CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Just days ago, New Year's Eve toasts were made to mark the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. For many of us, the idea of closing the door on this past year was necessary, even therapeutic. With such tragedies as the Colorado theater massacre, devastation from superstorm Sandy and the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I for one was left feeling more fearful and fragile than ever before.
Unfortunately, at a time when we're typically toasting to a year of better physical health, our broken hearts and minds are centered on threats of domestic terrorism and images of being flung off fiscal cliffs. Suddenly, 10 pounds doesn't sound like a big deal, lowering our cholesterol can wait. And who cares about muffin tops when lives around us are crumbling?
For many, this past year has changed perspectives and re-ranked to-do lists. Mental-health issues have taken precedence over physical health. We're asking how we can prevent or at least be equipped to deal with the insane events that happen in our lives.
But wait, aren't these two health issues related?
Fit people, fit minds
Yes, they are integrally connected. People who eat healthy and are physically active are less susceptible to chronic disease. Those with a chronic disease, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are more likely to suffer from depression. An Oregon State University study shows that people with a physical health problem are three times more likely to seek mental-health care than those who have no physical ailments. If our goal is to improve the mental health of America, it must involve physical health.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, an online campaign called "26 Acts of Kindness" has gone viral and is giving back to Newtown as well as communities around the world. This wonderful effort demonstrates the power of a good deed. It feels wonderful to do something kind for someone, especially when it is unexpected and unsolicited. I believe each of us should commit to 26 Acts of Kindness in 2013, but I will challenge you to add at least one more.
No. 27: Be kind to yourself by working toward better physical and mental health.
Often, when we are giving our time, resources and energy to others, we fail to take care of our own needs. Exercise and good nutrition should always be a priority. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this about mental health and mood:
"Regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning and judgment skills sharp. It can also reduce your risk of depression and may help you sleep better."
Exercise also reduces our risk of chronic disease, manages weight, decreases pain, strengthens our muscles, bones and joints, increases energy and makes us look and feel better.
How much is enough?
Recognize that our stress is at an all-time high right now. We've been trying to find holiday happiness in the midst of tragic and inexplicable sadness. One step at a time is all we can expect.
A few thoughts I'd like to share: