Harvard Men's Health Watch

Give yourself a health self-assessment

Begin the new year by reviewing where you are now and where you want to go.

This year, don’t fall back on the standard resolutions as a way to set goals. Instead, do a health self-assessment. It’s a way to measure where you are now, decide what you want to do, and determine how to get there.

“A health self-assessment gathers the vital information you need to begin thinking more about your life and how you want to live,” says Susan Flashner-Fineman, Vitalize 360 Coach at Harvard-affiliated Hebrew SeniorLife, a comprehensive wellness program that promotes healthy aging. “It helps identify your life goals, which can vary from something as simple as ensuring you can continue your independent living to something more ambitious, like traveling more.”

According to Flashner-Fineman, a complete analysis of your well-being should encompass five areas: physical, social, intellectual, financial, and spiritual. For each category, explore what you are doing well and where you can improve. “This way, it’s not all about focusing on your shortcomings, but rather highlighting your strengths and building on them,” says Flashner-Fineman.

Physical

Instead of concentrating on simply staying healthy, tailor your fitness efforts to meet specific goals, says Flashner-Fineman. For instance, do you want to continue gardening, or have greater endurance to interact with grandchildren, or just improve your functional fitness so you can do daily chores and activities with less pain and risk of injury?

“Connecting it with something you want to accomplish also can help you stay motivated and focused on your health going forward,” says Flashner-Fineman. Ideally, get an assessment from a physical therapist to measure your current cardiovascular fitness, muscle strength, range of motion, and balance skills, to help identify any problem areas.

“Once you know your weak spots, you can work with your doctor or a trainer to devise a specialized program to help reach your personal goal,” says Flashner-Fineman.

Social

As you age, connecting with others becomes more vital to your wellness. “About 50% of your health is related to your social and emotional wellness,” says Flashner-Fineman. How well do you currently connect with others like family, friends, and neighbors? And how often do you interact with them on a regular basis?

“Think about how you can improve your existing relationships as well as make new connections,” says Flashner-Fineman. For example, make a point to call, write, or go out to lunch with a close friend once a week, or consider joining a club of some kind that has regular meetings and social events.

Intellectual

Your mind needs continuous mental stimulation to stay sharp and healthy. How do you challenge your intellect? “It’s so easy to get trapped in the lull of repetitive activities that don’t work our memory and problem-solving skills,” says Flashner-Fineman.

Learning something new is a great way to challenge your brain on a daily basis. For example, learn to play bridge or a musical instrument. Interested in a particular subject? Take a class at your local college (many offer free tuition for older adults). You can also raise the bar on an existing skill. Love to cook? Try French cooking. Practice your public speaking at a Toastmasters club, or join a chess or book club.

Financial

Do you stress about money issues now — or do you worry about them becoming a problem in the future? If so, consult with a professional financial planner who can help make a realistic evaluation of your current financial situation and devise a plan to ease financial strain and make your life a bit easier.

For instance, you could move into a smaller place that requires less maintenance and upkeep, trade in your car and use public transportation and services like Lyft and Uber, or buy everyday items more cheaply in bulk.

“Often we fear change because we are used to a certain way of living,” says Flashner-Fineman. “But if you understand why the change is good — like freeing up more money to travel — then it’s easier to do.”

Spiritual

Studies have found that some level of spirituality and gratitude about one’s life is associated with greater wellness.

“It also brings us closer to embracing the reality that all life ends, and offers some solace and feelings of peace to help you live more in the moment,” says Flashner-Fineman.

Some people do this through religion or a faith-based community, but others choose activities like meditation and interacting with nature.

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