Saturday, July 26, 2008

Shifting to a Healthier Lifestyle

TODAY, A RECORD 68% OF AMERICAN ADULTS are overweight or obese. Seventy-eight million Americans—roughly one-quarter of the U.S. population—exercise zero times per year. Zero times per year! This widespread avoidance of physical activity, coupled with poor eating habits, have created an unprecedented health crisis in this country. The time for change is now.

If we accept that physical activity and healthy eating confer benefits such as a healthier weight, a more beautiful body, higher energy levels, more confidence, a longer life and a better life, why do so many people struggle to exercise and eat right?

Most puzzling is the quiet resignation of Americans, whose collective apathy towards exercise, and the disinterest with which we do it, marks the eye-popping escalation of obesity in this country. Some experts believe we are approaching a moment of unbearable physical crisis and that we are losing touch with our bodies and growing disconnected from our human nature. Many people are becoming imprisoned in their own bodies.

This problem isn’t limited to adults. According to The National Institutes of Health, one in five U.S. children is overweight or obese—and that number is rising precipitously. Perhaps most striking is that this generation may be the first in human history whose life expectancy will be shorter than that of their parents.

This obesity epidemic threatens to wipe out other improvements in our children’s health and safety over the past three decades, a new report says. “Childhood obesity has risen to a point that it can be considered a modern day epidemic,” said the report by Duke University researchers.

We know more about health and nutrition than ever before, yet we’re worse off than ever before. Each year, new diet and weight loss books flood bookstores with newfangled ways to lose weight and get healthy. Here are some examples for 2008: “The Ultimate Tea Diet,” “The No Crave Diet” and “How to Eat Like a Hot Chick” (I actually read it, and I really did feel like a hot chick when I ate! Amazing!).

But these, like most books, made big promises, and will likely fail to deliver lasting results to most of its readers (except maybe “Hot Chick”). Studies show that most people who undertake weight loss programs lose some weight only to put most, or all, of it back on once the diet has concluded. People want quick results, but look where “quick fixes” have gotten us. As a result of being more overweight, we are suffering more from diseases and diminished quality of life, and our health care system is in dire straits. We need permanent results. Starting now.

It’s time for a fundamental shift in how we how we eat, how we move our bodies—and how we live. We must abandon all notions of “quick fixes” and think in terms of an enduring lifestyle “shift.” It can happen in seven steps. And, it’s easier than you think.

It begins with making the time for your health.

“The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.”C. S. Lewis

It is the one bonafide non-renewable resource in the world—and it is the one resource that most of us feel we don’t have enough of. Perhaps that’s why “lack of time” is the main reason why most people don’t exercise more or eat better.

Making the time to exercise and eat right is the foundation upon which this entire program rests. You must master this step, and consistently carve out the time for your health every week, in order to achieve a permanent shift to a healthy lifestyle.

Fortunately, we’re all on a level playing field in this respect. Regardless of who we are, where we live and what we do, there is one constant: We all have the same amount of time. Each of us has access to precisely 168 hours every week, and we can use that time any way we choose.

The differences between us start to show in how we use our available time. Our subtle choices each day create strikingly different realities. The perception is that busier people don’t have the time to exercise or eat well. However, research shows that people who consistently work out and prepare healthy meals are just as busy as those who do not.

Perhaps it’s not that you don’t have the time to exercise or eat right. It may be that you are choosing, consciously or unconsciously, not to make the time for these things. This is merely conjecture, but I want you to take a serious and hard look at how you spend your time each day. You may even consider keeping a “time journal” for three days to get a realistic view of where your time is spent. You might be surprised.

The first step to making more time for your body and your health is to decide that health is a top priority in your life. Then, you must create some extra time each week for yourself. Here’s how to do it:

TIP: Turn off your television.

This is the simplest, fastest and most surefire way to liberate more time for yourself, your health, your family—and your life. Admittedly, watching less television is exceedingly difficult to do. Television is an engaging media. The average American tunes in for a whopping of 27 hours every week. Programming is designed to keep you glued to the set, as often as possible, at all costs! For decades, TV has been a vehicle to sell products to a mass market, and it’s been carefully engineered to keep you engrossed. In order to “break” from TV, you must do it gradually. Start by choosing four days a week on which you can watch TV, and three days on which the tube stays off all day. This will give you more time to live your life more fully: you’ll have more time for your kids, more time for yourself—and yes, more time for exercise and healthy eating. Despite being on the air, I have been without television for over six years. At first, I developed an alarming facial tic by not getting my CSI, but it went away. Turning off the TV has vastly improved my family’s quality of life, and it has liberated more time than we could have imagined. And, I believe it would do these things for you as well.

TIP: Pay yourself first.

As our daily schedules grow increasingly hectic, it is vital to re-focus on our most important life priorities, such as: family, health, career, community, etc. Not exercising is tantamount to not paying your health insurance. You may be able to dodge bullets in the short term, but it’ll catch up with you. Financial experts say that the best way to save money is to “pay yourself first.” What do they mean? Our money is constantly being channeled away from us at breathtaking speed. If we don’t allocate money for ourselves first each month, then that money will somehow find a way to be allocated elsewhere (“But honey, iPhone is a need, not a want.”) Such is the nature of money. The same goes for time. If you don’t take the time for your health first, the day will likely get away from you. Studies show that people who exercise in the morning are almost nine times more likely to do it consistently than people who don’t exercise. If you aren’t a morning person, or simply cannot work out in the morning, then you must commit to exercising immediately upon finishing work.

TIP: Get more bang for your workout buck.

One way to effectively “expand” exercise time is to squeeze more out of your workouts. In other words, greater efficiency creates more results. Be smart and focused about how you work out; break down your aerobic exercise into four phases:

  • Warm-up (5-10 minutes) – ease in to your workout to boost blood flow, warm up muscles and enhance flexibility;
  • Listening (5-10 minuets) – tune into your body to decide how hard and how long you should exercise in that session;
  • Main portion (15 minutes – 2 hours) – keep your heart rates in a comfortable, aerobic “target zone” and use good technique in whatever activity you’re dong;
  • Cool-down (5-10 minutes) – use this time to allow your body to return to a more relaxed state. This flushes the body of metabolic waste from exercise and improves recovery time.

TIP: Set “business appointments” with yourself.

Once you’ve liberated some time and agreed to “pay yourself first,” lock in the time to do it every week. To shift, you must treat your workouts with the same reverence that you would an important meeting with your boss. You wouldn’t dare miss a meeting (career). Why then, do we cavalierly skip exercise (health)? It’s probably because if we neglect our jobs, we could suffer immediate consequences. The human body is resourceful, and we don’t immediately pay for mistreating it. However, skipping exercise and eating poorly is like accruing credit card debt: your body is keeping score, and one day it will demand payment—with interest. This is not an idle metaphor. You must begin to treat your workouts like “serious business appointments,” and do everything in your power to make those appointments. Without health, little else matters.

For more healthy living tips -- and to receive the complete book THE SHIFT, visit The ORGANIC FOOD BAR Web site.

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