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It’s a new year, and it’s time to make this one count. Do you want to look better, feel better and be healthier…and be happy? Most know our lifestyles could use some improvements in diet, physical activity and stress management. It isn’t easy to get fit and stay healthy. If it were, everyone would be in great shape. Your health is dictated by your daily routines. There is strong evidence that beneficial changes in your lifestyle habits can improve your health. The better able you are to eat well, stay physically active and maintain a healthy weight, the greater your chances of avoiding many chronic medical conditions. Research also shows that mind-body activities–practices such as meditation, tai chi and yoga—are essential to good health, because these activities are powerful stress management tools that help improve your resilience; that is, your ability to manage and grow from life’s challenges.

There are so many quick, unhealthy weight loss diets that might work but not for long-term. You may lose weight quickly, but your body will have a hard time keeping the weight off. The food you eat each day and the nutrients that food provides is very important to your health. Healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated, but you need to know which foods to eat and how much of them to eat so that your diet can help you achieve your health and wellness goals. See a registered dietitian or nutritionist, and if you can’t afford one, go to a reputable site such as Mayo Clinic (diet.MayoClinic.org).

No matter your age, activity is good for you. It strengthens your heart, blood vessels, lungs and muscles. It increases your stamina and endurance. You also need balance and flexibility for a vibrant and independent lifestyle. The problem is most people don’t get enough. A key to a healthy lifestyle is getting enough physical activity, moving more and sitting less. Exercise is also important for brain function. Studies have found that people who didn’t exercise had a loss of brain size in the hippocampus, the main memory center of the brain. Individuals who started an exercise program, on the other hand, saw an increase in brain size in this region. You can start at any age. Studies show that beginning an activity program anytime in your 70’s or 80’s results in a reduced risk of dying over the next several years. Also, quality of life can improve with exercise. It is recommended that you let your physician know you want to start an exercise program. There are so many gyms, trainers and programs out there; just make sure you go to one that is qualified.

Trainers with certifications in NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), Fitness Institute International and ACE are the most reputable.

Some trainers may just go online, take a quick test and say they are certified. You need to know that your trainer is qualified, not just certified. Many injuries and deaths are due to unqualified trainers. Make sure your gym has an AED; it could save your life someday.
Life isn’t perfect. It often doesn’t go as planned. Days are hectic, unpredictable and stressful. You’re bound to encounter negative experiences, unpleasant people, difficult losses and stressful situations. Depending on how you cope with these situations, they can have a negative effect on your health, your relationships and your quality of life. Chances are, you know what it feels like to be stressed. Stress is common, but too much stress can wreak havoc on your mind and body. Your body is hardwired to react to stress in ways meant to protect you against threats from predators and other aggressors. Such threats are rare today, but that doesn’t mean life is free of stress. Quite the opposite! You undoubtedly face multiple demands each day, such as shouldering a huge workload, making ends meet, caring for your aging parents and managing your family’s hectic schedule. Your body treats these so-called minor hassles as “threats”. As a result, you may feel that you’re constantly under assault. Stress prompts your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and elevates your blood pressure. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone which increases sugar (glucose) in the bloodstream. When stressors are always present, and you feel like you are under attack, the “fight or flight” reaction stays turned on. Long-term activation of your stress response system, and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones, puts you at increased risk for numerous health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive problems, headaches, heart disease, memory and concentration problems, sleep problems and weight gain. The good news is there are ways to cope with the stressors in your life. You can learn to identify what stresses you and how to take care of yourself physically and emotionally in the face of those situations. See my next article for ways to manage stress and live a healthy life.

Make this year the year to improve your health so that you can have the quality of life you want when you reach your 80’s and 90’s.

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