Take life by the bow and arrow

Happy New Year! I sadly spent my new year's eve in bed with a horrendous cold that seems to be sweeping its way through our local area, however this does mean I get a true taste of the new year's day headache, nausea and self-pity that I usually miss out on as a non-drinker. Every cloud. 

So anyway, New Year: this weekend will be the time that thousands of resolutions will be made, only to be discarded once we all realise how cold and miserable it is, and how inviting the sofa and a pack of biscuits look. When it comes to nutrition, the best of healthy eating intentions can fall by the wayside quickly after the inspiration of January 1st wears off. But why bother with healthy eating at all?

I work with children, which means I get asked all sorts of questions ranging from "did bendy rulers exist when your were younger?" to "why are you wearing your placement costume?" (a testament to my usual scruffiness) and my personal favourite "if you didn't have the internet when you were younger, how did you get on Instagram?". But children are especially good at asking questions that are actually really important and are often things that grown-ups think but don't say. 

One such question was this; "I know that eating unhealthily, not exercising and  smoking cigarettes are bad for you, but there are lots of people who do all of them and live for ages - so how can they really be that bad?". This is a tough one, especially as the answer essentially hinges on the seemingly abstract concept of "risk". Anybody who knows me will testify that I am appalling at statistics - I have always found them hard to get my head around and I don't think I am alone in that. Statistics like "risk ratios" are really useful in the right context, but for many people (me included, prior to many a stats textbook)  they often don't seem as real as the story of your great uncle who did nothing but chain smoke and eat bacon sandwiches until he finally popped his clogs peacefully in his sleep at 104. So what is the answer?

The answer I came up with was this. Let's imagine that life is a game of archery. Bear with. In this game of "Life Archery", living healthily to ripe old age is the gold - the middle of the target we are all aiming for. We all start standing quite close to each other in a line. Maybe girls are a bit closer (we know that females tend to live longer), but we are generally equal. Each decision we make about our health means we get to take a step forward or backward. I really must clarify at this point that a decision about your health is not having a doughnut one Tuesday night, it is having lots and lots of unhealthy foods over a significant period of time. If we choose to smoke we take steps backwards, if we choose to eat unhealthily most of the time we take steps backwards as well.

There will always be a few people miles away from the target, barely able to see it sometimes, who somehow still manage to get their arrow straight in the centre. These people are your cigarette-puffing, bacon-eating uncle. There will also always be those unlucky few who stand close to the target and still miss it. However, to give ourselves the best chance of living a long and healthy life, doesn't it make sense to try and stand as close as we can to the target? So if your resolution quickly falls apart don't abandon all hope, even a little shuffle in the right direction can make a big difference!