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Your Health Doesn't Take A Holiday - Eating Healthy and Exercising

December 20, 2016

You’re health doesn’t take a holiday.

And that goes for eating healthy and exercising, even when challenged outdoors with the cold weather or holiday eating, whether Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July.

The facts speak for themselves. Less than 20 percent of adults meet the 30-minutes of recommended physical activity each day. Fewer than 1 in 3 adults eat the recommended amount of vegetables each day. And, only one in three children achieves the minimum amount of physical activity they need each day.

“Healthy eating and regular activity are at the core of what our bodies require to be healthy. When people are challenged by sickness or a chronic disease, proper diet and exercise may be the first line treatment, or diet and exercise may be prescribed in conjunction with other medications as part of a treatment plan. Their benefits for wellness are far-reaching,” said Heidi Szalai, manager, Cardiac Rehabilitation and Wellness, Baystate Medical Center.

Benefits of Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is one of the most beneficial things for maintaining good health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it can help to:

  • Control your weight
  • Reduce your risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Reduce your risk of some cancers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your mental health and mood
  • Improve your ability to do daily activities and prevent falls, if you’re an older adult
  • Increase your chances of living longer.

As a cardiac rehabilitation specialist, Szalai noted that exercise is especially beneficial for your heart.

“Your heart becomes more effective and efficient at pumping and supplying blood through your body. It’s a muscle like the rest of your body that gets stronger with exercise. Your blood vessels also become stronger with regular exercise. This helps to decrease your risk for heart and vascular disease,” she said.

Challenges of Winter Exercise

In the frigid cold of winter months, outdoor activities like walking are difficult. Indoor activities like walking at the mall, joining a local fitness center or a senior center are recommended.

“We caution people from sitting too much in the winter. Simple 10-minute activities like walking in place while watching TV, doing laps around your house, or following a fitness show on TV are ideas that when done three times per day is another way to achieve your 30-minute dose of exercise,” said Szalai.

“As the New Year approaches, it may be your resolution to exercise more. If you’ve failed in the past, this time recruit someone or something that will help keep you accountable and motivated. Develop a regular walking program with a friend or family member; get yourself a step tracker like a Fit Bit and work to achieve more steps each week. Sign up for a walk/run race and train for it, or even hire a personal trainer. Whatever you do, keep moving in the New Year,” said Szalai.

Another popular resolution for the New Year is to go on a diet to lose weight, but clinical dietitians Anna O’Brien, RD and Paula Serafino-Cross, RD, at Baystate Medical Center suggest focusing your efforts on eating healthier in 2017 instead of the word “diet” or starving yourself on some fad diet that can do more harm than good.

Healthy Eating Tips

“Oftentimes people feel that they need to make many changes all at once to live a healthier life. It is important to remember that even small changes can make a difference. Starting to make a few changes at a time will add up and help keep you on track without causing you to feel overwhelmed,” said O’Brien, who recommends the following tips for eating healthier at the holidays and year round:

  • Increase your fruit and vegetables: add fruit and vegetables to all of your meals and snacks – keep pre-cut veggie slices, fruits, and carrot sticks on hand for quick snacks or keep a large salad already put together in the fridge to pull out at mealtimes. Also, fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at mealtime.
  • Drink more water: a great way to stay healthy is to keep hydrated. Sweetened beverages like soda and juice offer little to no nutritional benefit and are loaded with sugar. Drinking more water will help cut out many unnecessary calories. Try adding fruit slices, cucumber slices, or mint leaves to give your water flavor.
  • Increase your intake of whole grain products: whole grain breads, cereals, rice, and pasta provide a great source of fiber which offers a variety of health benefits. Choosing whole grains more often will also help to keep you full in between meals and snacks.
  • Cook more: cooking your meals at home instead of relying on pre-made meals or takeout can help give you the opportunity to eat healthier. Many pre-made or processed dishes contain a lot of salt. If you cook your own meals, you can use other herbs and spices to season your dishes which will help decrease your salt intake. If you are going to a party, bring something you know is healthier, that way you can fill up on the dish that you bring and just sample a few of the other items.

Dealing with the Holidays

Since it is the holiday season, we often find ourselves rushed and eating more and less healthy straight through the New Year, noted Serafino-Cross.

“Try to find some time throughout the holidays for a yoga or a Mindfulness class. When you are more relaxed, you will be more in control of your food choices. Exercise is also helpful as it produces endorphins which are calming and make you more relaxed. Try having a healthful snack before exercising so that you are not too hungry when you arrive home, which can lead to overeating. A yogurt or a handful of nuts and a small fruit are perfect choices,” she said.

“Whatever the holiday, Christmas or Mother’s Day, these are wonderful times to be with friends and family and that usually involves food. Allow yourself to enjoy some treats and approach it in a ‘mindful’ manner, so that you feel satisfied, but don’t feel as if you ‘blew it.’ Remember to keep up your exercise routine and get enough sleep, which is also helpful for staying on track with your health goals. Try a small amount of lavender essential oil mixed in with unscented lotion on your feet before bed, which can help you relax and sleep better at night,” Serafino-Cross added.

To learn more about Cardiac Rehabilitation at Baystate, call 413-794-7024 for Springfield and 413-773-0211for Greenfield. Also, to make an appointment with a registered dietitian at Baystate, call 413-794-4772.