Dr. Tammy Bannister: Constructing a healthier community takes one step at a time
This is about the time of year when many of us give up on our New Year’s resolutions. We start strong in January with lofty plans to lose weight, join a local gym, catch up on our doctors’ preventive care recommendations and get more involved in our community. By March, we need a little nudge to remember to “act as if,” which I will explain in a bit.
There are many ways to measure community health. Most analysis, however, focuses on disease and death rates. I believe we are more than measures of illness and mortality. Choosing a healthy lifestyle requires consistent steps (even if they are small ones) in the right direction. Almost everyone has tried a crash diet or exercise fad that only lasts a short time and results in no long-term health benefit. “Acting as if” we are healthy can lead to daily decisions that contribute to a healthier life. Those decisions can be as simple as increasing daily activity through a walk or improving our diet by adding more vegetables and fruit and decreasing salt and sugar. Regardless of our age or current health, keeping up with doctors’ appointments, taking medications properly and engaging with our community are all consistent steps toward long-term health.
The concept of community health is not new, but it has evolved as communities have changed. In 1946, the World Health Organization defined health as “… a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Applying this definition – our community can only be as healthy as its members, which includes all of us.
This is where the concept of “acting as if” becomes a means of building a healthier community. When each of us takes responsibility for our own healthy choices, it can extend into the community. Quality-of-life measures include not only physical health, but also mental and social health. Healthy citizens can more actively engage in their community, through specific volunteer opportunities or simply helping out a neighbor in need. Sometimes just seeing a need where you are and helping to resolve it can be a healthy way to live.
If we are more intentional about our own health, we can also impact those around us. Let’s join forces and “act as if” we are indeed healthy, because our health and community are depending on us.
Tammy Bannister, M.D., is a primary care physician at Marshall Health and professor for the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. She sees patients at the Marshall University Medical Center.
This article originally appeared in the March 16 edition of the Herald Dispatch.
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