By: Roxanne B. Sukol, MD, MS
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What are your goals for your health? I invite you to think of health as a pyramid with three pillars: 1) eating, 2) activity, and 3) rest and relaxation patterns.
There is tremendous synergy among these pillars. Go for a great walk and you sleep better that night; get a lousy night’s sleep and sugar cravings spike. A bellyful of junk food makes it hard to get off the couch. And so on.
Fight pain through gentle movement
The take-home message? You can leverage that synergy to make small improvements that make you feel like a million bucks.
Even if you feel somewhat limited, whether by arthritis pain, circulation issues, or breathing problems, you can overcome many obstacles with a few simple adjustments. It is never too late to change, adopt new habits, improve your health and wellness, or see things differently.
Gentle exercise is an important part of effective pain management strategies, and good compliance, including taking pain medications as prescribed, is likely to improve range of motion and endurance.
Therapeutic yoga and chair-based exercises, for example, are great choices for people who are unable to walk easily and for whom pick-up games are no longer a reasonable option. Exercise is also a powerful mood stabilizer.
Take control by managing issues
If you, like half of people over age 65, carry a diagnosis of diabetes or prediabetes, keep in mind that it’s not diagnosis that’s the problem, but rather the degree to which it affects your life, both day-to-day and long-term.
It’s not diabetes that’s the problem, but rather uncontrolled blood sugars; and it doesn’t matter what we call it, as long as it is well managed.
Learning to involve your mind and body in the effort to conserve insulin yields all kinds of benefits. These, of course, encourage further efforts. I continue to work with patients to find ways to improve insulin function and keep blood sugars in the normal range. It’s an ongoing partnership.
Make simple, powerful habits part of your life
Try these recommendations for your health and wellness:
- Choose a variety of colorful fruits and veggies. Each different color is a different type of phytonutrient, or plant-based nutrient that is a building block for your good health. Make a special effort to locate fruits and vegetables in season, whether from a local farmers market or supermarket. Frozen is also good, since fresh produce usually goes straight from the field to the freezer.
- Shift to whole grains and colorful carbs. Besides fruits and vegetables, eat more beans (including hummus, edamame, tofu, lentils, peanuts) and exchange stripped grains (white flour, white rice, sugar, corn syrup) for whole grains.
- Make activity and relaxation part of your life. Find a local recreation or senior center with yoga and exercise classes for improved fitness and relaxation. Increase activity levels slowly: even 5-minute walks and light stretches count. Spend a few minutes daily relaxing your mind, too, whether through meditation, prayer, reading, knitting, quilting, or at your favorite fishing spot.
- Consider shared medical appointments. Depending on your location, you may find shared medical appointments (SMAs) for brain health and wellness, weight management, breast and prostate cancer prevention, pain control and stress management. Groups provide opportunities to support and be supported by others as you work together to overcome difficulties. The social interactions inherent to these activities also promote improvements in your mood and quality of life.
- Educate yourself. Think about the difference between nourishing fats — like those in avocados, olive oil, deep sea fish, dark chocolate, nuts, nut butters, and seeds — and ultra-processed, manufactured fats like soybean, cottonseed, corn and “vegetable” oils, all of which are strongly pro-inflammatory owing partly to high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.
Remember to take pride in caring for yourself no matter how small each step. All those small steps multiply, resulting in big improvements!