Adopting a healthier lifestyle can have numerous benefits

You've enjoyed the platters of cookies, sipped your share of eggnog and skipped aerobics in order to get the presents wrapped. Now, as the holidays come to a close, you make a promise to engage in a healthier lifestyle in 2007. Just what do you n...

You've enjoyed the platters of cookies, sipped your share of eggnog and skipped aerobics in order to get the presents wrapped. Now, as the holidays come to a close, you make a promise to engage in a healthier lifestyle in 2007. Just what do you need to do to make your promise a reality?

Diet doesn't have to be a four-letter word.

Many people believe there is a formula or diet out there that will magically and effortlessly help them shed those unwanted pounds. The truth is, losing weight is about burning more calories than you take in. The best way to achieve lasting results is gradually using a combination of exercise and healthy, nutritionally balanced food choices. Think of it this way: Your "diet" is the food you consume each day, every day for the rest of your life, not a fad plan that you follow for a month or two.

A healthy diet can help you reduce your risk for heart disease, certain types of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, stroke and osteoporosis. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it has been estimated that dietary changes could reduce cancer deaths in the United States by as much as 35 percent.

A healthy diet contains a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy and proteins. In order to get the most nutritive value, look for foods that are whole, fresh and unprocessed.


Pay attention to food labels. They will tell you how much food equals one serving and how many calories each serving contains. You might assume that the can of soup you ate for lunch equals one serving, but if you check the label, you might be surprised to discover that it actually counts as two. Labels also provide information on fiber, fat, sodium and sugar contents, as well as the daily percentage value for certain nutrients contained in the food.

While you look for foods high in fiber and nutritive value, try to limit saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and alcohol. They add calories to your diet, but little or nothing in the way of nutrition.

Drink lots of water. There really is no substitute. Sodas and fruit juices can't begin to match the benefits of good old H-2-O. It keeps you hydrated, converts food into energy, carries nutrients throughout the body and eliminates toxins and waste.

Exercise Can Be Fun

A healthy, nutritious diet is only one part of the equation toward a healthier lifestyle. Exercise is another. Guidelines from the U.S. Department of Health recommend 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily for all adults. To lose weight, those recommendations increase to 60 or 90 minutes per day, depending on your individual circumstances. Examples of moderate to vigorous activity include walking briskly, swimming recreationally or bicycling at five to nine mph on level terrain.

Exercising every single day may sound overwhelming. The good news is that your 30 minutes doesn't have to happen all at once. If you can find 10 minutes three times a day, you'll have accumulated 30 minutes. You'll be glad you did, because the benefits are numerous.

Exercise affects the way your body processes the food you eat. It increases your metabolism and helps you burn more calories. It relieves stress, increases your energy level, provides motivation, promotes relaxation and can help you get a better night's sleep. In addition, exercise lowers your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, certain types of cancer and hypertension.

Best of all, it doesn't have to be boring. Pick an activity you enjoy and incorporate it into your daily routine. Ride your bicycle to work, or take a 15-minute ride after work or during your lunch hour.


And don't feel like you have to go it alone. You'll be more likely to make exercise a part of your daily routine if you build a network of social support around your activities. Recruit a friend to take a daily walk. Make it a family affair and run around the park with your kids or garden with your spouse.

When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, there are no magic answers - just common sense and logical solutions. Adopting a healthier lifestyle means living it every day, one day at a time. If you mess up and miss your morning exercise session, don't throw in the towel. If you splurge on the big ice cream dessert, don't call it quits. Living healthier is a cumulative process that requires commitment and a new outlook on nutrition and exercise. And the benefits are great. It is very likely that you will find that you look and feel better when you live healthy. You'll have more energy, more stamina and a new lease on life. Here's to ringing in the New Year and new, healthier lifestyle.

Dr. Reiss is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.

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