In the first class of KNES 433 (Title: Physical Activity and Health), a course in the Exercise and Health Physiology route, Dr. Doyle-Baker asked us, “What are you going to die from?” This question took me by surprise as I’d never really considered my own death and dying before. During the next four months, this class changed my outlook on a number of areas in my life. Course material required me to examine my family tree for disease history, understand my blood lipid profile, take a reflective look at my dietary habits, and be honest with myself about different lifestyle choices I was making. All of this information meant that I had to stop and think about what I was doing for my health and wellbeing. As the saying goes, if you don’t make time for health now, you’ll make time for illness later. I had never fully considered how all the aspects of my life fully intertwined and contributed to the person that I was at that moment.
These reflections culminated in the Personal Health Report (PHR). For me, this paper was the cherry on top of an amazing university experience. At the University of Calgary, and specifically the faculty of Kinesiology (http://www.ucalgary.ca/knes/), there is a strong focus on integration between different disciplines. The PHR required me to synthesize all that I had learned over the last four years into one clear, concise paper where I could draw a conclusion about my health status.
We learned that the first step towards making a change is becoming aware of what is going on. Too often, I rush through each day without really stopping to think. I took this course in the last semester of my degree and was able to identify some negative habits and troubleshoot so that I could create solutions that would work for me as I left my cozy university bubble. One of the main things that I identified was my grocery shopping habits. I don’t own a car, which can make grocery shopping a struggle, especially in the winter. For example, I went one semester without grocery shopping for six weeks! While I could get food on campus, this food was definitely of a lesser quality, which would negatively impact my future health if these habits continued over time. I had been aware that this was a problem but I had never set about finding a solution. Since completing this report, I now try to go grocery shopping every 7-10 days, and for the most part I am successful. My diet has improved and I feel healthier and have more energy!
I believe that the PHR helped me develop as a kinesiologist. The course required that I review my family history and, because of this, I had many conversations with my family about what I was working on. The family tree of medical history definitely opened up the dialogue between myself and my parents. I am the only one in my family with this kind of the background; everyone else is an engineer or in a related field. This meant that I got a lot of practice explaining things in layman’s terms, which is something I now have to do every day for work.
Shortly after graduation, I started working in the Culos-Reed Health and Wellness Lab and for the lifestyle management program, TrymGym. Both of these jobs require me to have a solid understanding of the effect different lifestyle factors have on physiological and psychological outcomes. Without taking KNES 433 and completing the PHR, I would definitely be at a disadvantage in both of these settings. One of my favourite parts of my job with TrymGym is seeing the participants have similar realizations and making changes like I did during and after KNES 433.
So what am I going to die from? After completing KNES 433, I can tell you that the odds favour Type 2 Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease. However, I am confident that I have gained skills in the realms of food and health literacy that will allow me to make positive decisions, ultimately decreasing my risk of disease and leading to an enhanced quality of life.