The resolution to be healthy often comes with the realization that we must change our lifestyle, for our own sake and for loved ones. Each year, millions of people make this resolution, but quickly revert to old habits as they struggle to balance responsibilities of everyday life. Without first receiving a diagnosis, not many comprehend the serious issues associated with a sedentary lifestyle, from depression to diabetes to cancer itself.
As a physical therapist, I understand that making lifestyle changes can be difficult. However, my work with cancer patients has proven that a commitment to exercise and nutrition does not have to be complicated. Here are several steps to better health which will turn your resolution into a significant long-term investment.
Make it real. Our society tirelessly promotes rehabilitation – a reactive measure that most only consider after neglecting an existing issue. In reality, the most effective way to combat health problems is to address them before they arise or become worse – let’s call it prehabilitation. Make a commitment to get ahead by writing down a few weekly goals today.
Develop a great mindset. Cancer patients who choose to exercise and eat healthy before and during treatment are more likely to experience an improved response to medication. After a long day at work or even in the face of good-natured joking from friends who might be surprised to see you order a healthy meal, adopt the mantra “I will not be defeated.” Doing so ensures your resolution does not fall short like previous years.
Start small. Don’t make the mistake of thinking minor activities do not count. Consider the many cancer patients who only have enough energy for a gentle walking program on a flat terrain for five to 10 minutes a day. Despite their physical limitations, they exercise with remarkable consistency and ultimately see results. Light aerobic exercise five times a week, even if it’s only a few laps around the mall or your local grocery store, is a great place to start.
Drink eight ounces of water, eight times a day. Drinking the right amount of water each day helps you maintain higher energy levels, keeps you fresh and extinguishes the “icky” feeling you have when you begin working out. Numerous studies show that athletic performance decreases when an individual is dehydrated by as little as two percent of body weight.Add fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. Give your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs to recharge for your next activity. While canned fruits and vegetables can offer comparable nutritional value, most contain artificial colorings and harmful preservatives such as bisphenol A (BPA), an estrogenic chemical that has been linked to breast cancer. A compound on the U.S. EPA’s chemical concern list, BPA is a substance you should avoid consuming.
Reward yourself for your commitment. Choose one day each week and give yourself permission to indulge in a sweet treat or craving as a reward for staying committed to your goals. Don’t forget to pay close attention to portion size.
Find an accountability partner. For example, cancer patients have caregivers, usually spouses or close friends, who encourage them to continue with prescribed fitness and nutrition plans when they return home. An accountability partner will hold you to your resolution and ask you the questions you might otherwise avoid. Besides, an emotional connection with someone who cares deeply about your well-being will help you keep sight of your resolution. You might even motivate them to exercise with you.
Set the example. Knowing that the effects of their treatment are cumulative, many cancer patients exercise and eat healthy in order to build strength and energy to engage in family activities. Children model what they see at home, so make time to exercise, or even cook a healthy meal together. You will show your kids the value of taking care of themselves for the rest of their lives.Whether you are battling cancer or are just a newcomer to exercise, you can begin a new routine today with these tips and a good pair of shoes. After all, shouldn’t living a healthy lifestyle be a life-long resolution?
Karen Barber, PT, is director of oncology rehabilitation at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Newnan, Ga.