Health care is an important and contentious topic in both political and social circles these days. The implementation of certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act has led to confusion and anger among many. Given the importance that accessing quality health care has for everyone, it is unfortunate that a discussion about promoting health has turned into a political debate.
Knowing that this controversy is unlikely to be resolved soon, you may be looking for ways to take health care into your own hands. The good news is that there are a few simple steps you can take to improve your health now and keep you healthy in the future independent of the current health care situation. Consider this your do-it-yourself health care plan:
1. Sit less, move more
Significant health benefits, including weight loss, improved fitness and lower blood pressure, can be achieved with as little as 30 minutes of activity per day, but more is better. The activity doesn’t have to be “exercise.” It can include walking the dog, yard work and house work. Spending less time sitting at work, home or in the car is an easy way to improve health. Research suggests that sitting too much is just as unhealthy as not exercising. Getting up for even a few minutes is better than staying seated for long periods of time. Every little bit of activity really does count.
2. Make smart dietary changes
Making dietary changes can be difficult, but a few simple changes can lead to big benefits. Eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less added sugar is a good place to start. Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain bread, pasta and cereals are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and most are low in calories. Eating less added sugar in sweets and processed foods can help you cut down on calories and lead you toward healthier food choices. Controlling portion sizes plays as big of a role in weight gain and loss as the types of food you eat. Pay attention to how much food you serve yourself and how much is served to you at restaurants and in prepackaged meals and snacks. Chances are you are eating more than you realize.
3. Relax, manage your stress
Reducing and managing stress is important for good health. Uncontrolled stress can lead to high blood pressure, poor immune function and weight gain. Daily exercise will help, as will using stress management techniques like progressive relaxation. When you can, avoiding stressful situations is wise. Taking time to do something you enjoy each day is a good idea, too. Getting enough sleep (most adults require 7 to 9 hours) is also important for good physical and mental health.
4. If you smoke, quit!
Smoking cigarettes more than doubles your risk of heart disease and stroke and is by far the leading cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases. If you smoke, quitting now is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gum, lozenges and patches, as well as prescription medications, can help, but quitting really does require serious dedication. It’s well worth the effort, and the benefits of quitting can be realized almost immediately.
Regular activity, quitting smoking, managing stress and the types of dietary changes described here can have a profound effect on preventing and treating many health problems.
Best of all, you can benefit from adopting these healthy behaviors no matter what happens with the current health care plan.
Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior.