West Virginia is known for many things, but good health is not one of them. According to the West Virginia Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, West Virginia adults rank at the top in the nation for poor physical and mental health: more than two-thirds are obese, over one-fourth have diagnosed depression, and more than one in ten have cardiovascular disease and/or diabetes.
Whereas these West Virginia health facts have largely gone overlooked in previous years, with the onset of COVID-19 and the use of the hot word comorbidity, these facts are becoming unavoidable. As a patient’s number of comorbidities increase, so does the odds of dying from the virus, and what havoc the virus does not cause, the quarantining restrictions do. Current medical research is confirming what is already seen on social media concerning the rapid decline of mental health and rise of suicide across the nation.
So, what can West Virginians do to better their health when the idea of tackling a lifestyle change can create anxiety (amidst an already stressful pandemic)? The answer is to start small and with things you enjoy.
Recently published scientific research shows that small changes add up.
*Modest changes in food habits can make big differences over time. In fact, losing two to three kilograms of weight (i.e., 4.5 to 6.5 pounds) and increasing physical activity over two years cuts the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes almost in half. To put this into perspective—without any other changes in diet or exercise, simply eliminating one candy bar a week is enough to result in four pounds of weight loss in a year. To start small, make a list of two or three food items you would like to limit and focus on them.
*Seemingly small increases in daily activities will add up. Recent research shows that people feel more alert and have more energy right after everyday activities such as climbing stairs or walking. To start small, look for opportunities to move. For example, take stairs at least once day, choose a parking spot at the end of the lot instead of one closest to the door, or march in place when brushing your teeth. There are innumerable ways you find ways to increase your daily activity level.
* An extra hour of sleep goes a long way. Research consistently shows the numerous benefits arising from good sleep including better immunity, less stress, and better thinking ability. In fact, a recent study showed that adults with the healthiest sleep patterns have a 42% lower risk of heart failure. Seven hours or more of sleep each night is recommended for adults, and an hour lost or gained over time can have profound results. For example , with a loss of an hour during the first week after the spring shift of Daylight Saving Time, there is generally an increase in the number of heart attacks. In a study of adults, those who slept the extra hour at night had a 33 percent lower chance of having calcium deposits build up in their arteries. In another study of men who slept less than 6 hours a night, one hour of weekend catch-up sleep was significantly associated with decreased risk for hypertension. To start small, make a plan for getting an extra hour or two of sleep each week whether it is extra sleep each night or catch up sleep at the end of the week.
*Short bursts of exercise are just as beneficial as hour-long sessions. Lack of time is the number-one reason people say they don’t exercise; however, if you have a little bit of time, you can make the most of it. In fact, 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training (or commonly referred to as HIIT) is just as beneficial as a whole hour of a continuous types of exercise like running. Even if you don’t have twenty minutes, you might be able to find four minutes for a Tabata (twenty seconds maximum effort of something followed by ten seconds of rest repeated for eight rounds). If you can’t find four minutes, then how about one? For example, see how many squats, push-ups, or marches in place you can do in one minute, then try to beat your best score the next time.
*A small dose of nature can do the trick. During this pandemic, quarantine restrictions are leaving people isolated within their home and limiting their time spent outdoors. A regular dose of nature can contribute to an improvement in mental health. Research shows that experiencing nature increases self‐esteem, life satisfaction, and subjective happiness while it decreases depression, anxiety, and loneliness. As little as ten minutes spent in a nature setting can improve physical and mental well-being. West Virginia is well known for its natural beauty. Again, start small, find a few minutes each day to enjoy it, and when you do, note the wonderful sights, smells, and sounds of its splendor.
To achieve a better lifestyle, start today and start small with things you enjoy. Instead of self-imposing a long list of do’s and don’ts that kills your incentive before you can even begin, every morning choose one of the above points to work on for that day. As you slowly get into the swing of things, then chose two things each morning. Eventually these things will become part of your daily life and exist in the background. When this happens, you can move on to something new—one step at a time.
About the Author
Jennifer Minigh received her doctorate degree in biomedical science. She has produced over 200 publications in science, medicine, and other genres. In addition, she is a regulatory writer for major international pharmaceutical and biotech companies. See her latest book: Taming Your Monster Appetite: Find a Healthy Lifestyle You Can Live With.