Topping most of our lists of New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight and exercise. Many of the chronic diseases that affect Americans can be controlled by these two activities alone – diet and regular exercise.
Overweight and obesity plague well over one-third of Americans. Billions of dollars are spent annually in attempts to lose weight through diets, health clubs and gyms, supplements, and pharmaceuticals. Many more billions of dollars are spent to treat conditions related to being overweight and obese.
Many fall victim to the myriad of media ads promising rapid weight loss in just days with minimal commitment- pills that melt away fat while you sleep, trendy diets, etc. Most of these sound and are too good to be true.
Our weight is controlled by many complex hormonal, genetic, and environmental factors. But, simply stated, our bodies are made to move and to be active and food is the way we provide the energy to do so.
Before our society became so sedentary, most people spent the majority of their work day in motion, many still do. They walk, lift, pull, bend, and stretch to accomplish the tasks of everyday work. Now, many of us sit at a desk for the greater part of the day, using only our fingers to type and our brains to think. Because of this, our energy requirements for a typical work day are minimal.
The same is true for children. We are now seeing more overweight children and a rise in the incidence of diabetes and other metabolic diseases in younger ages. This is in part due to less physical activity and an increase in sedentary activities such as television and video games. Additionally, high calorie foods and snacks create an excess of energy going into the body.
On average, our bodies will require approximately 1,000-1,500 cal. /day at rest. This is the basal metabolic rate. Men generally have a higher BMR than women due to greater muscle mass. The BMR of children depends on their age and growth rate. Nevertheless, using muscles uses more energy. For example, if I walk for 30 minutes, I’ll burn an extra 200 calories.
Problems arise when we eat like we are more active than we actually are or we just don’t think about how much extra energy we are putting in our bodies on a daily basis. It is very easy to take in 300 to 500 extra calories just by consuming a typical bag of potato chips and a regular can of soda. Do that every day for a week and you’ve gained an extra pound!
Being serious about losing weight requires that we be honest with ourselves. How much exercise did I really do today? Was it the recommended 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity or did I skip it altogether or cut it short because I didn’t have time or was too tired after work? Did I choose healthy meals today or just what was easiest to fix or to fit into my busy schedule? Did I sabotage myself by sneaking in that mid-morning snack or that late evening high calorie food while watching TV?
It is literally a minute by minute daily challenge. But, we are creatures of habit and we can chose to get into new habits of healthy eating and regular exercise just as easy as choosing to stick with the old habits.
The content in this column is for informational purposes only. Consult your physician for appropriate individual treatment. Dr. Reynolds practices Family Medicine in Chesterfield.