Here’s to Your Health: 12 Simple Investments for a Healthier You

( The Volunteer Firefighter )

By Kelli LaPage, MS ATC, President and Founder of WellTrail

Investing in your health doesn’t have to be painful. Living a healthier lifestyle happens with each small step you take – no matter what the focus. Over time, each step will move you closer to your health goals – and often will lead to even more healthy behavior choices in other areas. The key is: you just have to start somewhere. Below are 12 simple investments that can lead to huge returns in your health.

1) Drink More Water: More than 80 percent of us are chronically dehydrated – our bodies do not store as much water as they should. The result? Slower metabolisms, less energy, dull hair and skin and even an increased risk for health issues such as hypertension and injuries. The recommended amount of water per day is half your weight (pounds) in ounces of water. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, your body needs 100 ounces of water a day. While this may seem overwhelming, remember water can be absorbed from fruits and vegetables as well as other hydrating liquids we consume. But don’t go from zero to 100 ounces overnight. Just adding two 12-ounce bottles a day will provide your metabolism – and your energy – with a jump start.

2) Replace Caloric Beverages with Non-Caloric Beverages:

Caloric beverages are not only a source of empty calories but are often laden with refined sugar that increases our waistlines, and our risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome. By replacing just one can (12 ounces) of soda or juice a day with a noncaloric beverage, you will lose 15 pounds in one year! Imagine what you could do if you eliminated a two-liter bottle. Remember juice, Gatorade, and other energy drinks are very high in sugar and calories and should be consumed only sparingly in your diet, especially if you are overweight or at risk for diabetes. Replace with water, or low-calorie options like green, herbal or floral tea or even with a little citrus or cucumber water.

3) Get Your Calcium: Studies have shown that just 12 ounces of (1 or 2 percent) milk a day can reduce your waistline (although too much can add to it)! Make sure you are getting at least three servings of calcium-rich foods a day. Cottage cheese, kefir and Greek yogurt (with no added sugar) are great choices. Small amounts of cheese and plenty of dark green veggies like spinach and kale are also great sources. Most people can get all the calcium they need from their daily intake. But, if your doctor feels you need to supplement, be sure you take your calcium with vitamin D – and with food. Remember, less calcium is absorbed if you have consumed caffeine within two hours of your calcium, so watch that coffee!

4) Take 5: Aim for at least five servings of veggies a day. Research has shown that five or more servings of fiber and antioxidant- rich veggies are optimal for health. Not only are veggies a great source of cancer-fighting nutrients, but they play a huge role in aiding digestion, lowering the risk of heart disease, and helping with weight management. Vegetables are low in calories (unless you smother them in butter or cheese). Aim for vegetables from every color of the rainbow for optimal nutrient content.

5) Add 2: In addition to your veggies, make sure you have two to three servings of whole fruit a day. Fruit also has antioxidants that help your body fight disease, and they are a great source of water.

6) Stay Whole: If it doesn’t make a sound or grow out of the ground, don’t eat it! While the occasional processed food is OK, you should aim for at least 90 percent of what you eat to be in whole food form. This may mean more planned snacks brought from home and fewer trips through the drive-thru or to the vending machine, but the rewards are endless. Nature created us to digest whole foods, not chemicals.

7) Get Complex: Minimize your use of added sugars and refined carbohydrates this year. Refined carbs are typically “white” – white rice, white breads, pasta, and foods baked with white flour or sugar. While some refined carbohydrate is not bad, too much will lead to weight gain, stored abdominal and visceral fat, and increased risk for diabetes. Swap out refined carbs for complex carbohydrates – ideally from fruit and vegetable sources. If grains will remain a part of your diet, try complex carb options – fortified pastas (with higher fiber and protein) and high protein grains like acini and quinoa. Complex carbs are great for your heart and help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) while raising LDL (good cholesterol) levels.

8) Trash Trans Fats: Trans fats are found in most baked goods, pastries, cookies, cakes donuts, etc., as well as in fried foods. Trans fats are known to increase bad cholesterol, reduce good cholesterol and increase the storage of dangerous visceral fat. There is no healthy limit for trans fats, so get rid of them. And don’t think just because the label says no trans fats that the food is truly trans fat free. Always check the label. A food is required to list trans fats only if there is more than 0.5 grams per serving. So, many foods adjust the serving size to keep trans fats off the label. If “partially hydrogenated” is anywhere in the label, it has trans fats. Also beware of Palm Oils, these are equally damaging to your body.

9) Go Lean: One of the most important nutrients for our body is protein. Yet many of us do not get enough. But, before you just start adding meat and dairy to your diet, understand that all protein is not created equal. The key is to select lean protein as a regular part of every meal and snack you consume. Good choices are seafood, white meat poultry (skinless), lean beef such as tenderloin or sirloin, eggs or low-fat dairy. Choosing protein from a variety of sources will also ensure you are receiving a variety of healthy fats and minerals in your diet. Make sure you are getting no less than 10 grams of protein with every meal and swap one high saturated fat protein choice a day for a leaner one.

10) Half Plate Rule: The simplest way to ensure an ideal balance of macro and micronutrients in each meal is to follow the half plate rule. Simply stated: for every meal (or snack) you eat, half of your plate should be your protein with “healthy fats” and omega 3s, and the other half should be your vegetable. The half plate rule can be supplemented with small amounts of fruit, dairy, etc. Following this rule, without making any other changes to your dietary plan, will lead to better portion control, a broader nutrient intake and ultimately lower calorie intake. Second helpings should follow this rule as well.

11) Get Active: Just 15 minutes of moderate-high intense activity every day has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stress-related illness and dangerous abdominal fat. And notice we said activity, not exercise. Activity can be anything you love doing that increases your heart rate for a sustained period. Dancing, playing tag with the kids, taking a brisk walk with the dog, even vigorous cleaning can burn calories and strengthen your heart. Even if you are overweight, have injuries or are just plain out of shape, there is an activity for you. To get an even bigger bang for your buck, build intervals into your activity. For example, if you walk for 15 minutes, jog or do steps for one minute, then walk again for two minutes. Studies have shown that interval training not only increases our calorie burn during our workout, but also extends the length of time your metabolism stays revved up after the workout. Can you afford not to add 15 minutes of activity a day?

12) Get Your Z’s: With all of these healthy investments, you are bound to get tired! If you only follow one of our healthy recommendations, make sure it is No. 12: get your sleep. Getting the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night has been found to be more important to our health than even our morning workout. When your body isn’t rested, it cannot function properly. Your metabolism will slow, you will feel more fatigued during the day (which often leads to overeating) and if you are active, being fatigued increases your risk of injury. Over time, lack of sleep causes reduced immunity, leading to more illness, increasing storage of fatty tissue in the abdomen and causing an increase in blood pressure. So, make sure you commit to getting your Z’s every night (or at least most nights). Of course, you may not be ready (or interested) in making all of these healthy investments, and that is OK. You can start anywhere – you just need to start. Choose one or two to begin investing in and see where it leads.

The FASNY Wellness Committee will be providing minichallenges to help you along the way. Watch for these challenges online and in the FASNY magazine to learn more and to sign up yourself or your department.

Kelli LaPage is the Vice Chair of the FASNY Health and Wellness Committee and the President and Founder of WellTrail, Inc. She specializes in working with groups and individuals through habit creation and change to support healthier lifestyles. You can contact her at klapage@welltrail.com for more information.