Welcome to "52 Weeks to a Healthier You"....

Are you thinking about making changes in your life to become a healthier person but don't quite know how to get started? Perhaps your doctor has suggested eating healthier, exercising and losing weight, but it all seems so overwhelming. Many of us already know what we should be doing, but implementing all of those pieces of information can be quite a challenge. Too often we embark on a new diet or exercise plan only to give up after a few days or weeks because it seems too difficult. Well, worry no more. You have arrived at the ideal place to help you make those changes. We are going to develop new habits, one week at a time. Health, exercise, and nutritional goals have been broken down into small, manageable steps. Each week you will add one new habit and have seven full days to perfect it before moving on to the next one. This is not a traditional diet and exercise plan, but rather a journey towards a permanent healthy lifestyle. The steps may seem small at first, but collectively they add up to major improvements in one's overall well-being. In just 52 short weeks, you will be amazed and proud of the changes you have made. You will look back and see just how far you've come on your quest to be a healthier YOU. Now, scroll down in the archives to January 2011/Week 1 and let's get started.... Then, follow each week's tip to a healthier YOU!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Week 8 - Increase your water, your walk, and add a new healthy snack....

By now, after seven weeks of brand new habits, you are well on your way to a healthier lifestyle. You are hopefully feeling more energetic from your balanced, filling breakfasts and also realizing the effects of improved hydration.  And you should be feeling stronger from your daily 10-15 minute walks and perhaps a bit more virtuous from all those vegetables!  You're seeing fewer and fewer processed foods and more single-ingredient items in your pantry such as oatmeal, brown rice, beans, lentils, sweet potatoes, nuts, and perhaps even a canister of whey protein powder.  You have spent some time online and at the library or bookstore learning about resistance training and are more convinced than ever that the time is NOW to make meaningful exercise part of your lifestyle.  And with the addition of some calisthenics last week, you're remembering how much fun it is to move your body and get things going.  Are you feeling empowered and encouraged, like you really can make these changes and make them stick?

Experts tell us it takes 21 days to form a new habit so be patient and don't expect perfection all at once.  If you slip up, don't be too hard on yourself.  Just do what you can on this day and tomorrow you'll have a fresh new chance to try again.  We are on a year-long journey towards better health and it takes lots of practice to get it right.  Remember, we are striving for improvement, not perfection.  This week we will focus on three things (and don't worry, you're already a pro at two of them!)  We're going to increase the length of our daily walk by an additional 10-15 minutes and add two more glasses of water to our daily fluid intake.  Finally, we will be adding in a healthy snack, either before or after lunch.

Why the increase in our walk?  For starters, both the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that all healthy adults under age 65 do the following:

Do moderately intense cardio 30 minutes a day, five days a week
Do vigorously intense cardio 20 minutes a day, three days a week
Do 8 to 10 strength-training exercises, 8 to 12 repetitions of each exercise twice a week. 

For healthy adults over the age of 65, the recommendations are basically the same except the strength training recommendations are increased to 12-15 repetitions of each exercise, 2-3 days per week.  They also include this additional recommendation for seniors:

If you are at risk of falling, perform balance exercises
Have a physical activity plan. (1)

 It is important to note that the above recommendations are just the minimum. The ACSM and AHA both approach exercise from a "more is better" philosophy.  So, increasing our daily walk to 30 minutes* is really just the minimum daily movement our bodies need.  In the coming weeks and months we will be discovering even more ways to incorporate additional movement and activity into our daily routines.  For now, let's take another look at the ACSM's last recommendation:  Have a physical activity plan.  This is a very good piece of advice. I can't stress enough how important it is to schedule your exercise into your daily calendar.  When planning your weekly appointments, pencil-in your daily walks and your 2-3 resistance training sessions and calisthenics. Treat exercise just like an appointment -- an appointment with yourself.  It's that important!

With an increase in walking and increased exertion through beginning calisthenics and resistance training programs comes a need for additional hydration.  You are probably feeling thirstier and may already be drinking more water.  If so, terrific!  We want to add in two more 8-ounce glasses of water per day -- one at mid-morning and one at mid-afternoon.  Again, these are strategically timed to help decrease hunger as well as spaced throughout the day for steady hydration.  Water is necessary for every chemical reaction in the body, helps regulate body temperature, flushes out waste, and helps transport nutrients to all body tissues.  If you are not drinking enough water on a daily basis, you may experience headaches, fatigue and dry skin (2). So drink up!

This week, our brand new habit is to add in one healthy snack.  Pick the time of day when you are the hungriest between meals -- for some people it's around 10:00 in the morning, for others it's that late afternoon slump before dinner.  Many of us believe that we should stick to "three squares" a day and that snacking is somehow bad or a sign of weakness.  We are going to begin to retrain our thought processes and embrace the idea that snacking really is okay. The reality is, it only takes about 3 hours for your stomach to empty after each appropriately sized meal, so those first signs of hunger (such as a growling stomach!) are your body's best attempt to tell you that it's time to refuel.  Because we "feel" hunger in our stomachs, we overlook the fact that our brain is actually driving the hunger signals -- it is sending a powerful message that vital nutrients are running low and need to be replenished as quickly as possible. If nutrients from food are not made available in short order, the brain will simply send out another message to take them from the next best source:  the stored glycogen (energy) in your liver and muscles, and when that runs out it will begin to use protein from the muscles themselves.  In other words, your muscles are actually  "cannibalized" in order to fuel your brain!  Imagine, all your hard work exercising to build new muscles only to find that your brain is undoing all that work just to fuel itself.

A much better strategy is to go ahead and eat a balanced snack containing a sensible amount of calories.  It is not necessary to watch the clock and put off eating for a couple of hours until the next mealtime rolls around.  Too often, we ignore important hunger signals and convince ourselves that it is not "time" to eat.  But which do YOU think has a better idea of your true hunger -- your super-smart, highly intelligent brain, or the clock on the wall?! 

In future posts we will be examining ways to spread out our calories throughout the day in order to fuel our brain, muscles, and metabolism in the most efficient way.  For now, we will concentrate on adding just one healthy snack to our day.  Exactly what is a healthy snack?  It is helpful to view it more as a "mini-meal" -- it should be substantial enough to hold us over almost as long as breakfast or lunch.  That means it should be a balance of protein, carbs and fat and contain a significant enough amount of calories to keep us going for another 2-3 hours.  Ideally, this snack will be comprised of wholesome, unprocessed, mostly single-ingredient foods. Have you ever snacked on a package of cookies only to find you are ravenous 45 minutes later?  That's because cookies are high in carbs, sugar, and saturated or trans fats (not to mention high in calories) and low in protein, whole grains and healthy fats which take your body much longer to digest.  A more nutritious snack/mini-meal would look like this:

  • 1 oz. of unsalted nuts and a piece of fruit
  • An apple with 2 Tablespoons of natural peanut butter
  • A hard-boiled egg, 12 almonds and a piece of fruit
  • Light string cheese and veggies with hummus
  • 3-4 ozs tuna salad made with low fat mayo or pickle relish and 8 whole grain crackers
  • A smoothie made with whey protein, lowfat milk and frozen fruit
  •  1/2 of a deli turkey sandwich on whole grain bread and a piece of fruit
  • Greek yogurt with 1/4 cup granola
  • 1/2 cup cottage cheese with a piece of fresh fruit
For more delicious, healthy snack ideas, visit the Real Simple website.

This snack should be substantial enough (at least 200 calories) to "buy" you a couple of more hours of satiety and satisfaction until the next meal rolls around.  It's going to prevent you from being ravenously hungry and completely overeating at the next meal.  It will level out your blood sugar and keep your brain happy as a steady supply of nutrients keeps coursing through your bloodstream.  It's going to prevent wild cravings because it is balanced with protein, carbs and healthy fats which take your body hours to digest.  And best of all, you will stop watching the clock and eat this mini-meal when your brain and stomach signal that it's time.  Your body will begin to follow its instinctual cues to eat when you're hungry, and don't eat when you're not!

In future Healthy Tips, we will  learn to estimate our basal metabolic rate, calculate our total daily caloric needs, and plan nutritional goals based on these numbers.  But for now, just concentrate on choosing fresh, wholesome foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.  Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, low fat dairy products, and lean meats fit the bill perfectly.  Plan your snack ahead of time and carry it with you to work, when you are shopping, running errands, etc.  A mini cooler is helpful for items that need to be kept cold.  Always have a portable, healthy choice so you will not be forced to eat processed vending machine snacks or high-calorie, nutrient-poor choices at the mall.  Don't get caught without that healthy snack!

"If you add a little to a little and do this often, soon the little will become great."
             ~ Hesiod

1. From the  ACSM Physical Activity & Public Health Guidelines
2. From The RealAge Diet by Michael F. Roizen, M.D.

*Note:  If you are unable to find a 30-minute block of time for your walk, you can break it into two 15-minute walks or even three 10-minute walks.  The cumulative benefit still counts -- the most important thing is getting in the minimum amount of activity.

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