Finding Health and Balance in Every Season

                Spring is on its way! Daffodils and crocuses, long-since having tested the February frost with their green shoots, are now in full bloom. Quick on the heels of these first flowers come bees and other insects, eager for their first nectar of the new year. Not far behind the bees are the rest of us humans, energized by the light, increasing warmth, and new life all around us. I often speak of seasons when I write about health, because they play such a significant role in our energy and activities.

                We also pass through seasons of life – childhood, adolescence, our first job, a change in career path, parenthood, retirement, and many more. With each change in season, the activities that help you to maintain a healthy balance may change. But I encourage each of you to create a general framework for your own health maintenance.

                One framework that I use with patients and have found to be applicable to many seasons of life and seasons of year are the six pillars of lifestyle medicine. Lifestyle medicine is an area of medicine focused on wellness, balance, and prevention – or what I like to call “all the things that really matter.”

                In coming articles, I will delve deeper into each of these six pillars. In no particular order of importance, they are:

                Social connection: This could be your bingo group, your faith community, or those who you volunteer with. Feeling that we are a part of something bigger and buffering ourselves against social isolation and loneliness has many proven health benefits.

                Exercise: We often think of exercise primarily in its modest role in weight loss and weight maintenance. However, physical activity has so many psychological and physical benefits that are often overlooked.

                Sleep: Perhaps more elusive than ever in the digital age where you reach for your phone to set your alarm clock and find yourself scrolling on social media or reading a news article about conflict abroad. Sleep deprivation not only shortens life expectancy and has a negative impact on cardiovascular risk, but also impacts our ability to cope with everything else that we are dealing with in our lives.

                Nutrition: Nutrition is incredibly important in the world of wellness. I would guess that at least 80% of the illnesses that I see in clinic can be positively impacted by changes in diet. Whether you are looking to lose weight, avoid pro-inflammatory foods, lower your cholesterol, or give your struggling pancreas a break, what we put in our body makes all of the difference.

                Stress management: Similar to sleep, how we handle stress has a huge impact on the rest of our healthy habits. Unfortunately, most of us don’t learn breathing techniques in school. A favorite question that I ask my pediatric patients is – “when you feel mad or sad, what do you do to feel better?” I have many patients age 50 and beyond that have difficulty with this question.

                Avoiding risky substances: Everything in moderation, including moderation. One season of life where I have seen this to be particularly difficult is in retirement. With an abruptly wide-open schedule, it is easy for an evening beer to become two afternoon cocktails followed by a nightcap, and before long your mood, sleep, liver, or heart suffer.

                When a new season is on the horizon, whether retirement or springtime, I encourage each of you to sit down with a notepad and jot down a score of 1-10 for how well you think you are doing in each of these areas. For numbers higher than 6, ask yourself why you gave it such a high score and celebrate that win. For numbers less than 5, brainstorm how you might set bite-size goals to improve your wellness in this area.

                For most of us, our physical activity routine does not look the same in the winter as it does in the summer. Our community network does not look the same at work as it does in retirement. When you enter a new chapter, it is a wonderful time to briefly pause and ask yourself – what am I doing well for my health, where can I improve, and what do I need to adapt to fit this coming season?

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