Tess Worrell.jpg

Every year my husband and I had the same fight.

Every year he would ask what I wanted for Christmas. I would say, “I want you to promise me you will start walking three miles a day three times a week. That’s all I want.”

Grimacing and impatient, he asked, “Seriously, what fun thing can I get you?”

“Seriously, all I want is for you to exercise a little more and be a little healthier.”

Always the same excuse — he didn’t have time. Quite fair since his work week totaled between 60 to 80 hours. But, I always came back to the same point, “After your heart attack, you’ll find the time to walk. Can you start now and skip the heart attack?” I was only half-kidding. I knew the toll too much weight, too little exercise, and too greasy food put on his body. Though he purchased several lovely gifts over the years, I never received what I wanted — a healthier husband.

As it turns out, my fears were completely mistaken. Hubby’s heart was sound. I never saw the stroke coming. Strokes were for seniors. Yet, too much weight, too little exercise, and too much greasy food can damage your brain as well.

It’s been six months since my husband and I have had a conversation. Six months since he was able to understand what our children are saying. Six months since he could greet the students he loves and train their minds for medical careers.

Are you wondering what to give your loved ones this Christmas? How about a healthier you?

Reduce your stress. According to Jerome F. Kiffer of the Department of Health Psychology and Applied Psychophysiology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, 43 percent of adults suffer from stress, which can play a part in “headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression and anxiety.” Stress threatens our health which impacts our family. What do we do to change?

The most effective stress reducer — eliminate the stress inducer. Easier said than done, I know. But, take the time to examine the stress-inducing situations and pinpoint exactly which factors cause the stress. You may not be able to abandon a less-than-ideal job, but can you rearrange your schedule to eliminate the looming deadlines that cause stress?

While you may not be able to avoid a vindictive ex-spouse, can you arrange to meet only at neutral places so your home remains a safe-zone? Focus on the elements you can change. Just taking some control can reduce stress.

Take five minutes after lunch each day to stretch and do some deep breathing. Investigate a yoga class. Set aside time for quiet prayer.  Including more contemplative habits in your daily routine reduces stress.

Exercise. The worst 30 minutes of my day are the first 30 minutes — exercise time. Yet, every time I swear I’m giving up so I can sleep in, another study touts the benefits of exercise. Exercise is critical to a healthier you. If you haven’t exercised, start slow — 10 minutes a day. You can do anything for 10 minutes. Find what you like — dancing, walking in the woods, bicycling, a group class. If you can set a definite time and focus on an activity you like, you can make this a habit. Exercise also reduces stress. A daily two-mile walk can be as effective as medication for easing depression, so you can get healthier and happier with this habit.

Lose the weight. Don’t worry about model-thin, but do worry about weight that raises blood pressure, harms joints and leaves you short of breath. Hubby lost 50 pounds after his stroke. His aching knees no longer ache and blood pressure has plummeted. Had he done this last Christmas, we’d probably be discussing what to buy the kids for Christmas this year. Start easy. Replace one meal a day with nuts, fruits and veggies. Eat an apple before every meal. It gives the benefits of fruit while filling your stomach so you reduce eating unhealthy food. Ask for a cookbook for Christmas that offers enticing new recipes to get you out of the rut of unhealthy choices. Refuse to buy the foods that tempt you most.

You already know all this, but don’t let it be just another noise bugging you to do something you don’t want to think about. Christmas is a celebration of the life Jesus came to give us — an abundant life. Part of that abundance is sharing life with our family. Your family needs you. The best gift you can give them is a healthier you.

Tess Worrell is the mother of eight and teaches parenting and marriage. Email her at tess@yourfamilymatterstous.com.

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