Better health is available to everyone. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old. It doesn’t even have to cost you very much so it doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor.

And it doesn’t have to be as hard as you probably imagine it would be. Better health can be simple and fairly easy and is often best achieved by a series of small steps.

First, let’s talk about what the major problems are. Obesity. Blood pressure. Smoking. Diabetes. But what’s behind those things? Lifestyle. Diet. Lack of exercise. Lack of proper medical care.

So what can you do? Start with little changes. Pick the worst thing that you eat often. Don’t really know what that might be? Keep a food log for a week and then look for something made with high fructose corn syrup. Cut that out of your diet. And watch your carbs. Cut back on them a bit too.

Don’t exercise at all? No problem. Start easy. Go for a walk 2-3 times per week. Do that until it becomes a part of your weekly routine. Then and only then should you start to think about doing more.

Get your blood pressure checked. There are lots of places that you can go and get it checked for free. Lots of pharmacies do that. If it is high (maybe more than 140/80), get it checked. Don’t have a doctor? Go online and make a list of primary care physicians and then call around until you find one that is taking new patients.

Don’t have health insurance or can’t afford health care? Check with the Health Department. They might be able to help. But know this for sure — untreated blood pressure leads to a plethora of health issues.

If you smoke, you’ve got to find a way to quit. I’ve said it before — look on the side of the cigarette pack. It doesn’t say “this might be a bad idea.” No. It says something like this will kill you. And ask anyone with emphysema or COPD what it’s like. It’s like drowning. All the time. If you have diabetes or someone in your immediate family has diabetes, you simply must get medical care. The list of horrible things that can happen to you if you have diabetes and don’t treat it is huge. Huge. (But don’t get me started on the cost of insulin. That’s a travesty.)

Need to lose weight? I’m going to propose something radical: Quit weighing yourself. Make those small changes to your lifestyle. Eat better, exercise regularly, and then be patient. Maybe weigh yourself once a month. Definitely not every day.

Get off the couch every once in a while. Get a hobby. Clean out your closet. It really doesn’t have to be much. Start that project that you’ve been thinking about forever. You don’t have to paint the house or steam clean all the carpets. Get in your food pantry and box up everything that you know is bad for you.

Get outside more. It’s free. Maybe you make the short drive to the Smokies. If you do, get out of your car and walk around. Driving around Cades Cove doesn’t count. Visit our local parks.

Our Greenway system is phenomenal. You can circle Greenbelt Lake and then drop in at the Blount County Library. Most everything there is free.

Do those little things every day. You don’t have to join a gym, although you probably will want to later on. You don’t have to give up all the food you love. You don’t have to quit watching all your favorite TV shows, just maybe a couple of them. It doesn’t really have to be that hard.

Joe Black, PT, DPT, SCS, ATC is a physical therapist and athletic trainer at Total Rehabilitation and is Manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation for Blount Memorial Hospital. Email joeblack dpt@gmail.com to write to him.

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