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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.
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:
- Avoid large quantities of sugar and fat.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid junk food, everything from doughnuts to soda pop.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
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:
- Have a daily exercise routine. See also Fitness Class Benefits and Fitness Principles and take note of the comments in the sidebar to the right.
- Get enough sleep.
- Take the minimum dose of over-the-counter and prescription drugs, whenever possible.(See also: Medications of all Stripes: Use them with Knowledge)
- See your doctor when necessary. (See also: Seeing Your Doctor: When Should you go?)
- Get your vision checked once a year.
- Go to your dentist at least once a year for a check-up.
- Spend time doing things that make you happy (a hobby, family time, a rewarding relationship).
- Don't smoke and limit your alcoholic intake.
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:
- Exercise every day;
- Read a book by an author you love;
- Watch a funny or inspiring movie or play;
- Find reasons to laugh;
- Eat lunch with a friend;
- Do something you enjoy (anything from shopping to going to a museum);
- Help others — whether it be family or those less fortunate who need a helping hand;
- Take a nap;
- Stay involved in a hobby;
- Listen to music you love;
- Find something new to do: a new skill, a new activity.
- Enjoy routines of your day.
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:
Time commitment: You may have to give up something else in order to do that volunteer job. You may even feel that you have to go, even if you're not feeling well or you're tired, simply because you have committed yourself to that time. There is an expectation that you will be there, a substitute cannot be found. You are no longer a volunteer at that point.
Emotional Involvement: As with any job, if you volunteer to help people, then you may become tied up with their problems and issues, creating more stress for yourself.
Frustration: If you volunteer, you are no doubt involved with a group, someone who organizes the time schedules, etc. There may come a time when you don't particularly like the person you are scheduled to "work" with, or you may feel that the organization isn't being run very well. These feelings can lead to frustration ... and stress.
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.
You may also wish to read:
- The Aging Process: What to Expect
- Medications of all Stripes: Use them with Knowledge
- The Importance of Social Connections
- Protecting Yourself at Home: Getting Help when Needed
- Protecting Yourself when Walking Outside: Some General Safety Rules
- Seeing Your Doctor: When Should you go?
- Fitness Class Benefits
- Fitness Principles
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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