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New year, new you

Levi Baer 29 makes eating healthy priority visits Logan Square Farmers Market where he says he finds basic ingredients make

Levi Baer, 29, makes eating healthy a priority, and visits the Logan Square Farmers Market where he says he finds the basic ingredients to make nutritious meals. | Jane Donahue~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: April 14, 2014 4:42PM



While many Chicagoans added “eat healthier” to their list of New Year’s resolutions, Levi Baer is way ahead of them.

The Logan Square resident made that choice several years ago, opting for a diet that’s rich in fresh, local and good-for-you ingredients.

“I decided to start creating my own meals because then I had control over what was in them,” says the 29-year-old. “If you are going to a restaurant or picking up a pre-made dish at a grocery, there are a lot of things that are in there that you just don’t know about.”

Shelley Young, founder of the Chopping Block, shares that sentiment.

“In the sheer act of cooking, people tend to consume fewer calories,” says Young. “There is a real value to having control over what you put into your body. When you are cooking, you decide.”

Baer says eating well doesn’t have to break the budget, and it doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Each Sunday, he makes a trek to the Logan Square Farmers Market to find ingredients for his weekly meals.

“Having this source of local and fresh and homemade ingredients allows me to plan out my whole week,” he says. “I pick up a few base ingredients, add different spices, and that gives me the flexibility to eat what I feel like on a given day.”

Making conscious food choices is one of many ways to make 2014 a happy and healthy year. Here are a few others to consider:

Volunteer

When Mark Lukas retired from his job on the trading floor at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 2007, he wanted to give back to the community. Since joining the team at PAWS Chicago, the Sheridan Park resident believes he’s the one who has received.

“I have gained so much through volunteering,” says Lukas, 44. “At PAWS, we have the opportunity to change an animal’s life and, as a result, change a person’s life.”

Lukas says through volunteerism, he has not only gained lifelong friends and canine companions, but he’s improved his health.

“I’ve lost a good amount of weight from all the exercise,” he says. “My blood pressure has dropped significantly as a result from volunteering and working with the animals. Being around them is very calming, and it has certainly improved my sense of who I am.”

Quit smoking

Being a quitter has never been so laudable.

“Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health,” says James Martinez of the American Lung Association in Greater Chicago. “When you quit, your body begins a series of healing and recovery that continues for years.”

According to Martinez, there are a variety of programs to help smokers quit, whether through meetings or online. But friends and family can help smokers kick the habit as well.

“Be encouraging. Let them know you are glad they made the decision and that you actually believe they can do it,” he says. “Research shows most people can’t quit on the first try, and it may take multiple times to quit. If you slip up, it’s not the end of the world. Keep trying. You can keep quitting again.”

Relax

With oodles of things on your to-do list, it’s hard to find time to relax. But since stress is inevitable, learning how to manage it through relaxation is critical.

“Instead of viewing stress at a negative level, look at stress for what it is, which is a part of life,” says Dr. Susan Walsh, a Loyola University Health System psychologist and certified yoga instructor. “Look at it as a natural response in the human body. When you are more positive in viewing the stress cues, the mind tells the body to slow down and the body does respond in a relaxed manner. “

Learn to relax through meditation or yoga, or by doing an activity that gets you moving.

“We want to be healthy, look better, think better and act better,” Walsh says. “Of all the things you can do to stay healthy from a brain and body perspective, it’s exercise. Maybe the term exercise shouldn’t be used; it’s more about finding pleasurable activities that keep your body moving.”

Sleep!

Getting a good night’s sleep is a healthy habit that shouldn’t be overlooked.

According to the National Institutes of Health, getting enough quality sleep is important for overall health and well-being, and plays a vital role in how well you react, work, learn and get along with others.

The good news is you can take steps to improve your sleep habits, which first include allowing yourself enough time to sleep. Adults need to get seven to eight hours of sleep on average each night, so get to bed and forget the list of resolutions.



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