If you’re reading this column, chances are you have some interest in health, wellbeing and wellness in general. You might even be an avid reader of articles and books written about weight loss, fitness, nutrition and healthy living.
But when it comes down to it, we have trouble getting ourselves out of contemplation-mode and into taking specific action.
With Pesach upon us, the natural tendency is to tell ourselves that we will turn things around as soon as Pesach is over. But even if you take on one or two small changes now, it will pay off immediately, and you will feel empowered to take on more afterwards.
Let’s take a look at these small changes that will make a very big difference in your life. You don’t have to take them on all at once, but it’s best to have a plan that works towards eventually adopting them all.
- Get more sleep. It might surprise you that this is my top choice, but without the proper amount of sleep, most everything else won’t be able to happen like it should. Today, more and more people are working jobs that require second and third shifts; they are working out of their time zone. Many are communicating electronically with relative and friends till the wee hours. Worries and daily problems keep us from sleeping enough hours or from sleeping soundly. Lack of sleep will disrupt your metabolism and cause you to secrete more of the hormone cortisol. This increases your appetite and causes you to crave fatty foods, prolongs reaction time and slows cognitive function. It also may make you irritable and decrease motivation. That’s why getting more sleep is number one.
- Be active. Before we get to formal exercise, there is so much you can do to enhance your basic levels of fitness and health within the routine of your average day. Just a few changes in activity can also help you lose up to 11-13 pounds a year. Park the car a few blocks away from your destination. Get off the bus or train a stop or two early. Use stairs instead of elevators. Try to walk instead of driving wherever possible. A recent study in Japan showed a marked decrease in blood pressures of those who walked back and forth to work (as little as 10 minutes each way) as opposed to those who drove. It will help you control weight, improve your mood and contributes to your cardio-respiratory health.
- Eat small meals more often. By scheduling 3 meals with 2 or 3 snacks and keeping your portions under control, you are less likely to overeat. Just as important, this will regulate the way insulin is released in your body and keep you from becoming a type-2 diabetic. And every time you eat, your metabolism elevates. Good deal, right?
- Drink water. Water is one of the six classes of nutrients that we must ingest on a daily basis. Sixty to 70 percent of our body is composed of water. Without it, chemical reactions that occur all the time in the body cannot take place. And as we cannot conserve or store water in our body, drinking regularly is essential. Yet, most of us are probably only getting about a third of the valuable hydration benefits we need. Plus, just like with eating regularly, it keeps your metabolism on the high side.
- Exercise! Lack of cardio-respiratory fitness (your ability to walk fast, climb the hills and get up those stairs) is the leading risk factor of all-cause mortality. So make sure to do aerobic exercise regularly and include muscle building as well. It is essential for day-to-day functioning such as holding your children and picking up your own suitcase without asking for help. Try to schedule 35 minutes of walking 5 days a week and 2 days a week of muscle building exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym everyday for an hour-long heavy work out to benefit. See a trainer to help you get a good routine started.
- Limit processed foods and junk. If it is processed (most of what you buy ready-to-eat off the supermarket shelves), try to stay away. In 2010, a Harvard study showed a pronounced difference in eating unprocessed versus processed meats. Eating processed meats such as deli was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Most of those pop-in-the-toaster items are also highly processed, full of fat and devoid of nutritional value—no matter what the front of the package says. Eating whole foods gives you your daily nutrition and fills you up to keep you from being hungry. Keep your sugar and salt to minimal amounts, and bear in mind that pretty much all processed foods are very high in sodium. Sugar includes the white processed stuff, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and glucose. Stay away from artificial sweeteners too. Soy sauce, canned items, pickled items, table salt and most snack food should be very limited.
- Reduce and manage your stress. It is difficult for me to convey just how damaging stress is to your health. Chronic stressors are thought to be the real villains associated with many health and disease problems. Chronic anxiety and depression, an overabundance of life changing-events, and a repressed feeling of loss, bereavement, emotional distress, and hostility have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, cancer, infection, suppressed immunity, asthma attacks, back pain, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal disease, headaches, and insomnia. A well-rounded exercise program, cognitive-behavioral therapy and some good problem-solving techniques can go a long way in solving stress issues.
- Stop eating by 8:00-8:30 in the evening. When you eat earlier, you use the calories through daily activity, but when you eat close to bedtime, you go to sleep with a lot of unused calories. You will also sleep better when you eat earlier. In a study with two control groups, one group ate their daily allotted calories in the early afternoon and the other in the evening. Group one lost weight and group two gained weight even though they ate identical calories each day. So, set yourself a curfew.
There you have it: eight lifestyle changes to improve your health and wellbeing. Pick one now to get started and try to add another every week or two. Today is a perfect day to start enhancing your quality of life.
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. certified personal trainer and a lifestyle fitness coach with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It!, now offering free testing for FOOD ADDICTIONS. Visit Lose It!‘s website at www.loseit.co.il or contact Alan at firstname.lastname@example.org.