Healthy Lifestyle

Quit smoking - Tobacco is a killer. Smokers and other tobacco users are more likely to develop disease and die earlier than are people who don't use tobacco. If you smoke, you may worry about what it's doing to your health. You probably worry too about how hard it might be to quit smoking. Nicotine is highly addictive, and to quit smoking — especially without help — can be difficult. In fact, most people don't succeed the first time they try to quit smoking. It may take more than one try, but you can stop smoking.

Take that first step: Decide to quit smoking. Set a stop date. And then take advantage of the multitude of resources available to help you successfully quit smoking.

Quit-smoking action plan - Now that you've decided to quit smoking, it's time to map out your quit-smoking action plan. One of the first steps of your quit-smoking action plan should be "Get support." Support can come from family, friends, your doctor, a counselor, a support group or a telephone quitline. Support can also come from use of one or more of the medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration for smoking cessation. Another key step in your quit-smoking action plan? Planning for challenges. For example, make a list of high-risk places you'll want to avoid when you start your quit-smoking plan. Think of other places to go where smoking isn't allowed, such as a shopping mall, a museum or movie theater.

Stress management - Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the ever increasing demands of life. Surveys show that most Americans experience challenges with stress at some point during the year. In looking at the causes of stress, remember that your brain comes hard-wired with an alarm system for your protection. When your brain perceives a threat, it signals your body to release a burst of hormones to fuel your capacity for a response. This has been labeled the "fight-or-flight" response. Once the threat is gone, your body is meant to return to a normal relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop stress of modern life means that your alarm system rarely shuts off.

Stress relief - The first step in successful stress relief is deciding to make a change in how you manage stress. The next step is identifying your stress triggers. Some causes of stress are obvious — job pressures, relationship problems or financial difficulties. But daily hassles and demands, such as commuting, arranging day care or being overcommitted at work, can also contribute to your stress level. Positive events also can be stressful. If you got married, started a new job and bought a new house in the same year, you could have a high stress level. While negative events in general are more stressful, be sure to also assess positive changes in your life.

Stress won't disappear from your life. And stress management isn't an overnight cure. But with practice, you can learn to manage your stress level and increase your ability to cope with life's challenges.

Children's health - Nutrition and fitness are the cornerstones of children's health.

To give your child a head start on lifelong fitness, consider children's sports and other kid-friendly physical activities. With your encouragement, chances are a few sports will spark your child's interest. And consider other classic tips from children's health experts, such as promoting activity — not exercise — and setting a good example yourself.

You can also promote children's health by encouraging your child to eat a variety of healthy foods and control portion sizes. Learn which nutrients are necessary, in what amounts, and how the guidelines change as a child grows older.

End-of-life care - When a loved one is dying, conversations about the end of life can be uncomfortable and difficult. Still, discussing end-of-life care is important.

Depending on the circumstances, you might be able to help your loved one make important end-of-life decisions — such as whether to remain at home, move to a nursing home or other facility, or seek hospice care. Also, you can work with your loved one's health care team to make sure your loved one remains comfortable at the end of life. Pain, anxiety and other end-of-life symptoms can often be treated.

Even at the end of life, you can continue to support and nurture your relationship with your loved one. Simply being there can be an important source of strength and comfort for everyone.

Beginner's Guide To Nutrition and Healthy Eating

Remember, food is fuel. You need to eat the right food to fuel and energize your body throughout the day and through your workouts. Think of your body like a high performance race car. Always use the highest octane fuel in order to get the best results. This is a good analogy to use when thinking about what foods to put into your body. Always use nutrient dense power foods to provide enough energy (octane) to really boost your performance so you can run at optimal levels.

Key factors to include in your high performance nutrition plan:

  • Eat a nutrient dense meal every 2­3 hours
  • Eat 5­6 smaller meals throughout the day
  • Learn how many calories your body needs per day
  • Include a lean protein source at each meal
  • Eat enough protein for your bodyweight (chart below)
  • Drink at least drink eight 8­ounce glasses of water per day
  • Make sure to eat a nutrient dense healthy breakfast
  • Eliminate processed sugars from your dietary plan

Focus on nutrient dense foods which includes lean protein, whole grain carbs and the right kind offats. You need food to fuel your body and increase your metabolism. The less you eat, the lower your BMR gets and your body eventually goes into a starvation mode where it holds onto fat as much as possible.

Remember to "eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a peasant". Your breakfast should be large and each meal after this becoming smaller and smaller. Your dinner should be much smaller than your breakfast. Your body is slowing down at night and doesn't need high calories to fuel it. Stick with a salad with lean meat (chicken, turkey) and steamed veggies. The main focus should be eating clean nutritious food while eliminating all the empty calories from your nutritional plan.

How do you start your family's nutrition on the right track? Here are ten tips:

Start with healthy nutrition in infancy. Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for babies 0 to 6 months old. If you've chosen to feed your baby infant formula, be sure to use clean water, mix it properly, and wash the bottles well.

Encourage everyone in the family to eat three meals every day plus a couple of snacks. This will help keep the digestive system regular. Eating five to six times per day also helps the body to better distinguish between hunger and fullness. When you wait too long, your body will feel hungry, even after you've eaten enough.

Eat as many meals together as possible. Try to eat at least one family meal every day, even if it's breakfast. Whoever is home at meal time should be sitting down together to eat. Families that eat together generally eat healthier and know more about what is happening with their children.

Offer a variety of foods from all of the food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, and meat/protein. Learn about the Food Pyramid. Be sure to have foods available that meet a variety of preferences in the household.

Choose low­fat foods and whole grains

Read food labels! Look for total fat around 3 grams or less. Choose 1% or skim milk; they have the same nutritional value as 2% or whole, just much less saturated fat. Whole grains, like wheat, bran, and oat, help keep your digestive tract healthy and help keep cholesterol low.

Remember that drinks have nutrition, too. Low­ or non­fat milk and 100% fruit juices can be great choices to help meet nutritional needs. Sweet teas, juice­flavored drinks, and sodas add only sugar to the diet.

Keep empty­calorie foods out of the house. Occasionally buying candy or soda can be fine, but constantly having "junk food" in the house only allows everyone to eat it. You can also have small treats when you eat out, as long as eating out is not part of your usual routine.

Encourage healthy habits. Praise your children for choosing healthy foods and eating right. This can make adults feel good, too!

Discourage unhealthy habits in a constructive manner. Try not to humiliate one family member for overeating or skipping a meal, but discuss the behavior in a loving, supportive way. Teach children not to tease each other about eating habits.

Seek medical attention when needed. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor questions if you are concerned about your loved one's nutrition habits or health, especially if it is a child. If you need help with your family's nutrition, find a registered dietitian. Dietitians specialize in food and nutrition, and some of them even specialize in family issues.

Remember not to dwell on the past! Move your family forward into more healthy living, and start with a good nutrition plan.

Benefits of Good Nutrition

The benefits of good nutrition are multiple. Besides helping you maintain a healthy weight, good nutrition is essential for the body and all its systems to function optimally for a lifetime. In fact, the benefits of good nutrition can be found in physical and mental health because a healthy diet provides energy, promotes good sleep, and gives the body what it needs to stay healthy. When you consider the benefits of good nutrition, it's easier to eat healthy.

The Heart

The heart is the essential core of our bodies. Heart healthy eating involves avoiding foods high in unsaturated fats and cholesterol that can lead to heart disease and possible failure later in life. Medical research has given us solid evidence that certain foods do increase the risk for heart disease and that there is a direct link to unsaturated fats and cholesterol. By avoiding foods that contain these heart unhealthy substances, we can ensure our body that its heart will function properly for years to come.

Bones

While the heart keeps it all running, our bones help keep it all together. Healthy bones are necessary throughout our life and become more important as we age. Consuming enough calcium to maintain and promote bone health is essential for healthy bones. We can avoid many bone conditions that may develop later in life by providing our bodies with enough calcium in our diet. Milk and other dairy products contain calcium and should be consumed every day.

Energy

Though many benefits of good nutrition today may not be realized until later in life, one benefit we can see daily is in our energy level. Foods that are excessively sugary or high in fats can minimize our energy levels from day to day. Fats are slow to digest, and thus don't provide our body with a steady source of energy. Sugary foods can create fluctuations in blood sugar levels, causing us to feel tired very shortly after eating. By eating a healthy diet, we maintain our energy levels at a constant throughout the day and the result is simply feeling better.

Self Confidence

Whether or not you are at your optimum weight or not, the benefits of good nutrition can be felt. Americans have been educated enough over the years to know that junk foods are not the healthiest choice. Yet many of us continue to indulge in them for emotional reasons. When we make the conscious choice to eat better and healthier, we begin to feel better about ourselves – regardless of how quickly the weight comes off. It's also true that the occasional sweet treat tastes better when its consumed guilt free because we eat healthier on a daily basis.

When you examine all the benefits of good nutrition, you quickly realize that eating healthy and making healthy food choices results in a much better lifestyle. Anyone can start enjoying the benefits of good nutrition by changing one eating habit a week. Cut down on foods high in fat and begin replacing them with whole grain foods, low fat foods, and fresh fruit and vegetables. You'll be reaping the benefits of good nutrition before you know it!

8 Ways Smart Meal Timing Can Improve Your Health

"You are what you eat," is often said, but more and more research indicates that when you eat is a major player in your health game. "Many people have a fairly good idea about what to eat, but are really missing the mark on when to have it, which is critical when you're trying to lose weight or just make healthy choices," says Torey Jones Armul, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. How can smart meal timing improve your health? Let us count the ways...

It Can Help You Lose Weight

You may have heard some variation on this phrase: "Eat breakfast like a queen, lunch like a princess and dinner like a pauper." New research says that's good advice. In a recent study, researchers examined the weight loss efforts of 420 women and men over five months. They found that people who ate the majority of their calories before 3 p.m. not only lost weight faster, but lost more weight

overall (about 22 percent more!) than those who noshed later in the day. "Planning ahead to have three meals and at least one snack in the afternoon really reinforces self­control and rational food choices," adds Armul. She suggests opting for snacks that combine produce with protein, like peanut butter spread on a banana or an apple, berries in Greek yogurt, or baby carrots with a handful of almonds, because they take longer to digest than simple carb snacks (ie: a candy bar or bag of pretzels or chips) and you'll stay full longer.

It May Build Your Muscles

If it's time to step up your strength training, breakfast can make or break your goals. "That's when protein breakdown is at the highest peak," explains Jennifer McDaniel, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "You've slept all night. You haven't had anything to eat so you're in a fasted state. That's when protein intake is very important." Try to hit 20­30 grams in that morning meal, which you can nab with a breakfast parfait that has one cup of Greek yogurt. If grab­and­go is more your style, try a protein bar, piece of fruit, string cheese and a hard­boiled egg.

You'll Avoid the Afternoon Energy Slump

The one time of day you're most likely to give in to tempation and eat poorly: 4:12 p.m., according to a recent study. "People hit a mid­afternoon slump in their energy level and their blood sugar is at a low," explains Armul. "It's not a matter of willpower; it's just what your body wants— something convenient, fast and high in calories, fat and sugar." Solution? Again, think protein and produce, but don't be afraid to add a little fat into the mix. "It helps with fullness and satisfaction so you may eat less. Many fat­free foods have sugar added to replace the flavor the fat provides, and that sugar may cause a quick burst of energy rather than a longer, sustained energy boost," says Armul. Better options: Reduced fat cheese or yogurt, cottage cheese made with 1­2 percent fat, or a handful of almonds.

It Could Help You Sleep Better

Recent studies reveal that what you eat at night may be just as important as your exposure to sunlight when it comes to setting your body's internal clock. To get a good night's sleep, as the saying goes, eat dinner like a pauper. Don't eat within a couple of hours of your bedtime, and minimize your saturated fat intake. Some research indicates that foods containing saturated fat (red meat, pork, lamb, dairy products) disrupt circadian rhythms and eating them near bedtime may prevent you from falling asleep. Choose lean protein (broiled or baked fish and chicken, for example) or roasted turkey, which also provides tryptophan, a natural sleep­inducing chemical.

As for that bedtime snack, consider munching on frozen cherries. "Both tart and sweet cherries are excellent sources of melatonin, a natural chemical that helps regulate sleep and circadian rhythm," says Armul. "Research shows that cherries can improve sleep quality and duration. Frozen cherries are sweet but healthy, and they take time to eat, so you're less likely to over­snack."

t May Lower Your Risk for Diabetes and Metabolic Disease
"Diabetes management is all about getting insulin and blood sugars in the right spectrum, and research indicates that eating more at the beginning of the day—and small amounts throughout the rest of the day—improves insulin sensitivity," says McDaniel. One study found that people who ate a late lunch (think after 3 p.m.) lost less weight and had worse insulin sensitivity, which is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, compared to people who ate lunch earlier. If you are at risk for diabetes, talk to your doctor or nutritionist about ways to time your meals and snacks to maintain normal blood sugar levels.

It Could Boost Fertility

If anyone wants to nail down perfect timing, it is a woman trying to conceive. Recent studies from Tel Aviv University have shown that starting the day with a large breakfast and tapering food intake over the course of the day improves insulin sensitivity, lowers testosterone levels, and increases ovulation frequency, all of which may impact and improve fertility. In one study, women who ate a large breakfast, a moderate lunch and a small dinner experienced a whopping 50 percent rise in ovulation rate. "Changing the timing of your eating may change the way some of your key hormones act without any of the negative side effects of some fertility treatments," says McDaniel. "It's a low­risk strategy with a potentially high reward, and eating small meals throughout the day is a good start for how you should eat during pregnancy. Many pregnant women need to eat every few hours to avoid nausea, and it's a healthy start for a developing baby to have foods readily available throughout the day."

It Can Make Your Workout More Effective

By now, we know that what you eat before and after a workout matters. "Typically you want to consume some carbohydrates, although not a heavy meal, within an hour of exercising," says McDaniel. "Carbohydrates are the fuel that drives your exercise, so reach for yogurt and fruit or whole wheat toast or a banana with nut butter." If you're doing an intense bout of exercise for longer than an hour, supplementing with a sports drink, like Gatorade, has been shown to improve performance times and help you exercise longer and harder.

Once you're done with a workout, it's best to consume a combination of protein and carbs to boost recovery replenish what you used to get through your routine. McDaniel suggests cottage cheese with fruit, a smoothie with milk or yogurt, or what she deems an almond joy oatmeal—oats with chocolate protein powder, slivered almonds and unsweetened shredded coconut.

The Lifelong Benefits of Exercise

Physical Fitness: What the Benefits of Exercise Mean for You

There's more good news. Research also shows that exercise enhances sleep, prevents weight gain, and reduces the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even depression.

"One study found that when breast cancer survivors engaged in exercise, there were marked improvements in physical activity, strength, maintaining weight, and social well­being," explains Rachel Permuth­Levine, PhD, deputy director for the Office of Strategic and Innovative Programs at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

"Another study looked at patients with stable heart failure and determined that exercise relieves symptoms, improves quality of life, reduces hospitalization, and in some cases, reduces the risk of death," adds Dr. Permuth­Levine. She points out that exercise isn't just important for people who are already living with health conditions: "If we can see benefits of moderate exercise in people who are recovering from disease, we might see even greater benefits in those of us who are generally well."

Physical Fitness: Exercise Basics

Physical activity doesn't have to be strenuous to produce results. Even moderate exercise five to six times a week can lead to lasting health benefits.

When incorporating more physical activity into your life, remember three simple guidelines:

  • Exercise at moderate intensity for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes spread over the course of each week.
  • Avoid periods of inactivity; some exercise at any level of intensity is better than none.
  • At least twice a week, supplement aerobic exercise (cardio) with weight­bearing activities that strengthen all major muscle groups.

Physical Fitness: Making Exercise a Habit

The number one reason most people say they don't exercise is lack of time. If you find it difficult to fit extended periods of exercise into your schedule, keep in mind that short bouts of physical activity in 10­minute segments will nonetheless help you achieve health benefits. Advises Permuth­Levine, "Even in the absence of weight loss, relatively brief periods of exercise every day reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease."

Set realistic goals and take small steps to fit more movement into your daily life, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to the grocery store instead of driving. "The key is to start gradually and be prepared," says Permuth­Levine. "Have your shoes, pedometer, and music ready so you don't have any excuses."

To help you stick with your new exercise habit, vary your routine, like swimming one day and walking the next. Get out and start a baseball or soccer game with your kids. Even if the weather doesn't cooperate, have a plan B — use an exercise bike in your home, scope out exercise equipment at a nearby community center, or consider joining a health club. The trick is to get to the point where you look at exercise like brushing your teeth and getting enough sleep — as essential to your well­being.

Remember that physical fitness is attainable. Even with small changes, you can reap big rewards that will pay off for years to come.

Exercise and Physical Activity: What's the Difference?

Learn the difference between physical activity and exercise, and how each can contribute to physical fitness.

Physical activity is defined as movement that involves contraction of your muscles. Any of the activities we do throughout the day that involve movement — housework, gardening, walking, climbing stairs — are examples of physical activity.

Exercise is a specific form of physical activity — planned, purposeful physical activity performed with the intention of acquiring fitness or other health benefits, says David Bassett, Jr., PhD, a professor in the department of exercise, sport, and leisure studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Working out at a health club, swimming, cycling, running, and sports, like golf and tennis, are all forms of exercise.

Physical Activity and Exercise: Understanding the Difference

Most daily physical activity is considered light to moderate in intensity. There are certain health benefits that can only be accomplished with more strenuous physical activity, however. Improvement in cardiovascular fitness is one example. Jogging or running provides greater cardiovascular benefit than walking at a leisurely pace, for instance. Additionally, enhanced fitness doesn't just depend of what physical activity you do, it also depends on how vigorously and for how long you continue the activity. That’s why it’s important to exercise within your target heart rate range when doing cardio, for example, to reach a certain level of intensity.

Physical Activity and Exercise: Understanding Intensity

How can you tell if an activity is considered moderate or vigorous in intensity? If you can talk while performing it, it's moderate. If you need to stop to catch your breath after saying just a few words, it's vigorous. Depending on your fitness level, a game of doubles tennis would probably be moderate in intensity, while a singles game would be more vigorous. Likewise, ballroom dancing would be moderate, but aerobic dancing would be considered vigorous. Again, it's not just your choice of activity, it's how much exertion it requires.

Physical Activity and Exercise: Components of Physical Fitness

Ideally, an exercise program should include elements designed to improve each of these components:

  • Cardio­respiratory endurance.Enhance your respiratory endurance — your ability to engage in aerobic exercise — through activities such as brisk
  • jogging, running, cycling, swimming, jumping rope, rowing, or cross­country skiing. As you reach distance or intensity goals, reset them higher or switch to a different activity to keep challenging yourself.
  • Muscular strength. You can increase muscular strength most effectively by lifting weights, using either free weights like barbells and dumbbells or weight machines.
  • Muscular endurance. Improve your endurance through calisthenics (conditioning exercises), weight training, and activities such as running or swimming.
  • Flexibility. Work to increase your level of flexibility through stretching exercises that are done as part of your workout or through a discipline like yoga or pilates that incorporates stretching.

While it's possible to address all of these fitness components with a physically active lifestyle, an exercise program can help you achieve even greater benefits.

Increasing the amount of physical activity in your everyday life is a good start — like parking a few blocks from your destination to get in some walking. But to really achieve fitness goals, you’ll want to incorporate structured, vigorous activities into your schedule to help you attain even more of your fitness and health goals.

How to Exercise Safely

Here's why you should bookend each workout with a warm-up and a cool­down — plus other exercise safety tips.

Your fitness level depends on getting regular exercise, but how you approach an exercise program will determine whether it enhances your well­being or actually causes a problem — the exact opposite of your intention. Push yourself too hard or use the wrong equipment, even the wrong shoes, and you can injure yourself.

The first tip to remember: Resist plowing full steam ahead into an exercise program. That’s a surefire way to overexert and hurt yourself. A safe fitness plan always starts slowly and develops at a steady pace as you learn proper form and build endurance. As you gain more strength, skill, and stamina, you will be able to ramp up the intensity of your routine.

Exercise Program Safety Tip No. 1: Warm Up, Cool Down

You need to prepare your body for exercise by going through a warm­up period. Performing 5 to 10 minutes of low­level aerobic activity will get your blood flowing, increase the temperature of your muscles, and start you breathing faster, all of which help your body adjust to the demands you will be placing on it during exercise Every workout session should end the same way: Cool down following moderate or intense exercise by gradually decreasing your pace, allowing your heart rate and your breathing to return to normal.

Exercise Program Safety Tip No. 2: Stretch

Stretching before you move into the intense portion of your workout will help you get the most out of your fitness routine and stay flexible in general. Just remember that stretching follows your warm­up — you can injure yourself if you try stretching cold muscles.

Just as you want to cool down after exercise, you also want to stretch after you cool down. Since your muscles will be warm, you will gain even more flexibility from after­exercise stretching.

Get the most out of every stretch with these tips:

  • Perform each stretch slowly and gently — and hold for up to 30 seconds.
  • Never bounce during a stretch; relax into it and hold it.
  • Ease into each stretch; if you feel any discomfort, you’re pushing the stretch too hard.

Exercise Program Safety Top No 3: Get the Right Gear

You don’t have to buy expensive exercise apparel to work out, but you should have the right gear or equipment for the activity you’ve chosen, both for your comfort and safety. Consult a fitness expert or trainer for specifics, but in general, here’s what you’ll need:

  • Athletic shoes appropriate to the activity, such as walking or running shoes. Keep in mind that workout shoes should be replaced every six months or possibly sooner if you’re pounding away at them.
  • Weather­appropriate clothing. In warm weather, wear comfortable clothing that allows you to move freely and is light enough to release body heat. In cold weather, dress in layers than can easily peel off, if needed, as your body temperature rises.
  • Any necessary protective equipment, such as a helmet for cycling or reflective clothing for street running.

Exercise Program Safety Tip No. 4: Add Variety

Overuse injuries can occur when you do the same type of exercise over and over again. For example, swimmers place a lot of repetitive strain on their shoulders, while runners pound away at their knees, ankles, and feet. Another negative of "too much of a good thing": Your body will adapt if you do only one type of exercise, and you will find yourself getting less benefit from it.

The best exercise programs involve a mix of aerobic activity and strength training, along with stretching. According to guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, each week you should aim for a total of 150 minutes of aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity or 75 minutes at high intensity, plus a minimum of two strength­training sessions. Always take off at least one day between strength training sessions to allow your muscles to recover. And consider varying your aerobic activity — swimming, brisk walking, basketball, to name a few — to keep it interesting.

Exercise Program Safety Tip No. 5: Hydrate

Make sure you're replacing the fluids you are losing through sweat. If you don't, you could end up dehydrated or with heat exhaustion. A good rule of thumb is to drink 2 cups (16 ounces) of water about 15 minutes prior to your exercise program and another 16 ounces after you cool down. Be sure to drink during exercise, too — a quick sip every 15 to 20 minutes will help you stay hydrated.

Exercise Program Safety Tip No. 6: Listen to Your Body Language

It's normal for your muscles to feel sore 12 to 24 hours after a good workout. But if you have pain that occurs during your workout or immediately afterward, talk to your doctor. The same goes for muscle soreness that persists for more than a week or two. And while it's good to be dedicated to your exercise program, don't work out when you’re not feeling well or are extremely tired.

Remember that if you exercise smart and gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts, you’ll stay in the game, stay challenged, and stay safe.

Learn more in the Everyday Health

Measuring Your Personal Fitness Level

Evaluating your fitness level is not a one­size­fits­all process. Differences in lifestyle, muscle tissue, genetic makeup, and overall health all help determine your personal fitness level.

"It is an individual measurement that is not always dependent on how much physical activity you do," notes Jim Pivarnik, PhD, president of the American College of Sports Medicine and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health at Michigan State University in East Lansing .

So how can you tell if your exercise and healthy diet habits are paying off? There are several ways to measure your fitness level.

The Five Components of Fitness

"Measuring fitness is multi­dimensional," explains Pivarnik. "Long­distance runners have excellent cardiovascular health, but if all you are is legs and lungs, you won't have a lot of strength or flexibility. By the same measure, someone who is overweight and aerobically fit is healthier than someone who is in the normal weight range but doesn't exercise.”

Overall physical fitness is said to consist of five different elements:

  • Aerobic or cardiovascular endurance
  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Flexibility
  • Body composition

Thorough fitness evaluations include exercises and activities that specifically measure your ability to participate in aerobic, or cardiovascular, exercise as well as your muscular strength, endurance, and joint flexibility. Special tools are also used to determine your body composition or percentage of total body fat.

Working to optimize each of these five components of fitness is crucial to enhancing your overall fitness and general health.

Fitness: How to Develop an Action Plan

If you have specific health problems, check with your doctor before implementing a routine to boost fitness. Once your doctor gives you the go­ahead, you have no more excuses. To improve your fitness level, take these important steps:

Follow U.S. guidelines for the minimum amount of exercise.

That means exercising at a moderate intensity level for at least 2.5 hours spread over most days each week. At least twice a week, supplement aerobic exercise with weight­bearing activities that target all major muscles. Avoid inactivity; some exercise at any level of intensity is better than none while you’re building up your endurance.

Walking is the easiest way to get started.

Get motivated by enlisting a friend to join you and adding variety to your routine. "Walking is simple and manageable for anyone," says Jill Grimes, MD, a family physician in Austin, Texas. "Wear a pedometer from day one. Think of it in three parts: a five­minute warm­up of walking slowly, followed by a fast walk, then a five­minute cool­down of walking slowly."

Compete only against yourself.

No matter what activity you choose for getting fit, never compare your progress to someone else's. "Do set goals, and if you are out of shape and hate exercise, start low and go slow," recommends Dr. Grimes. "Do not compare yourself with your best friend who weighs 50 pounds less and just finished her 10th triathlon." Pivarnik agrees: "Even if the same group of women walked at the same pace every morning, they would not all show the same fitness measures."

Avoid overexertion.

overexertion. One preventive step Pivarnik suggests is checking your resting heart rate before getting out of bed every morning and making a chart so you can see a consistent, but gradual, decrease over time. If your resting heart rate begins to increase, you may be overdoing it. Another indicator of overexertion is muscle soreness that doesn't go away after a couple days. "People generally err on the side of not pushing themselves enough," says Pivarnik. "But the worst offenders are those who think they can jump in where they left off — the bunch of 40­year­old guys who think they are still on the high school football team and start running laps, but end up red in the face."

As you work on improving your fitness, take it slow and steady to avoid injury or burnout. Above all, remember that consistency is key — if you keep at it, your hard work will pay off.

Exercise for Everyone

Even if you're new to exercise or have physical limitations, you have options. Find out how to adapt a fitness program that will enable you to progress at your own pace.

Maybe you've never taken an interest in exercise of fitness before and don't know where to start. Or maybe you have mobility issues because of a medical condition and aren’t sure how to get started on a fitness program without hurting yourself.

The good news is that you can achieve your fitness goals with a plan tailored to your specific health needs. Any barrier to physical activity can be overcome with a little creative thinking. You don’t have to let excuses stop you from fitting an exercise program into your daily life.

Getting Started With Exercise

Every journey begins with a single step, and that’s especially true of a fitness program.

Experts recommend that adults get 150 minutes of moderate­intensity aerobic exercise every week — activity that is strenuous enough to bring your heart rate up and cause you to break a sweat. You also should perform strength­training exercises at least two days a week.

That sounds like a lot, but you don't have to do that exercise all at once or even in two or three or four workout sessions. Fitness experts say it's perfectly fine to break up your exercise program into sessions as short as 10 minutes each, as long as they add up to 150 minutes of moderate­intensity activity by the end of the week. In fact, some research has found that it's better to spread out exercise throughout your week and even throughout each day.

Also keep in mind aerobic activity doesn’t have to high­velocity running; there are many low- impact exercise choices and some even no­impact exercises that can help you get fit without taxing your system.

Taking Your First Fitness Steps

Here are guidelines for getting started:

  • Ease into exercise to get your body used to your new level of activity.
  • Set an achievable short­term goal, like walking 10 minutes a day on three days a week, and build up from there until you are getting the recommended amount of exercise.
  • Consult with your doctor or a personal trainer if you have specific health concerns. Get advice on what exercise programs would best fit your lifestyle and level of fitness. A personal trainer can work directly with you to craft a fitness plan that will start out slowly and build as you become more physically active.
  • Remember to warm up before exercise and cool down afterward.
  • Don't overexert yourself, even after you've been on an exercise program for a while. Pay attention to your body for signs of injury or fatigue.
  • Make sure that the exercises you choose are appropriate to your age and fitness level.
  • Know the right way to exercise — ask a fitness instructor or personal trainer to teach you the correct form for every aerobic exercise and strength training movement you do.

Overcoming Obstacles to Fitness

Everyone has reasons why they can't exercise. Find solutions to keep them from becoming permanent excuses:

“I’m worried about hurting myself.” People who are overweight or older may find that some forms of exercise place too much strain on their joints. The answer is to avoid or limit weight- bearing exercises like running, jogging, or step aerobics classes. Instead, start out by participating in no­impact exercises or low­impact exercises.

No­impact exercise places no weight on your joints. It will work the muscles of your cardiovascular system, but will not create stress in bones or joints. Examples include:

  • Water aerobics
  • Swimming

Low­impact exercise places some weight on your joints, but does not create the sort of impact stress caused by more high­energy workouts. Examples include:

  • Walking
  • Yoga or tai chi
  • Pushing a lawn mower
  • Gardening
  • Ballroom or line dancing

A physical therapist will help you find activities that overcome your limitations.

“I can't get motivated.” It's hard to stick with a fitness plan if you don’t stay interested in it. Ways to motivate yourself include:

  • Getting a workout buddy to exercise with you
  • Pursuing exercise activities that you find fun and enjoyable and will look forward to doing
  • Joining an exercise class or group of people who work out together
  • Asking friends and family members to support your efforts
  • Setting an achievable short­term fitness goal with the emphasis on achievable — if you set the bar too high, you could end up discouraged
  • “I can't fit a workout into my day.” Everyone is time­crunched, but you should be able to work physical fitness into your busy schedule:

    • Keep a diary of your daily activities for one or two weeks, then go over it. Pinpoint at least three 30­minute time slots into which you could squeeze a workout. Not possible? Look for nine 10­minute slots over the course of each week and build up to 15 sessions from there.
    • Make physical activity a part of everyday life. Walk or ride your bike to work. Park farther away from your destination. Take the stairs rather than the elevator.
    • Pick exercises that require less preparation and equipment, like walking or stair climbing.

    It's easy to get out of shape when you have trouble just getting around, but you can become more physically active. Create an exercise plan around an activity you like, ease into the exercise, and congratulate yourself as you’re able to meet your fitness goals.

    A Balenced Diet:

    If you want to keep your lifestyle healthy and fit than it is very important to adopt a healthy diet. For that you have to start by thinking about your health risks. If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure than you have to keep some point in your mind before planning a diet for yourself. It will be better to take the advice of your doctor or a dietitian. For a balanced diet keep some point in the mind:

    1. Fruits, vegetables, grains, low­fat dairy products, lean protein sources, nuts and seeds should be included in your diet sheet.

    2. Proper amounts of nutrients and calories should be included to help you maintain a healthy weight also.

    3. In your diet sheet includes foods you like and can easily find in your local grocery store.

    4. Make a diet sheet that fits your lifestyle and budget.

    A balanced diet should include these factors:

    • Carbohydrates
    • Fiber
    • Fats
    • Minerals
    • Protein
    • Vitamin and
    • water

    Tips For Balanced Diet

    Before selecting a daily food menu you must be aware of your body’s vitamin and mineral requirements as well as the nutritional values of the food choices. To make sure that you are following a balanced diet, keep in the mind that

    1. Food choices originate from the five main food groups viz. fruits, vegetables, cereals and pulses, dairy, poultry, fish and meat products.

    2. Human body requires over 40 nutrients including vitamins, minerals, water, protein, carbohydrates and fats so it is important that we eat a variety of foods especially within vegetables and across the food groups.

    3. Your diet ensures that your Body Mass Index is within the recommended range.

    4. You follow low fat recipes, eating foods that are low in saturated and trans fat.

    5. Sugar, oil and alcoholic beverage consumption is restricted.

    6. Your food has low sodium content.

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What makes a diet best? In Best Diets 2013, the latest set of exclusive rankings from U.S. News, the DASH diet beat out 28 others, including Atkins, Jenny Craig, and Slim-Fast, to win the "Best Diets Overall" crown. Among the 12 commercial diet programs marketed to the public, Weight Watchers came out on top.

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