I think that exercise, activity and good eating habits are some of the most important daily habits in our lives. You already know that. What you might not know is that it seems that the population at large is finally going to feel the same way. I can tell you that a few years ago nearly all of my clients came with weight loss as their primary goals. Today it is different. Yes, weight loss is still a primary consideration, as is lowering blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol. However, there is more awareness that taking the proper measure to be healthy isn’t just about blood test results and staying off medication. The ability to function in our daily lives—to do the tasks we need to do and want to do is really what we are trying to accomplish. Although functionality in life is dependent on many factors, in this article, I want to emphasize the physical fitness and nutrition aspects of attaining practical function.
People join our programs for many reasons. A few weeks after starting to do even minimal exercise they begin to see amazing results concerning ability and function. Here are three cases where people could not do what they needed or wanted to do.
Many years ago, I received a phone call from Ariella asking to learn how to exercise and lose weight. Ariella’s main reason for coming was that her apartment was on the third floor and she couldn’t make it up the three flights without stopping or getting out of breath.
Miriam was someone who had a hard time interacting with her grandchildren. The grandchildren wanted to be held, and carrying them was difficult for Miriam.
Yechezkel has a disabled father. It was incredibly difficult for Yechezkel to help his father out of his wheel chair and move him from place to place.
What helped Ariella, Miriam, and Yechezkel reach their goals?
The role of nutrition
Dr. Pamela Peeke is a leading authority on using nutrition and fitness to improve health. She is a doctor that actually prescribes exercise to her patients. Dr. Peeke emphasizes that getting the most out of any area of life requires a diet based on whole-foods and avoiding (or significantly minimizes) refined and processed foods. The right kinds of food will help regulate metabolism and keep off the extra weight.
Most processed food is manufactured with heavily refined ingredients—sucrose and a long list of additives, including preservatives for texture, color and flavor (Stanhope, Schwartz & Havel 2013). Most of these food products are created with combinations of processed sugar, fat and salt.
Why is this so detrimental to how we function? These foods cause the brain’s reward system to become overstimulated, much as we see with drug addiction (Kenny 2011). Scientists believe this can lead to addictive eating and consequent weight problems (Volkow et al. 2012; Peeke 2013).
Processed foods also depress metabolism. One study compared results of eating a whole-food diet vs. a processed-food diet, with the same number of calories. Results showed post-meal energy output of the processed-food diet fell by a shocking 47% compared with the whole-food diet (Barr & Wright 2010). Such depressed metabolism most likely contributes to long-term weight gain. The bottom line? A whole-food-driven diet is the optimal way to fuel mental and physical functional skills.
The important role of exercise
My colleagues and I emphasize functional, physical activity training. In general, fitness professionals focus on the specific purpose of an activity. Moving the body through a variety of planes (torquing, flexing and balancing) more realistically mimics real-life activities of daily living.
Dr. Peek also points out that much of this turn towards functional-movement reflects the desires of aging people to maintain strength, endurance, balance and flexibility needed for a vibrant and independent lifestyle. Repeatedly, scientists have shown that successful aging and increased functional abilities result in optimal cardiopulmonary endurance, mobility, muscle strength and balance (Lin et al. 2016). Functional fitness matters at every age, however. It affects both body and mind, starting in childhood, when aerobic activity has a profound effect on cognition, brain structure, academic achievement, behavior and psychosocial functioning outcomes (Lees & Hopkins 2013; Chaddock et al. 2011).
Where should we apply functional fitness? These days, a growing numbers of fitness professionals worry that contemporary workouts are too domesticated and lack real-world challenges. So, try to go walk outside. Take advantages of the up hills and the down hills. The weather conditions change so working out outdoors simulates how we have to cope with changing weather throughout the seasons. Do you like to hike? Find trails, paths, wadis and valleys. And being outside you take advantage of communing with nature, getting bright sunshine and all its health advantages, and by all means, if you want to really relax your mind, leave your phone behind.
If a few times a week you can do a longer outdoor exercise session, don’t worry as much about staying aerobic the entire time. Yes, be sure you have at least 30-40 aerobic minutes, but also, throw in a staircase here and there (walking down slow, and up two at a time fast). Put in a few seconds of running, too. Stop and occasionally do squats, lunges, sprints and broad jumps in order to get fit for life.
Let’s revisit the 3 cases mentioned earlier.
Even before the weight loss became significant, Ariella started going up and down the steps to her apartment without stopping or getting out of breath. She could even do this while holding packages.
One day, Miriam came in excited as several times in the previous week she had babysit for her grandchildren and had no problem picking them up or holding them for a lengthily period of time.
After working out with me, Yechezkel was able to easily help his disabled father in everything he needed to do, including lifting him from place to place.
In a bad scenario, imagine having to escape an emergency situation of some kind and not having the physical ability to do so. Let’s resolve to exercise and eat well. Keep your focus on good health habits and increasing your ability for good daily function. In turn, you will enhance your enjoyment of life! Eating right and exercising for daily function will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”