Living a Healthier Life
Dr. Benjamin Springgate, a board-certified internal medicine specialist and Chief of Community and Population Medicine at the LSU Health Network, believes living a healthy life comes down to participating in four principal actions: exercise; losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight; forming healthy eating habits; and quitting harmful habits.
Dr. Springgate works with his patients to implement healthy living. “When you are ready to set new health goals, start with a discussion with your primary care doctor,” he says. “You will have more chance for success once you have developed a positive supportive relationship with your doctor. I make it clear that when it comes to making positive changes in your life, small steps are better than no steps at all. I want my patients to be honest with me about their setbacks, and I want to continue to encourage them to keep trying until they succeed.”
GETTING EXERCISE WITHOUT THE GADGETS
Dr. Springgate advises that one of the easiest ways to start improving your health is to walk more. “Many people have a Fitbit or Apple watch to track their progress when exercising,” he says. “Those tools are nice to have, but you really don’t need them to exercise. Your exercise will be just as effective if you do 150 to 200 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity per week or an equivalent combination of both. You don’t need a gym membership, a special outfit to exercise in or a trainer. All you need is a good pair of shoes and a safe place to walk.”
If you walk at a relatively quick pace, somewhat elevated but not running, you will receive the benefits of exercise without adding wear and tear on your joints. “A goal of any kind to start off is better than none,” Dr. Springgate says. “Try to make an effort to gradually increase your pace until your heart rate feels elevated and you must put forth a moderate effort to keep the pace. You should still be able to hold a conversation while walking. After you have mastered doing that one or two days per week, you can add some weight bearing exercises to your routine.”
LOSING THE POUNDS AND KEEPING THEM OFF
Dr. Springgate cautions his patients about any diet fads that offer the key to losing weight fast. Instead he stresses the importance of working in any dietary changes gradually and consistently. “I tell my patients to make incremental changes to both diet and exercise patterns,” he says. “A good manageable goal is to try and lose two pounds per week. Dramatic changes are not healthy. It is far better to lose the pounds and keep them off.”
FORMING HEALTHY EATING HABITS
When it comes to eating healthy, Dr. Springgate provides his patients with simple tips to get them on the right track:
1. Make sure vegetables make up at least half of each meal on your plate.
2. Identify one or two areas of unhealthy foods you can cut back on or eliminate completely (such as sweets, French fries, or soft drinks).
3. Replace those unhealthy food choices with something healthier (for example choose a piece of fruit or non-fat yogurt for dessert instead of ice cream).
4. Choose foods with higher nutritional value, such as crisp and colorful vegetables instead of high-starch foods such as potatoes and rice.
QUITTING UNHEALTHY HABITS
Smoking releases thousands of chemicals into your body. The result isn’t only damaging to your lungs, but also your heart and many other body structures. “The good news is that even if you’ve smoked for many years, you can reverse these effects and experience health benefits from the first hours you stop smoking to the decades after you quit,” Dr. Springgate says. “For those who are having a harder time kicking the habit, make sure you enlist your doctor, family and friends to support you in your quest to live a healthier, smoke-free lifestyle.” There are plenty of tools and resources available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of the CDC’s suggestions is to call a smoking cessation counselor at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
Alcohol can also be harmful to your health. Even small amounts of alcohol are associated with increased risk of some cancers, and too much alcohol can damage the liver and brain, and increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. “Although no level of drinking alcohol can be guaranteed as completely safe, drinking alcohol within the recommended responsible limits will help you lower the risk of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, diseases and death,” Dr. Springgate says. The NHMRC Alcohol Guidelines recommend that to reduce your risk of harm from alcohol, healthy men and women should drink no more than two standard drinks on any given day. This will reduce the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
THE LONLINESS EPIDEMIC
Referring to Vivek Murthy’s article, Work and the Loneliness Epidemic, Dr. Springgate cautions about the negative effects of isolation. “We are healthier and do better if we have opportunity to spend time with others,” he says. “Murthy’s report showed the grave effects of loneliness: People die at an earlier age and tend to have more chronic health conditions when they live in isolation. My advice when starting these healthy living habits is to enlist a friend, co-worker or family member to help you reach your goals. That way you will have a triple positive effect; it will be good for your heart and your waistline; and you can have a good conversation.”
Benjamin Springgate, M.D., M.P.H.
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine and Public Health
Chief, Community and Population Medicine
LSU Healthcare Network
3700 St. Charles Ave., 2nd Floor
MEDICAL SCHOOL: Tulane University School of Medicine
RESIDENCY: Tulane University School of Medicine, Internal Medicine and Pediatrics
FELLOWSHIPS: University of California, Los Angeles, Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program
BOARD CERTIFICATION: Internal Medicine