Senior Citizens and Wellness
August 22, 2017
Seniors, like all of us, are sometimes given wellness goals by our doctors such as lowering cholesterol, losing weight, getting some exercise, etc. If you are like most of us, these goals may not be new and are the exact ones that you have struggled attaining before. The difference may be that, as seniors, we are aware that if we attained some of these wellness goals our quality of life would improve.
Today I am going to open my wellness toolbox and share two tools that have been scientifically tested to help you on your way to attaining those goals.
When I discuss wellness, many people think only in terms of physical health. The word invokes thoughts of nutrition, exercise, weight management, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. Wellness is an integration of the physical, mental and spiritual. Each dimension of wellness contributes to our quality of life and each affects and overlaps the others. At times one may be more prominent than others but the neglect any one dimension for a length of time has adverse effects on overall health.
My husband, Gene Horton, among other responsibilities and titles, was the first educational director at the NASA Johnson Space Center. For many years he counseled employees helping them through the troubles we face as human beings. When he retired, he and I began a business helping heads of industry and their employees to work more effectively together. One of the tools Gene used was an assessment tool he called the six areas of mental health—health, education, work, spiritual values or religion, recreation, and interpersonal. He counseled that our lives are like a six-cylinder automobile. When one or more of the cylinders is misfiring, the others can be encouraged to support until all the cylinders begin again to work together.
Much like the tool Gene had been using, in 1976, Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, developed a model of wellness—physical wellness, emotional wellness, intellectual wellness, spiritual wellness, occupational wellness, and social wellness. Later a group of researchers added a seventh category called environmental wellness, which expressed the harmony between us as humans and being in nature. This category also included taking care of and protecting the earth. This idea could also include protecting ourselves from over consumption of junk food and junk mail.
I have had the opportunity during my career to work with many groups and individuals who are interested in supporting their own health and wellness, learning how to cook good food, or just have fun including CEO’s, athletes, high school students, culinary students, obese children and their families, weight loss patients, heart patients, seniors and recovering cancer patients. The model Gene Horton and Bill Hettler used can be applied to any situation in life to support and effect positive change and support health.
• Physical Wellness encompasses a variety of healthy behaviors including adequate exercise, proper nutrition, abstaining from harmful habits, identifying symptoms of disease, regular medical checkups, protecting yourself from injuries and harm, and developing habits that add enjoyment and quality to your life. A healthy quality of life allows us to get through our daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress.
• Emotional Wellness encompasses optimism, self-esteem, self- acceptance, the ability to love and be loved and share feelings. Tools include acceptance, forgiveness and stress management techniques.
• Intellectual Wellness encourages creativity and stimulating mental activities. Suggestions might be to take a course or workshop, learn a language, or play an instrument, read, dance, etc.
• Social Wellness refers to our ability to interact with others. It includes communication skills, developing intimacy with others, creating a support network of friends or family members as well as sharing your talents for the benefit of your community.
• Spiritual Wellness involves developing a set of guiding beliefs, principles or values that create peace and harmony in your life. This may include meditation or prayer.
• Occupational Wellness (or Work) involves using your gifts, skills and talents to add purpose, happiness and enrichment to your life.
Ok, Doc. I get it. Now what? How do I get healthier, happier, get stronger, manage my health issues, make a commitment to spend more time with friends, etc? Where do I start?
On a piece of paper write down the six (or seven) areas in the model for wellness and take your own assessment. What’s working? What could be better? Where are the areas you would like to change? Be brave! And, be as specific as you can. No filters. Write down anything that comes to mind. Ok, now you have some areas to work on. Now we need a plan.
The National Association of Sports Medicine, among others, uses a tool that was developed by two researchers named Prochaska and DiClemente to help their clients and patients change habits from quitting smoking to eating healthier to exercising regularly to getting more organized. The five stages describe the process by which all behaviors change.
• Precontemplation: the stage in which we have either never thought about needing to change or we have never thought about it seriously.
• Contemplation: Here we have begun to actively think about a change we need to make. This stage can last for a moment or years. This is the stage where people become stuck in the obstacles to change. To get unstuck seek about the value of the change you are considering.
• Determination: This stage is preparation mentally and physically for action. We might join a gym, schedule a start date, muster the determination to change.
• Action: Then we start. We quit smoking or wake up early and walk the dog or go to the gym. Behavior changes.
• Maintenance: Continuing to take control. Maintaining is the most challenging part of any behavior change. Habit requires that we are able to hang on to that changed belief that manifested into action.
On a piece of paper write down one or two habits you identified from your model for wellness inventory. Take your own assessment. What stage are you in with each of the change behaviors you have chosen? Be brave! And, be as specific as you can. Now is the time to use what you learned about dimensions of wellness I started with during this journey. You may need to call on your social network to help support your new life style. You may have to deny yourself that dessert because you realize you are feeling stress right now and it doesn’t support your new goal. You may want to take the dog for a walk rather than pick up a cigarette.
Finally, let me offer you this tip—focus on reaching each step as it comes rather than on the end goal. And if you slide back a step, just pick up wherever you are and move forward. Relapse is difficult to avoid. Relapse is not failure. Never let a day or a few days or weeks of falling back into bad habits discourage you. I assume your goal is still all those things that you identified that contribute to your quality of life.
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