Small Changes Can Lead to Big Health Rewards

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We all want to live longer and look and feel better. But it can be difficult to know where to start, and changing your lifestyle habits can feel overwhelming.

The key is to start small. Walk 15 minutes a day. Eat an extra piece of fruit and vegetable every day. Switch from creamer to skim milk for your coffee. Use low-sodium broth in your soup.

“Small steps can lead to big changes, especially when you have a good support system to encourage you along the way,” said Andrea McCarty, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Mon Health Medical Center.

She shares her top 5 tips to living a healthier life.

Increase your activity level

5 steps to living longer and feeling betterWhen it comes to exercise, we all have the best of intentions. But sometimes, it’s hard to be consistent and create a regular routine.

“We notice that many of our patients think they need a gym membership to exercise and stay healthy,” McCarty said. “That simply isn’t the case. If you don’t have access to a gym, or simply don’t enjoy going to one, you can stay fit and healthy at home.”

Walking is fantastic exercise, as is hiking, riding a bike and going for a jog. If you want to stay indoors, you can choose from thousands of online body weight exercise videos that don’t require equipment. (Just make sure you select one created by a certified trainer.)

Yoga classes are also a great way to move your body in a supportive environment.

“We truly believe that there is a form of physical activity that everybody can enjoy,” McCarty said. “Start with small goals, like walking for an hour a week and doing an at-home yoga video once a week. You’ll soon start to feel better, and will want to increase your physical activity.”

Eat better

“As adults, we know exactly what we’re doing wrong,” said McCarty. “We know when we eat too much or drink too much — and that neither one is good for us. The important part is being realistic about what you’re willing to change.”

The reason many people fail when changing their eating habits is because they try to change everything overnight. They eat a cheeseburger with fries for dinner and wake up the next day trying to drink more water, eat more fruits and vegetables, and reduce their sugar consumption — all at once.

“It’s more realistic to make small changes and address barriers as they arise,” McCarty said.

5 steps for living longer and feeling betterIf you don’t have time to cook at home during the week, prepare meals on the weekends to eat throughout the week. And when you do go out to eat, pick healthier places.

“Most overweight or obese adults could see drastic improvements to their health by losing just 7-10% of their overall bodyweight,” McCarty said. “Setting a realistic goal, especially when you employ the help of a healthy coworker, friend or family member, will keep you motivated and determined.”

When it comes to food, you should also slow down. Eating mindlessly in your car or at your desk not only causes you to overeat, but takes away your ability to truly enjoy your food.

“Being mindful of our food, slowing down and tasting every bite can help us feel more satisfied and full,” said McCarty. “It’s important to eat when you’re hungry – not because the clock says so, or you’re stressed or bored.”

Managing stress

Managing stress in healthy ways is crucial to our overall wellbeing. Some people head to the bar after a long day at work. While alcohol is not an effective stress management technique, these folks may be onto something with the social aspect of the activity.

“Spending time with friends and family and discussing stressors on a regular basis can help us feel more calm and supported,” McCarty said. “Whether that’s over dinner or during a weekend hike, we all need to be more open with our loved ones when we feel discouraged, down or defeated.”

If you feel like your stress is constant and have persistent feelings of anxiety and worry, consider seeing a therapist.

“There’s no reason to think that seeing a therapist is a negative thing,” said McCarty. “Some of our most resilient and confident patients regularly see a therapist to openly talk about the problems they’re facing in their lives – which is much healthier than keeping emotions bottled up inside.”

Annual doctor visits

When was the last time you saw your doctor for an annual physical, or had routine blood work, tests and screenings done?

If you can’t remember, you’re not alone. Many Americans neglect primary care, waiting until they’re sick to seek medical attention. It’s a good idea to see your doctor every year for a physical and wellness exam.

Screenings are effective ways to catch health problems before they become major issues.

If you need to find a primary care physician, visit monhealth.com.

Quit smoking

You know there are multiple reasons why you should quit smoking, but it’s easier said than done.

“When you quit smoking, you experience immediate health benefits,” McCarty said. “Your heart rate and blood pressure quickly return to normal. Your circulation and cardiac function improves. You’ll start to see that you’re able to walk farther and take the stairs without getting winded. And finally, your risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack will be cut in half within a year.”

If you’re ready to quit, but don’t know where to start, Mon Health offers free resources to help you. You can also ask your doctor about tobacco cessation classes and support groups.