Caroline Shugart column mug

Wouldn’t it be super cool if quick fixes to your health actually worked? You could do whatever you want, and eat whatever you desire. Then, when you find that you can’t bend over and tie your shoes anymore, or you have constant heartburn, or your medical tests just confirmed that you have Type 2 diabetes, you can take that magic pill and … poof! Everything is better!

Many people crave the magic bullets promised in the glossy pages of magazines, viewed in countless television advertisements and on billboards, and promoted by popular health gurus. Lose 10 pounds in a week! Take a pill, and you’ll manage your heart disease just fine! “Detoxify” your liver for optimal health! Super supplements will meet all of your micronutrient needs!

Actually, these claims seem to lack imagination. I want to hear the advertisement that gets me that promotion, helps me pick a winning Lotto number, and counters 50 years of gravity, all by drinking a special tea.

Alas, reality suggests an alternative perspective: if it sounds too good to be true, it’s just magical thinking.

Improvements to your health usually require small, incremental modifications to your current habits. It requires developing strategies, like making the healthy option the default option, and in the process replacing automatic responses with deliberate choices. Wellness is about taking charge of your current lifestyle habits, and shifting your activities toward habits that improve or optimize health. Although this approach doesn’t promise instant success like industry schemes, it is based on reality, and works.

The human body was made to move! We are creatures of motion, and while this exertion may seem painful when you’re overweight and out of shape, over time joy can be found in this movement. The goal of 60 minutes of activity per day can be accumulated throughout the day, and not just during one exercise period. Even small amounts of daily activity can improve health, increase your stamina, and build self-confidence.

And human bodies need abundant food in the form of unprocessed, nutrient dense foods (fruit and veggies, whole grains and sweet potatoes, lentils and beans, nuts and seeds). You would never put a mystery fuel into your car’s gas tank, and the wrong foods can wreak havoc to your body as well.

Many of our poor food choices are made when we are hungry or tired, or both, so planning ahead is another one of those great wellness strategies. Never let yourself get too hungry. You can do this by making sure healthy food options are readily available when you need them — in the car, in the pantry, in the fridge, at work, and when you travel. When your only choice is the candy bar or bag of chips in a vending machine, that’s what you’ll eat. If you’ve got a fresh Honeycrisp apple… yum! Both your taste buds and your appetite are satisfied!

When you eat a mostly plant-based food plan, you get more nutrients, but less calories. The extra food volume makes it hard to overeat and gain weight (but not impossible… watch out for those oil dressings and high-fat dairy products). Hunger is easily satisfied by eating a big baked potato with salsa in place of butter and sour cream, topping a big bowl of brown rice with lentil soup instead of eating a can of chili, and choosing oatmeal topped with berries and nuts rather than Captain Crunch cereal.

Don’t wait until you get sick to start living a healthier lifestyle. It’s never too late to make solid and realistic changes to improve your health outcomes, but if you don’t act today it will only get harder in the future. Move! Walk around the block, bike to work, meet a friend for a social gym visit, or take the stairs. Eat right! Choose a banana instead of a granola bar, make your whole wheat pasta with a vegetable sauce in place of hamburger meat, and prepare a hummus and veggie sandwich on whole wheat bread to replace a processed meat and mayo sandwich on white.

Little changes may seem insignificant, but added together those small changes equate to real progress toward a healthier and happier disease-free life. And as with all goals, document your efforts, have a sense of humor, and celebrate each small victory and success. Be Well!

Shugart is a Cache Valley nurse, dietitian and personal trainer. Her new grandson gives her even more reason to live a long and healthy life.