There was very significant health news a few weeks ago. When news about health makes it to the headlines, it usually means we have to pay attention. For over 100 years, the average life expectancy of people who live in the United States has increased, with the exception of 1993 and that aberration occurred because of the AIDS epidemic during that period of time. This year, that statistic reversed itself. What happened? The experts have pointed to one thing and one thing only—obesity! The overweight and obesity epidemic has gotten so out of hand that its effect on the public health now means we are dying earlier.
The Obesity problem
36.5% of adults in the U.S. are obese (68.8% are overweight). About a third of children and adolescents are obese. Obesity WILL lead to some negative health consequence. People who are obese are at risk for: diabetes, heart disease, stroke, fatty liver disease, high blood pressure, many types of cancer and will ultimately cause problems like arthritis to your muscular-skeletal system which causes pain. It can also lead to depression and other emotional illness. Being overweight or obese in and of itself is a risk factor for early mortality. In addition being large is uncomfortable and unfortunately, brings social stigmas.
Unlike some health maladies, this is an area where we can decide to take control and change our lives around. Although there is no easy fix, this can be reversed. But this takes work, hard work, but the results are just so worthwhile.
Yet what has me talking about this subject now isn’t just the life expectancy statistics. Someone came into my office a few weeks ago, and I would like to share this unexpected experience with you. This will give you an understanding of the fortitude it takes in order to accomplish what so many people I have worked with have indeed accomplished.
Unwilling to change
Harvey is a 57 year old who is overweight enough to be having difficulties with his cholesterol. It was very, very high and particularly his LDL—the type of cholesterol that causes many problems, was extremely high. So, Harvey’s doctor prescribed a statin medication for him. After two weeks, he began to experience one of the prominent side effects of statin drugs, something called myalgia. This is pain in the muscles. Although the amount of pain certainly varies from person to person, in some people, the pain can be intolerable. Harvey had bad pain and the doctor decided to change his medication and suggested that he make some changes in his lifestyle. And so, at the behest of his doctor, wife, and children, he set up an appointment to come and talk to me.
After our initial consultation, he came in for the first session of 10 Weeks to Health. Both my dietician and I were in for a surprise. I am very upfront with anyone who comes to me for weight loss. I don’t have a magic wand in my desk nor do I have a magic pill—and neither does anyone else. Rectifying overweight and obesity, and the health that comes with it, requires changes in eating habits, activity, and exercise. As these are not easy, we teach our clients how to move incrementally. Our surprise was that Harvey unequivocally just said “no” to every single little thing we asked of him. It was just, “no, I am not doing that” in responses to begin walking daily and eating foods to reduce cholesterol and to lose weight. Harvey decided that in spite of the high cholesterol, excess weight, and lethargy (and also not being able to take statin drugs) he was not going to do our program.
Too many people who I speak to, don’t understand that in order to improve your health, you must make changes. For some, it is a matter of a few changes and for others, it can mean many. In either case, start slowly, one step at a time and see immediate improvements. But there is no choice, we have to make changes to succeed.
Behaviors to modify
- Are you overeating? Make an appointment with a dietician and find out how many calories you are eating and how many you need in order to lose weight without being hungry or feeling deprived. Also, learn what normal portions are. Don’t eat late at night.
- How is the quality of your food? Processed foods and junk foods are not going to work in your favor. The more processed a food is, the less nutritious it is and junk food is exactly that-JUNK! If you need a treat once in a while, that can be acceptable, but frequent ingestion of these foods will cause weight gain and also contribute to problems with blood sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol. You might get sugar highs only to be followed by lethargy and fatigue.
- Are you taking opportunities to be active? Aside from exercise we have opportunities every day to be more active. Do you use public transportation? Get off a stop or two before your destination. Do you drive a car? Park a little further away from your destination. If you visit someone in an apartment building, use the steps instead of an elevator (I live on the 6th floor—come visit!). Most of all, instead of the car or other transportation, consider walking, at least one way, when you need to go somewhere. You would be surprise how much time, and money, you will save.
- Get enough sleep—7-9 hours a night. Not more and not less. Lack of sleep is a huge contributor to bad health.
- Exercise! 5 days a week, there should be 30-35 minutes of brisk aerobic exercise. Choose something you like, walking, biking, jogging, swimming or skipping rope (or combination of any) are all good. Put it into your daily schedule and if you need to divide the time into two or three increments its fine. 2 or 3 days a week do something to build muscles. Your own resistance, bands or weights all work. Stretch daily too. It feels good and is extremely important to your health and daily function as you age.
How do I change my habits?
Here’s a few tips on how to successfully transform negative habits into positive ones:
- Create a list of goals. Make sure they are realistic, manageable and time oriented. Then prioritize them.
- Make changes slowly. How slowly? One at a time in each area. For instance, you might want to eat more vegetables and start daily walks. Give each change time to internalize. Certainly don’t try to make more than one big change a week.
- Be Positive. Believe you will accomplish this even though it will take time. If you go in with a negative attitude, the likelihood of success is pretty low.
- Be accountable to someone! Write down the food, activity and exercise and make sure each week you show it to a good friend or if you so choose, an exercise or weight loss professional.
We’ve all heard the expression “hard work pays off.” It is absolutely true when it comes to your health. There are no gimmicks, no magic potions, and no quick fixes. Begin the hard work and begin the road to great health, good function, and an acceptable weight. Putting in the time and effort needed to better your health will “add hours to our day, days to your year and years to our life”.