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Wellness is like a pyramid with three pillars: eating patterns, activity patterns, and rest and relaxation patterns.

There’s tremendous synergy among these three pillars. You go for a great walk and you sleep better that night. You get a lousy night’s sleep and you circle the refrigerator or vending machines all day. You eat too much and you don’t feel like moving. Everything is connected, so even small changes can feel like a million bucks.

You don’t need to train for the Olympics. You just need to move. How much? A little bit more than before. If that means a 5-minute walk after breakfast instead of hanging out on the couch, then 5 minutes it is. If it means adding 10 minutes of stretching before your daily 2-mile run, then give it a try. Make small changes and begin wherever you are today.

This applies to food as well. Be honest and name one thing you’ve been thinking about changing. Small goals. Maybe you want to kick that afternoon diet soda habit, like the one I used to have. Or you’d like to quit that fast-food drive-thru on your way home. Or you’ve been thinking about packing lunch on Mondays for a few weeks to see how it goes.

My own goal is to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, especially at breakfast. It seems almost impossible to get the recommended eight to 12 servings a day if you have to pack them all into lunch and dinner. But if you add breakfast, you’ve got a fighting chance. We don’t eat enough produce in general, and that is especially true for breakfast. I often microwave a sweet potato for five minutes, let it sit 10 minutes longer, and then slice it open and add a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter.

If you already make plenty of opportunities to move, and you are eating a colorful and nourishing diet, I recommend that you turn your focus to rest and relaxation. This is the unsung hero of the pillars, perhaps the most important but least noticed.

There are two sides to your nervous system, the gas and the brakes. You need to drive safely, but you might be pressing the gas pedal all the way to the ground all the time, even though you know you don’t get your best mileage with your engine racing. Release that brake pedal with activities that calm your nervous system, and you’ll find that you are better able to relax. I’ll discuss this in future columns.

The goal here is to catch yourself enjoying yourself. When contemplating a new habit, ask yourself: “Could I do this for six months?” If yes, then give it a try. But if you don’t think you could do it for even three days, then let it go and try something else. Failure chips away at your self-respect, and makes it that much harder to try again. I want you to feel the sweet sensation of success – your success.

Dr. Roxanne Sukol writes about adult health, preventative medicine and wellness for the Cleveland Jewish News. She is an internal medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic.

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