Balance Burnaby Division of Family Practice Empowering Healthcare Exercise Healthy Living

Self-Care is Healthcare

icebergImagine an iceberg. All that we see is the fraction above the surface, but 90% of its bulk lies in the depths of the ocean.

In healthcare, most of our attention is drawn to acute hospital care with less given to the bulk of care within the community: in ambulatory clinics, primary care practices, residential and home care.

But really, who provides over 90% of your healthcare? Hint: It’s not doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals. Where do actions have the greatest impact on your present and future health?

Your personal medical and family histories are important in identifying particular areas of your health that demand special attention. Yet by far the greatest predictor of your health tomorrow are the habits you practice today.

Some bad habits and their negative effects on our health are obvious. Smoking shortens life and its quality through accelerated atherosclerosis (narrowing and progressive damage to our blood vessels) thereby increasing our risks for premature dementia, strokes, heart attacks and kidney disease. It increases the risk for cancers including the lung, oral cavity, throat and bladder. It progressively damages the lungs, leading to emphysema or chronic lung disease.

Excessive alcohol (more than two or three drinks on any day) contributes to high blood pressure, progressive liver damage (leading to cirrhosis and liver failure), ulcers and impairment in the quality of work, social and family life.

Mood and mind altering street drugs, including marijuana, lead to dependence and addiction. They are a form of chemical coping – similar to the use of short-acting prescription tranquilizers and sedatives. They are ultimately disempowering; they take away one’s sense of control over one’s own life, body and emotions. Drug and alcohol dependence impairs mood, judgment, driving safety, work, school and relationships.

The quality of your daily lifestyle is a powerful predictor of your future health. You really are what you eat. What you consume provides the energy and building blocks for the cells and organs of your body. You wouldn’t build a car with defective parts and fill the tank with contaminated fuel.

For most of us, our bodies thrive on a variety of fruits and vegetables, which provide the vitamins and anti-oxidants we need for healthy cellular function. We need adequate protein to rebuild and repair muscles and other tissues. We also need adequate but not excessive calories and fats (such as fish oils) in our diet. In general, we should avoid excessive animal fat and processed food.

If you haven’t put too much thought into what you eat, take the healthy eating challenge. See how much better you feel with a month of more mindful eating. Over the long term, healthy eating reduces obesity, high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

Three other key areas of self-care are (1) physical activity, (2) emotional management and (3) healthy relationships. These will be the focus of upcoming columns that will include practical tips to achieve your goals in healthier daily living.

Dr. Davidicus Wong will be speaking on self-care at the Bob Prittie (Metrotown) Branch of the Burnaby Public Library on October 20th. Register by phone at (604)436-5400 or online at You can read more about achieving your positive potential in health at


Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Central Park, Burnaby by Davidicus Wong
Central Park, Burnaby by Davidicus Wong

September is a month of anticipation, relief and anxiety. It depends on who you are (student, parent or teacher) and where you fall in the spectrum of introversion and extroversion.

An introverted child may find new teachers, group activities and speaking out in class incredibly uncomfortable and daunting. In fact, some parents choose to homeschool because of this.

Our place along the continuum of introversion and extroversion seems to be a hardwired aspect of personality and physiology. Although many are somewhere between the extremes of introversion and extroversion, at least a third of the people you know are introverted.

If you’re introverted, you may prefer reading a book at home to going out to a party. You need to reflect before you speak, and you may find social interactions with multiple people emotionally draining. You need time alone to recharge your batteries.

Extroverts on the other hand thrive on social interaction and in fact are energized by people. They may need to express themselves in order to figure out what they’re thinking.

In her bestseller, “Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, Susan Cain outlines the neuroscience, psychology and sociology that explains the differences and relative strengths and gifts of introverts and extroverts.

She describes how our western society is biased towards an Extrovert Ideal. We favour charismatic leaders, people who speak out and control meetings, and the gregarious and outgoing.

Our classrooms and workplaces often favour extroverts who feel more comfortable working in groups and shouting out the answers to the teacher’s questions.

Beautifully written and researched, Cain’s book is a must read for teachers, employers, parents and partners of introverts. It will change the way you see and value introverts, and if you’re an introvert, it will change how you see yourself.

In workplaces with an open office design without privacy, more introverted employees will be more uncomfortable and less productive. If an organization relies on group brainstorming meetings, they may not hear the creative insights of the more introverted who do some of their best work alone.

In the classroom, group activities do not bring the best out of more introverted students. The brightest are not always the first to press the buzzer.

Susan Cain’s book offers practical advice for introverts on self-acceptance and appreciation, understanding extroverts with whom they live and work, when to act more extroverted, and the importance of finding restorative niches to recharge themselves.

The marriage of an introvert and extrovert can be both challenging and rewarding. Extroverts may say things they don’t mean and thrive on conflict; introverts can be more sensitive to their words. Each partner needs to understand how the other needs solitude or social engagement. Cain offers insights to improve mutual understanding and honouring one another’s natures.

Our society is enriched by a variety of cultures, temperaments and personalities. Introverts have great ideas, feelings and insights to share, and with better understanding, we can nurture their strengths at school, at work and at home.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician.