When we were creating our new strategic plan, I was struck by some of the statistics on our health status in Chatham-Kent. Compared with the rest of Ontario: we smoke more, we eat fewer fruits and vegetables and we have high rates of chronic disease.
We also live in a spectacular area of the province. We have access to fresh produce, a warm climate with opportunities for recreation and a welcoming community where you can make friends and be involved.
Our new vision of “Together, Growing a Healthier Community” challenges us all to bridge the disconnect between our current health status and all that is possible for our population.
It’s one thing to believe that something is good for other people. It’s quite another when you look in the mirror. I’m a 56 year old woman with a family history of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. I’m married to a smoker with a family history of chronic disease and cancer. I realize that we are the statistics. I also know that my actions impact on how my children live their lives. That got me thinking that with 1,400 employees and 200 physicians, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance has influence over the health status of a good portion of our community. What if by making different choices at work and at home, we are healthier and we create an environment that supports others to do so too?
Now, the question is how.
Much of what is reported in the statistics on our health status as a population relates to our habits as individuals. In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg quotes a Duke University study that found that “more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.” My morning routine at home is the same every day including my six minute drive to work. This all gets disrupted when kids come home for the summer, get a job and need transportation. I decided that rather than grumbling this year, I would see this as my opportunity to walk or bike to work. To my delight, I received a “stylish” backpack for Mothers’ Day to make the trek more comfortable. I may not do it every day but I’ve come to enjoy it. It requires a bit more thought – make sure that my running shoes are by the door, check the weather the night before in case of rain and keep some deodorant at work.
The other interesting thing from Duhigg’s book is the concept of “keystone habits.” For some reason, consciously making certain changes in our lifestyle seems to trigger other new unrelated patterns. For example, when people start exercising (even once a week – yay!) they start eating better, smoke less, use credit cards less frequently and show more patience with colleagues and family. Eating dinner together as a family is linked with better homework skills and higher grades; and making your bed is correlated with better productivity, sense of well-being and sticking to a budget.
So, what are the added benefits I’ve seen of my backpack? When I walk or ride my bike I feel energized when I get to work. I often pass a neighbour or colleague along the way and it feels good just to start my day by saying “Hello!” Thanks to the YMCA’s Learn to Run a 5K, I’ve done two 5K run/walks and I kept up with my kids when hiking recently in Banff. Nothing beats two hours of uninterrupted time with teenagers! The summer also means more fresh food options available and cooking at our house is something that we enjoy doing together. I appreciate the healthy left-overs to put in the backpack for lunch or snacks at work. I’m finding with more exercise that I’m getting to bed at a more consistent time each night and so I am getting reacquainted with the stack of books that are on my bedside table. I’ve even been more attentive to the weeds in the garden. I’d say that this one action has had a positive spillover into other areas of my life for sure.
At CKHA, we’re introducing some opportunities to engage in healthy habits in the workplace. Whether it is our Mindfulness Mondays, Walking Wednesdays or Farmers Market Fridays, I encourage you to think about what habits appeal to you. Maybe you can’t walk to work but you can treat yourself to parking in the Pegley lot to enjoy a stroll on nice days; maybe you choose healthy options in the cafeteria and save “Ken’s Mac & Cheese” for the occasional treat; or maybe when you’ve had a particularly stressful situation to deal with you take some time to debrief with a colleague or reflect privately. Truly, let’s grow a healthier community together. One person and one habit at a time.
Oh, and in case you think that my walking habit will be short lived, please meet the newest member of our family. Oswald, our new puppy.