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Feature Articles: Health


Steps to a healthier you

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Bates County, University of Missouri Extension


There’s a saying in Swahili: “Pole, pole ndiyo mwendo.” Literally, it means, “Slowly but surely is the way.” What it really means is that whether we want to cross the Serengeti on foot under the equatorial sun or try to get in shape right where we are, the best way to get the job done is one step at a time.

If the goal is to make healthy lifestyle changes that will last a lifetime, the best way to approach it is to set smaller, short-term goals that are attainable and maintainable.

For example, let’s say that in the long run I want to eat foods lower in fat, especially saturated fat. This may be the goal of anyone who is concerned with heart health. What are some steps that a person could take to eventually meet this goal? Here are some options.

  • Choose milk with a lower fat content.
  • Try a low-fat or fat-free version of other dairy favorites.
  • Order a smaller version of your favorite fast food item when you have to eat out – like a single burger instead of a double.
  • Try foods cooked with a lower fat method, like baked, grilled or broiled.
  • Substitute olive oil or canola oil for margarine, butter, shortening or lard in cooking or baking.
  • Use a smaller plate when eating so you still get a full plate, but less food.

Again, take it one step at a time as you move toward a healthier you. Choose one or two options that you think you can be most successful at and make those changes first. Once they become habits and you have proven to yourself that you CAN make a change, move on to something more challenging.

Another example is someone who drinks a lot of milk and wants to switch to a lower fat version. If you’re used to whole milk and leap straight to skim, chances are pretty good that change won’t last long. But if you go from whole to 2% milk, this might be more doable. Then once that has become habit, try 1% milk. If this is still okay, you can then transition to skim milk. However, if skim milk really doesn’t taste good to you, you can back up one step to 1% milk. Even if you only get as far as 2%, you’ve cut the fat from your milk intake in half! And a healthier habit has been formed.

For those long-term goals, we need to get down to the nitty gritty of specific recommendations. The USDA recommends the calorie intakes (as shown in the charts), depending on a person’s age, gender and physical activity level. For example, a 40-year-old woman who walks 45 minutes a day would need to eat about 2,000 calories each day.

Making gradual changes that are manageable is the best way to form new habits that will last a lifetime. Break down big, long-term goals into more comfortable, shorter-term steps and move toward a healthier you.

Chart showing recommended calorie intake for women based on age and activity levels


Chart showing recommended calorie intake for men based on age and activity levels


Fitting in fitness

Fitting in fitness this year can be a fun way to take steps towards a healthier you. Making physical activity a priority is the first step. Then it’s just a matter of finding interesting ways to be active. Here are some ideas.

  • Walk in the neighborhood, local gym or shopping mall.
  • Walk with a friend for motivation and someone to visit with while you move.
  • Walk the sidelines while your child practices soccer, basketball, etc.
  • Walk to work if you can.
  • Park far from the door when you shop.
  • Plant and tend a garden when spring comes.
  • Play with the kids – tumble in the leaves, build a snowman, dance in the kitchen.
  • Walk or do stretches during breaks at work (bonus: it clears the mind and relieves tension).
  • Join a basketball, softball or bowling team, or a dance or yoga class.
  • Go cross-country skiing, hiking, biking, canoeing or swimming.
  • Lift weights (or food cans) and do sit-ups or leg lifts while you watch TV.


Whatever you choose to do, find something you enjoy and find a time that works for you each day and get moving!


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Last update: Tuesday, January 20, 2015