Pennington Small Shifts

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Small Shifts

Small lifestyle changes in NUTRITION, EXERCISE, PERSPECTIVE and BEHAVIOR can lead to a better, healthier future

Pennington Biomedical Research Center


Health across the lifespan begins with SMALL SHIFTS AT PENNINGTON BIOMEDICAL, our passion is straightforward: prevent disease, treat disease, end disease. Through innovative research, and with the involvement of the Baton Rouge community, we are applying cutting edge technologies to improve human health. But in addressing nutrition, obesity, and diabetes, many approaches do not employ state-of-the-art lab equipment. Addressing them requires small shifts. Small shifts are something that everyone can do and can be incorporated into everyday life. Small shifts add up, and they are reinforcing, which further promotes the activity. From swapping a soft drink with water to parking further away from the front door, small changes in behavior can generate positive net effects that aren’t easy to accomplish otherwise. Our researchers are committed to addressing the triggers of chronic disease, but time and again we see that our prescribed guidance is paired with the encouragement of healthy behaviors and incorporating good health habits. We encourage minor adjustments because we know that major and extensive habit changes are challenging, leading to a resistance to embracing them, no matter how beneficial. Our researchers are exploring the “whys” of people’s behavior around food and around exercise; what makes us do, or not do, what we know to be good for us. This research has led us to explore good and easy-to-sustain food and exercise choices, and which ones are best suited for each age group. While improving our health is seen as a personal challenge, Pennington Biomedical is taking on the challenge at a societal level. We are hard at work exploring various ways to help our community achieve this collective goal, and the year ahead presents us all with many opportunities to make those minor adjustments—those small shifts—for a better, healthier future.

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“In our mission to address and prevent disease, we feel that small shifts in diet, attitude, exercise and behavior can go a long way toward improving not only general health, but mental, physical and emotional health.” —Dr. John Kirwan, PhD, Executive Director

Pennington Biomedical Research Center


Swap soft drinks with water. This will save you lots of empty calories. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean protein.

Be mindful of why you’re eating (hungry, bored, lonely, stressed?)


Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Incorporate these healthy tips into your routine and you’ll be surprised how much progress you can make in a short time. Consistency is the key to success, and small adjustments can make a big difference.

Take regular breaks from social media.

Meditate for a few minutes each day.

Breathe deeply for five minutes to clear your mind.

Limit screen time so your brain can power down before bedtime.

Establish a set bedtime and try to get 7 hours of sleep each night.

Keep a gratitude journal to stay in a positive mindset.



Taking between 5,000 and 7,000 steps per day is just as impactful as taking 10,000. And all types of physical activity boost your energy and improve your attitude.

Staying socially engaged with family and friends is great for your mental health. It creates a sense of belonging and provides you with support and encouragement in your daily life. | BUSINESS REPORT, January 2024

Pennington Biomedical Research Center


“It doesn’t have to be 10,000 steps per day. Start anywhere. Get off your couch, get out from behind your desk, and go for a short walk.” —Pennington Biomedical and LSU Exercise Physiologist Neil Johanssen, PhD

“When you think you’re not doing much, just look back on where you started. You’ll see proof of how far you’ve come.” —Pennington Biomedical Exercise Testing Core Manager Angelique Litsey

Small Shifts Exercise I want to get healthy, but I can’t do 10,000 steps a day! I want to lose weight, but I don’t have time for the gym. I feel out of breath when I walk around the mall, so why bother getting off the couch at all? THOUGHTS LIKE THESE plague individuals who dream of getting healthy but don’t know where to begin. Start small, say researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. The world-renowned diabetes and obesity research institute advocates integrating small changes, which can lead to big improvements in health and well-being over time.

“It doesn’t have to be 10,000 steps per day,” says Pennington Biomedical and LSU Exercise Physiologist Neil Johanssen, PhD. “Start anywhere. Get off your couch, get out from behind your desk and go for a short walk.” If you look closely, opportunities for movement are everywhere, says Pennington Biomedical Exercise Testing Core Manager Angelique Litsey. “People think, ‘I have to go jog around the University Lakes to really be exercising,’ but just getting your heart rate up by walking your dog or doing a wall sit in your office will make you feel better,” Litsey says. “An easy place to start is by

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parking your car in the farthest possible space.” Small shifts like these will increase your energy level and give you the confidence to keep going. The trick is to not get discouraged. “When you think you’re not doing much, just look back on where you started,” Litsey says. “You’ll see proof of how far you’ve come.” For most of us, sitting is a big part of life, due to computer-centric jobs, long commutes and other factors. Johanssen points out that the COVID-19 pandemic made this already challenging situation worse. “Coming out of COVID, you see ultra-low physical activity levels

and a lot of issues with managing body weight,” he says. But research shows that even some exercise is beneficial and can lead to significant lifestyle changes. Accumulating between 5,000-7,000 steps a day, for example, is as impactful as 10,000. And exercising for half the recommended duration is also highly beneficial, Johanssen says. From opting for the stairs, to setting a timer to taking short walks throughout the workday, micro-changes can lower blood sugar and increase energy. “Do it for your kids,” Johannsen says. “Be more active and very quickly you’ll see improvements.”

Pennington Biomedical Research Center


“There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t let perfect get in the way of good,’ and it really applies here.”

“Even if you make what you consider to be an unhealthy choice, the whole day isn’t ruined. It’s about the longterm.”

—Pennington Biomedical Metabolic Kitchen Director Renee Stelzer, RD

—Pennington Biomedical Assistant Professor Jacob Mey, PhD, RD

Small Shifts Nutrition YOU’VE DECIDED IT’S time to lose some weight. But with all the diet noise out there, what’s the best way to take off those unwanted pounds—and keep them off? The answer lies not in radical changes, say experts at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, but in small increments. Easy and attainable adjustments, like staying hydrated, opting for more fruits and vegetables and eating mindfully, have a way of snowballing into longterm lifestyle changes that can help shed pounds and boost energy. “A common misconception is that good nutrition is all or nothing,” says Pennington Biomedical Registered Dietitian Renee Stelzer,

Director of the research center’s Metabolic Kitchen. “There’s an old saying, ‘Don’t let perfect get in the way of good,’ and it really applies here.” As a world-renowned nutrition research center, Pennington Biomedical has been on the forefront of how diet impacts health for decades. With hundreds of studies demonstrating the value of sound nutrition, the research center recently rolled out its Small Shifts campaign to showcase the cumulative value of daily common-sense changes. “A great place to start is by just making sure you’re eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, as well as lean, quality sources of

protein,” says Pennington Biomedical Assistant Professor Jacob Mey, who studies the impact of nutrition on conditions like asthma. Substituting fruits and veggies for less healthy foods is easy to do both at home and while dining out. Even if finding fresh produce is difficult, frozen fruits and veggies offer high nutrition value, as do low-sodium, low-sugar canned options, Stelzer says. Drinking plenty of water is another easy modification, and one that reaps double rewards. It keeps you hydrated, a must for the body’s many functions. And when you substitute water for sugary drinks, it saves you lots of empty calories.

Mey and Stelzer say integrating mindfulness is also key. Begin to think about what you’re eating and how it makes you feel. Chew slowly. Observe when you start to feel satisfied rather than continuing to eat thoughtlessly. “Everything in moderation,” Stelzer says. “If you’re mindful at mealtime, the calories will work themselves out.” Most of all, don’t let “imperfect” behavior derail your overall commitment to living well. “Even if you make what you consider to be an unhealthy choice, the whole day isn’t ruined,” Mey says. “It’s about the long term.” | BUSINESS REPORT, January 2024

Pennington Biomedical Research Center


“Sleep is complex, but it affects everything—your mental health and your physical health. Everything is interconnected.” —Prachi Singh, PhD

“This is a concept known as ‘resting in the margins.’ When we take small, seemingly insignificant breaks, our brain benefits. It speaks directly to the value of small shifts.” —Tiffany Stewart , PhD

Small Shifts Mental Health THERE’S NO QUESTION that how you feel emotionally can impact your physical well-being. By cultivating an open and positive mindset, we are better able to take care of our minds and bodies, e.g. exercising, getting enough sleep, or calling a friend. And vice versa—when we are engaging in habits to take care of our minds and bodies, it fuels our positive mindset. Giving your mental health the attention it deserves is just as important as nurturing your physical health. In fact, they’re interdependent. Making small changes to your mental health, like breathing deeply for five minutes, meditating or taking regular breaks from social media, help improve your total wellness, say experts from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. “When we talk about health, we often think about things that are very physical, like nutrition and fitness,” says Professor Tiffany Stewart, Director of Pennington

Biomedical’s Behavior Technology Laboratory. “But we also need to have conversations about mental health and mental resilience.” Stewart says that daily stress and multidimensional tasking are at an all-time high, and that can push our minds into what feels like overload. “We have a lot of things thrown at us,” says Stewart, who studies emotional resilience among both elite athletes and soldiers. “We’re very distracted with technology and social media, and we respond to constant demands.” It’s not unusual for us to juggle personal and professional obligations all day long, only to take breaks by scrolling social media or reading emails, she says. Instead, we should make a conscious choice to give our brains a break. Just like closing the tabs on a computer screen, it’s important to also close the tabs in our mind from time to time. “This is a concept known as ‘resting in the margins,’” Stewart says.

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“When we take small, seemingly insignificant breaks, our brain benefits. It speaks directly to the value of small shifts.” Stewart says three mental health traps often impede our pursuit of mental and physical wellness. Apprehension about starting something new can prevent us from taking the first steps on a wellness journey. Perfectionism can make us believe only perfectly executed habits are successful in getting us to our goals. And comparing ourselves to others, especially via social media, forces us to set an unreasonable calculus for success. Fortunately, we can become more mindful through small, incremental shifts. Along with deep, purposeful breathing and social media breaks, Stewart says meditating for a few minutes each day and keeping a simple gratitude journal is a great way to cultivate a positive mindset. When we improve our mindfulness, we tend to sleep better, which leads to healthier outcomes, says

Associate Professor Prachi Singh, director of the Pennington Biomedical’s Sleep and Cardiometabolic Health Lab. “Sleep is complex, but it affects everything,” Singh says. “Your mental health and your physical health, everything is interconnected.” If you find sleep challenging, try making small shifts to your routine. • Go to bed the same time every night. • Limit screens before bedtime so that your brain has time to power down. • Take a bath before bed or spend a few minutes meditating. Singh says that one of the best things about sleep is that we’re naturally inclined to do it. And it doesn’t cost anything. “Sleep is free!” Singh says. “It’s the easiest thing you can do to improve your health. If you focus on improving sleep, then depression and anxiety levels go down. You’re able to feel happier and see an improved quality of life.”

Pennington Biomedical Research Center


About Pennington Biomedical Research Center

Explorers in Search of Discovery RESEARCH AT PENNINGTON Biomedical is conducted across a network of laboratories committed to advancing health through science. Laboratories are grouped by area of focus: Basic Science, Clinical Research, and Population and Public Health Sciences. Basic researchers are explorers in search of discovery, dedicated to uncovering the fundamental mechanisms that influence human health. Whether the focus is genetic, molecular, cellular, endocrine, physiological, or neurological, the Basic Scientists at Pennington Biomedical seek to understand how the body works, as well as what we can do to reverse or cure the diseases that burden humanity. Clinical faculty and researchers are dedicated to improving the health of patients of all ages affected by chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes and some cancers, leading to better physical and cognitive functionality from pediatrics to older age. In collaboration with basic scientists, clinical scientists design and implement novel studies that yield advances on the mechanisms, prevention, and diagnosis and treatment strategies. Clinical research is vital to our mission and is at the center of translational biomedical research that is advancing discovery from the bench to the bedside. Via clinical, translational and community-engaged research, the Population and Public Health Sciences faculty are working to inform the implementation of evidence-based prevention and treatment modalities in public health settings. Scientists are working beyond the walls of Pennington Biomedical to take research out of the laboratory and into a variety of settings, including communities, schools, medical clinics and the military.

Over the past 30 years, researchers have never lost sight of their mission: to discover the triggers of chronic diseases through innovative research in order to improve human health across the lifespan. | BUSINESS REPORT, January 2024

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