Living a healthy life is fairly simple in concept, but it isn’t always easy. I have lost count of how many patients tell me “I know exactly what I need to do to be healthy but I don’t do them”. Our modern day environment of convenience makes it easy to fall into a default mode of sedentary living and caloric overconsumption. Research has shown that 80% of all chronic disease is caused by modifiable risk factors such as excessive caloric intake, malnutrition, physical inactivity, tobacco use and unmanaged stress. Our health care system should be prioritizing and focusing on these areas as the cause of chronic disease can also be the cure.
Corporate interests with financial motives are not typically looking out for the best interest of public health. As consumers, our psychology can be exploited which drives our behavior and buying patterns. Big Food, Big Pharma, and Big Media are powerful forces and they are all vying for our attention and dollar. It is important to be mindful of the coercive effects that these messages have on our subconscious.
Watch closely, the next time you view a Big Pharma television commercial promoting the latest and greatest medication. The marketing strategy is to convince the audience that a pill can be the cure of a medical problem. Suffering and sadness are emphasized at the beginning of the commercial then the clouds part and the sun shines down on a new renewal on life. We are lead to believe by these types of advertisements that our quality of life can be restored with a short-cut without change in the behavior that contributed to the dysfunction in the first place.
Behavior modification is one of the most challenging aspect of a doctors job, yet
is critically important to achieve desired health outcomes. A physician can work with a patient to develop the perfect treatment plan, but if the individual does become empowered and commit to the process, results will be bleak. I tell my patients that they are the true healers and I am simply here as a guide to support them along their healing journeys.
For better or worse, every decision we make is fueled by motivational factors whether it be waking up at 5am for a morning workout or eating a doughnut in the office break room. We are the architects of our lives and the choices we habitually make have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing.
Effective and sustained change requires a meaningful “why” to disrupt our habituated patterns. Why do you want to lose 25 pounds of weight? Why are you consider-ing a non-opioid approach to manage your pain? Why are you motivated to lowering your blood sugar, blood pressure or cholesterol? It is common to struggle with change when we do not have a reason to change. Changing habits nearly always results in some level of resistance. These barriers to change are very strong forces and can be very difficult to overcome. When challenges and temptations arise, remembering our “why” gives us strength, resilience and discipline. We are more powerful than many of us recognize and anything is possible when we take full accountability of our actions. The choices that we make each and every day of our lives has a direct impact on our current state of health. This suggests that the trajectory of our health can be modified with consistent effort.
The lifestyle curve is an important concept that I share with many of my patients. If our health status is represented graphically, the longer we sustain an effort (ranging from days to decades represented on the x-axis) at optimizing a pillar of health (regular exercise, clean eating, stress management, or sleep quality represented on the y-axis), the more area under this curve is highlighted. Anyone can achieve a behavior change for days to weeks. The true challenge arises from maintaining this effort consistently for months to years, this is where the magic happens. This exercise reinforces the importance of consistent effort to modify long term health outcomes. It is impossible to be perfect, but if we sustain our effort and remind ourselves of our “why” when we face obstacles and challenges, there is a much higher probability that we will have a more ideal body composition, avoid the development of chronic disease, live happier lives, maintain a higher quality of life and live longer.
How we view the world and behave within it is a matter of choice. When we combine mental strength with continuous effort anything is possible. The choices we make are powerful, so choose wisely.