An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
This saying never gets old — though we undoubtedly will. Which is exactly why preventing future health issues should be top of mind, no matter how healthy we are in the present.
So here is our gift to (future) you: A breakdown of what sort of preventive steps you can take now to avoid chronic health issues and unwanted diagnoses.
Why prevention is good for your health
First, let’s talk about the most obvious reason: There are many diseases and chronic health conditions that simply have no cure. And for those that do, the treatment plan can be exorbitantly expensive, the medications may result in unpleasant side effects, or both.
Imagine you could avoid these unhappy scenarios simply by living life in a way that would prevent a diagnosis in the first place. The best part? You don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to adopt a healthier lifestyle. You simply need to take care of yourself.
“The right preventative care at every stage of life can help you stay healthy and maintain an enhanced quality of life, avoid or delay the onset of disease or prevent them from worsening, and reduce overall healthcare costs.” (Source: League)
Self-care is health care
Over the past few years, the term “self-care” has become the newer, cooler way to talk about the idea of preventive health care. In some ways, that’s a good thing. It sounds easy — pleasant even. Who doesn’t love permission to pamper themselves? But in other ways, it’s not so great. It’s become an overused buzzword that is more often than not used to sell products or services.
Okay, so let’s deconstruct the term for a moment. Self-care is defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.”
So, in a nutshell, health care.
It’s just a prettier, more pleasant way of expressing something we all need to do to stay physically and mentally healthy.
So rather than think of self-care as a spa day or a weekend away, let’s think about it in practical terms. What act of self-care can you commit to every single day as a way to maintain your good health today and prevent health issues 10, 20, or even 50 years from now?
The reality is, it’s all the things we already do every day (move, eat, sleep, breathe), but with somewhat of a healthier twist. Read on to find out how (and why) self-care should be a regular part of everyone’s daily routine.
1. Exercise regularly. Moving your body helps keep blood pressure in check, putting you at a much lower risk of developing high blood pressure and an array of associated diseases. The good news is, your workout doesn’t have to be hardcore for you to reap the health benefits. Just 21 minutes of moderate movement each day — in the form of a brisk walk, even — can help you prevent health issues in the future. If you’d rather follow a fitness regimen, but find it hard to commit, make a conscious decision to fit your workout schedule into your life, rather than the other way around. It will do wonders for your motivation!
2. Eat well. Having a well-rounded diet that is low in processed foods, refined sugar and bad fats (yes, there is such a thing as good fat) is a great way to prevent chronic health issues like cancer, diabetes or osteoporosis. Just be sure to stock your pantry in a way that makes it easy to follow your new and improved diet. But here’s the thing: Don’t actually diet. When it comes to eating, follow your gut and be sure to try a lovely little thing called intuitive eating. (Also, don’t be afraid to consider supplements if your diet is missing key nutrients due to dietary restrictions or lifestyle choices.)
3. Get a good night’s sleep. Making sure you are well rested on the regular has more long-term health benefits than once thought. (Did you know that sleep deprivation is the new smoking? See #8.) From reducing inflammation (which can lead to diabetes or cancer), to maintaining a healthy heart (and reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke), to preventing breast or colon cancer, getting a good night’s sleep is key to living a preventive lifestyle. Not only that, but your body naturally repairs any damage done during the day. If that isn’t the definition of self-care, we don’t know what is! If you’re looking for new ways to sleep better, we’ve got a secret: Technology isn’t always the enemy. Check out 3 ways technology can actually help your sleep.
4. Make mental health a priority. Taking a moment to pause, breathe and be mindful is a great way to take care of both your emotional and physical health. Because mental health issues, like anxiety or depression, can result in physical symptoms, like frequent headaches, upset stomach and decreased energy levels (none of which are good for us in the long term). Even chronic stress can wreak havoc on the body, and has been linked to a myriad of diseases, like asthma, cancer, diabetes and heart disease — to name a few. Try journaling, meditation, or simple brain exercises to prioritize mental health now to keep your body healthy in the future.
5. Take care of your skin. Being sure to drink enough water and following a simple skin care routine is often all you need to maintain healthy skin — especially if you’re doing all of the above. Because guess what? Healthy skin is often a welcome byproduct of a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, good eat and sleep habits, and space to focus on our mental health. We do need to be proactive when it comes to sun care, however, as the best way to avoid a skin cancer diagnosis is to “practice safe sun” by avoiding direct sunlight during peak hours, wearing UV-resistant clothing and applying an SPF 30 sunscreen.
There you have it. Self-care is a gift to both your present and future self!