Maintaining Optimal Health

Maintaining Optimal Health

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A health and well-being checklist for you—and your kids

Maintaining a solid infrastructure of well-being is essential to optimal health. Think of your overall well-being as five pillars of health: nutrition/weight, exercise, sleep, stress management, and overall self-care. Compromising even one of these pillars can cause the entire foundation to crumble.

Let’s look at a typical day in the life of a Solo Mom: You have a productive day in the office, but you are meeting a deadline, work overtime, and rush to pick up the kids at day care (stress). It’s too late to cook and the kids are screaming in the back seat, so you succumb to a fast-food drive-through (nutrition). You get home, help the kids with their homework and baths, put them in bed, read to them, and get their lunches ready for the next day. You don’t get to bed until midnight and then, needing some much-deserved downtime, read your novel or watch late-night TV until 1:00 a.m. The alarm goes off at 6:00 a.m., and you do the whole thing again (sleep).

Even if just one pillar is compromised, the building will crumble. But on this typical day, your nutrition, sleep, mental health, and stress management were all compromised.

So how do you maintain the integrity of your “house”?

Pillar 1: Nutrition/weight

Are you maintaining your infrastructure with a proper diet? You know what’s best for your family, but eating right isn’t always easy to do. Here are some tried-and-true tips:

  • Avoid the fast-food stops by having healthy chips, apple slices with individual packets of peanut butter, grapes, or baby carrots in the car to stave off hunger until you get home.
  • Try to do your grocery shopping and cook casseroles or soups on the weekend. This way, you know you have delicious and healthy foods waiting for you at home during the week.
  • Pack healthy lunches and snacks at night, or have your kids make their own lunches, so they’ll be more likely to eat them.
  • Try to keep everyone’s weight at a normal and healthy level. Kids who are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes, which can lead to other health problems. Your body mass index (BMI) should be between 18.5 and 24.9. Check out this BMI calculator to find your BMI.

Pillar 2: Physical activity

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that “adults participate in at least 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity physical activity to prevent significant weight gain and reduce associated chronic disease risk factors. For most adults, this amount of physical activity can be easily achieved in 30 minutes/day, five days a week.” This can be one of the more challenging pillars for Solo Moms, as we never seem to have enough time in a day.

Here are some simple ways you can add more physical activity to your day:

  • Wake up 20 to 30 minutes earlier than usual in the morning. (You may have to try and get to bed earlier to not compromise your sleep pillar.) You can use this time to exercise with a DVD or YouTube video. There are thousands of free exercise videos on YouTube. If your kids are old enough to stay alone or if they’d like to join you, take a jog or walk outside in the fresh air. If you have a dog, take it along. The fresh air and exercise will increase your endorphins and dopamine (the feel-good hormones), and you will have a much better start to your day. These exercises can be done in the evening if you’re not a morning person.
  • Try an activity tracker. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. These days, there are plenty of free apps out there that will help you track your activity. Once you and your kids notice how many steps add up in a typical day, you may all be encouraged to reach for the next threshold!
  • Invest in some small hand weights. It’s not too expensive to get a couple pair of dumbbells or a kettlebell. It’s convenient to have them around to grab whenever you want. You can all do some exercises while you are watching TV or just hanging out together.

Pillar 3: Sleep

Practice proper sleep hygiene. Most Americans report they are not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. One bad night’s sleep can lead to compromised pillars. Your kids and teenagers need even more sleep. Make yourself the exception in this sleep-deprived society. Check out this report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the many health risks due to lack of proper sleep. Schools across the country are beginning to change their start times to accommodate the sleep needs of our kids. Here are some suggestions to help you get a good eight-hour snooze:

  • Stop drinking caffeine after noon.
  • Turn off all electronics at least two hours before lights-out.
  • Exercise, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime, as the feel-good hormones you get from exercise may also keep you from properly winding down.
  • Avoid large meals, alcohol, and nicotine right before bedtime.
  • Lack of sleep can lead to increased consumption of simple carbohydrates the next day, so be aware of why you are reaching for the cookies after a late night.

Pillar 4: Stress management

Keep serenity in your surroundings. Under this pillar are many different types of stress stimulants: finances, work, family, and mental health. Stress is nothing new in our society, and everybody has his or her own way of managing it. To learn more about managing your stress, here is a link to ESME stress-reduction tips.

Pillar 5: Overall self-care

Practicing overall self-care means going to the doctor for regular checkups; knowing your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers; and scheduling mammographies, pelvic exams, and other important screenings recommended for your age. It also includes taking the kids for their regular dental and orthodontic appointments and pediatric visits, getting flu shots, and seeing a therapist when needed. For more information on building and sustaining healthy habits, read “Keeping Healthy Habits.”

The next time you notice a crack in the foundation, look at the five pillars and see which one is crumbling. You will be amazed at how the others gain strength when each pillar is supported and sustained.

Are you sustaining all five pillars? Visit our Well-being/Health & Fitness section for inspiration, or contribute your own health and wellness ideas to

Debi Conocenti has been keeping people fit and healthy for more than 20 years. A developer of corporate health, fitness, and wellness programs, she stays active with her two sons and English sheepdogs.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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