We all know that health is the most important thing. We know that prevention works best, yet we only think about health when our body sends us a signal. Why is that?
The idea of taking care of one's health makes sense on a rational level. On an emotional level, it does not work so well. For many people, the urge for immediate satisfaction (eat sweets, eat more, too lazy to exercise...) overpowers too often the restraint necessary for a better health (less sugar, more vegetables, moving all day...).
I am privileged to live with an anti-aging expert wife who values prevention, knows enough to guide me in my choices and is living the way she preaches. I strongly believe that her approach is correct, and I also care about my health span. Yet, I often deviate from what I know is the right path and succumb to temptation. Why does it happen? Let´s look at some possible reasons.
Could it be due to a flawed character trait? Maybe I am not disciplined enough. This would be surprising as I am a very organized person, quite cartesian and systematic when I believe in something. I have been very disciplined in business and it worked well for me. So it is probably not an issue of character, it has to do with food and exercise...
I have not had any real health scares?
This is not the case either. Twenty years ago, I suffered from thyroid cancer. I have overcome this episode and I know how down you can be when your health is in jeopardy. I would do anything to avoid being in the same situation... or would I?
We are all going to die, let's enjoy it while it lasts.
This philosophy, albeit totally acceptable, is ok if you are ready to assume fully the consequences of your choices. However, I do not know many people who follow this approach to life (i.e. 'enjoying' the present to the fullest) and who do not regret and complain about their health later on. When the body starts giving up, even the most cheerful party animals tend to moan about their fate. In any case, this is not really my way of life. I am not a party animal, and enjoying the longest health span possible is really an objective of mine.
The correlation between indulging today and poorer health tomorrow is unclear?
This would mean that I don't truly believe in the benefits of prevention. This is not the case. I am satisfied with the scientific and empirical evidence that this correlation exists.
Perhaps I want to believe that this correlation is not so strong if you follow the 80/20 rule (be good 80% of the time, enjoy 20% of the time) does not impact long term health. The problem in my case is that the 80/20 tends to evolve quickly to 20/80. I find that once I am on a downhill slope, my poor habits tend to amplify...
The social pressure
There is no doubt that a new healthy lifestyle may clash with the routine you have established with your friends. Exercising regularly forces you to go to bed earlier. That limits the nights out and the binge drinking with friends. It is also awkward to attend a pizza and beer football party, and ask for a green smoothie. So do we really have to choose between a healthy lifestyle and old friends who may not have evolved the same way as we did?
The availability of healthy alternatives
Whenever you are hungry outside of the home, the chances to find a healthy alternative to pastries, sandwiches and processed foods are quite slim. Even the so-called healthy food outlets emerging around the country tend to stack on fast absorbing carbs and sugar. Of course, you could wait until getting back home or prepare in advance a healthy snack/lunch to take with you. That requires an even higher commitment threshold.
I am sure there are a myriad of other excuses one can think up (it's genetic - it has to do with my culture - it's my parents' fault - real men don't eat veggies...). In the end, prioritizing one's health at the level it deserves probably comes down to:
- The degree of projection in the future you may have and the goals you set for your life.
- The realization that 'you can't have your cake and eat it too' (That tends to happen after 50...)
- The readiness to question and change old habits.
- A partner or coach to cheer you when you may fall back to bad habits.
Everything else is down to our own internal contradictions and our ability to cheat ourselves. As I often say: 'Every time I negotiate with myself, I tend to win!'
So if you want it (whatever it is: a healthy body, another ice cream, mobility at 70, a hamburger...) just go and get it. Just be aware that there will likely be a price to pay... today or tomorrow.
Please share you tips to combat the emotional impulses that tend to lead you astray from taking care of your health.