight is about how they frame what is necessary in order to change.
Change Starts With The First Step
It is common to see the process as something massive. Naturally this can create a stuck state where the solution seems impossible. It is similar to if you are in debt. Paying off £5 a month seems futile if you at £80K in debt.
However, you have to start somewhere. My job is to break it down into manageable steps so they feel the solution is more achievable.
The Cumulative Effect of Changing Health
An increasing in health is cumulative, meaning one action builds momentum for the next. For example, I had a client who was overweight, over 50 and over worked; 3 factors that spelled trouble for his health.
Some of his big vices were alcohol, crisps and takeaways. If I said to him straight away “right no crisps, no alcohol and no takeaways” we would have got no where.
So, the only thing I asked him to do to start with was be more conscious about what he ate and reduce the frequency of his crisp eating. He agreed to just having one bag of crisps a week.
A couple of months later he was only having one takeaway a month and was doing one 24 hour fast a week, something he would never had agreed to at the very beginning.
Health progress is cumulative.
3 Our Perception of What is Important
2 factors that will heavily influence what we put our attention on; what we believe to be true and what we see as important.
A mother might be polite to everyone even those who are rude to her (she believes in politeness to all), but turn into a Lion if anyone lays a finger on her children (the most important part of her life).
It is true for health. Our perception of importance will greatly influence how we approach health.
Its More Than Being Logical About Health
I don’t mean “yea, health is important” which is a logical acknowledgement that health is something we are supposed to feel is important. I mean, the perception that health is important to you with every fibre of your being.
A statement that I commonly hear with new clients is “I try to be good but then find myself eating the bad food”.
I then ask them “Do you smoke”? If they say “no” I respond “What is stopping you going into a supermarket and finding yourself buying a pack of cigarettes”. They look at me and say “Well, I just wouldn’t it’s disgusting”.
We don’t forget to enact the things we perceive as important. If you want to live a healthy life, it is not enough to logically see health as important.
4 Factors That Influence Health
It has to be represented as important in every fibre of your being. I do not mean turning into a health nut where you take up Yoga, turn vegan and only wear hemp clothing. I mean living your life so you fulfil 4 factors on a regular basis:
- Keeping your weight consistently in the normal levels (use BMI & Hip to waist ratio to be clear on this)
- Keep inactivity to an absolute minimum. Move consistently throughout the day.
- Maintain a strong social network of family & friends.
- Keep stress levels low & have coping mechanisms in place.
These 4 guidelines are the minimum. The trick to making this consistent for you is creating a mental & embodied (emotional & feeling) representation of WHY this is important for you and the CONSEQUENCE of both doing it and not doing it.
From reading this, it doesn’t take much to realise I am a big proponent of self responsibility.
I truly believe you get more power by asking “what can I do” before expecting something else (society, other people, the world) to change first. Even if it doesn’t feel like it at first.
However, when I see a 40 stone individual who can hardly move and they have to bulldoze half their house to get them out. When I see a 50 year old who for the last 30 years has smoked 60 a day but now has heart disease & type 2 diabetes I recognise these need help.
It is not enough to say “you’re on your own”. We are very lucky to have a functioning health service and they will be treated.
Yet, for those not at that point I have 2 rules of thumb:
- Never get to the point where you’re at this stage
- Recognise you can’t change the past, but you can decide what you do next.