Recognizing prevention as the long game

October 3, 2017 Providence Health Team

Why now is the perfect opportunity to start healthier habits

Sometimes it takes a series of life-altering events to make you recognize that something in your life has to change. For Dr. James Beckerman, it took witnessing his father-in-law’s cardiac arrest to shift his view as a physician and how he wanted to impact his patients’ lives through healthier living.

According to Dr. Beckerman, Cardiologist and Medical Director of Prevention and Wellness with the Providence Heart Institute in Oregon, “I love seeing people feel empowered by their ability to make changes in their lives, to feel healthier and be happier.”

Practicing preventive health doesn’t have to include major lifestyle changes. In fact, simply reducing the amount of processed and sugary foodsyou eat, as well as incorporating exercise into your daily routine, may just be enough to fend off chronic illnesses such as heart disease or stroke further down the road. Here are some things you can do improve your health for the long haul:

Don’t delay. Dr. Beckerman encourages his patients to start their preventive regiments as soon as possible. “Right now is the time to start healthy habits. Recognizing that prevention is the long game is like saving money for retirement. The sooner you start with healthy behaviors, you’ll have greater benefits later. Sometimes, when we say we’ll start tomorrow, it’s a way of avoiding committment. If people are more concrete with their decisions, then they are more likely to make positive changes earlier.”

Start small. “People are generally familiar with the basics of better health, including eating healthier, exercising, not smoking and managing stress. However, some patients can get so overwhelmed when choosing diet plans and counting calories. I recommend approaching it by starting small. Eat whole fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods, watch your portions, and you’ll slowly move toward a heart-optimal diet. In terms of exercise, it all comes down to finding something that works for you and trying to program it into your days,” says Dr. Beckerman.Get involved with community activities. In 2012, Dr. Beckerman decided it wasn’t enough to just communicate the benefits of health prevention, he needed to take action. “I started a community exercise program called Heart to Start. We meet during the year and even train together for 5K races. The program’s goal is to get people that aren’t as active as they should be, to be active with a community of people sharing similar goals.”

Take advantage of the 80 percent. According to Dr. Beckerman, making healthier choices can reduce your risk of having heart disease significantly.. “80 percent of our risk for heart disease is based on our behavior – how we move, eat and act. There is an opportunity out there for everyone to get healthier. We have a lot more control over our lives than we think we do – we are playing the long game. We are asking people to make a commitment to live healthy lives, and it’s never too late.”

Do your research. When it comes to healthy habits for kids and teenagers, Dr. Beckerman finds it helps to confront common misconceptions. “Contrary to popular belief, childhood obesity isn’t only caused by a lack of exercise. It stems from unhealthy eating habits. Younger people have a huge challenge with excessive consumption of sugar, especially sweetened beverages. When I look at people with issues around blood sugar, obesity and heart disease, it likely could have been avoided if they changed their eating habits sooner. It’s important to recognize the distinction and need for both exercise and healthy diet.”

Although it’s never too late to start healthy habits, it will make a greater impact on your life if you make the investment in yourself today. For more information on preventive health, contact your local medical provider. And don’t forget to check out Dr. Beckerman’s community exercise program, Heart to Start, to see if you can join one in your area!

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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