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

Lettuce Turnip the Beet: Veggies (and More) for Heart Health

NNM imageDid you know February was American Heart Health Month and March is National Nutrition Month? With cardiovascular disease continuing to be the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s important to continue spreading awareness and staying mindful of the steps we can take to reduce our risk of heart disease and stroke, not just during official awareness months, but year-round. Some of the easiest and most effective ways of reducing your risk involve dietary and other lifestyle changes. These don’t need to be extreme, nor immediate; every small step counts towards keeping your heart healthy and strong!

Keeping your heart healthy starts with maintaining a healthy diet, rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Many people find consuming enough fruits and vegetables in a day to be expensive and time consuming. It doesn’t have to be! Below are some easy tips to include plant-based foods in your diet no matter how hectic your lifestyle.

1. Keep It Simple

It’s easy to get caught up in the social media hype to create the most visually stunning, balanced plate out there, but when it comes time to make your meals, it might not be feasible to create picture-perfect dishes. That’s okay! Instead of striving to live up to unrealistic standards of eating a beautiful, colorful salad for every meal, try to stick to the basic guidelines of overall healthy eating (like those found at MyPlate.gov) and slowly work your way towards your goals!

2. Know What’s in Season

One of the easiest ways to keep your fruit and vegetable budget down is to shop for in-season products. Not only will these items be freshest and tastiest, but they usually don’t have to be transported for long journeys to your supermarket, allowing the prices to remain affordable. As an added bonus, since these products are usually fresher, they will last longer in your fridge. This can also help cut your food budget by reducing food waste!

whats_in_season_for_march

(image credit: Produce for Kids)

3. Frozen Is Your Friend

Not only are frozen fruits and vegetables convenient, but they are generally more cost-effective than fresh, out-of-season products. Also, fresh produce is not necessarily healthier than frozen! Evidence suggests that in some cases, frozen foods have even more nutrients than fresh ones do.1 That’s because most frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at peak times during the season in which they grow best. Additionally, they are most likely to be frozen within the first 24 hours after picking, before the nutrients have a chance to start breaking down. As long as you are buying high-quality vegetables with minimal additives like salt, sugar, or preservatives, you can always have fruits and vegetables on hand for a quick smoothie or side dish. How’s that for heart healthy?

4. Snack Smart

When reaching for a snack, many of us are in the habit of grabbing a bag of chips or chocolate bar. While these high-calorie foods can curb hunger fast, they are mostly devoid of beneficial nutrients and contain large amounts of sugar and fat. Opting for some fruit or vegetable-based snacks––like an apple and peanut butter or a handful of carrots and hummus––can easily increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and reduce consumption of processed, high-sugar, high-fat foods, killing two birds with one stone!

5. Any Amount Is Beneficial

Of course, the more fruits and vegetables you have, the better. However, sometimes it can be discouraging to hear recommendations that seem unattainable. The current recommendations by the USDA call for 2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables daily, depending on age and gender. While this may seem like a lot, these amounts can be consumed in any sized portions you like. For some people, it is easier to consume 4-5 small handfuls of fruit and veggies periodically throughout the day. For others, having a large bowl of fruit for breakfast and a large salad for lunch is easiest. Find what works for you, and keep in mind that any amount counts. Being mindful of your intake is the first step!

6. Find Fun Variations to Classic Dishes

Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to mean giving up your favorite dishes. If you cook at home, changing up a recipe to incorporate more nutritious vegetables is a breeze! For example, when making lasagna, you can blend sautéed vegetables into the sauce for a heartier taste and texture. Rice dishes can be replaced with riced cauliflower, which really does mimic white rice well and provides more than triple the amount of fiber and a fraction of the calories! Additionally, adding some vegetables like artichokes or peppers to a baking dish while cooking your protein is a quick and easy way to have a serving of vegetables incorporated into your meal.

soup-salad-smoothie-jump-start-clean-eating-plan

(image credit: Feeding Your Beauty)

7. Embrace the Three S’s: Soups, Smoothies, and Salads

If you would prefer to pack in as many servings of fruits and vegetables as possible during one sitting, a good strategy is to choose one of the Three S’s: soups, smoothies, or salads. You can have one of these during each meal––like a smoothie for breakfast, salad for lunch, and soup for dinner. This way you can choose a combination that best fits your taste or choose one to pack in a majority of your servings of vegetables for the day. These foods are great in that they can allow you to cover many servings of fruit and vegetables all on one plate. Additionally, they can be made ahead and stored in portable containers for easy transport. Eating heart-healthy foods does not have to be expensive or inconvenient; it just takes some creativity!

One-week challenge

With these tips in mind, you might be up for a challenge since reading about some tips won’t do you any good until you get started on seeing what works for you:

  • For one week, try to follow one or more of the above tips each day, to include more fruits and vegetables in your daily routine.
  • Post your experiences in the comments below and get a discussion going about how easy (or difficult) making these changes has been for you.
  • With the right strategies in place, you can reach your health goals. Your heart and body will thank you!

References:

  1. Miller, SR, Knudson, WA. (2014). Nutrition and Cost Comparisons of Select Canned, Frozen, and Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. Sage Journals.

Rosy Husni headshot

Guest post by Rosy Husni, MS, Dietetic Intern

Think Outside the Cereal Box

When it comes to the first meal of the day, it seems the easiest go-to food, especially if you’ve inadvertently smacked the snooze button one too many times, is cereal or a muffin…unless you’re one of those people who skips breakfast altogether (in which case, please come see me after class). Instead of reaching for a plain bowl of whatever’s in the cabinet, consider first food that will nourish you and set the tone for the rest of your day.

Scramble2_Veg

Recent studies have shown that regular breakfast consumption can have an impact on overall health, specifically decreasing the risk of type 2 diabetes––since insulin sensitivity appears to be higher in the morning than other times of day––and conditions associated with metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, excess body fat, abnormal cholesterol).Additionally, since protein increases satiety, starting your day only with carbs––especially if high in simple sugars––may work to your disadvantage, leaving you ravenous before you even get to the office or run your first errand.2,3

Add in some healthy fats and even a very busy and important person like yourself can begin the day with a high-quality, protein-rich, nutrient-dense meal. To start, let’s review protein foods:

  • Animal-based protein includes eggs, yogurt/dairy, meat, poultry, fish.
  • Plant-based protein includes legumes/pulses (e.g., beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas), nuts, seeds, soy meats/products (like tempeh), seitan. Keep in mind that all veggies and grains have some protein in them.

For busy mornings or if you have less than 10 minutes to get your breakfast act together, the following might be your best bets:

  • Oatmeal (or another grain, like quinoa) with 1 T peanut butter or 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Avocado toast

Oatmeal_V

Avo Bagel_Veg

If you have some time the night before, consider these make-ahead options:

  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Smoothies (click here for a mix-and-match guide to help you balance the right ratio of fruit:veg:protein:fat)
  • Overnight oats

HB eggs_Veg

Smoothie_V

If you have about 20-30 minutes:

  • French toast with 1 T real maple syrup, 1/4 c nuts and 1/4 c fruit
  • Pancakes with 1 T real maple syrup, 1 T peanut butter and 1/4 c cottage cheese
  • Veggie omelet or scramble

French Toast_V

Pancakes2_Veg

Scramble_Veg.jpg

Note: When preparing meals, a good rule of thumb is that 100 calories should give you enough energy to last about an hour. In the case of breakfast, for example, something like a bowl of oatmeal with a tablespoon of peanut butter added will total approximately 300 cals, so you shouldn’t feel yourself getting hungry again until about three hours later; a single hard-boiled egg, on the other hand, will only provide you with 70 cals and might be better as a grab-and-go snack until you can eat something heartier.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please feel free to add below.

References:

  1. Maki, K.C., Phillips-Eakley, A.K., & Smith, K.N. (2016). The Effects of Breakfast Consumption and Composition on Metabolic Wellness with a Focus on Carbohydrate MetabolismAdvances in Nutrition, 7(3): 613S–621S.
  2. Missimer, A., DiMarco, D.M., Andersen, C.J., Murillo, A.G., Vergara-Jimenez, M., & Fernandez, M.L. (2017). Consuming Two Eggs per Day, as Compared to an Oatmeal Breakfast, Decreases Plasma Ghrelin while Maintaining the LDL/HDL RatioNutrients, 9(2): 89.
  3. Chandler-Laney, P.C., Morrison, S.A., Goree, L.L.T., Ellis, A.C., Casazza, K., Desmond, R. & Gower, B.A. (2014). Return of hunger following a relatively high carbohydrate breakfast is associated with earlier recorded glucose peak and nadir. Appetite, 80: 236–241.