The “Gift” of Health Literacy & Happy Holidays!

This holiday season take a moment to think of the most important gift for yourself, your family, your community. The gift of health literacy … to better health! Why? We know that those with more health literacy (HL) have better personal health habits, overall healthcare costs are reduced by way of less emergency room use; healthier people don’t use expensive services as much as those with more serious diseases or who are more prone to accidents largely due to lack of self-awareness and self-care. High HL people are likely to be more involved in their community as volunteers, join activities related to  healthier habits, advocate for themselves and others on health issues. Some countries do better than others when HL was measured nationally in eight EU countries, check out the HLS-EU video. In truth, we have a lot to learn from each other. How? Here are some general HL thoughts for the holidays:

  • Recycle more to reduce waste and landfill overuse. Good news for Greece — Greeks are recycling at over 50% daily!
  • Reduce vandalism and encourage waste clean-up — be responsible! You can throw away your own trash when in a public space (not for the street-cleaners, your mom, or waitstaff person), clean-up beaches, be mindful of the excessive vandalistic and narcissistic graffiti like “tagging.” Only tasteful and culturally mindful graffiti art makes for positive change like the “Owl of Athens.”  Vandalistic graffiti particularly on historical buildings and monuments doesn’t beautify, neither does trash dumped on sidewalks, coffee cups left everywhere by careless passers by or visitors. This all creates problems for countries who are already tight for funding, and tourists don’t particularly like to visit “ugly cities” and if you don’t believe it, check out the post on Athens vandalistic graffiti
  • Follow the speed limit & be the designated driver to prevent road accidents leading to injuries or even death (WHO documents how reducing speed can decrease injury). Companies like Coca-Cola have taken this on as a corporate reminder calling these drivers who will not drink and take you home safely as “the heroes of the Christmas party” suggesting free soft-drinks as rewards to the designated driver.
  • Share stories and good health habits with children and teens while learning from the community elders (see elder life stories impact on next generation health professionals as another benefit of this inter-generation communication)
  • Write and advocate for companies to take on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as these efforts are even more important in times of crisis.
  • Reduce those holiday blues (see Mayo Clinic’s tips) as the holidays can be a “mixed bag” for many of us, as social and family gatherings that can trigger our over-eating, drinking and generally the not-so-good for us behaviors. Some people even savor spending time alone on Christmas (possible cultural differences?)
  • Hug and spend time with others and pets/animals today… social support and the comfort of touch does wonders for your heart and health
  • Building better health for you and others can be easy and fun!

Five health-building tips for you to start today:

1) Build mindfulness skills to help you “read” your body better as part of your self-awareness learning among other things to better manage your emotions-thoughts, eating, breathing, stress levels, and generally more aware of “others” around us. There are many sites and research related to mindfulness, including these eight mindfulness exercises one can easily do on a daily basis. Who doesn’t want to better monitor their “bad” eating habits, slow down, keep chronic stress at bay, and relate better to others?

2) Consider partaking in health “days” or themed months! For example September 29th is World Heart Day to increase awareness of heart disease and stroke, November was Diabetes Awareness month, December 1st was HIV/AIDS Awareness World AIDS day, Anti-Bullying awareness days or weeks are celebrated throughout the year in many western countries as European nations work to establish the Europe-wide Campaign for Anti-Bullying upcoming on March 6th (the European Anti-Bullying Network)  (the International Day of Non-Violence is celebrated in October), or World Oral Health Day (March 20th) since many people don’t visit the dentist due to financial difficulties.  Look around and see what you can do to showcase and educate!

3) Be a model for young children and teens!  There are so many agencies and non-profits to work with throughout the year… not just the holidays.

  • Giving in-kind donations such as non-perishable food, clothes, toys in good condition for children, school supplies, not just around the more traditional holidays of Christmas but cultural holidays like  Easter 🐣 where people can donate baskets of goodies and candles (in Eastern Orthodox traditions these beautiful “lambades” λαμπάδες are offered by godparents to their godchildren).
  • Being part of a child’s “wish” through organizations like Make-a-Wish foundation, as even helping with the seemingly tedious administrative stuff is critical since low-staffed organizations may not have time or resources to do all of this!
countstars_makeawish2016

Hellenic American College students (Athens) taking part in volunteerism activities 2016

Organized groups like Boys and Girl Scouts model helping and leading behaviors from a young age and this activity can lead to well-adjusted teens and adults (the Greek Boy Scouts are one of the oldest existing scout groups) — one article lists the top 10 health benefits of joining the Boy or Girl Scouts. Personally, love those girl scout cookies!  Schools and institutions where children, teens, young and older people organize to donate goods, or partake in food-pantries and soup kitchens through organizations like Caritas, teach language skills to poor and refugees, in turn offer important life lessons of empathy as well as develop organizational skills. Many schools, NGOs and for-profit organizations turn entire communities on to better habits like “walking for health” or “cleaning up the environment” throughout the year (e.g. clean up waste in April & May, check out Greece – Let’s Do It — close to 3 million in several countries were mobilized!).

4) More active time, consider this:

  • walk around to “window shop”
  • park further away when you’re at the mall
  • go to farmers markets (λαϊκή) for your holiday fruit & veggies
  • donate time in community soup kitchens
  • gather food items and pharmaceuticals for social clinics
  • make goodies to sell for holiday bazaars, the homeless, etc.
  • spend less time on-line and finally catch up with those friends in person; spending less time on-line and more for other important life tasks (think about decreasing gaming and excessive need for social media like Facebook)
  • pick up better skills like public speaking and leadership, join Toastmasters! Learning through practice and sharing can be beneficial and fun. The very skills you need for gaining self-esteem, being more confident when speaking and leading, can improve and even help you change your career!doxie_xmastree2016

5) Review your own “health chart” — annual health check-ups that need to be made?  December is a good time to reflect on the past year and what we may want to add to those New Years resolutions!

Enjoy the holiday cheer, focus on positive change and be more mindful of your health and community wellness for the new year!

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