Make Exercise Count

As you make goals for exercise, consider whether you want to lose weight, improve flexibility, strengthen muscles and/or increase stamina. To reach your objectives, you need a plan.

“Achieving individual goals needs a blueprint,” says John Jackson, personal trainer and owner of Impact Fitness in Tulsa.

He says anyone can attain fitness goals with a clear strategy and personal support. He recommends using a certified personal trainer to assess your strengths and abilities to create a tailored program.

“For example, if someone with a thin body type wants to add muscle to their frame, they must have the right balance of caloric intake versus energy expenditure,” Jackson says. “Their workouts would consist of low reps and heavier weights once a core and stabilization phase has been established.”

National guidelines for physical activity for adults recommend at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous intensity and aerobic physical activity – as well as strength training two or more days a week.

“Time matters,” says Dr. Joanne Skaggs, with OU Medicine internal medicine in Oklahoma City. “But if you don’t have much time, I recommend HIIT workouts – high intensity interval training.”

Weight-bearing exercise is important for increasing metabolism and losing weight. For older adults, the addition of balance training can help to prevent falls.

Skaggs encourages daily exercise and suggests group fitness for motivation and accountability.

“I’m active with the YMCA and find that the relationships there keep me returning regularly,” says Skaggs, who adds that it’s OK to start slowly. “I always recommend the rule of threes: three minutes for three days in a row. Increase by three minutes every three days until you are able to reach 30 minutes.”

Before beginning any new workout, visit your primary care physician to learn of any health limitations.

Obesity in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has the 10th highest adult obesity rate in the nation and the sixth highest obesity rate for youth ages 10 to 17, according to a report by the State of Childhood Obesity.

Factors contributing to the state’s obesity epidemic include lifestyle choices, income and environment.

“Socioeconomic status and convenience lead to food insecurity and poor nutritional choices,” says Carah Patterson, clinical programs manager for St. John Weight Management and Healthy Lifestyles. “Farmers markets and fresh produce are limited in our poorest neighborhoods while convenience stores with cheap, prepackaged foods abound.”

Smoking also plays a role, with higher rates of obesity reported among those who quit smoking than those who have never smoked.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “over 30 percent of our adult population denies participating in any intentional physical activity, while nearly 30 percent of our adolescents watch greater than three hours of TV per day,” says Patterson, who includes the decline in required physical education in schools as a factor for obesity in kids. “We are literally setting a precedent for inactivity in this crucial developmental time of our children’s lives. We need … to help implement nutritious food access, intentional behaviors that will aid in developing healthy coping skills, and social strategies that don’t revolve around food.”

To address the state’s obesity rates, several initiatives have been implemented, such as Shape Your Future, a community program promoting healthy living through physical activity, nutrition and being tobacco free.

In addition, “Ascension St. John has assembled the healthy lifestyles task force … to address local issues of food insecurity and exercise programming among our most vulnerable populations,” Patterson says.

Inflammation and
its Effect on the Body

Inflammation in the body can reveal itself in many ways.

“Usually it’s the body’s way of fighting off an infection, but also can occur as a reaction to tissue injury, allergies or many other alterations in a body’s equilibrium,” says Dr. Amanda Titus, with Mercy Clinic Rheumatology in Oklahoma City.

Symptoms can vary from rashes to joint swelling and stomach pain.

“When someone catches a cold, the chills and achiness are symptoms of inflammation as your body is fighting off the infection,” Titus says. “Inflammatory conditions include gout, eczema [and] Crohn’s disease; inflammatory conditions can even occur in the kidneys or lungs.”

She says symptoms vary and are based on what parts of the body are affected. A common underlying symptom may be fatigue or fevers.

To fight inflammation, a healthy diet of unprocessed vegetables and whole grains may help. Research has shown that if you have an increased risk for autoimmune disease or want to naturally address an ongoing inflammatory condition, steps to reduce inflammation include getting adequate rest, reducing stress, exercising and avoiding nicotine.

Simple Steps
to a Healthy You

“Every step matters,” says Carah Patterson, clinical programs manager for St. John Weight Management and Healthy Lifestyles. “One intentional step at a time will help you attain your goal of living a healthy life.”

Jump-start your goals with some simple steps.

Define Reasons

“Knowing why you want to lose weight is a key factor in long-term success,” she says. “You have to reach a point of knowing where you want to go and why it’s important to get there.”

Write down your reasons and make goals matching the acronym SMART.

“Ensure the goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely,” Patterson says. “Set your sights on something you can achieve, then set a new goal once you’re there.”

Avoid Comparisons

“This is a personal journey that cannot be measured by anything other than the you that you were yesterday,” she says. “Your why. Your goals. Your progress. Keep your focus on your journey.”

Activity in Small Ways

“You don’t have to have a gym membership or even a pretty day to incorporate activity into your habits,” Patterson says. “Challenge yourself to find movements conducive to the space you’re in.”

These can include taking the stairs, walking to visit a coworker instead of emailing or texting, doing pushups from the wall or your desk, performing squats or wall sits, holding a plank to strengthen your core and improve posture, and working on mobility by stretching.

Not Just Surviving, Mentally

Most are familiar with physical wellness, but fewer people understand the parameters of mental wellness. The World Health Organization says states of well-being come when people realize their abilities, cope with life’s normal stresses, work productively and fruitfully, and contribute to the community. In short, it’s the feeling of thriving instead of just surviving.

“Mental health can be viewed just like any other health – physical, financial, relational,” says Rebecca Hubbard, Ph.D., director of outreach, prevention and education for Mental Health Association Oklahoma.

Equally as important as exercising physically is incorporating mental-health routines into everyday life. Taking time to reduce stress and re-energize helps to maintain mental balance.

“Some simple daily activities to boost mental wellness are making a gratitude list, meditation or prayer, a positive relational connection with a trusted other, and physical exercise such as walking or yoga,” Hubbard says.

Body-Mind Connection

“Diet and exercise are completely intertwined with our mental health and well-being,” Hubbard says. “The neurotransmitters that regulate emotions and mental health are not only found in our brain but in our digestive system. Additionally, what we eat, our exercise habits and even our physical connections with others – think hugs – impact the levels of important neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Additionally, specific exercise and diet choices – like yoga, outdoor activity in green spaces, and choosing salad over a burger and fries or dark chocolate over cake and ice cream – impact our brain and thus our mental health.”

Be an Ally

If you have a friend or loved one who may have mental-health issues, it may difficult to know what to do or how to help. Hubbard says to first learn about mental health and mental-health disorders, including signs and symptoms, and find local resources for assistance.

“Second, to have mental-health knowledge, acceptance and support from one human to another creates an irreplaceable component for the path back to wellness,’ she says. “Third, and I cannot emphasize this enough, learn the difference between normal child and adolescent development and signs of a developing mental-health disorder. The latest research states that 50% of mental-health symptoms start before age 14 and 75% before age 24. Early detection of symptoms and appropriate intervention are key to long-term mental-health and wellness.”

She also stresses that when recognizing signs and symptoms in yourself or others, it’s important to understand that the brain is an organ, just like the stomach or heart.

“Just like with the flu, we can have one or several bouts of a mental disorder across a lifespan,” Hubbard says. “Likewise, just like a heart arrhythmia, we can have an ongoing or recurring mental disorder. We would never think to say to our stomach, ‘Stop being sick,’ or to someone else, ‘You don’t have the flu; just get out of bed and try harder.’ We would never think to say to our own heart or someone else’s for that matter, ‘Just beat normally.’ We need to start taking that approach to mental disorders as well.” 

Adding Veggies to Your Diet

The American Heart Association suggests filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables to reach the recommended 4½ cups each day. To increase the amount of vegetables in meals without noticing, try to:

Shred zucchini, beets or carrots and add them to favorite recipes, or sauté shredded carrots, summer squash or butternut squash and throw them in pasta sauce.

Replace half the ground meat in recipes like burgers and meatballs with cooked, chopped mushrooms.

Add cooked and puréed orange vegetables like butternut squash, sweet potatoes and carrots into cheesy dishes like macaroni and cheese, lasagna or baked enchiladas.

Add a frozen banana, spinach, carrots and/or squash to a smoothie.

Source: American Heart Association

Mental-Health Resources

  • Call 211 for help.
  • Text HOME to 741-741 for a trained crisis counselor.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
  • Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association at
  • Visit the National Institute for Mental Health at