You need to prioritize your physical health because you can only get by on survival mode for so long before you start breaking down. Trust me. I know.
Setting goals for our physical health is just as important as setting goals for our emotional health. This month’s Self-Care Sunday series is filled with hacks to help you set physical health goals and meet them in creative ways.
“Let’s go for a hike,” Pedro suggested.
The first day of summer vacation had arrived, and nine months of cancer caregiving had wiped me out emotionally. A leisurely walk in woods sounded like the perfect antidote. “Sounds like fun,” I agreed.
“Where to,” he asked.
“Let’s ask the girls where they want to go.” I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to make a hiking destination decision.
When we asked them, they suggested hiking up towards Mt. Ellis, a local landmark. “As long as you don’t want to hike to the top,” I told everyone.
Pedro snorted with laughter. “Look at me.” He gestured towards his still-skinny frame. “I’ll feel good if I make it a mile up the trail!”
In the five months since his stem-cell transplant he had gained back 25 pounds of the 60 he’d lost during cancer. I hoped he could make it a mile up the trail.
It turns out, I should have worried more about ME making it a mile up the trail. I knew I had gained weight (the 60 pounds Pedro lost, I gained) and hadn’t taken care of myself physically for over a year.
As the girls darted ahead, and Pedro hiked with brisk determination, I lagged behind. Just putting one foot in front of the other on an uphill trajectory had me gasping for breath. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done more than walk two blocks to work each day.
I mourned my loss of physical health and knew the time had come to make some changes in my life. I needed to prioritize my physical health before I lost it completely.
The Long Road to Physical Health
I didn’t change my habits overnight (small changes work better), in fact, it took almost two years to feel physically fit again. But I knew my why. I knew why I wanted to regain my physical health.
I hated knowing I couldn’t keep up with our girls. If we didn’t spend time with them outside doing fun activities, who would model that for them? I wanted to swing from grapevines with my grandkids one day. But my lifestyle at the time only allowed me to swing shopping bags as I lumbered to the parking lot.
I had fond memories of hiking, bicycle riding, backpacking, and playing outdoors as a kid. As a young married couple, Pedro and I bought mountain bikes and hiked. I also took up running. If I wanted our girls to have an active childhood, I had to take control of my life and prioritize my own physical health.
Once I knew my why, I found it easier to begin my journey. I bought a pedometer and challenged myself to take 10,000 steps a day. Pedro read a book on eating healthier, and we slowly cut out refined products from our diet. Most days, the whole family walked together in the evenings.
We bought a high-energy German Shepherd puppy who did her best to make sure I got my 10 thousand steps each day. We went hiking, camping, and canoeing. Slowly, I started to have more energy and feel better. I also discovered that my mild depression started to ease.
But it took years to regain complete health.
Head Knowledge and Heart Knowledge Don’t Always Agree
This interactive body map showing the relationship between physical inactivity and the ways you endanger your health might surprise you.
Or not. I grew up knowing the importance of a healthy diet and regular exercise, but head knowledge and heart knowledge don’t always agree with each other. These tips for prioritizing your physical health will help you start your journey.
1. Know Your Why
I couldn’t start prioritizing my physical health until I figured out my emotional buy-in.
Somewhere in the motherhood-work-full-time-take-care-of-everyone-and-suddenly-my-husband-has-cancer years, I lost sight of the vibrant, active, healthy person of my childhood and teens. I wanted to find her.
Don’t get me wrong. No one has ever accused me of being skinny. Healthy, svelte, flexible, and energetic, yes. But I’d lost that identity because I didn’t make keeping it a priority. I somehow thought that motherhood meant a slow creep towards middle age, a thick waist, and frumpyhood.I thought that motherhood meant a slow creep towards middle age, a thick waist, and frumpyhood. #physicalhealth #goals #selfcare Click To Tweet
But that vision of myself, my healthy, vibrant self, swinging from grapevines with grandchildren cackling as they swung alongside me remained.
Once I knew my why and could envision the future, I started to realize that I deserved the effort it would take to regain my health.
2. What Doesn’t Get Scheduled, Doesn’t Get Done
Whether you gush over planners or just set reminders in your phone, the truth remains. If you don’t have a plan, the chance of you doing something remains slim.
I started setting my alarm earlier so I could walk the puppy every morning before leaving for work. Experts advise not letting large dogs run until they mature (about 1 year), so I had an excuse to exercise at a slower pace. I knew that one day, Clancy (our puppy) would become my running partner. But neither one of us was ready for that yet.
If I didn’t feel like waking up at O-Dark-Hundred when the temperatures dropped below zero, the thought of Clancy’s begging brown eyes motivated me to get out of bed. Getting out of bed early to exercise because the dog needed me seemed easier than saying I needed to get up early to exercise.
Find your own excuse to schedule physical activity into your day. Set an alarm, start a habit, do whatever it takes to make physical health a priority.
3. Prioritize a Healthy Kitchen, Too
Physical health involves more than exercise. You’ll want to make small changes in your eating habits as well. Explore more plant-based proteins, and gradually incorporate them into your diet. You may discover that you adore grilled tofu more than grilled steak.
If you have a family, try to enlist them in the adventure. Hunt and try new recipes together. Take turns experimenting on each other. It took our family almost three years to stop using white flour and white sugar. As our palates adapted, we realized that we enjoyed the taste of whole-wheat products a lot more.
After so many years of eating whole-grains, I have a difficult time swallowing a baked good made with white flour. Sawdust comes to mind. But that didn’t happen overnight. Slow change trends towards permanent change.Slow changes trend towards permanent change. Don't rush the process. #change #healthgoals #selfcare Click To Tweet
4. Physical Activity—the Only One-Size Fits All Benefit
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Everyone can experience the health benefits of physical activity—age, abilities, ethnicity, shape, or size do not matter.”
Those health benefits include living longer (more opportunities for adventures with grandchildren one day) and better emotional health.
If you don’t think you have a weight issue, but you don’t exercise, you put yourself at risk by not having physical activity as a priority in your life.
According to the experts, weight doesn’t matter—it’s physical activity that plays a key role in overall health.
5. Know Your Value as a Human Being
Yep. You are valuable and worth the effort it takes to improve your physical health. Just like get-rich-schemes don’t actually help you get rich, remember that no magic pill to shed pounds exists, either. Have patience with yourself on your journey. Small steps over time will help you reach your goal (remember the turtle and the hare?).
God has numbered the hairs on your head (Luke 12:7). You are worth dying for (John 3:16). Don’t sell yourself short. Avoid shaming yourself into making changes (those kind never stick, anyway). Prioritize your physical health because you deserve good health.
An Ongoing Journey
I didn’t regain my health in one year, like Pedro did. In fact, I have discovered that my physical health depends on how I prioritize it. When I don’t make it a priority, I get out of shape and overweight very quickly.
I will never look like a Fitness magazine model, with a six-pack of ab muscles and lean physique. But every year when I go to the doctor for my yearly physical, she assures me that I have excellent physical health.
All because I make it a priority. Saying ‘yes’ to physical activity might mean saying ‘no’ to something else. Sometimes I have to combine activities—walk on a treadmill and read at the same time, for example. Or ride an indoor bicycle while watching my favorite show.
Gaining and maintaining your physical health will only happen if you prioritize it from now until you no longer need it.