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Fueling a Healthier Future: Lessons from a Founding Father

by Steffan Stroh

December 2023

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When Benjamin Franklin was a fire chief, he used this phrase to reduce the amount of fires in the city. With this prevention mindset – doing something to avoid a fire – considering some diet and exercise tips along with considering preventative health screenings can keep health problems from being a fire.

When it comes to weight loss and diet tips, television and online social media can be overwhelming. There is always a new shake, diet, or trend that claims to hold the “secret” to a healthy lifestyle. One easy approach is to start with small and meaningful changes that can work long-term. First, fiber in the diet. Fiber plays a major role in feeling full, aids in digestion and bowel health. Foods like whole fruit, vegetables, beans, and whole grain bread are excellent sources of fiber. Increasing fiber is recommended to reduce the chances of developing colon cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Additionally, increasing protein can have benefits. More protein leaves less room for sugary and fatty food. A third option is decreasing portion sizes. Try buying a single serving of potato chips instead of the party-sized bag to help with over-consuming. Most importantly, find healthy foods that can become favorites and find new ways to use them daily.

Moving from food to exercise, increasing activity can prevent a lot of medical problems. Just 20 minutes of exercise a day is enough to make a significant impact on heart health. Exercise can include a brisk walk, gardening, resistance training, yoga, or pickleball. Other small activity changes that add up: parking further away at the grocery store or going on a walk while listening to a favorite podcast or audiobook to help pass time. Doctors can also give advice about an exercise program that matches someone's health conditions. However, the most important type of exercise is one that is enjoyable and doable.

Health screenings – those tests that are meant to pick up health problems early – are important for everyone and are usually done on a yearly basis. Regular screenings like blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol checks along with breast exams and colon cancer screenings identify health issues before they become more severe and difficult to manage. Studies show that routine blood pressure checks can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Regular mammograms have been proven to detect breast cancer at an earlier and more treatable stage. Screenings for conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol enable early intervention and support diet and exercise changes that decrease the progression of complications like chronic kidney disease.

As Benjamin Franklin looked for ways to keep Philadelphia safe from preventable fires, improving diet, increasing exercise, and getting regular health screenings can offer the same protection. The simplest strategies, such as eating more fiber, portion control, and exercising can yield lasting, long-term benefits. In Big Stone County, being independent is a part of the culture. Living with a preventative mindset can help maintain that independence.

This article also appeared in the December 26, 2023 issue of the Ortonville Independent.

About the Author

Steffan Stroh is a third-year medical student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences. He was selected as the Ortonville participant for the school's ROME program, or Rural Opportunities in Medical Education. The program focuses on teaching student doctors the importance of rural newspapers as a way to share health information. As a future rural healthcare leader, Stroh has written this column to provide health information for his ROME community. The information is not for diagnosis or treatment and should not be used in place of previous medical advice provided by a licensed provider.