Is Genealogy Dangerous to Your Health?
[Disclaimer: The following information is curated from various sources and is not to be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor or medical professional before embarking on any health improvement or exercise program.]
Genealogy research, by its very nature, is more a sedentary practice than not. Yes, there can be long walks through stacks of books and research materials as well as ambling through cemeteries and graveyards. However, with more and more resources available online, and the advent of genealogy mega sites, genealogists can easily succumb to routines that are not only unhealthy, but could make us ancestors before we know it.
My Own Unhealthy Experience – An Extra 150 Pounds
Almost one year ago, I was 150 lbs (70 kilos) overweight. My blood pressure was high, I was taking asthma medication, and I could barely walk a few feet without being out of breath or needing to sit down. After years of morbid obesity acquired through years of working at home and being in a parental caretaker role, I decided to do something about it.
I had lost over 100 lbs at one other point in my life. Back in the mid-1980’s, I was able to reduce from 265 lbs to 155 lbs mostly through diet changes and lots of exercise. Of course, back then I was commuting (walking) to work each day, I ran during lunch hour every day, lifted weights, did ballroom dancing and even ran 10k races. And I was in my late 20’s.
My experience with weight loss involved a much more drastic procedure: a stomach sleeve gastrectomy, which is a relatively new bariatric surgical procedure. After almost a year of preparation including psychiatric and nutritional counseling, I had 80% of my stomach removed in a laparoscopic operation. Now, almost ten months later, I have lost 100 lbs (45 kilos) and I am well on my way to losing 50 lbs more. Some may think this procedure is an easy way “out,” but to be honest it took lots of up-front work and now requires constant work dealing with new eating habits, etc. Within eight weeks of my surgery, I no longer needed my blood pressure or asthma medications and my cholesterol reading, which had never been below 200, was at a healthy 179!
Do I have regrets? The only regret I have is going too long without being more pro-active about my health. I think that if I had embarked on a serious health-improvement program 10 years ago, I could have taken a less invasive approach to losing weight and keeping it off.
You Are Not Alone
As I prepared for my surgery, during the process of keeping medical appointments, meeting with my nutritionist, etc., I decided to create a small, private group on Facebook where I could share my finds and my fears with fellow genealogists who also wanted to improve their health. The biggest revelation I had: what I was going through was not exclusive to me and I was not alone.
Through messages, shared stories and exchanged recipes, I was able to learn from those who had already succeeded in radically improving their health. In addition, I was able to help newcomers who had the same concerns and hesitations that I did over a year ago. The genealogy community has become defined by the willingness of its members to share resources and to “help out.” I soon discovered that such help was not limited to researching ancestors:
- Melissa Barker, of Once Upon a Time Genealogy, is an archivist and genealogy professional who shared her recent experiences: “While I know that being sedentary in our genealogy researching and those of us that have made it our profession, I can also attest to health issues when you take on too much. That is what happened to me back in September 2015 when I spent the night in the hospital and had trouble with my blood pressure. The lesson is to pace yourself, make sure you are doing those things that are beneficial to you or mean something to you. Learn the word “NO” and use it! That has been the hardest for me.”
- Genealogy Jen, a genealogist and genealogy blogger who runs the Repurposed Genealogy website, has struggled with health issues as well, and for her, as she says, “It’s all about choices. It is the phrase which is tossed around in my extended family all the time, especially when someone is bucking the family trend. When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a genealogist, it still holds true. We are able to research the history and lives of our ancestors. Sometimes, it is up to us to choose to shift the family trend of an unhealthy lifestyle. I spend a lot of time at my desk. I write, research and correspond. Knowing that I spend a lot of sedentary time, I choose to start my mornings with movement. I run, lift weights or clean the house. (I try to avoid the last one as much as possible, even if it means running more. True story.) The movement is not only good for my body; it has the added benefit of helping me focus my thoughts and energy for the rest of the day. Exercise and movement are an important part of managing my ADD. I have also purchased wireless Bluetooth headphones to link to my smart phone. If I am talking to a client, I briskly pace up and down my driveway during our conversations. I have a built-in app on my smart phone to help me track my daily steps, glasses of water, and can log food consumption as well. I have set personal fitness goals like races to give me deadlines to work towards. I have tangible benchmarks in the process. Knowing I have a 10-mile trail run in July makes me less likely to skip a day when I don’t feel like running. I realize that I am younger than the stereotypical genealogist is. I believe that regardless of a person’s age or physical limitations, they can live a better quality of life and be healthier. It’s all about choices.”
Tips for the Healthy Genealogist
- See a Doctor: I cannot emphasize this enough – even if the doctor is at a wellness center at the mall or during a neighborhood health fair. Seek out a qualified health professional and stop self-diagnosing using “Dr. Google” or sites like WebMD.
- Set Reasonable Goals: I did not become overweight and out-of-shape overnight and neither did you. Just like with genealogy, there is no “easy button” to regaining your health. Develop a routine you can manage, use all the resources you need, and get help from family and friends.
- Keep a Food Diary: I never believed this would work until I actually had to do it as part of my pre-op nutritional counseling. So guess who was eating 600 calories in a cereal bowl at one sitting? Now, my entire day is just 600-700 calories! Also, consider using one of the many food and dieting apps to maintain a food diary.
- Find a Fitness Buddy: While I have never been a fan of team sports and I prefer the “Zen like” qualities of working out alone, some people need the motivation provided by a fitness friend. Use your neighborhood network and friends to find someone who follows your same schedule and prefers the same types of exercise such as walking, hiking, or weightlifting.
- Stop Snacking: My biggest temptation still is having a bowl of even fat-free pretzels available to pick at all day. Restrict eating to four or five small meals per day or three larger ones depending on recommendations from your health professional. “Grazing” is a good way to add those extra calories!
- Stay Hydrated: Lack of hydration not only deters fat loss, but can also complicate joint pain from arthritis as well. Keep a “water diary” and have a water glass on your desk at all times. Also, avoid too much caffeine and alcohol intake, which tends to add to dehydration.
- Get the Family Involved: There is nothing worse than living with family members who feel they do not need to diet or stay healthy. Try to get a “buy in” from your loved ones or roommates. Let them know your plans and goals and how they can help!
- Organize a Work At Home Neighborhood Group: The issues you experience with working at home (besides the health issues) are likely experienced by other at-home workers. Check online to see if a group already exists (Meetup or Nextdoor are good resources) or form one!
- Utilize a Workspace: More and more “workspace” offices and storefronts are popping up each month. For many, you pay a daily or monthly fee to use a work-friendly space outside the home.
- Minimize Computer and Social Media Work Before Bed: Sleep is an important factor in good health (and this is coming from me, a lifelong insomniac). Over the past year, I have found that if I turn off the computer right before dinnertime and do not use it until the next morning, I can actually survive! In addition, there are studies that indicate use of mobile devices in bed can influence your sleeping rhythms especially due to the lighting used on such devices.
- Treats Are Good: Total denial of your favorite foods will eventually work to your detriment and derail any diet. If moderation is a challenge for you (like it is for me), look for healthy substitutes . . . chocolate protein bar instead of a candy bar, low-fat Greek yogurt instead of rice pudding, etc.
- Check Community Resources: Getting to the gym does not have to be expensive! Here in Chicago, the Chicago Park District has gyms available in each neighborhood at no cost or low cost, along with swimming pools and even organized league sports including dodgeball!
See the Bigger Picture
Do not focus on looks and how others will see you. Do not focus on shortcuts or easy ways out. Anything worth accomplishing is worth doing right and requires an investment. Our ancestors have always known this and through their hard work and perseverance, we are here right now to do genealogy and document their lives.
Make sure that you do not suddenly become an ancestor available for research. Take care of your health starting now!
© 2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: Bathroom scale, via Pixabay.