New Year Health Matters

Path to wellness begins with personal inventory

By Mary Ann Ebner

An apple may find its way onto your lunch tray every now and then, but if it’s a rare occasion, 2014 may be the year to take a personal health inventory. Reviewing lifestyle habits from nutrition to exercise levels can pay off in helping to improve overall wellbeing.

Allen Beals, M.D., J.D., commissioner of the Putnam County Department of Health, has taken a recent inventory of health in Putnam County, and has renewed the organization’s public health commitment.

“We do all we can to educate and motivate people to adopt healthier lifestyles,” Beals said. “We’re doubling our efforts and we have unbelievably motivated public health nurses who live to promote healthy living. We just completed the Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) and we’re focused on chronic disease prevention.”

According to Beals, obesity is at the top of the list of chronic diseases. But with efforts in prevention for adults and children, obesity can be controlled.

“Speaking as a physician, there are some horrible diseases that can befall you, but obesity is so important to control.”

Beals notes that obesity can lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension and diabetes. With children in mind, he hopes to help families make smart choices about nutrition.

“With sugared beverages, for example, those are empty calories,” Beals said. “Our biggest downfall after sugared beverages is fast food, and we have too much salt in our diets. People are eating two to three meals [a day] outside and those meals are loaded with salt. To focus on children in particular, we’re working closely in cooperation with our six school districts.”

Stephanie Impellittiere, principal at the Garrison School, has embraced a robust nutrition plan and the school’s PTA and Wellness Committee collaborate to bolster nutritional endeavors.

“There are several pieces to our efforts,” Impellittiere said. “We have a ‘Chef in the Classroom’ program with Laurie Gershgorn. She comes once a month and meets with each class. Sandy McKelvey of Hudson Valley Farm to School also works with the students. Sandy supplies information about the particular vegetable the children will be cooking. After the children prepare the recipe, then the PTA lunch program makes the same recipe in the cafeteria.”

The Garrison School’s hot lunch program is unique in that they do not have daily food service. The PTA sponsors a hot lunch program every Tuesday and groups of moms and dads work together to try to prepare healthy meals for students.

Garrison School sixth grade siblings Valerie and Remy Mancuso
Garrison School sixth grade siblings Valerie and Remy Mancuso

Sixth grade siblings Valerie and Remy Mancuso enjoy the Tuesday lunch program and the chance to sample new foods at the Garrison School.

“They do a lasagna that’s healthy and good,” Valerie said. “And they have big bowls of salad and clementines and apples. The apples are sliced and sometimes they put cinnamon on them.”

Remy said he appreciates the mystery of the hot lunch menu and usually likes everything he tries. “It’s all good,” Remy said. “And you can take as much water as you want.”

Drinking water not only benefits growing kids, but adults, too. Katrina Cook, personal training and fitness director at All Sport Health & Fitness in Fishkill, works with people of all ages to help them reach health and fitness goals.

“What is alarming,” Cook said, “is that people don’t drink enough water. I recommend 64 ounces or more a day. And vegetables and proteins are usually low in their food servings.”

Cook offers nutritional guidance to individuals who want to improve health and wellness. She reviews fitness levels, body fat, flexibility strength, and endurance. After the assessment comes commitment. Cook suggests that people set goals and try to understand that change takes time.

“Sometimes people want to lose weight immediately, but just like they put the weight on over time, it takes time to take it off. Being consistent is the biggest problem people have when they start an exercise program.”

Hike the trails of the Hudson Highlands
Hike the trails of the Hudson Highlands

And Cook emphasizes that people should try different activities to determine what works for them. They may not like running, but they may find that they enjoy dance or water classes. She stresses that people should get moving to help lift their fitness levels.

Impellittiere has established a “get moving” mission at the Garrison school to emphasize a similar message.

“The last two years we’ve had move it concerts,” she said. “The point is that it’s nice to have a traditional concert and we love that, but we’ve done the K through 2 concert with movement and dance to the music.”

The school’s physical movement initiative also includes winter recess. “If we can get the children outside, we do,” Impellittiere said. “Our PTA has also introduced Winter Wednesdays which will start later in January, and could include an introduction to anything from square dancing to Zumba.”

The Garrison School’s wellness commitment goes deeper with plans for a new garden, partially funded by a grant researched and written by students. And McKelvey sees the new garden as a beneficial addition to current programs.

Farm To School logo“Farm to School can be broadly defined as connecting local farms to local schools,” McKelvey said. “It promotes wellness and helps kids understand where their food comes from – that it doesn’t come from packages but from the ground. The program focuses on fruits and vegetables and it addresses the national obesity epidemic and type 2 diabetes.”

McKelvey not only works with the Garrison School, but also with Haldane and the Beacon schools. Similar to Garrison, every month chefs come into schools, meet with classes and present a featured vegetable, sometimes locally grown at Glynwood Farm. They use a fun fact flyer, learn how the vegetable grows and how to prepare it, and then they’ll use that particular vegetable in the cafeteria.

“What we’re starting in January along with Chef in the Classroom is Farmer in the Classroom,” McKelvey said.

Additionally, in Beacon, McKelvey has teamed up with Hudson Valley Seed and Common Ground Farm to form the Beacon Farm to School Collaborative.

“We live in the Hudson Valley with such an abundance of beautiful produce and we really want to help the kids get as much out of it as possible with local farming and gardening.”

Freshen up your plate in 2014.
Freshen up your plate in 2014.

Beals and the Putnam County Health Department also emphasize the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as home gardening, and will be rolling out a Garden to Table program. Many efforts in the community are centered on helping people understand that they can make lifestyle changes for disease prevention and in some cases, to slow the course of a disease that has already presented itself.

“We’re realizing that we can’t tell students to just eat more fruits and vegetables,” McKelvey said. “The kids know they have a choice. We’ve been doing a taste test at Haldane for a couple of years and the students are curious. It’s a successful model.”

The path to health and wellness circles back to making good choices. Putnam Family & Community Services orchestrates a “too good” program, which essentially teaches kids that they’re too good for drugs and addresses emotional and mental health. Doreen Lockwood, director of prevention services, said that prevention messages need to start young. Her organization uses a triangle model to help young people form healthy habits.

“We focus on how to make healthy choices,” Lockwood said. “The younger children are when you teach them about healthy alternatives and coping skills, the less likely they are to turn to tobacco, drugs and alcohol. We teach about healthy relationships, healthy minds and healthy bodies.”

Photos by M.A. Ebner