Although we experienced a mild winter season, most of you are ready for springtime. Spring is the perfect season to make positive lifestyle changes and improve overall health routines. Research points in the direction of “lifestyle changes” for improved health into old age. Genetics are important but behavior can be influential by incorporating good life long healthy habits.
Here are 11 healthy habits to work on this spring season:
- Get Outdoors. Winter exercise programs often require walking on a treadmill or heading to the closest mall to walk laps due to inclement weather. When warmer weather arrives with bright blue skies and the clocks move forward, consider going outside for your workout. “Green therapy” or “Eco-therapy” has been studied at The University of Essex and being outdoors “boosts you both physically and mentally”. The fresh air, greenery and natural scenery increases energy levels and helps your attitude and mood. Walking in the woods called “Forest Bathing” may lower blood pressure and raise immunity. Walk in the park, ride an outdoor bike, play Frisbee with the kids, take your dog for an extended walk instead of letting them out in the yard. Just stay active and do it outside! This is also a good time to update sneakers or walking shoes. Check the tread and look for worn out heels and soles. Look for areas that rub your toes and eliminate them. Purchase fresh socks that are cushioned and absorb perspiration. Now you are set to go.
- Learn Something New. We all get into our set routine and rarely challenge our brain. This spring decide to tackle a new project or hobby to stimulate your brain power and memory. Learning something new can also help boost your mood. Try a foreign language if you like to travel or a musical instrument. Find a bridge instructor and get into a weekly game. Take acting lessons or go to the local community college and sign up for no-credit courses. Try a different form of exercise. If you are already walking daily, try a yoga or Zumba class. Yoga is known to increase brain function, balance, decrease stress and improves your ability to multitask. Find an outdoor yoga class for even more fun and benefits. Classes are often held at the beach or in park settings. Go to a “Barre class” to increase flexibility and balance. Try a Pilate’s class which builds core strength and improves posture. A challenge for your body and mind is positive for your general health.
- Brain Games. Physical exercise helps insulin push sugar into our muscle cells but brain exercise can be just as important in a different way. Elevated blood sugars play havoc with our level of concentration, memory and focus. Doing brain games such as crossword puzzles, regular puzzles, word games and Sudoku can increase cognitive function and memory.
- Monitor Sodium and Cream Sauce Intake. Wintertime cooking can include rich heavy foods known as “comfort foods”. Meatloaf and gravy, pot roast and potatoes as well as macaroni and cheese are on the menu. Also included are soups, casseroles, stews, roasts and crock pots which often are heavily flavored with salt or salt/spice mixtures and cream sauces or gravies. Too much sodium has a direct effect on blood pressure, water retention, swelling, kidney function, and bone health. Salt may rob calcium from bones leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis. Get out of the hot kitchen and use the outdoor grill. The fat drips down off the meat, chicken or fish and the food can be flavored with garlic, wine or pepper. Add fresh corn or a sweet potato as your carbohydrate. Prepare fresh salads since produce is abundant, flavorful and cheaper in the spring. Cut up berries for dessert and you do not have to turn on the oven. Less salt and rich sauces can lead to feeling better, weight loss and a decrease in kitchen time.
- Journal Writing. Life happens and stress can become a daily event. Mental stress will increase cortisol levels and lead to weight gain, insulin resistance, higher blood pressures and elevated blood sugars. Journaling may help people learn to deal with life’s stressors by putting them down on paper. A study published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment found “writing on stressful and emotional events for 15-20 minutes daily can improve mental and physical health”. After journaling, try to spend time by closing your eyes and deep breathing for 10 minutes for added benefits. Always exhale twice as long as the inhale.
- Reach Your Sleep Quotient. With daylight savings; we get an added evening hour of light for a decent walk. This should never interfere with your sleep time which should average 7-8 hours nightly. The diabetes education guidelines have added discussion about “lack of proper sleep as a main factor in insulin resistance and possible increased risk of type 2 diabetes”. Sleep helps with cognitive function and body repair. Lack of sleep can lead to “cravings, poor food choices and over eating”. A decent night of sleep influences mood and attitude. Get into bed at a reasonable time and experience the next morning’s spring sunrise. This will boost your health and mood instantly.
- Branch Out On Your Typical Eating. Spring is a great time to experience new foods and flavors which can easily be found at your local Farmers market or fruit and vegetable roadside stand. Add fresh mint to your summer zucchini squash or fresh basil to tomato slices with olive oil. Choose broccoli rabe over plain broccoli since it contains more calcium. Put watercress in your salads which has vitamin K to help with strong bones. Eat scallions known as summer onions which contain lutein and zeaxanthin for eye health. Plan a vegetarian meal at least once a week. Make your own lemonade with fresh lemons, plain water and Stevia. Add lemon slices to the glass for a pretty look and fresh taste. Look for beets, artichokes and morels which are plentiful in spring. Beets are known to improve blood flow and may lower blood pressure. If you eat shellfish, branch out from the typical shrimp dish. Try cooked clams, mussels and oysters which are easy to prepare and are usually cheaper. They are low-calorie, do not need rich sauces and contain Omega 3’s. Head to the harbor if you live near one and purchase the fresh catch of the day. Add seeds and nuts in small portions to your salads, cereals, yogurt and soups for flavor and nutrition. Chia seeds have protein, fiber and Omega 3’s. Try pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds to make dishes more interesting. Seeds help brain and heart function. Try bulgur, amaranth or quinoa instead of a white potato or white noodles. These grains may seem chewy at first but they do contain more fiber which may help blunt blood sugars. Instead of cooking grains in salty broth, try using coconut water; coconut water has potassium which is vital to heart function. Swap out Safflower oil and try grape seed oil for cooking. It can handle high temperatures without burning foods. Grab a handful of raw nuts instead of salty chips. Make small changes this spring and some will surely stick.
- Go On A Picnic. Even if it is only as far as your own backyard, experience eating outdoors. Food seems to taste better under these conditions. Keep it simple so you can enjoy the time. Bring turkey sandwiches and bulk them up with romaine lettuce, tomato, sprouts, avocado, grated carrots and red onion. Enjoy all the colors of spring produce. Add sparkling water with a few fresh raspberries for flavor and color. Make a big fresh fruit salad with mango, papaya, star fruit, kiwi and strawberries for an untypical salad with fresh mint crushed in. Add unsweetened coconut flakes and slivered almonds for benefits. Life will be good just soaking up the outdoors and the sunshine. 10-15 minutes a day of sun without sunscreen boosts vitamin D levels.
- Reduce Screen Time and Technology. Winter can make you lazy on the couch in front of the tube or staring at the computer for hours. Some people “binge watch” an entire season or old movies for the whole weekend. Put down the screens and head out doors. This is the time to make changes and become more active. Nice weather should inspire you to fly a kite, pick shells at the beach or simply just be outside. Try fresh air and friendship. Call a neighbor and go for a walk. Catch up on the people who live around the neighborhood by being outdoors. When you do return indoors, try to watch more educational programs which may invoke conversation and creativity.
- Schedule Health Screenings. A change of season is a great time to schedule all necessary screenings to help keep your diabetes in check. Get an eye exam, a foot exam and a dental exam. Make sure you check with your primary physician about blood work other than your diabetes A1C. Think about mammograms, bone density tests, urinalysis, colonoscopies, Pap smears, prostate checks, PSA levels, hearing checks and any other screenings that you may have been avoiding. Stay on top of routine appointments so there are no surprises later.
- Avoid The “Fad Diet” Springtime Ad Campaign. Whether you are online or watching television, it is impossible to not notice the barrage of “spring fad diets” since bathing suit season is on the way. RESIST! These programs may offer a quick fix but you want to develop lifelong changes in food habits. Forget the pills, boxed or bagged meals and supplements that promise you the world. Follow a balanced eating plan such as the Mediterranean Diet or Dash diet. These are not diets or gimmicks but plans to eat healthful. If you continue to have problems consult with a dietitian or certified diabetes educator for information. Use reliable websites for friendly diabetes recipes and do not skip meals. Watch portions and eat on a schedule. Healthful eating needs to last you a life time. You will certainly feel better, be able to control your numbers and future destiny. Good luck!
Always feel free to email me your questions at RKleinman@adwdiabetes.com if you would like to share them with ADW diabetes.
NOTE: Consult your Doctor first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.
She is a member of the American Diabetes Association as well as the South Florida Association of Diabetes Educators. She worked with the education department of NBMC to help educate the hospital's in-patient nurses about diabetes. She practices a healthy lifestyle and has worked as a personal fitness trainer in the past.
She was one of the initiators of the North Broward Diabetes Center (NBMC) which started in 1990 and was one of the first American Diabetes Association (ADA) certified programs in Broward County, Florida for nearly two decades. Robbie has educated patients to care for themselves and has counseled them on healthy eating, heart disease, high lipids, use of glucometers, insulin and many other aspects of diabetes care. The NBMC Diabetes Center received the Valor Award from the American Diabetes Center for excellent care to their patients. Robbie has volunteered over the years as leader of many diabetes support groups.