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General tips for improving health


Jesse and Andrew being active at a local playground

Typically, when people have an injury or health problem, they look for a pretty specific solution. If they’re worried about getting dementia, they might try some brain games to try to keep their mind sharp. If they have knee pain, they might try a knee brace, knee exercises, or rubbing Voltaren on their knee. If they have a bad back, they might try a back massage, spinal manipulation, or exercises to strengthen their back. Sometimes this strategy works well, and problems go away or significantly improve. But sometimes it doesn’t, and problems stick around – or the specific fix they were hoping for turns out not to be an option (e.g. they aren’t a candidate for surgery or a nerve block; they can’t afford the treatments they’d like to have).

 

Good news: the vast majority of injuries and health challenges can be significantly improved by a consistent set of lifestyle changes. These include sleeping well, eating a healthy diet, being physically active, and managing mood and stress. Doing these things doesn’t just improve your health in general. Research has shown over and over that they also improve things we think of as problems with specific body parts – like back pain, migraines, concussions, depression, arthritic pain, and heart disease. Because these strategies benefit our physical and mental health in multiple ways, using them can be a really efficient use of our time. Even better, there are a lot of things we can do for free, from the comfort of home, to improve our sleep, diet, physical activity and mood & stress management.

 

To give just a few tips for improving health:

 

Some strategies for improving sleep include:

  • Always going to bed and waking up at the same time (yes, even on the weekend).

  • Exposing yourself to bright light in the daytime, and avoiding bright lights at night (yes, I mean your TV, laptop and phone).

  • Only using your bed for sleeping – not for doing things while you’re awake, like watching TV, reading, or playing with your phone.

 

Some strategies for eating well include:

  • Meal planning: plan what you’re going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks every day, and make sure you have the ingredients and the time set aside to make them.

  • Advanced meal prep: make some large batches of healthy snacks or meals, or cut up lots of fruit or veggies on the weekend to make it easier and more convenient to eat well during the week.

  • Not buying things you want to eat less of. If you don’t have any chips or cookies in the house, you’re unlikely to grab them when you want a snack.

 

Some strategies for getting more active include:

  • Choosing one time of the week when it would be convenient to exercise (on your lunch break, while you’re waiting around for your kid to finish their piano lesson, first thing in the morning), and put exercise on your to-do list or in your calendar so you remember to do it at your chosen time

  • Finding a friend who would also like to be more active, and scheduling a time to walk or do an exercise class with them every week

  • Thinking of something fun & active you could do with your partner, friend, dog, or kids, and scheduling it into your week. Try an exercise class or a new sport that sounds fun (Pickleball? Walking soccer? Yoga?), go to the pool, monkey around with your kids at the playground, or throw a frisbee at the beach.

 

Some strategies for improving mood and stress include:

  • Scheduling time to do something that brings you joy, and making it a priority

  • Making a weekly date with a friend to chat & do something you both enjoy

  • Improving your sleep, physical activity, diet, and social connections – see above for suggestions!

 

When people visit healthcare providers to discuss injuries and health challenges, these sorts of suggestions often get missed. It’s not because they’re not important. Factors such as limited appointment time, patient expectations/requests, and professional training and scope of practice can make it difficult for healthcare providers to focus on helping people make lifestyle changes that could significantly improve their symptoms. That being said, most healthcare providers have lots of helpful information about how to make healthy lifestyle changes, and enjoy sharing this knowledge. If you’re not sleeping well, or you’re struggling to be active, consider bringing it up at your next appointment with your preferred healthcare provider. Or, set your own goal, and make one little change today.

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