Although a person may have a developmental disability,many individuals are very healthy. Persons with developmental disabilities may be at increased risk for conditions that relate to their disability. For example, there is a greater risk of pressure sores for people who have limited mobility. This is preventable as are many other risks. It is very important to assess for risk and be proactive, starting at a young age to prevent, delay, or manage conditions. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is central to aging well, and maintaining independence while maximizing quality of life.
What do we mean when we say “healthy lifestyle”? According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, a healthy lifestyle consists of:
- Healthy eating
Overweight and obesity have become national epidemics. Making healthy eating choices could be a family or individual priority. One way to eat healthy is to choose “Heart Healthy” items on the menus of many restaurants. Look for items marked “lite” both in restaurants and grocery stores. This may be misleading so read labels carefully. When eating at fast food restaurants, you will find that the calories, fats and carbohydrates are either posted on the wall or available in brochure form. Check them out and make a healthy choice. Talk to your doctor and start eating smart. For more information about nutrition check the articles on the web site for September 2002.
Regardless of your present level of fitness, it can be improved with mild to moderate increases in activity. Fitness goals should focus on cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility. Talk to your doctor before staring an exercise program. You can also read the article in this month’s Research and Current Trends section of this web site. It is entirely about physical activity and recommends how to get started. Click here: http://www.ncpad.org/whtpprs/DevDelay.htm
- Mental stimulation
What does mental stimulation have to do with a healthy lifestyle? Our mental state can have an effect on physical health. Keep learning new things. Go places you never have been before. Meet some new friends. Play games. Keep up on current events. Read or watch the news and other educational programs.
- Not smoking
If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, consider quitting or, at least, cutting down. There are a variety of new aids for smokers trying to quit. The California Smokers’ Helpline at 1-800-766-2888 is sponsored by the CA Department of Health and will give free quit smoking phone counseling advice to California residents. It is open Monday-Friday, 8am to 9pm and Saturday, 9am to 1pm. Once again, talk to your doctor. This could be the healthiest choice you make. If you do smoke, be respectful of others and don’t make them breathe second hand smoke.
- Active social engagement
Just as in mental stimulation, social engagement can improve quality of life. Staying home alone and being sedentary contribute to other health problems such as overeating, isolation, or depression. Contribute to your community. Get out and enjoy life.
- Moderation, if alcohol is used
Alcohol consumption should be in accordance with your health and doctor’s recommendations. Certain medicines and conditions may prevent the consumption of alcohol, but, if you can and wish to drink, do so moderately.
- Maintaining a safe environment
A safe environment can contribute to a healthy lifestyle in many ways. For example, a fall in the home can lead to lifelong health problems. Use a smoke detector and change the batteries. Check your home frequently for dangers such as tripping hazards, exposed wiring or burned out light bulbs. Read more home and environmental safety articles on this web site for more ideas for keeping the environment safe. Use the checklists provided to get started.
- Social support
We all need help at times. Maintaining a network of social support is vital to mental and physical health. Teachers, social workers and case managers can provide social support. They have access to resources that help people maintain their independence. Things such as transportation, social services, home delivered meals, respite and child care are examples of social supports. Friends, family and co-workers are other sources of social support.
- Regular health care
Routine health care starting in infancy and continuing throughout the lifespan is critical for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This includes dental care and hearing and vision screenings. If the cost is a problem or if you don’t know where to go, this is a good time to use the resources noted above to help access health care.
Talk about healthy lifestyle with friends, family and other people in your life. Learn the risks that are unique for you. If you, your family member, or friend has an Individual Program Plan (IPP) or an Individual Education Plan (IEP), be sure that goals address the issues that will help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. Start planning now.
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