Lifestyle choices to prevent chronic diseases

Address 8 wellness areas to reduce inflammation, improve health

By Liz Carmack, Senior Communications Specialist

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Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s healing response to infection and tissue damage. But making the wrong lifestyle choices leads to prolonged inflammation, which causes chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even depression, according to Dr. Karen Wolfe, a physician, author, wellness coach and consultant.

Wolfe gave tips for how to reduce systemic inflammation in the body during her “Your Health is Your Wealth” presentation at the Healthy County Boot Camp,
Feb. 12-14, in Austin. 

Her opening keynote to county wellness coordinators outlined eight actions for better health — make a food plan, step up physical activity, get good quality sleep, manage stress, take good quality nutritional supplements, improve digestive health, detoxify your home and create a support system. 
“This is what you want to focus on in the (wellness) programs you’re running,” Wolfe said. “Lifestyle factors contribute to chronic disease and are the main cause of high health care costs.” 

Here are Wolfe’s top to-dos. More information is available on her website, 

Make a food plan — Ensure that anti-inflammatory foods are a big part of your diet — such as wild-caught fish, whole grains, purple and red berries, and dark, leafy vegetables. Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, which is addictive, and foods with a high glycemic index that tend to spike blood sugar, such as white rice, white potatoes and fruit juice. “Balancing your blood sugar is your No. 1 goal,” Wolfe said. 

Avoid eating in the evening and always eat breakfast. Eat every three or four hours to keep your blood sugar and insulin levels balanced. Snacks should be small and protein based, such as a handful of nuts. 

“It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy food,” she said. “We become addicted to certain foods. Once you start to eat healthy food, you become addicted to that. You will learn what fuels your body.”

Step up physical activity — “Exercise boosts serotonin and reduces inflammation, so it’s great for depression,” Wolfe said. Establish an exercise routine after visiting with your doctor. Set realistic goals and get a workout buddy to help keep yourself accountable. Use an electronic device, such as a pedometer to measure your progress. Incorporate exercise into your daily activities, such as taking the stairs when you can. Be sure to reward yourself when you reach your goals.

Get good-quality sleep —Daily exercise will help ensure you get quality sleep. In addition, avoid eating a heavy meal within three hours of going to bed, and avoid alcohol or stimulants at bedtime. Remove the TV from your bedroom. Instead, create a calm, comfortable sleep environment and maintain a regular bedtime and wake time, even on weekends. Establish a bedtime ritual to signal to your body that it’s time for rest. Use a sleep diary to keep track of how you are doing. If necessary, consult a sleep specialist.

Digestive health — Stop smoking and avoid excessive caffeine. Don’t eat processed foods and reduce your intake of fried, fattening foods. Instead, eat a diet rich in fiber and eat small, frequent meals. “Manage stress,” she said. “Stress can deplete digestive enzymes.” In addition, thoroughly chew your food and don’t rush through eating.  Also, incorporate probiotics into your diet and drink plenty of water. 

Take good quality nutritional supplements — Supplements can help ensure your body has the right nutrients and gut microbes to support good health. Supplements are especially needed when your diet is lacking in nutrients, you have digestive disorders, are stressed or sleep deprived, or if you’ve been chronically dieting.

De-stress your life — Identify your stressors to better cope with them. For instance, if you are stressed because you feel rushed, better plan your time, prioritize your to-dos and dare to say no. It is also important to practice self-care, which includes being mindful, getting regular exercise and getting a good night’s rest.

Detoxify your environment — “Look at your whole environment,” Wolfe said. “There are things we can’t do much about. The things we can take action on are to avoid added chemicals in our own home.” When you enter your home, leave your shoes at the door to keep from tracking in pesticides and other toxins. Clean your indoor air with an air filter. Use cleaning products that are safe for you and the environment. Use natural sweeteners like raw honey and skip artificial sweeteners. 

Create healthy support systems — Join or start an exercise group. Become part of a spiritual group, a book club or a group that participates together in outside activities like hiking or biking. Participate regularly in a yoga class or a cooking club. “You have an amazing support system here,” she said. “Make the most of the connections you have and develop friends for life.”