Make SMART changes for your health. Photo credit: UF/IFAS Northwest District
“New Year, New Me!” – the same phrase we hear and see posted all over social media every time the new year rolls around. More often than not, resolutions tied to each new year involve diet and weight changes. But how does one actually commit to these new resolutions year round?
Step 1: Forget Fads and “Dieting”
The world of nutrition can seem overwhelming with the various diets that are continuously marketed as “the next best thing for your health.” However, most diets, such as Paleo, Vegan/Vegetarianism, Keto, etc., exclude one or more food groups from the diet, which only makes things more challenging. In reality, eating healthy does not need to be that difficult. According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating pattern “accounts for ALL foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level.” Essentially, moderation is key!
In addition to fads, scratch the word “diet” from your vocabulary. Dieting implies something short term or there is an end date in mind. To build healthy, sustainable eating patterns, we want to make lifestyle changes. A healthy lifestyle not only incorporates what you eat, but includes exercise and a healthy mind as well! Use SMART goals to help attain your healthy eating/lifestyle changes for 2019: SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, & Time-bound.
Step 2: Focus on Food Groups
Instead of counting calories in 2019, let us count food groups! How many food groups does your meal have? Is there a protein? Vegetables? Healthy fats? Foods are generally classified into three main groups, or macronutrients. By definition, macronutrients are types of food required in large amounts in the diet. Such foods are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
Proteins include all types of meats such as chicken, turkey, fish, and beef. Other foods high in protein include eggs, dairy products, legumes (peas and beans), various nuts, and soy products. Proteins are the basic building blocks of your bones, muscles, skin, and blood. Your body uses proteins to build and repair your tissues and it is an essential nutrient for the human body. Strive to include a rich source of protein at every main meal! How much protein do you need? Aim to include 20-30 grams, or 4-6 ounces, at every main meal. That is the equivalent of a chicken breast that is about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand.
Carbohydrates include simple sugars, all types of grains, fruits, and vegetables. Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of and preferred fuel for daily activities. It may be somewhat confusing as to what are appropriate carbohydrates to add in your diet. To simplify things, aim to include at least two different carbohydrates in your meal. Perhaps that includes a grain (aim to make half of all your grains whole grains) plus a variety of vegetables. If you really want to add a cookie to your lunch, then make sure to include some fruit or vegetables as well!
Fats are a food group that often carry a negative reputation. However, fat plays an essential role as an ingredient in hormone production, in helping to protect our organs, absorption of vitamins and nutrients, as well as providing a good amount of energy! Fats are subdivided into four groups: Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. The word unsaturated indicates that these types of fats are liquid at room temperature and make up much of our healthy fats we want to include in our diet. Such fats are those found in olive oils, avocados, nuts, and seed oils and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and include butter, cheese, and fatty streaks you find in meats. Trans fats are a manufactured form of fat in which food manufacturers add hydrogen to liquid fats in order to make them more solid. Trans fats have been known to increase LDLs or bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol or HDLs, and are linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. According to the American Heart Association and 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we want to limit trans and saturated fats in our diets and focus on including more oils, nuts, and fish.
Step 3: Make Small, Adaptable Changes
If you are used to consuming large amounts of processed foods and sugary beverages, the thought of completely giving up those things can be very daunting. Implementing new strategies to eat healthier begins with small and adaptable changes. Slow incorporation of more lean meats and fresh fruits and vegetables can help make the transition far less challenging.
For example, most often, macaroni and cheese is made with white pasta and high fat cheese. To modify this meal and make it healthier, try substituting whole grain pasta for regular pasta. Next, experiment by adding some of your favorite vegetables and a lean protein such as chicken or tuna. Look for 2% or low fat cheese in the grocery store to replace the regular high fat version. These simple changes will allow you to still enjoy your favorite meal, reduce the sodium and fat content, and increase your consumption of vegetables and proteins!
Small subtle changes are key to creating long-term healthy habits. The transition to building healthier eating patterns will be much easier if you shift the focus to include more of what our bodies need and less on “dieting.” If you find yourself struggling to make healthier meals, https://www.choosemyplate.gov/MyPlate is a great resource to educate yourself on how to build and maintain a healthy diet!
Though not a widely publicized day on most calendars, Random Acts of Kindness Day, February 17th, is worth some attention. Random Acts of Kindness Day is a day when everybody gets the chance to do something nice for someone else.
A Little History
There’s a bit of debate over where and when it started. But it is generally believed to have started in Denver, Colorado in 1995. Then it spread to New Zealand in 2004. Since it apparently worked so well, it has since spread as an international holiday. So, now, we globally have a day dedicated to doing nice things for others.
Why Set Aside a Special Day?
Did someone recently cut you off in traffic? Are you tired of mean social media rants? Do too many of the people you encounter lately just seem rude? Does the only news you get seem to all be bad news? Then having one day to both offer and receive random acts of kindness just may give you the stop and reset buttons you need. You can plan out kind acts or just wing them spontaneously.
Giving and receiving brightens your day and makes you smile. Photo source: Angela Hinkle
Even the littlest kind thing you do for someone else can make a big difference in their day and yours. There’s the story I heard recently of a driver who brought a hamburger to a man living under a bridge at the beach. The homeless man said it was a perfect “surf and turf” lunch. The driver said that was one of the best days he ever had.
What Does the Research Say?
The effects of doing kind things for others is hard to scientifically pinpoint. However, multiple small case studies have shown that those practicing altruism live longer, healthier lives.* Kind deeds have been shown to reduce our stress levels and the negative physiological effects of stress on our bodies. “Happy” hormone levels increase as we care for others. There also is often a giddiness (not a scientific term) we feel when we do that nice unexpected thing for someone.
How to Celebrate
Doing nice for others can produce a ripple effect. You do something nice for someone. Then they do something nice for someone else. And so on, and so on, and so on. Your act of kindness does matter. Here are a few acts of kindness you may want to try:
- Pay for the person behind you at the drive thru.
- Give someone a compliment.
- Donate used business clothes to people who are going on job interviews.
- Let someone have that prime spot in the busy parking lot.
- Share your lunch.
- Clean up someone else’s mess.
- Leave a really big tip for your wait staff person.
- Donate blood.
Try a random act of kindness this February 17th. I think it will be worth it. And who knows, you may get so good at it, you start providing those random acts of kindness every day.
*Resource: The Science of Good Deeds: The ‘helper high’ could help you live a longer, healthier life. WebMD https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/science-good-deeds#1
Do you know what the different types of cholesterol are in your body? Do you know what your cholesterol levels are? Do you know why your numbers matter? Cholesterol can be a contributing factor to heart disease. It’s important to understand your numbers so you can take the best care of yourself. Making simple changes in your daily routine can help reduce your risk of heart disease. Talking to your doctor is the first step so he or she can request blood tests to help determine your risk. One of the tests the doctor may run is called a lipid profile, which checks your body’s cholesterol.
What should my cholesterol numbers be?
- Total cholesterol should be somewhere between 125 to 200 mg/dL
- LDL cholesterol is called “bad” because it can block your arteries. The level should be less than 100 mg/dL. If it starts with “L”, aim for a lower number.
- HDL cholesterol is called “good” because it helps to clear out the LDL (bad) cholesterol. This number should be greater than 40 mg/dL for men and greater than 50 mg/dL for women. If it starts with “H”, aim for a higher number.
- Triglycerides are fat found in the blood. You want these numbers to be less than 150 mg/dL.
If you don’t understand what your numbers mean, be sure to talk with your health care provider. The more you know about your numbers, the more incentive you have to make any recommended changes.
What Can Cause Unhealthy Levels of Cholesterol?
- Habits like smoking, lack of physical activity, and unhealthy eating patterns.
- Genetics (family medical history)
- Some medications
Prepping for a healthy diet
Photo source: UF/IFAS
What Can You Do to Help Lower the “Bad” Cholesterol and Increase the “Good” Cholesterol?
You can make simple changes to your daily routine to help reduce your risk of heart disease.
Eat more heart-healthy foods
- Eat foods like oatmeal, apples, and pears to give your body more soluble fiber.
- Add salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed to your diet. These are great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eat less red meat and switch from whole or 2% milk to skim milk.
- The Mayo Clinic recommends 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 times a week.
- Find out more about how to fit physical activity into your day
- There are many different resources available to help you or someone you know quit smoking.
- Check out how to quit for quitting tobacco tips from A to Z
Drop those extra pounds
- If you lose just 5% of your body weight, it can help your heart!
- See what a 5% weight loss can do for your health
By making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Change takes time and effort, so don’t get discouraged by trying to make all the changes at once! Pick one habit to work on, such as slowly switching from whole milk to 2% to 1% then finally to skim milk. Once drinking skim milk becomes part of your everyday routine, choose another habit to work on, such as getting more exercise. Adding a half hour walk in the morning or in the evening is a great way to get you moving. To make the walk even more enjoyable, take your dog with you – pets need exercise, too!
Your good health is why your numbers matter. Remember, small changes can make a big difference in improving your heart health. And since February is Heart Health Awareness month, now is a great time to start.
Contributing writer – UF Intern Jennifer Bryson
Be mindful and enjoy the moment.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
Now that the busy holiday season is over, it is time not only to reflect on the past, but to prepare and refocus for the New Year ahead. As we focus on the New Year, it is always refreshing to have a clean slate. As the year begins to unfold, there are tips to help you manage your day-to-day stress levels. It begins with mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” –Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1991)
Mindfulness is best thought of as a way of being rather than an activity in and of itself. Almost any activity can be carried out with mindful awareness.
Mindful awareness has three key features:
Purpose – mindfulness involves intentionally and purposefully directing your attention rather than letting it wander.
Presence – mindfulness involves being fully engaged with and attentive to the present moment. Thoughts about the past and future that arise are recognized simply as thoughts occurring in the present.
Acceptance – mindfulness involves being nonjudgmental toward whatever arises in the moment. This means that sensations, thoughts, and emotions are not judged as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant; they are simply noticed as “happening,” and observed until they eventually pass (Naik, Harris, and Forthun 2016).
Mindfulness is a mind-body practice that has been found to benefit both psychological and physical health. The primary psychological change that occurs during mindfulness practice is an increased awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment. Over time, mindfulness practice can help you to become aware of the space between noticing experiences and reacting to them by letting you slow down and observe the processes of your mind (Black 2010). The ultimate goal of mindfulness practice is for you to take advantage of this space so you can make more intentional decisions – to wake up from living life on autopilot, based on unproductive habits of mind (Black 2010; Walach et al. 2007).
According to the American Psychological Association, some empirically supported benefits of mindfulness include the following (Davis & Hayes 2011):
Increased awareness of one’s mind
Significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and negative emotions
Increased control over ruminative thinking (a major cause and symptom of depression and anxiety)
Increased mental flexibility and focus
More working memory
Decreased distracting thoughts
Decreased emotional reactivity
Increased capacity for intentional, responsive behaviors
Increased empathy, compassion and conscientiousness of others’ emotions
Enhanced immune system functioning
Increased brain density and neural integration in areas responsible for positive emotions, self-regulation, and long-term planning
Lowered blood pressure
Lowered levels of blood cortisol (a major stress hormone)
Greater resistance to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease
Increased self-insight and self-acceptance
Increased acceptance of others
Increased compassion and empathy
Increased sense of morality, intuition, and courage to change
Increased control over automatic behaviors
The question is: how many of us would like to benefit from mindfulness if it provides these positive benefits? All of us should strive to lower our stress level and enjoy our daily lives with a more positive attitude and more attentiveness. So, how can we incorporate this into our lives? The majority of this practice is about familiarizing yourself with what it feels like to be mindful, and getting better at “remembering” to maintain mindful awareness.
Experiment with creating your own mindfulness practices throughout your day. Being mindful of the sensation on the soles of your feet as you walk to your car or the taste and texture of your morning coffee can transform routine moments into deeply satisfying practices. However, having a ritualized and structured practice can be beneficial. To find out more about practicing mindfulness and how to incorporate a more structured practice in your life visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu, Publication # FCS2335 – Mindfulness: An Introduction.
Source: Mindfulness: An Introduction. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu. Publication # FCS2335.
January 24th is Global Belly Laugh Day!
Make health and wellness a part of your calendar and daily routine.
Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District
Each year, we celebrate many holidays, but there are also many observances and commemorations scheduled throughout the calendar year. Some are odd, like National Science Fiction Day, Word Nerd Day, and even National Dinosaur Day. Others serve as a good opportunity to raise awareness about important health topics and remind us to take control of our health.
Celebrating the new year means leaving the past behind, making positive changes, and the continuation of success and happiness. National observances such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Family Health History Day, and World AIDS Day help us come together to spread awareness and show support for each other.
Organizations such as the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and American Lung Association have created nationwide awareness month campaigns to draw attention to some of the leading causes of death in America. Other observances, such as Take a Loved One to the Doctor Month from the Florida Department of Health, encourage people to take charge of their own health and to urge their loved ones to do the same.
So, as you are looking forward to the new year, make health and wellness a part of your calendar and daily routine.
UF/IFAS Extension wishes you and your family a year fully loaded with happiness, prosperity, and health.
To learn more about health observances and how to encourage your loved ones to take control of their health, contact Laurie Osgood, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent at the UF/IFAS Extension Office in Gadsden County, (850) 875-7255, or firstname.lastname@example.org
As the holiday season quickly approaches, many people are filled with extra holiday cheer and enthusiasm. Some are jolly, but still overwhelmed with all of the activities, decorating, and shopping that needs to be completed. Then, there are those that find the holiday season as a reminder of things such as, the death of a loved one, family feuds, divorce, and the list goes on. If you are feeling this way here are a few tips to make getting through the season a little bit easier.
1. Feel your emotions – Many people want to suppress their sadness or anxiety, but this only makes it worse. We are all allowed to grieve, cry and feel mad at times. If you feel this way, let yourself feel your feelings. You will feel better once you have accepted and worked through the emotions. You also do not have to force yourself to feel happy just because it is the holiday season.
2. Reach out to others – Instead of secluding yourself spend time with others, whether it is at church, a community group or with family and friends. Spending time with others and socializing is good for the spirit. In addition, there are tons of volunteer opportunities during the holidays. Try something new and volunteer your time to a worthy cause. You will feel great about helping others and contributing to the cause. Research such as this one conducted by UnitedHealth Group commissioned a national survey of 3,351 adults and found that the majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience. The research showed:
- 96% reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life
- 94% of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood
- 80% of them feel like they have control over their health
- 78% of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels
- 76% of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering has made them feel healthier
- About a quarter of them reported that their volunteer work has helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off of their own problems
- Volunteering also improved their mood and self-esteem
3. Be realistic – Realize that times and traditions change as families grow and age. Do not focus on everything having to be the same every year. Be willing to accept changes, such as adult children may not be able to attend the family gathering, so utilize technology and talk through video conferencing, share pictures on email and/or Facebook. Find a way to make it work.
4. Set aside differences for everyone’s sake. Aim to accept family and friends the way they are, even if they do not meet your expectations. Leave grievances at the door for the day and enjoy your family and friends. Share those grievances and talk at a more appropriate and private time. Also, remember they could be feeling the stress of the holiday too. So, be patient if someone is grouchy or sad as you celebrate. You may both be feeling the same way.
5. Learn to say no – Be realistic in the number of activities you and your family can participate. Do not feel guilty because you cannot attend every party and event you are invited too. Graciously decline an invite and share that your schedule is booked, but thank them for thinking of you. A host does not expect that everyone will attend their parties.
6. Take a breather as needed – If you start to feel overwhelmed with anxiety, anger or sadness take a few minutes to be alone. Take 15 minutes to spend in the quiet to reduce the stress and clear your mind. For example: listen to soothing music, do a few mindful breathing exercises to slow yourself down or read a book to temporarily escape the stress.
7.Seek professional help as needed – there are times when the emotions are just too overwhelming to sort through on our own. If you continue to feel sad, anxious, angry, etc. there is absolutely no shame in seeking the help of a doctor or mental health professional. It will only help you work through your feelings with a non-bias person. Helping yourself feel better will improve your quality of life and those around you.
Do not let the idea of the holidays turn you into a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge. Learn to take care of yourself first. Learn your limitations and accept them. Do not let others’ expectations overwhelm you. Just remember when you start feeling extreme levels of emotions and/or stress take a few deep breathes and remind yourself to relax and feel the moment. Be mindful of your surroundings and remind yourself of your many blessings, even when going through difficult times. Make it your personal goal to feel your feelings and enjoy what you can about the holiday season, whether it is the twinkling lights, time with friends and family, the food or any of the many special holiday traditions.
Aim to find JOY during this holiday season.
Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping. www.mayoclinic.org,
Signs and Symptoms of Depression http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY10000.pdf
Depression and Older Adults http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FY/FY95200.pdf