Many of us start off the New Year with grand plans for self-improvement. But where to start? So many factors play a role in overall wellbeing – nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management and mental health, even our finances! In this special section, our goal is to get your New Year off on a great start, no matter where you are on your quest for your best you. Pro-tip: If you try to tackle every factor at once, you might undermine your efforts. Instead, choose one or two that resonate with you and work on slow, steady progress. One day at a time.
Many Americans in the latter stage of a career – or even already in retirement – have discovered that it’s never too late to reinvent themselves. Folk artist Grandma Moses was in her late 70s before she began her painting career. Colonel Harland Sanders launched Kentucky Fried Chicken in his 60s. Arnold Schwarzenegger reinvented himself a several times, from professional body builder to actor to governor of California.
Sometimes referred to as “encore careers,” these second acts can reinvigorate you and offer a reason to greet each day with anticipation, says author Oliver Harris, who wrote his first novel after working over four decades as an attorney in Chicago.
“In my case, I was able to incorporate elements from my original career in law into my encore career as a writer,” says Harris, who put his knowledge of Chicago’s crime and corruption to use in his novel JoJo. But he didn’t completely shed his past self to take on this new identity. “I’m still working as a lawyer, and I work nights on my writing. So, I’ve pretty much added a second career into my life.”
Harris suggests these tips for others who also feel the urge to reinvent themselves late in life:
Realize that purpose is important. After years in the same profession, it’s easy to become burned out and operate on auto pilot as you perform the tasks of your job. Essentially, people can lose their sense of purpose. When they reinvent themselves, that purpose can be reignited. “You’re much more likely to be successful when you’re driven by a sense of purpose,” Harris says.
Discover what excites you. Harris says he always wanted to write, so it was not surprising that pounding out a novel became a passion for him. If you’re reinventing yourself, the reinvention might as well center on something you’re passionate about. That could mean returning to college to earn a degree, learning a musical instrument, or embarking on the career you dreamed of as a child but put aside for more practical pursuits.
Don’t convince yourself that it’s too late. Many years ago, the newspaper advice columnist Dear Abby received a letter from a 36-year-old college dropout who wanted to return to school to become a doctor. But this would-be physician worried that it would take at least seven years to finish all the schooling. “In seven years I’ll be 43,” the letter writer lamented. Abby responded with a question. “How old will you be in seven years if you don’t go back to college?” Harris spent seven years working on JoJo, setting aside writing time between 11:00 p.m. and 1:30 a.m. Burning the midnight oil paid off, so it definitely wasn’t too late to get started.
Harris believes it’s important to put your mind to its full use. “With law I was only using part of my brain,” he says. “I wanted to use more of my brain and what I am capable of, which is why I began writing my novel.”
by Suzy Trahan LDN, RDN, director of Dynamic Fitness Centers in Sulphur and Moss Bluff
People exercise for a variety of reasons, but their motives are often related to appearance, a number on the scale, a certain clothing size, or a culturally dictated but false ideal of what a person should look like.
Exercise is often a means to an end. Unfortunately, the marketing for fitness is exactly that – lose weight, get in shape . . . but this mindset has not helped Americans become healthier! In fact, the health of our nation is suffering and the fitness industry often continues to do the same thing, expecting different results. Many people actually hinder their progress because they focus only on the scale. Yes, a healthy weight is a component of wellness, but not the main focus. Identifying muscular and joint imbalances provides a blueprint for a training regimen that will not only improve someone’s movement in the gym setting, but in life activities. Call it training for life!
Fitness experts who work with clients have discovered that the clients whose gym membership goals are to feel better, keep up with kids and grandkids, work in their yard, etc. are the ones who achieve the greatest success, especially for the long term. They emphasize movement and focus on training rather than exercising. When trainers can improve someone’s ability to move and counteract the effects of too much sitting or muscular and joint imbalances, the quality of a client’s life improves considerably. With training, aesthetic changes will happen, but the focus is on improvements in energy and the ability to perform life skills better and with less pain and stiffness.
A shift away from all the guidelines and “rules” about exercise allows people to find joy in movement – bodies are designed to move! When they start to move more and challenge their bodies, they begin to experience the benefits of better sleep, improved mood, less joint pain and stiffness, decreased body fat, increased muscle mass and strength and more.
How can you attain this?
Work with a fitness professional, not a fitness enthusiast. While getting a workout from social media may be easy, it’s not the safest option. Everyone is designed differently and has different concerns and limitations. A fitness professional can customize a training plan so that you can achieve what you want to achieve, be healthy, and keep moving throughout your lifetime.
A functional movement screen can help you identify any areas of concern and if any corrective exercises are necessary to lay down the foundation for great workouts, whether you are a new exerciser or an elite athlete. Do what you can do and start to challenge yourself in small increments. Most new exercisers start with too much too soon and drop out within the first two weeks. Avoid this by first establishing exactly what it is you want to achieve and setting small goals to help you get there. Think of movements you do in everyday life that may be challenging and start to do them more often and in a more controlled manner.
The trainers at Dynamic Fitness believe in the value of training for life. A training plan is included with each membership. For more information, visit Dynamic Fitness in either Moss Bluff or Sulphur.
Suzy Trahan LDN, RDN, serves as the director of Dynamic Fitness. She is a registered dietitian and specializes in health and wellness. As an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified Exercise Physiologist, American Council on Exercise (ACE) personal trainer, dietitian/nutritionist, and certified group fitness instructor, Suzy has over 30 years of experience in her profession and thrives on creating an atmosphere that promotes all aspects of health and wellness in the communities she serves.
We all know a daily walking habit is well-worth keeping up with for its physical and mental health benefits. But despite our best intentions, getting out the door for a walk can sometimes feel next to impossible.
To increase your odds of getting out there and making a walk happen, try these shifts in mindset.
Incorporate your walk into your daily routine. If you pair your walk with something you already do, for example, walk before or after eating breakfast each day, it is more likely to become a habit.
Give it ten minutes. Tell yourself you only need to walk for 10 minutes, as getting started is generally the hardest part. If after that time, you don’t want to keep going, it’s okay. But most often, you’ll opt to continue.
Movement is your greatest reward. Don’t think of your walk as something you must do, but rather as a reward or gift to yourself.
Small challenges lead to achieved goals. Add a competitive component, either with yourself or with others. Aim to walk a bit further or faster than the day before. Walking apps help you keep track.
Find a walking buddy. It could be a friend, family member, or your dog. Being accountable to another makes a walk more likely to happen.
Add purpose to your walk. Combine your walk with another activity you need or want to do, such as go to the store, the post office, or favorite bookstore. Choose to walk instead of drive. Or make phone calls while walking.
Keep a list of your reasons to walk, such as better health and fitness, increased energy, improved mood. Knowing the “why” of your walk increases motivation.
Mix up your routine. Try walking in different locations with a variety of terrains and routes. This keeps your walk more interesting.
Avoid making too many changes all at once. If you say you will immediately start eating healthy, lose weight, and start exercising all on the same day, you may feel overwhelmed and ultimately not achieve any of those goals. Tackle one positive change at a time.
Make your walk non-negotiable. Don’t allow yourself the option to change your mind.
Track your progress. Seeing small improvements can motivate you to continue on the path.
by Christine Fisher
Good news: now is a great time to reset your nutrition path. Now that the holiday hustle and bustle is behind you, there’s a clear path ahead for learning better habits.
Nutrition affects many areas of your life. “Healthy eating and choosing nutrient-dense foods go beyond achieving and maintaining a healthy weight,” explains Cynthia Chantlin, RD, clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator at West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. “By providing your body with healthy foods, you’re also equipping it to help fight off viruses and diseases by boosting your immune system thanks to vitamins and minerals, as well as increasing your energy level, reducing your risk for heart disease and cancer, improving your mood and mental health, reducing risk for diabetes, and improving your digestive system. The benefits are numerous.”
If you overindulged during the holidays, Chantlin says let it go. “Forget your habits in the past, or what happened over the holidays. We’re resetting, it’s a fresh start.”
One of the best ways to begin something new is to start small. “If you are snacking on a candy bar in the afternoon, replace it with a handful of nuts. If you are accustomed to skipping breakfast, try eating a protein bar or shake. Don’t try to overhaul everything all at once. Take it slowly and make one or two things a new routine and then move on to something else,” she advised.
Consistency is key. When you take on one or two new habits, focus on them until you’re comfortable. Don’t skip around from idea to idea; you’ll likely end up discouraged and overwhelmed.
Arm yourself with healthy choices. Keep a supply of healthy foods at hand so that when you’re stressed or hungry, you have something healthy within reach. Chantlin suggests these items:
Hard boiled eggs
Nuts such as pistachios, almonds or walnuts
Low sugar yogurt
Drink plenty of water. “Many of us don’t drink enough water. Just by drinking more water, we can boost our metabolism by up to 30% to help burn more calories. Adding water-dense foods such as fruits and vegetables is a good way to increase your hydration,” explains Chantlin.
Eat a variety of natural foods. “Foods with only a few ingredients are usually a better choice than chips, cookies or frozen meals,” she says.
Practice mindful eating. “Instead of eating in front of the TV or hunched over the kitchen counter, sit at the table, even if you’re eating alone. Think about your meal and eat slowly,” Chantlin suggests. “It takes up to 20 minutes for your brain to register that you are full. Slowing down helps your brain catch up to how full you’re feeling.”
Good habits take time, but you’ll be rewarded with so many health benefits. If you indulge in a high-calorie snack, then regroup and try to avoid that next time. Be patient with yourself. Take it one day at a time!
by Kristy Como Armand
When all the shopping is done and the decorations are packed away, many people emerge from the holiday spending frenzy shocked at the state of their finances. Rather than dwell on your shortcomings, financial experts say the end of the year is the perfect time to take a closer look at your finances and chart a course for improvement in the new year.
Financial resolutions such as getting out of debt, developing a personal budget and saving more money are all very common New Year’s resolutions, usually falling right behind losing weight and exercising, but don’t always come with staying power, according to Aimee Gilmore, Lakeside Bank Vice President, Manager Moss Bluff Financial Center. “It’s easy to fall back into bad habits if you don’t develop a plan.”
She recommends a few basic strategies for getting started.
Look at your budget. “Make reviewing your budget regularly a priority this year,” says Gilmore. “It’s easy to fall into your regular routines without even realizing how much you’re spending or where. You might be surprised to discover how much you spend on restaurants, entertainment, and other miscellaneous items. While it’s important to include these things in your life—you need to have fun, after all—these are also areas that can easily be budgeted and scaled back. This will leave you with more money to save.”
Get serious about saving. Budgeting will help. Other things will, too—like assessing your priorities and establishing goals. “What do you want your life to look like at this time next year? Are there specific luxury items you want, like a new car? Do you want to buy a house soon? Would you like to take a big trip? Save for a child’s college? These are questions you need to ask yourself so you can adequately plan to save,” Gilmore says. “These big-ticket items require both planning and saving.”
Check your credit. When was the last time you checked your credit? Credit scores determine far more about our lives than we realize, according to Gilmore. “Not only do these three-digit measurements of credit-worthiness influence how much you’ll pay for a credit card or a house or car loan, today many non-lenders, including future employers, like to check that information as well. Get a current copy of your credit report to review it, correct any errors and develop a plan to improve it if it’s not where you want it to be. Knowing your credit score gives you the perfect framework to create goals. Let’s say you have a credit score of 600, but your goal is to get it up to 700. That’s a tangible goal you can work toward.” A free copy of your credit report is available at www.annualcreditreport.com. This particular site accesses all three major credit bureaus.
Eliminate multiple credit cards. “The more credit cards you have, the more interest rates and bills you have to keep track of,” says Gilmore. She recommends having only one or two cards. “The other goal is to change your habits and not charge more than you can pay off each month to eliminate interest rate charges.”
Pay bills automatically. This can save time and eliminate late fees. This can be done with online-bill payment that you manage through your bank, authorized debit payments by the biller, or credit card charges. Online bill payment systems through your bank typically offer the most flexibility. Gilmore says if you use a credit card, be sure to pay the balance off every month. “You don’t want to pay added interest on a bill you’ve already paid.”
Consolidate your accounts. The more scattered your money is, the more work you have to do to keep track of it. Having numerous savings accounts, checking accounts, and different types of investments at several financial institutions, for example, creates more paperwork and increases the risk of mistakes. Instead, Gilmore recommends moving different accounts to one financial location and combining any accounts you can.
Get overdraft protection. Bounced checks are expensive and embarrassing. Protect yourself and your checking account by setting up overdraft protection at your bank. Most overdraft protection comes in the form of a line of credit that kicks in when you write a check for more than the balance in your account. You’ll pay a small annual fee for the service, plus interest charges on whatever amount is charged to the line of credit. Gilmore says if you avoid even one bounced check each year, the account will probably pay for itself.
Invest. If you have investments, the beginning of the year is an ideal time to review your portfolio and make any adjustments, if needed. If you aren’t investing, there’s no time like the present to get started. “While you should keep your emergency and short-term savings in an easily accessible account you know won’t lose value,” says Gilmore “it is a good idea to have some long-term savings in vehicles that have the potential for a higher return, such as stocks and bonds.”
Although it may take time to get your finances in better shape, Gilmore says spending a few hours now can save you time, money and hassles in the months ahead, and, more importantly, position you for greater financial success.
by Phillip Conner, MD, Medical Director at The Sleep Disorder Center, Board Certified Sleep Specialist
More than 100 million Americans of all ages are not getting an adequate amount of sleep. Yet sleep is essential. Not getting enough sleep can have untoward consequences on school and work performance, interpersonal relationships, health, and safety.
Here are some facts and figures that might help you better understand sleep and sleep disorders:
How much sleep is necessary? Experts generally recommend that adults sleep at least seven to nine hours per night, although some require more and others need less. A recent National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America poll found that adults (ages 18-54) sleep on average 6.4 hours per night on weekdays and 7.7 hours on weekends.
What are sleep disorders? Sleep disorders are conditions that impair your sleep or prevent you from getting restful sleep and, as a result, can cause daytime sleepiness and other symptoms. Everyone can experience problems with sleep from time to time. However, you might have a sleep disorder if:
You regularly experience difficulty sleeping.
You are often tired during the day even though you slept for at least seven hours the night before.
You have a reduced or impaired ability to perform regular daytime activities. How common are sleep disorders? About 70 million people in the United States suffer from sleep disorders.
How many types of sleep disorders are there? There are approximately 80 different types of sleep disorders. The following descriptions of common sleep disorders may help you determine whether or not you need to consult further with sleep specialists at The Sleep Disorder Center of Louisiana.
Sleep apnea occurs when a person doesn’t breathe normally during sleep. Warning signs are loud snoring and long pauses between breaths. The person may be sleepy enough to fall asleep at work during the day. Sleep apnea can trigger high blood pressure, heart failure, or a stroke. It can affect men and women of any age.
Insomnia, or trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, can be caused by stress, changing work schedule, lack of activity, or caffeine. Noise, light, and illness can also disrupt sleep. Treatment of insomnia requires an informed doctor. Effective treatments are available. Sleeping pills can be addictive and are not recommended as a long-term solution.
Narcolepsy is defined as “undesirable sleepiness at inappropriate times.” The four most common symptoms of narcolepsy are excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden loss of strength in the muscles (cataplexy), a brief loss of muscle control that occurs when a person is falling asleep or waking up (sleep paralysis) and hallucinations that occur just before falling asleep, during naps and/or upon waking up.
Restless Legs Syndrome and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
People with Restless Leg Syndrome cannot fall asleep because of an irresistible urge to move their legs. Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is the involuntary movement of the limbs during sleep. These disorders prevent a person from sleeping soundly, making them sleepy and less productive during waking hours.
Shift Workers’ Sleep Disorder
Shift workers often face problems getting enough sleep during the day and staying alert at night. This can affect social and family relationships and lead to more illness and accidents.
The most common are “disorders of arousal,” including confusional arousals, sleepwalking (somnambulism), and night terrors. These occur when a person is in a mixed state, both asleep and awake, and often emerging from the deepest stage of non-dreaming sleep. The sleeper is awake enough to act out complex behaviors but is still asleep and not aware of these activities and cannot remember them.
Other Sleep Disorders
There are more than 80 classified sleep disorders that can affect sleep quality. These include tooth grinding and violent acting out during dreams. If any sleep time behavior affects a person’s safety or ability to get a good night’s rest, it’s best to seek consultation with a sleep specialist.
Thanks to the Sleep Disorder Center of Louisiana, SWLA’s only Nationally Accredited Sleep Lab, a good night’s sleep can be more than just a dream.
Phillip Conner, MD
Medical Director, Board Certified Sleep Specialist
Dr. Phillip Conner received his undergraduate degree at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. He received his medical degree at Louisiana State University in New Orleans, LA, and completed his internship and residency at Louisiana State University in Shreveport, LA. Dr. Conner is board certified in both family medicine and sleep medicine. He is a member of Calcasieu Parish Medical Society, Louisiana State Medical Society, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and American Academy of Family Practice.
by Kristy Como Armand
In Southwest Louisiana, stress has become a way of life. This was true even before the pandemic and a string of natural disasters our region has faced.
“We’ve become desensitized to how stress impacts our quality of life,” says Marissa De La Paz, MD, family medicine specialist with Imperial Health. “And even if you do recognize the mental impact of stress on your coping abilities, you may not be aware that stress can also literally make you sick.”
The actual feeling of stress arises from a response to danger. When the mind perceives a threat or emergency, it creates a fight-or-flight response by altering the body’s chemistry. Increased levels of adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol cause your heart to race. Your blood pressure increases the oxygen moving into the muscles. “Stress was an asset for our ancestors that helped them survive life in the wild,” says De La Paz. “But today, this response is being triggered by life’s daily, mundane aggravations, with no down time for the relaxation response which would allow the mind and body to recover. This is referred to as chronic stress and can lead to mental and physical health problems.”
Rezearch has shown that chronic stress affects every part of the body. It advances the aging process and can cause sleeplessness, headaches and lower back pain. If ignored, it can lead to, or worsen, serious medical conditions such as heart disease, depression, anxiety and diabetes. It has also been known to advance the spread of certain cancers.
It’s easy – and common – to blow off stressors as minor inconveniences, such as a bad day at work or a contractor who didn’t show up as scheduled. Maybe you’re in the middle of a crisis and accept high levels of stress as part of the process. However, Dr. De La Paz says stress works like a savings account. “Each experience—big or small—deposits tension into your body and over time it grows. Prolonged episodes can cause frequent rushes of cortisol that throw the body into overdrive, weakening the immune system. This is why it’s common to catch a cold or feel dizzy or distracted when you’re experiencing high stress, whether it’s a buildup of daily aggravations or acute stress caused by a life-changing event such as death, divorce, loss of a job, or dealing with the impact of a natural disaster.”
According to Dr. De La Paz, feeling physical symptoms of stress, like a tension headache, is your body’s way of sending a warning. It’s telling you to take better care of yourself. She says the way we naturally approach stress is through a combination of nature and nurture. “Most people tend to model their parents’ reaction to stress – it’s a learned behavior. The other side of stress is genetic predisposition. Scientists have found that we inherit varying levels of a chemical called neuropeptide Y, a natural anxiety reducer that is released during times of stress.”
Although stress is an inevitable part of life, she says you can learn coping mechanisms to help protect your body from its negative side effects. “Most people know they need to manage their stress levels, but the thought of working relaxation into their already hectic schedules just stresses them out even more. Ideally, they would cut back on their workload, schedule a weekly massage, hire a housekeeper, or take a two-week vacation every three months, but that’s not realistic for most people. What you can do is stop thinking about stress management in such big terms. There are many simple things you can do to make a huge difference in your stress levels and how it affects your quality of life.”
Dr. De La Paz offers these suggestions:
Breathe. Stop what you’re doing and take a deep breath. Count backwards from five to one before slowly exhaling. Repeat. After a few deep breaths you will feel a release.
Exercise. This doesn’t have to be time consuming or complicated. Walk down the street, around the office, or up and down the stairs a few times. Even just 10 – 20 minutes releases endorphins in the brain that improve mood and boost mental energy.
Stretch. You can stretch at your desk, while watching TV or even when brushing your teeth. Stretching eases tired muscles, increases flexibility, improves range of motion and circulation, and soothes away stress. Take it slow and hold each pose for ten seconds to maximize benefits.
Sleep. This is the most important natural stress reducer of them all. Too little leaves us irritable and too much leaves us sluggish. Find the right balance.
Build up and maintain a strong immune system. Eat well and take your vitamins; A, C and E, B-complex vitamins, magnesium and zinc are natural immunity boosters.
Keep your doctor’s appointments. It’s important to know where you stand health wise, especially when it comes to your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol.
Sooth your senses. Many people release stress with aromatherapy. Many scents can be helpful. Lavender has been proven to boost levels of dopamine and serotonin.
Disconnect. A huge contributor to increased stress levels is that we are never truly able to disconnect. Turn off the Internet and shut off the cell phone for a while.
Get support. Talking to a supportive friend can help but connect with a counselor if it’s a chronic issue to find stress-management tools that work for you.
“Many of these suggestions may seem simple. The good news is, they are,” says Dr. De La Paz. “The way we respond to stress has been ingrained in us for a long time, so don’t be hard on yourself as you hit hurdles while working to embrace these new habits. Change takes time, but it’s worth it.”