What’s most important to you in your life? Family? Freedom? Helping others or the planet? Health? Spirituality? Moving your body? Intellectual stimulation? Go ahead and give that some thought for a moment. What is your number one priority in life?
Now, how do you spend your days? In particular, how much of every day do you spend in service of your number one value? Of course, a large portion of your day is probably spent meeting your basic needs for food and shelter. But after that, how do you spend your time?
I’ll tell you how I spend mine. I open every day with one to two hours of exercise—outdoors, weather permitting, except on weight training days. Immediately following the workout is the dog walk. My pack loves and needs to walk to burn off some of that potentially irksome energy. My motto: a tired dog is a good dog. Following our peripatetic activities comes a nutrient-dense breakfast and then some income-producing effort and whatever errands or chores present themselves.
Daily, I experience a sense of accomplishment by mid-morning because I’ve already dedicated a fair amount of time to my top two values—my health and my animals, in that order. Yes, my health ranks highest of all those important values, and I hope to convince you that positioning your health above and beyond all else is the only way to insure that you’ll be able to take care of all the other values close to your heart.
Recall your most recent air travel, especially the part where you were coasting down the runway while your friendly flight attendant mimed proper use of the seat belt. At some point the recorded voice would have advised parents to, in the unfortunate event of a dwindling air supply, put the oxygen mask on themselves first, children second. Sounds kinda mean to oxygenate yourself first while your offspring turn blue, doesn’t it? But, of course, it’s the only order of business that makes sense, considering how greatly diminished your capacity to care for your progeny would be if you were to pass out.
Of course, what you eat today or whether or not you exercise today probably won’t affect your ability to put attention to your top priorities today—but every food that finds its way to your mouth and every step you take (or don’t take) either contributes to or detracts from your long-term health. That’s why I want your health to be your main concern, both in thought and, more importantly, in behavior.
Ok, Fine. Health #1! Now What?
If you truly want to put your health on a pedestal, good health needs to be nurtured and coddled, which takes time—daily time. That translates to minutes spent reading nutrient-dense blogs, planning meals, and chopping vegetables. It also means setting aside an hour or so for daily exercise.
You’ll really know you’ve put your health in the upper caste when you’re invited to a breakfast networking meeting. Do you respond in the affirmative, ditch your personal trainer, and hope (fingers crossed) healthy eatables will be offered (really?)? Or do you reschedule your workout for earlier and inquire ahead about the breakfast menu?
My overweight dear friend and neighbor kicks everything to the curb when visiting her nephews. She “tries” to eat well and scraps the exercise altogether. It doesn’t take a genius to calculate the odds of losing weight while simultaneously not exercising and “trying” to stick to a healthy diet.
Health First Means You Might Have to Give up a Less Important Value
People can come up with a myriad of reasons for missing yet another workout or ingesting yet another bad meal. If your beloved is clutching his chest, gasping for breath, and sweating profusely, it might be acceptable to cancel the scheduled run and make haste to the ER. On the other hand, if your PTA pals request that you make a double batch of brownies for the upcoming bake sale, putting health first (yours and everyone else’s, for that matter!) might mean offering to organize a non-food fundraiser or suggesting a fruit-sweetened dessert sale.
This week, as your days fill up with work and other obligations, ask yourself, “Am I putting my health first in this situation?” If the answer is no, see if you can juggle things around until health comes out on top. If that doesn’t work, consider whether the activity in question is worth the risk to your long-term health.
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