West End Healthline
A prescription for all things in moderation: Finding balance in life
by Brooke Gensler, MD
Thirteen thousand. This is the number of new words that any medical school graduate will have learned, or at least encountered, by the end of medical school. As most physicians (and patients) would agree, it’s best that 12,000 of these 13,000 words stay outside the exam room, for risk of glazed eyes and swirling minds.
I would like to bring forward one word that holds great value in the discussion of physical, mental and spiritual wellness. The word I am speaking of is balance. In its noun form, balance means “a physical equilibrium, “equipoise between contrasting, opposing or interacting elements”, and “mental and emotional steadiness”. As a verb, balance means “to bring into harmony or proportion”.
A few weeks ago, a conversation with one of my patients brought this word to life. My 84 year-old patient, whom I’ll call Eddy, is an African American gentleman who is in exceptionally good health.
“What’s your secret to being as healthy as you are at your age?” I asked.
“Well”, he said, “it’s a matter of not misusing the good things in this world. I’ve known people who overuse drugs or alcohol, but that’s never been me. You can enjoy a drink or a nice meal, but not over-do it.”
“Everything in moderation,” I affirmed.
“That’s right. Everything in moderation.”
“And how do you spend your days?” I asked.
“From 9 o’clock until noon, I listen to jazz. Then I have lunch, rest a while and later on I watch Wheel of Fortune and it’s about time to go to bed and do it all over again”, my patient shared with a twinkle in his eye.
Eddy’s matter-of-factness not only brought a smile to my face, but it led me to wonder how more of us could be as matter of fact about incorporating such leisures as jazz or Wheel of Fortune into our daily routine. The answer is not in medications or lab tests, but in the habits that make up our days. In a society that is increasingly prone to anxiety and social isolation, I invite us to reflect on how we, as individuals and as a community, can maintain a sense of balance in our days.
In this spirit, drawing heavily from the wisdom of my patients and mentors, I propose the following “prescription”, or humble collection of habits, that may guide our days to greater balance.
“Everything in moderation.” When it comes to food, drink, sleep, or any habit or hobby you can name, we seem to function best when consumed in moderation. We are not meant to indulge or deprive ourselves. Enjoy that donut or a special drink, but not three. Listen to what your body needs – Water? Movement? Rest?
Connect with others. Do something kind or thoughtful for another person. Invite a family member or friend over for a meal or call someone to talk, especially if they are home-bound or otherwise in need of company.
Make time for leisure. Whether it is watching or playing a sport, gardening, going to a museum, cooking, playing card games, dancing, or spending time with family or friends, quality rest will bear fruit (even if not immediately tangible).
Move thy body. Go for a walk or bike ride. Stretch, swim, skate or sweep. If you can do so in fresh air – even better. Find an activity you enjoy, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
Cultivate gratitude. By finding even one thing to be grateful for each day, we shift our outlook and will build resilience despite the goings-on in our world.
Be gentle with yourself. Whether you find yourself with too much downtime or too little, pick one or two of these suggestions and write your own prescription. You are deserving.
Brooke Gensler, MD is a family medicine doctor at Allina Health United Family Physicians, 233 Grand Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55102. 651-241-5200.