Every year, starting on Mother’s Day, the US recognizes women’s health and encourages women to take manageable steps to help improve their health and wellbeing. As a woman, I appreciate this recognition – and reminder – that I can take small, meaningful steps that accommodate my needs and life circumstances to improve my health.
Of course, in addition to being a woman, I’m a mother, wife, daughter, granddaughter, friend, business owner, part-time university faculty member, nonprofit Board member, and volunteer. I’m also in the midst of a cross country move with all the things that come along with that when you have a child and a dog. So, when I read that the purpose of National Women’s Health Week is to “encourage women and girls to reflect on their individual health needs and take steps to improve their overall health,” my first reaction was “if one more person puts one more expectation on me, god help them.”
I am quite certain many other women out there feel the same.
But here’s the thing ladies – We’ve got this.
As we juggle the many things that are on our plates and the many roles that we fill for the people in our lives, it is easy to forget two things. First: to take care of and prioritize ourselves, our own needs, and specifically, our health. Secondly, in taking care of ourselves it is the small but sustained changes to one’s daily routine that have the greatest impact.
This is a point that is highlighted by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Women’s Health’s in its approach to National Women’s Health Week. First of all, they recognize just how much we are responsible for and how often we have a tendency to put ourselves last on the list of priorities (assuming we manage to make the list at all). Secondly, after acknowledging this reality, they provide a great tool that can help users identify a manageable goal and easy steps to take to work towards that goal. I used the tool and in about a minute, I had some easy suggestions for how I can work toward my goals.
This isn’t rocket science. The tool didn’t provide me any answers that I didn’t already know when it came to healthier decisions. What it did do is remind me again the power of those micro-habits, the small decisions that I make during the day that direct the trajectory of my health and wellness. It reminded me that slow and steady wins the race.
The point here is that we don’t have to make this difficult. It’s not about spending an hour a day at the gym (because that is not going to happen). It’s not about buying and eating expensive specialty diet foods. Instead, it’s about taking a 10-minute walk, climbing a flight of stairs 5 times, or eating an apple.
Small, consistent actions beat out the best intentions and the grandest (unsustained) gestures.
Going through this today reminded me of when I was in high school. I was captain of the cheerleading squad and there was a girl on the squad that wanted to have a role that required her to be much stronger than she was. She was the daughter of a single mom and had limited resources. A gym membership and other costly options weren’t available to her. Exercising her ingenuity and perseverance, she solved the problem. She took two 2-liter bottles out of the recycling can and filled them with water. They became her weight set. And she did arm exercises in between homework assignments: finished math, 15 reps of bicep curls. It became a habit for her, and eventually something that she did as intuitively and seamlessly as my habit of checking my phone for messages or news alerts in between meetings. And within a couple of months, she attained her goal.
When you’re mentally tired, overwhelmed, distracted, all the things we juggle in a day, it is easy to say, “I don’t have time,” or “I can’t afford to.” Or to feel discouraged by the seeming hugeness of the task and the distance between where you are today and where you want to be.
In those moments, I encourage you to remember this: You can do this. You deserve to take care of yourself. You are a priority.
The next step then, in the words of the inimitable Dory from Finding Nemo is to “Just keep swimming.”
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