For optimal health and wellness, focus on the whole person |

For optimal health and wellness, focus on the whole person

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Nourishing the mind, body and spirit are important components of longevity

Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by St. Anthony Summit Medical Center

There's no single secret to longevity — those who live the longest in this world share several lifestyle habits that lead to their overall health and well being.

St. Anthony Summit Medical Center addresses the health and wellness of the body, mind and spirit — which it defines as whole-person care — by equipping the community with tools that help them achieve optimal daily wellness. This idea of whole-person care is aimed at encouraging active lifestyles while also reducing chronic and preventable illnesses and injuries.

"Folks who live a balanced lifestyle tend to incorporate practices and habits that nurture their whole self — a healthy diet, regular exercise, meditation/prayer/other mindfulness acts, develop meaningful relationships and get quality sleep," said Kristin Cesare, RN and Assistant Nurse Manager at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center.

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The same is true for those who live in Blue Zones around the world — areas with the longest living populations. They're naturally active, have a purpose in life, know how to unwind or relieve stress, never overeat, eat a mostly plant-based diet, drink moderately and regularly, have faith, put their families first and remain socially engaged. Tony Buettner, with the Blue Zones Project, will talk about what makes these lifestyle habits critical to longevity on Tuesday, Feb. 27, in Breckenridge (see factbox).

It's never too late to start living a healthier lifestyle

For people who might only be following a couple of the nine Blue Zones habits, or perhaps even none of them, it's not too late to turn things around.

"I always encourage breaking large goals into small, actionable steps that are realistic for each person. To be successful, one has to think about the changes they cannot only attempt, but also maintain, for the rest of their lives," said Gretchen Broecker, registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at High Country Healthcare. "Simple steps might be packing your lunch three times per week, adding a vegetable for a snack, or trying a new activity once per month. In order to fully make a lifestyle change, it has to become habit."

Rather than focusing time and energy on the end goal, such as losing 10 pounds or climbing that 14er, Broecker said it's important to focus on the barriers that might stand in the way of achieving such goals.

"In order to know what changes are necessary in one's lifestyle, it's imperative to find the 'trouble spots' or 'triggers,'" she said. "Each person needs to identify what is getting in the way of making a healthy choice when eating or what is consuming some of the time that could be spent exercising. Once a person establishes their triggers, it's so much easier to break the chain and focus on setting themselves up to do well."

Someone who doesn't regularly exercise shouldn't suddenly decide to run five miles a day, for example. Maybe you start with a walk around the block each day and gradually increase the distance, Cesare said. For dietary changes, she suggests trying to eat an additional serving or two of fresh vegetables each day.

"Find a buddy or support group that is working toward a similar lifestyle change or goal," Cesare said. "Doing so helps hold yourself accountable."

Finding balance

The Blue Zones lifestyle habits include a lot of balance — something that's especially important when considering whole-person care and wellness.

Broecker said the people who find true balance in their lifestyles are the most likely to succeed in living long, healthy lives.

She points to restrictive diets as one of the culprits in preventing so many people from achieving balance when it comes to nutrition and weight. Labeling foods as "good" or "bad" can have a lot of negative effects, for example.

"The minute you do this to yourself, you are 'bad' if you eat a piece of chocolate or drink a beer. When we feel 'bad' about ourselves, we feel like we've failed and this only leads to a cycle of giving up, regaining the weight we may have lost, and going back to the behavior we never addressed," she said. "To find balance, I think it helps to realize that food is fuel for our bodies. Doing this helps us to realize 'you are what you eat.' Finding a way to work in those treats on occasion establishes a healthy relationship with food overall and eliminates the good/bad connotation."

Optimal health and wellness doesn't mean giving up things you love, but the healthier your habits become, the less you have to think about these choices. Broecker said people with healthy habits seem to internally know which foods and activities make them feel good. They're able to socialize, go out to eat and go on vacation while maintaining these habits.

"I believe optimal health occurs when your lifestyle is geared toward taking care of your whole self — mind, body and spirit," Broecker said. "When 80 to 90 percent of the choices you make are healthy and you don't' beat yourself up for the other 10 to 20 percent, I think you're pretty close to achieving optimal health."

The Longevity Project event
Speaker Tony Buettner, with the Blue Zones Project, will discuss the habits of people who live long lives on Tuesday, Feb. 27, during the Summit Daily News’ “The Longevity Project” event at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Visit to buy tickets ($25).