By now most of you have read or heard directly from me about my bicycle crash two weeks ago. I’ve been overwhelmed by the deluge of positive thoughts, emails, cards and well-wishes from everyone. For those of you who missed the story, I shattered my collarbone into six pieces two weeks ago following a crash during a Saturday century ride. This photo is right after the crash as my ride-mates loaded my broken bike into the car before my ER visit. Thirteen screws later, the bone is back into one “piece” and the pain is improving everyday. With my doctor/patient roles reversed and this being my first broken bone and surgical procedure, it’s been an emotionally eye-opening educational experience for me. The constant pain and the mental lows lead to my inability to perform my daily work and home responsibilities requiring major adjustments. No fun.
Yet with the help of my wife, I made some powerful insights that have been invaluable to me and, I believe, to my future practice with my patients. Maintaining good physical and mental strength through a medical challenge can be, well, challenging. But with all my down time (I felt like I visited every website ever created) I was able to pour over the research and I think I’ve discovered three approaches that seem to apply to nearly anyone with any difficult medical situation. If you can implement these three tenets, you should be able to overcome most challenges. They are: 1) keep moving, 2) monitor your daily progress, and 3) design a healthy environment.
There’s a lot to consider in those three tenets and that last one may sound intimidating, but I promise, they’re all very simple. First, keep moving. Our bodies are designed to stay in motion. In no other time during our history as humans on this planet have we been able to survive through our daily routines with so little physical movement. From desk jobs to nearly limitless access to goods and services, we physically work much less than we should. Most studies suggest as little as 30-minutes of dedicated briskly-paced walking can do the trick although upwards of 60-minutes a day is even better. Even with my busted shoulder, I made it a point to keep moving with walks around the neighborhood to waist-deep plunges in the pool. Make it a point to move around and your body will thank you for it.
Next, monitoring daily progress. With half of 2011 already over, you too might see how easy it is to let the days slip by without recognizing both positive and negative changes you make to your lifestyle. There is nothing more powerful than frequently tracking your progress throughout each day in order to take control of your lifestyle. I constantly recommend to patients “Diet Diaries,” or writing down everything you eat and drink, along with fitness achievements. Studies have shown time and time again that this simple approach is more effective than any other strategy at evaluating and modifying basic lifestyle behaviors. With my collarbone, I measured the angles surrounding my shoulder’s range of motion daily, along with slow but daily additions of gentle strengthening exercises. Sprinkle on multiple cryosauna applications and my surgeon, during a recent follow-up visit, couldn’t believe my progress in two short weeks.
Third, create an environment that is conducive to better health. Surround yourself with positive influences like people who have healthy lifestyles–studies show it will motivate you to do the same. Think of it as a healthy dose of peer pressure. Also, build into your daily routine healthy food choices at home and work that are readily accessible. More specifically, if healthy food choices are not easily available at home, when you’re hungry, your concept of what’s healthy quickly becomes skewed. In addition, when it comes to a healthy diet, use smaller plates (which decreases portion-sizes), serve yourself a healthy portion and then store left overs before eating. One last strategy I discovered is to consider eating in front of a mirror, which seems weird, I know, but a great German study last year showed it dramatically decreased the amount of calories test subjects ate. You have incredible control over the environment in which you live. Take the time to make it conducive to better health.
Finally, after doing all that you can to implement the first three tenets, be sure to be kind to yourself. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have a tough day and “fall off the wagon.” Studies show that the stress hormones released as a result of this added pressure on yourself is much more harmful than simply moving back to your healthy baseline. Life isn’t about being perfect. Do the best you can, strive for your best, but allow yourself to recover from expected and unexpected setbacks. On the day of my crash I was in great physical shape through great strides I had made during my training. Instantly I was forced to “slow things down” and quickly have lost my physical stamina. But, by taking proactive and preventative steps now, including the above ideas, my recovery has been relatively quick.
A major health issue can very quickly derail you from a healthy lifestyle. But by following the above three tenets, you can regain control of your health, your surrounding environment and treat yourself better than you ever have before.