Focusing on Health
The media is full of headlines about “The Obesity Crisis”, the associated risks to personal health and the cost to taxpayers. The latest headline is that obesity has been linked to cognitive decline (see this BBC News article). We’re told that we should maintain a healthy weight, eat well and exercise in order to avoid all sorts of health problems including heart disease, cancer, stroke, and liver disease.
Yet I can’t help feeling that the magazine cover stories promising to help you to lose 10 pounds in two weeks, get a flat tummy or ripped arms having little to do with health and everything to do with marketing to a largely female audience that want to be told that there’s a quick fix to lose weight. Most of the blogs I read promote “healthy living” and I think there are some genuinely great role models, but there’s also an undercurrent of losing weight and working out to look good in ways that aren’t always healthy.
I’m not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with wanting to look good. When I decided to lose weight health was quite low on my list of priorities even though I had high blood pressure. I was fed up of not being able to find fashionable clothes and feeling uncomfortable in everything I wore. I was also ashamed that I had lost control of my weight and I felt judged by other people. I still want to look good now. I’m far from being a fashion guru, but I appreciate being able to pick up nice clothes straight off the rail.
The trouble with “The Obesity Crisis” is that it doesn’t feel very personal. It seems like it’s happening to other people, an abstract concept that sounds scary, but doesn’t really affect me. I was obese as a child and again in my early 20s, but I thought that I wasn’t that bad compared to other people so it wasn’t a problem from a health point of view.
However, over the past year I’ve realised how important it is to do my part to stay healthy. It’s no guarantee because plenty of people with healthy lifestyles become ill, but I can definitely cut my risk. A few months ago my Mum had angioplasty to open a narrowed artery behind her heart. It was completely undramatic, with the surgery scheduled a couple of months in advance and she didn’t have to stay overnight. The strange thing was that she has normal blood pressure, normal cholesterol levels and a normal ECG reading. During a routine appointment the doctor asked if she had any shortness of breath or chest pain and she answered yes, although she thought it was caused by asthma and chronic heartburn. The doctor sent her to be screened for heart problems because there is a family history of heart disease, and it turns out she has angina.
As I’m getting a bit older and I see the problems my parents have, I want to do what I can to ensure that I stay active into middle and old age and stay reasonably free of health issues. This has become an important motivation for me to maintain my weight, eat healthily and stay fit for the long term, not just a quick fix to look good in a swimsuit.