Get moving, see a farm says Live Healthy Iowa’s Willcockson

By Aaron Putze, APR

Motion is the key to good health, especially when combined with smart eating habits, says Live Healthy Iowa (LHI) director Dr. Amy Michelle Willcockson. She advocates wellness and nutrition as she travels the state and is a big fan of the Iowa State Cyclones (her alma mater) and Iowa’s farm families. The Iowa Food & Family Project, presenting sponsor of LHI, recently visited with Dr. Amy Michelle about the secret to better health, goals as director and her take on farmers and what makes them tick.

Iowa Food & Family: Tell us about your background?
Dr. Amy Michelle: I’m an Iowan; home town is Ankeny and I’m an Iowa State University Cyclone! I lived in Wisconsin for a time and then went on to Minneapolis where I owned a chiropractic and wellness practice for 20 years. Obtained my Doctorate of Chiropractic from Northwestern, pre-med at ISU and was going to be a medical student but decided to go with my heart into natural health care so, I delved into chiropractic care. I emphasized in prevention, wellness and correction. I then began looking at how to prevent chronic disease and promote wellness through better diets and exercise as well as the emotional and chemical aspect of wellness. So I returned to school for advanced courses to become a Certified Chiropractic Wellness Practitioner. 

What intrigues you about health and nutrition?
I’m a huge believer in cause and effect. Your health is equal to nutrition, movement and spinal hygiene. We are what we eat and how we move. Also, the healthier your spine, the healthier you are. People often think they’re a victim to their lack of health but that’s mostly not the case. Nearly 75 percent of chronic disease that’s crippling people and our economy is lifestyle-induced. Health issues are most often directly related to behavior. Science proves it. The more you move and the better you eat, the healthier you’ll be.

What is Live Healthy Iowa?
We’re about providing people with easy access to low-cost health and wellness opportunities and to educate and motivate all Iowans to live a healthy lifestyle. Why? Because there’s a health crisis in our country. Health is indeed your wealth and if you change your choices, you can change your life. The more families, neighbors and co-workers get involved, the closer we get to achieving our vision of making Iowa the nation’s healthiest state.

Tell me more about LHI programs
There’s an important social aspect to health. We bring people together by encouraging teams, families and communities to participate. There’s value in working together – it helps generate accomplishment, achievement, joy, inclusion and identity and ignites the competitive spirit in one another. Our most popular program that brings together these attributes is the 10 Week Wellness Challenge, held from mid-January through mid-March. The team event of 2 to 10 people encourages friendly competition between themselves and other teams to see who can do the most activity during that 10-week period. We also have the Next Step challenge plus 5ks we host during the spring and fall, to name just a few.

What do you intend to accomplish in your role?
Long term, it’s about reviving the mission and vision of Live Healthy Iowa and updating our technology and tactics for the times. We want a sustained increase in participation; to document improved health among our participants and see counties and Iowa climb in national wellness rankings. We also want greater participation per capita and increased measurements and metrics to really build a foundation to show improvements. Short term, it’s inspiring and reigniting people’s enthusiasm for getting into the game. Obesity rates are worsening. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults are obese and our country is tops worldwide in overall health care spending. Put another way, we spend the most money as a country on health care and take the most drugs, yet rank near the bottom of the barrel in overall health. Our system isn’t working – we’re a population that’s largely sick and it’s bankrupting us. We must focus on cause and behavior rather than just treatment.

What’s your take on overall wellness?
Move more, eat better and think happier. That’s it. Air, oxygen, movement and motion – without it, your body suffocates. Walk. Take steps. Vacuum. Be physical. Use the stairs. Get to where you’re going by using your feet more often. Ride a bike. These are simple, simple things. 

How should we eat?
The best diet on the planet is food by God – anything with a package or label is food by man. Look for more food without the plastic and label. Think wellness and be happier – mental health is so critical. Let’s go back to the 1950s. That’s when people sat down and had real food: meat, potatoes, eggs, bacon. Soon after, we unfortunately began moving away from what we grew and prepared while becoming more sedentary. We started to eat things that were “fat free” and “sugar free” and a bunch of packaged and processed snacks. A bit now and then is OK but we’ve gotten so far off track from what we were designed to eat; foods that are fresh and homemade. And our health and obesity rates prove it. It’s a myth that it’s more expensive to eat healthier. Most people don’t have an awareness of what real food. “Spend Smart - Eat Smart” by ISU Extension is a great tool, proving you can eat well on a small budget. 

Have you visited a farm recently? What’s your impression of the Iowa farmer?
Farming is in my family. They’re from Nebraska and, get this, their last name happens to be “Farmer.” I guess you could say they are farmers both literally and figuratively. I’ve grown up with farmers and know they have real food in their soul. They know how to nurture the Earth. They know the land and how to work with it. They’re dedicated to growing and eating real food. Farmers must be incredibly dedicated to do what they do. And I’m thankful for that dedication because of what it means to me, others and Iowa. You can’t take the farm out of the farmer!

What makes the Iowa Food & Family Project a perfect LHI partner? 
Because you’re working to get people more in touch with how food is grown and where food comes from. It’s so necessary. Children today don’t have a clue of what it was like to eat in the 1950s and 60s. We need to get back to the basics about food, who grows it and how it’s grown. Only then can we begin to understand what we eat and how it affects our health. There’s tremendous value in understanding food and food choices so the Iowa Food & Family Project is needed now more than ever.

Why is it important families eat together?
That’s such a good question because we don’t talk near enough about the benefits of enjoying food together. Gathering around the table as a family is an essential component of wellness. It’s social. Parents are there as leaders and modeling good behavior and family togetherness. You have connections with each other. You share emotions and stories and time with family – there’s the whole emotional connection to food. When you’re eating together as a family, hopefully there’s also cooking going on which is a great educational tool, too.

Putze serves as Director of Communications for Iowa Soybean Association as assists with coordinating the work of the Iowa Food & Family Project. Contact him at aputze@iasoybeans.com.