Living your best life: Let’s get active

December 24, 2020

By: Sandra Millon-Underwood, FAAN,
Professor, UW-Milwaukee School of Nursing

Valley Hollins

More than 36 years ago, Valley Hollins received a wake up call that changed her life forever, and she hasn’t looked back since. An annual physical showed that she had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and was borderline diabetic. After reviewing her tests, Hollins’ doctor gave her a choice—at the age of 30 she could look forward to a lifetime of taking medications, or she could make lifestyle changes. Hollins made lifestyle changes and has become a walking, talking commercial for the merits of healthy living.

After researching various diet options, Hollins knew that dieting was not the best choice because studies show that dieting, without lifestyle change, often results in the weight returning. Instead, she opted for a lifestyle change. She started making healthier food choices, cut out red meats, carbs, and refined sugar, and started walking every day.

“My health became better and I have continued this lifestyle for 36 years. I have no issues with hypertension (high blood pressure), cholesterol and I’m not pre-diabetic. I’m also at a healthy weight for my age and height. I was also having problems with my knees and as the weight started coming off, I experienced less pressure on my knees. It has been an overall change for the better and I’ve never looked back,” she said.

Hollins’ journey to a healthier lifestyle accelerated when a friend invited her to attend a Silver Sneakers class. Silver Sneakers is a program founded in the 1990’s that gives members access to gyms and fitness classes, and is a free or low-cost benefit provided by many Medicare Advantage plans. Although the program is designed for people 65 and older, membership is available to Medicare Advantage enrollees of all ages if their insurer offers it. Members have access to more than 16,000 gyms, community centers, and fitness facilities across the U.S. Silver Sneakers also provides access to exercise classes taught at recreation centers, parks, and other locations.

These days, Hollins is a certified Silver Sneakers instructor. She’s been teaching at the YMCA for 11 years and she also teaches line dancing at the Y and at Community Baptist Church.

Valley Hollins

“After I started attending a few classes, the instructor was having some health problems, so I would assist her with teaching the class. The staff eventually offered to pay for my training to become a certified instructor and I’ve been teaching ever since.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week. The guidelines also recommend that children and adolescents be active for at least 60 minutes every day. Following these guidelines can contribute to overall health and decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

Walking is a great way to get the physical activity needed to obtain health benefits. Walking does not require any special skills, a gym membership or expensive equipment. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve sleep, memory, and the ability to think and learn. It also reduces anxiety symptoms.

Hollins wholeheartedly agrees that staying physically active doesn’t have to include gym memberships, plus people are reluctant to visit gyms during the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are ways to stay active, using inexpensive items that you already have in your home. Instead of purchasing dumb bells, you can use water bottles or cans of vegetables. You can use a towel in place of a resistance band. There are simple stretching exercises you can do before you even get out of bed, and as you sit and watch TV. If you can’t get outside, walk through your house or apartment building. And, if you are technologically savvy, there are all kinds of free exercises on the internet,” said Hollins.

Benefits of physical activity
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1. Exercise controls weight
Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. Any amount of activity is better than none. Consistency is key.

2. Exercise combats health conditions and diseases
No matter what your current weight is, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, and it decreases unhealthy triglycerides. Regular exercise helps prevent or manage many health problems and concerns, including:
• Stroke
• Metabolic syndrome
• High blood pressure
• Type 2 diabetes
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Many types of cancer
• Arthritis
• Falls

3. Exercise improves mood
Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed, and less anxious.

4. Exercise boosts energy
Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance.

5. Exercise promotes better sleep
Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster, get better sleep, and deepen your sleep.

6. Exercise can be fun … and social!
Exercise and physical activity can be enjoyable. They give you a chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors or simply engage in activities that make you happy. Physical activity can also help you connect with family or friends in a fun social setting. Remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have any concerns about your fitness, haven’t exercised for a long time, or have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis.

The Healthy Eating and Active Living Milwaukee (HEAL) is a culturally tailored program that aims to provide education, resources to secure healthy foods, and active living supports for adults atrisk for developing lifestyle-related diseases; and, to empower adults to make changes in their physical and social environment to improve nutrition and physical activity. ‘Like’ their Facebook page that’s full of videos of healthy recipes and low-cost, no-cost exercise.