I’d like to be able to say the past decade saw memorable improvements in American health and fitness, but that just isn’t true. In fact, what I’ll remember about this decade is that it’s followed the previous health trends: A dramatic increase in obesity in the U.S. has occurred in the past couple of decades, and unfortunately, there’s no evidence this trend will be reversed.
In fact, in 2009, only Colorado and the District of Columbia had a less than 20% obesity prevalence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1). Thirty-three states had a prevalence greater than or equal to 25%; nine of these states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and West Virginia) had obesity rates equal to or greater than 30%. Not a single state has shown a decline in the prevalence of obesity. In fact, countless studies show that Americans are in worse shape today than at any other time in history.
Healthy Eating, Drinking & Indulging
So what should we do this year, to improve overall health and fitness? Rather than focus on complex strategies that are difficult to follow, I think we should concentrate our efforts on three basic areas: drinking, eating and indulging our way to health and fitness in 2011 and the next decade.
Drinking: No, not alcohol. I mean drink plenty of water—stay hydrated. As well as other benefits, I find the athletes I work with are less apt to eat out of boredom, and their hunger is more easily controlled if they’re well hydrated. Additionally, they’re more efficient when well hydrated.
Eating: Eat as much as you’d like of fruits and vegetables occurring in their natural states. The average American’s diet lacks fruits and vegetables, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest eating a variety of at least five fruits and vegetables a day. Fruits and vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that will help protect us from chronic diseases. Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts are likely to have a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and other cardiovascular diseases, as well as certain cancers.
Exercising: Let’s be honest: We need to have the strength and endurance to climb multiple flights of stairs, carry equipment and patients, and we need to be able to do this with enough energy and focus leftover to continue providing care to patients in life-threatening situations. Exercise needs to be a top priority and needs to be considered an investment in our overall well being. I’ve offered plenty of ideas in my previous articles, but only you can actually make the effort to do the workout. Modern medicine has done more than its fair share in increasing the lifespan of the average American—in fact, we’re living longer than ever before. However, our own efforts in improving physical fitness will have more of an effect on our quality of life over the years than anything the health-care system can give us.
For example, Ellington Darden, PhD, describes in Living Longer Stronger, the concept of “creeping obesity,” which he defines as the slow but steady gain of fat and simultaneous loss of muscle. For example, a typical 50- year-old American who’s gained a pound of fat a year since age 20 has gained 30 pounds of fat, but the simultaneous loss of a half a pound a year of muscle yields 15 pounds. This nets a somewhat acceptable gain of only 15 pounds on the total body-weight scale. This creeping obesity disguises sarcopenia, which is the loss of muscle over time due to inactivity or inadequate activity. The only way to address this situation—and to prevent creeping obesity and the host of medical problems that follow—is to focus your efforts on a balanced strength and conditioning program.
Let’s enjoy the next decade by drinking, eating and indulging our way to improvements in our health.