Personalized Self-Care

Being “healthy” looks different for everyone

We have all heard the same cliches over and over again: “get your 10,000 steps.”  “Drink your water.” “Eat all the colors.” After a while, it just becomes background noise. We don’t hear it anymore, because all the media and all the health professionals say the same things.

It’s harder than they make it seem. Water bottles cost money. Fruits and vegetables are expensive and spoil quickly, plus they often require prepping, such as cooking or chopping. We sit in class all day, or else sit and do homework, making physical activity slide to the bottom of the priority list. And sleep? Who actually sleeps? 

We hear all the research that healthy habits start young, but we have all the time in the world. This lifestyle can’t be THAT bad. 

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to wait to improve your health. While it all may seem overwhelming and a far better ideal to pursue sometime later down the road, you don’t have to do everything all at once. I guarantee that you will be overwhelmed and quit if you jump into this cold turkey. 

Baby steps, ladies and gents. Just like learning any new concept, self care is a process. It’s no different than learning to read or starting a new job. It takes time to find your footing and what will work best for your lifestyle. If you try to change everything all at once, you might find yourself confused and overwhelmed. Taking it one piece at a time will help you adjust and make the process more simple. As you adjust your preferences, here are a few ways we can easily improve our health while still maintaining our busy lifestyles. 

First off, drinking water. Keeping yourself hydrated helps to rid your body of toxins, clears up your digestive tract, maintains a normal body temperature, and protects vital body tissues, as outlined in an article by the Center for Disease Control.

 I can safely say that I see almost every other student carting around a water bottle, which is absolutely fantastic. However, if you struggle to keep your hydration close by, set an alarm on your phone that reminds you to fill it up before you leave for class. If a huge metal lump in your hand isn’t your forte, buy a plastic bottle and keep reusing it as long as you can. If you’re not a fan of the taste of water, add a sugar-free flavor packet or consider adding fresh fruit, such as lemon, lime, or orange slices, if at all possible. 

In addition, we get plenty of water through different foods we consume. Fruits, yogurt, and soup, just to name a few. While that doesn’t excuse us to slack up in the pure water department, it helps to realize that we get liquids in other forms.

Another problem winds up being fruits and vegetables. Harvard University Health outlines their importance in our diets. The vitamins found mostly in our produce can lower risks for diseases such as heart disease and some forms of cancer. They can aid in repairs to body tissues and aid in maintaining a healthy blood pressure. 

However, problems may arise for those who are busy and often eat on the go. They are difficult to keep fresh, often impractical to prepare or use for a snack or meal on the go, and expensive. If I could lower their prices personally, I would, but my advice on this end can only be to watch for products on sale and choose non-organic where possible, as they are often far cheaper. 

For freshness, frozen veggies are just as good as fresh, and last for months in the freezer. Just microwave what you want, when you want it! 

Keep apple slices, carrots or celery in your refrigerator for easy snacking, and pair with a side of ranch or peanut butter if you so desire. Chopping fruit or bell peppers the night before can be simple to stick in your bag, or else bananas are also an easy snack to pack before running out the door. Remember, it doesn’t have to be complicated; do what you can with what you have.

On the subject of sleep, I personally feel like teachers and other adults have been throwing research at me on the importance of getting your eight hours since middle school. We’ve all heard it – a good night’s rest improves your health, your mood, your lifestyle. It may get old to hear, but it is true. 

The Center for Disease Control explains the importance of a good night’s rest. The benefits include repair to body muscles and tissues, memory consolidation, emotional and psychological wellbeing, and drastically reduces risk to many diseases. 

So how to obtain a good night’s rest on a regular basis? First of all, understand that “a good night’s rest” looks different for everyone and will vary throughout the stages of life. Some people function well on five hours of sleep, and some cannot even think of making it through the day without at least nine hours (and maybe a nap later). 

Figure out what you need to relax and feel refreshed for the next day. A consistent nighttime routine can help trigger the body to know that it’s time to start getting ready to sleep (for example, taking a shower and brushing teeth, then reading). Even if your bedtime is inconsistent, a rough routine will help your body relax and sleep better.

Speaking of bedtimes, having a regular bedtime may seem unrealistic, but it does help. Even on weekends, if possible, don’t vary the time you go to bed and get up by more than two hours. Again, I get that this might not be possible in all circumstances, but even small steps can greatly improve your sleep.

Lastly, my myth to debunk is the ten thousand steps. According to Harvard University Health, the origins of 10,000 steps began as a “marketing tool.” People who achieve ten thousand steps everyday are not automatically “healthier” than those who do not. Ten thousand steps is a media fad that took off. Those who do get in more steps, of course, are more active than those who don’t, but there are more factors to consider than how many steps you get each day, such as your diet, overall health circumstances, substance use, and so much more.

If you are looking to move more without jumping right into the gym, please don’t jump from two thousand steps per day right into ten. It will only stress you out and be discouraging if you don’t make it.  

Think small. If you are at two thousand steps now, maybe aim for three thousand each day this week, or four thousand at least two days in a week. You can always grow from there if you want and it is possible.

How to fit in all these extra steps? If you have a smartwatch, often you can activate the setting to remind you to move each hour. It can be annoying, but if that’s what it takes to help you move, then that’s what you will have to do. If you don’t have a smartwatch or Fitbit, you can use reminders on your phone or, if possible, schedule a short walk in your day. North Dakota winters may not be ideal, spring is coming and a quick walk outside is becoming more and more possible. We are also blessed with a campus of skywalks and tunnels that can also make for a comfortable temperature to get moving. 

Keep in mind that walking is not the only form of fitness. As an avid runner and a lover of walks, my own ten thousand steps come naturally, but I know this is not always the case. Find the fitness you love, whether it be biking, swimming, sports, weightlifting, or just about anything else that gets you excited to move. Check out the Wellness Center’s GroupFit classes for a fun way to exercise with friends in an enthusiastic and social environment!

Last, but certainly not least, remember that health and fitness look different for everyone. We are all different. Not all of us are cut out to run marathons. Eating fruits and veggies and whole grains do not come easily for everyone. Just because someone excels at one point but struggles at another does not mean you “fail” at health. 

Start small. Don’t be hard on yourself. Your definition of health and everyone else’s will vary drastically. I highly encourage you to consult with a doctor, registered dietitian, or other healthcare professional with any questions or concerns. Seek out a certified personal trainer for assistance with physical fitness. 

These are a few ideas I have noticed that improve my mood and keep me feeling energized throughout the day. No, one can’t do everything all the time, every day. There are nights when I don’t get anywhere near enough sleep, or I might forget to add a vegetable or two. But that doesn’t mean I “failed.” We are merely human and purely capable of messing up now and then.

Do what you can, when you can. It may not seem like much at first, but in the end, you and your body will be thankful that you went the extra mile to take care of yourself now.

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