Little changes in our lives bring big results

The little changes we make in our lives, like eating better and exercising more, can result in big changes in our overall health. Incorporating changes into our daily routines is not always easy. We have to remember to start out slow and focus on one thing at a time. Often the real challenge is learning how to make these changes “stick.”

Brain food

Dr. Neal Barnard, author of “Power Foods for the Brain: An Effective Three Step Plan to Protect Your Mind and Strengthen Your Memory” and nutrition researcher at George Washington University, advises that there are foods we should and should not eat to help prevent disease, specifically Alzheimer’s disease. In a report on CBS News, Dr. Barnard recommends avoiding trans-fats and saturated fats, as they have been shown to increase our chances for Alzheimer’s disease by 300 to 500 percent. He suggests we eat dark berries, leafy green vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, almonds and other foods high in Vitamin E, as they are associated with keeping the brain healthy. Dr. Barnard also recommends getting enough sleep and 30 to 40 minutes of exercise three times a week.

Authors Jeanne Segal and Gina Kemp of also suggest that eating brightly colored fruits, leafy vegetables, fish, and nuts can increase your ability to stay focused and decrease your risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence suggests that adding fish and shell fish, olive oil, nuts, whole grains, and other healthy fats, with minimal red meats to your diet, can improve brain function. The Alzheimer’s Association Research Center ( supports the idea that exercise, along with a heart-friendly diet, may have positive effects on the brain.

Speaking of exercise

Did you know that there are benefits to exercising outdoors that can not be replicated in a gym or indoor setting? According to Gretchen Reynolds, writer for the NY Times, studies have shown that exercising outdoors has many advantages including:

Better workouts due to terrain changes and wind resistance.

Longer workouts that occur more frequently.

Increased vitality, enthusiasm, and pleasure.

Decreased depression, stress and fatigue.

Improved mood, which could be related to being in the sunlight.

The sunshine vitamin

In the winter, we typically don’t get out in the sun as much as we do throughout the rest of the year. Lower levels of sun exposure means we aren’t getting as much Vitamin D as we should. According to the Mayo Clinic, aging adults are among those at risk for Vitamin D deficiencies. It is the opinion of Dr. Richard P. Huemer that this lack of sunlight is linked to SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which can cause weight gain, fatigue, and irritability. On the other hand, getting outdoors to exercise in winter can:

Improve overall mood.

Improve brain function.

Boost immune function .

The Mayo Clinic recommends that just ten minutes of sun exposure a day is all you need to prevent Vitamin D deficiency. The Mayo Clinic also suggests that Vitamin D may help in preventing osteoporosis, hypertension, cancer, and some auto-immune diseases.

Making it stick

Change can be difficult and overwhelming. How can we incorporate change in our lives while keep the process from becoming cumbersome? Adam Davey, Associate Professor of Public Health at Temple University in Philadelphia, suggests that taking one small step at a time can increase your willingness to take the next step. Ann Constance, Director of the Upper Peninsula Diabetes Outreach Network, supports the idea that plans for change should be:

Specific, measurable and achievable.

Incorporated into one’s daily routine until it becomes a habit.

That you should not give up.

For more information, call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120, e-mail, visit its website at or visit its wellness center at 213 Harrison St. Ext. in Johnstown, Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.