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A healthier you - Steps for success

March 07, 2007|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Do you want to look better? Do you want to feel better? Do you want to lose a few pounds and reduce your risk of getting diabetes or having a heart attack? Do you want to have more energy and enthusiasm for daily life? If you want any or all of these things, then you want to follow the basic message of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans - eat smarter, eat less and move more - at www.mypyramid.gov.

Make smart choices from every food group. The permanent way to a healthy weight is to make smart choices from every food group. Where are these smart choices? Where can you find naturally nutrient-rich foods and drinks; ones that are power-packed with energy, protein, vitamins and minerals? Look on the outside edges of your supermarket - fruits and vegetables from the produce aisles, whole grains from the bakery, low-fat milk products from the dairy case and lean proteins from the meat/fish/poultry departments.

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Get the most nutrition from your calories. Our basic problem is that we consume too many empty-calorie foods and beverages high in sugar and fat but low in nutrition. The key is to moderate, not eliminate. Watching portion sizes is an easy way to cut back, without cutting out.

You can make a big difference in your calorie intake by eating and drinking smaller portions and by having empty calories less often. Want to cut back on sugar? Limit your soft drink intake to one can a day and switch to water the rest of the time.

Find your balance between food and physical activity. What you eat is just one half of the healthy weight equation. The other half is the physical activity you do.

Most of us take in more calories than we spend on daily physical activities. Our lives combine too much TV and computer with too many chips and candy bars. Healthier balance means fitting more activity into a day. The minimum for good health is about 30 minutes of moderate activity per day. For a healthy body weight, you might need a longer time, such as 60 minutes a day or more intense activities.

Make a commitment to regular physical activity. An active lifestyle is essential for good health and a healthy weight. However, there is no need for painful exercise or long, boring workouts. All it takes is a commitment to regular, enjoyable physical activity.

Most people identify time as the biggest obstacle to exercise. The secret is to fit fitness into your normal, everyday routine. Set a simple activity goal: at least 10 minutes at a time; at least 30 to 60 minutes per day; at least five days a week.

If you have an hour to go to the fitness center, that's great. If you don't, you can still get the activity you need for health and weight control. All it takes is 10 minutes of activity at a time - such as walking around the block, or around the mall before you shop. You can do it all at once, or you can do 10-minute bursts of activity. You can do it inside, or you can do it outside. You can do it alone, or you can do it with friends. All you have to do is a total of 30 to 60 minutes of fun, physical activity on most days.

Aim to be active at least five days a week. Some people like the routine of going to a class at the gym. Others get bored doing the same thing day after day.

Fitness classes, dancing with friends, playing with the kids, walking the dog, shoveling snow, biking to work, it all counts. Change the "E" word from exercise to enjoyment! Dance with a loved one, walk with your faithful pet, or play with the children at the park. If you love what you are doing, you will keep doing it and you will keep moving toward a healthier you!

If you gradually start eating wisely and moving more, you will be healthier, happier and better able to do the things you want to do.

For more information on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans visit www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidlines. For more information on healthy food choices visit www.mypyramid.gov. For more information on other nutrition topics, visit www.nutrition.gov.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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