Little Changes That Make a Big Difference in Your Health

    Healthy living remains a hot topic in today's culture, yet despite all the talk, most of us remain overweight and out of shape. Moreover, today's many choices--South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers, not to mention the vast array of home fitness equipment available--can leave us feeling confused and overwhelmed! The good news is that by making just a few small changes in your life, you can see big improvements in your overall health!

     "Proper diet, exercise, and drinking enough water," are foundational to good health says Dr. Nicholas Tavani, a practicing physician from Virginia. However, he identifies weight as the key indicator for predicting good health as we age. "High blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic conditions are all affected by weight," explains Dr. Tavani. In his practice, Dr. Tavani encourages consistent choices on a "daily basis" to achieve optimum health and wellness. Success comes one day at a time. 

    Furthermore, diets do not work long term. Chronic dieters tend to be heavier overall than those who maintain healthy eating habits on a consistent basis. Rather than focus on dieting, have as your goal to make healthy choices on a daily basis. Moderation is key to success.

     Here are some small changes you can make that will result in a big payoff. 

·        Eat breakfast: Studies consistently show that those who eat breakfast consume fewer calories during the day and maintain a lower body weight overall. A healthy breakfast jump-starts your metabolism, providing adequate energy to function optimally.
·        Drink water: Consuming adequate water during the day may be the single most important thing you can do to maintain good health. Water regulates body temperature and is necessary for digestion and elimination. All cell processes and organ functions in our body depend on water. In February 2004, the National Academies of Science (NAS) revised their recommendations for daily water consumption stating that women should consume an average of ninety-one ounces, up from sixty-four ounces, of total water per day while men should consume 125 ounces daily.
·        Keep a food journal: Maintaining a food journal allows you to track your food choices, giving you insight into unhealthy eating patterns you may have developed over time.
·        Build exercise into your everyday schedule: Exercise burns calories, increases metabolism, regulates appetite, and increases muscle. With just a little creativity, you can build exercise into your daily routine. When going to work, shopping, or even the doctor's office, park at the farthest end of the parking lot. Instead of meeting a friend for lunch, take a walk together instead. Climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Walk the dog. A few steps can really add up over time. Buy a pedometer and keep track of how much you walk each day. Aim for thirty minutes a day in ten minutes increments.
·        Start strength training: Strength training improves health, decreases disability, and improves quality of life. Recent research reveals that strength training can be safe and beneficial at any age. Miriam Nelson, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition and associate professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, has been the principal investigator of studies on nutrition and exercise for older adults. Her research found that after a year of strength training twice a week, older women had muscle strength as if they were fifteen to twenty years younger.[1] In a similar study, Dr. Maria Fiatarone enlisted volunteers, age eighty-six to ninety-six, to participate in a strength training program, three times a week for eight weeks. The results, published in JAMA in 1990, revealed participants increased their strength on average by 175 percent. Two participants discarded their canes, and the walking speed and balance scores rose on average 48 percent.
·        Enlist the support of friends: Invite a friend to exercise with you, as well as hold you accountable for healthy diet and exercise choices.
·        Set reasonable expectations: Avoid an all-or-none mentality. Accept that on some days you will make poor food choices. When you do, get over it, and get back on track. 

    Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly need not be difficult. By making just a few, small changes, you can be on your way to better health today.


[1] This research and more is described in Strong Women Stay Young (Bantam Books, April 2000).