It is easier said than done to eat healthy and work out! For some, it is due to lack of motivation, time, demanding jobs, or even knowing where to start from a nutrition standpoint. When deciding on becoming healthier, you need to determine what the best fit is for you. It is important to take into consideration any pre-existing health conditions, current lifestyle, current eating habits, your availability to work out, meal prep, and support systems. Additionally, I feel strongly about the idea of involving your primary care provider (PCP). This is important for those with other medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, autoimmune, planning to get pregnant, currently pregnant, and those that are breastfeeding. Your PCP can provide you with great resources to help your journey along the way such as dieticians, bariatric specialists, diabetes educators, cardiac specialists, lactation consultants, and therapists. All of these aspects are included in living a healthy lifestyle and each one can affect one another. For example, living a healthy lifestyle can be rather challenging for someone with severe anxiety and depression. Speaking with a provider or a therapist can help guide these individuals through this process, while keeping their mental state functioning at an optimal level. Everything we do in life builds off of each other, and when a piece is missing it creates a cascading chain of events that may be damaging to one's physical or mental being.
We are all born with a specific genetic makeup. Unfortunately, we have no control over some of these genes. For instance, our mothers or fathers may have a history of diabetes and heart disease. We then carry these risks with us throughout our lives whether we like it or not. These are called non-modifiable risk factors. Additional non-modifiable risk factors include ethnicity, race, and age. There are also modifiable risk factors which include smoking, weight, alcohol consumption, physical activity, and healthy eating. When looking at death rates amongst Americans, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Although having a family history of heart disease is considered non-modifiable, there are many factors that come into play to reduce your chances of developing heart disease. For example, managing one's weight, eating healthier whole foods that are low in sodium, increasing one’s physical activities, and quitting smoking (Nystoriak and Bhatnagar 2018).
An article written by Columbia University researchers’ Heather Seid and Michael Rosenbaum reviews weight management. They state that in 2015 through 2016 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 39.8 percent of adult Americans had a body mass index (BMI) over 30 Kg/m², which means that those individuals are in the obese category (Seid and Rosenbaum2019). Why are so many Americans obese? As mentioned in previous blogs, the American diet consists of mostly carbohydrates. When we consume a large carbohydrate dietary intake, insulin increases the cellular uptake of glucose and fatty acids. As a result of this carbohydrate diet the lipogenesis is enhanced, which means fat is stored. So, for those with a sedentary lifestyle, energy is simply not being expended.
Risk factors that we have control over right now, and at any time in our life, would be to eat healthier, increase our physical activity, and eliminate tobacco and alcohol. I think we all focus so much on the excuses right off the bat, when it comes to making these types of changes. Those excuses can sound something along the lines of not having enough time, being out of shape, not having enough money for whole foods, working long hours, it's a habit and you can’t stop, or you are addicted. I get it, trust me, I’ve lived the life of excuses too! As I had mentioned before, about starting my journey in becoming healthier, I needed to have a talk with myself. A talk that I had been avoiding for some time. A talk that was rather harsh and not so pretty. It literally is the hardest conversation that we will ever have. It is a time that we have to sit and tell ourselves all of the things we are doing wrong, the things that make us weak, and what has made us become this unhealthy person. I am telling you from my personal opinion that conversation was the best thing I have ever done. It all comes down to how much control do you want over your life right now as well as your future!
You may ask yourself the following questions. Why do I need to exercise? What does it do to my body other than help expend calories? Having a healthy heart is crucial for a healthy long life. When we have risk factors, or heart disease, improving those risks is essential. Exercising regularly helps the heart obtain optimal blood flow. With optimal blood flow there is a decreased risk of blockages and fatty deposits. The heart has the ability to push out more blood with every single beat of our hearts which in return alleviates any type of stress on the other surrounding cardiovascular arteries. As a result of better blood flow and lack of stress on these arteries we reduce our chances of atrial fibrillation, strokes, heart attacks, or ischemic changes. By helping our arteries, we also improve our bad and good cholesterol. Along with the pathological changes physical activity does to our bodies it also improves our self-esteem (Casey 2018). Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a five-tier hierarchy model describing self-fulfillment, psychological, and basic needs for humans. Self-esteem and self-actualization are at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. These psychological needs are achieved when we feel as though we have met our full potential and are feeling accomplished.
Physical activity does not only benefit your heart health, but it also aids in improving sleep patterns, balance, and joint mobility. Being physically active prevents the risk of bone fractures and wasting of muscles which in turn eliminates the risk of falls and reduces pain of pre-existing arthritis. Physical activity has also been known to improve mental and cognitive health. Personally, I think one of the most important things is mental and cognitive health (About Physical Activity 2020).
Regular, moderate, exercise is considered to be a total of one hundred and fifty minutes a week. Which in reality is thirty minutes a day for five days a week. Or it would be a total of seventy-five minutes of high-intensity exercise for a week. Believe it or not, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that only 21 percent of Americans meet these guidelines. What counts for moderate and high-intensity exercises as well as other additional exercises such as weight training? Moderate exercising is when you work hard enough to get your heart rate up to allow your body to start sweating while being aerobic, which means you are using oxygen and able to perform this activity over a longer period of time. Moderate exercise activities would include walking fast, water aerobics, or riding a bike. Vigorous aerobic activities involve the act of getting your heart rate up much higher than moderate activity. You may not be able to sustain the activity as long at these higher heart rates. This would include a fast bike ride with hills and intervals, running, or swimming laps in a pool. Comparing vigorous activities to muscle strength this would include using weights, body weight, or resistance bands. Then using those muscle strengthening tools to perform an exercise for a specific amount of repetitions and sets consistently throughout the week (About Physical Activity 2020).
If working out is new to you then start off small. Go outside and walk for thirty minutes a day. This can be done over a lunch break, early morning, or after work. Also, you can make it a point to walk your dog more if you have one. Dogs deserve the exercise just as much as we do to keep them healthy and fit. This is thirty minutes out of your day, which is not a lot. If walking is not challenging enough for you, then try doing a light jog or walking and running intervals for thirty minutes. Use the steps rather than the elevators, or if the place you are going to is in walking distance then walk don’t drive. These little changes make a difference and over time, with consistency, it becomes easier. Then you can challenge yourself by doing even more exercises or activities that are more vigorous. Switching to a healthy lifestyle is not just doing one healthy thing and calling it a day. This lifestyle is about the consistency of our actions that then improve our overall health for a longer, happier, and healthier life!
As far as eating healthier food we need to realize that chips, pretzels, cakes, and pizza should not be regularly consumed. We need to stop being lazy and taking the easy way out. Stop using excuses for eating these things because we are stressed and had a bad week at work. Instead we should be rewarding our bodies and treating them like we only have one life to live. Do not buy the junk at the grocery store! That is my first rule of thumb that I learned over my weight loss journey. If it is not in the house, it won't be consumed regularly. I promise you the money you save from not buying all the snacks you can use towards the whole foods your body needs as fuel to run efficiently. These whole foods should consist of lean proteins, omega fatty acids, or a balanced amount of fruits and vegetables. Eating healthy does not mean you completely cut carbohydrates out. Personally, I feel amazing on the ketogenic diet it works for me and it is what keeps me disciplined. Again, the ketogenic diet is not for everyone. Balancing your portions and eliminating the bad habits will help lead you to a healthier lifestyle. Look for more complex carbohydrates when you are out shopping or out to eat such as sweet potatoes, whole wheat, quinoa, or brown rice. Complex carbohydrates, unlike simple carbohydrates, are made of long chain molecules which means they take longer to be broken down. Eating Complex carbohydrates means you should be able to sustain longer periods in between your meals, and you won't need as much to be full. The fibrous contents amongst these complex carbohydrates do not keep you hanging with that “need to continue to eat” feeling inside.
Keep in mind that a healthy lifestyle and a diet are two different things. Being on a diet, in my opinion, is having a specific set goal for a specific amount of time to reach that goal. Typically, being on a diet means to involve “restrictions”. A healthier lifestyle is making better and healthier choices in order for you to become a better individual. Living a healthy lifestyle is not short-term. This lifelong decision is intended to better our bodies, our minds, and to live a healthy life. This all may sound so simple and redundant. However, if it were easy then we would all be doing it, and we wouldn’t see such high death rates from heart disease and other comorbidities.
Remember, adopting a healthy lifestyle is a lifelong task that we should all strive to practice every single day. Do it for yourself, your significant other, your children, your siblings, and close friends!
As I mentioned above, it is very important to consult with your PCP if you have any existing health conditions before adopting significant changes. Having your PCP involved in these situations can be very helpful to you and your health!
“About Physical Activity.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department
of Health & Human Services, 10 Apr. 2020,
Casey, C., M.D. 2018. “7 Ways Your Heart Benefits From Exercise.” Edward-Elmhurst
Nystoriak, M. A., and Bhatnagar, A. 2018. “Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of
Exercise.” Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, September 28.
Seid, H., and Rosenbaum, M. 2019. “Low Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets: What We
Don't Know and Why we Should Know It.” Nutrients, November 12.