Allergy and Asthma: Healthy Lifestyles
What promotes optimal health for people with asthma or allergies? To begin, a healthy lifestyle must always include personal safety habits. Given that environmental or food triggers will result in personal harm to people with allergies and asthma, routine activities and precautions must be developed within the lifestyle to avoid 'harm's way'. For most, this requires knowledge and skill. Knowing the potential for exposure in specific situations can help you navigate conditions to minimize risks. Equally important is a diligence about carrying emergency supplies for prompt treatment of an allergic reaction or asthma attack. For some adults and children with asthma, a daily routine with medication and symptom monitoring might also need to be integrated. These basic self care activities must be an important part of a healthy, active lifestyle for anyone with allergies or asthma.
Beyond condition specific self care activities, however, general recommendations to optimize health through lifestyle choices are similar for everyone. The goal is to develop life patterns and routine activities that support health in a full range of body systems (heart, lung, skeletal-muscular, digestive organs, etc.), as well as emotional and psychological well-being. Eating a nutritionally sound diet, staying physically active and fit, keeping weight within a healthy range, effectively managing stress, nurture supportive relationships and developing a positive, optimistic thinking style are all part of the picture. Body and mind are intimately connected, and a healthy lifestyle strengthens both. Teaching these skills to children as they reach appropriate stages of readiness to learn will also help them gain competency as they assume more responsibility for themselves.
Eat For Nutritional Health
Nutritional fitness is a cornerstone of good health. While allergies may increase the complexity of how to plan a nutritionally sound diet, they do not alter the need to do so. For children and adults alike, eating well blends the concepts of selecting foods from the base of the Food Guide Pyramid while avoiding excess calories from sweets, fats and alcohol. Ideally, meals and snacks are planned around a variety of plant foods (fruit, vegetables and whole grains), and include several servings a day of lean protein and calcium-rich foods. Where food choices are limited because of allergies, key nutrients may need to be supplemented to ensure nutritional health is maintained.
Stay Active And Physically Fit
Regular physical activity is a requirement for health maintenance. Becoming and staying physically fit is important for proper energy metabolism, weight management, heart and lung health and stress management. Because occupations and lifestyles are generally sedentary in modern society, exercise programs are recommended to help maintain fitness.
Exercise should include 3 components: aerobic movement, resistance or strength building and flexibility training. A minimum frequency of 3 times per week for each of the components is recommended, but keeping activity fun, challenging and stimulating is just as important as the forms of exercise you choose. Finding sports, recreations or physically active hobbies you enjoy and can do regularly is an important part of healthy living.
Manage Stress Effectively
Everyone experiences stress to some degree. Although we often think of stress as negative, not all stress is bad. In fact, some stress is a necessary part of life that helps compel us into action, increasing our alertness and awareness. On the other hand, learning to effectively manage stress in one's life is important to avoid the negative effects of 'stress overload'.
Successful, healthy ways to manage stress can come from any combination of calming activities such as exercise, a good book, a visit with a good friend or a funny movie. More formal relaxation techniques or meditations can also be very useful. Even the way in which we think about and interpret events (optimistic vs. pessimistic, in-control vs. out-of-control) will effect our stress response in the face of life's challenges. Developing skills to effectively manage stress is an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle.
Exercise Regularly: Exercise is the simplest and most effective means of stress reduction. It also has beneficial effects on the immune system and lungs.
Take Control: Identify and take control of your stressors. Learn all you can about your allergy or asthma, and take the necessary steps to limit your exposure to triggers. Take medications as prescribed and on schedule. Always be prepared for an unexpected emergency.
Limit Chemicals Which Intensify Stress: Avoid excessive intake of caffeine and other stimulants.
Relax Deeply And Often: Learn to reduce stress by using relaxation techniques or meditation.
Learn New Skills: Seek out other tools to reduce stress, for example visualization. Your imagination is a powerful tool. Imagining, or visualizing restful scenes and positive, healing images helps to reduce stress and manage emotions more effectively.
Stay Socially Involved
Feeling lonely or isolated can be a problem for adults or children with allergies or asthma. One or two serious reactions in social situations or environments can sometimes lead to fears about social settings. But having meaningful friendships and a sense of community is important. Through relationships, we have the opportunity to contribute to the lives of others, feel appreciated and respected, expand our identify and enhance our self-esteem. As a rule, more positive emotions and better health are reaped by those who stay socially connected.
A good place to begin is to nurture the relationships you already have. Identify people already in your life who support you (family, friends, professionals). Talk frankly about your needs, and make specific requests when you need help. Let others know how much you appreciate their help, and the value you have for their love, friendship or support.
For many people, participating in an allergy or asthma support group helps to reduce the sense of isolation or fear. By joining a support group, it is easier to see that you are not alone. Members of support groups typically share feelings and experiences, offer suggestions and problem solve together. The groups are also a forum for more information and education about the disease and its treatment. Support groups may be based in your community, but they are also accessible online. Family-oriented groups or summer camp programs are another option to help children and teens gain a sense of community, develop social skills and learn more about their condition.
Seeing ourselves as having control over our life path immediately has positive consequences. People who perceive themselves to be in control do better than those who don't. The reality is that there are many, many ways to take control, even if you have severe allergies or asthma. From nutrition, exercise, stress management and community building, there are many powerful ways you control your health.
Changing habitual ways of doing things is not always easy. Planning ahead is essential. You don't want to be waiting for the inspiration to do things differently. You need to take charge and make it happen. Think about what your life would include and look like if you were really doing great... taking wonderful care of yourself. Make lists of things you would be doing for fun, what goals you want to pursue for your health, to feel a sense of meaning and purpose, and how you plan to stay or become socially connected. Once you are clear with yourself on how you want to be living, then implementing your plan is next. Here are some tips that should help.
Beginning Lifestyle Change
- Keep a calendar and plan ahead. Don't wait for the weekend to come before you ask yourself what you want to do. Have activities planned ahead of time. Plan for routine activities that can become every week standards such as taking long walks, going to the gym, doing volunteer work, etc.
- Overcome procrastination. If a goal or step seems too big, break in down into smaller steps.Be specific. If you want to start your exercise training with a short walk each day, plan for the time of day and places you want to walk. This increases the odds it will happen, and gives you something to look forward to. Use self-knowledge. If your energy level is highest at a particular time of day, plan to do the things that take more energy at those times.
- Don't accept stuck. Problem solve if you get or feel stuck. Changing our habits and overcoming procrastination are not easy for most people. Talk with others, perhaps your physician, asthma educator or support group members, to get their suggestions. But it is up to you to act.
- Take your first step. Never look back. View your challenges as opportunities, your struggles as education and your life as a gift.