I saw an article in the Boston Globe last week that confirmed everything that I know to be true about getting healthy – that we have a huge amount of control over our health. At first, that did not seem like the message of the article. It seemed to just say that married people won the lottery and single people were up a creek.
The headline was “Married Cancer Patients Live Longer Than Singles.” In my mind, they buried the lead of the story. The headline should have been “You Have More control over your health than you thought.”
The article describes a study that recently showed that “Married people get diagnosed earlier with cancer, are more likely to get the appropriate treatment, and are less likely to die from the disease than non-married folks . . . those who were married were 20 percent less likely to die of their cancers compared to those who weren’t married.”
Twenty percent? That’s a big difference. What explains it? The article said that “Marital status could be a proxy for social support . . . Married patients might also have more tangible medical support like a partner to drive them to medical appointments or remind them to take their medications.” Or nag them to get a suspicious symptom checked out in the first place.
Makes sense, right? When you have people close in your life who will nudge you to take care of your health and even help you do it, you actually do take better care of yourself and get healthier as a result.
Other articles about the same study were quick to point out that if unmarried people set things up well, they could increase their social support from family and friends to improve their odds as well. As Tara Parker Pope put it in her Well blog at the NY Times, “The study also offers a lesson for friends of people who have cancer, showing that small offers of help – like driving a patient to the doctor or offering to care for their children – can make a meaningful difference in a patient’s survival.”
What I take from these articles is that doctors, medicines and surgery are only one part of the equation in taking care of our health. How we live our lives is another enormous part that we often underestimate.
If having strong social support can increase your chances of surviving cancer by 20%, imagine if you were very organized and could handle all the details well. That might give you another 5 to 10% boost. Then, studies have shown that people with more optimistic takes on their illness do better. So, if you have a lot of confidence, you would get another boost. We all know that eating well and exercise impact our health. So, if you have figured out how to organize your life to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly, you will get another boost. Suddenly, from making these adjustments in your life, you have increased the chances of beating cancer by a huge amount.
Of course, this applies not only to overcoming cancer, but to any health goal you might have, like losing weight or recovering from any illness or injury. There are always things that we cannot control about our health. But, we are coming to understand more and more how much power we do have. We’d be kinda crazy not to use that power, right?
You can choose to make changes today that will put your health in a completely different place one year from now. And, that is true at any time. Its not easy. You’ll need help. But it’s so worth it.
I can tell you one way that this applies to me. I have a bad knee and have been told that I will likely need a knee replacement in a couple decades if I don’t do something about it now. I’ve learned that a regular yoga practice could help me adjust my posture and increase flexibility to take a lot of stress off my bad knee and give me many more good years on it. But, I haven’t followed up on that yet. So, I need to increase my confidence that I can really make a change, get some help from friends and family to find a good yoga teacher, and do some emotional processing to prioritize yoga over my work a few times every week. If I can do all that now, you’ll see me dancing in my 60s instead of suffering through an invasive surgery. I’m going to start working on that this week. I’ll let you know how I do.
What about you? What changes could you make to take charge of your health more fully?
Let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear!