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5 tips for improving your health

October is Health Literacy Month—a good time for faculty and staff at Case Western Reserve to learn more about their health through the university’s Wellness Program

Each fall, all benefits-eligible faculty and staff are encouraged to complete three activities: the Health Risk Assessment (HRA), and two of the following three activities: Biometric Screening, Tobacco Attestation Form and Primary Care Provider Attestation Form. Those who do so will receive an incentive of $25 per month during the following calendar year.

The HRA and other activities can give faculty and staff insight into their health status and identify potential concerns and areas to improve. Then, once the new year begins, additional programming is available to all incentive participants to allow them to improve their health in six categories: physical activity, nutrition and weight management, stress management, financial well-being, community well-being, and tobacco cessation.

But there’s no need to wait to start making changes. Elizabeth Click, medical director and associate professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, shared five small actions everyone can take to work toward a healthier lifestyle.

1. Get adequate sleep to help prepare for a busy workday.

Getting adequate sleep each night is one of the best ways to prepare for an action-packed agenda at work. Unfortunately, research indicates that:  

  • More than one-third of U.S. adults average less than seven hours of sleep each night (while seven to nine hours is recommended).
  • Between 10-30% of adults deal with chronic insomnia.
  • Approximately 40% of those with insomnia also have a mental health disorder.
  • Lack of sleep affects quality of work, driving capacity and more.

Practicing sound sleep habits is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to enhance mental and physical health. The university offers the LivingWellRested program from SelfHelpWorks/Avidon Health as an educational resource.

2. Increase fruit and vegetable intake in your diet to positively impact your health.

Over the last few decades, processed foods have become a larger part of the standard daily diet in the U.S. Those food options are prevalent within stores yet provide little of the nutrition that we need for optimal physical and mental functioning. 

What we eat matters to our health, and making small positive changes with our dietary intake helps give us the nutrients and energy necessary for maximum performance. Since many Americans do not eat enough fruits and vegetables, focusing on increasing your intake of those foods is suggested, with a goal of five for each day (two fruits and three vegetables). Consider “eating the rainbow” as you choose fruits and vegetables—red apples, green peppers, orange carrots, blueberries, yellow bananas, etc. This is one easy way to enhance your health today.

3. Improve your health through more physical activity.

Research has documented a link between lower levels of physical fitness and emotional and mental health risks. Given the known threats to emotional and mental well-being throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing your physical fitness through daily activity is one way to achieve better health. Not only will you have more energy to get through each day, your outlook on work and life should be enhanced as a result.

4. Know your blood pressure.

The American Heart Association estimates that only 5% of people follow the healthy lifestyle behavior recommendations that lead to cardiovascular health. One indicator of cardiovascular health is blood pressure (e.g., the force of blood on the arterial walls when blood is pumped through the circulatory system).  Blood pressure <120/80 mmHG qualifies as “normal” while elevated blood pressure is 120-129/80 or less mmHG, and Stage 1 high blood pressure is 140/90 mmHG or higher. 

As we age, preventive actions become even more important. Lifestyle behaviors such as regular physical activity, eating nutritious food, weight management, managing stress, reducing alcohol intake and not smoking can lead to significantly less likelihood of cardiovascular disease and better blood pressure.

5. Focus on small health behavior goals.

As each calendar year comes to an end, it is common for many of us to start thinking about goals we have for improving our health in the new year (e.g., increase our physical activity, lose weight, improve our nutrition, get more sleep, etc.). 

Sharing our resolutions on New Year’s Day may be a tradition, yet research indicates that many of us who set goals in January do not continue to work on them by mid-February. There can be a large gap between what we want in our lives and what we are doing to make that change happen. Part of the problem stems from the type and structure of goals that we set. 

If you have been thinking about actions you can take to improve your health, consider small steps that will move you towards that larger health goal. BJ Fogg, author of Tiny Habits, focuses on small, concrete changes that move people in the direction of better health. Learn more about that strategy from the Pearl Habits webinar with Linda Fogg-Phillips.

Get to know more about the Wellness Program.