Archive for Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Small steps with health and wealth

January 29, 2008

A couple weeks ago I addressed the topic of "resolutions" - as did many others in all forms of the media. I shared that I no longer make resolutions, but rather seek solutions through a commitment to action. This involves a lot of goal setting : as in daily goal setting. Building upon daily commitments, or "small steps" is a research-proven way to make behavior changes that are permanent.

This type of research is the basis of the program "Small Steps to Health and Wealth" created by my colleagues with Rutgers University Extension in New Jersey. Last year, I had the opportunity to meet the two extension educators who researched and wrote this resource and I look forward to helping people here in our community begin to take those small steps.

According to the research, health and wealth are both important resources for living a happy and successful life. People who practice healthy behaviors, such as not smoking, exercising regularly, and eating at least five fruit and vegetable servings daily, decrease their risk of dying prematurely. They also need to accumulate adequate wealth so they don't outlive their assets.

Stated another way, the "price" of better health is the need for increased wealth. Not surprisingly, financial planners, whose clients tend to practice healthy habits and have good incomes and medical insurance benefits, often run retirement savings calculations out to above-average life expectancies such as 90 or 95. Quality of later life is also very important and improved by healthy lifestyle choices.

Many people believe they must make major lifestyle changes to be healthy and wealthy, so instead, they freeze and do nothing. A 2004 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services press release alluded to the importance of just getting started: "America needs to get healthier one small step at a time. Each small step does make a difference, whether it's taking the stairs instead of an elevator, or snacking on fruits and vegetables instead of greasy chips or sugary foods. The more steps we can take, the further down the road we will be toward better health for ourselves and our families."

Similarly, some people fear never having enough money saved for retirement because they've seen gloomy reports about unprepared retirees needing seven-figure sums. However, any positive change (e.g., saving $1 a day or 1 percent more of one's salary) is better than none. Remember the phrase "If it is to be, it is up to me." Set realistic goals, take small steps to reach them, learn from your setbacks, and - above all - believe in yourself and your capacity to change. Are you ready for the first step?

- Denise E. Sullivan is with K-State Extension-Leavenworth County, where she is the Family & Consumer Sciences agent.

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