We all know that regular physical activity and a healthy diet help us control our weight, better manage stress and prevent certain chronic diseases. They also help keep our bones and joints healthy, our muscles strong, our energy levels high and our minds running at peak capacity. So why do so many of us find it difficult to do the two things that can prolong our lives?
Why is it that in a country of such abundance, so many of us are unhealthy? Probably because we’re leading sedentary lives, spending the majority of our days sitting in classrooms, offices, bedrooms and living rooms, in front of our computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones and TVs. We’re also eating too many highly processed foods that are low in fibre and high in saturated fats, salt and/or sugar, and too few of the foods our bodies need to function well.
In the short term, a lack of exercise and poor nutrition can make us tired, less able to deal with stress and interfere with our work/school performance. Over time, it can contribute to the development of certain health problems such as:
- high blood pressure;
- high cholesterol;
- heart disease and stroke;
- type-2 diabetes;
- some cancers; and
The good news is that eating a nutritious, healthy diet and getting adequate exercise doesn’t have to be that hard. Just a few small lifestyle changes can set you on the path to a lifetime of healthy habits.
So what is considered a healthy diet? Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating a balance of:
- Vegetables and fruit. Choose dark green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach and orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Grain products. Make at least half of your grain products whole grain (barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa) each day.
- Milk and alternatives. Select lower fat dairy products. Limit cream cheese, ice cream, coffee cream, and sour cream. These foods are high in saturated fats as well as calories.
- Meat and alternatives. Select lean meats and eat at least two servings of fish a week.
How can you be self-aware?
Limit highly processed, packaged foods, store-bought cookies and cakes and soft drinks. They often contain high levels of salts, sugars and fats and are of low nutritional value. If your family loves their treats, try baking together. This way you control the amounts of sugar and can make healthier substitutions.
Finally, drink plenty of water, watch your portions, choose healthy snacks and don’t skip meals — especially breakfast. Breakfast is crucial to good health. It kick-starts your metabolism and wakes up your brain.
Eating well may take some preparation and forethought, but the benefits far outweigh the extra effort.
Finding the time to incorporate enough activity into our busy schedules can be problematic for many of us. Many people find it hard to make time for regular visits to the gym. Others just find exercise boring or extremely unpleasant.
But health professionals talk about activity not exercise. A 10-minute walk at lunch counts as an activity. So does digging in the garden or a bike ride with the kids. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest that adults aged 18-64 years should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week. That means your activity doesn’t have to be all at once. Ten minutes here and there throughout the week is fine.
If you are unused to a lot of physical activity, begin with moderate activities and then build to more vigorous activities as your fitness improves.
Moderate-intensity physical activities are those that cause us to sweat a little and breathe harder. A brisk walk, a bike ride, yoga or cleaning out the garage will do the trick.
Vigorous-intensity physical activities make us really perspire and make us out of breath - activities like running, soccer, cross-country skiing or tennis. However, please check with your doctor before starting any vigorous exercise.
No matter what your age or ability, it’s never too late to start improving your diet or increasing your activity. Your body will thank you.
Courtesy of Homewood Health