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Perfection Is Not the Goal in Lifestyle Medicine

Let’s be real with one another: life isn’t easy. The last year and a half, in particular, have been grueling for many of us. Whether you’re a health care worker, an essential worker on the front line, a parent, a teacher, or anyone making difficult decisions constantly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become more difficult than ever to focus on self-care.

To me, self-care is less about taking a spa day, or treating yourself to something nice; rather, it’s about taking care of yourself the way you would take care of your children, or your aging parents or your pets. It’s about scheduling that dentist appointment, getting your medication filled on time, moving your body and nourishing yourself with food that will fuel you. The goal of this blog post is not to make you feel guilty for not doing those things! It’s intended to be a reminder that you matter, too, and making small changes in your lifestyle can make a big impact on your longevity and overall health.

With all the decision fatigue we’ve been facing lately, it must be said: to live a healthy lifestyle, you do not need to make healthy decisions 100% of the time. There will be days where your personal best means getting take out for dinner. That is perfectly acceptable. A healthy lifestyle does not need to be perfect, it just needs to be healthy on average.

When I talk with my clients at LIFE Medicine about lifestyle changes, my goal is to empower them to live longer, healthier lives that are ideally free from chronic disease. Sometimes folks feel skeptical about making changes to their lives because it feels unattainable. This idea is perpetuated on social media where influencers frequently push diet and exercise extremes.

Lifestyle medicine is most successful when it is implemented in a sustainable, practical way. If you’re looking to improve your cholesterol for example, and you’ve been eating beef and pork for dinner every night since childhood, it would be an unsustainable and impractical goal to have you adapt a plant-based diet overnight. What makes the most sense is incorporating healthy swaps a few times a week. Instead of beef tacos on Tuesdays, maybe you try black bean tacos. Instead of a pork stir fry, maybe you try a tofu stir fry.

Health is not all-or-nothing. We all live in shades of grey. Now more than ever, take the time to focus on your own self-care. Here are a few swaps to try if you’re seeking a healthy change:

· To reduce stress, instead of watching television or scrolling social media during a 15 minute break in your day, try a 10 minute guided meditation on the free Insight Timer app.

· To reduce your blood pressure, instead of ruminating on stressful thoughts, spend 5 minutes focused on a deep breathing exercise.

· Instead of having breakfast from a drive-thru every day on your way to work, commit to having overnight oats 3 days a week, you may find it’s even faster and far kinder on your wallet, too!

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