Getting healthy for spring is an issue that should not be taken lightly.
“I would tell the average person out there that they have to make a decision that, going into spring, they have to stop renting their health. They probably treat their dog, cat or bird’s health better than their health,” said Mackie Shilstone, executive director of the Fitness Principle at East Jefferson General Hospital in Metairie. “You have to look at your health as a gift, but you have to look at it as a changeable asset that has to be managed.”
1. Set realistic goals. Now that you are ready, be prepared to stay for the ride. “You have to understand that making a contribution to your health by doing something one day a week is not the same as making a commitment to your health and following a plan you can stay on for the rest of your life,” said Shilstone. Exercising one day a week is not going to suffice.
Said Dr. Meredith Maxwell, internist at Touro Infirmary Hospital in New Orleans, “Make sure it is obtainable, which means it is not something you have done year after year and failed at doing.” Choose something new.
2. Eat healthy. This becomes easier when you find foods you like. For Shilstone, this means a blend of strawberries, blackberries and raspberries for breakfast; whole wheat pasta, grilled chicken breast and a medley of broccoli and brussels sprouts for lunch; and broiled fish for dinner with a vegetable, green salad with vinaigrette and a glass of wine. Your focus should be on eating small meals throughout the day instead of dieting. One great way to become accountable for what you eat is to use a food journal. “Take a little notepad, put it in your pocket and write down the time, what you ate and the amount,” said Shilstone. You do not even need to get into calories and only have to keep the journal for three days, one of which must be a weekend. By the end of the week, you will understand where your mistakes lie. “There is a great piece of research that came out six months ago where people photographed what they were eating with their mobile phones and used a photographic food diary,” said Dr. Timothy Harlan, internist and medical director at Tulane University. They did not calculate calories; they only got to see what they were eating. “That is the accountability piece,” said Harlan.
Know what foods work wonders for your health. Shilstone said people with a Mediterranean-style eating plan consume less red meat, eat fish and chicken and have a glass of wine or diluted grape juice. Take your time during meals as well. “Eat slowly for the first 10 minutes so you feel fuller more easily,” said Maxwell. Every once in a while, check your weight. Said Harlan, “There is clear, well-founded research that shows that being of a normal weight is probably the single best thing you can do for your health.”
3. Make a health profile. You can do this by charting your progress based on physicals, which should be once a year, maybe on your birthday. “You want to do a trend analysis like a stock portfolio manager might do,” said Shilstone. This is part of taking ownership of your health. “The doctor may say you look great and you are perfectly normal but it may be different than where you were last year and the year before.” By watching your numbers, you may be the first to see the warning signs of the onset of a disease like diabetes or hypertension. Early intervention can be lifesaving.
4. Exercise. Start by taking a brisk walk and use a pedometer to track your average step count. “In a 12- to 15-minute walking session you will get close to 10,000 steps,” said Shilstone. Strength training is popular. “Increasing your muscle and decreasing fat can make your body more efficient and make your metabolization of food increase dramatically,” said Maxwell. It does not even take a lot of time to make a big difference. “If you can do an hour three days a week, all you have to say is you are going to do your exercise from Tuesday to Thursday from 5 to 6 o’clock and put it in your Blackberry, iPhone or Outlook and call it ‘Fred,’” said Harlan. This way, people will not even have to see it as exercise. If you are asked to be at a meeting at the same time, you can tell people you have a prior appointment.
5. Take care of your skin. “Use a mild, soap-free cleanser and daily moisturizer and avoid fragrances,” said Dr. Sarah Jackson, dermatologist at Touro Infirmary Hospital in New Orleans. Applying sunscreen daily matters even when it is not sunny outside.
“The general recommendation from the American Academy of Dermatology is a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30,” said Jackson.
6. Sleep well. Most people require seven to eight hours a night. “It can help with mood, motivation and weight so there should be nothing but sleep and sex in the bedroom,” said Maxwell. Following good sleep hygiene can make a difference. “Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time because having a routine is the big thing with achieving a good night’s sleep,” said Maxwell.
You should not be eating, drinking caffeine or exercising before bed. Try to rid yourself of distractions and avoid working or reading in bed. “If you cannot sleep, do not lie there and toss and turn; get up, leave, go to the living room or another room and pick up a book or do something quiet,” said Harlan. Pillows have been shown to be important. “People do not replace their pillows often enough and some people are uncomfortable in bed and do not realize it,” said Harlan. The same holds true for temperature. “Sometimes people do better if they sleep where the room is cold and they are under more blankets,” said Harlan.
7. Stay hydrated. “The body is 70 percent water so you should have at least eight glasses a day or more if you are an active person working outside,” said Maxwell. Some people may substitute water with caffeine but your body really needs the minerals found in water. “It keeps your body going throughout the day, can help you lose weight and cut back cravings,” said Maxwell.
8. Quit smoking. “Group smoking cessation has been a big trend lately,” said Maxwell. It is a great way to get to know others who are making a commitment to their health. Focus on the things you can control. “Try to change your routine so if you smoke around certain people because they smoke or if you smoke after a drink, try to realize when you become weaker,” said Maxwell. Other resources include nicotine patches and help from your doctor.
9. Schedule an annual physical. Even if you think you are healthy, you should still see a doctor. “Having the yearly physical, getting your blood pressure and sugar checked, taking a look at cholesterol and making sure that you are getting the screening tests done that are appropriate for your age are key,” said Harlan. This becomes particularly important once you are between ages 35 and 40.
10. Set yourself up for success. Seek support and do not go about achieving the resolutions alone. “Buddy up with somebody because a partner can make it easier and motivate you and vice versa,” said Maxwell. Try to do one thing at a time instead of attacking all 10 resolutions at once. “Break the steps down into baby steps so it is not a mountainous task to overcome,” said Maxwell. Take the time to occasionally remind yourself why you set these 10 resolutions in the first place. “This is not something that is going to end on May or June first. Once you make the resolutions, you need to remake them at the beginning of every month, quarter or on special days,” said Harlan.
By reaffirming your resolutions, you reiterate that your well-being matters.