When we say health is wealth, do we mean a healthy person is wealthy? To broaden the scope, does this mean that the healthiest people are the wealthiest?
The origin of “health is wealth” can be traced back to the American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who, in 1860, said, “The first wealth is health”. In his Finance and Development article, The Shape of Global Health, David E. Bloom also quoted this. In that article, Bloom pointed out an established relationship between income and health. He also noted that good health is the foundation for building a good life, a flourishing society, and a thriving economy.
So, when we say, “Health is wealth”, I believe what we mean is that good health creates the propensity for wealth, not just for individuals but also for nations. There are real-life scenarios in which how people cannot earn a living or maintain a source of income because of failing health. Maybe the question should not be “How healthy are you?” Maybe we should ask instead, “How rich can you be?”
Tiny drops of habits
The quote, “health is wealth” also suggests that how rich you can be depends on how healthy you are. At first glance, trying to achieve good health amid a busy and sometimes chaotic life seems herculean. However, things become easier when we remember or realise that what constitutes a healthy life is healthy behaviour, which builds on healthy habits.
Recently, I came across B.J. Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything. In this book, Fogg goes in-depth about how effective behaviour change happens using the “Fogg Behaviour Model”. In a TED talk that he gave, which nearly summarises his book, he mentioned that one effective way to achieve long-term change, like positive health outcomes, is to change your behaviour and to make the behaviour change so tiny that it becomes automatic.
To do this, take note of the following:
- Do not focus on the outcome. Instead, focus on the behaviours that lead to the outcome. For example, if your desired outcome is to maintain a healthy weight, certain behaviours that influence this are exercising, eating healthy, reducing stress, etc.
- We determine our behaviour by our habits. Habits are more specific versions of our behaviour; they are the root of behaviour change. For example, to develop a behaviour of healthy eating, you must cultivate the habit of buying fruits and vegetables, shunning excess alcohol and sugary drinks, eating breakfast, preparing homemade meals, not eating late, etc. To develop a behaviour of exercising, you should cultivate the habit of taking evening walks, riding a bicycle, using the stairs instead of taking the lift, skipping, going to the gym, doing sit-ups, etc. To develop a behaviour of stress reduction, you should form a habit of saying no to activities that do not fit into your schedule, taking a 30-45 minutes power nap by 2 pm every day, not taking phone calls after 11 pm, engaging in a leisurely activity every Friday (or every third Friday), etc.
- To ensure lasting change, anchor the new habit to an existing habit or event. The format is: After I (do an existing habit), I will (do a new habit). For example, After I brush my teeth in the morning, I will do 10 sit-ups; or, After I get to the bus stop, I will buy fruits; or After I arrive at the office, I will drink a cup of water.
Do not drop the baton
The responsibility of observing healthy habits and maintaining good health is one that we encounter every day. It is like a marathon or a relay race, but you are the only athlete; you are constantly passing the baton to yourself.
You are your only competition, constantly competing against who you were the day, week or year before, which is a different version of yourself. The goal is to ensure that who you are today is a healthier version of who you were yesterday. That is how you win.
According to the Olympics website, one of the rules in an Olympic relay race is that “the baton exchange has to happen within a 20m changeover box…a team can be disqualified if any member drops the baton during the handover.” Basically, do not drop the baton during an exchange. Interestingly, this rule also applies in observing healthy habits: try not to drop the baton or fall off the wagon; always show up.
Interestingly, in some relay races, dropping the baton does not result in disqualification. The athlete can pick it up and keep going. While trying to maintain good health, will we drop the baton at some point? Possibly. However, what matters is that we can pick it up.
You can pick up from the last time you took an evening walk, skipped, avoided alcohol, or consistently consumed fruits and vegetables. No matter how long ago it was, you can pick up from the last time you observed a healthy habit. That is the difference between living and an Olympic relay race – dropping the baton during an exchange does not disqualify you. You can pick it up again and keep going!
By Onyinye Chiekwe, B.Pharm, PharmD, MScPH