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Think small when it comes to modifying your lifestyle

I would like to thank the many of you who saw the picture of my daughter receiving the award for extraordinary personal action for using her CPR skills (Hiemlich) when I was choking. All of the staff here have to be current with CPR skills. It was a great reminder of the importance of this skill and why we need to know it.

If this happened to you, would you know what to do? Would you like to know what to do? The Red Cross offers classes to anyone — it’s never too late to learn these basic skills.

Small changes, big gains

Many of us are overwhelmed when it comes to making changes in our health. One good example is the New Year’s resolution. I see many people commit to a healthier lifestyle, only to find themselves falling quickly back to their old routines.

Micro-improvements do more than chip away at a larger objective — they accomplish plenty on their own. Here are a few small changes you can do to become a healthier person. Some of these are cumulative — do several and you’ll see an even bigger benefit.

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1. Smile at the scale. Lose 10 percent of your body weight. Example: If you are 5-feet, 5-inches tall and weigh 160 pounds, shaving off just 10 percent (16 pounds) will take you from the "overweight" category to normal body index. If you lose just 1 percent of your body mass a week, you can lose 10 percent in two or three months. Big gains: Dropping pounds can help lower your blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and you’ll be less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

2. Take the dog for a walk. Increasing your exercise by 10 percent translates to a mere 100 calories — an amount you could expend by taking the dog for a 28-minute walk. No dog? Go anyway. Big gains: A burn of 100 extra calories a day could help you drop up to 10 pounds in a year, provided you don’t eat more. If you’re already active (21⁄2 hours a week), heart health improves progressively, so you are benefiting. Exercise is a great way to calm nerves and release stress and anxiety.

3. Laugh for 10 minutes. Watch your favorite sitcom or movie or have a get-together with friends. Big gains: Laughing tenses your abdominal muscles, making your heart beat faster, and speeds up your breathing so you take in more oxygen.

4.Eat 10 percent more fruits and veggies. We should eat nine1⁄2-cup servings of produce each day. Snack on an additional six strawberries or a large carrot — it will boost your intake about 10 percent above what’s recommended. Big gains: This helps lower stroke risk and the risk of getting oral cancer.

5.Cut sodium by 10 percent. Stir up your own sauce, choose low sodium soups and swap out canned vegetables for fresh or frozen. Lower your blood pressure by 10 points by cutting salt and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Big gains: Drop sodium by 400 mg and you’ll whittle your odds for having heart disease. Stepping on the scale will be less scary because sodium makes you retain water. Less salt means lower blood pressure, which will help protect you from heart and kidney disease.

6.Eat the right fats. Get 10 percent of your calories from omega-6s. You are probably already getting them in nuts and cooking oil. This is a new recommendation from American Heart Association. Big gains: Getting the daily quota of omega-6s lowers LDL and cuts your chances of heart disease. These fats also may improve blood pressure and help the body process sugar.

7. Cut back on soda. One less can a day will knock off 240 calories, about 10 percent of your caloric intake. Big gains: You’ll lose weight by drinking fewer sodas, and you will be less prone to diabetes.

8. Sleep. If you normally get seven hours of shut-eye a night, turn in 40 minutes earlier to boost your sleep time by 10 percent. Big gains: Sleep actively restores the brain and body, including the immune system. Getting eight hours of sleep a night can help protect you from high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. It also helps keep your weight down.

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Kristi Stasi is the fitness director at the YMCA of Austin.

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