Bringing the Health of the Rockies to the Midwest
By Anna Svircev, DO, MPH
Returning to my home state of Wisconsin after 15 years away has been exciting! How wonderful to be closer to family and to experience a new community! Seven of those 15 years away, I was practicing family medicine in Denver, Colorado. Colorado ranks as the eighth healthiest state in the country and is one of the leanest states with one of the lowest prevalence of obesity, inactivity, and diabetes. Wisconsin ranks as the 24th healthiest state in the country (United Health Foundation, American Health Rankings, 2016). It’s right smack-dab in the middle of the pack, which isn’t too bad considering the great cheese, ice cream, and beer this state produces. But, its challenges are those to be expected – it has a high prevalence of obesity (31.2% of Wisconsinites are obese) and a high prevalence of excessive drinking. My goal in my practice is to make our community and this state healthier by encouraging a lifestyle full of activity, boosting consumption of fresh, clean, and unprocessed foods, and inspiring mindfulness in everyday living.
Do the mountains and the altitude make Coloradans healthier than most of the country? Maybe, but I doubt it. Wisconsin may not have the mountains that Colorado has, but it has beautiful parks, trails, and lakes that lend themselves to walking and running, biking and long boarding, skiing and snowshoeing, and canoeing and swimming. Current guidelines state that most health benefits occur with at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity physical activity – that’s 30 minutes five days a week. Things to remember are:
- Both aerobic and strengthening exercises are beneficial.
- Some physical activity is better than none, so if you can’t fit that many minutes in each day, try and do as much as your schedule allows.
- Always start with an activity you enjoy – try a dance or yoga class, sign up for a 5K race, or join a friend at the gym.
A large component of being healthy is being conscious of what kinds of foods you put into your body. Healthy eating can decrease the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes and can optimize your overall health and well-being. It feels good to eat healthy, and it can make you look good too, from the inside and out. Eating clean and unprocessed foods means eating foods in their most natural state, free of chemicals and preservatives. The closer the food is to resembling something that grew on a tree or out of the ground the healthier it is for you. Here are some helpful tips that I use to keep me and my family on the right track:
- Choose foods that are in season – they taste better and are full of nutrients.
- Eat local foods by signing up with a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program. Buy local foods at the grocery store, shop at the farmer’s market, or experiment with your own green thumb by gardening at home.
- Minimize unhealthy foods in your home. The more junk food that is around the house, the more likely you are to eat it.
- Keep healthy snacks at home and at work. Eggs, nuts, carrots, sugar-snap peas, and fruit make great mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.
With that being said, no one likes sweets more than me. You’ll often here me say, “Everything is okay in moderation.” It’s okay to splurge on treats now and then; a small cup of ice cream or a homemade chocolate chip cookie satisfies the sweet tooth and is good for the soul.
Living mindfully means to pay attention on purpose. It means to live present in the moment and be aware of your thoughts without judgement. Living mindfully leads to stress reduction and a decrease in burnout and anxiety. It can also help those with chronic pain and other illnesses. It teaches us to learn from difficult times and leads to greater life appreciation. Although those who engage in yoga or meditation may be more familiar with the practice of mindfulness, you don’t have to do these things to be mindful. It can be incorporated into your everyday life simply by paying a little more attention to your daily activities as you do them. Some helpful ways to start practicing mindfulness:
- Take a walk.
- Pay attention to your breathing.
- Be creative.
- Put your phone away when you’re spending time with loved ones.
- Get outside.
- Laugh at yourself.
This all may sound daunting. Being active, eating healthy, and being mindful isn’t always easy. But, it doesn’t all need to be accomplished overnight. Small, attainable goals are best. There is a whole team of people here at Southwest Health who are available to help you achieve these goals – physicians, advanced practitioners, nurses, personal trainers, and dietitians. Let us know how we can help you achieve a healthier you.
Anna Svircev, DO, MPH
Family Practice Physician
The Platteville Clinic at Southwest Health
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