Health & Fitness
Everyone knows there is a huge correlation between physical health and emotional well-being. Taking charge of our overall health and fitness is something we can do as individuals to dramatically improve our mental health.
The Benefits of Exercise
Expends energy, creating an energy deficit
Physical activity creates a calorie deficit, making it useful for weight control. Exercise prevents a reduction in metabolic rate that normally occurs when sedentary (non-exercising) individuals lose weight by dieting alone.
Improves body composition, especially a reduction in visceral fat (belly fat), even if there is minimal change in body weight
Aerobic exercise is the best technique to burn off that gut fat.
Improves sensitivity of the physiological satiety system
In other words, exercise trains your body to get better at telling you when you’ve eaten enough. It helps regulate your appetite.
Helps reduce food cravings in most individuals
Reduces stress and anxiety
Regular physical activity increases our ability to handle stress. It enhances the body’s ability to respond to physiological challenges, thus creating a buffer against the toxic effects of chronic stress.
Staves off food addiction
Exercise causes changes in our brain and body’s chemical systems, increasing dopamine levels in brain regions associated with addictive disorders and improving executive function and inhibition.
Improves mood; treats and prevents depression
Research shows that even a single “dose” of exercise can increase positive emotions relating to subjective well-being and vigor.
Improves sleep quality
Improves overall brain health
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How To Exercise
For those not used to engaging in regular exercise, getting started can be a challenge. A good approach when starting is adopting the mindset that you are developing and adding a new and permanent element to your lifestyle with the purpose being an overall increase in your quality of life and sense of well-being.
*You should always check with your doctor before starting any new fitness program.*
- Commit to it.
- Develop a plan. Your exercise plan should be flexible over time allowing you to alter it as needed to fit your preferences and schedule.
- Blend equal parts cardio and strength work.
- Make it fun and varied. Personalize your plan. Do what you enjoy (or at least what you don’t hate). Be flexible.
- Make time for it. Don’t make excuses, just get it done. Plan for it. Prioritize it.
- Track it and monitor your personal fitness progress.
Types of plans
Your plan will only work for you if you are invested in it. Some people create their own plans from scratch. Others prefer prepackaged workout plans available on DVD or online. Some like to go to the gym and/or they hire a personal trainer.
Exercise can be any form of movement. Of course the more you move, the greater the benefit. Here are some suggestions:
- Try to start with 30 minutes of exercise at least three days a week. Over time try to increase the frequency and duration of the exercise. 60 minutes a day at six days a week is an excellent goal. But remember that any amount of exercise is better than none – research shows that even 10 minutes a day is beneficial!
- If you like structure, try a prepackaged plan such as P90X or Insanity. (I would not encourage you to follow these program’s diet plans unless you just really want to. They are too restrictive and most people get discouraged on such diets. See tips for eating in our eating page). But don’t get trapped thinking you have to follow the plans exactly. If your preference or schedule requires you to modify the plan, do so. I know lots of people who bought these plans and only used them a week or two, then quit exercising altogether because they became discouraged by either the plans intensity or the rigidity of its schedule. PACE YOURSELF. Alter the plan to suit your preferences. Click to check out P90X and Insanity.
- Use a heart monitor watch. You’ll need one with a chest-strap transmitter and can get one for 50 to 100 dollars. This device allows you to monitor several aspects of your workout including heart rate and calories burned. Figure out what your heart rate “zone” should be for your workouts.
- Engage in “Effort-Driven Rewards Circuit” activities. These are activities that give you some sort of payoff or reward at the end (i.e. – gardening, building a deck). So, run a 10k and get a t-shirt. Measure your activities and pat yourself on the back for noted improvements. Research shows that movement, especially movement that leads to meaningful outcomes, plays a key role in preventing the onset of and building resilience against depression and other emotional disorders.
- Track your Progress! This is VERY important. Keep a workout notebook or, better yet, set up a myfitnesspal.com account and use it daily (I use both the myfitnesspal and a notebook). Myfittnesspal.com is a free application that you can access via your computer or phone that allows you to track your caloric intake and output. You start by opening an account and imputing your weight, age, gender, height and weight loss goal in pounds/week, and it tells you how many calories to eat each day. Then you simply inter in your daily food and exercise – and the more you exercise the more you get to eat! Myfitnesspal is simple, free and very easy to use. Click to check out myfitnesspal.com
- Use technology. Technology is part of the problem for a lot of people. They get addicted to it and become sedentary. But there is helpful technology for fitness. Get a hand-held GPS to track mileage for walks/runs/hikes. Buy a pedometer to count your steps ($5 to $10 at Wal-Mart). Use myfitnesspal.com or similar website. Use the fitness options on your Wii.
- Join a gym that is located between your home and job then remember to visit it.
- Take a fitness class.
- Get outside and experience nature. More and more research is being done that shows the positive effects of playing in nature (i.e. hiking, kayaking) on the mind and body. I just read an article about some current research that’s suggesting that backpacking/camping in the back woods makes people smarter! So get outside!
- Do Yoga.
- Learn to love to sweat.
Eating To Lose Weight
Almost 70% of Americans are overweight, and 30% are medically obese. Are your one of these?
Losing weight is possible for 99% of overweight individuals (only 1% of overweight and obese individuals have a medical condition that makes it virtually impossible to lose weight). While some of us are genetically predisposed to store more fat than others, almost everyone is capable of achieving a healthy weight!
There is only one sure way to lose weight and keep it off – a permanent change in lifestyle. Dieting does not work!
All the popular commercial and fad diets out there serve only one purpose – to make money for the people marketing them. Sure, you’ll lose weight on Atkins or South Beach, but most people don’t keep the weight off. These diets are overly restrictive and unsustainable for most people. They are often gimmicky and based on junk science. How can you spot one of these “diets?” You can follow the Food and Nutrition Science Alliances “Ten Red Flags of Junk Science”:
Recommendations that promise a quick fix.
- Dire warnings of danger from a single product or regimen.
- Claims that sound too good to be true.
- Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex scientific study.
- Recommendations [to change your behavior or diet] based on a single study.
- Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
- Lists of “good” and “bad” foods.
- Recommendations made to help sell a product.
- Recommendations based on studies published without peer review.
- Recommendations from studies that ignore difficulties among individuals or groups
I had a nutritionist tell me once, “If you want to be more nutritionally fit, eat better food, but if you want to lose weight, all you have to do is eat fewer calories.” You can eat anything you want and lose weight, as long as you are eating less of it than you were before.
How to Eat
Follow Intuitive Eating Principles:
- Reject the diet mentality
- Honor your hunger
- Make peace with food
- Challenge the food police
- Respect your fullness
- Discover the satisfaction factor
- Honor your feelings without using food
- Respect your body and honor your genetic blueprint
- EXERCISE – feel the difference
Honor your health – gentle nutrition
Mindful Eating: eating with the awareness of the experience of eating. Mindful eating is being present, moment by moment, for each sensation that occurs during eating i.e. tasting, savoring, swallowing. To eat mindfully you need to slow down, pause between bites, chew your food longer and avoid distractions like TV.
Avoid late night snacks – they can disrupt your sleeping patterns.
The 80% rule – Choose nourishing foods 80% of the time, eat until you are 80% full.
Eat some protein for breakfast.
Eat throughout the day – eat every 3-5 hours. Carry snacks in your car and your bag.
Drink water instead of soft drinks.
Take fish oil regularly (Omega-3 fatty acid) – The brain and body health benefits are potentially enormous.
Drink coffee. (You don’t actually have to do this one – I just really like coffee)
How to Start Your Weight Loss Odyssey
Before making any changes in you eating, you should baseline your current eating patterns. This requires a strict accounting of your daily caloric intake. You will need to write down everything you eat onto a food log and calculate calories. You can use a notebook and a calorie calculation reference book or website (such as calorieking.com). Or better yet, set up a myfitnesspal.com account and use it daily. Myfittnesspal.com is a free application that you can access via your computer or phone that allows you to track your caloric intake and output. You start by opening an account and imputing your weight, age, gender, height and weight loss goal in pounds/week, and it tells you how many calories to eat each day. Then you simply inter in your daily food and exercise – and the more you exercise the more you get to eat! Myfitnesspal is simple, free and very easy to use. Track your calories for one month to get a good idea of your average caloric intake.
Set a reasonable weight loss goal. Reasonable a means slow and steady weight loss with a weight goal of somewhere in the “normal” BMI (body mass index) range. A healthy BMI is between 20 and 25. You can use an online BMI calculator to determine your current ant target BMIs. (http://www.bmi-calculator.net )
After you have baselined your caloric intake, start your program. Reduce your caloric intake moderately (10-20%). Myfitnesspal.com will actually calculate your calorie goal for you based on how much weight you tell it you want to lose per week (don’t try for any more than ½ lb/week – slow and steady is the key here!) You may have to tweak the calorie amount a little based on individual differences, but I’ve found myfitnesspal to be fairly accurate for most people. Record your food intake accurately!
Weigh yourself daily, same time each day, and record it. You can monitor your weight at myfitnesspal.com. Don’t worry about minor ups and downs with weight – its long term progress you should be concerned with.
Try to stay close to the daily caloric intake goal you set for yourself. However, avoid the temptation to get obsessive! If you go to wedding or party or something and consume 10 million calories, don’t punish yourself, just get back on track the next day.
Exercise. The more you exercise the more you get to eat. And the documented mind and body benefits of exercise are amazing. You’ll lose weight a lot faster if you exercise.
Keep it simple! I suggested to an overweight adolescent client of mine that he open a myfitnesspal.com account to help him lose weight. All I suggested he do was to decrease his caloric intake a little bit and increase his exercise. He came to see me eight or nine months later. He seemed much taller and I assumed he’d had a growth spurt. I had completely forgotten that I’d suggested myfitnesspal to him until ha said to me, at the end of our session, “by the way, remember the myfitness pal you told me about? I’ve been doing it for the past year and I’ve lost 75 pounds.” I was blown away by his success but I was not surprised. He followed a few simple steps and found success. No diet, just a simple change in lifestyle.
If you feel that you would benefit from social reinforcement, join a Weight Watchers group.
*You should always check with your doctor before starting any new fitness program.*