Health measured on a greater scale

Originally published in 2016 January issue of The Beacon magazine for Olentangy High School

As the ball made its annual drop in Madison Square Garden, the nationwide quest for fitness began—but the resolution to be healthy often isn’t for the right reasons.

“People who make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight don’t go about it the right way, because they only care about what they look like,” Jake R. said.

In our culture, appearanceweight in particular—is a supposed measurement of overall health.

“Society’s idea of attractiveness isn’t as attainable for some people, and that’s not fair,” Jake R. said.

Others are not as empathetic.

“Everyone is different. But sometimes the gains don’t agree with you,” Megan C. ’17 said.

But weight isn’t a reliable tool of determining how healthy someone is, according to neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt’s 2013 TEDTalk, “Why dieting doesn’t usually work.” A person’s health is in fact more dependent on the number of healthy choices made on a regular basis, rather than the number of pounds on the scale.

For example, a person below or meeting a “normal” weight range surviving on junk food and TV alone is more likely to develop a chronic disease than someone overweight taking daily walks and meeting their recommended fruit and vegetable intake—whether or not they lose weight in the process. However, making unhealthy choices on top of being overweight or obese is when chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease come out to play. This deadly combination increases disease likelihood by three times the normal amount of risk, Aamodt said.

If long-term disease prevention isn’t enough to tweak resolutions, preventing short-term sickness may be more convincing. Sickness is one less stressor for people making healthy choices, school psychologist Alison Armstrong said. Nutrient-dense foods and regular exercise strengthen the immune system, leaving the body less susceptible to illness.

Along with resiliency against the common cold, a healthy lifestyle can ward off a bad mood. Exercise prompts neurotransmitters to fire faster, which in turn “increase brain chemicals related to having an elevated mood,” Armstrong said.

Taking the first step is harder for those with depression.

“If you are clinically depressed, it is often very hard to get yourself to [exercise]. But the benefits are there,” Armstrong said.

Among the more obvious physical benefits, greater confidence in what you and your body can do is the greatest advantage gained from making better choices—not losing weight. Well-being is measured on a more complicated scale than attractiveness, and resolving to be healthier just to change how you look on the outside won’t change how you feel on the inside.

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