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Health Department column: Choose a healthier lifestyle

By Ruth Gagliardi

Special to the Salisbury Post

Many of us have been told by our doctor we need to lose weight, we have high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Maybe your mom or dad had diabetes or high blood pressure and you would rather not get it yourself. Or maybe you remember a time when you were able to walk a mile without getting tired or those grocery bags didn’t seem so heavy. Any of these things might encourage you to make some lifestyle changes, healthy lifestyle changes.

The purpose of this article is not to teach or promote a particular diet plan or exercise program but it is to give you some information and ideas to consider when you are deciding on changes for a healthier lifestyle.

None of these ideas are new. These are recommendations that you have probably seen or heard before. But when we look at a typical American lifestyle, we’re still not making these healthy choices. They are small changes, but if you can achieve them they can be very beneficial.

  • Drink more water. This is one of the most common recommendations for a healthy lifestyle and reducing calories. It’s one of those things that improve your overall health and it can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Water is good for all age groups and many times you can still get it for free.
  • Limit sugar-sweetened drinks. Sugar-sweetened drinks are high in calories and they tend to be low in nutrients. Examples include soft drinks, sweet tea, coffee drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, punches and lemonade. While juices may be healthier than sugar-sweetened drinks, they are high in natural sugars, which mean that they also are high in calories. They can quickly contribute more calories than nutrition.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Have you seen lists of superfoods (foods that decrease the risk of disease)? They are loaded with fruits and vegetables. The lists vary but consistently have lots of fruits and vegetables. If you are not eating fruits and vegetables each day, you should be. If you are already eating them daily, increasing them is a good way to add more nutrients to your diet without adding a lot of empty calories.
  • Exercise daily. For overall health, the recommendation is 30 minutes all or most days of the week. Walking just 30 minutes per day can improve your health. You don’t even have to do it all at once. You can take a 15 minute walk two times per day. You still get health benefits. If you are trying to lose weight, you will probably need to do more. But a daily walk is a great way to start.
  • Vary your exercise. If you are already exercising daily, another thing you can do to improve your fitness is to try a new activity. Three types of exercise contribute to overall fitness. Cardiovascular exercise such as walking, running, swimming and Zumba builds endurance and keeps our heart and lungs healthy. Strength training using machines, free weights, resistance bands or your own body weight maintains and builds muscle mass. Stretching exercises such as yoga and tai chi keep our muscles flexible.
  • Limit portion sizes. As common portion sizes have increased, so have American waistlines. We have grown accustomed to large sizes. But what we are getting is a lot of extra calories. A half-pound cheeseburger meal with fries is approximately 1,300 calories. That is almost half the daily calories needed for an active man. One strategy to control portions is to use a small plate (9-10 inches in diameter) and don’t go back for seconds.
  • Decrease your screen time. We spend a lot of time sitting down watching television, videos, movies and looking at websites. They have now identified too much sitting as a health risk. It seems to be a contributing factor in chronic disease in addition to overweight and obesity. Sitting in front of a screen is also a time when we eat without paying attention to what or how much we eat. Most of us can remember a time we were watching a movie and all of a sudden the popcorn bowl was empty. You didn’t even realize you were eating.

For further information on any of these topics you can go to the following websites: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has information available at www.eatright.org/nutritiontipsheets. The United Stated Department of Agriculture website is www.choosemyplate.gov. And the American College of Sports Medicine has information at www.acsm.org under Access Public Information.

Ruth Gagliardi is a nutritionist in WIC (Women, Infants and Children) at the Rowan County Health Department. For more information on WIC or Health Department services call 704-216-8777.

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