Baby Steps to a Healthier You: Prioritizing Lifestyle Changes Over Medication

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Take these 4 steps to help prevent health conditions and disease naturally.

Often people receive diagnoses of health conditions that could have been prevented through diet and lifestyle changes. Here are 4 “baby steps” you can take toward a healthier lifestyle. You can prevent many health conditions through lifestyle changes rather than later treating them with medications.

Yoga, exercise, mental health | Image Credit: insta_photos - stock.adobe.com

Image Credit: insta_photos - stock.adobe.com

Baby Step 1: Get Adequate Exercise

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week.1 That is equal to only 30 minutes of exercise daily for 5 days of the week.

Why is this beneficial?

Exercising is one of the best ways you can spend your time. Exercise makes you feel good because it causes an increase in endorphins.2 Additionally, exercise leads to better bone health, improved sleep, fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, improved memory, and increased cognition.1 In addition, regular exercise can lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia, and several types of cancer.1 Medications are available to treat all of these health conditions; however, exercise can help prevent them.

Quick Step: Park in the back of the parking lot when you go to the grocery store. Those extra steps matter!

Baby Step 2: Fuel Your Body With Proper Nutrition

The AHA recommends our daily food intake be rich in various fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, and complex carbohydrates.3 Cut out processed foods and additional salt where possible. Limit alcohol intake, and avoid foods with added sugar. Treat your body well by fueling it with healthy choices.

Why is this beneficial?

Diets high in salt may cause water retention and high blood pressure.4 Additionally, ultraprocessed foods may cause type 2 diabetes.5 Other risks from a high sugar, high sodium, and highly processed diet include hyperlipidemia, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and cancer.6 Many medications can treat these diseases and conditions, but it’s better for your body if you can prevent them by developing healthy nutrition habits.

Quick Step: When eating out, order water instead of soda. It is a wise choice for your health and your wallet.

Baby Step 3: Prioritize Proper Sleep Hygiene

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.7 The AASM also suggests creating a relaxing bedtime routine by keeping the room at a comfortable and cool temperature and turning off electronics. Avoid consuming caffeine or alcohol before bed.

Why is this beneficial?

Proper sleep improves brain health and helps prevent Alzheimer disease.8 Healthy sleep also improves mood, lowers heart disease risk, and helps you maintain a healthy weight.8 Those who receive insufficient sleep long term may have attention problems, lowered energy levels, reduced alertness, irritability, and fatigue.9 Seek to improve your sleep hygiene rather than take medication to aid sleep quality.

Quick Step: Charge your phone outside of your bedroom. Doing this will ensure you are not looking at your screen before you go to sleep.

About The Author

Amber Chamberlain is in her third year of pharmacy school at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and works at Intermountain Medical Center where she enjoys interacting with patients while providing their at-home medications.

Baby Step 4: Managing Your Stress

Managing your stress is all about preparation. Although many events in our lives that cause stress are unexpected, there are also many stressful events that we can prepare for. If you have a big test or project deadline approaching, break up your preparation into bite-size pieces so the task becomes less daunting. Completing small steps over time makes the big task much more manageable.

Why is this beneficial?

Acute stress, such as the stress that occurs when you encounter a bear in the woods, is good. An increased heart rate and dilated pupils are the body’s way of enabling you to escape the situation. Chronic stress, however, is not beneficial. This is the type of stress that is consistent and provides a feeling of being pressured and overwhelmed for a long period.10 Chronic stress is linked to hypertension, obesity, arthritis, and anxiety disorders. Chronic stress has also been associated with increased biological aging, suppression of the immune system, and impairment of brain function.11 Stressors are all around us, but we can decide if those stressors cause stress.

Quick Step: Use a planner. Writing down future deadlines and dates can help you take smaller steps to prepare. Additionally, try unplugging from the world and go on a hike once a week.

These 4 baby steps are small in size but massive in effect. Lifestyle changes can be prioritized over medication use to prevent issues caused by lack of exercise, poor nutrition, unsatisfactory sleep, and unhealthy stress.

References
  1. American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids. American Heart Association. July 28, 2022. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aharecs-for-physical-activity-in-adults
  2. Dinas PC, Koutedakis Y, Flouris AD. Effects of exercise and physical activity on depression. Ir J Med Sci. 2011;180(2):319-325. doi:10.1007/s11845-010-0633-9
  3. The ten ways to improve your heart health infographic. American Heart Association. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/the-ten-ways-to-improve-yourheart-health
  4. Salt and cardiovascular disease. Action on Salt. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salthealth/salt-and-cardiovascular-disease/
  5. The connection between type 2 diabetes and ultra-processed foods. Byram Healthcare. May 3, 2019. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://www.byramhealthcare.com/blogs/the-link-between-type-2-diabetes-and-ultra-processedfoods
  6. Poor nutrition. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated September 8, 2022. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/publications/factsheets/nutrition.htm
  7. Healthy sleep habits. Sleep Education. Updated August 202. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://sleepeducation.org/healthy-sleep/healthy-sleep-habits/
  8. Why sleep is essential. Sleep is good medicine. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://sleepisgoodmedicine.com/benefit-from-sleep/
  9. Insufficient sleep syndrome. Sleep Education. December 2020. Accessed January 13, 2024. https://sleepeducation.org/sleep-disorders/insufficient-sleep-syndrome/
  10. Chronic stress. Yale Medicine. Accessed January 18, 2024. https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/stress-disorder
  11. Dhabhar F. “Good stress, bad stress.” News release. Stanford University. December 21, 2012. Accessed January 18, 2024. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2012/12/good-stress-bad-stress.html
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