By Ceseley Haynes, MPH
So it’s the beginning of the New Year, now what? Like many other people, you may have made the resolution to get healthy by improving your diet and increasing the amount you exercise. Transitioning into a healthier lifestyle is not easy.
If you have a disability or chronic condition, it may be even more challenging to live a healthier lifestyle. New Editions’ work on two contracts--Support of Core Public Health Functions of Disability for the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disability Development at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Management of Federal Diabetes and Vision Exemption Programs for the Department of Transportation--has shown us the importance of good health for successful independent living, education, and employment for all people, especially those with disabilities. However, according to the CDC people with disabilities may experience the following barriers to good health:
- A lack of healthy food choices.
- Difficulty with chewing or swallowing food.
- Medications that can contribute to weight gain, weight loss, and changes in appetite.
- Physical limitations or pain that can reduce a person’s ability to exercise.
- A lack of energy.
- A lack of accessible environments (for example, sidewalks, parks, and exercise equipment) that can enable exercise.
- A lack of resources (for example, money, transportation, and social support from family, friends, neighbors, and community members).
Keeping in mind that everyone can benefit from staying in shape, here are some quick tips to help you keep your resolution:
Do your research. Take time to develop a plan before transitioning into a healthier lifestyle. Make sure your plan is appropriate for you, and always check with a medical professional first. There are many free resources out there to help get you started. For instance, you can download health-related apps (such as My Fitness Pal or Calorie Counter) to your smartphone to track your progress over time and give you tips to stay healthy. If you need extra support to make a change, you could consider hiring a personal trainer or joining structured programs like Weight Watchers to help with your journey. Programs and regimens like these can provide structure and motivation when trying to remain healthy. Many health insurance plans also offer discounts or incentives to enrollees.
If you have a disability, you may need to do some research to find an accessible gym and a trainer who can work with you. The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) is a public health practice and resource center on health promotion for people with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities of all ages. NCHPAD offers a directory of accessible programs around the country at http://www.nchpad.org/Directories.
Take baby steps. When beginning a new exercise regimen, it’s important to start off small. If you haven’t been to the gym in weeks, months, or maybe even years, you’ll need to ease yourself back into a routine. Also it’s important to figure out what works for you and your body, as well as your schedule. Government guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults, including those with disabilities, get at least 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, of moderate aerobic physical activity each week. The CDC recommends people start slowly--exercise for at least 10 minutes each time, then gradually increase activity to reach the goal of at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate exercise. For more information about physical activity guidelines, visit http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/index.html. The CDC also provides advice for people with disabilities about increasing physical activity at http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/pa.html.
Make sacrifices. To improve your diet, try to make healthier substitutions in your meals and snacks throughout the day. Sometimes, instead of having a Coke at noon for that mid-day caffeine rush, reach for a glass of water. Also, slowly try to wean yourself off of some of your favorite comfort foods that aren’t exactly the healthiest. I have started with Paul McCartney’s initiative called “Meatless Mondays.” It’s a really cool way to be environmentally conscious and healthy at the same time. Read more about this initiative at http://www.meatfreemondays.com.
If you have a disability, the CDC offers tips on healthy eating and weight management at http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/disabilityandhealth/obesity.html.
Remember, little sacrifices will pay off in the end for all of us.
Reward yourself. Rewarding yourself may be just as important as making sacrifices. Whether it be establishing a “cheat day” or buying new workout gear to motivate yourself, it’s important to give yourself a pat on the back for staying on track.
Get others on board. Try to get friends or family involved in your new health kick. They will offer additional motivation. The more the merrier--it’s always great to have someone fighting that battle with you. Participating in sports and adaptive sports is one way to get others involved.
Hopefully these tips will help jumpstart your journey to being a healthier you! Cheers to a healthy 2015!
Ceseley is a Project Coordinator at New Editions currently working on a program focusing on health and community integration for people with disabilities. She has a MPH with a Health Education concentration. In her free time, you can find her spending time with family or listening to music.