Recently a close family member was given terrifying news. The results of their sleep test showed they stopped breathing roughly every two minutes. This horrified me. This was the result of the home study. Home study results are usually low which means they are considered to be in the severe category. Severe and immediate lifestyle changes are needed in addition to medical treatment.
I started shaking.
They were completely blasé.
Their reaction scared me as much as the test results. How could they be told such news and barely react? Did they really care so little about their own health? They had two grandchildren with another on the way. Didn’t they realize that if they didn’t act those children would be robbed of the wonder is of having them as a grandparent? I want those kids to have the blessing of having that grandparent in their lives. Why didn’t they want the same?
I had seen what this person did on a day to day basis. Getting rid of daily desserts and soda and choosing healthier meals and adding 20-40 minutes of moderate activity would be enough to start changing their health for the better. I’d already been giving this advice for years however, and still nothing had changed. I feared for their life, and after hearing the test results I knew I was justified in doing so.
I told them how I felt and they promised to start making changes. The next day I invited them to go to the gym with me so I could show them a few simple moves they could start incorporating into their new routine. They threw a fit. They screamed at me, refused to go, threatened to do the activities we had planned on doing together by themselves.
At the first opportunity, they resisted. I was beside myself. Now was the time to act, this was the defining moment. They were either committed to change or they would continue their slow spiral down and their grandkids would be told about so and so that they don’t really remember but are told was so nice, “I wish you could have known them.” “Yeah, me too.”
I realize this story isn’t unique. So many people have to watch their loved one’s health degrade. We have to watch as they choose to slowly die. It is heart breaking. We stare in desperation, willing them to put down the wrong choices, but we know they won’t, not until they choose to. We cannot make them healthy, as much as we wish we could. They have to find a reason. It has to be their choice.
What can we do?
We can be an example. I think that’s part of what started my own fitness journey. A small part of me thought that if I could show them that if I can do it (someone that shares the same genetics, some of the same struggles) then they can do it too. Maybe they’ll look at how good you look and feel and get inspired. You can be their guide.
You also need to test the waters a bit. Will they respond better to tough love or encouragement? Are they afraid of being embarrassed, that’s common for people new to the gym. Do they need a buddy or a coach? Do they need someone on their level or a professional?
A lot of the times they just don’t know where to start. If you show them a few things they can do they will get started on their own. Group fitness classes are great for this.
Showing them the numbers can help. If you can have them find out their own numbers that would be better. Maybe they don’t realize how many cigarettes they smoke when they’re out with friends, they don’t see how many calories they’re ingesting, they could be completely ignorant of the fact that they drink four beers every night. Most of us don’t have an accurate picture of ourselves. If they can be shown how bad things actually are that may be all they need to start changing.
As friends and family we need to remember that it isn’t our responsibility. You can drive yourself crazy trying to get them to be healthier. I have spent many hours crying over my loved one’s deteriorating health. Remember to take an emotional step back. This isn’t your journey, it is theirs.
As I said earlier, in the end it has to be their choice. They have to find that pillar of purpose within themselves to build off of. They may not. We may have to say goodbye, but we will say goodbye knowing we tried but hopefully they make the choice to love themselves more than their vices and we can smile with hope together.