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Health Feature Articles


Give the gift of health

Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension


Weight, apple and measuring tapeWhat better way to show we care than by giving the gift of good health to our loved ones. Although we can’t actually give or guarantee good health, we can at least encourage one another toward healthier choices.


Physical Activity


Being physically active has a positive influence on health in a number of ways, such as helping to maintain a healthy weight and lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and colon and breast cancer. Being active can also help older adults prevent falls, reduce depression and maintain cognitive function.


According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate cardiovascular activity and children 6-17 years old should get 60 minutes or more of aerobic activity per day. Both groups should also be doing muscle-strengthening activities three times a week. For children and youth, this can be part of their daily hour of activity. At any age, these activities can involve a sport, exercise or just moving for fun.


Helping yourself or a loved one meet these recommendations provides lots of great ideas for gift giving.


Walking is an easy way to meet fitness goals, and a pedometer is one way to get motivated to walk more. They come in an assortment of styles from simple and inexpensive ones that clip on a waistband and just count steps to elaborate ones worn as a bracelet that can measure steps, heart rate, miles, location and may even have other useful features like a timer and music player. There are also apps for mobile devices that can track your activity levels or map out a route for a desired distance or time.


Other gifts include exercise equipment such as weights, kettle balls, weight machine, yoga mat or exercise DVDs; or sports equipment such as soccer balls, footballs, bats, cleats, singlets, surf boards or skis. And there are lots of games that can be given to encourage physical activity such as balls, Frisbees, jump ropes, running or sliding toys, or tossing games.


Another option is to give an IOU or coupon to spend time exercising together by becoming walking partners, buying a swim pass for both of you, or planning trips to a park or hiking trail.


Eating Well


Eating well is another important part of a healthy lifestyle. Gifts that promote healthy eating may come in the form of what is offered at a party or shared meal, or what is given as a present.


Here are some suggestions for a healthier way to experience eating at holiday festivities:


  • Team up! Make a plan with the friend or family member who shares your interest in good health to strategize on how to make healthier food choices based on what can be expected. For example, choose to fill a small plate only once and munch on it throughout the time spent sharing holiday cheer, keeping the quantity eaten to a reasonable amount. Or decide together what the healthier choices will be, like veggies and dip or whole grain crackers and cheese, and fill up on those with only a little of the high-fat, high-sugar, high-calorie options that are usually prevalent at such gatherings. Support one another in those choices to avoid the temptation of eating or drinking too much and taking in too many calories.
  • Bring a fun, healthy choice to the meal or party. There are many delicious AND nutritious options. Aim for the USDA’s MyPlate recommendation to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables by bringing one of these options:
    • A casserole of spaghetti squash and meatballs
    • Veggies and a low-fat dip, like this recipe: Mix 1 cup fat-free yogurt, 1 cup low-fat sour cream and a packet of ranch dressing mix and top with red and green bell peppers
    • Festive fruit salad with sliced star fruit, kiwis and strawberries
    • Baked apples


For the person on your list who is trying to be health-conscious, choose a gift that encourages healthier choices. Perhaps a beautiful set of plates that are smaller than the usual dinner plate size to help with portion control. Or a delicately cut glass or pottery bowl for a dessert dish that could make even a smaller amount of pudding or ice cream a delightful (and small) culinary experience. Or offer the gift of a nutritious delicacy — a mix of dried fruit, an exotic whole grain, or a well-aged, tangy low-fat cheese.




Another way to give the gift of health to ourselves and our loved ones is by keeping up with screenings.


Along with eating well and being physically active, screenings are a great preventative measure. Most screenings are intended to detect diseases or conditions which, if caught early, can be more easily treated and/or managed. There are many screenings that may or may not be useful depending on a person’s age, gender, personal and family medical history, and other factors. And there are other screenings that simply notify the individual as to what his or her medical status is.


Hypertension or high blood pressure is among the simplest and least invasive screenings and only takes a few minutes. Sometimes called the ‘silent killer,’ blood pressure can creep up unnoticed and have significant ill effects. It should be measured every two years starting after age 18, and more often when it is above normal, which is above 120/80 mm Hg.


For all adults over 20 years of age, the Mayo Clinic recommends that, “Total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels be tested every five years… If any values are elevated, more frequent monitoring is appropriate.” They also recommend that, “adults with hypertension or a body mass index (BMI) above 25 should have their fasting blood glucose level checked,” in agreement with the US Preventative Services Task Force recommendations.


To catch breast cancer early, the American Cancer Society recommends that, “women in their 20s and 30s should have a clinical breast exam as part of a periodic health exam by a health professional, at least every 3 years. After age 40, women should have a clinical breast exam every year,” along with a screening mammogram every year for as long as they are in good health.


Other screenings that may be appropriate, depending on one’s circumstances, include colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, skin cancer, osteoporosis, glaucoma and vision, hearing and dental screenings. Consult a medical professional to see who should have these screenings.


Give the gift of health by being physically active, eating well and getting screened, and encourage loved ones to do the same.


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Last Updated 12/19/2016