February 6 is National Wear Red Day, a day to raise awareness for heart disease in women. I admittedly don't know much about heart disease, but I felt like this upcoming awareness day was the impetus I needed to do a little research and become more, well, aware.
A simple Google search led me to dozens of articles with information ranging from "this is kinda scary" to "I am going to die today." I had to stop. I think an overall awareness of diseases and ailments is a good thing, but it's easier (and way more fun) to pretend to be invincible.
While I won't ruin your day with a cloud of saddening statistics about the number of annual heart disease-related deaths and types of heart disease that exist (have you ever heard of broken heart syndrome? Because that's a thing...), I will share with you the one fact that stuck out to me the most:
Heart disease is highly preventable. Hooray for one positive fact. Thanks, Internet!
When I was little, my mom always quoted this saying to my brothers and me: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." This token "mom saying" was always met with a combination of resonation and resentment. I appreciated the sentiment, but sometimes I just wanted to be a kid and have some fun. Why worry about an ounce of prevention or a pound of cure when you could have an immeasurable amount of enjoyment by ignoring troubles altogether?
As I reflect on my reaction then versus my reaction now, I realize one slight perspective shift that makes a lot of difference. I think I often associated the word "prevention" with worry. I thought that preventing a thing would put more thoughts of the thing itself into my head, and that sounds like a whole barrel of misery. What I realize now, though, is that that's not true.
Prevention doesn't have to be some all-consuming endeavor where everything you eat, breath, say, and do is an active attempt to ward off some overriding circumstance (be it a disease, event, or other). That, to me, translates to unhealthy obsession or fixation. The best approach for myself, I've found, is to not think about the thing I'm preventing at all, but rather to focus on the prevention itself in the form of living a "healthy lifestyle."
Let it be known that I'm using the term "healthy lifestyle" loosely for fear of being overtly hypocritical (being covertly hypocritical is another story). I am no Gwenyth Paltrow. You're still gonna see me ordering fries, I'm still gonna skip the gym every so often, and I'm definitely not attending yoga class anytime soon.
What I mean by healthy lifestyle is an overarching attempt to choose healthy options over unhealthy ones. If you're on the go, maybe grab a protein bar instead of a candy bar. If you're gonna hang out with a friend, maybe go for a hike instead of a lunch. If you're craving something sweet at night, maybe don't have a gallon of Baskin Robbins on hand in your freezer, you gross slob.
My mother was a health nut. She ran every day and routinely practiced her Jane Fonda workout videos. She chose shampoos and conditioners that didn't have chemicals in them. She ate a heaping plate of steamed vegetables every night for dinner. Health was a consistent hobby for her.
For me, health is a little less undeviating. There are times when I'll do a two-day juice cleanse, feel great, and then have an In N Out hamburger for breakfast the next morning. There are times when I'll run ten miles in a day and then go a week without working out. There are times when I'll shop at Whole Foods and times when I'll grab snacks at the gas station. Establishing a sustainable healthy lifestyle is certainly a challenge, and one that I have clearly struggled with. I think part of my difficulty is that I waiver between mentalities of "health is fun!" and "health is too hard."
Sometimes, when I fall off the wagon, I get so upset with myself that I realize I am doing more harm than good. What good is prevention if it's causing all this stress and inner turmoil in the process?
If you're anything like me and you face those falling-off-the-wagon moments, I want to encourage you -- just like I try to encourage myself -- to keep moving forward. Just because you had that doughnut doesn't mean you're a failure. Just because you didn't work out today doesn't mean you have to become a curmudgeon. As long as you are consistently making an effort to choose good over bad, that's all you can ask of yourself. No matter how small a baby step is, it's still a step.
Speaking of baby steps, I have to go babystep to the Baskin Robbins I have in my freezer. I am deciding right now whether I will throw it away or eat it.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the American Heart Association's Go Red For Women in recognition of National Wear Red Day (Feb. 6, 2015), the aim of which is to raise awareness that today women are more likely than men have heart disease or a stroke, and 1 in 3 will die. But 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented with education and lifestyle changes. To read all the stories in the series, visit here. And to follow the conversation on Twitter -- and share a picture of yourself wearing red -- find the hashtag #GoRedSelfie.