The week of May 13th is National Women’s Health Week and we’d like to address this by highlighting the accomplishments of women within our community who have taken charge of their health through exercise, healthy eating, addressing mental health and through preventative care and screenings.

Mary Atkinson, a registered dietician and director of Food & Nutrition at TMC, recognizes that exercise is “her time,” a break from the seemingly endless responsibilities of everyday life. Running, in addition to biking, hiking, swimming and weight-training, is a treat, not an ordeal.

Atkinson has no major health concerns, saying that her priority is “just staying sane and healthy.” Working toward mental, emotional and physical wellness is often seen as a luxury, something we can afford to do only once we’ve spent time taking care of everyone else. In fact, making our overall health a non-negotiable part of our week is not just essential to our well-being, but makes everything else a little bit easier. “My barrier was stress and feeling run down by life, even though I knew that exercising and making better food choices would make me feel better.”

Even if we know how to improve our health, it can be hard to overcome the exhaustion that settles upon us like a heavy coat at the end of a long day. Atkinson found a way to “just do it.” She told herself that a little bit was better than nothing at all. After having what she refers to as an “off” day, she overcame her guilt by looking ahead, not back. “I told myself that 20 or 30 minutes was better than nothing, or that even if I just walked it was still better than sitting on the couch. Once you get into a routine and you realize how much better you feel, the barriers dissolve and you don’t have to ‘make time’.” Moving our bodies and making healthy food choices becomes a reward in itself, not yet another thing to add to our list of “shoulds.”

And once we start to view that half hour as pleasurable, as a time of self-care, it’s much easier to make it a priority. As a bonus, Atkinson notes that “with increased activity and improved fitness levels comes more energy.” So it’s a cycle that, once we begin, becomes its own gift.

While Atkinson notes that she has “been active and focused on nutrition most of my life,” she concedes that working at Tucson Medical Center makes it that much more likely that she’ll maintain her good habits for life. “It is essential for everyone working in a health care facility to lead by example and make good lifestyle choices.”

Thanks, Mary, for being an excellent role model, and for reminding us that living a healthy lifestyle is not just a smart thing to do, but a true gift for ourselves and our families.