Put your HEART into it! 

Live BETTER, not just longer!

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” –Maya Angelou

When asked, most people would say that the primary goal of any weight loss or health journey is to live longer, right? But is that what most people REALLY want? If we dig deeper and ask more questions, we find that what we REALLY want is not just to have a longer lifespan but actually a longer HEALTHspan.  If we are focused on just living longer and not focused on HOW we’re living, we are missing the true goal to truly live life to the fullest.

“What’s the difference between lifespan and healthspan?”

As things stand, the US has a healthspan gap.  This means that while the average person may live to the age of 79, the time they tryly spend healthy is only on average 63 years.  The definition of “healthy” can mean something different to each person you ask, but for this discussion, healthy means living without a serious disease (one which is a major cause of death).  For example, heart disease is the MOST common cause of death currently, claiming about 610,000 U.S. lives annually.  The average age of onset of heart disease is about 65, so with a life expectancy of 79, theoretically the last 14 years of life will be spent dealing with and living with heart disease.

Let’s look at another example, strokes, which is the fourth largest cause of death and claims about 140,000 lives each year.  The average age of occurrence of a first stroke is also about 65.  Most of us know someone or love someone who has survived a stroke, like my late grandfather Woody.  My grandfather was a tough man, in fact he was an Air Force General with a lot of people, policies and information under his command.  The last part of his life, however, Grandfather Woody didn’t feel so tough, because he had a stroke not long after he retired.  He spent a great deal of his retirement first trying to recover his vision and motor function.  Then he spent about 10 years crashing around angrily in his wheelchair.  I was only 14 years old when my grandfather passed away, and I had only known him in that wheelchair. Because of his illness, he wasn’t able to do what he had hoped with his grandchildren – play, hold, pick up, carry, and travel.  I am grateful he was alive long enough to remember him, because he was an impressive man.  But I also feel sad that he didn’t get to be as present for his family as he had dreamed during retirement.  Although he would never have admitted it, I do believe he wished he had done what he needed to do earlier in his life to keep his health longer – quit smoking, sleep more, drink less and stress less – so that he could stand and walk long enough to hold his grandchildren.

As many of us already know, obesity is a major risk factor in many of the deadliest diseases including cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.  However, even without other risk factors, obesity itself can lead to heart failure because of the extra workload.  In fact, for each 5 units of increased BMI, there is an increase of 32% in risk of heart failure (Johns Hopkins).  The human body is designed to be very efficient, but if we are overworking it with extra weight, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor nutrition for a great portion of our lives, it stands to reason that at some point our bodies will become ill, injured, and/or less functional.  

Admittedly, there is no predicting if or when someone will get a disease or when they will die.  So, when we are thinking about motivation for practicing healthy behaviors, it is with a goal of delaying not only when we die, but we are also (hopefully) delaying the onset of diseases that can greatly impact HOW we are living our lives.  Do we want to spend those last years or even decades of our lives burdened with an oxygen tank, rolling around in a wheelchair, or even unable to move at all?  

“How can I continue my motivation to get healthy long-term?”

The motivation to stay consistent on a weight loss journey can be difficult. There will be days that you feel defeated and want to give up.  There will be moments when you think that you just want to enjoy your pizza or cupcakes and forget about losing weight. These days can happen to anyone, and they can be difficult to navigate.

When my weight was still close to 450 pounds, my husband and I took off work to go to opening day of the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It was a beautiful day, and everyone was so excited (so was I!).  We made our way into the stadium and towards our seats.  By midway up the first ramp, I had to stop and catch my breath, and I had to stop for a break every few minutes. It took a while, but when we finally got to our seats, I found that my body simply would not fit. I tried and tried, but each way I moved was so uncomfortable, and the arms of the chairs were pressing into my hips.   By the 3rdinning, I was already so defeated and miserable that I wanted to leave. My husband and I were both so disappointed, but I just couldn’t stay. In fact, when I finally got home, my back hurt so bad that I couldn’t get out of bed for about a day. 

When I feel like giving up on losing weight, I think back to that day.  That day was a turning point for me and my decision to lose weight and embrace a healthy lifestyle. I knew that if I didn’t do something, I would never be able to go to a baseball game again.  Instead, my family would be going without me, or even worse, they would have to miss out to take care of me.  My daughter was only 14 at the time, and I was very quickly approaching a time when SHE would be taking care of ME. That was scary, and I don’t ever want to feel that scared again. Especially about something that I DID have some control over. 

At the beginning of any weight loss or wellness journey, you must FIRST decide what your goals are and establish why those goals are important.  It’s essential to physically write them down so that you can always remember where you were at the beginning of your journey. Doing this can help you keep consistent with your motivation and commitment to yourself and your loved ones, even on those days you’re feeling defeated or inadequate.  There will inevitably be stressful periods in your life that will make you a little less focused on those goals. But, as stress in our lives goes up and down, frequently remind yourself of why you are working to get healthy.