Building myself towards a “culture of public health”

In a “former life” as an emergency preparedness specialist with the Red Cross, part of my job was to educate community members on everyday practices that can support their preparedness for disasters. A suggestion I often cited was, in order to make the task of building a “bug out bag” (emergency items to help you survive) and the magnitude of facing disasters less daunting, creating a “culture of preparedness” is crucial. A few examples for this included: picking up extra cans of food during routine grocery shopping, creating a game out of identifying emergency meeting places (or practicing fire, earthquake and other drills) and justifying card game purchases as emergency items (to stave off boredom – an incredibly important aspect of survival). Essentially, those in the classes began to view preparedness not as a chore or an insurmountable achievement once they saw that they could work within their inherent interests, tastes and schedule.

Similarly, through work in various public health capacities as I navigate through my degree, I believe a “culture of public health” can make intervention strategies towards improved wellbeing achievable…and even fun! In attempting to become a healthier individual myself and possibly spread ideas a bit further, here are a few ideas I’ve tried to build a “culture of public health” for my own sake.

  • On campus days, I take the bus then the tram to “Pill Hill.” Even if I can’t always afford the time on the way up, I’ve been making an effort to get off several stops early and walk the rest of the way home (and sometimes forgo the tram and bus completely). If that’s not possible (or for extra opportunities), opt for stairs over elevators, or better yet, get a dog so they’ll force you to walk daily!

  • Every morning, I try to eat a fast yet nutritious breakfast (oatmeal with fruit and milk lately) and pack away healthy snacks to bring to campus to avoid succumbing to unhealthy vending machine urges later (although OHSU gets a free ride, as we are fortunate to have amazing healthy vending machines).
  • Tax season isn’t quite over yet and as the idiom goes: “nothing is certain in life except death and taxes.” I use this guaranteed deadline as a conduit to integrate an annual visit to my physician. Other critical health checkups can correlate with scheduled activities as well, such as coordinating a routine dental visit and an oil change for my car.
  • Along the same line, because I found myself skipping flossing with the style that required finger twisting and reaching, I started investing in the toothbrush-handle style and have never turned back!
  • For vices, it can be a painful process to go “cold turkey” and quit without any latent urges. Therefore, I’ve tried to incentivize myself for slowly giving up a tough addiction one reward at a time (for instance: each shirked off box of cigarettes might allow you a new $6 prize, like an awesome autotune phone app).
  • Instead of Twinkies (yes they’re back) I’ve switched over to dried fruit (apricots are my favorite) as a healthy snack. I’ve also found that pistachios, almonds and hazelnuts make easy grab-and-go food without the sugar coma to follow.
  • Just like my wallet and keys, I never leave home without a refillable water bottle…and I fill it often. For that needed jumpstart, I’m also trying to forgo or substitute soda, mochas and other sugary beverages with caffeinated tea.
  • As a fun preventative health measure, my friends and I take advantage of blood pressure machines by turning it into a wager. Also , in my former role as a “vampire” when working in Blood Services at the Red Cross, I’ve recruited friends to donate together, where I’m not only guaranteed a free mini physical to check blood pressure, pulse, body temperature and hemoglobin, but also help potentially save someone’s life with a transfusion.
  • I tell myself that stress reduction is a legitimate excuse for a time-out from life’s craziness. Even though I initially worried in allowing myself to “take five” from school with a favorite album, book or film, I came to realize I was far more productive in classes by making room for these breaks.
  • Speaking of breaks, I’ve found that zoning out to music on a treadmill works as a fantastic escape from stress, or, if my iPod dies on me, a guilty pleasure TV show at the gym will suffice (if only “Shark Week” was every week!).
  • That said, as busy as most of us are, finding time for scheduled exercise can be intimidating in our calendars if we want a social life as well. I’ve noticed this reality during my graduate work and decided to make my exercise my entertainment: racquetball, salsa dancing, lazertag…even that Sky High Sports trampoline place (where you’re never too old) can prove to be both exciting and great cardio! Furthermore, social networking (no, not the internet kind) and a strong community of friends is critical to your health, as well as your sanity!

What strategies do you use? Feel free to comment below – I’d love to see other ideas for building towards a “culture of public health!”