With the upcoming New Year, we begin to make many resolutions. However, many of us don’t truly intend to follow through with them! In regard to our health and fitness, we may not feel capable of improving. Maybe you think you are too young or old, overweight, or just have too many medical problems to make a difference. Many of us feel exactly the same way! Let’s first acknowledge the positive. You are aware of your need to address this issue. You’re likely to live well into your 90’s, and you’re already taking action. It is never too late to start! The key to aging well is to maximize your health and wellbeing now!
Where we are now in our physical lives is the sum total of choices we have made, and a few random events all sprinkled with the genetics we inherited. We need to accept ourselves for where we are presently and acknowledge that our fitness and our health is not a destination, but a journey. Each person’s journey is different. We need to be realistic with our goals and give ourselves time to undo what we have done to ourselves for years. Leading a healthy lifestyle must include balancing the five pillars of one’s life including: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. Each one will affect the other both positive or negatively.
15 Strategies to Improve Your Health:
- Do not diet! Be more concerned with counting chemicals on labels than calories.
- Do not eat anything that comes in a package. Most of our food should be from low sugar fruits and vegetables as well as protein and healthy fats (primarily from plant sources such as avocados and coconut or olive oil). Any animal fat should be from organic and grass fed animals. Your body tissue needs nutrients to be able to perform at a high level. Avoid processed food as much as possible. Limit sugary food and add more protein and healthy fat in your diet. Maintaining a diet with adequate healthy fats is essential in providing the nutrients to support all hormone function in the body as well as support the brain and nervous system. Adequate protein intake is necessary to support muscle health and development.
- Stay hydrated. The human body is primarily made of water, which is critical for all body functions. Adequate water intake is critical to avoid dehydration which can negatively affect your training and becomes increasingly more common in older adults. Dehydrated tissues are prone to injury as they struggle to gain needed nutrients to heal and repair. Dehydrated tissues are less flexible and tend to accumulate waste products. Water intake supports proper brain, muscle, and hormone function as well as lubrication of the joints and skin appearance. Stay hydrated by drinking water. Try to avoid beverages that contain artificial sweeteners or chemicals with names that you can’t spell or pronounce.
- Manage your weight. Excessive body weight causes abnormal wear and tear on your body (particularly in the knees and feet). It also places additional strain on your cardiovascular system and increases your risk of diabetes—thus increasing your risk of stroke, heart disease, and dementia. As we age, our metabolism begins to slow. Tips to help you to manage your weight include: eat a healthy diet; stay hydrated; and move more frequently throughout the day. For every two hours of sitting, get up and walk around. A strength training and high intensity training (HIT) program can help you to maintain a suitable weight by insuring your metabolism stays elevated and your hormone levels remain balanced. When attempting to lose weight, aim for 1-2 pounds per week.
- Stop sitting so much. The latest research indicates that sitting for more than two hours at a time can significantly lessen your life span. The real headline should be: Even if you are a regular exerciser, sitting for more than two hours a day will still lower your life span. The take home message is that frequent movement throughout the entire day is critical for health. Standing still for long periods of time is as equally hard on the body (particularly in the lower lumbar, knees, ankles, and feet) as sitting. It can cause negative effects in the joints as well as cause circulation issues.
- Walk daily after dinner. To optimize your walking program, consider taking walks after dinner. It has a greater benefit on your metabolism and may reduce the risk of diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels. If you can only walk in the morning, try walking before your morning meal. This will train your body to perform more efficiently on its fatty tissue stores and not to be carbohydrate dependent.
- Sleep more. Your body must rest in order to grow and develop. Most people are not getting adequate sleep and rest. Sleep is critical to maintaining your growth hormone and testosterone production as well as stabilizing your metabolism. Rest more! Training every day is not the best way to improve. It can lead to injury and burn out. Take a rest day and have fun. Participate in a yoga class, take a leisurely bike ride, or take a walk in the park. If you are participating in a yearly training cycle, be sure to incorporate an off season which involves a change of pace from your regular training to active rest instead.
- Improve your growth hormone production. Strength training (focusing particularly on large muscle groups with appropriately heavy loads) has been proven to improve growth hormone levels. High intensity training (HIT) performed once or twice per week may also help to increase growth hormone levels. A proper diet is also the key to improving hormone levels by including adequate protein and fat levels while avoiding excess sugar. An adequate amount of sleep also plays a major role in growth hormone production.
- Regulate your insulin production. Strength and endurance training have a positive effect on your body’s ability to regulate insulin levels. Strength and cardiovascular training are a critical part of a maintenance program for diabetes. To maintain an even energy level throughout the day, a stable insulin level is critical. Limit your carbohydrates and increase your protein and healthy fat intake. Diabetes prevention is important in order to avoid cardiovascular disease and dementia.
- Perform high intensity interval training. Perform cardiovascular fitness in short bursts (ranging from 30-60 seconds at a time) followed by a 1-2 minute recovery. The 30-60 seconds should be at a high intensity, meaning your rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is high. You should be breathing heavy. If you are overweight or have arthritis, this may be performed while using a stationary bicycle or in a pool. You can also walk up hill at a quick pace, then stop and rest. This is performed in intervals. High intensity training (HIT) or high intensity interval training (HIIT) will produce the best result for weight loss and fitness. HIIT is a superior approach to increase cardiovascular fitness, improve hormonal regulation, increase insulin sensitivity, and burn more calories and fat in a short amount of time.
- Maintain your strength. Although all muscle fibers show some decline as you age, the fast twitch (Type II) fibers show the most decline. Strength training is a critical component to maintaining and growing additional Type II muscle fibers. The stronger you are, the more resistant to injury you are. Also, strengthening of the core area (the abdominals and back extensors) helps to manage low back pain. Low back pain can be a rehabilitating condition. If you’re experiencing pain, please refer to How to Safely Self-Treat Low Back Pain.
- Use a foam roller. As a person ages, the body tends to become stiffer as it loses elastin. This negatively affects a person’s range of motion (ROM). It also makes the muscle and tendon fibers more likely to tear if overstretched. I recommend that everyone participate in a flexibility program. (The older you are, the more important this becomes.) Mobility and flexibility become more difficult if you aren’t purposefully working on it. Yoga is an excellent choice as well as utilizing the foam roller. Using a foam roller can help keep tissues pliable. Regular use may also beneficial as it helps improve arterial stiffness and can improve arterial and vascular function. To learn how to use a foam roller, please refer to Does Foam Rolling Help or Hurt Your Performance?
- Find an accountability partner. It is critical to have someone who will hold you accountable for the goals that you set and your choice of lifestyle. We all get off track from time to time. An accountability partner can nudge you back onto that path. Exercising with someone is an excellent way to insure consistency. Be sure to push one another–friendly competition is healthy!
- Seek help early. If you are experiencing chronic aches or pain or are struggling with an aspect of your training, seek help immediately. A healthy lifestyle is a lifelong pursuit. If you are injured or not enjoying an activity, you will not stay engaged or motivated in the long term. Seeking advice specifically from a running coach, weight lifting coach, certified personal trainer, physical therapist, or physician can be beneficial.
- Choose your influences. Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Choose wisely! Our thoughts and actions are greatly influenced not only by people we spend time with, but the audio and visual input we consume. Choose healthy influences and regulate what you read and watch on TV.
The New Year is an excellent time to make positive changes in your life! To optimize your health, seek balance in your physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. If you are deficient in one area, it will likely affect the others. Don’t get discouraged! Small incremental steps can positively affect your health. After setting your goals, get started and enjoy the journey. Cheers to a happy and healthy 2015!
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