Photo of a mother with her young daughter. Care for yourself so you can care for others.

You know when you board an airplane and flight attendants go through the safety regulations just before you take off? They remind all the passengers that if oxygen is needed, due to a loss in cabin pressure, the oxygen masks will deploy from the overhead bin and to be sure to obtain oxygen for yourself first and then to help a child or other passenger nearby.

Sounds selfish, right? Help yourself before a child? Well, there is a reason for this and it has to do with self-care. How can you help anyone else if you are in no condition to do so? Isn't it best that you take care of yourself first so that you can help and assist others around you?

And so it goes with overall health. How can you be the best mother, father, daughter, son and so on, if you don't take care of yourself?

It is a simple concept that we all too often ignore. Luckily, the professionals at the MUSC Wellness Center are here to help. If you are looking for advice on a specific health concern, they can recommend lifestyle changes that would be beneficial. If you are looking for general advice on how to stay healthy, they can address that, too. The key is that it is all based on individual health concerns, family history and habits – such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep and stress.

Alicia O'Connor, director of personal training and disease management, said she has seen many different types of people seek help with self-care.

"Maybe you had knee-replacement surgery or you were diagnosed with Parkinson's," she explained. "Or maybe you are a cancer survivor or have diabetes and other disease risk factors. We can work with physicians and other health professionals to provide lifestyle training and coaching that promotes self-care."

But the list does not stop there. They do general self-care consultations as well. That means that the person is generally healthy but may have some bad habits or other concerns.

"These are the types of people who want to speak to us on how to remain healthy," O'Connor said.

Once people set up their first consultation, they work with a specialist one-on-one at the MUSC Wellness Center who will assess their needs.

"We call this the 'collection process,'" O'Connor said. "We'll have them fill out a general questionnaire, and that will help us get a good idea of what they are looking for."

O'Connor said that the Wellness Center can set clients up with a fitness coach. They are personal trainers, but at least three of the fitness coaches are certified as Exercise is Medicine instructors.

"Having a specialty in Exercise is Medicine as a fitness coach means that as exercise professionals, they have the extra education and skills to work closely with the health care community and referred patients. The patients have health conditions such as chronic disease or other issues," she explained.

Some of the specialty programs the MUSC Wellness Center offers are: Boot Camp, which is a fitness program; Healthy Charleston Challenge for losing weight; Piece it Together for young people with autism; Recovery Program, which is designed for people who seek exercise and nutrition intervention; Cancer Survivor Fit Club; Rock Steady Boxing for Parkinson's; senior fitness classes; weight training for women; general personal training; and much more.

O'Connor said that many of their clients looking for general advice are actually MUSC medical students.

"We work with them to help keep them on track with their health. They don't take the time to focus on themselves," she said. "We tell them that they are in medical school to help other people learn to take care of themselves so they need to model good behavior."

O'Connor said that what she hears the most is people saying they don't have the time to work out or focus on their health.

"When we all try and model healthy behaviors, it will migrate into our community," she concluded. "You have to fit it into your life. No one really has 'time.' But when you are a healthier, you are happier."

By Theresa Stratford

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