It's a given that as a new year begins, people flock to the gym, start diets, and empty their fridges and shelves of calorie rich food left over from Christmas. It's a commendable move—turning over a new leaf and resolving to get our bodies back in shape, especially if you are over 50, is never wasted effort. Unless, of course, it really is wasted effort, and we go right back to our old habits.
New Years' resolutions do not have a very good record. According to statistics reported by Statistic Brain, only 64% of resolutions last longer than the first month, and only 46% last longer than 6 months. But the really discouraging statistic comes from people like us, those of us who are over 50—only 14% of us actually fulfill our resolution, compared to 39% of people in their 20s.
Researchers offer several reasons for these lapses, ranging from a lack of deep-seated conviction about change, to lack of scientific knowledge about the formation of habits. The fact that these attempts are so unsuccessful demonstrates a need for more understanding about the importance and gravity of taking responsibility for our health.
After all, what accounts for the epidemic of lifestyle diseases that persist in our society? What explains the unquestioning dependence of patients on their doctors and the willingness of so many of us to submit to treatment with powerful medicines?
Doctors do their best to diagnose our illnesses and prescribe accurate and specific medicine. But a doctor's time is limited—and patients are aware that, unless their condition is acute, they shouldn't go beyond the time alloted to them. This leaves some patients with gaps in their diagnosis, due to unreported symptoms.
And even when symptoms are clearly disclosed, and correct treatment prescribed, patients frequently ignore their doctor's advice. When questions of patient non-compliance impede health, doctors become frustrated. After all, they have entered the profession because they want to help people.
Writing for an online blog, KevinMD, physician Justin Reno explains his feelings:
"Modern health care feels that it’s my job, as a physician, to fix society’s health problems. It’s really not. My job, or at least what I’ve come to see, is to help guide people through their own health issues. In the minuscule amount of time I get to interact with a patient (maybe 15 to 30 minutes every month), it’s impossible for me to overcome the habits/decisions they make all day, every day."
Successful author of Losing Weight is a Healing Journey, Katrina Love Senn is even more direct, saying:
"No one else is responsible for your health and your body, except for you. No-one knows your body like you do. You simply cannot delegate your health to anyone else and still expect to stay vibrantly well and healthy."
Senn goes deeper into the motives of companies that have a powerful influence on people's lifestyles. She warns that food companies want consumers to become addicted to their refined, highly processed foods, adding that some manufacturers promote diet foods with no real proof that they work. Big pharmaceutical companies are possibly the greatest beneficiaries of poor lifestyle choices, profiting greatly from drugs prescribed when people become ill from leading unhealthy lives. These profit-driven companies, she says, are very happy to take your money but they will not take responsibility for the quality of your heath. Senn warns that people who allow illusory advertising to determine their choices may be faced with the real possibility of living out a life filled with disease, food addiction, anxiety and unhappiness...
Doctors don't want to make your choices for you, and most companies put profit over your well-being. So the responsibility rests with someone else—you. You are the one in charge of your brain, and you are the only one who can form your attitudes toward your own health.
It's a tough thing to hear, as we begin this brand new year, determined to feel better, to have a healthier life. This is not a new idea. Personal responsibility has occupied the concern of psychologists and researchers for decades. Over a hundred years ago, author J.A. Froud made this observation:
And remember Eleanor Roosevelt? She lived in a simpler time, but she lived a robust, healthy life of 78 years, and came to the following realization without the benefit of the hundreds of available books and blogs about personal responsibility. She said:
"In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility."
So as 2018 begins, take a moment to think about the significance of taking responsibility for your health, and how your New Years' resolutions fit into it. If you are over 50, you have been here before, pausing at the threshold of a new year, wondering how you can improve your health and life.
It's a big step to examine the psychological and emotional underpinnings of something as big as changing your life—and it goes beyond jotting down a few resolutions.
This guest post was written by Diane Dahli from Still the Lucky Few.