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Healthy living ‘is not like flipping a switch,’ local experts say

A local survey mirrored the results of a national study released by Parade Magazine, which is included with Sunday’s editions of The Tribune-Democrat: Most people know the importance of a healthy diet and regular activity, but have trouble following experts’ recommendations. 

“People understand what they need to do, but they have been telling us that stress, and the amount of hours they spend at work, get in the way,” Trina Thompson, executive director, said from 1889 Jefferson Center for Population Health in Johnstown.

When the center was founded last year to explore initiatives to improve the community’s health, staff and volunteers surveyed residents in Somerset and Cambria counties. 

“Both men and women agree that exercise and physical activity – as well as healthy eating habits – are salient factors that improve health,” the local survey report says. 

“Most women argue that time and financial constraints are important barriers to health, while men find lack of motivation and barriers to healthcare as the two most significant barriers for health improvement.”

The local residents are not alone in finding barriers to improved health. 

The Parade Magazine-Cleveland Clinic survey shows roughly 9 in 10 people agree that getting an annual physical or check-up is important, only half actually follow through. More than 80 percent know that eating five or more servings of vegetables a day is important, but only 20 percent of Americans are currently eating enough vegetables daily.

Human nature may also be to blame for not following through on best practices, clinical psychologist Richard Kutz said from Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center. 

“We’ve had speed limits for decades, and yet people still get speeding tickets,” Kutz said. 

People’s inability to do what they know is best for them gets to the heart of why behavioral health is becoming more intertwined with medical care, he said. 

“There are so many factors that come into play: Why does a person do these behaviors when they know they shouldn’t?” Kutz said. “We know the rules but we make choices contrary to what we should do.”

Changing those behaviors and finding motivation can’t begin too early, Kutz said, pointing to Conemaugh’s wellness partnership with the Johnstown Tomahawks’ youth program, Chopper’s Kids Club. 

“It doesn’t work to just tell an adult, don’t smoke,” Kutz said. 

“These are behaviors we have to address as early as we can. That pays dividends down the road.”

Choose My Plate guidelines from the Department of Agriculture provide a visual way to approach healthy eating.

There are tools to help adults change behavior, Thompson said. For those trying to improve their diet, she recommends the Healthy Eating Plate, created by experts at Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School, which shows how much of each food group makes a healthy diet. 

The program uses a graphic showing a plate divided into four nearly equal parts: fruits, vegetables, grain and healthy protein. There are side containers of water and healthy oils. 

Many people see the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables as an obstacle to healthy diet, but Thompson said there are ways to pay less. 

She cited articles showing it costs about $1.50 to $1.60 more daily for healthy food. 

“That’s tough for some folks to afford,” Thompson said. “Buying in bulk can help. Farm markets have bulk lettuce, carrots, broccoli and more. 

“Also limiting fast food to one day a week or choosing fresh veggies with less processed food may be a first step.”

When it comes to physical activity, it is not necessary to join a gym or start rigorous daily workouts, she said. 

“It’s just a matter of getting your heart rate up,” Thompson said. “Just walking can improve your health. Start with 15 minutes three or four times a day. Don’t park so close to work.”

Thompson points to the state’s 211 health and human service information line. Kutz said primary care physicians can also provide wellness support and information. 

Kutz warns that changing diet and exercise habits won’t be easy. 

“The way that change works is not like flipping a switch,” he said. 

Article source: https://www.tribdem.com/news/healthy-living-is-not-like-flipping-a-switch-local-experts/article_c5682d86-d4c3-11e8-aee5-cbd8f4e3e33e.html