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Wellness Prescription 2012

by Nancey Trevanian Tsai, M.D.wellness prescription new year resolutions

  1. “I will walk – better yet, RUN – away from my problems.”

    Physical activity discharges the autonomic nervous system1. When faced with life stress, physical activity, which causes the cardiovascular system to increase its output, is an excellent way to dissipate nervous energy. A sedentary life is correlated with increased heart disease2, rates of diabetes3 and depression4. Loss of diurnal cortisol variation decreases the brain’s effectiveness in executive function5 (i.e. the ability to solve problems and engage in complex tasks). Physical activity, especially high intensity bursts, is correlated with lasting decreases in basal cortisol levels. Current government recommendations suggests 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three times a week6.  If this seems like too much at first, start with walking one block at a fast pace or running full speed for ten seconds, then slowing to a walk to get back to a regular heart rate. For those already exercising routinely, working in small (less than 30 second) intervals of high intensity activity during the workout will improve the effectiveness of the workout and improve quality of sleep, which is also correlated with better executive function. All of this leads to better problem solving, and fewer health problems.

  3. “I will STRETCH OUT in front of the television.”

    The average American spends 28-34 hours a week watching television, according to the Nielsen Company7. The overwhelming majority of those watching television are not active during this time, and will complain that they have no time to exercise. It would benefit every man, woman, and child would make it a habit to perform stretches during commercial breaks, and/or other simple calisthenics while viewing their favorite shows. For simple stretches and exercises to perform at home, please refer to the “Get Fit” section of

  5. “I will eat good FOOD.”

    Michael Pollan stated it quite eloquently: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”8 Food is more than just nutrients — carbohydratess, proteins, fats, fiber, and vitamins. The food chain does not contain processed nutrient packets. For purposes of this prescription, “FOOD” is something that looks remarkably similar to the way nature made it: grains that still look like grains, vegetables that keep their original colors, fruit that still maintains the shape it had when it came off its plant source. Grains do not become pasta or bread without being processed, so eat these in smaller amounts. Meat has its place in palm-size portions, also with the caveat that the more it resembles the way it appears when removed from the animal, the closer it is to being “food.” Water is nature’s source of hydration. Most people will preferentially drink pure running water when out in nature, rather than that which has been stagnating in vegetation. Why not do the same at home?

  7. “I will exercise only the muscles I want to keep.”
    ‘Nuff said.



  1. Exercise training and sympathetic nervous system activity: evidence for physical activity dependent neural plasticity. Mueller PJ. Clin Exp Pharmacol Physiol. 2007 Apr;34(4):377-84.
  2. Sedentary behaviors increase risk of cardiovascular disease mortality in men. Warren TY, Barry V, Hooker SP, Sui X, Church TS, Blair SN. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010 May;42(5):879-85.
  3. Sedentary lifestyle and risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Hu FB. Lipids. 2003 Feb;38(2):103-8.
  4. Physical inactivity among adults with diabetes mellitus and depressive symptoms: results from two independent national health surveys. Geulayov G, Goral A, Muhsen K, Lipsitz J, Gross R. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2010 Nov-Dec;32(6):570-6. Epub 2010 Oct 23.
  5. Associations between cognitive function and naturally occurring daily cortisol during middle adulthood: timing is everything. Stawski RS, Almeida DM, Lachman ME, Tun PA, Rosnick CB, Seeman T. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2011 Jul;66 Suppl 1:i71-81.