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Editor’s Note: This story is part one of a two-part series recapping our favorite health tips from 2023. Part 2 focuses on tips for enjoying an active lifestyle.
Want to foster health in the coming year? Local providers share steps for good health below.
Embrace a “Blue Zone” lifestyle: Research on “Blue Zones,” or areas with high populations of people who live long lives, shows longevity isn’t just about what you eat — it’s about your lifestyle.
People in these areas stay connected with others, have a purpose, are active and embrace spirituality, said Dr. Brian Harrington, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center.
“I tell patients in my clinic every day that I’ve looked throughout my career for a recipe for living long and well,” Harrington said. “To me, this is the best description of such a recipe.”
When making lifestyle changes, start small.
“Pick some low-hanging fruit,” Harrington said. “Start off with one or two things you can actually change. It will add up over time.”
Choose healthy and frugal groceries: Feeling the squeeze of rising costs at the grocery store? Lauren Larson, a registered dietitian nutritionist at YVMC, says it’s possible to eat healthfully while staying on a budget.
Start by making a plan before heading to the store.
“Look in (your) freezer and pantry, and choose recipes based on what you have on hand to help minimize food waste and save money,” Larson said.
Choose vegetarian proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu and eggs, and staples such as rolled oats, nut butters and canned fish, which are all healthy and inexpensive. And be wary of impulse purchases: choosing grocery pick-up or even a meal delivery service can help.
Be health literate: Studies show that patients can’t recall up to 75% of what they talked about with their doctor. It’s no surprise why: in an average medical appointment, 17 topics will be discussed, such as symptoms, nutrition and medication, and a provider may write two prescriptions.
“Ask questions to make sure you get what you need — it’s your right,” said Monique McCollum, RN and manager of health literacy at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.
McCollum also encourages patients to get a second opinion and to bring an advocate along.
Combat anxiety with strategies for the body and mind: Medication and cognitive behavioral therapy can both be important when treating anxiety, according to Amy Goodwin, a licensed professional counselor and behavioral health counselor at UCHealth Behavioral Health Clinic in Steamboat Springs. Don’t downplay the benefit of exercise.
“Exercise is really the No. 1 preventative and management tool for anxiety,” Goodwin said. “It does exactly what we’re designed to do when stressed — to fight or flight so we can get to safety. Our body burns through those stress hormones, which releases us from our stress response.”
Remember that implementing strategies, such as deep breathing, practicing mindfulness and disciplining your thoughts, takes time.
“People tell me all the time, ‘I tried deep breathing and it didn’t work.’ But you can’t pick up a violin and immediately play Beethoven,” Goodwin said. “We need to practice these skills in order to really become effective and proficient.”
Embrace the Mediterranean diet: Want to take off weight and keep it off? One tried-and-true option is the Mediterranean diet, which includes a wide range of nutritious food, has no strict rules, and is sustainable over a lifetime.
“A Mediterranean diet is a wonderfully balanced way to eat,” said Cara Marrs, registered dietitian nutritionist at YVMC. “In general, it can benefit most people.”
There’s a hefty amount of medical evidence in favor of the Mediterranean diet, according to Marrs. With a focus on foods such as fatty fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil, the diet is anti-inflammatory and rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. That helps protect the body against cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even dementia and depression.
“If you focus on weight, it can be frustrating and ultimately, defeating,” Marrs said. “Instead, focus on health.”
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