Healthful habits, once they take root, can bear lifelong fruit for you and your loved ones. But given the vast array of medical information available, the challenge of knowing just what to do can be daunting — Where to begin?
Consider the story of Benjamin Franklin, whose fervor for self-improvement drove his success in science, industry, diplomacy and politics. Seeing that his character was his to mold, he created a system to strive toward continuous moral improvement.
At the age of 20, he picked 13 virtues — like temperance, silence and frugality — and made a daily diary to record his violations of each. Even if he never achieved perfection, the system Franklin devised shows how attitude and planning can make a difference.
And what Franklin learned about life is just as applicable to your health. You don’t have to achieve his precision, but setting up a personal system to improve your health can pay dividends.
Consider making a New Year’s resolution to continuously improve your health, says Rosemary D. Laird, MD, MHSA, executive medical director of the AdventHealth, formerly Florida Hospital, for Seniors program.
“A little work each month can really pay off in a big way,” she says. “It can help you get into the habit of seeing your health as something you need to pay attention to and can change for the better.”
To guide patients through the task, Dr. Laird has created a Top 12 Calendar of Health with a different area of focus each month. Spend time reviewing each area and improving your habits over the year. Keep in mind, after January, where you are to take stock and plan out the rest of the year, there is no “correct” calendar for everyone. If you have priorities that need to get addresses sooner, feel free to adapt it to your own health needs. But do something each month!
January: Take Stock and Plan for Success
Start the year thinking about your health and healthcare. Create a file with a list of your medical conditions, medications, doctors or other therapists, and appointments. Set a plan for the coming year.
February: Move It or Lose It
For most of us, exercise doesn't just happen. Make a plan, and tell your friends and family about it. They'll keep you honest - and maybe they'll join you.
March: Protect your Heart
Lifestyle choices can make or break a heart. Plan ways to eat more fruits and vegetables, relax, exercise, keep a check on blood pressure, and avoid smoking. If you’re not seeing a doctor regularly, consider scheduling an appointment to discuss heart health.
April: Think about it
Like a muscle grows when you use it, you can improve your ability to think, learn and remember by exercising our brain. Dr. Laird recommends a challenging intellectual activity five times a week. Learn some dance steps, do a word search or try a Sudoku puzzle.
May: Have "The Conversation" and Get it in Writing
Getting an advanced care directive means your wishes will be honored if you become unable to communicate your preferences yourself. Talk to your doctor about getting it in writing.
June: The Heat is on, Drink Up
As the summer sets in, make it a habit to drink plenty of water. Did you know, even mild dehydration can harm your ability to think and maintain balance.
July: Keep Medications in Check
Medications can be vital to health, but they have risks. To ensure that you are taking the medications you need — and they are working safely — review your list once a year with your doctor or pharmacist.
August: Nutrition: Think Mediterranean
As CREATION Life teaches, nutrition is the body’s fuel. Consider the “Mediterranean diet,” which is heavy on vegetables, legumes, fruits, fish, olive oil and light on saturated fat, dairy, meat and poultry. Studies have shown those on this diet have lower risks for Alzheimer’s disease and vision loss from “macular degeneration.”
September: Budget your health
Health care can be one of the largest expenses in retirement. Take time to review your insurance and healthcare expenses with an eye on the future.
October: Moods Matter
Your emotional state can influence your health. Relaxation can lower blood pressure and reduce stress, while anger can reduce your body’s ability to heal and ward off illness. Make plans to lower stress.
November: Blueprint for Caregiving
Many of us help our loved ones with their healthcare. It’s an important act of love, but needs to be managed well. If possible, talk to your loved one about what level of care he or she wants, have family meetings to share information, and be sure to give yourself a break at times.
December: Celebrate you!
Feeling good about yourself will help you turn managing your health from a burden to a blessing. Make time to be happy and live your fullest life.
Take some time to review your achievements in the previous month. Even if you weren’t perfect, your review will spot ways to do better next year.
Each month, we will post a guide to each month’s theme with examples of ways to carry it out.
Why a system?
Many people see their health as something that is tracked in a doctor’s office. But studies have shown that most of your health — up to 80 percent— is set by other factors. These include your income, education, employment, your relationships and access to healthy food, and health habits.
This means you can change your outlook on health. Though some illness comes without warning, much of our health is within our control.
AdventHealth’s CREATION Life principles teach that people who believe they are in control over their own lives are healthier and live longer.
Moreover, creating a system helps you make the most of your medical appointments — and gives you goals to reach toward during the months in between.
Finding a partner in whole health
Dr. Laird has plenty of personal experience in personal improvement. Above her home computer, she keeps a copy of “10 Secrets to Success.” With tips such as “How You Think is Everything,” “Take Action” and “Be Persistent and Work Hard,” the paper is a reminder of the value of continuous improvement.
“It reminds me of the value of naming the challenge, identifying steps in a difficult process, and ultimately finding the oft-untapped potential of renewed effort,” Dr. Laird says.
Remember to check back here for updates as we walk you through tips to make the most out of each month’s theme. And if you miss a month, don’t worry: Even Franklin wrote that his task gave him “more difficulty than I had imagined.”
Dr. Laird is a board-certified geriatrician with more than 20 years of experience who can partner with you to take control over your health. She provides specialty consultation for those 65 years and better. Consider calling to schedule an appointment about an area of your health you want to discuss in depth.
Her team at Centre for Senior Health in Winter Park is focused on getting to know both their patients and the caregivers so critical to their quality of life. Start planting seeds now, as even small efforts will pay off once you begin to see your health as something you can control.