LENA MITCHELL: Improved health and wellness are worthy goals for the new year

By Lena Mitchell | NEMS Daily Journal

Years ago I abandoned the tradition of making a list of New Year’s Resolutions. During my youth I routinely made a list of all I hoped to accomplish in the calendar year. It seemed to be what I was supposed to do.
For those of you who are still inclined to make resolutions with an eye toward really working to keep them, I recommend that you put attending to your health at the top of that list.
I have lived long enough since my 30th birthday to recognize how important an early focus and ongoing attention to health and wellness are to a good quality of life.
After hearing throughout the 20-something years how traumatic it would be to turn 30, I spent the year after my 29th birthday reviewing the family medical history that I wanted to avoid – diabetes, heart disease, cancer.
Determined to do what I could to thwart those conditions, I determined to not only take up some form of exercise but to incorporate it as a lifelong habit. I altered my eating habits, reducing my consumption of red meats and increasing the proportion of vegetables and fruits in my diet.
I was determined to make the changes, but my research had told me that being too rigid and unforgiving of myself when I slipped up could derail my plans to live a healthier life.
So instead of trying to make wholesale changes immediately, I gave myself permission to take one small step at a time.
I am very much a morning person – generally waking up at 5 a.m. – and often have evening commitments, so I wanted to get my exercise done before starting my work day at 8 a.m. I lived outside Washington, D.C. and had a 30-minute commute to my job on a university campus.
To accomplish the transformation, I began by waking up for several days at my usual early hour and simply thinking about getting out of bed to exercise. The next several days I actually got up and put on my workout clothes, drove to campus, went to the field house where the gym equipment was located, took my shower and went to have breakfast. I was in the third phase of my change in routine before I actually started going into the gym and getting on the equipment to work out before showering and going to work.
This process of easing into the changes not only worked for me then but has kept me on track through the years since.
There have been times when, for a variety of reasons, I have allowed exercise to take a back seat in my schedule, but always with the knowledge that it was a temporary interruption to an important aspect of my life. Each time I have been able to return to that commitment and focus.
Until this week my sister was not a real fan of exercise.
However, a month ago she underwent open heart surgery and has now begun her cardiac rehab program. Though she may not have voluntarily chosen this lifestyle change to incorporate exercise as part of her daily routine, she accepts that it will make her stronger now and lead to a healthier life going forward.
Another friend and former coworker who underwent heart surgery several years ago reached a remarkable milestone this year in his work toward improved health and fitness.
After joining the Tupelo Marathon Makeover group in January, he successfully completed a full marathon in October. For anyone who thinks age is a barrier to making these kinds of lifestyle changes, this marathon man has become a runner in his middle years.
No matter what age you may be when you decide to work toward better health and fitness, it’s never too late to make your future better than your past.
I haven’t been able to completely avoid serious health issues, but my doctor reminds me how much worse matters could have been if I had not actively worked toward improved health before.
If you’re not working toward it already, give yourself the best gift life can hold. Good health.
Lena Mitchell is the Corinth Bureau reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact her at lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.