Health & Fitness

15 steps toward a healthier you

If you’re forever making — and breaking — the same New Year’s healthy resolutions, maybe it’s time to plot a different course for 2015.

Only you know what’s most important to you. To help you start thinking about meaningful goals, we’ve rounded up some expert advice on the smartest ways to tackle three popular areas for self-improvement: weight loss, fitness and general health. Pick what appeals most, adapt it to work best for you, and keep at it until it’s a natural part of your life.

Then consider trying another. Or not. It’s all up to you.

WEIGHT LOSS

In giving workshops and interviews about the psychology of eating and weight management, I find that most people know that dieting doesn’t work. But many think that they have no other alternative. Or maybe they’ve heard about making lifestyle changes for permanent weight control, but they don’t know exactly what that means.

Most everyone I speak with also knows about the many health consequences of obesity: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, joint pain and breathing problems, to name a few. But many lose sight of the fact that it’s never too late to enjoy the benefits that come with losing the extra pounds. Not only can you improve your health, you also can address those so-called inevitable problems of aging, such as poor posture, painful joints and decreased mobility.

But, in order to enjoy that kind of future, you have to develop and maintain a lifestyle of health, which includes managing a healthy weight.

Here, then, are the five best things you can do to manage your weight in 2015 and beyond:

1. Kick the fad or rigid diet habit and embrace whole foods.

Don’t give control over what you eat to someone or something (like the fast-food industry) that doesn’t have your best interests in mind. You are the only person who can best take care of you. If rigid diets and processed foods could help you lose weight, they would have done so by now. Let them go forever and get down to the business of eating real food that looks good and is packed with health benefits.

2. Strive to manage your weight for the sake of your health, not your appearance.

If health is your focus, you'll want to exercise and eat well all the time, not just for some special occasion. Set your sights on health and it will remain an incentive that will last a lifetime. In addition, by doing so, you'll look your best at any age.

3. Manage chronic stress.

Stress will be around all your life. It affects your weight, your health and, consequently, how you age, so learning to manage it has far-reaching benefits. Discover where your chronic stress is coming from. Is it your insistence that there be perfection in your life? Perhaps you’re in a toxic relationship that is affecting your health and happiness? Are you trying to do too much? Zero in on the killer stressors and make changes.

4. Banish negative, all-or-nothing thinking.

Successful weight management requires a mentality that’s flexible so that you can problem-solve when stumbling blocks come along. It requires a mentality that’s accepting so that when you make a mistake you can move on without piling on the guilt. It requires a mentality of hope so that you don’t get bogged down by frustrations. And it requires a light and positive approach to life so you can get enjoyment out of each small achievement along the way, rather that postponing pleasure until you reach some far-off goal. Those small victories will help you stay motivated.

5. Make yourself your priority.

People tend to behave in ways that are consistent with their self-image. So, a person who doesn’t believe they matter is likely to put themselves low on their list of priorities — maybe even below the laundry. No matter how much you want to lose weight, putting yourself last means you won’t take all the steps needed to reach your goal.

Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management.

FITNESS

People love to make New Year’s fitness resolutions. But though many may work hard for two or three weeks, maybe even a month, most are back to their old sedentary routine by Valentine’s Day.

“That’s because they try to do too much too fast,” said personal trainer Andre Hudson. “Fitness is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Hudson built his business by helping elite high school and college football players shave tenths of seconds off their 40- yard-dash times. Small, incremental improvements over the long haul are the keys to good health. “You have got to take baby steps,” said the 40-year-old owner of Pro Builder Fitness. (Check out his work at probuilderfitness.com.) “And you have got to take them every day.”

Here are his five top tips to help you get the jump on 2015:

1. Take the stairs. It is not as expensive as joining a gym or as time consuming as training for a triathlon, but over time, this little life change could pay big dividends. For many people, the biggest challenge will be finding stairs to climb. Hudson likes to run bleachers, but not everyone has access to a football stadium.

“If you work on the upper floor of an office building, you might start with one trip up and one trip down your first day,” he said. “Make sure you go up and down to work different sets of muscles.”

Keep track of how many flights you climb so you can add more every day. Quicken the pace if you want to increase your heart rate. “And if you want to work those glutes, skip a step,” he added. “You will feel the burn.”

2. Run a 5K. Most elite athletes are goal oriented. While you may not strive to run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash, you might dream of finishing a 3.1-mile race in 30 minutes or less. Having a goal will keep you on the path to total fitness.

“I try to run a race every three months or so,” Hudson said.“I’m not looking to win. It just gives me something to look forward to.” If you are starting from scratch, just walk. Then, as your fitness level progresses, alternate walking and fast walking, then running. “Give yourself something to shoot for,” he added. “You will be glad you did after you cross that finish line.”

3. Learn to jump rope. There’s a reason why every boxing movie ever made shows an aspiring champion jumping rope. “You won’t find a better total body workout,” Hudson said. “It works your heart, upper body and legs … it’s old school.” Jump ropes are inexpensive — $10 to $20 — and portable. “All you need is a small space and you’re set to go.” An added plus: the cool factor. “Learn to do it well and people will want to watch,” Hudson said.

4. Get outside. Open the door and go for a walk. “The first step is always the hardest,” Hudson said.“You have to get off the couch and get the blood pumping.” Start off walking a mile. When you master that distance, walk faster, then longer. “The great thing is that you are outdoors,” Hudson said. “While you are out there you will see friends, neighbors and people doing all sorts of things.” Maybe you'll decide to try inline skating, standup paddleboarding or tai chi.

5. Pump iron. Muscle burns more calories than fat. The best way to build muscle is to pump iron — and you may not need much of it to help you tone and build muscle. While some people like to lift weights while watching television, Hudson recommends finding a quiet place where you can focus on form. “It pays to hire a trainer and learn the basics,” he said.“Once you know the basic technique, you can lift on your own.” But don’t get hung up on how much you’re lifting. Just be consistent. “Something is always better than nothing,” he added.

GENERAL HEALTH

Losing weight and getting fit may top many lists of New Year’s resolutions, but good overall health is key to achieving those objectives — and many more. We spoke with Dr. Richard Roetzheim, chairman of the department of family medicine at USF Health, to get his five top tips to follow for better general health.

1. If you’re a smoker, quit. Tobacco use affects so many organs and functions in the body that dumping cigarettes will provide a multitude of benefits. If quitting a decades-old habit seems too daunting, “at least make an attempt to quit,” he said. And since studies show that people who accept help are more successful quitters, reach out to support groups, websites, phone help lines or your family doctor. Free resources from the state Department of Health are available at tobaccofreeflorida.com.

2. Cut back on alcohol. You might think that nightcap relaxes you, but too much alcohol disturbs sleep, work productivity and relationships. It increases risk for several cancers and worsens high blood pressure, liver and pancreas disease. How much is too much? “More than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women,” Roetzheim said. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of the hard stuff. And, no, it’s not a good idea to save up and consume a week’s worth of alcohol in one night. That’s a binge. Get help at toll-free 800- 662- 4357.

3. Get a checkup. “Many diseases develop silently,” said Roetzheim, who advocates an annual checkup for those over 40. The doctor will check your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and body mass index, and will discuss whether you need cancer screenings such as a mammogram, a skin cancer check or colonoscopy. You may also need vaccines (tetanus, flu, pneumonia) or booster shots (whooping cough), especially if you’re going to be around newborns and infants who haven’t received their full schedule of vaccines. After 26 years in primary care medicine, Roetzheim says it’s true that many men, in particular, take better care of their car or lawn than their health. “You may feel great but the first warning sign of trouble could be a heart attack or cancer that was preventable,” he said. “Don’t let that happen to you or your family.”

4. Improve your nutrition. “People get hung up on losing weight and exercise, but don’t forget that eating healthier foods can make you overall healthier,” Roetzheim said. “Focus on eating more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nonfat dairy and limiting sugars and sweets.” Here’s one simple goal: Don’t eat food you purchase through your car window.

5. Get socially connected, personally, not just electronically: family members, old friends, neighbors, fellow worshipers or volunteers. Even if it’s just for a few minutes on the phone, connect daily with people you like and care about. Try to meet at least one new person a month, through friends or groups you know and trust. “All of these connections improve our physical, mental and emotional health,” Roetzheim said. Many studies confirm that people who are socially connected enjoy better overall health, live longer and have less depression compared to people who are alone or isolated, he said.

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