Imagine if the U.S. ranked as the No. 1 healthiest country in the world by 2040, one generation from now.
In 2014, despite having the most expensive health care system in the world, the U.S. ranked last in health outcomes among 11 industrialized countries studied by the Commonwealth Fund. The report ranked each country on measures of health system quality, efficiency, access to care, equity, and healthy lives of its citizens.
You’re an important part of getting us to No. 1, because there is tremendous power in each of us to individually and collectively improve the nation’s health. By changing lifestyle habits that are causing premature aging, inflammation, weight creep, and chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, we can turn this ailing ship around.
If you’re unsure how to get started, or hesitant due to failed attempts, read on. Perhaps most importantly, we must shift from a fixed mindset to one of growth. Know that change is possible and that you can do it.
Be in it for the long game. Quick fixes don’t work and often leave us worse off than when we started. Create long-term goals for two to five years from now and then set short-term goals—perhaps weekly or monthly—to keep you inspired and engaged along the way.
Get real. If you have several habits that need changing and you feel overwhelmed, start with the smallest, most achievable one first. From here, you can build on your success. If you want to cut back on drinking sweetened drinks and/or alcohol, pack healthy lunches, start exercising regularly and meditate everyday, begin with the one habit change that is easiest to implement right now.
Note positive associations and negative consequences. For example, if you choose to cut back on drinking sweetened drinks and/or alcohol, you might notice positive associations you’ve attached to them, including socializing, summertime or relaxation.
In this frame of mind, cutting back doesn’t make much sense—who wants to give up pleasure? In the heat of the moment, these positive associations can easily derail us and that’s why the next step is critical. Take a real look at the hidden dangers of sweetened drinks or alcohol. Chances are they’re causing belly bloat, brain fog, increased cravings and joint pain.
Keep your eye on the prize. If getting into a regular workout routine feels like a chore but you know that being sedentary is causing an ever-expanding waistline and listlessness, you’re in a kind of mental limbo. By shifting your attention to the benefits of exercise like more energy, increased sex drive and better muscle tone, you’re much more likely to stay motivated.
Recognize obvious and hidden triggers. Obvious triggers might be habits like when it’s lunchtime, you drink iced tea or when it’s happy hour you have a cocktail. What are some healthier choices you can make instead?
Be on the lookout for hidden triggers. An example might be that when you’re truly hungry you reach for the empty calories of a chai latte or beer instead of real food.
Get clear. Statements like “cutting back” or “doing more” are too vague. If you want to exercise more, what does that mean exactly? Do you want to walk 15 minutes every day no matter what? What time of day will you do this? Do you need new shoes or bear spray?
Have an accountability partner and tell them your plan. Ask them to encourage you along the way and offer support when you have a setback—we’re only human after all.
Americans are among the most industrious and hardest-working people in the world. If anyone can turn an ailing ship around, it’s us. You’ve got the power!