Like most of us, I don’t need one more thing to do. I prefer to spend my time eating dessert, drinking coffee and reading—or watching Law & Order reruns. And, of course, hanging out with my kids. Except for the last and most important one, opportunities for doing all my favorite things get squeezed to the side for more of the “have-tos.”
With a new calendar year comes more reminders for some important “have-tos”: Be healthier, exercise more, eat better. As if I have time to worry about all that and get the kids to school on time, keep them healthy and get them to practice their instruments, and oh yeah, go to work! And so on. (Notice how I left out “cleaning the house.” And my husband. Where’d he go? He’s somewhere under the dog and cat hair.)
Turns out some approaches to tackling the Big 3, as I like to think of them, have been squeezed into five minutes. OK, maybe not just five minutes, one time, but five minutes a day. They can be found on the website for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/family/minutes). This falls into the prevention side of the name, which usually gets less attention.
In the category of staying healthy in less than five minutes, some quick suggestions are:
• Try disinfecting the telephone receiver and a few kids’ toys.
• Pick up that clean phone and make a needed doctor’s appointment for a checkup; it could be eyes, dental or a physical exam. Often, the effort to make the appointment holds us back.
• Wash hands—yours and your kids’—for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap.
• At night, make sure you’re using fluoride toothpaste and squeeze in the few minutes to floss teeth. Speaking of brushing teeth, my gynecologist recommends doing any internal muscle exercises while brushing teeth. It’s easy to remember and it’s a good amount of time to work those hidden, yet important, pelvic floor muscles, especially the ones involved in bladder control.
Even just reading this list sends me to the cookie shelf. So I try to think of it as one thing a day in each of the three categories. Today I’m going to not order pepperoni on my pizza (think of the calories and cholesterol I’m saving!). Instead of asking my kids to run upstairs and get something for me, I’m going to get it myself—and then I’m going to go downstairs and clean out the cat’s box. And finally, I’m going to floss my teeth (after brushing) and put on foot cream before bed.
Heather Slavik, a mother of three and co-owner of Simply Chic, a women’s and teens’ consignment shop in Baldwinsville, is busy all the time. Yet, she says, “I just try to work in 20 to 25 minutes of exercise on five to six days a week. If I can’t get outside, I actually use that Fitness on Demand TV station.” She can select a fitness program for however much time she has, even if it’s 10 minutes. “That’s a good outlet for me to do with the weather getting colder.”
When she doesn’t get a chance to exercise, she says, “I just make sure that I am eating more vegetables and stuff like that.” She’s a big believer in stocking the kitchen with fresh fruits and vegetables so kids grab them for a snack. And, regarding sugar, she says, “I try not to buy what I like. I just find if I don’t buy it, then I’m not going to eat it.”
Slavik advises, “Just try to stay active.” She tries to encourage her kids to walk the dog with her so it becomes a fun and healthy activity for all of them.
In 2011 I added walking to my nonexistent exercise program. We finally got our first dog and I walk her at least twice a day for a total of almost two miles. Sometimes, she tugs to go an extra block or two, and when I can squeeze in the time, I figure I should go and do us each a bit more good. Maybe I’ll record the steps in 2012, or at least the distance each day.
I did add a few yoga stretches to our routine, too, although these are usually done just in our backyard. If I’m waiting for her to finish chasing a frog around the pool or do her business in the grass, I’ll strike a pose. Stretching at any time always feels good, and I like multitasking when I can. I also try to remember to stretch when I’m commuting to work about 50 minutes each way. My stiff feet feel much better when I get out of the car if I’ve remembered to stretch them along the way.
Tomorrow I plan to do my monthly check of my skin; I look for noticeable changes in beauty marks, skin tags, moles, or a new rash or unexplained sores. Next week I’ll do my monthly breast self-exam after I shower. I’m even thinking of making a list and putting it up in my closet so I can check off each item as I complete it each month. The calendar list will serve as a reminder and a chart of progress. I love checking off completed items from a list. It will be nice to have a chart of my increase in healthy habits.
I’m good about drinking at least one glass of water with each meal, but I skip it during the day. One of my goals this year is to add more water to my days. I work with two women who always carry a quart-size water bottle with them: to meetings, in the car, even to the supermarket.
Speaking of the grocery store, Slavik recommends not buying. Well, not buying treats or junk food in big quantities. “I’m an ice cream fanatic,” she says. So when she does buy ice cream, she gets “just enough to get us through a day or two.” She fixes herself a small cup, “and that usually does the trick.”
The CDC recommends stopping to read food labels before buying a product. Sometimes taking a good look at ingredients can lead one to reconsider a purchase.
Stuck at home in the snow? Send some e-cards about healthy habits via the CDC’s website (http://www.cdc.gov/family/ecards/index.htm). For instance, one card features a photo of icicles hanging from a roof with the message: “Don’t let Jack Frost take a bite out of you!” One click, and the inside message gives tips for preventing frostbite. There’s even an app for that, if you want to download it.
Renee Mulkerin is a registered nurse who lives in Minetto with her husband and two active daughters. Her best advice is to stop. Stop and take a break: Try relaxing, meditating for a few minutes, doing some yoga, or treating yourself to a massage. The CDC agrees and encourages us to break for timeouts from stress. We could say it’s just what the government—and a nurse—ordered.
Eileen Gilligan, an award-winning writer and mother of two, lives in Baldwinsville.
Pictured Above: © Marc Dietrich | Dreamstime.com