Ten Health & Fitness Do’s and Don’ts in the New Year

Here we go again, a new year with a renewed commitment to being all that we can be.  It’s resolution time and for many of us what would New Year’s resolutions be if they didn’t include some sort of quest for improving our health and fitness?  To help you in that endeavor here are my top ten do’s and don’ts:

1)   Do Exercise- If you haven’t already read the article “The Hidden Benefits of Exercise,” by Laura Landro in the January 5th edition of the Wall Street Journal check out the following link:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704350304574638331243027174.html

Who doesn’t know that exercise is good for you?  It’s more than a tool for weight management.  The Journal article makes it clear that exercise is truly a panacea for disease and illness. Exercise reduces the incidence of cardiovascular disease and its by-products of strokes and heart attacks.  It lowers the risks for contracting certain types of cancers, such as colon and breast. The mental benefits of reducing depression and delaying or averting Alzheimer’s disease are also realized through regular exercise.  Regular exercise has also been shown to reduce diabetes a very fast growing disease in the U.S. in connection with our expanding waistlines. There are even studies demonstrating how exercise combats the common cold.  With all of this information out there it is hard to find a reason not to exercise.

2)   Do Strength Train- Resistance training helps maintain bone health in addition to building/maintaining muscle mass.  Along with the metabolic benefits of having more muscle mass on your body, there has been some recent evidence that shows that an intense bout of strength training can be effective at metabolizing fat; once thought to be reserved exclusively for cardiovascular exercise.  However, my biggest support for participating in a strength training routine has to be function.  If cardio can extend your life then resistance training can help improve the quality of your life. It makes the activities of daily living and participation in recreational activity easier.

3)   Do Flexibility Training- Self-myofascial release (foam rolling, stick work), static, active, PNF, and dynamic stretching all assist in maintaining muscle extensibility and joint mobility.  There has been some debate over the benefits of stretching as it relates to injury prevention and overall performance.  For every study that shows its benefit there is another that shows it has a more limited effect.  What we do know is that there is an appropriate range of motion at each of our joints, and that there is a proper length-tension relationship for our muscles.  Flexibility training along with muscle strengthening exercises helps maintain the proper length-tension relationships and avoid muscle imbalances.  It is the muscle imbalances that we see between one side of our body and the other that eventually lead to breakdown and injury.  So if not acute injury, then flexibility training can at least aid in the prevention of injury that develops from a more chronic overuse condition.

4)   Do Eat Three Meals A Day- Many people skip meals thinking they are cutting calories, but in actuality the depravation leads to overeating at a subsequent meal.  Also, like a fire needs logs to burn your metabolism needs energy obtained from food to keep it churning.

5)   Don’t Eat Between Meals- This seems to go against the whole movement of eating five small meals per day, but the reality is that very few of us can commit to this way of eating on a consistent basis.  If you’re not training hard, like an athlete, then start eliminating eating between meals (intense training requires post workout nutrition to replace nutrients that you lost and rebuild muscle).  When I was a kid you were always told not to eat between meals; we were a lot thinner then as a nation.  As Michael Pollan points out in his book In Defense of Food, Europeans generally don’t eat between meals and look how thin they are. We can’t seem to get in a car and go somewhere without bringing some snacks.  He also raises the question about “why can’t we make it from breakfast to lunch without having to eat something?”  I think he has a point; it’s only3-4 hours.

6)   Do Eat More Fruits & Vegetables, and Don’t Eat Processed Foods- Plain and simple fruits and vegetables are good for you and processed foods like Twinkies aren’t.  Not all processed foods are as obvious as Twinkies but they can be just as devoid of good nutrition.  In addition to the vitamins, minerals, and overall health benefit of eating fruits and vegetables, eating more of them can mean eating less of something else like…Twinkies.

7)   Do Eat Local & Do Eat Organic- There was a recent study published claiming that there is little added nutritional benefit from eating organic foods versus conventional foods.  What the study fails to examine or mention in its findings are the negative health benefits from eating conventional foods due to insecticides and additives to increase shelf life in processed foods.  The study also does not examine the potential harm to the environment due to conventional food production in addition to commercial farming.  Buying local supports local small farms and supports the environment through farming methods and the jet, and truck fuel saved in transportation.  I buy local and organic whenever possible.  My next step is to buy in-season, but I admit I’m not there yet.  Maybe next year!

8)   Do Eat When You’re Hungry, Don’t Eat When You’re Not- Now you probably think I’m messing with you; I’m really not.  A good deal of our obesity is not only because we eat the wrong foods, but also because we eat too much food.  The reason many of us overeat is because we participate in emotional eating.  We eat when we’re sad, depressed, excited, tired, bored, angry, nervous etc. You get the point.  I know that it’s simply stated but the next time you reach for that easily accessible processed snack ask yourself, “am I really hungry or am I eating this to satisfy something else?” If you’re eating for some reason other than hunger then it is time for a substitute behavior like going for a walk.

9)   Do Vary Your Cardio Routine- I can’t tell you how many people I know that have been doing the same exact routine the same exact way for decades and they don’t understand why they have ceased to see results or why they have nagging injuries.  There are a variety of ways you can vary your routine.  You can change the mode of exercise, between hill walking, running, biking, swimming, etc.  You can vary the durations and the intensities.  As I have frequently suggested in previous articles, if appropriate for you fitness level and state of health, incorporate interval training (alternating low and high intensity efforts within the workout).

10) Do Try Something New- Whether you’re in a rut or have hit a plateau trying new forms of exercise can be just what the doctor ordered.  There is no single end all be all form of exercise.  There are many tools at your disposal and there is no saying that you can only choose one to build your masterpiece, a healthier more fit you.  So in the New Year, whether it’s yoga, Pilates, kettlebells, suspension training, weight lifting etc., add something new to freshen up your old routine.

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