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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 7, May/June 2005

On being well: Tough love for you

by Julia Johnson

Scott Peck begins his book The Road Less Travelled with, "Life is difficult." He suggests that if we understood and accepted that truth, life would no longer be difficult. The same could be said for those who struggle with pursuing personal wellness. The greatest truth about the wellness journey, the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle, is that it is personal, never-ending, consumes a lot of time and energy, and requires a high degree of motivation.

There are so many aspects to a wellness lifestyle that even knowing where to start can be frustrating and defeating. For some, a visit to the doctor for some ailment is the starting point for a course of action. Others, overwhelmed with work, decide one day that there has to be a way of doing our job so we are better able to look after ourselves. Still others, having experienced a crisis, are forced to ponder how to translate what really counts into their daily life. Whatever the reason for evaluating your state of wellness, know that your decision to improve your health will be fraught with challenges that will test your fortitude to stay on course and that success will be the outcome if you take one step at a time.

Even though the car metaphor is over used when talking about the care we need to give to our bodies, it is still the best image for getting across the message. A case in point is when Lynne Johnson from For Better or For Worse fame has her husband, John, say to their daughter in one of her columns, "If we want to drive as far as we can down the highway of life, we have to look after the vehicle." Looking after the vehicle begins, at the very least, with providing it with the healthiest of foods, such as whole-grain products, increasing intake of vegetables and fruit, choosing lower-fat milk products, reducing fats, selecting smaller, leaner portions of meat and alternatives, and limiting high-fat snacks and desserts. Fuel alone will not keep the vehicle running. The body needs a regular regime of exercise that is anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic exercise employs the muscular strength and power components of fitness; aerobic exercise builds cardiovascular endurance. A well-balanced exercise program incorporates both types of exercise as well as flexibility exercise. Seaward, in his book Managing Stress (1996), says a training regime is like money in the bank, an investment in health.

Making healthier eating choices without a consistent exercise regime will make long-term success difficult. That is the primary reason why keeping on the wellness road is a struggle. To be consistent and committed to exercising the body, one needs to find the time to do so. The most significant advertising message from one gym is that it only takes a 30-minute workout three times a week to make a difference in your wellbeing. A colleague recently said she was not happy that spending so much of her home time on schoolwork left no time to do the things she wanted to do for herself. She decided that the work priorities in her life were no longer going to interfere with, or supersede, addressing her personal needs. She realized that she needed to block in a time for personal pursuits. She would begin by walking the dog three times a week after supper. Even though her ultimate goal is to be engaged in physical activity every evening, she made a commitment to begin with three times a week as it worked into a natural rhythm with the other activities in her life.

Starting a wellness journey requires individuals to use the "tough love" strategy on themselves to ensure commitment and the consistency for lasting success. The tough love approach gives you the mental construct to stand firm against the demands and expectations that will attempt to impinge upon the time you are reclaiming for yourself.

Life is indeed difficult. Keeping well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle requires commitment and consistency. That too, is difficult. Tough love for you will make it easier. And the approaching summer will give you the time to begin.

Julia Johnson, a learning resource teacher at Red Bluff School, in Quesnel, is a BCTF PD wellness associate. johnsonj@abccom.bc.ca.

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