Health tips for the new year

Melrose Free Press

Jan. 31, 2012

By Jessica Sacco

February is officially in full swing and with New Year’s resolutions made more than a month ago, many people are reevaluating their progress on those midnight promises.

For those who pledged to eat healthier, lose weight or join a gym, and are now questioning why the thought ever seemed liked a good idea, help is here.

Three experts from the Hallmark Health System — Liz Dias, licensed dietitian nutritionist, Jen Sturtevant, licensed and certified athletic trainer and Dr. Parra Tomkins, a primary care physician — offered some simple ways get over the resolution hump and stay on track. (Click here to read about the increase in post-New Year's gym enrollment.)

To start off, Dias, Sturtevant and Tomkins all recommend setting realistic goals when making a New Year’s resolution. This means making little changes to one’s lifestyle, so the process becomes less overwhelming and more manageable.

“Those little changes start to increase as you get used to them, they become your daily routine,” said Sturtevant.

When people approach Dias for assistance, she asks her clients to think about a change they can do forever and recommends avoiding the “all or nothing” mentality, like swearing off sweets or a certain food group through fad diets.

“You don’t want to make an unrealistic change, because then you tend to follow it for a little while [but] as soon as you go off it, it takes you awhile to get back on it,” she said.

According to Tomkins, it takes 30 days to make something a habit. Instead of constantly looking toward the future when setting resolutions, Tomkins said to stay in the present, which will help keep incentive up.

“When we focus on the future, it’s too far away of a goal to keep you motivated,” she said. “Rather than taking a weight loss goal, I have people think in the short term, what you can do right now and not the actual weight loss as a measure of success. If people use weight as the only form of success, they lose motivation quickly.”

A round of applause goes out to those who can wake up at 6 a.m. every day to hit the gym, exercise at home or run 10 miles before work.

For those who want to sleep in, hate running and the gym, but still want to keep up with their healthier living resolution, these simple alternatives are for you.

Tomkins said for a healthy, long life, people should exercise between 30 to 45 minutes three to four days a week. She said by doing this, you’ll feel better about yourself, you’ll have more energy and will even sleep better at night.

Now, here comes the tricky part. How can people achieve that goal on top of everything else in their (probably busy) schedule?

Sturtevant said keeping up with exercise is about making changes to one’s daily routine. Some obvious ones include parking far away from your building and, if there is an elevator, taking the stairs instead.

Becoming more active can also be accomplished by breaking up your day into small increments, the experts said. Take a 10- to 15-minute walk when you have the time or do sit-ups on the floor during TV commercials.

If you have kids, and don’t have the alone time to focus on exercise, she said to incorporate them into the exercise. Take them on a walk or play outside — anything that involves being active together.
These small changes, Sturtevant said, can be just as beneficial as doing a half hour straight of exercise.

For those who started going to the gym on a regular basis, Dias, Sturtevant and Tomkins again stressed the importance of not setting unrealistic goals.
Dias said it takes time and effort to lose weight. Many people have impractical expectations, so when a goal is not met, oftentimes they give up.

“People need to be satisfied with smaller changes,” she said. “It takes a lot of time and effort to lose weight. It’s not going to happen overnight, you have to stick with it.”

Also, Sturtevant said mixing up the type of exercise one does will help keep people motivated, and also give the body a good workout every time.

“If you join a class, or are going to the gym, changing up your workout from day to day or week to week will keep you entertained,” she said.

Sturtevant added that the body responds better to varied workouts, which will keep weight loss up, instead of tapering off. Doing different exercises or extending the period of time working out helps one’s body work harder and in turn, receive a better workout.

“Your body will respond better if you change it up. People get to a point where they’re not losing weight and they get frustrated with that,” she said.

There are some known tricks when trying to eat healthy. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated (at least 64 ounces, according to Sturtevant) stay on the perimeter of the grocery store when shopping, as that’s where the healthiest items lie, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables … the list goes on.

However, sometimes you can’t help wanting a piece of chocolate cake after a long day at work. So, how do you have the sweet and stay on track?

The simple answer is, if you don’t want to give up your after-dinner desert, don’t. Dias said instead of eliminating something you love, try cutting the portion size in half.

“It’s not as drastic, so it’s something you can stick with,” Dias said.

Also, if you eat something unhealthy during the day, don’t skip a meal to try and counteract the “damage.”

Sturtevant said eating one to two meals a day slows down the metabolism because the body goes into starvation, or hibernation mode. This means when a person does intake food, the body absorbs not only the nutritious elements, but also the unhealthy ones.

“It absorbs all the bad stuff instead of weeding it out and getting rid of it because the body is tricked into thinking it’s not going to get more ‘food’ anytime soon,” she said.
Instead of cutting out meals, she recommended eating smaller ones throughout the day, as it is more beneficial to the body.

If you hate water and are trying to stay on a budget while shopping, Tomkins recommended some alternatives that can help.

Try squeezing an orange or lemon into water to add a little flavor and make it more interesting.
Frozen foods are also a good replacement for fresh fruits, which are often pricey at the store. However, if you don’t want to go frozen, Tompkins said try to buy seasonal (right now, it’s oranges and grapefruit) as you can purchase more for less.

“Rather than sticking with a fruit you love, that is wildly expensive, learn to morph to fruits that are in season, because they’re cheap in bulk,” she said.

Another trick Dias recommended is keeping a food journal to track your daily food intake. Whether on padded paper or through one of the many smart phone applications, Dias said this is an effective and easy way to monitor your day-to-day progress.

“You can see the pitfalls you get into,” she said. “It helps you know yourself.”

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