MARQUETTE - Healthy living is critical to everything from combating the country's obesity epidemic to managing chronic conditions to generally improving your quality of life.
The idea of healthy living, however, can seem so huge that those who want to attempt taking on a healthier lifestyle might not know how or where to start.
To help break the process down and make it more manageable, those who want to take steps toward getting healthy - like the participants in the Healthy Weight Journal Community Wellness Challenge - can start by setting goals, helping themselves make small changes over time.
"What I encourage people to do is pick something small to learn how to do a goal," said Deb Sergey, dietitian at Marquette General Hospital.
Having goals can not only help break a process down into smaller steps, but can also help keep you motivated.
"We like to have the goals be 'SMART,'" Sergey said.
SMART goals are ones that are specific, measurable, action oriented, realistic and timely.
For instance, instead of saying "I want to eat better," try setting a goal of eating breakfast at home three times a week for the next week. That goal is specific to what, where and when you'll be eating. You can measure your success, it's realistic and is a short-term goal that can be accomplished within a week.
In addition to setting the goal, Sergey said it is equally important to do some planning to make sure you reach your goal.
"You want to think about how you're going to help that happen," she said. "I always have people think about what their obstacles are going to be."
With the example of eating breakfast at home, if time is a constraint in the mornings, plan to make a smoothie the night before and have it ready to go in the refrigerator.
Once you set your goal, it also helps to track it, maybe putting a star on your calendar each day you meet your goal. Then identify a way to reward yourself once your goal is met, maybe taking a half hour for a bubble bath or buying yourself a new book.
Making sure goals are realistic and healthy, however, is critical to success. Healthy goals shouldn't include cutting out entire food groups, such as fats or carbohydrates, or spending hours each day at the gym. Instead, pick goals that you envision being able to meet for the long term.
"The whole idea is it's going to make a lasting health change," Sergey said. "Think about your goal and make sure it's something you want to change and that you're ready to change. I think one of the dangers is people do set the goals too big."
The Healthy Weight Journal program is designed with two goals that participants work to meet each day - eating five cups of fruits and vegetables and getting 30 minutes of exercise. Working toward one or both of those goals is a good starting place.
Being able to meet a goal, no matter how small, is just as important as setting the goal in the first place.
"I think it's an automatic morale and ego booster," Sergey said. "A lot of people feel so hopless when it comes to fitness and nutrition... (Meeting a goal) makes you feel better all the way around."
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.