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For Better Health In The New Year

by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 8 January 2018

 

Have a better year with better health!  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Oct '12

Have a better year with better health! Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Oct ’12

January is a great time to assess your health, and find small, realistic steps you can take to improve it.  Of course, it is never a bad time to change a bad habit, and Melissa Szocik, P.A., Medical Chief of the Kaiser Permanente Downtown Clinic, recently offered ways we can look at our habits to identify ways to make better health choices, and make those choices attainable today.

Regular Exercise

At the start of a new year many people will jump, often literally, into a bigger, brighter exercise regime – and find themselves floundering, again, literally, a short time later.  “There is a season,” Szocik acknowledged, “to the New Year’s resolution.”

Szocik suggested that rather than force yourself into the gym, or jogging in the cold wind, rain and dark, it might make more sense to “reflect on what play you did as a child.  It can give you some hints on what you enjoy:  team sports outside, solitary activities, group run/walks, etc.”  Szocik recommended looking at “ways to stay physically active, and enjoy it.”

Increasing physical activity can be fun, and relaxing.  Photo from Pixabay.com

Increasing physical activity can be fun, and relaxing. Photo from Pixabay.com

“It is a challenging time to start exercising,” Szocik said about the winter months, yet regular exercise has been proven as a benefit to many other aspects of our daily lives.  Regular exercise improves sleep, “probably in the first month of physical activity,” Szocik observed.  The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends activity as a way to control weight, lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, strengthen bones and muscles, improve mental health and mood, prevent falls in older adults, and ultimately increase longevity.

Physical activity needs to be part of our routine, and it doesn’t have to be a drear chore.  Szocik encouraged being more creative in outlook.  “We live in a very outdoor active area,” she observed.  During the spring, summer and fall it can be easy to be active, so look at winter as the time for training for those summer activities, or vice versa.  Skiing and snowboarding will hold lower injury risk, and greater rewards, if we’re already in shape at the start of the season.

“Professional baseball players,” Szocik acknowledged, “no matter how good they are, they have to go to Spring Training, and get back in shape at the start of the season.”  It’s possible to create payoffs – rewards and wins – when we workout.  When your favorite activity isn’t possible, due to weather or time of year, find ways to ‘train’, like using the treadmill until the Fun Run in June.

Exercise can be training, for fun things like Fremont Fun Runs... just sayin'!  Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun '15

Exercise can be training, for fun things like Fremont Fun Runs… just sayin’! Photo by Adrian Laney, Jun ’15

Adding activity “can be incremental,” Szocik advised, and finding things that you find fulfilling.  For those who need more time to themselves, for meditation and relaxation, there is yoga or tai chi.  A walk or kayak along the Ship Canal can deliver an opportunity for exertion and relaxation.

“Where you are at?” Szocik suggested asking, “What sounds sustainable and achievable?  What are your values?”  Ultimately, she said, if you find something that you can do once a day, every day, it may be the right activity for you.

Ins And Outs

Better health isn’t only about activity.  It is a big part, but Szocik also asked, “What are you putting in your body?”  It may be time to consider your eating habits, and remember that healthy eating isn’t the same for everyone.  “We all have our vices,” she observed, “Is it salty?  Sweet?  Crunchy?”  As we do with reflecting on our favorite play, it might be a good time to look at your favorite go-to food indulgence.

Szocik recommended making small improvements upon our diet.  “Not necessarily NO, but how much?” she said.  Serving sizes are a big part of healthy eating.  Too much of a great thing isn’t always great – sometimes it’s too much.  Szocik has patients that nibble on cheese and crackers while making dinner for the family, because they crave the salty, crunchy taste – although low-salt nuts can serve as a replacement, while providing a more substantial, higher protein snack.

Finding healthier food options is a great small step to better health.  Photo from Pixabay.com

Finding healthier food options is a great small step to better health. Photo from Pixabay.com

At the Kaiser Permanente Downtown Clinic, Szocik sees a lot of patients over-caffeinated and under hydrated – a quick fix, that requires some personal awareness.  “Water is important,” she acknowledged, “but it doesn’t have to be a full 80 ounces a day.  Depending on age, health, medications,” the amount of water, or fluids, each person needs is individual.  “Herbal tea is a great way to get hydrated,” Szocik recommended, but don’t forget to consider food choices that also have high liquid content.

Sleep!

We all have stressors in our lives and, Szocik observed, even “happy burdens are still burdens.”  The most joyous holiday season may have created stress, and its letdown can create another point of tension.  “Sleep allows you to let your mind and body rest,” she said, and a lack of sleep will provide additional stress.

“When you wake up feeling cheated,” Szocik advised, it may be time to assess your sleep hygiene routines, and identify steps to getting better rest:

  • Create a sleep schedule, that guarantees time for solid sleep
  • Check your bedding, bed, and room for impediments to good sleep – temperature, comfort, distractions, etc.
  • Save the bed for sleep and intercourse.  No work.  No technology.
  • Set a going-to-sleep routine that informs the body and mind that it is time to shut down and rest
Getting up and reading a book, or other quiet, non-tech tasks, is a great way to deal with a sleepless night.

Getting up and reading a book, or other quiet, non-tech tasks, is a great way to deal with a sleepless night.

Szocik advised self-compassion, on many health concerns, but also when it comes to sleep.  “We find ourselves getting stressed about not getting sleep,” she said, and that can create sleep anxiety.  Instead of going to sleep, we worry we won’t be able to and thereby create a lose-lose situation.  If you can’t sleep, Szocik advised, get out of bed and read a boring book – not texts or e-mails – rather than lying in bed and worrying about how tired you will be tomorrow.

Behavioral Health?  Substance Use?

“We have a pilot program at Kaiser Permanente,” Szocik said, “of Behavioral Health Integration (BHI).”  It includes a survey given to clinic patients every 12 months, to help assess mood and substance use – something nearly all of us could do every so often.  “I think it is long overdue,” Szocik observed, “a priority for all.  I’m glad we are asking, and glad we are doing it.”

Essentially, the survey gives patients a moment to take stock of their mood and mental health.  Is stress getting in the way of enjoyment?  Is anxiety becoming a daily problem?  Have winter blues turned into something darker?  The survey also gives patients an opening for discussion with their health care professionals about ways symptoms can be addressed before they become debilitating.

Taking stock of substance use is a good first step to better health.  Photo from Pixabay.com

Taking stock of substance use is a good first step to better health. Photo from Pixabay.com

The survey also addresses substance use.  “With the holidays,” Szocik observed, “marijuana and alcohol use increases.  It can be such a part of the social-ness.”  Sometimes use can turn into abuse.  This might be a good time to take stock of how much is okay.  With alcohol, standards say, for women, no more than seven drinks a week (three a day) are recommended, and for men, no more than 14 a week (4 a day.)

This may be the time to look at pain management and medications.  If you regularly take medication for chronic pain, Szocik recommended taking a look at “what is it allowing you to do?  Can it be treated differently?”  Over time tolerances change, and a regime that worked in the past might need an overhaul – or at least a little examination and discussion with a health care provider.

Better Health Overall

Melissa Szocik, P.A., of the Kaiser Permanente Downtown Clinic, advises considering childhood play when looking for fun ways to amp up physical activity.  Photo provided by kp.org/wa

Melissa Szocik, P.A., of the Kaiser Permanente Downtown Clinic, advises considering childhood play when looking for fun ways to amp up physical activity. Photo provided by kp.org/wa

Everyone can take a step or two towards improving health.  This might be the time to find small, incremental changes that can make life better, and brighter – without overloading, and giving up.  “How do I feel well?” Szocik asked us to ask ourselves.  Now might be the time to find your answer.

Visit the Kaiser Permanente website to find out how a health care provider, like Szocik, can help make that answer a reality.

 

 

 


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©2018 Kirby S. Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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