The key to leading a healthy lifestyle is simple: eat a balanced diet and exercise.
But as a registered dietitian, I understand that marrying these two things is more of an aspiration than a reality. Unfortunately, of the two, exercise is often found at the bottom of our list of priorities. And it is this disconnect that is driving poor health in our community.
“The Weight of the Nation,” a four-part HBO documentary that aired last week, took on the issue of Americans’ expanding waistlines from the angle of what’s in our refrigerators and pantries. The series focused heavily on certain foods and beverages as a reason for America’s weight problem, followed by lack of exercise.
The truth of the matter is studies show that calorie balance – that is, equalizing our food and drink consumption with calories burned through physical activity – is what truly makes the difference.
It’s well known that our physical environment also contributes to our ability to be active and healthy. Those living in safe, walkable communities with playgrounds, trails and parks are more likely to be active than those without that access.
Here in Southern California we spend more time behind the wheel than people in other regions of the U.S. where walking and biking are more common.
So even if we’re practicing the common-sense principle of eating in moderation, it’s difficult to reach optimal health if you live a mostly inactive lifestyle.
The current physical activity guidelines
for Americans, set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recommend adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Currently, only about half of Los Angeles County adults meet these physical activity recommendations.
Here’s what you can do to change that. With summer not too far off, you will likely find yourself outdoors more often because of warmer weather. Take advantage of the nice weather and engage in a few of these fun outdoor activities to help boost your fitness level:
Biking: Forget the sweaty cycling class at the gym. Biking is an enjoyable way to get around your neighborhood or spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Hiking: Head to the mountains or your local park for a leisurely stroll. Go at a pace that works for you.
Boot camp: These group exercise classes that focus on building strength and fitness often meet in parks and at the beach.
Walking: One of the simpler exercise habits to get going, walking is beneficial for weight management and lowering blood pressure.
Running: Whether you want to take a jog around the block or train for a marathon, running can be accessible to people of varied fitness levels.
Swimming: Jump into a pool or the ocean and work on your backstroke. If you are not a strong swimmer, consider taking lessons or a water aerobics class.
In addition to these activities, there are a lot of other simple ways we can integrate more activity into our daily routine without it feeling like a chore.
For example, walk to the store instead of driving, take the stairs instead of the elevator and do push-ups during television commercials. Set modest goals and be accountable for them. Find a friend or two to join you to help keep each other motivated.
Finally, be sure to stay hydrated when engaging in exercise, especially in the heat. The good news is you don’t have to stick to just plain water because all beverages hydrate – even those with caffeine such as coffee, tea and diet soda.
These are just a few ideas to help jump-start your exercise routine or bump up the intensity and frequency of your current one (always consult your physician if you have questions).
Keeping an eye on your health doesn’t have to be extreme. Just make sure that your recipe for fitness includes equal parts balanced diet and exercise. That can take you, and our community, a long way toward winning the battle with weight.
LeeAnn Weintraub, M.P.H., R.D., can be reached at RD@halfacup.com.
- ^ RD@halfacup.com (www.dailynews.com)
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