Getting Started

By Beth Wood

December 5, 2008 5 min read


Make an easy transition to a healthier lifestyle

Beth Wood

Creators News Service

You know it's time. Going up that short flight of stairs left you panting. You hardly recognize yourself in a photo taken just a few years back. Or perhaps your doctor gave you a "change-your-habits" speech. Whatever the signals, you have made the commitment to get healthy.

"You will feel better, be more energized, sleep better and have a zip in your step. A healthy lifestyle also helps when it comes to coping with stress," said Kathleen Zelman, WebMD's director of nutrition.

Linda Copp, a nutrition consultant in private practice and a part-time instructor at San Diego State University, concurred. "People feel better overall," she said. "They are happier -- in better moods."

There are some crucial first steps that need to be taken.

"First, clean out the cupboards and stock them with healthy alternatives that are good for everyone in the family," Zelman said. In addition, make sure to step up family dinners. For those dependent on fast food, "Picking up a rotisserie chicken in the grocery store is just as fast as a drive-through restaurant and less expensive."

What if you can't get to a market? "If fast food is inevitable, choose wisely -- you don't need to eat burgers and fries. Go for the healthier chili, salads, grilled chicken and fruit," she said.

For people too rushed to cook, Zelman suggests frozen healthy dinners with a side salad or a salad and baked sweet potato for a simple and nourishing meal at home. Just make sure to eat everything moderately.

"Use the [Idaho] Plate Method to fill 1/2 your plate with fruits and vegetables, a 1/4 with whole grains or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and the last 1/4 with lean meat, fish, chicken, tofu or beans," she said. "Choose a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables to be sure to get all the disease-fighting nutrients. Enjoy healthy foods in reasonable portions."

As for initiating an exercise program, both experts recommend easing into it.

"Start small," cautioned Copp. "Do not attempt to train for a marathon from the get-go, so to speak. Small increments. Baby steps. It doesn't hurt so much that way and if it doesn't hurt, people tend to stick to the program."

Zelman agreed. "Change is hard, and when you go from not exercising to adopting a program of daily trips to the gym, chances are it won't last," she said. "Instead, go for a walk everyday during lunch or after dinner. Slowly improve your lifestyle with small, doable steps that are sustainable long term."

Some of these steps can be integrated into daily life. Make things less convenient. Put your file cabinet at work in a place where you have to get up from your computer for needed information or, at home, forgo the remote and get up to change TV channels.

"Make movement a part of the majority of your day," Copp said. "For example, avoid sitting down. If you are preparing dinner, rather than sit down to wait for the water for pasta to boil, get some cans from the cupboard and complete some arm reps or complete some leg lifts against the counter or do some squat reps. Or merely stand up in the kitchen. One may say that they are so tired at the end of the day that they have to sit down while preparing dinner. However, once a person changes this mindset, he [or] she finds an increased level of energy."

In terms of a program, Copp recommended choosing an activity you liked in the past, not whatever happens to be the current craze. But take your overall health and age into consideration as well.

"For example, if someone is elderly and suffers from pain in their joints, running is not for them," Copp said. "Walking or water aerobics would be a better choice."

Copp is enthusiastic about people adopting dogs to help maintain a regular walking schedule. However you exercise, make it part of your routine. And don't forget to collaborate.

"Studies show people who are connected -- whether to health care professionals, programs or friends -- do the best," Zelman said. "They sense a responsibility and have someone to lean on when the going gets tough."

Copp shared a mantra she uses in her practice: "If you can lie down, sit up. If you can sit, stand. If you can stand, walk. If you can walk, run. If you can run, then … fill in the blank with any exercise that fits, such as swim, play volleyball, play soccer, shoot hoops, be a cheerleader, etc. In other words, move, move, move."

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