Squash That Couch Potato: 6 Simple Ways to Stay Young and Healthy

The Fountain of Youth may never have been found, but one of the secrets to staying young and healthy has long been discovered––regular physical activity! Along with following a nutrient-dense and varied diet, exercising consistently not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but research has consistently shown that it reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases, slows down the aging process, and helps your brain function optimally.1 Yet, regular exercise is often neglected due to hectic lifestyles and long work days.

GroupFitnessClass-outdoor

(image credit: Center for Health Equity Research)

In a recent study, researchers examined the immune systems of middle-aged and elderly adults over the age of 55 who regularly exercised by cycling for the majority of their lives. They looked for markers of T cell production in the blood (T cells have a variety of roles in the immune system, such as killing foreign invaders). The researchers then compared the cyclists’ immune systems to similar aged, healthy people who were sedentary, and a group of young adult that didn’t exercise.

The surprising results showed that the levels of newly made T cells were about the same in the older cyclists group as those found in the young adults group, suggesting that regular exercise protects against a critical aspect of aging, the loss of immune system protection. Thus, being physically inactive––not merely aging––may lead to the deterioration of your immune function. The cyclists also didn’t lose muscle mass (a major concern as we get older), had healthy cholesterol levels, and didn’t gain as much body fat than their sedentary peers.

Senior Cycling

(image credit: Senior Cycling)

Engaging in physical activity is important for mental health as well as it has been shown to elevate mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep, leading to better cognitive functioning.The parts of the brain that control thinking and memory appear to have greater volume in individuals that are physically active versus those that are not.

Regular physical activity can also reduce your risk of developing diseases and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancers, and obesity. Exercising on a consistent basis over time can improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, and lower your blood sugar level.

Lastly, incorporating strength-training activities also helps increase your muscle mass and strength, and slows down the loss of bone density that results as you get older. Elderly people are at a higher risk for falls and hip fractures, but adding balance and strength-training exercises to your daily workout routine can help anyone reduce their risk.

Heart Health

(image credit: MedExpressRx)

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults should do at least:

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking, dancing, or bicycling, or
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or bicycling uphill, and
  • strength-training exercises on 2 or more days each week3

With all these great health benefits, it is important for everyone to be active, regardless of age, health status, or size (but be sure to get your doctor’s OK before you engage in any new fitness regimens).

Consider the following:

  1. Move a lot and oftenEven if you lead a sedentary lifestyle due to having a desk job or if you travel regularly, find ways to include the following “NEAT” (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) activities as often as possible throughout your day:
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevators within buildings and public transit stations
    • Stand or walk when doing tasks if possible
    • Do stretching exercises at your desk during breaks
    • Walk outside to get lunch or take a short walk after meals
  2. Forget the treadmillNot everyone likes going to the gym or is able to join one, and that’s okay. There are many forms of cardiovascular exercise you can enjoy such as brisk walking/running in the park, dancing, swimming, or playing a sport. Even shopping at the mall, walking your dog, or doing household chores for a period of time counts!
  3. Take a classYoga, Zumba®, pilates, barre, hula hooping…the list of exercise classes that are available to join seems to be endless! Find one that piques your interest. Many places offer a free trial class for new students, so ask if you can check one out before committing. For New Yorkers, Shape Up NYC is a free, drop-in fitness program with many locations throughout the five boroughs that offers various fitness classes. Individuals living in other cities can research what might be available (for free or low-cost) at local community centers.
  4. Grab a buddyNot only can someone motivate you on the challenging days when you don’t feel like moving, but socializing and spending time with a friend, family member, or co-worker might make the actual exercising seem much more fun as well.
  5. Set goals and track your progress. Start small and work your way up. If you’re just starting out or have an erratic schedule, it might be best to spread out your exercises throughout the week, and slowly reduce the length of time spent being sedentary.  For example, try walking 3,000 steps every day for one whole week or running for 30 minutes once a week, then add a component of intensity, duration, or frequency the following week. Keep track of your progress…before you know it, you may need to set new goals!
  6. Have fun! Find a fitness routine that you enjoy doing and let it become a normal part of your life. It is much easier to stick to something you like than force yourself to do something you don’t.

What physical activity are you already doing regularly? What would you like to start doing? Share with us in the comments below and keep an eye out for our follow-up blog post where we will be discussing what to eat to fuel your workout and how to reap the most benefits out of your exercise routine.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity and Health
  2. Godman, Heidi. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Health Blog.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

 

Helen bio pic

Guest post by Helen Cheng, Dietetic Intern

4-Week Fast Track: Taking Off the Pressure

Join us for our next 4-Week Fast Track program: Taking Off the Pressure.

From 1/31/18 – 2/21/18, we will host a private Facebook group* and launch a weekly live video (which will be archived on the group wall) to help you take the pressure off your blood vessels, manage hypertension, and regulate your sodium intake.

Take Off the Pressure

The program is 100% online and you can work at your own pace. You will have lifetime access to the videos, downloadable materials, and the private Facebook group.

Program agenda:

  • Week 1: Welcome & introductions. Know your numbers & habits (establish a baseline).
  • Week 2: Nutrition education. Habit-building and goal-setting.
  • Week 3: Cook/prep skills and strategies, including recipes.
  • Week 4: Wrap-up. Track performance. Set up future goals.

Investment: $28 for 28 days. Click here to register by Mon, 1/29/18 (we will send you a payment request for $28 once we receive your registration which you can remit via Facebook Messenger, Venmo, or Paypal).

*You do not need to have a Facebook account to participate as video links and downloadable materials will be made available to you regardless.

Worth Your Salt

I recently divulged on social media that my blood pressure (BP) had been consistently quite high, to the point where I thought I’d either soon be hospitalized or have to start taking meds. While I’m not opposed to conventional pharmaceutical methods to manage a particular health condition, I was adamant that I would be able to resolve this issue on my own, so I worked with my doctor and tracked my blood pressure multiple times over the course of about two weeks, while paying closer attention to my food intake and physical activity to see if any lifestyle adjustments would be able to correct this issue.

BP Before

Before I share the outcome of my story, let’s first discuss what may or may not be known about sodium and high blood pressure.

Sodium is both an electrolyte and a mineral and is found in about a 40:60 ratio in table salt, aka sodium chloride (or, scientifically, NaCl). Sodium plays a role in what’s called the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, where it helps maintain our body’s fluid balance and nerve and muscle function. People with a high-sodium diet, suffering from dehydration, or diagnosed with Cushing’s syndrome among other conditions can become hypernatremic while anyone experiencing excessive sweating, severe vomiting or diarrhea, recovering from burns, or diagnosed with underactive adrenal glands, thyroid gland, or other illnesses can become hyponatremic.

Salt shakerAccording to the USDA, one teaspoon (about 4g) of salt provides an entire day’s worth of sodium for a healthy adult at about 2,300mg; and, even then, this is considered an upper safe limit, not a recommended daily allowance. The average daily sodium intake of Americans is actually 3,400mg, or nearly 50% more than the limit. Higher-than-recommended intakes of sodium are known to raise blood pressure and may pose other health risks like heart disease and stroke, the first and sixth leading causes of death in NYC, respectively.1 Interestingly (or maybe not so interesting if you’ve heard me say this before), over 75% of American sodium consumption comes from “outside” foods: packaged, processed, and take-out/dine-in items.2 Salt added during cooking at home doesn’t factor in nearly as much, so if you’re considering cutting back on the sodium intake, re-assess your sources before taking away that salt shaker.

(image credit: Harvard Health Publishing)

When it comes to high blood pressure (or hypertension), the kidneys are unable to filter extra sodium in the body. As the sodium collects, the body holds onto its water content (fluid retention) to try and dilute the salt, thereby increasing both the amount of salt and the amount of water in the body. This results in increased blood volume, which means the heart has to pump harder and puts more pressure on the blood vessels. This situation is no joke and why hypertension has been coined “The Silent Killer.” Over time, if the high-sodium effect becomes the norm in your body, and you end up with chronic hypertension, you may, ultimately, suffer a heart attack, stroke, or worse.

As a Registered Dietitian, my approach to helping people with any of the issues noted above usually involves teaching them how to read the Nutrition Facts label on the back of packaged foods and introducing them to the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet, which, contrary to popular belief, is NOT a reduced-sodium diet, but instead focuses on nutrient-dense foods that are rich in protein, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and encourages whole foods over processed ones. This shift alone brings with it options that are naturally low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt––a win-win even for those not necessarily dealing with hypertension.3

In my case, I had to admit I was eating out way more often than I was cooking at home and, even though I was ordering from “healthy” or “natural” restaurants, I was not in control of my sodium intake and we all know that the way eateries make foods palatable is by adding fat, sugar, or salt. Since that revelation, I’ve switched back to eating more at-home meals and, when I do eat out, I ask for a low-sodium version of whatever I order or put in a special request in hopes the restaurant would so graciously accommodate me (which it usually does). With my doctor’s approval, I also added regular physical activity to my daily routine––I tend to be quite desk-ridden––and started noticing improvements in my blood pressure readings in just a few weeks.

BP After

My suggestion to you is to put this information into action ASAP:

  • Purchase an affordable blood pressure monitor and check your BP a few times a day for about a week to get an average reading for yourself. (NOTE: New blood pressure guidelines were released in November 2017 and are reflected below. What once used to be “normal” is now listed as “elevated.”)
  • Keep a log of meals during that same time period so you can cross-check if there’s a correlation if and when you get an uptick, especially if you often eat outside or packaged foods.
  • Consult with your doctor if you skew higher than normal more often than not during that test period.
  • Work with a Registered Dietitian (like me!) to help get you back on track, give you recipes to try at home, and/or teach you basic cooking skills to prepare healthier meals.

basic_blood_pressure_chart

(image credit: American Heart Association)

References:

  1. Health Department Announces 5 Year Results of National Salt Reduction Initiative. New York City Department of Health.
  2. Use the Nutrition Facts Label to Reduce Your Intake of Sodium in Your Diet. FDA website.
  3. Soltani, S.,Chitsazi, M.J., Salehi-Abargouei, A. (2017). The effect of dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH) on serum inflammatory markers: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Clinical Nutrition; S0261-5614(17).