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5 Ways to Take Charge of Your Health

Good health doesn’t happen all by itself — you can take charge and make it happen. Here are five things you can do right now.

By Beth Hawkins, Contributing Writer

When it comes to our personal health, the statistics speak for themselves. Every year more of us are diagnosed with health-threatening conditions. Those include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Despite the trend, you can help lower your risks by getting involved in your health, taking charge and making changes. 

Here are five ways you can get started:

  1. Check in with your doctor. Regular checkups are an important part of staying healthy. Make sure to bring a list of all prescribed medications, herbals and supplements, and over-the-counter medications you take. Make a list of your symptoms, allergies, questions and concerns to discuss with your doctor. Check with him or her to see if you’re due for any updated vaccinations or recommended screenings.

  2. Get moving. Regular physical activity can help control weight. It may also help lower your risk for developing high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and some cancers and may reduce depression. People of all types, shapes, ages, sizes and abilities can benefit from being active. If you are physically inactive or you have a health condition such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy or other symptoms, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program or increasing your activity level. Start at a comfortable level and add a little more activity as you go along.
    Government experts recommend that most healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity and at least two days of resistance training each week (with equipment like weights, dumbbells or rubber tubing). Aerobic activity raises your heart rate and ideally should be performed for at least 10 minutes at a time. Resistance activities boost your muscle strength.

  3. Eat smart. How we feed ourselves can help us feel good, increase our energy and improve our health. Winning strategies for eating smart include:

    • Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
    • Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products.
    • Choose whole grains, such as whole-grain bread and brown rice. Try to make half your grains whole grains.
    • Cut back on foods with solid fats, sugars and salt, such as cookies, ice cream, hot dogs and pizza.
    • Keep an eye on portions. Try using smaller plates, dishes and glasses. Portion out your food or drink before you dig in. If you go out to eat, you can get a dish to share with others in your party, order the smaller-sized option for yourself or take home part of your meal for leftovers.

  4. Manage your stress. Chronic stress can have toxic effects that may contribute to serious health problems. Thankfully, there are plenty of healthy ways to help manage stress, including several relaxation techniques. Some commonly practiced techniques include deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, meditation and yoga. If you want to learn more, go online or find a professional instructor in your community. However, sometimes getting a handle on your stress requires counseling. Do not hesitate to reach out to professional therapists if needed.

  5. Sleep well. Most adults need seven to eight hours a night. Sleep may improve your ability to learn new things and to remember what you learned. Sleep can also help your mood. Lack of sleep may not only make you crabby and irritable, but over time may raise your risk of depression. Even losing an hour or two a night may lessen your ability to function. If you don’t get enough sleep over time, you may raise your risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. So as your sleep habits improve, so may your general outlook and overall health.
Sources:

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010. Accessed: November 25, 2014.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. Accessed: November 25, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Family health. Regular check-ups are important. Accessed: November 25, 2014.
ChooseMyPlate.gov. Ten tips. Accessed: November 25, 2014.

Updated December 3, 2014