Fit For Life

Fit For Life

Good health is not merely the absence of disease, but an overall abundance of wellness in areas such as fitness, nutrition, and mental health. To paint the portrait of a healthy lifestyle that can carry you into old age, you have to dip your paintbrush in many colors. Proper nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness will help you create a masterpiece.

Debbie Cooper, RD, LDN, Clinical Nutrition Manager for St. Luke’s University Health Network, oversees dietary needs for patients.

“Our staff is trained across all areas of nutrition,” Cooper says. It’s comprised of registered dietitians, who hold degrees and certifications in their field and take part in ongoing education.

Dietitians work in specialty areas, such as pediatrics, oncology, sports nutrition, and with individuals facing digestive issues and allergies. Each person’s plan is unique. Cooper’s department meets with individuals seeking nutrition counseling for overall well-being; not just those with medical conditions.

Cooper’s basic dietary recommendations for long-term health are fairly universal. She says fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables; a quarter with lean protein, like chicken or fish; and a quarter with complex carbohydrates, like brown rice or quinoa.

“Try to eat a balanced diet and include foods from all food groups in a variety of different colors.” Cooper says to pay attention to hunger and fullness cues and to wait 15 minutes to see if you’re actually hungry before grabbing a snack. Whole foods and less-processed foods are best for nutritional value.

Amy Previato, MPH, Network Director of Employee Wellness at St. Luke’s, echoes that recommendation. Previato says data shows most medical costs are spent on chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, and as much as 80% of chronic disease can be prevented by adopting lifestyle changes. She says the 4 key factors are maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), not using tobacco, eating 5 servings of fruits and veggies a day, and exercising—any form of movement—for at least 150 minutes a week. Statistics show just 3% of Americans regularly meet these recommendations.

“These 4 fundamental lifestyle choices can really impact long term health,” Previato says. “It has a huge impact on our health.”

Previato says since 2014, there has been a reduction in high blood pressure and pre-diabetes among 19,000 St. Luke’s staff members and their spouses, and St. Luke’s employee health is trending better than national and local figures.

Each year, Previato’s team carries out an employee health assessment. Employees whose data stands out, say with high blood pressure or pre-diabetes, will be recommended to see their doctor and to adopt a health plan. Some opt for health coaching through St. Luke’s to develop a plan for improvement. 

No matter how well someone eats, experts agree exercise is key. John Graham, MS, ACSM EP-C, CSCS*D, RSCC*E, FNSCA, Director of Fitness at St. Luke’s Fitness and Sports Performance Centers, says the first step toward a long healthy life in terms of fitness is continuous exercise, 30 to 60 minutes, every day. 

“That’s 4% of your day to maintain your health for 96% of your day,” Graham says.

He and his staff work with individuals with all levels of ability, from elite athletes to those with physical disabilities seeking to enhance mobility. Trained staff screen all clients by reviewing their medical and exercise history and assessing their fitness level to set up a personalized exercise prescription. Staff members hold college degrees in exercise science or an equivalent field and are certified in various areas of practice.

“We’re not a rehab center, we’re an actual fitness center,” Graham says. “We run the whole gamut from someone wanting to lose excess body fat to someone looking to improve their functional capabilities.”

One of the frequently overlooked components of health in our busy culture is mental and behavioral health. Although it’s widely known that excess stress can lead to disease, many people forget to slow down. Amie Allanson-Dundon, MS, Clinical Supervisor of Mental/Behavioral Health at
St. Luke’s Psychiatric Associates, says it’s key to schedule time for self-care.

“Schedule time for anxiety reduction, stress reduction; things that behaviorally and mentally make you feel calm and make you feel controlled,” Allanson-Dundon says.

She suggests meditation for calming the mind. Some people are intimidated by the idea, but it can be as simple as setting a timer for 5 minutes, shutting your eyes, and breathing slowly and deeply.

Allanson-Dundon says it’s important to be open and honest in communication with others. “Let people know how you’re feeling and what you need from them.”

That could be a hug, coloring in a book, or ten minutes for an “adult time-out” to re-center and calm down.

“Slow down in your decision making and reacting,” she says. “We’re so busy we forget emotional wellness.”

Allanson-Dundon says people are so busy nowadays, quickly overcommitting themselves, rather than taking a moment for rational decision making. She suggests taking a moment to think things through before jumping into the “deep end.”

The public can contact St. Luke’s for information on health and wellness services at 1-866-785-8537.


  • Fill half your plate with produce, a quarter with protein, a quarter with grains
  • Refrain from tobacco use
  • Exercise 30-60 minutes a day
  • Maintain a healthy BMI
  • Make time for self-care

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