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Make One Simple Change A Day in Your Diet and Your Fitness: Gain a Lifetime of Health

Spring Time ExerciseWith daylight savings time rapidly approaching, it is time to awaken the body and get out of hibernation mode. Spring forward means more skin to bare and more time to play outdoors after hours.

Whether you’re looking to shed extra holiday pounds or are ready for healthier living, you may be surprised to learn that a few small changes in your daily diet and activity level can pay huge dividends to your health.

Consider the analogy of saving for retirement in trying to achieve well-being: It takes patience, regular contributions and commitment, being able to ride out the lows and highs of the financial markets, and most of all, time, to reap the financial rewards to carry you through your golden years.

Drastic changes to your daily diet or a sudden burst of exercise could earn you some short-term health benefits, but the costs of regaining unwanted body weight or suffering an injury or burn-out from doing too much too soon can offset any gained benefits.

To reap the rewards of lifelong good health, start small.

Be Physically Active

Being active is critical for good lifelong health: According to government recommendations, healthy adults should exercise at a moderate intensity, such as a brisk walk, at least 2.5 hours a week and engage in muscle-strengthening activities twice a week.

It is especially critical for aging adults to meet these minimum recommendations to maintain health and basic functional capacity. However, greater amounts of activity are required to gain more substantial health and fitness benefits: Five hours of weekly moderate-intensity physical activity or 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity.

If you need motivation to get started on a regular program of exercise or are looking to get the most out of your workouts, consider hiring an ACE-certified fitness professional in your area. If you have an existing health condition, always consult a physician first.

Being physically active on a regular basis is critical to achieve overall well-being. It will help you relieve stress and maintain or achieve normal body weight. Recent scientific studies also showed that being physically active has multiple positive effects on brain function, including improving one’s ability to think critically and resolve life’s challenges. Start your journey to a physically active lifestyle by making one simple change today and sticking to it.

  • Find a physical activity you enjoy: If you don’t like an activity, you won’t stick to it. Once you find an activity you enjoy, try to engage in it on a regular basis, even if it’s just for 10 minutes at a time. Then, gradually increase the duration to gain more health benefits. Should “life” get in the way, resume the activity as soon as you can and don’t look back at what you’ve lost. Focus on moving forward and reinitiating your fitness quest.
  • If you’re a morning person, get up an hour early and walk, run, bicycle or hit the gym. It will energize you for the entire day. Studies have shown that morning exercisers have the highest success rate of sticking to a regular exercise routine.
  • Every step counts: Walk during lunch, before work or after work. Use the stairs, not the elevator; park further away from the mall and your health club. Look for every opportunity to move more throughout the day.
  • Don’t fall into the excuse trap: I left my exercise clothes at home. I can’t find my running shoes. I’ve gained five pounds since I started exercising, so I may as well stop exercising completely. Don’t let these or other excuses trap you: Leave your workout clothes at work, in your car or at your entry door before you leave the house. Focus on the many benefits of exercise, not just weight loss.
  • Find an exercise partner: Whether it’s walking your dog every morning, meeting your significant other at the gym after work or meeting a friend for a morning run, having a workout partner can do wonders for accountability.

Eat Healthier

If you’ve ever watched the popular television reality show “The Biggest Loser,” you know that a healthy diet and physical activity is a winning combo for weight loss success; and even more critical in trying to maintain it.

What the Hollywood producers don’t tell us, however, is that several contestants have ballooned back to their original weight or regained significant pounds months after leaving the show. That is because they no longer live in a controlled and supervised environment competing for “drastic and unrealistic” change. A true lifestyle change means slowly adapting to healthier behaviors in everyday living.

Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way to healthier living:

  • Eliminate or significantly limit your consumption of sodas and other sugar-laden beverages: According to one can (12 fl. oz) of Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola has 155 calories. You have to walk for 23 minutes to burn off one soda; or 45 minutes for drinking two a day. If you can’t live without soda, make it a weekly treat, not a habit.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables: The government recommends 2-4 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of veggies a day. Most people don’t eat enough of both. Increase your daily intake with mindful eating: One piece of fruit for breakfast; a fresh salad (add a low-fat dressing) for lunch; and veggie snacks during the day. Substitute veggies and fruits for sugary treats and watch your cravings for sweets slowly diminish or disappear altogether.
  • Eat Less Refined Sugars/Sweets: Whether you’re a chocoholic, ice-cream lover or just plain crazy for sweets or unhealthy salty snacks, keeping these in moderation can be a tough balance. Who doesn’t love a sweet treat after lunch or dinner?

A contestant of the Biggest Loser show told ACE he had to control his love affair for multiple sweets by picking one favorite, and then, enjoy it in moderation. For some people, including me, not having treats at home or near your work space works best—as they say, out of sight, out of mind.

  • Eat Healthy Grains: According to government recommendations, most adults should eat between 3-6 oz. of grains, with at least ½ of that being whole grains. Check food labels for whole grain products, such as brown rice, oatmeal, whole-grain corn, bulgur and graham flour. Foods labeled with the words “multi-grain,” ‘stone-ground, “100 percent wheat,” “cracked wheat,” “seven-grain” and “bran” are often not whole-grain products.
  • Know Portion Sizes: Research has shown that Americans underestimate daily food consumption by as much as 25 percent, which contributes to the nation’s overweight and obesity crisis.

Here are some examples of a single serving size, according to the United States Dietary Association:

  • Vegetables or fruit is about the size of your fist.
  • Pasta should be equal to one scoop of ice cream
  • Meat, fish, or poultry should be the size of a deck of cards
  • Snacks, such as pretzels and chips, should be the size of a cupped handful
  • Apple the size of a baseball
  • Potato the size of a computer mouse
  • Bagel the size of a hockey puck
  • Pancake the size of a compact disc
  • Steamed rice the size of a cupcake wrapper
  • Cheese the size of a pair of dice or the size of your whole thumb

Calories In vs. Calories Out: If you love fast food, chocolate, ice cream, pizza, and Starbucks’ 890 calorie-Grande (2 percent milk) White Chocolate Mocha, be prepared to work out for hours to burn off these calories.

Consider this: To burn off two slices of Papa John’s original crust “The Meats” pizza (700 calories), plus two Cheese sticks (520 calories) requires a 160-pound person to climb a ladder or stairs for two hours or to walk briskly for four long hours.

Tips for Developing Portion Control:

At home: Use smaller dishes and don’t go back for seconds. Never eat out of the bag or carton.

In restaurants: Eyeball your appropriate portion. Avoid “all you can eat” places. Share your dessert and plan to take home leftovers. Stop eating when you’re full.

At the store: Don’t buy high-calorie food or snacks with little or no nutritional value. Make a grocery list and stick to the list while shopping.

Be patient. Start by making small changes. After you start eating healthier and become more physically active, you’ll feel more energized, less stressed and will love to hear those words:“Have you lost weight?” or “You look great.” It’s a secret to success worth sharing.

Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and an ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor. For specific fitness-related story ideas or comments, please e-mail her directly at