Why Do You Want to be Healthy?
It's time to rethink all those standard New Year's health resolutions — lose a few pounds, exercise more, lower your cholesterol, eat less junk, etc. — and ask yourself "why?" What do you want your health for? What will good health help you achieve?
That's the approach UW Health physician Lisa Grant, DO, takes when she sees patients. In addition to the usual questions about health history, Grant asks patients about their favorite hobbies, the important people in their lives, what keeps them going, what they're most excited about, and their life goals. They're the same questions she asks herself from time to time.
What Gives Your Life Meaning?
"What are the things that give our lives meaning and purpose?" says Grant, who worked as a psychotherapist before becoming a physician. "Health is not an end in and of itself; it's a vehicle to connect with all the things that give you meaning in your life."
Take the middle-aged man who smokes, doesn't eat well and is overweight. Grant's health advice can fall on deaf ears until she probes about his life goals.
"Health as an end point really doesn't mean a lot to some of us," she says. "But ask about their health purpose, and a lot of patients will say things like, 'I want to be there for my kids, I want to be a good example, I want to see my kids graduate from high school, I want to enjoy my retirement with my spouse.' And people start to realize that some of their health behaviors aren't compatible with those goals. It helps people get motivated to make more positive changes."
But it's not just a trick to get patients to reform unhealthy habits. Understanding what drives patients' quality of life helps doctors do their job better, Grant points out. That's why in 2014 UW Health added a line about patients' health goals to the top of the electronic health record. "We don't want to see patients as a sum of their problems; we want to see them as healthy and whole," Grant says.
Of course, it can be easy to lose sight of big-picture questions if you have a pressing medical complaint or you or your doctor is short on time. So what do you do if your doctor doesn't ask you those sorts of questions?
"As patients, we have to be a real advocate for ourselves when we go to the doctor. You can say, 'I want to make sure you know about my health goal," Grant suggests.
Tips to Find and Use Your Health Purpose
While some patients know the answers to these questions instantly, others might want to reflect before arriving in the doctor's office. Grant offers these tips for finding and using your health purpose to your advantage:
- "Ask yourself, and then ask yourself again," she suggests. "How do you want to live your life going forward and how is your health a vehicle in getting there?" You might want to try journaling about it.
- Use your imagination to picture your goals. "When you're at your best, what does that look like? If you were to imagine having this rich retirement with your spouse, what might that look like?" she says.
- Think about specifics. Do you want to be a more fun and active parent or spouse? Do you want to learn new things and travel the world? Do you want to continue a favorite physical activity that brings you joy? What specific elements make up your best life?
- Verbalize your goals with your doctor and loved ones. "Change tends to happen through verbalization and not just from listening to me blabber on about high cholesterol," Grant says. "There is a lot of data that if you can get patients to verbalize a health-related change, the chance of them making that change goes up significantly." Sharing your goals can help you recruit cheerleaders and feel more accountable.
- Ask yourself what you're already doing well that's putting you on the path toward your goal. There's usually something, and it's important to recognize your health strengths as well as areas of improvement, Grant says.
- With your goals in mind, work with your doctor on a sustainable health improvement plan. "Let's say you're overweight and your cholesterol is high, and you want to have a long, healthy and active retirement," Grant says. "You can see your behaviors of being sedentary and not eating right are not going to support that goal." Your doctor can help you come up with a health plan that's right for you.
- Revisit your health purpose in case it changes. "If you can periodically consider what you want your health for, it's a way to start living with more intentionality," Grant says. And that's something that will long outlive your average New Year's resolution.
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Date Published: 01/15/2016