Staying healthy mentally and physically isn't simply a matter of good genes. It's a proactive project that lasts your entire life.
”Like a finely tuned car, it's important to think of health in terms of preventive maintenance,” says Charles Inlander, author of ”Family Health for Dummies.” ”By keeping your body and mind in good working order, you may delay the onset of certain diseases and conditions or even eliminate the chances they'll happen.”
Mr. Inlander offers the following suggestions to help you keep your body and mind running like a well–oiled machine.
Use the right fuel
To stay healthy over the long run, ”start with your diet,” says Mr. Inlander. ”It's the easiest thing you can control.” Every day, you have numerous opportunities to give your body good nutrition for preventive maintenance. Mr. Inlander recommends following the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid, sticking to a low–fat diet and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to reduce your risk of obesity, heart disease and cancer.
”Expand on the foods you like and look for variations,” he says. ”The idea is to fend off the feeling of deprivation by focusing on the healthy foods you can eat more of, not the not–so–healthy foods you're trying to avoid.”
Rev your engine
”People who get regular exercise are fitter and trimmer and have a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and even some cancers,” says Mr. Inlander. ”They also tire less easily, are more flexible and agile and are less prone to injury.”
In short, exercise helps keep you younger longer. But you don't have to join a health club to reap these benefits.
Even walking for 30 minutes three to four times a week at a brisk pace can boost your heart rate and help keep your joints limber, he stresses.
Need more motivation? ”Keep in mind that besides its physical benefits, exercise is also an effective stress reducer that can help fight off physical and mental illnesses, such as depression,” he says.
Tune up your social life
”Studies show that people who interact with others have less illness and are more likely to be happy,” Mr. Inlander says. All told, happiness produces endorphins, which are feel–good chemicals in your brain that reduce stress. In turn, less stress reduces the potential for physical and mental illnesses.
Don't shift into neutral
Finally, if you're diagnosed with a chronic illness, continue to be proactive so you can function normally for as long as possible.
If you develop arthritis, for instance, take up swimming. If you develop diabetes, learn how to manage your condition properly.
The point? In most cases, you can help yourself feel better. ”To optimize your health, strive to get the most out of whatever age you are, no matter what condition you're in,” Mr. Inlander says.
Wellness Library Health Ink and Vitality Communications ©2015
Control Breathing, Control Stress
You're stuck in rush–hour traffic, glancing at your car's clock every few minutes as you strain to get to work on time. You may not notice, but your breathing is shallow, your pulse rate is high, and your chest feels tight. In fact, you feel this way in many stressful situations.
Sound familiar? Modern society creates more than its share of stress. It's difficult to change some situations — but you can manage how you feel about them, experts say.
Begin with something you take for granted — your breathing. If you're on that busy highway, pay attention to what's going on around you, but pay attention to your breathing, too. It's one of the few things you can control.
”Focusing on your breathing is one of the highly effective ways of reducing stress,” says cardiologist James Rippe, M.D., author of 10 books on health and fitness, including ”Healthy Heart for Dummies.” ”It brings you into the here and now,” distracting you from your worries.
”We've become addicted to moving and thinking at hyper–speed,” adds Stephan Rechtschaffen, M.D., wellness expert and author of the book Timeshifting. ”When we're under stress, our breathing is short, high up in the lungs. More relaxed breathing doesn't rely on the chest wall, but rather on the abdomen.”
Abdominal breathing, experts say, provides the lungs with more oxygen and is more rhythmic. It's something that opera singers and other performers have known for years: Abdominal breathing allows them to take control of their breath, to sing or speak with greater power, and to help them focus on the moment.
Breathing is just the beginning. If you can adjust your breath, you can adjust other things in your life, experts say. Slow your breathing down when you walk into your office or home and you'll notice that you won't jump at the first problem that hits you. When your breath is quiet, you are quiet.
Practice Your Breathing
Believe it or not, most of us could use a lesson on how to breathe. Practice at home a few times when you're not under stress. Then, try putting these techniques into practice when a stressful situation occurs.
In a relaxed setting, take three really deep breaths, focusing on your exhalations. ”Really let it out,” says Dr. Rechtschaffen. ”It may feel unnatural at first, but stick with it.”
Now, begin focusing on where your breath is coming from, experts say. Here's one practice method:
––Sit on the edge of a chair, feet flat on the floor.
––Place one hand on your lower back and the other hand on your abdomen, with three fingers below your navel.
––As you breathe in, your abdomen should rise, like a balloon inflating.
––As you breathe out, your abdomen should fall, with the sensation that the balloon is losing its air.
Concentrate on your abdomen, not your chest. Practice from a few minutes to 20 minutes each day. Soon, it will come naturally.
Wellness Library Health Ink and Vitality Communications ©2015
Depression and Your Health
Your mind and body are intimately connected, and your overall health depends on both of them working well.
This is most evident in depression: Research shows that people who suffer from clinical depression face a higher risk for contracting certain illnesses, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
One reason for this, the NIMH says, is that depression can lead to poor physical and mental functioning; a person with depression is less likely to follow a healthy lifestyle that prevents some diseases. Also, if a person with depression has a chronic medical condition that requires a certain diet or medication, the depression may make it harder for him or her to follow the treatment plan.
Sometimes, developing a chronic condition or having a serious health problem can lead to depression. Having diabetes, for example, doubles the risk for depression, and the chances of becoming depressed increase as diabetes complications worsen, the NIMH says.
People with heart disease also are more likely to suffer from depression, and people with depression are at greater risk for developing heart disease. In addition, people with heart disease who are depressed have an increased risk for death after a heart attack. Drugs used to treat chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, can worsen or even trigger depression and other mood disorders, the NIMH says.
People who are depressed also frequently suffer from headaches and stomach problems.
How do you know if you have depression? Depression is more than a temporary attack of the blues. It is an illness that affects how you feel about yourself and how you think. Without treatment, the symptoms of depression can last for weeks or months, or even years, the NIMH says.
Fortunately, depression can be treated and managed, often with a combination of antidepressant medications and therapy.
These are the warning signs of clinical depression, according to the NIMH:
– Frequent thoughts of suicide or a suicide attempt.
– Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness and pessimism.
– An unexplained loss of appetite, with accompanying weight loss, or compulsive overeating.
– Marked, continuing restlessness and irritability.
– A gradual loss of interest in activities that used to provide enjoyment, including sex.
– Increasing difficulty in concentrating, remembering and decision–making.
Not everyone with depression has all of these symptoms. The symptoms also can vary in severity. If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your health care provider.
Coping With Major Life Changes
Major life changes such as getting a new boss or having a baby affect all aspects of your life. Whether positive or negative, change can be difficult to adjust to.
”All major changes involve a component of loss at their center,” says Cara DiMarco, Ph.D., a counselor in Oregon and author of Moving Through Life Transitions With Power and Purpose. ”That loss might involve loss of a particular routine, loss of opportunities, loss of a sense of yourself or a loss of hope.”
As a result, most people going through major life transitions can expect to feel varying levels of anxiety, stress, confusion and possibly self–doubt. These feelings should not become persistent, however, but should decrease over time. If they don't ease and your ability to function in daily life becomes significantly impaired, you may need professional help.
The adjustment period typically is uncomfortable, but you can do things to make change easier on yourself.
In the vortex of change, many people expect to go on without missing a beat, as if the change were a minor inconvenience. But this attitude isn't realistic. ”While it's essential that we're able to be productive in the midst of change, we also need to allow ourselves to not feel fully centered, to not feel absolutely on top of our game,” Dr. DiMarco says.
If you're starting a new job, for instance, and are used to performing at 95 percent, don't expect to be up to speed immediately.
Focus on the known
In the midst of change, ”people tend to over–focus on the unknown,” Dr. DiMarco says. ”This is only natural, because that's where most of their anxiety lies. But some things you just can't know until you're in the middle of the experience.”
To avoid needless worry and self–doubt about changes at hand, focus on the known elements that are present in the new situation.
Change is inevitable, so it's helpful to plan for it. ”Being prepared allows you to have more options and be aware of potential obstacles,” Dr. DiMarco says.
If you have children in high school, for instance, you know they will soon leave home –– and you'll have more time to yourself.
To establish several game plans for coping with empty–nest syndrome and making good use of your free time, sit down with someone –– a career counselor, personal counselor or trusted friend –– and use the person as a sounding board.
How do you move through change? What sorts of feelings and reactions tend to consistently recur? ”These are the kinds of questions to ask yourself when your life is stable so you can develop your own personal tool kit of coping strategies when change ensues,” Dr. DiMarco says.
Look for meaning
Change disrupts the continuity of life, but even the most difficult and traumatic changes can be useful. ”You can learn from every experience,” Dr. DiMarco says. You might have never chosen that life–changing experience or the lesson it taught you about yourself or the world, but if you can find the meaning or valuable outcome behind it, that experience will become part of your internal world, rather than an external agent acting on you.
That mind–set, Dr. DiMarco says, ”increases your sense of personal control and power. By extracting something out of change, you can create a sense of mastery.”
How to Use Your EAP
When help is needed call 800–433–2320 or text 503–980–1777. The intake counselor will ask for your name, employer and a brief description of your presenting concern. If an emergency exists you will be given immediate assistance. If your situation is not an emergency, you will be offered telephone assistance and/or in–person sessions to complete an assessment and make a referral for treatment if needed.
Meetings with your counselor are completely confidential. Your employer will not know you have used the EAP. No one will be provided any information about you without your written consent. Exceptions would occur only in the event of you being considered dangerous to yourself or someone else.
At the first appointment you should be prepared to give the counselor some background information to assist in formulating an action plan. Many people find it helpful to prepare a list of things they wish to discuss at each session.