Isabelle Lipari knows firsthand the importance of good health. The point was driven home for Lipari at a very young age when her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 39, followed by several other family members who died of cardiovascular disease. If that weren’t enough, Lipari was given a diagnosis of malignant melanoma at the age of 30. Fortunately, it was detected early and she has since recovered, but suffice it to say: wellness has became her mantra.
“I always knew I would write a book one day, I’ve lived through so much,” the Montreal native told me recently. “I still do plan to write about that one day, but this book came first,” she said with a laugh.
The book, 21 Days To Change Your Lifestyle Habits: 30 Habits to Help You Improve Your Health ($19.95, Publications Mellifera) is a culmination of the work she has been doing with clients who struggle with bad habits.
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Lipari has a degree in business administration, runs Aveolancis Corporate Health, which promotes health in the workplace, and is a certified personal trainer. “People are so resistant to change, or they think it’s almost impossible to do. I wanted to show people they can change, they can improve their health, and to make it easy and accessible for people to change the things they really want to change.”
It takes 21 days to create a habit — good or bad, she said.
We do things over and over, often without even realizing it — like putting a coat on the same hook or leaving keys in the same spot — and they become part of our normal routine, she said. But we follow the same pattern with behaviour that has more of an impact on our health — like not being able to manage stress, or getting enough sleep or exercise.
Lipari sees clients whose doctors have told them to change their lifestyles, but often don’t give concrete suggestions or tips on how to achieve that, or even follow up on their progress.
“I developed my program on sound scientific research, no fads, no trends.”
She covers 30 habits in the book, everything from quitting smoking to trying to eliminate soft drinks or sugar-laden drinks and replacing them with more water.
Even her plan for people who are sedentary is manageable: She wants us to walk five minutes a day, for 21 days. “It doesn’t take long to transform that into 10 minutes and then 15 or 20, and then even longer.”
The book gives a step-by-step guide on where to begin, and how to set SMART goals (Specific Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic, Temporal), sign a contract with yourself and enlist a coach to help keep you accountable and a logbook to track your progress.
“Our lifestyles contribute to our overall health,” Lipari explained. “If you want to take control to learn healthier habits, and replace the bad ones you can do that, too.”
But you have to give it 21 days and have a willingness and readiness to begin.
And now to check in on someone who also knows firsthand just how quickly one’s life can change.
I first wrote about J. Karène Rietschin in 2010. The outgoing public-relations specialist had lost over a hundred pounds and was more fit and healthy than she had been in a long time. And then crisis hit: she found herself in total kidney failure and had to undergo dialysis while waiting for a new kidney.
A donor was found and she received a new kidney. In a followup column in 2011, I wrote. “Happy ending, right? Nope.” Rietschin was told she had scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that affects the skin and connective tissues.
Rietschin was shaken by the news, but she is someone who never sees the glass as half-empty.
Since I last wrote about her, I’ve had many queries about her health, and readers wondered how she’s doing, so I thought it was time to check in.
I caught up with the amazing dynamo who is as upbeat as usual, even though she’s back in hospital battling a lung infection,
“What can you do?” she asked. “Wallow in misery and become negative, or just be a positive force — you get back what you put out, ya know!”
Rietschin told me that she is forever grateful to her doctors and nurses at the Jewish General. “They work so hard to make me well, to feel good, how can I give up on myself?”
And she said that even though she wouldn’t wish the illness on her worst enemy (not that she has any, she joked), she wouldn’t change any “of the gifts she has received as a result of her illness.
“I feel badly for my new kidney — I call him Buddy — he didn’t know what he was getting into,” she said. “But this whole process has given me a better understanding of life, of not taking even the tiniest things for granted. When you are sick, it gives you a lot of time to go within and see things in a whole new light.”
Rietschin has to take many medications, including anti- rejection drugs, so it’s a constantly changing dynamic, finding the right dosage and what works and what doesn’t.
Recently she began to see a psychologist, something she had never done before. “So much happened so quickly, I had to learn how to mourn my health and go through a checklist — it has been very therapeutic.”
She feels it’s part of a new calling, she said, to help other people through similar experiences.
“If I can say something or help someone, make even a little difference, in whatever way I can, well, then it has been worth it.”
After I talked to her, she sent me an email saying how amazing it was that the new night nurse is named Angel. “Can you believe that?” she wrote. “I had to ask her twice; I have angels watching over me.”
She’s a fighter — and a teacher — I believe we can all learn something from her.
I’ll check in again with J. Karène down the road. It’s good for her to know she has people in her corner, especially those she has never even met.