How much of a difference can people make when it comes to their own health? Plenty, as it turns out. Although genetics and environment play a role, the biggest factors are what we eat and how active we are.
Small changes can make a big difference and summer is a great time to get started, says Dr. Mitesh Kothari, who founded HEAL of Washington County in Maryland to support those efforts. HEAL, which stands for Healthy Eating and Active Lifestyles, organizes programs for community walking groups, school nutrition and diabetes prevention.
He talked recently about what he tells his patients at Capital Women’s Care in Hagerstown, MD.
It makes all the difference. We’ve got lots of research showing the negative effects of being inactive and sedentary.
On average, a normal weight person walks 7,000 steps, but an obese person walks just 3,000 steps. If you walk more than 10,000 steps a day, you’re considered active.
Do you have to make a big commitment?
You need to commit to making sustainable changes, but it shouldn’t be too complicated. People tell me that they’ve been meaning to join a gym, and that’s why they’re not getting active. But they don’t have to do that. It doesn’t have to be inconvenient. It can be as simple as parking a little further away from the movie theater. You need to find ways to fit it into your day. It could be playing with your kids, mowing the lawn or dancing around the kitchen. Really, any activity counts.
And, start slowly. The big mistake people make is that they think they have to go from 0 to 60. Start with a walk around the block one night, and then the next go around twice. Eventually, it just becomes a part of your lifestyle.
You can also think about the big picture. There are some days I know I won’t take a lot of steps because I’m busy in the clinic, but I try to make up for it on the other days. My goal is to get more than 70,000 steps in a week rather than getting hung up on each day.
What’s a good way to get started?
At HEAL, we give people a pedometer and have them behave like they always do to get a base line. Then you know what you’re doing and can set goals. A good goal is to increase activity by 50 percent over eight weeks. You want to set a reasonable, achievable goal so you can feel successful. Ultimately, you want this to last. The message I want to give people is to make small incremental changes that are doable.
Having a pedometer or using a smartphone app can help hold you accountable and push you too. When people have an objective measurement and they can see how they’re doing throughout the day, they’re more likely to take a few extra steps.
Why Don’t People Do the Things That Will Make a Difference?
A lot of times, it’s that they’re not motivated. They know what to do, but they don’t follow through. I try to help them find ways to make it easier and make it a part of their lives.
It’s also about habits. What we eat and the things we do are often just habits we have developed. If we stop to think about it, we can change those habits. It isn’t necessarily easy. Some people are addicted to food, but it can be done with one small change at a time.
How do you motivate people?
I try to help them understand the link between their cardiovascular health, their BMI and longevity. Your weight is a major factor in your life expectancy. I see people who spend a lot of time planning for their financial future, but they’re not planning for their future health. If you want to live longer and to continue to do the things you love, then this the time to get started.
Ella Health is a sponsor of the HEAL Color Splash 5K, a fun run on Saturday, September 10, 9 a.m. To noon in Fairground Park, Hagerstown. Registration is open.