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Small Steps Can Offer Big Gains

Adding More Activity Into Your Lifestyle

For those seeking a healthier lifestyle for the New Year – and beyond – an improved diet should not be the only factor to consider.

Yes, healthier food choices go a long way in helping people gain a better quality of life, but without some strategy for enhancing daily life activities, weight loss and improved physical fitness will be a daily struggle.

“We suggest that people start off with small goals,” said Alissa Benware, a health and wellness specialist for the University of Vermont Health Network-Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital’s Occupational Health and Wellness.

“Even if you start off with a 10-minute walk, set a goal to increase your steps each day,” she added, noting that pedometers or the new Fitbit devices can help people maintain a daily record of their physical activities.

Daily walking at a moderate to brisk pace can be beneficial in many ways. The enhanced activity can work hand-in-hand with a healthy diet to reduce and maintain weight; it can also help manage heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.  A daily walk can also strengthen bone and muscles, improve mood and improve balance and coordination.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of activity per week above and beyond the daily activities people perform at their jobs or home. That means finding a way to eventually increase a 10-minute walk per day to 30 minutes of activity five days a week.

“Take the stairs versus the elevator,” Benware suggests. “Even if you start off walking up one flight of stairs, you can try to increase that when you feel more comfortable. Take small steps.”

There are many other simple tricks people can follow to increase their daily activity, she added. For instance, when going grocery shopping, people could park their cars at a greater distance from the store, adding to the number of steps they take to and from the store.

“Whatever your destination, if you have the time, take a longer route to get there,” she said.

While at work, people can take a small walk during their break rather than sitting in the break room, she added.

“If the weather’s nice, going outside can help rejuvenate a person during break. It’s is just a nice enhancement to the regular work day,” Benware said.

With North Country winters not always conducive to outdoor walks, a lot of companies, including CVPH, offer indoor walking routes for their employees. CVPH also has a walking initiative for employees to enhance daily activities while competing for prizes.

The annual Walking Works program has been well-received by employees and helps provide additional physical activity beyond their daily responsibilities.

“I think the challenge is a good motivator for improving a person’s activity,” said Debra Juneau, Coding/Revenue Integrity Analyst for the CVPH Family Medicine Center. “It’s inspired me to remain physically active.”

Juneau has been participating in the friendly competition for the past several years, and she participated on a team last year that finished fourth out of 45 team competitors.

She has also translated her efforts into a continued exercise program that features routine workouts at the gym along with daily walks during breaks and other times her busy schedule allows.

“It is a challenge,” she said of the effort to remain active with today’s hectic schedules. “I have a 12-year-old son, an elderly mom in the nursing home. But my husband and son have been very supportive.”

The walking initiative also helps participants work together to meet their goals, an opportunity that strengthens the odds a person will continue adding physical activity to daily life.

“It’s so much easier when you have group support,” she said. “We all encourage one another, and that helps keep us going.”

Juneau received a new Fitbit for Christmas, and the new technology also aids in keeping her on a schedule that continues to be beneficial for her.

“It does make me feel better each day,” she said of her activity program. “It helps clear your mind, settle you down. It gives you more energy to face the day.”

Anyone considering a new exercise program should consult a physician before attempting new activities.

“Your primary care physician can help you plan what kind of activity might be best for you,” Benware said. “There are things they can incorporate into your activity that may not be as strenuous as other choices (such as running).”