Beginning in 2015, Well-Being began including this feature article that we call “Making a Difference in Mississippi.” It is our way of recognizing organizations and individuals, which are truly making a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of the people of our state. As we considered who or what would be the focus of our first “Making a Difference” for 2017, we realized that each of us can do our part to make Mississippi healthier by taking charge of our own health status and making positive changes to the way we live our lives. One step at a time, one person at a time, one family at a time and one community at a time, we can turn the tide of poor health statistics and make Mississippi a healthier, happier and more prosperous place to live. It all starts with us.
Well-Being turned to some of our regular contributors and others from the health and fitness community for advice on how to turn over a new leaf for the New Year and make wise choices in all aspects of our lives, from heart health to nutrition, exercise to mental health, weight loss, women’s health and more.
Cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death in Mississippi, currently the highest in the nation according to the MS Department of Health. Almois Mohamad, M.D., Cardiovascular Disease specialist with Merit Health Medical Group shares some important recommendations about maintaining or improving our heart health.
Dr. Mohamad’s advice is simple and straightforward. “If you smoke…STOP SMOKING. If you have diabetes or hypertension, make sure they are under control. Eat a healthy diet and maintain a normal BMI (body mass index). Exercise for 30 minutes at least 4 days a week. See your doctor for scheduled checkups. Follow your doctor’s advice for what screenings you should undergo, based on your age, risk factors for heart disease and symptoms.”
According to the doctor, the most common habits that negatively affect one’s heart health are smoking, lack of exercise, consuming too much salt and sugar, eating too many fried foods and poor compliance with medications. These are all factors that we can control, unlike family history of heart disease or congenital conditions.
Dr. Mohamad also advises us to read and understand the importance of being aware of the risks for heart disease, so that we will be better motivated to improve them.
“If you need help with staying motivated to implement the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes, join a group or work with a coach. There are many types of healthy foods and different ways to exercise. Consider your options and pick the ones that are right for you. Make it fun. You’ll be much more likely to stick with it.”
“Be proactive, don’t wait,” Dr. Mohamad adds. “Heart disease can kill or disable you. Take a leading role in your health, because the greatest impact is ultimately on you.”
Rebecca Turner, registered dietitian, certified specialist in sports dietetics and author of Mind over Fork, offers some great tips for setting nutritional goals for the New Year.
“Sidestep fads, quick fixes, or the latest celebrity health trend du jour and make SMART nutritional resolutions you can live with, once and for all,” advises Turner.
S Be specific in what you want to accomplish. Vowing to “eat healthy” will get you nowhere fast. Set incremental goals instead. Pledge to fade out processed foods from your pantry, incorporate a fruit or vegetable into every meal, or commit to drink half your body weight in ounces of water, daily.
M Make it measureable. Set goals that can be answered with a simple yes or no to determine success. Did I purchase anything processed? Did I have a fruit or vegetable at each meal? Did I drink enough ounces of water today? Yes or no?
A Set achievable benchmarks. If you want to run a marathon, start by doing a couch to 5K program, and get involved with a local running group. If you want to reduce your intake of meat, start with one meatless meal a week.
R For heaven’s sake, be realistic! Promising to cook every meal from scratch when you struggle to boil water is a recipe for failure. Aim for one new healthy recipe a week.
T Time it along the way. December 31, 2017, is not a good deadline for the procrastinator in us all. Set and achieve mini SMART goals every week, and work toward accomplishing your overall nutritional goals by year’s end.
Whether you want to take your exercise routine to the next level or just get back into the habit after being inactive for a while, having a plan is the best way to success without overdoing it and suffering an injury. We spoke to Stacie Hanson, Fitness Program Coordinator with The Club at St. Dominics for some advice on developing and sticking to your plan.
“When I start to train a new client, first I get some basic information from them,” Hanson explains. “What are their goals? What is the time frame they would like and/or expect to achieve their goals? What types of exercises do they enjoy or not enjoy? How much time do they allot for exercise? And, do they have any health issues that would limit them from certain exercises? Then we create a plan to help them achieve their goals.”
Even if you are not working with a personal trainer, these are questions you will need to answer for yourself. And be realistic in your expectations. According to Ms. Hanson, the most common reason people don’t stick with their exercise plans is lack of immediate results.
“When people don’t see the results they want right away they tend to lose their motivation,” she notes. “Everyone’s body is different. Results may not immediately show on the scale, but some people will start to notice a change in the way their clothing fits. Don’t stay in a familiar routine. Try new things. It will keep your program interesting and fun.”
“If you feel like your losing your motivation, talk to a trainer. They can provide you with tools and advice to get your motivation back up and keep you on the road to success.”
An often-overlooked part of our overall wellbeing is mental health. We spoke to Hart Wylie, a licensed psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner at the PMT Clinic at Jackson Psychiatry. Ms. Wylie provided some important tips for maintaining good mental health in the New Year.
“Simple, common-sense things make a big impact on mental health: restful sleep, regular exercise, good friends, healthy food, a regular spiritual practice, and of course, something fun for you! Also, when things do bother you, go ahead and address them so uncomfortable feelings don’t fester,” explains Wylie.
“Depression is very common, especially after a big holiday where expectations may not have been met or there was family conflict. Stress is also a common problem. We live in such a busy, loud, instant world that oftentimes stress builds too quickly for us to manage it. Anything that increases your stress level can negatively affect your mental health, so taking steps to decrease stress is a smart move. Also, building in time to be “off” helps your brain, body, & spirit heal and refresh. Turn your phone off or on Do Not Disturb at a certain time at night; schedule a night in with your family; let your colleagues know you stop answering emails at a designated time.”
Ms. Wylie also reminds us not to put off getting help for mental health concerns.
“I hear people say they delayed asking for help because they thought their problem wasn’t a “big deal” or there wasn’t a “good enough reason” for their concerns. In reality, someone else’s problems – even if they are bigger – don’t negate your own suffering. So, don’t put off asking for help!”
Jessica Lindsey, RDN, LD, with Baptist Nutrition and Bariatric Center spoke with us about some of the secrets to weight loss success and how we can apply them to our goals for the New Year.
“First, I always ask my clients what brings them in so we focus on the motivating factors that are driving their desire to reach a healthier weight,” explains Lindsey. “Motivation is so important. Simply wanting to be smaller will not keep someone diligent in making lifestyle changes in the long run or when temptations strike.”
“It’s important to know a person’s typical dietary and exercise habits so we can set goals together that align with their current habits and preferences. We then work to modify them into healthier lifestyle choices rather than making a 180º turn. And, the plan needs to be realistic. If you detest broccoli, don’t try to follow a plan that includes broccoli every night. Attitude is everything! You have to have your mind made up or you’ll never stick with even the best laid out plan.”
“When it comes to staying on track, portion control is the key,” notes Lindsey. “We can have too much of even a good thing. Our carbohydrates should be from the right sources- fruits and vegetables and whole grains, not refined and processed starches and sugars. Lean meats and green vegetables should be our main focus at most meals.”
“You CAN lose weight! It helps to make a list of all the things that trigger bad food choices – be it stress at work, family pressures, being around certain activities or groups of people, etc. and formulate an action plan to combat these triggers,” Lindsey concludes.
Menopause is an aspect of women’s health that results in changes in quality of life many women find both unexpected and unacceptable. Well-Being spoke to Mickie Autry, PhD, NP-C, Menopause & Sexual Wellness Nurse Practitioner at Ovation Woman’s Wellness about common symptoms of menopause and why there is no longer a reason for women to accept these changes as just part of aging.
“Just a few of the menopausal symptoms that have a negative impact on quality of life are, hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbance, heart palpitations, depression, irritability, anxiety, exhaustion, sexual dysfunction (pain during intercourse and/or diminished libido), urinary complaints, vaginal dryness, and joint and muscle pain,” Autry explains. “Our mothers’ generation may have been willing to just live with the discomfort and disruption to their lives, but there is no reason for women today to throw in the towel.”
“If these symptoms are affecting you and your ability to enjoy your daily life, don’t despair. More knowledge is now available to assist the aging woman to transcend into her golden years gracefully. As women we deserve to have our healthcare needs met, but it is up to us to reach out for help. Don’t be fearful or embarrassed to speak with your health care provider about your issues and concerns. Therapies are available that are proven to be successful in resolving or improving many menopause-related quality of life issues. If you are hesitant about hormone replacement therapy, there are lifestyle modifications, which can help, as well. The first step is asking for help. Don’t put it off any longer – the New Year is the perfect time to start feeling like yourself again,” Autry adds.