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 a new awareness that taking the proper measure to be healthy isn’t just about your next 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, including social skills, finances, and mental toughness, in this article, we want to emphasize the physical fitness and nutrition aspects of attaining practical function.
People come to our various programs for many reasons. Only a few weeks after starting to do even minimal exercise they begin to see amazing results concerning ability and function. Many years ago, I received a phone call from Ariella asking to come in to learn how to exercise and to lose weight too. She had a lot to lose and it was going to take a while, but her main reason for coming was that her apartment was on the third floor of her building and she couldn’t make it up the three flights without stopping and getting out of breath. Miriam was someone who had a hard time interacting with her grandchildren because they wanted to be held and that was difficult for her. Yechezkel had a disabled father and it was incredibly difficult for him to pick him up out of his wheel chair and move him from place to place. All three of these people could not do what they needed and wanted to do.
The role of Nutrition
Dr. Pamela Peeke is a leading authority on using nutrition and fitness to improve health. She is one of the doctors that actually prescribes exercise to her patients. She points out that there isn’t anyone involved in nutrition and dietetics that doesn’t agree with the fact that getting the most out of any area of life requires a diet that is based on whole foods and that avoids (or significantly minimizes) refined and processed foods. The right kinds of food help regulate metabolism and keep off the extra weight that slows people down. Most processed food is manufactured with heavily refined ingredients—sucrose and a long list of additives, including preservatives, texturants, colorants and artificial flavors (Stanhope, Schwartz & Havel 2013). Most of these food-like products are created with combinations of processed sugar, fat and salt.
So why is this so detrimental to our 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 our metabolism. One study showed that when eating a whole–food diet vs. a processed–food diet with the same number of calories, 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 have, over the past several years, begun emphasizing functional physical activity training. In general, fitness professionals are focusing 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 the strength, endurance, balance and flexibility they need 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, growing numbers of fitness professionals worry that contemporary workouts are too domesticated and lack real-world challenges. So, try to go out. Go outside and walk and 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 here or there. Stop and occasionally do squats, lunges, sprints and broad jumps in order to get fit for life.
Even before the weight loss became significant, Ariella started going up and down the steps to her apartment without stopping and without getting out of breath. She could even do it while holding packages. One day during out time together, Miriam came in all excited as several times during the previous week she had babysit for her grandchildren and had no problem picking them up and holding them for a lengthily period of time. Yechezkel had come to enhance his ability to do the mitzvah of Kibud Av V’eim. After working out with me, he 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 it? 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.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.