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The Role of Nutrition on Quality of Life

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  • Written By: Melissa Baker

You may know that eating a balanced diet and getting out for a bit of exercise each day is a good thing to do. Doctors and health professionals on television tell us that healthier meals and exercise can ultimately help decrease the risk of developing serious health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. But while you may try to live a life of salads and daily walks, do you know what impact those choices have on your quality of life?

When someone has a high quality of life, it means they are satisfied with their life and physical and mental well-being.

Experts say that good nutrition promotes a higher quality of life by helping individuals avert either malnutrition or excessive caloric intake, extremes which are associated with poor physical and mental conditions.

Good food smells great and can be a real mood lifter. For some, meals add a sense of security, meaning, order, and structure to a person's day. They can provide a feeling of independence and control. Eating with others also increases social interactions. Many individuals, though, have a more complicated relationship with food.

If individuals have inadequate dietary intake, they can become under nourished. If undernutrition is extreme, it can result in diminished muscle mass, functional impairment, and lack of energy. Malnutrition, especially if done intentionally or combined with too much exercise, may cause additional psychological, medical, and social problems.

On the other hand, excessive dietary intake and insufficient physical activity can result in obesity. Obesity can increase your risk for diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and premature death. In addition, excessive intake of alcohol can have a toxic effect on mental health, social interaction, physical health and well-being.

Ensuring that all Americans eat a healthy diet, participate in regular physical activity, and achieve and maintain a healthy body weight is critical to improving the health of Americans at every age. However, for many individuals, it’s hard to get on a healthy path alone. It can be a big change and when we try to do it alone, we can get discouraged and dismiss our small successes along the way.

So where do you start?

Start small. Every healthy choice is a positive step in the right direction. Schedule a visit to a primary care physician for an annual physical to help you figure out a healthy starting point. Consider scheduling an appointment with a behavioral health provider, who can help you take stock of your overall wellbeing and support your goal-setting. We go through many stages of motivation when we want to make permanent life changes. It’s important to connect with someone who can make sure you’re in the right mindset and internally motivated to move forward and address any mental health concerns that might prevent you from reaching those goals. Finding an Integrated Care Clinic that has medical and behavioral care in one location can be a great and convenient way to address your whole health.

The second step is to have support. When looking to make changes to your daily routine, consider aligning yourself with individuals who have the experience and know-how to help you identify and address barriers to wellness success. If your goal is to eat healthy and you don’t know where to begin, a knowledgeable health navigator can share information on healthy food choices, cooking tips, and even how to get your family involved.

Integrated Health Navigators can also provide supportive ideas regarding exercise and physical activity. They can support you through developing an activity plan from start to finish, such as help you schedule and/or go with you to your primary care physician appointment, hold you accountable throughout your activity, and help you track and monitor your progress. If that seems like too much, they can even just meet with you to get started on a walking routine. The Navigators can also help you find people in your life who can stick with you for the whole year for your goals, like a workout buddy or a friend who will have healthy lunches with you.

Finally, pay attention. Have the little changes made you feel different? Do you feel like your moods are a little brighter? Are you having fewer headaches, or less pain? Maybe you have a little more energy? Are you enjoying more quality time with friends or family? Or maybe you made a good food choice at lunch? These are all huge reasons to celebrate! We know that we are likely to continue new habits if we believe that they are working and are sustainable.

So be realistic, align yourself with some supports that will help you overcome barriers standing in the way of your health and wellness success, and celebrate the small successes. Nutrition is important and can make a huge difference in your overall health and well-being. Keep going! You’ll be glad you did.

Melissa Baker is Director of Integrated Health at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Glendale Healthcare Center.

To find a support team for your Healthy Living journey, find a JFCS healthcare center in your area.