Taking Care of Yourself: 5 Things I Wish I Had Done
My greatest fear in life has always been getting old. While I respect it’s something not everyone gets the luxury of doing, I still feared being old and reliant on other people. When you’re young, you navigate around the slower, older people with a hefty sigh. You wonder where they went wrong to end up in a walker or wheelchair. You swear that won’t be you.
Only it will be you. If I’ve learned nothing the past 5 years, it’s that your body will slowly start to betray you. I now wear glasses, despite having 20/20 vision my whole life. The eyes are just deteriorating. I have pain in the back (lower and upper) and my metabolism wouldn’t burn if I set myself on fire.
I look back at the life choices I made and I would have never seen then what I see now – things I could have done to be a better older me. Instead of facing my fear, I fought it. I ignored it.
Now, here I am, so inclined at 5:00 am to write to those of you in your 20’s and 30’s to tell you a few simple ways to get a hold of your body and health now. I swear I was 25 yesterday, and now I’m breathing down the neck of 50 baffled at where the time went.
I’m not going to be a hypocrite and tell you to not smoke, drink, party, or work hard. I did all those in spades. What am I going to tell you are ways you can navigate whatever eating and partying life you have while still taking care of things that won’t hurt for another decade or so.
Stretch as often as you can. Do yoga poses. Drop into a child’s pose as often as you can. Trying to work on flexibility when you are older is so hard. I wish I had spent less time strengthening my body and more time stretching it out.
We spend so much time hunched over a desk, a phone, a dog, that we don’t align our bodies upright, sideways, or backward. Give your body some limber love daily.
At some point, stretching might be the only way you can comfortably walk. It might save you so much money at the chiropractor down the road trying to re-align what’s out of line.
Take the Weight off Your Shoulders (and Belly and Butt)
As we get older, our metabolism goes wonky. I was 125 pounds and 6′ tall from 13 – 25 years old. Then the metabolism crashed. Crashed again at 30. Downright stopped at 40.
Don’t let 5 pounds turn into 10 turn into 15. Stop when you notice you are gaining weight (or losing too much weight). Get control of it before you don’t recognize yourself. All of those things that will hurt you when you are older will hurt worse if you have too much weight.
Have people in your life who will tell you when you are gaining weight. Make them be honest in the worst conversation you’ll have.
Find someone who teaches you healthy eating habits, not fad diets.
Splurge on foods you like, but never from an emotion. A good mental health counselor will help you with emotional eating triggers or “food as a reward.”
Say it with me “Food is fuel. Nothing else.”
Once upon a time I could lose five pounds in a weekend. Now I can’t lose 5 pounds in a month.
Also, get in the habit of drinking a lot of water. Otherwise every ailment you ever get will be blamed on this.
See a Doctor When You Aren’t Sick
Yearly physicals are great because you get a baseline of normal bloodwork. This will be a great comparison when something goes wrong.
Go to the dentist once a year, even if you hate the dentist. Get those moles checked at the dermatologist.
The number of years I went without checkups baffles me now, as I have a rolodex of doctors. Things I could’ve caught early on in a preventative way are now being treated in an effect way.
Ask your family about medical history and keep notes. You never know when they won’t be around to answer questions.
Ask about family history of:
- Heart disease
- Breast Cancer
- What age your mom went through menopause (I promise you’ll have to answer this question someday, ladies)
- Skin cancer
- GI issues
- Immune system issues
- Arthritis (and was it osteoarthritis or rehumatoid)
- Mental illness
- Bone density issues
You’ll fill this information out on forms for years to come when you get middle-aged and beyond.
Climb that Damn Mountain Now
Don’t put off the the challenges you dream about. I love hiking and would wander through the wilderness for days if only there were public restrooms, showers loaded with Aveda products, and a Trader Joe’s.
All the mountains I dreamed of climbing will most likely remain dreams for now. My back and legs are gnarly from years of improper treatment. It doesn’t matter that I can max out the leg machine, if my knee and hip won’t support a climb, I can’t go. I can’t risk being at 8,000 feet with a limp.
I’m about the least adventurous person I know, but I still had adventures ahead of me. I wanted to learn aerial yoga. Now it’s just not something by body can do.
Yes, it will cost money to go on adventures. You can always make more money. You cannot always get today’s body back.
Stop, Stop, Stop Hating Yourself
I promise you the body you have today that you critique ad nauseum you will wish for someday. I look back at Spring Break pictures and remember feeling so insecure in that bikini. I would slap my dog to get that body back.
The hair you fight daily? Embrace it. I wasted years trying to have curly, thick hair. I destroyed much of my thin, fine, straight hair in the process. Love what God gave you and use it to your advantage.
When Brazilian Blowouts became a thing, I asked my hair stylist if I should get one. She laughed and said “People pay $200 to get the hair YOU ALREADY HAVE!” It was eye-opening that someone actually wanted a stick straight mess.
I’ve spent too much money changing the parts of my body I didn’t like. Some for better, some for worse. Fixing my crooked nose put me through some of the worst pain I will ever experience for months on end. I would not go back and do it again. The nose I hated my entire life I now see in pictures and think “it wasn’t so bad.” You know how many of my self-image issues it fixed? None. There is always something else to hate. Stop. Hating.
Embrace who you are. You are beautiful. And you’re going to be 50 tomorrow.