Four easy and actionable tips to improve your health and daily life.
1. Know what you're eating
In this age of grab-and-go eating, the lion's share of Americans’ food budget goes toward processed foods, which typically lack nutrients and contain additives intended to extend shelf life. In fact, an article appearing in the New York Times reported that Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food.
Problem is, says Pamela Sufka-Boyd, D.O., a Family Medicine physician with The Iowa Clinic, “Processed foods may be heavy in dyes, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, nitrates, and chemicals that can clog arteries, elevate blood pressure, and lead to obesity, diabetes, and other diseases.”
The ideal solution, she says, is to eat fresh foods that come from plants or animals. But eliminating processed foods altogether can be daunting for most Americans. If that's you, Sufka-Boyd recommends a two-step approach to evaluating whether a food is good for you:
Step One: Check the nutrition label for serving size as well as high fiber, high protein, low fat, and low sodium.
Step Two: Check the ingredient list. “The healthiest packaged products generally have five or fewer ingredients. The longer the ingredient list, the worse it is for you,” says Sufka-Boyd. “Avoid products containing ingredients you don't recognize as being from a plant or animal, or that you cannot pronounce.”
Ingredients to Avoid:
Refined grains – such as those in white bread and baked goods, sugary low-fiber cereals, white rice, and white pasta – have little nutritional value and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and belly fat. Make sure the first ingredient listed begins with the words “whole grain.”
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Most Americans consume nearly 63 pounds of this super-sweet syrup annually, which may increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.
Our bodies need just 180 mg to 500 mg of sodium per day, but the average American consumes 3,436 mg per day, which contributes to higher rates of high blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke.
These artificially created, unsaturated fats raise “bad” (LDL)cholesterol while lowering “good” (HDL) cholesterol and are often disguised as “partially hydrogenated,” “fractionated,” or “hydrogenated” oils.
2. Focus on your individual worth
Your self-esteem has a lot to do with how you care for yourself. It's reflected in how you dress, how you walk, how you live, and how you feel.
Sufka-Boyd says, “When you feel good about yourself, others respond to you more positively. That in turn improves your mood and energy, reduces your stress, and may even benefit your immune system.”
A booklet published by the U.S. Department of Education funded SOAR (Support Options for Achievement and Retention) Program puts it this way: “The rewards of developing self-esteem include being able to take risks, having positive relationships, not being held back by fears and insecurities, pursuing your dreams and desires, making good choices, and reaching your goals.”
Tips for boosting feelings of self-worth:
- Give up perfectionism.
- Appreciate yourself for who you are. Focus your energies on what you do well.
- Challenge faulty thinking. Try to identify and defeat long-standing misperceptions you may have about yourself.
- Never compare yourself to others.
Take the time to look your best.
3. Exercise without trying (much)
If you already incorporate a total of 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise into your routine five days a week, congratulations — you're getting the amount of aerobic exercise recommended for adults by the American Heart Association. But if you hate exercising, don't despair. There is mounting evidence suggesting that breaking exercise into several 10-minute increments is as just beneficial to your heart and body as working out 30 minutes at a time.
For example, “It's fun to walk the perimeter of a Target store five times before you start to shop,” suggests Sufka-Boyd.
Here are a few other ideas:
- Play physically active Wii, PlayStation, or Xbox video games – there are dozens to choose from
- Dance to music as you clean the kitchen
- Walk the dog, and do it often
- Play Twister®, ping pong, laser tag, or bike with your kids
- Run (don't walk) up the stairs
- Park farther away from a building entrance
- Carry your own groceries
- Schedule your next date at a dance club
In his book Stealth Health: How to Sneak Age-Defying, Disease-Fighting Habits into Your Life without Really Trying, Dr. David Katz, director of Yale's Preventive Medicine Center, offers over 1,000 more small ways to sneak exercise into your daily routine.
The secret behind each of their health-boosting benefits, says Sufka-Boyd, is that “doing something is so much better than doing nothing.”
4. Get Screened
Sufka-Boyd says annual physical exams and routine medical screenings are the best way to evaluate current health and identify potential problems early, when they can most effectively be treated or cured.
Physicals, lab tests, and other screenings are performed based on an individual's age, health history, and existing risk factors. Whereas infants and children need to be evaluated for proper growth and development, adults are screened for such conditions as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart function, and other markers.
Recommended Health Screening for All Adults:
Beginning at the age of 50:
- Colonoscopy every 10 years (more often if you have a personal history of colon polyps or a family history of colon cancer)
- Breast self-exams starting in your 20s
- Clinical breast exams every year starting in your 20s
- Mammograms every year starting at age 40
Cervical cancer (PAP)
Screening PAP smear beginning at age 21 Breast Cancer
If you're ready to begin the process toward making a healthy lifestyle change, talk to your primary care provider for tips and coping strategies to help you succeed. If you don't have a primary care doctor, contact The Iowa Clinic at (515) 875-9000.