Last December, I had a 12-hour surgery for an aortic valve replacement, a massive infection in my back, and a stroke. I was in the hospital for 28 days. I’m told I could have died. Recovery is slow and will likely take a year. So, for me, staying healthy is not just a good idea, it’s what I do – for myself and for my family.
There are six interconnected areas of my everyday life that I focus on: nutrition, exercise, hygiene, emotional well-being, mental health, and social health. When I lay my head on my pillow each night and can honestly say I’ve done something in each of these areas, I consider that a good day.
“There are two words that were reiterated over and over by my entire rehab team: ‘Keep moving!’ Exercise is good for your muscles, good for your bones, good for your brain, good for your heart, good for weight control, and good for your feeling of well-being.” ~Peter Langmaid, RSVP Ambassador
Healthy eating is both the easiest and most difficult thing for me to do. It’s easy because my wife is a great cook who can make lip-smacking meals from healthy ingredients and keeps the house stocked with fruit and vegetables. It’s difficult because I love cookies, chips, cake, ice cream, and processed snacks of all kinds.
There are two words that were reiterated over and over by my entire rehab team: “Keep moving!” Exercise is good for your muscles, good for your bones, good for your brain, good for your heart, good for weight control, and good for your feeling of well-being. Exercise can be done alone or in a group, indoors or outdoors, at home or at a gym.* Not everyone likes a workout, but everyone feels better after completing one.
There’s a reciprocal relationship between self-esteem and staying healthy. When you feel good about yourself, everything is easy – and when you feel bad about yourself, even the simplest daily activities seem impossibly arduous. A good place to start feeling good about yourself on a daily basis is personal hygiene. It’s too easy, especially for those of us who don’t work or work at home, to let the hair and nails get a little long, to neglect daily dental care (don’t forget to floss!), and to stay in our pajamas past noon.
When I was in the hospital, I only had energy for family. But every day my wife came to visit, she would read me emails of concern and support from friends. Since I’ve been home, the visits and phone calls have been endless. One person who I’ve known for over 60 years came up here from California two weekends in a row and called every day for a month! There’s no way to quantify the impact of friends on the mental health aspect of my recovery; it’s been huge. A cheerful email of concern and encouragement would always help me stay positive.
“A healthy mind is a stimulated mind. Just as your body needs exercise, so, too, does your mind. Don’t let your mind grow dull from inactivity and lack of challenge. Read a book, do crossword puzzles, take a class, join a discussion group, play cards – anything that makes you think.” ~Peter Langmaid, RSVP Ambassador
Humans are inherently social. Mental health professionals all agree that prolonged isolation has a negative effect on your mental and emotional health. I have found that volunteering at my local food bank is a great way to socialize, help others, and feel good about myself at the same time.* We need interaction to stay balanced. Watching TV doesn’t count as socializing because it’s not interactive. Excessive TV watching, especially these days, can cause anxiety and depression – so don’t forget to socialize.
A healthy mind is a stimulated mind. Just as your body needs exercise, so, too, does your mind. Don’t let your mind grow dull from inactivity and lack of challenge. Read a book, do crossword puzzles, take a class, join a discussion group, play cards – anything that makes you think. For myself, the stroke I suffered affected my ability to read, write, and recall familiar words. I will get better over time, but not without effort on my part. For example, producing this article was quite a struggle.
Finally, get out of the house when and as you can! We live in a beautiful part of the country, so take advantage of that as the weather gets warm. There’s nothing more exhilarating than a deep breath of fresh air and the feeling of warm sunshine on your sun-screened face. Combining being outside with an invigorating walk with friends for added exercise and socializing is a great way to pursue well-rounded health.