The good news is that these risk factors can be changed by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This helps a women reduce her risk for breast cancer and just about anyone else reduce their risk for other health conditions that plague the nation as a whole. Although many of us are concerned about getting enough physical activity and losing weight (or avoiding weight gain), there are so many things that compete for our attention every day, it can be easy to say, “I should be doing this and that” but we don’t get around to it. I have found that, as I help people achieve their nutrition and health goals, those who are the most successful take realistic steps that are manageable in their daily lives and build on these.
This is why the focus of this post is on two healthy habits I think just about everyone can be doing because they promote a healthy lifestyle and weight, but you don’t have to feel like you're "on a diet" or living at the gym.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. While an apple a day alone is not likely to keep you from visiting the doctor, eating a variety of fruits and vegetables every day may help you maintain a healthy weight. But how many of us really make it a priority to eat more fruits and vegetables and how much is enough? Overall consumption in the U.S. is low and the 2013 State Indicator Report on Fruits and Vegetables released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that U.S. adults consume fruit about once per day and vegetables about 1.5 times per day. My Plate recommends the following fruit and vegetable intake, with some variation depending on age:
- Children (2 to 18 years of age): 1 to 3 cups of vegetables and 1 to 2 cups of fruit daily
- Women (19 years of age and older): 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables and 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit daily
- Men (19 years of age and older): 2 1/2 to 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily
In general, both fruits and vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and water and lower in calories, so eating more of them can help to fill you up and provide good nutrition. However, I suggest to clients that they work up to getting at least two servings of veggies for every fruit serving, which is slightly different than the My Plate recommendations above. This is because fruit can have double or triple the calories and carbohydrates than a similar portion of veggies.
So, what are the best fruit and veggie choices?
- Fruits: I encourage clients to select whole fruits in a variety of colors the majority of the time because they generally have the least calories and no added sugar. The serving size should be 1/2 to 1 cup cut fresh fruit or a small to medium whole fruit. Berries and melon are your best option if you want to eat more for less calories. Berries also pack more fiber than other fruits per cup. Limit dried fruits to 2 tbsp. and fruit juices to 1/2 cup because they are typically more calorie-dense and may have added sugars. Choose canned fruits packed in water or juice rather than syrup and limit to 1/2 cup. For example, 1/2 cup of seedless grapes provides about 50 calories and 12 grams of sugar while 1/2 cup of unsweetened grape juice provides about 75 calories and 18 grams of sugar and a (1.5 oz) snack-size box of raisins is about 130 calories and 25 grams of sugar. Check out this list from My Plate for additional choices.
- Vegetables: I encourage clients to focus their veggie intake on "non-starchy" choices in a variety of colors. This includes all veggies except corn, peas, and potatoes. While My Plate counts these as well as beans and lentils as vegetables, I think of them more as starches because, like fruit, they contain more calories and carbohydrates and less water than the non-starchy choices. In addition, beans and lentils also have more protein. So, when "counting" your veggies, try to focus on eating a variety of non-starchy choices and include some green, leafy veggies often (such as lettuce, spinach, kale, and collard greens) as they tend to have less calories per cup than other veggies. Check out this list from My Plate for additional choices.
Get started by writing down the fruits and vegetables you eat and how much over the next few days to see what your average is. This will give you a baseline to set a realistic goal for improvement. For example, if you see that you eat one fruit and one vegetable serving daily, a realistic goal would be to maintain your fruit serving and increase your vegetable servings to two daily. Continue to keep track of your daily servings for accountability. Once you achieve this goal, you can set a new goal that further increases your intake.
Be More Active. According to the CDC, besides lowering breast and colon cancer risk and reducing or controlling weight, regular physical activity can reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease, adult-onset diabetes and metabolic syndrome. You may also see improvements in your mental health and mood, your ability to do activities of daily living, stronger bones and muscles, and a longer life span.
So what does this really mean and how much activity is needed? The CDC recommends that adults age 18 to 64 years of age engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking for 30 minutes five times per week) and at least two days per week, perform muscle-strengthening activities; children age six to 17 years of age should get at least 60 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity daily and include muscle- and bone-strengthening activities at least three days per week. Click here for more information on the CDC's guidelines.
It's important not to get caught up in those numbers because not everyone is ready for this level of activity. The first thing I would encourage you to do is figure out how much activity you get now. One tool I find very informative for people is an activity log. Spend at least one "typical" day (but I prefer three days with one being a weekend day) jotting down how you spend the 24 hours that make up a day. You'll set up four columns as listed below:
- The time you start and finish an activity (e.g., 8:00 am to 8:30 am)
- The type of activity (e.g., sleeping; sitting -- at a desk, watching TV, using a computer; walking the dog; preparing a meal; cleaning the house; mowing the lawn)
- Total time spent (e.g., 30 minutes)
- Was it active or inactive?
minutes you spent being active versus inactive.
One tool I like to use is the pedometer because it allows people to find ways within their typical day to get in physical activity, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or walking to a coworker's office instead of sending an email. This way, you can increase activity at your own pace and ability, and the bonus is that you get instant gratification by seeing the numbers climb on the pedometer. While more recent data is limited, in a 2007 systematic review of 26 studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, pedometer use increased physical activity and decreased body mass index and blood pressure. Other alternatives include: keeping a physical activity calendar on your fridge or marking it in your phone. All of the Wellness Programs offered through my website include an online and mobile food and activity tracker as well. Either way, if you see that you got minimal activity one day, it may fuel your desire to get more the next. I find that if I don't take my dogs for their daily walk, they really let me know!
Written by Michelle Baglio of Optimal Nutrition and Health (Google+). The information contained in this post is provided for educational purposes only with the understanding that Optimal Nutrition and Health makes no warranties, either expressed or implied, concerning the accuracy, completeness, reliability, or suitability of the information. Readers are advised not to use information in this post or others found on this website for the treatment or prevention of disease, and it should not be used in place of medical treatment or advice. Please do not reprint this post for distribution without my permission. To feature on your website or social media, please link to this post as the original source.