Taking Care of Yourself FIRST

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This article was written, edited and/or updated on December 23, 2021.

Polonius's advice to his son, Laertes

If you have read Shakespeare's Hamlet, you are familiar with Polonius's advice to his son, Laertes, before Laertes goes off to college. These are the last few words of that speech:

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be,/For loan oft loses both itself and friend,/And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry./This above all: to thine own self be true,/And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man."

The final words — "To thine own self be true...[then] thou canst not be false to any man" — simply ring true for most of us in most situations. Not always easily, but worth trying to live up to. Those words suggest to me — particularly within the context of one's own health — to take responsibility for my own health and fitness, to be my own advocate, and to stay healthy and strong for as long as I can. Not everything is in our control, but some of it is: We should heed the obvious.

Healthy Living

There are three areas of daily practical living that we need to address in order to take care of ourselves:

The first is providing ourselves with shelter. We don't have to live in a mansion, but it helps a lot if we at have a roof (which doesn't leak) over our head. As well, we need practical and comfortable clothing that keeps us protected from the elements.

Next, we need to eat a healthy diet. The only problem here is that what precisely is "healthy" is unfortunately debatable, but there are some basics about food consumption that we all know. We always will "give in" to our pleasures now and then, but we all know what we should do:

For a more detailed discussion of health and nutrition, read this: Canada's Food Guide: Nutrition and the Older Adult

Finally, we need to choose a healthy lifestyle. It's going to be different for some than for others (because we have different interests and likes and dislikes), but (as with food) there are some basics that everyone can follow:

Stress: How it Affects Us

With the best of intentions, we may begin every day with a positive note and then discover that it is hard — so very hard — to stay positive and to find joy in what we do.

Stress is caused by situations and pressures from daily living — anything from exhausting work to a rocky relationship to caring for a sick child or a failing parent or spouse or good friend. These situations are known as stressors — they can be anything that puts high demands on us. Even something we enjoy can turn into a stressful situation.

In short, no one is free from stress, yet it can contribute to many health problems: high blood pressure, depression, heart disease, panic attacks, obesity and diabetes, to name just a few.

We know, through research, that stress can affect the body — your thoughts and your feelings — and in turn affect your behaviour. Everyone needs to be able to recognize the symptoms of stress and, hopefully, find a way to relieve them. This can be very difficult at times, but with practice, most of us can usually find ways to relax. Here are some examples:

Taking Care of Yourself vs. Volunteerism

Our society would not be able to survive without volunteers. They work in nearly every area of our society: from ladeling up soup to those less fortunate, to helping at the Olympics, to working at a thrift store or taking books to people in the hospital.

Volunteering to help others is rewarding. Our health may improve and we may experience personal growth as we do something we've never done before and meet new people.

But volunteering can also become just like any job, and the some of the stresses of volunteerism are well known. They are:

I do not wish to suggest, in any way, that people should not volunteer. But each volunteer does need to be aware of how much time they can give, how many days a week, and what types of activities they are comfortable with. If it begins to feel too much like a job, it's probably time to re-think your priorities.

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I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.

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