This year, resolve to flex both your mental and physical muscles.
By Kate Rader
’Tis the season for new beginnings. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the physical and mental health of more than half of Americans, resulting in conditions including anxiety, depression, weight gain, and substance use disorders, like alcohol or drug abuse. Now is a great time to dismantle the stigma and improve our physical and mental health by moving our bodies and strengthening our minds.
Time to Transform
JoAnn Sheffield, LCSW-C, LCAC has spent her career as a therapist helping clients gain insight about themselves. Now, as a Certified Coach, she helps people utilize that insight to achieve their goals. “We do physical fitness to strengthen the muscles in our arm and legs,” she says. “But we don’t talk about exercising our minds. Without exercising our brain, when there’s a crisis, we go into a negative survival mode.”
Lately, JoAnn says she sees many clients who are dealing with multiple issues at once—exacerbated by loss, grief, isolation, and the political climate; and confusion about things like vaccines and mask-wearing. This has resulted in what she calls a “transformation season,” where people are more willing to take a risk than ever before. “People are thinking about their quality of life. This is why we’re seeing people wanting to work from home, relocating, or wanting to be an entrepreneur. They realize they’re not satisfied with their life and want to try something new.”
Increasingly, people are searching for ways to balance their mental and physical well-being. “Our mindset affects how we can approach situations,” JoAnn says. “If we’re stuck in negative, self-defeating thought patterns or feel pessimistic, we don’t find joy in things.” She runs a six-week Mental Fitness program in which clients identify negative thought patterns and learn how to pivot into a more positive, solution-oriented, and clear-headed space. This helps them be better prepared to overcome challenges and cope better.
Through her program, JoAnn provides some helpful techniques that can be done at home to improve mental fitness. “Practice mindfulness—examine the positive things in your life,” she suggests. Listening, observing, and reflecting can help. “Take the time to discover the hidden gifts you have and identify potential opportunities.”
Going for Bold
Allen Twigg, Executive Director of Community Health Services, and Doug Spotts, M.D., Chief Health Officer at Meritus Health know just how valuable being proactive about your health is. “We know that the challenges that come along with obesity, for example, lead to downstream health risks, including higher risk of death from COVID-19, diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and knee and hip issues,” Dr. Spotts says.
Washington County undergoes a community health needs assessment every three years. The study found that the county ranked 18 out of 24 in the state for health issues like diabetes and obesity.
As the largest employer in the county, Meritus knew they wanted to get involved, and in 2020, launched “Go for Bold,” a community-wide initiative to promote healthy lifestyles. Go for Bold’s goal, Alan says, is to make an important shift—to where people are focused on wellness and prevention rather than managing disease and illness. Since its inception, the health community, area businesses, and organizations, encouraged by community co-chairs Dr. Mitesh Khothari, and YMCA’s CEO Maria Reubling have banded together to give people the tools and resources they need to make successful changes.
“One way to measure success,” Alan says, “is by recording weight loss. Our goal is to collectively lose one million pounds by 2030. Anyone who lives, works, plays, or prays in Washington County can participate.” The program is free, and businesses or individuals can go to healthywashingtoncounty.com to register confidentially and track their progress over time. “It sounds like a big goal, but there are 110,000 adults and 40,000 kids in our community. If each person can average 3-4 lbs. closer to their ideal body weight, we can reach it.”
The program is built on three pillars: Do, Eat, and Believe—each focused on small changes that make a big difference.
Do—Increase physical activity thru fun, engaging events. Simply walking can result in lowering blood pressure and decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. It can also help alleviate depression and increase mood. Allen suggests checking the calendar of activities found on the Healthy Washington County website. “Align with activities people are doing, such as Color Splash.”
Eat—Focus on fresh foods and get away from prepackaged, processed foods which are high in sodium and fat. These small steps can help prevent heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and reduce the risk for some forms of cancer. Partners like Martin’s grocery stores are working to eliminate food deserts and ensure fresh foods are available to everyone. The website has free information on how to make healthy, low-cost meals, meal planning, and grocery list preparation.
Believe—Practice mindfulness to reduce stress and anxiety. “It’s important we have resources to manage and reduce stress. Practice being aware of what you’re feeling and sensing in the moment. Take a step away from the pressures of the day by taking a mindful walk or eating mindfully.
Last year, the program exceeded its goals and now hopes to have more than 4,000 participants, 50 community partners, and 35,000 pounds lost by June 2022. To get involved, visit healthywashingtoncounty.com. Register as an individual or put together a team. Check out the resources and incentives offered. Allen says, “We are passionate. This is the most exciting thing I’ve been involved in putting public health into action. A real investment into the health of this community.”
Opening image: Making healthy changes can be enjoyable when you pair activities, such as walking along the Cultural Arts Trail in Hagerstown, or in the ColorSplash event hosted by the YMCA. Photo by Mary Anne Burke