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The Gift of a Healthy Lifestyle

Dr. Luis Guzman Weight Management As Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve draw near, the majority of us will look forward to a well-deserved time of relaxation and quality time with family and loved ones.
The thought of a house filled with the aroma of a large turkey roasting in the oven, delicious side dishes and salads, warm beverages and sweet desserts are enough to get those salivary glands working over-time.
Many of us will enjoy watching football on TV and catching up with the busy lives of our friends and that uncle or aunt whom we have not seen or heard from in the past 11 months and 29 days.
But then comes January.
The scale is merciless and will gladly remind you as soon as you place your bare feet on it that the extra piece of delicious pie or the one too many snacks have added a few extra pounds to your body. The bad experience at the scale, combined with the bitter realization that your clothes are fitting tighter than before, are enough to take you to the next step of the cycle… the New Year’s Resolution!
Gyms and community parks will be packed with adults running and jumping their guilty conscience away while eating carrots and drinking water. Their well-meaning exercise routines and diets gradually fizzle by mid-March. The cycle will repeat next year, or sooner, if an invitation to a wedding reminds you that you have to fit into your tux or dress hanging in your closet. It is time to break the cycle!

The consequences of a sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet

A poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk for the following medical conditions:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Some types of cancer
  • Osteoporosis

Factors that affect your diet and exercise

To make the right choices when you eat or to know how to move your body in an effective manner can be very confusing and overwhelming. There are several factors that affect your choices of foods and exercise. As a physician, I have heard many reasons from my patients for placing diet and exercise as a low priority in their daily routines. This a list of the more common reasons and misconceptions:

  • No time to exercise
  • Exercise can cause injuries
  • Healthy foods are too expensive
  • Food labels are confusing
  • The amount of movement at work is enough
  • Exercise is only for younger people
  • Diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and obesity are unavoidable and are a part of getting older

Healthy tips and the benefits of making small changes in your diet and exercise

Exercise

The purpose of this article is not only to provide awareness of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet, but to also provide important information and guidance to improve your health through better choices. It is not necessary to live in a gym or to only eat insipid foods to improve your health. You can exercise in the comfort of your home or in the neighborhood park.According to the American Heart Association (AHA), for overall cardiovascular health, you need at least 30 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise at least 5 times per week. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), moderate intensity exercise is defined as enough activity to burn 3.5 to 7 calories per minute. This is the equivalent of brisk walking, riding a bike on level ground with some small hills, water aerobics, playing Frisbee, playing doubles tennis, yoga, and other daily activities like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, pushing a lawnmower, ballroom dancing, actively playing with children, shoveling.

OR

For your overall cardiovascular health, you can also perform vigorous aerobic exercise for 25 minutes per day at least 3 times per week. Vigorous aerobic exercise is a type of activity that will cause you to breathe hard and fast, as well as a substantial increase in heart rate. Some examples of vigorous aerobic exercise are: jogging or running, swimming laps, riding a bike fast or on hills, playing singles tennis, playing basketball or soccer.
For additional benefits, include additional minutes in your exercise routine for strength exercises with weights. These exercises include between 1 to 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions of sit-ups, push-ups, arm curls, pull-ups, leg lunges.
It is important that you understand that endurance will gradually develop over time as long as you remain constant and determined in your efforts. Fitting 25 to 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise along with a few extra minutes of strength exercise 3-5 times per week is certainly something most people can fit in their schedules.

The Mayo Clinic lists benefits of exercising regularly which include:

  • a) It controls your weight because you burn calories.
  • b) It improves/prevents diseases by increasing the “good cholesterol” (HDL) and decreases triglycerides, which decreases the risk of developing blood clots that can cause heart attacks or strokes. As mentioned above, it will improve/prevent the development of high blood pressure, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, osteoporosis, certain types of cancer, depression, and many others.
  • c) It improves your mood through many changes in your body. It can improve depression and anxiety by releasing feel-good brain chemicals (endorphins, neurotransmitters). It also reduces immune system chemicals. Exercise also increases body temperature which appears to have a calming effect.

Diet

Many suggestions have been made over the years about healthy diets and food pyramids. However, there have been flaws and outdated recommendations, which have led to changes in the guidelines for a healthy diet. The common components to all these recommendations include:

  • Eat a high amount of fruits and vegetables (approximately 50% of your daily food intake)
  • Eat whole grains (brown rice, whole-grain pasta, whole wheat bread should represent 25% of your daily food intake)
  • Eat healthy proteins (fish, poultry, beans, and nuts should represent 25% of your daily food intake)
  • Consume an adequate amount of water (2-3 liters per day for an average adult)
  • Drink 1-2 servings of low-fat dairy products per day
  • Reduce the amount of processed foods
  • Limit red meats and cheese
  • Limit refined grains (white rice and white bread)

The benefits of a healthy diet are similar to those of routine exercise with the addition of regular bowel habits reducing the risk of diverticulosis. Another additional benefit is an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals.

Final recommendations

The importance of a healthy diet and exercise is vital. Adopting healthy habits will prolong and improve your quality of life. As a physician, I had mentioned earlier in this article that I had heard many excuses from my patients not to exercise which caused their overall health downfall. Conversely, I have also witnessed the amazing benefits of my patients exercising routinely and improving their diet. I have 3 patients who have each lost over 30 pounds in less than 6 months. They are excited to experience a burst of energy. Their spouses and other family members have noticed a remarkable improvement in their mood and confidence. These outstanding patients are happy to go shopping for a whole new wardrobe. Their medical records registered a constant decrease in their blood pressure.

The road to health is not easy. It requires discipline, patience, and perseverance, but the rewards are countless and almost immediate. In order for my patients to maintain this new lifestyle, I always remind them that it is ok for them to indulge in a guilty meal every now and then. Another added benefit to your change in diet and exercise is that your habits will most likely be adopted by your loved ones. I challenge you to lead by example by making changes in what you eat and getting your body into motion.

References
1. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment 2014
Maxine Papadakis, MD and Stephen McPhee, MD
53rd edition. Page 12-14

2. Center for Disease Control – Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Recommendations Based on the 2008 Physical Activity Guideline

3. Mayo Clinic – Exercise: 7 Benefits of regular physical activity
Mayo Clinic Staff February, 2014

4. Harvard University School of Public Health
Food Pyramids and Plates: What should you really eat?