Penn State Extension is encouraging area seniors to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”
Extension educator Karen Bracey gave a presentation at the Falls Active Adult Center on Thursday afternoon, where she showed seniors how they can get on a path to health living.
Bracey said when this topic comes up, everyone can usually name things they know they should be doing, such as eating more fruits and vegetables and exercising, since it’s easier in theory.
“Most of us can list those types of things very quickly and easily, so the tricky part is doing it,” she said. “The even trickier part is doing it day after day.”
There’s a behavioral component to wellness, she explained. Through making small changes over time that eventually turn into habits, people can learn how to take what they should be doing and actually incorporate it into their lives.
Instead of attempting to change everything at once, Bracey said it’s important to take baby steps. This might be having a healthy breakfast every day instead of eating a pastry. Once a small change becomes habitual, another could be started.
“Really what we want to focus on are the tiny little things that can make a difference over time,” Bracey said. “You can’t beat yourself up. If you’re not ready to change, you’re not ready to change.”
Changing another person’s behavior is also frustrating, she said, and it’s important to remember that we are the only ones capable of changing our behavior, although having like-minded friends around can help.
“Friend groups tend to have very similar health behaviors,” she said. “Sometimes, you have to broaden your circle. You don’t have to ditch your old friends, but find additional friends who can provide that motivation for you.”
Bracey asked the seniors why it would be important for them to have a healthier lifestyle because thinking of these positive effects that come out of changing is a good way to get started for those who are in a contemplation phase.
Sometimes a health scare might be a motivator, Bracey said, but there are a number of other reasons to get healthier.
The seniors listed living longer and feeling better, plus having a better quality of life overall, as living long doesn’t always mean living your best.
Other reasons to get healthier are simply hobbies one likes to do that they want to continue having the energy and ability for, whether it’s traveling, gardening or spending time outdoors.
“Grandchildren are a real motivator for many people to stay healthy,” she added.
Bracey used Portia Nelson’s poem ‘There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk’ as an example of changing habits. In the poem, Nelson describes continuously falling into a hole in the sidewalk because it becomes a habit, but eventually learning to avoid it, then take a new street altogether.
She drew a street with a few side streets coming out of it and walked the seniors through an example: kicking a junk food habit.
The side streets listed ways to achieve the goal, such as eating alternatives like apples, popcorn and nuts instead, not buying junk food at the grocery store and changing one’s mind set to view junk food as “special occasion only.”
Another option is to just eat the junk food as well, Bracey said, because it’s always going to be there and it’s up to us to choose something else.
“We have to recognize that falling into our old behaviors is always right there,” she said.
Bracey said when faced with multiple choices throughout the day, it’s easy to get “decision fatigue” and become less capable of considering which choices are best.
“That’s where turning things into a habit makes sense,” she said. “Eating a similar thing every day and limiting the choices we have to make around health on a day-to-day basis can get us into some good patterns.”