Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The triad of health - a virtuous cycle

The Anti-Cancer Challenge is based on a “triad of health” consisting of optimum nutrition, daily exercise and adequate sleep and rest. For while we may be healthy enough when incorporating only one of these elements in our lives, I don't think it is possible to attain optimum health unless we practice all three.

If all goes according to plan, each of these three cornerstones will reinforce the other two, as depicted in my modest graphic (left and below). My fervent hope is that if I can stick with it for a year, I will continue doing so for the rest of my life.

There really is no alternative. For two years now, I have been burning the candle at both ends, over-extending myself in my job while at the same time trying to be a dedicated mother-of-three, wife and homemaker. “This is just a temporary bottle-neck,” I kept telling myself. “Things will slow down soon and then I’ll get my life back.” But as month after exhausting month passed, this looked increasingly unlikely.

The first healthy habit to go overboard was sleep as I burned the midnight oil to keep up with e-mails, research and paperwork. The next casualty was exercise – for how could I exert myself physically when I was struggling just to keep my eyes open? Then even my diet started slipping: my morning coffee was getting a little stronger every month, and I was snacking on dried fruit and other sweet snacks throughout the day to boost my flagging energy levels. What little sleep I allowed myself was fitful, disrupted by my high-energy snack-habits and too much time spent in front of the computer.

During previous periods of stress, I often came down with sinus infections or digestive problems and my hormone cycle would go loopy. Ten years ago, when I was particularly overstretched for a prolonged period of time, I had to be treated for cervical carcinoma in situ. Each time I fell ill, I would swear that I’d change my ways; but once I had regained my strength I would go back to pillaging my reserves.

This time, though, I have decided not to wait until disaster strikes. At 44 I am fit enough to put healthy habits in place with relative ease, yet mature enough to stick with them (one hopes!). If I don’t take the time to look after myself now, I’ll have to spend that time in years to come in doctors’ and physiotherapists’ waiting rooms – a prospect I don’t relish.

Under the soon-to-be-published guidelines of the Anti-Cancer Challenge, more sleep will provide the energy to exercise, while exercising more will help me to sleep better. Better sleep will also allow me to reduce my sugar and caffeine consumption, again reinforcing sounder sleep! I have also noticed that when I exercise, I automatically seek out healthy foods – vegetables, fruits, lean protein – and don’t feel the slightest bit drawn to sugar or chocolate and the illusion of energy they offer. And when I eat an optimal diet I have the energy I need to exercise and cope with the demands of my busy life. A virtuous cycle!

It’s hardly rocket science, but I have summarized this virtuous cycle in a diagram (below; click on graphic for a more legible enlargement) which I have printed out and stuck on my refrigerator to remind me to look after myself.

1 comment:

  1. Exercise really does give you more energy! When I started commuting 18 months ago, I lost my gym time and was really tired for the first four months as my body adjusted to my new routine. Definitely make time for exercise, even short bursts of it! (One of my goals this year is to get out on my bike more.)