By: Thérèse Buckingham, NBC-HWC
Let’s start with a true story. About four years ago I walked behind a lady who moved with considerable difficulty down the aisle of an airplane. When we reached the door she very slowly turned around and as she carefully lowered herself into the waiting wheelchair she looked up at me and with a deep sigh said, “Don’t get old. Die young.”
This hit me like a ton of bricks. It definitely wasn’t the advice I wanted to hear. After all, I had been telling people that I was going to live to 100! However, in hindsight, I realize now that her unsolicited advice had a great deal of value. It got me thinking about the future of my health. She made me realize that I don’t just want a long life, I want a long life full of vitality. This then became the theme for my health story.
The idea is to die young as late as possible. - Ashley Montagu
Are Genes Our Destiny?
My beautiful mother recently celebrated her 98th birthday. I get comments like, “You’re lucky. You have good genes.”
That implies that I don’t need to worry about my future health.
Are my “good” genes enough to ensure that I have good health for the remainder of my life? I don’t think so.
Even though longevity runs in my family, I have learned that I shouldn’t leave my health up to chance, destiny, genes, doctors, or even a higher power. I don’t take my “good” genes for granted. I know that how I live, what I eat, how I move, my attitude, my self talk, my sleep, exposure to toxins… they all play a part in how my genes express themselves.
Genes are not your destiny or, as I’ve heard many doctors and biohackers say, “Genes load the gun, but they don’t pull the trigger.” So whether you have “good” genes or “bad” genes, you can influence how they express themselves by how you live your life. Isn’t that empowering to know?
For more on this topic listen to this podcast episode on The Doctor’s Farmacy: The Keys to Aging Well with Dr. Frank Lipman.
Author Your Own Health Story
If I’m going to live to be 100, then 50 was the year I hit middle age. By the way, that was seven years ago. We all know the image of the hill we supposedly spend the first half of our life climbing. We’re full of enthusiasm, life, ambition, strength, momentum… The world is our oyster, and we can do anything we want to do! Yay, us! Then, suddenly, we’re “over the hill”.
We’ve been led to believe that this is when everything starts declining; our health, our productivity, our value to society, our cognition, our energy, our beauty… and we can no longer do what we could when we were young. We’re expected to give in to gravity as it slowly tugs us down that imaginary hill. It’s not an encouraging picture. What if you could change that picture? What if you refused to accept that as your reality?
I believe we have been misled by a false narrative of “middle-age”. I believe it can be a period of great opportunities, inspiration, remarkable change, and even optimal health. To get there we need a growth mindset. With that, we can recognize our core values, create a clear vision, define a compelling why and make a detailed plan. We need to write our own health story.
Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you. - Garth Stein
I’ve had challenges, but I rely on my core values and a vision to guide me.
Over the past three years I’ve had multiple injuries while enjoying outdoor activities; a fractured vertebrae, a broken clavicle along with 5 broken ribs, a couple more broken ribs and most recently a fractured tibia plateau. I spent the first three and a half months of 2020 on crutches. Talk about being restricted!
You might suggest, as others have, that if I want to stay mobile, I should stop backpacking, water skiing, alpine skiing, mountain biking and trail running. However these are activities that bring me incredible joy. Being an outdoor enthusiast has been a big part of my identity for 50 years. I envision myself hiking, biking, skiing and golfing into my 60’s, 70’s, 80’s... maybe even my 90’s! To get me there I have to be mindful of practicing the daily habits that help me stay resilient, strong, flexible and balanced both physically and mentally. After each injury, I have relied on my healthy eating, sleep and meditation habits to help me heal and get moving again. I’m convinced that if I take my eyes off of my vision I’ll go a different direction.
I’m blessed to have an amazing role model. My mother had her first hole-in-one at 85, her second at 89 and she stopped playing golf at the age of 92. She still lives by herself in her own home. One of her core values has been, “everything in moderation”. She was in her 70’s when my boys were born and her vision was to create memories with them that they will remember. She achieved her vision by taking care of her health. She was able to get down on the floor to play games with them, take them on hikes and go on vacations with us. She had a clear vision and a compelling Why. Her story is one of action. If she were an advertisement, she would be the Nike “Just Do It.”
I won’t allow any limiting beliefs to stop me from my vision. That doesn’t mean I haven’t needed to adjust my expectations. For example, I haven’t been able to get back to running this year. But, I did rehabilitate my knee enough to be able to backpack, water ski and mountain bike. By the way, the quote above about the car also applies to bikes. While mountain biking, I’ve learned that if my eyes are fixed on a big rock or tree I will inevitably hit it. I’ve trained myself to look ahead on the trail to keep me on course and out of danger. A clear vision can do the same thing for your health and wellness. How might you train your eyes to keep you on your trail?
Visualize it, Want it, Plan it
What is the vision you want for your health life? There is tremendous value in taking some time to design your Wellness Vision. A Wellness Vision is a very clear picture of how you want to feel, move and look one, five, ten or even twenty years from now. It’s the vision you have of your desired future self. It incorporates your core values to bring clarity to what you want more of in your life and give you inspiration. When you’re writing your own story this is where you define your character.
With a clear vision you can identify a compelling WHY. If your vision is inspiration then your Why is motivation. A strong WHY will help you stay the course. Virtual Health Coaches Co-founder, Bree Gorman, wrote about this in a previous blog post.
Now it’s time to make a plan. A Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach can help you write your vivid vision by creating a space for you to identify your core values, what’s most important to you, affirm your Why, and then co-create the plan using your strengths and interests. It’s like writing your own owner’s manual detailing how to take care of YOU so that you can run optimally.
Be Kind to Your Future Self
With a vision, your Why, and a plan in place, it’s easier to take charge of your wellness journey. It enables you to navigate life with self-care, self-efficacy, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. It’s a way of being kind to your future self. There’s no reason why we should accept a decline in our health, mobility, or cognition as a natural part of aging. I truly believe it’s never too late to start taking care of yourself. What you do today will have a huge impact on your future health and wellness. Even what seem to be little habits you do every day to care for yourself will have a big payoff on your tomorrows.
As you move from 2020 to 2021 keep this in mind. Taking care of your health is important so that you can be the person you want to be now and in the future. In order to do this you have to recognize your ability to create the well-being you desire. To recap, here are the four steps you can take to start writing your health story.
This is where participants in my virtual group workshop start their journey. As a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach I will guide you through these steps.
“And in the end it's not the years in your life that count; it's the life in your years.”