Living Healthier with Diet and Exercise

From a Patient’s Point of View

Living Healthier

What does it mean to live healthier? Does it mean eating vegetables and wearing fitness clothes everywhere you go? Is it measured in how many ounces of water you drink in a day, or maybe it is how many minutes you spent on the treadmill? Do we get health points for avoiding fast food restaurants and doing yoga instead?

For some people, living a healthy lifestyle might involve all of those, and diet and exercise are certainly the foundation of building that healthy lifestyle. But, what does living healthier actually mean?

Living healthier- living better- means doing more of what you enjoy and feeling better physically, mentally and emotionally while you do it. We all have aches and pains. We all have to do things we don’t want to and sometimes all of us feel uncomfortable. We get sick, we feel stressed or tense, and we skip the gym or make poor food choices to cheer ourselves up. Tension and stress can cause us to lose sight of the reason we want to be healthy in the first place. The health and fitness information we hear is so complicated, and often it conflicts or contradicts itself. How do we solve the living healthier puzzle, and is it really worth all of this effort?

Finding Motivation:

Consider what matters the most to you each day. If the room, house, or building that you are in right now suddenly caught fire, who or what would be first on your mind? Is it your spouse, or children? Is it your grandchildren? Perhaps it’s a friend or sibling? Maybe your first thought would be about your pet. Maybe it’s not a person. Maybe it’s a group of people, or an activity that brings you joy and fulfillment. Do you belong to a club, or an organization that supports you and your goals? Maybe the club or organization is something that you support and feel good about?

The answer to the question, ‘What or who would be first on your mind?’ is the first step in living healthier; it’s the reason to live healthier- to live better. This is what drives us to make healthier choices that ultimately allow us to do what we enjoy doing and the people we enjoy spending our time with.

What are these healthier choices?

In order to feel good physically, mentally and emotionally, we need to make the choices that lead us in the proper direction and each choice is another piece we add to complete our health puzzle. With heart disease as the leading cause of death in America, we can assume that having a healthy heart is a key piece of this puzzle.

How do we keep our heart healthy? With an appropriate diet and exercise routine as directed by our individual medical professionals. Generally, lowering cholesterol is a good example of this kind of heart-healthy diet. Cholesterol impedes oxygen-rich blood making its way from the lungs back to the heart. This can cause the heart tissue to die and essentially become a heart attack. But there are actions we can take to prevent a heart attack and to keep our heart healthy longer. For more heart-healthy tips and updates visit the following link for the American Heart Association: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living.

The heart is a muscle, and just like all of our muscles it needs exercise. The right exercise program can develop the heart into a more efficient muscle, allowing for a better delivery system that brings the nutrients to all of our essential organs. When a system functions at top performance, the results are usually positive. The same is true for our bodies; when our body systems perform well, we feel better. A regular exercise program can dramatically improve many health conditions. Many people avoid exercising because of arthritis, back pain, balance issues or other conditions. But the right exercises can actually help improve and manage those conditions and others. Living with chronic conditions can add additional challenges to our day especially as we age. The Arizona Department of Economic Security offers self-management workshops for people with chronic health problems who would like information for how to manage those problems more effectively. Visit their website to learn more about these workshops at https://des.az.gov/services/aging-and-adult/aging-and-disability-services/healthy-living-chronic-disease-self-1.

Being active is good for everyone, and finding a routine that fits your needs and abilities – and one you enjoy – is the next step to living healthier. Exercise and balanced activity can even help us sleep better! But, exercise programs can be complex and also very different from each other. How do we know what kind of exercise is right for our individual needs?

Finding Balance:

Ask your doctor what types of exercises are safe and healthy for you. You and your doctor may decide that physical therapy is beneficial in order to help you restore or maintain strength and balance. Having a medical or fitness professional monitor you while you exercise is also essential, especially when beginning a new program.

Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS) Retirees who participate in the ASRS sponsored health plans through Unitedhealthcare have the option to participate in the SilverSneakers® fitness program. The SilverSneakers® fitness program is included in your UnitedHealthcare® plan at no additional cost to you.  Specially trained instructors can help you discover the exercise classes and movements that work best for you. Most Silversneakers participants report an increase or improvement in flexibility, and aerobics. Exercise can help you live more independently, more comfortably, and more actively. Visit SilverSneakers to get started.

Remember that exercise doesn’t have to be a chore or even a trip to the gym and it doesn’t have to cost you anything. Taking regular walks can be a relaxing way to start or end your day and is an excellent beginning for building up to exercise with higher impact. Walking outside is organic, free, and right outside your door. Exercise can also offer a healthy social experience. Meeting friends at the gym or chatting with your walking buddy can provide a balanced, relaxing, and enjoyable social event to look forward to each day.

Every step counts! Modern technology allows us to track progress and count steps easily. We have access to Fitbits, Apple Watches, heart monitors, and a variety of cell phone applications to seamlessly help us monitor and track our activity. Monitoring your activity will help you improve your fitness levels and it allows you to recognize your own progress. Some of this technology can even help us track our sleep! Sleep is another important aspect to overall fitness; remember to allow yourself time to rest and recover from daily activities.

Now that we have established our motivation to live healthier, and we know where the path starts for our exercise program, we need to fuel our body with the right nutrition.

How do we know what foods to eat?

Before beginning a new diet of any kind, always consult your primary care physician or medical specialist, especially if you have existing medical conditions or dietary restrictions. However, in the absence of specifics, there are general guidelines that we can follow in order to eat healthier.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends ‘shopping smart.’ Read food labels and learn more about the foods you eat. Find foods that are good sources of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Eat foods that are lower in sodium and saturated fat. For the latest updates in eating smart view their website at https://www.eatright.org/.

Another excellent tip for eating healthier is to focus on portion control. Know the appropriate serving sizes and what the percent daily values are of the nutrients that you are consuming. Cook and eat for the number of mouths you are feeding. Remember that these values are intended to be daily values- not per meal. Learning the basic food groups and significant sources of the essential vitamins will give you a more balanced understanding of how to make healthier food choices on-the-go, as well. The knowledge of what to eat and what to avoid eating- or what to eat less of- can leave you feeling physically better, and mentally more in control of your choices.

Final Steps:

Be kind to yourself and your body. After you have found a program that works for you and a diet that helps you feel better and nourished, be proud of yourself for completing the steps to living healthier. Taking control of your physical activity and nutritional needs will give you the power to enjoy doing the activities you love and spending time with the people who matter in your life. This is the last piece of the puzzle: Enjoy living in the balance you have created by taking control of our health.

Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat.

We have probably all heard this expression before. Continue living that healthier pattern over and over by adding these healthy habits into your daily routines and don’t forget how important it is to maintain the balance of a healthy lifestyle with the aspects you truly enjoy! Go live healthier… and live better.

For more tips and tools about healthy living visit HealthyPeople.gov and learn about what you can do to promote healthier living in your community https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/tools-resources.

by Courtney Micheau,   Member Services

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