Sending gifts to our friends and relatives back in our home countries is a common practice among immigrants. Before Facebook and WhatsApp, these gifts would usually be sent with photographs from our new homes. I remember looking at pictures of my cousins and aunties posing in front of famous landmarks—Times Square in New York City was always a regular feature—and I tried to imagine what it would be like to live in America. Along with tall buildings and flashing billboards, I started to notice a curious thing: almost all of my relatives had gained weight.
An aunt who was once fit now looked less so. She looked happy though, so I thought weight gain was a normal thing that happened once you immigrated to America.
Thinking about it now, I realize that those photos were an indication of how our lives as immigrants change over the course of our immigration. Our bodies and our health also change.
Consider this: A study by Statistics Canada (published in 2011) found that newly arrived immigrants are, on average, healthier than Canadian-born citizens and long-term residents. This phenomenon is called the healthy immigrant effect. Experts attribute this effect to different factors such as refugees and immigrants having a better diet, an active lifestyle, and lower obesity prior to moving to Canada. The medical screening process for refugees and immigrants also plays a significant role as healthy applicants are more likely to be accepted over less healthy ones—they are considered more able to participate in the workforce.The healthy immigrant effect does not last forever though. As we stay longer in Canada, our health starts to align with the national average. We can even start to develop complications such as allergies and heart diseases that we may not have had before.What does this mean for us in terms of our career development? Does health affect our professional goals as skilled immigrants? Here are four reasons why you should take care of your health just as much as, if not more than, your career plan.
You cannot work if you are not healthy.
This seems like a very obvious thing to state, but it is worth repeating: An unhealthy body and mind affects your ability to participate fully in your job search or work. Living in a new place and starting your career can lead to a tremendous level of stress. Preparing for a job interview is hard enough as it is; including health anxiety in that process only makes it more difficult. The effects of poor health have consequences on a national scale: The economic cost of employees taking sick days was $16.6 billion in Canada in 2011.
A healthy employee is a more effective employee.
One of the things that immigrants are known for is our resilience. This resiliency often means that even if we are sick, we show up for work. Although there may be situations or workplaces where this is necessary or encouraged, this kind of mindset becomes harmful and unsustainable over time. Think about the last time you were sick and how you were able to perform basic tasks like organizing your grocery shopping list or driving. Now think about your workplace and all the responsibilities entrusted to you in an environment where you are accountable to different individuals and departments. Depending on your profession, some of these work duties can be highly complex and require an optimal state of mind and body. Although you may still be able to accomplish your work goals even while sick, the cost of doing so may have consequences for your health and career in the long run.
A health-focused life leads to better habits.
The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is a core tenet in healthcare. There are many health ailments that occur even if we live a healthy lifestyle, but the vast majority of diseases (up to 70 percent of premature deaths and chronic disability, according to this report) can be avoided if we become intentional in taking care of our health. Eating a balanced and nutrition-rich diet, being more active, quitting cigarettes, and drinking less alcohol are all habits that can translate directly into having a more successful career.
Think about exercise: Doctors have known for a while now that staying active is one of the best things you can do for your heart and health. Leaders from all walks of life—from former U.S. President Barack Obama, to the current Apple CEO Tim Cook—engage in daily physical routines that help them stay sharp and focused for the rest of the day. Not only do these activities help you stay fit and healthy, they also train you to become more disciplined in your work. As someone who tries to stay active himself, I can speak from personal experience that if I go for a long stretch of time without running or going to the gym, my energy level is lower at work and I am not able to react as creatively or effectively as I normally would in stressful situations.
Prioritizing your health expands your mind.
Diet plays an even more important role than exercise in your health. You are, after all, what you eat. In addition to helping you maintain good health, good dietary practices also open your mind to other things that you may not have been aware of before. When I was younger, I did not pay any attention to the nutrition facts labels while grocery shopping. However, I am more mindful these days and always try as much as I can to buy organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables. For some of us, buying organic food may be inaccessible, but we can still buy fresh produce, and avoid eating overly processed foods and sugary drinks.
Our diverse backgrounds as immigrants include a wide variety of cuisines, and making sure that our cooking is healthy and delicious at the same time is a warm and engaging way of connecting not only with our own cultures but also with our colleagues’ at work. This kind of diligence in keeping a healthy diet can lead to a more expansive, holistic mindset at work. You become aware of the ways things from another place or situation are connected to you or your place of work.
Some of us are fortunate enough to live in a place like Canada where we have universal healthcare. Even with that kind of support system, we should not take our health for granted. Our bodies and minds are constantly affected by changing circumstances; many of them beyond our control. For the things that we can control, we need to ensure that we do whatever it takes to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy. Good health, like my aunties would say, is the best gift of all.
What are some of the ways that you stay healthy? Let us know in the comments section below.