by Shani K. Collins
The holidays are fast approaching, and many people are looking for ways to become healthier in the New Year. However, to become healthy in a safe and efficient manner, you must start with one essential thing: a goal. Diet pills, weight-loss drinks, and “quick-fix” diets are trending and may offer you quick results. However, when it comes to your health, it is best to have a plan of action that will help you safely achieve your health goal, and maintain long-lasting results.
To give you a personal example of goal-setting, in February 2012, I visited my primary care physician for a routine physical, and expressed to her my concern about losing the weight I had gained since becoming a full-time doctoral student. My hectic schedule was impacting my ability to be consistent with a diet and exercise regimen; therefore, I gained weight. My doctor firmly said: “If you want to change, you just have to do it.” She was right. After discussing my health with her, I set the personal goal of returning to my “pre-Ph.D. program” weight and clothing size. With my weight-loss concept in mind, I established the goal of losing 20 pounds by the end of 2012. I even gave my goal a catchy title: “Down by 20 in 2012,” and used the social networking site, Facebook, to create an online photo journal that documented my health and wellness journey through pictures. The journal includes pictures of the foods I typically eat as well as the physical activities I frequently engage in.
To accomplish the goal of losing 20 pounds, I decided to do the following things: chose leaner, low-fat food options, cut back on my fast food intake, and consistently engage in physical activities. To ensure that I adhered to the physical fitness component of my “Down by 20 in 2012” goal, I committed to running six 5K races in 2012. I also committed to engaging in other sorts of cardio-related activities like powerwalking, swimming, and weight lifting. Since March 2012, I have run nine 5K races, and lost over 15 pounds. In short, I exceeded my physical fitness goal, and am will have achieved my weight loss goal by the close of the year. I have lost weight at my own pace, and have done it my own way. Several of my Facebook friends indicated that they were inspired by my health and wellness journey, and decided to set their own fitness goals. I encourage you to do the same.
To become a healthier you, first, consult with your primary care physician about your health. Have a routine physical to obtain accurate blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index, and blood glucose level readings. This important step will help your doctor and you determine where you are on the health spectrum, and decide where you need to be. In addition to knowing your numbers, ask your doctor to explain how high or low numbers may positively or negatively impact your health. For example, having high cholesterol may lead to your having a heart attack or a stroke; whereas, extremely low blood glucose levels could lead to a coma.
Second, do not let the “fear of knowing” prevent you from taking control of your health. Get the facts, and if your doctor determines that your health is not where it needs to be, take immediate action; do not wait. Many people wait for change to happen, and while they wait, their health suffers. Be confident in your ability to change the course of your health.
Third, once you understand your health numbers and have your doctor’s recommendations for improving your health, set your own personal health goal and establish objectives to help you meet your goal. For instance, if your doctor determines that your blood pressure is too high, a goal statement would be: “I want to lower my blood pressure.” The objective or means through which you would meet your goal might involve you modifying your diet, eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking, exercising more frequently, and using stress management techniques.
Be sure to make your objectives specific. For example, a very specific health objective might state: “To lower my blood pressure, I will not put salt on my food,” “To lower my blood pressure, I will read the sodium content labels on all foods, especially on pre-packaged meals,” or “To lower my blood pressure, I will take a 40 minute walk three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.” Adding a time frame to the goal is equally helpful. One may state: “I want to lower my blood pressure by my next doctor’s visit which is three months away.” By having very specific objectives, you hold yourself accountable. Moreover, you are able to accurately develop a health plan of action that is realistic enough for you to implement, and allows you to measure your progress toward your goal by evaluating your actions.
After setting your health goal, and specifying your objectives, the final step is to implement the objectives. This simply means doing what you have set out to do within your designated time frame. Beginning a new health regimen can be difficult, and not committing to your health goal may seem easier than striving to meet it. However, to overcome the difficulty of getting started, identify a positive support system of friends and family members who will encourage you onward. Look for free downloads and cellular phone apps that offer pointers and tips for achieving your specific health goal. Use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find health-related social support groups. Also, quote positive affirmations about your reasons for becoming healthy such as: “I want to stop putting myself last, and change my lifestyle” or “I want to live to see my children graduate.” Doing so will keep you motivated while on your health journey.
For me, being healthy is personal. I am from the Mississippi Delta, a region that is filled with beautiful culture, history, and some of the best people on God’s green earth. The Delta is also a medically underserved area where people are sick and are affected by strokes, heart attacks, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failure, and other chronic health conditions. The health statistics are troubling in Mississippi, but also throughout the United States. Sadly, we are becoming a nation of sick people who are dying at alarming rates from preventable diseases. Many of the persistent and chronic health diseases we see among Americans are directly related poor lifestyle choices.
Knowing this, I issued a personal challenge to myself to always be a part of the solution, not the problem. When it comes to changing my health, I am starting with the woman in the mirror: me. I am holding myself accountable for my own health. I am on a personal quest to learn new ways to eat right, to exercise, and to take better care of myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Additionally, I plan to use my doctoral education and knowledge of health disparities to encourage others to do the same.
In closing, the only person responsible for your health is you. In the New Year, I encourage you to prioritize yourself by visiting your doctor, setting a health goal, and making the necessary lifestyle changes to ensure that you are living a full, healthy life. True change starts when we hold ourselves accountable for our actions. True change starts with the woman or man in the mirror. That person is you.
Shani K. Collins is a college instructor at the University of Alabama and Shelton State Community College, a freelance writer, a health educator, and a senior-level social work doctoral student and master of social work degree candidate at the University of Alabama. You may visit her at www.shanicollins.com