In a country overwhelmed with confusing fitness advice, it’s easy to see why more people don’t embrace an active lifestyle. Complicated exercise programs can discourage even the most committed exerciser. Unfortunately, most people believe that physical activity needs to be intense and performed over long periods of time to be beneficial. Despite this belief, there is strong evidence linking short bouts of moderate and high intensity physical activity to better health. The American College of Sports Medicine, the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommend approximately 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most days of the week. They also acknowledge that dividing your physical activity into shorter bouts (three 10-minute walks versus one 30-minute walk) provides the same health benefit. Given that the average American does just about nothing, the real issue is to do something! I recommend at least one high-intensity strength workout per week along with building minutes by including long and or short bouts of daily physical activity.
With the cost of medicine continually on the rise, Americans are taking their health into their own hands. One of the best ways to protect the health of your loved ones is to practice random acts of health. Here are some of my favorite strategies for keeping your loved ones strong and healthy! Lead by Example Being a role model is the most powerful way to influence the behaviors of people in your life. Numerous studies have shown a link between parents’ behaviors and the behaviors of their kids. The same is true of healthcare professionals. Physicians who engage in a healthy lifestyle are more likely to have healthy patients. If you want those you care about to take care of themselves, first take care of yourself! Add Variety This sounds too simple to be effective, but it works. Behavioral research shows, time and time again, as variety increases, more food is consumed. This is true with both low-nutrition and high-nutrition foods. If you want your loved ones to increase their consumption of healthy foods, adding variety helps. Instead of just bananas on the counter, try peaches, apples, pears, oranges, berries, etc. This strategy works well with all kinds of healthy foods. Trade TV Time According to a report by the Nielson Company, the average American spends 34 hours per week watching television. Those 34 hours represent a golden opportunity for improving your health. Trading TV time for physical activity is a huge step in the right direction. Research has also shown that increasing physical activity increases other healthy behaviors (such as healthy eating). I like to think one good decision leads to another! Partner Up Psychologists recognize that people who practice healthy behaviors with others are more likely to sustain those behaviors. Having a partner allows you to socialize while adding accountability and support. Try meeting for a walk, workout, bike ride or healthy meal. Partnering up on a weekly or monthly basis adds ongoing support and accountability. I like partnering up for both physical activity and healthy meals. Just Add Veggies An easy way to sneak vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients into your diet is to add vegetables to your favorite dishes. One of my favorites is a vegetable pizza. At 5 to 10 calories per ounce, you can add volume and nutrition while keeping calories low. Adding veggies to the standard pizza lowers the calorie per ounce value by about 30%. I usually add a specific number of cups – such as 4 cups and then go for what I like (broccoli, green pepper, mushrooms, onions, etc.). This strategy works with soups, casseroles, stews, sandwiches and just about any recipe. Make it a Team Effort When you join a fitness center together, you are more likely to attend. We see this with our members. Couples (family members, friends and spouses) are more likely to work out together and by themselves. The team approach adds support, accountability and socialization. These are powerful ingredients when you are practicing a behavior that can literally save your life! Walk and Eat Walking to a local restaurant is a great way to add spontaneous physical activity to your week. Eating in restaurants usually involves waiting for a table, waiting to be served, waiting for your food and waiting for the check. This can add hours of inactivity to your day. A short walk to a local restaurant will burn calories and create some synergy (get you thinking about healthy choices) with your meal. Pack Your Bags Stash healthy snacks everywhere. Stashing healthy snacks into a book bag, lunch bag or briefcase supports spontaneous healthy eating. Many of our food choices are spontaneous. By practicing this behavior you increase the odds your loved ones will munch on healthy snacks. Donate Your Time Our fast-paced, modern lifestyles can leave loved ones busy and overworked. A great way to lighten their load is to donate your time. In other words, offer to do a chore so they can take care of themselves. The free time they gain can be applied towards a variety of healthy behaviors - including relaxing - something we could all use more of. Stay Home One of the easiest ways to improve your diet is to eat at home. Numerous studies show that Americans consume more calories and salt and less fiber when they eat out. Eating at home is an easy way to cut calories and improve nutrition. By keeping your meals simple (such as sandwiches and a salad) you can save both calories and time.
Behind the epidemic of growing waistlines is another that gets little attention: the weakening of America. Starting in our 40s, we lose about ½ pound of muscle each year, and gain at least that much in fat; and once we reach the age of 50, muscle loss accelerates. This trend has become a major contributor to chronic illness and premature death in the United States. In 2008 the first ever Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans were issued to help us avoid the damaging effects of muscle loss. They recommend scientifically based physical activity to prevent and manage chronic illness. Since their release, fitness professionals have been using these guidelines to help people of all ages live healthy lifestyles. Despite the attention the guidelines have received, most Americans are still sitting on the sidelines. This is unfortunate given that we spend billions of dollars treating illnesses that could be prevented. In an attempt to reverse this trend, the Surgeon General has urged all Americans to make physical activity a daily priority. According to Dr. Steven Blair at the University of South Carolina, “As a treatment for chronic disease, physical activity produces significantly better results than drug therapy or surgery – yet costs much less.” In other words, adding physical activity to your lifestyle can save you money and improve your quality of life. Here’s what you need to know to start living healthier through increased physical activity: The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans make specific recommendations for both aerobic and resistance exercise (strength training) which includes engaging in both types of activity weekly. It's a new way of thinking for many Americans who are unfamiliar with the benefits of strength training; for those growing up in the 60s and 70s, strength training was viewed as unnecessary from a health standpoint. This mindset is evident when you consider the research and academic writings of the 60’s and 70’s. When Dr. Kenneth Cooper of the world-renowned Cooper Institute published his book Aerobics in 1968, he acknowledged that in spite of the progress that had been made in the field of exercise physiology, we still had a lot to learn. And learn we did -- the following two decades produced an avalanche of research that turned the field of exercise physiology upside down. An example of this learning curve is found in a book Dr. Cooper wrote 20 years later, The Strength Connection: How to Build Strength and Improve the Quality of Your Life. In sharp contrast to Aerobics,which focused exclusively on aerobic activities, The Strength Connection focused squarely on the health benefits of strength training! Despite the recognition of strength training as a vital component of recommended physical activity, many Americans still view it as an optional activity. At MEDFITNESS, strength training is the centerpiece of our program -- because strength training increases your ability to stay active and function independently, especially as you age. Research has shown the primary reason mature adults lose function and become less active is due to muscle loss. When you lose muscle, you lose strength; this cycle of muscle loss and inactivity is a major contributor to chronic illness and premature death in the U.S. Until recently, medical doctors did not fully appreciate the connection between muscle loss and inactivity, but much has been leaned in recent years. Research has revealed that muscle loss not only weakens muscles, it also lowers VO2 max -- the capacity of the body to use oxygen for the production of energy. This means that weak muscles not only produce less force, they are also less efficient at using oxygen. Both of these changes contribute to decreases in function and physical activity. In other words, the more muscle you lose, the more difficult it becomes to be physically active. An example of this connection can be seen in studies measuring walking speed and mortality (death) rates. Research has revealed that the slower you walk, the more likely you are to die! According to Michelle Eslami, MD, a geriatrician at UCLA Health System, “research has shown that increased walking speed is linked to longevity.”1 As surprising as this seems, it makes sense; muscle loss has long been linked to inactivity. Unfortunately, though Americans view muscle loss and slow walking as a normal part of aging. Perhaps the greatest challenge Americans face is their attitude. Most people assume that little can be done to prevent the downward spiral of muscle loss, and so end up suffering from diseases that could easily be prevented, or more successfully managed. According to Dr. Miriam Nelson, exercise scientist at Tufts University, “Muscle is the absolute centerpiece for being healthy, vital, and independent as we grow older.” Experts agree that adding a strength-training program to your lifestyle can reverse the metabolic aging associated with muscle loss. In just minutes a week you can build a strong, disease-resistant body that keeps you active and independent for years to come.
It’s been months since your last workout and your diet stinks. Even worse, the environment you live in makes it nearly impossible to live a healthy lifestyle. In recent years, America has been referred to as a paradise of energy conservation! We never need to run, rarely do we need to walk, and we can often sit for extended periods of time without ever having to move. In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that the number of Americans who engage in no physical activity has increased significantly in recent years. At the same time, the quality of our food supply continues to decline. According to Dr. Kelly Brownell, professor of psychology atYaleUniversity, “Americans live in a toxic food environment.” Dr. Brownell says that we are over-exposed to low nutrition, high- calorie foods and that the pressure to eat is enormous. High-calorie foods that provide little nutrition are aggressively marketed with no consideration for how this will impact the health habits of Americans. Despite these overwhelming odds, there is hope! Small changes can make a real difference with your health. Build Minutes, Not Miles Despite overwhelming evidence linking physical activity to better health, few Americans are embracing the advice to be more active. One of the most significant barriers reported is a lack of time. Unfortunately, most people believe that physical activity needs to be performed over long periods of time in order to be beneficial. Despite what most people believe, there is strong evidence linking short bouts of physical activity to better health. The American College of Sports Medicine, the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend approximately 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. They also acknowledge that dividing your physical activity into shorter bouts (three ten-minute walks versus one thirty-minute walk) provides the same health benefits as longer bouts. This is good news for those of you who are too busy to complete a full 30 minutes at one time. Therefore, in contrast to what most Americans think, it does make sense to build minutes, not miles. This means you should take advantage of the small calorie-burning opportunities you get throughout the day. Given that the real issue is compliance, I suggest customizing your approach to include both long and short bouts of physical activity. Simplifying your approach to daily physical activity can help you achieve the health benefits you’ve missing for years. By Richard J. Wolff, RD, LDN