January is always an exciting turning point, a time when we can look forward to a new year of opportunities and personal development. It’s the time when we often make serious, well-intentioned promises to be better human beings, wiping the slate clean of bad habits and resolving to adopt good habits.
The number one resolution people make each New Year is to be healthier – specifically to lose weight. I hate to be a nag, but Alabama has some serious opportunities for improvement in that category. We have the nation’s second-highest rate of adult obesity (one in three of us are obese). That fact alone has an incredible economic impact on Alabama. Since obesity is associated with heart disease, cancer and diabetes, it challenges our medical resources and leads to lost work productivity.
Losing weight is a resolution many of us should take to heart. And, as we often note in this column, the way we adults respond to issues like health and fitness will be the model our kids and grandkids also adopt. Okay – promise to be a good role model?
Start with how the family cooks. Research shows what you eat (and how much!) has a greater impact on obesity than exercise. Although exercise is crucial to health, you would have to briskly walk three miles to burn off the calories in a single doughnut or four-and-a-half miles for one fried fish sandwich. Work with your kids to learn the healthiest foods and the tastiest, most-delicious ways of preparing them.
"Come and take a walk with me!" is a great thing to ask of your family. You’ll be amazed at the benefits. Simply being outside, getting some exercise, makes you feel better physically and mentally. Research has shown walking in nature is a tremendous method of stress reduction. If it’s a group activity, it’s also a wonderful time for conversation and bonding.
Walking and other youth health and fitness activities are included in some of Alabama 4-H’s most important programs. Many clubs start their meetings with simple fitness activities from our Just Move! Alabama program as a regular reminder we each pledge our "Health to better living."
Just Move! Alabama has been adopted by school districts, 4-H clubs and youth organizations throughout the state. 4-H staff regularly train teachers and other youth leaders in this program which we developed with Auburn’s Department of Health and Human Performance. Just Move! Alabama includes three modules: Volley, Vitals and Vittles; Frisbee, Fun and Food; and Jumping for Health.
It’s lots of fun! Students and adults are engaged in physical exercise, learn basic nutrition information, find out how to read food labels and get the scoop on the nutritional value of fast foods, as well as how to make healthy snacks.
Another important 4-H health program is Health Rocks! This program uses university-based research to reduce tobacco, alcohol and drug use by youth. Special emphasis is placed on tobacco-use prevention. Health Rocks! helps youth develop life skills in critical thinking, decision-making, communication, managing feelings, stress management and goal setting. Those skills allow young people to develop the internal strength to resist risky behaviors. It also provides accurate health information regarding youth tobacco, alcohol and drug usage.
Yes, adults and kids can all become healthier by making changes in their lives. Sometimes it’s something as simple as keeping a "food diary" of what you eat. Sometimes it means following through on your promise to walk a half-hour each day. As any 4-Her can tell you, those small changes will make a real difference in your life and the lives of those around you.
Amy Payne Burgess is a 4-H Regional Extension Agent in Northeast Alabama. She may be reached at burgeap@ auburn.edu.