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7 Strategies for Your Future Self

Stephen Covey, a distinguished businessman, author, and educator, gave us this advice: “Begin with the end in mind.”  He recommends taking time to think about how you want the future to look.  Working backwards from that vision you can more easily see the necessary steps to get there. It is a great tool that can be used in many situations.

Let’s take a few minutes to think about how it applies to our health.  25 years from now, how old will you be?  And just how healthy do you want to be at that age?  Do you hope to be well and active, strong, fit and enjoying life? How do you imagine your flexibility, energy, joint pain, and memory? Does the future look bright? And are you on the right track to get there?

Many researchers have proven that the health decisions we make now, and over the next 25 years, can impact our future wellbeing.  If you plan to have a healthy future, here are seven steps you should start taking now to help reach your goal.  Even small steps can make a big difference over time.

  1. Exercise for your heart:
    Heart attacks and strokes will definitely get in the way of your future health goals.  To help prevent them, research shows that the best thing you can do is move in a way that increases your pulse to your “target heart rate”.  Exercise (like walking, skiing, dancing, rowing, biking etc.) is recommended at least 30 minutes, 5 times a week.  This 150 minutes per week also benefits your weight and your mental health and reduces your chances of type 2 diabetes.  Don’t skip this strategy!

  2. Weight lift for your bones:
     If your long-term health plan includes being strong and moving easily, include some regular resistance training.  You don’t need to become an Olympic weightlifter; you can achieve a lot with hand weights, resistance bands, and even using the resistance of your own body weight.  Resistance training not only keeps your muscles strong, but it keeps your bones strong as well.  Looking to avoid osteoporosis and broken bones?  This is a great approach, and it also improves your mood.

  3. Make sleep a priority
    Researchers have identified a relationship between inadequate sleep and an early death.  Most adults need at least 7 hours per night and getting an adequate amount will also improve your mental health.

  4. Nourish your body
    Making healthy food choices will almost certainly pay off, and in particular get those fruits and vegetables into your diet!  Some researchers have found that eating at least 5 servings per day is associated with less chronic disease and a longer life, while others recommend up to 9 or 13.  Always aim for at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day.

  5. Alcohol in moderation
    If you enjoy alcohol, be sure to keep it in moderation.  Too much alcohol causes risks to your organs and increases your risk of cancer.  While some researchers conclude that no amount of alcohol is safe, for those folks who want to continue to imbibe some interesting research from Japan now recommends “liver rest days” for heavy drinkers (skipping alcohol 2 or 3 days per week) as a strategy to help improve their lifespan.

  6. Stop smoking:
    Smokers simply have more cardiovascular disease and cancer than non-smokers.  Vaping has been promoted as a safer alternative, but in fact we don’t yet have good long-term data on the risks associated with it. See if you can become smoke-free.

  7. Manage your stress
    We now know that stress can have a big impact on your health.  It can cause headaches, low mood, and sleep disturbances, and it can impact your cardiovascular health and create a compromised immune system.  Use relaxation techniques (like deep breathing and meditation) and schedule fun breaks.  Nurture healthy relationships with friends and family, because this has shown to impact both health and life span.  If you need it, get professional help for a little while.

Are you already doing these things, or do you need to invest a little more effort in your future health?  If you are off track, and it feels overwhelming, take just one area, and make some changes – when those changes become a habit, tackle another area.  Anything you do will benefit your health, and your future self will thank you!

References:

Boone, J. (2003, May). Evaluating the impact of stress on systemic disease: The most protocol in primary care. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.   https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12776765/ 

Covey, S. R. (2020). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. Simon & Schuster.

Gallicchio, A., & Kaleson, B. (2009, Jun). Sleep duration and mortality: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Sleep Research. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19645960/  

Gardner, B., Lally, P., & Wardle, J. (2012, December). Making health habitual: The psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice. The British Journal of General Practice: the Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3505409/ 

GBD 2016 Alcohol Collaborators . (2018, August 23). Alcohol use and burden for 195 countries and territories. The Lancet.   https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext 

Health Canada. (2021, September 3). Health Risks of Alcohol. Canada.ca.   https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/substance-use/alcohol.html

Holt-Lundstad, J. (2010, July 27). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk. PLOS Medicine.   https://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316 

Laucks, P., & Salzman, G. A. (2020). The dangers of vaping. Missouri Medicine.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7144697/ 

Liu, R. H. (2013, June). Dietary bioactive compounds and their health implications. Journal of Food Science.   https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23789932 

Liu, R. H. (2013, May). Health-promoting components of fruits and vegetables in the Diet. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23674808/ 

Marugame , T. (2007, May 1). Patterns of alcohol drinking and all-cause mortality: Results from a large-scale population-based cohort study in Japan. American Journal of Epidemiology. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17344205/ 

Mons, U., et al (2015, April 20). Impact of smoking and smoking cessation on cardiovascular events and mortality among older adults: Meta-analysis of individual participant data from prospective cohort studies of the chances consortium. The BMJ. https://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h1551#:~:text=Smokers%20had%20twofold%20hazards%20of%20cardiovascular%20mortality%20compared,was%20also%20twofold%2C%20and%201.5-fold%20for%20stroke%20events 

Rasulo, D., Christensen, K., & Tomassini, C. (2005, October 1). Influence of social relations on mortality in later life: A study on elderly Danish twins. OUP Academic.   https://academic.oup.com/gerontologist/article/45/5/601/6525746 

Sleep Foundation. (2021, December 9). Why do we need sleep? https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/why-do-we-need-sleep#:~:text=One%20of%20the%20vital%20roles%20of%20sleep%20is,many%20of%20these%20steps%20happen%20while%20we%20sleep

Tian, D., & Meng, J. (2019, April 9). Exercise for prevention and relief of cardiovascular disease: Prognoses, mechanisms, and approaches. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6481017/ 

Wang, D. D. (2021, Apr 27.). Fruit and vegetable intake and mortality: Results from 2 prospective cohort studies of US men and women and a meta-analysis of 26 cohort studies. Circulation.   https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33641343/  

 Westcot, Wayne L. (2012, Jul-Aug). Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports.   https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22777332   Worley, S. L. (2018, December). The extraordinary importance of sleep: The detrimental effects of inadequate sleep on health and public safety drive an explosion of sleep research. Pharmacy & Therapeutics   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6281147/

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