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February 18th, 2020

Making small changes can lead to better health

By Valdeline Muehl, M.D.

In my practice as primary care physician who mostly sees older adults, I have many patients who struggle with health goals. Some need to lose weight. Others aren’t as active as they should be. I realize changing to a healthier lifestyle can be hard, so I encourage them to start small.

To get more active, I encourage my patients to try Zumba, an exercise class I teach that features dance steps done to lively Latin and International music. As a Zumba instructor as well as a physician, I especially recommend the water Zumba class, because it is easy on the joints, and is fun.

A water Zumba class worked wonders for one of my patients, a woman in her early 50s. Struggling with a weight problem for most of her life, the small step of coming to my class has led to her being happier with less anxiety. She also joined Weight Watchers to work on eating better!

Meeting a new patient gives me the chance to find out what changes they would like to make and if their goals are realistic. When a patient tells me they want to lose 100 pounds in six months, I know they are setting themselves up for failure, and encourage them to start with a more achievable goal.

Often, the first step is to have them work with one of our RNs who can help with meal planning and diet/nutrition education and can teach them about making affordable, healthier food choices. This doesn’t have to be a complete overhaul of their diet; making changes such as adding an extra portion of vegetables to their meal and cutting back on processed foods is a good start to healthier eating.

I also encourage my patients to get moving. Sometimes this is difficult. Many older adults suffer from joint pain or other physical problems that limit how much they can do. Water-based activities can help with this, also. I’ve had patients who use a walker participate in my water Zumba classes.

Walking is another good activity. Most people can start walking a distance with which they are comfortable, and increase it as they develop their endurance. Getting regular activity is important. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, walking and other physical activity performed for at least 150 minutes a week can help cut the risk of early death, high blood pressure and stroke, and prevent falls. It may also reduce depression, and increase brain function, among other benefits. The sooner you start the better off you will be as you age. The best time to start is now, even if you begin by walking just a few minutes a day.

Small changes add up. Small successes provide the motivation to achieve goals that are more ambitious.

As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That is a truism worth remembering, especially when it comes to improving your health.

Valdeline Muehl, M.D., is a primary care physician at WellMed at 9th Ave. North. She is board certified in Family Medicine.