What do I need to do to be more healthy and fit? Modify my eating? Add more exercise?
“To attain a moderate level of health and fitness, it’s a dual-pronged approach,” says Natasha Weddle, founder of TNB Fitness and The New Beginnings Center in Nashville, Tennessee. “Sure, you can make better choices of what you put into your body, but healthy eating is only part of the equation. Or you could start an exercise program to improve your fitness, but unless you have a combination of both, you’re selling yourself short.”
A former college basketball player, Natasha learned by experience—and five surgeries—the importance of a well-rounded approach to health and wellness.
After 17 years as a strength and conditioning coach, she created TNB Fitness to promote a full circle of health and fitness that helps people maximize their potential.
As an uncomplicated way to incorporate new habits into one’s lifestyle, Natasha advocates the “Triple Seven Rule,” developed by fitness company Strength Matters:
- Walk: seven days a week, taking 7,000 steps a day.
- Water: seven days a week, drink seven glasses a day.
- Sleep: seven days a week, sleep seven hours a day.
She says these guidelines put you on your way to becoming healthier and more fit, even if you’re not making massive changes.
“The beauty of the Triple Sevens is you can approach it gradually,” Natasha notes. “For instance, if you don’t walk purposefully at all, consider walking three days a week, and aim for an incremental number that’s fewer than 7,000 steps each day—something you’re comfortable with. After a week or so, push yourself to add more steps and another day. Depending on your commitment, you’ll likely build up to seven days, 7,000 steps in four to eight weeks.”
The same holds true for adding water.
“Break it down into manageable goals: a glass of water before breakfast, another glass at lunch and another at dinner results in three of the seven each day,” she says. “If you’re already drinking that much water, add another glass between meals or after your daily walk.”
Don’t Neglect Hydration
The average person drinks 1.8 cups of water daily, and nearly 75% of Americans are dehydrated, according to waterlogic.com.
“That’s simply not enough water for your vital organs to function properly,” Natasha says. “Water is not only vital for proper digestion and processing the food you eat, it’s crucial to keep your muscles, kidneys, liver and even your brain working at peak. Research shows that water is much more critical for survival than food.”
She says to avoid drinks with added sugar or empty calories. Fruit juices are loaded with sugar, and sports drinks don’t provide the full circle of benefits of plain water.
As for sleep, Natasha says seven to eight hours is ideal for the average person, but 33% of the population gets fewer than six and a half hours each night.
“The hours of quality sleep you get nightly affect not only your focus and energy level during the day, it contributes to weight gain over time,” she says. “If you’re short-circuiting the amount of sleep you get, you increase your risk of heart attacks, stroke and sudden cardiac death.”
Ease Into Exercise
Upping your walking game adds cardiovascular exercise to your lifestyle, which is especially good for your heart, joint and muscle health. Just be sure to check with your physician before you begin any exercise program to ensure you have no underlying conditions that might preclude exercise.
People often put off exercising because they think it’s too large of a time commitment—and if they don’t have time, they just don’t do it at all.
“Start slowly,” Natasha says. “Increase your movement every day and build up your time. If you’re a couch potato, just a little bit is a good start. As little as 15 minutes a day can boost your life expectancy by up to three years.”
Once you have improved your fitness level, a shorter, less frequent routine two or three days a week will help you maintain it.
“Don’t overlook flexibility and strength training,” Natasha says. “Both will help with your overall health and help you deal with the possibility of arthritis, bone density issues and osteoporosis.”
People naturally lose bone mass with age.
“By rounding out your fitness program with gentle stretching and low-weight work, you’re helping delay the aging process and keeping your body fitter,” Natasha says.
Mobility work is a good part of any routine, but it’s probably the most overlooked because people get into a hurry.
“Warming up before any exercise—walking, strength training or playing a sport—can help prepare your body for exercise,” she says. “A warmup can be five minutes of moving your body plus a little gentle jogging in place—just enough to let your body know you’re changing your pace.”
Food Choices Matter
The Triple Seven Rule is a good foundation to improve overall health and fitness, but what if you want to lose weight?
“First, if you drink water before meals, your stomach will signal your brain that you’re not as hungry as you feel, and you’ll eat less,” Natasha says. “Also, slow down and be mindful of eating your meal. Sit at the dinner table without distractions, such as television or reading. Chew thoroughly and enjoy the process of eating. Take at least 20 to 30 minutes to finish your meal; that allows your stomach to signal your brain that you’ve satisfied your hunger.”
To stave off hunger between meals, Natasha recommends eating whole eggs rather than a grain-based breakfast.
“The protein in eggs will help you feel more satisfied than cereal, pancakes or toast,” she says, noting that drinking coffee or green tea can also help raise your metabolism. “Studies show the caffeine can boost your metabolism by 3% to 11% and increase fat burning by 10% to 29%.”
She cites added sugar as perhaps the worst culprit in today’s food intake.
“For one, sugar is undeniably associated with the risk of obesity, plus diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease,” Natasha says. “Just cutting back on sugar and choosing healthier alternatives can improve your health and wellness.”
If you must snack, she says to have healthy options such as nuts, raw vegetables, fruit, whey protein and unsweetened yogurt.
Natasha recommends adding more fruit, vegetables and fiber to your diet, always being mindful that what goes in your body—paired with some sort of activity—is the foundation to a healthy approach.
“If you only do the Triple Seven, make better nutrition choices and commit to them long term, you will notice a difference in your energy level, your concentration and your mindset,” she says. “Improving your health and fitness is a lifelong journey. It all starts with small steps. It took years to become the person you are, so don’t expect instant results. Fully enjoy the rest of your life.”
Five Measures of Fitness
The medical community cites five measures that determines a person’s overall fitness:
- Cardiovascular endurance.
- Muscle strength.
- Muscle endurance.
- Body composition.
Preventing heart attacks, managing blood pressure, avoiding strokes, relieving stress and enhancing immunity can be improved through cardiovascular health and endurance. Muscular strength and endurance go hand in hand.
“Core muscles that help us maintain an upright posture are constantly at work,” says Dr. Lauren Elson, director of dance medicine at Spaulding Rehabilitation and instructor at Harvard Medical School. “Keeping them fit can help prevent or reduce such things as low back or neck pain. You can lose range of motion if you don’t regularly move your joints and keep your muscles and frame limber.”
Measures of body composition include body mass index, ratios of height to weight or gauging your body’s percentage of body fat using skin-fold calipers.
“Body weight, in and of itself, is not a great measure of fitness,” Lauren says. “While it may be appropriate for some people to use it as one piece of the puzzle, it does not reflect all of the other factors related to fitness. For example, someone who is gaining muscle through exercise may gain weight while actually slimming down.”
No Matter Your Age, Get Walking
Almost anyone can do it anywhere at any time—and it’s one of the best paths to fitness.
“Walking is an excellent way to stay active and healthy,” says Serena Weisner, director of community programming for the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance. “Research has shown that walking regularly can help prevent osteoarthritis and help keep people in better shape.”
The OAAA—a national coalition that provides education about osteoarthritis—is working with the Arthritis Foundation to implement “Walk With Ease.”
The self-directed program lets people work at their own pace to increase their activity. It involves more than walking.
“For the first five minutes, do a slow warmup of your muscles followed by a few gentle stretches,” Serena says. “Then walk at your own pace for your own amount of time. When you’ve finished, take another five minutes to cool down by walking slowly and stretch again. This will help prevent muscle soreness and reduce the risk of injury.”
For maximum effectiveness, the goal is to build up to about 150 minutes a week—30 minutes a day, five days a week, done in two 15-minute walks or three 10-minute walks.
“Create a walking program that works for you and your lifestyle,” Serena stresses. “The key is to start where you are, set achievable goals and realize that you’re doing a positive thing for yourself. It’s a good habit to get into that will give you long-term benefits for your overall health and wellness.”
Serena says research confirms people who stay consistently active tend to manage osteoarthritis more effectively than those who are sedentary.
“This is opposite of what many people believe,” she says. “They often think that if their joints hurt, they shouldn’t move, but that’s just not true.”
Walking can strengthen muscles, which helps support joints, and keep them better aligned. It also improves cardiovascular health and blood pressure, and decreases stress.
“No matter what your fitness or activity level, starting a walking routine is achievable,” Serena says. “You don’t need any special equipment other than a supportive pair of walking shoes; it’s an easy activity that you can do at your own pace; and it’s low-impact, so it is less likely to injure joints than higher-impact activities like jogging or running might.”
Serena suggests writing down your barriers to walking, and tackling them one at a time.
“Work it into your daily routine bit by bit,” she says. “Park your car farther away from the store when you’re running errands or march in place when you are on conference calls. Find a walking partner so you can inspire each other. Listen to music or podcasts to get you going. If you can’t walk outside, walk inside your home.”
A Walk With Ease workbook and walking plan is available in English and Spanish for $11.95 at www.arthritis.org, along with online videos that demonstrate recommended stretches, warm-ups and cooldowns to help people walk more safely.