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The Cost of Obesity

imagesHealth care has been a hot topic for several years now, from the rising costs of health care and the hard working citizens who can’t afford it to the lack of quality of health care in this country.  As our top brass sit atop Capitol Hill and try to determine YOUR destiny in regards to health care, the unfortunate joke in all of this is that we as citizens and humans for that matter have had control over our destiny since the day we were born.  Problem is, we’ve just decided not to, and as a result, the cost of health care is growing exponentially with our waistlines.

Most of us are already aware that carrying extra weight increases the risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and many types of cancer.  But consider some of these staggering statistics. If Americans continue to pack on pounds, obesity will cost the United States (you and me) about $344 billion in medical-related expenses by 2018, eating up about 21% of health-care spending. These calculations are based on the projection that in 10 years 43% of American adults may be obese, which is roughly 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight, if obesity continues to rise at the current rate.

“Obesity is going to be a leading driver in rising health-care costs,” says Kenneth Thorpe, chairman of the department of health policy and management at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Thorpe did a special analysis on obesity for America’s Health Rankings, the 20th annual assessment of the nation’s health on a state-by-state basis. “There is a tsunami of chronic preventable disease about to be unleashed into our medical-care system which is increasingly unaffordable,” says Reed Tuckson of United Health Foundation, sponsor of the report with the American Public Health Association and Partnership for Prevention.  Using weight data, census statistics, and medical expenditure information, Thorpe found:

•An obese person will have an average of $8,315 in medical bills a year in 2018 compared with $5,855 for an adult at a healthy weight. That’s a difference of $2,460.

•If the percentage of obese adults doesn’t change but stays at the current rate of 34%, then excess weight will cost the nation about $198 billion by 2018.

•If the obesity rate continues to rise until 2018, then Colorado may be the only state with less than 30% of residents who are obese.

•More than 50% of the population in several states could be obese by 2018.  These states are Oklahoma, Mississippi, Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio and South Dakota.

The report adds to the growing body of evidence of obesity’s impact on medical costs. A study released in July 2009 showed that obese Americans cost the country about $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008, double what it was a decade ago. It now accounts for about 9.1% of medical spending. Overall, the United States spends about $1.8 trillion a year in medical costs associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and all three are linked to smoking and obesity, the nation’s two largest risk factors, according to the America’s Health Rankings report.

Smoking is still the number one preventable cause of death in the country, accounting for about 440,000 deaths annually, the report says.  About one in five Americans smoke. More than 3 million people quit smoking this past year. The percentage of people who smoke varies by state, from 9.3% in Utah to more than 25% in Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia, the study says.  “This report is an urgent call to take much more aggressive action to deal with key disease risk factors such as obesity and smoking,” Tuckson says. Health economist Eric Finkelstein, co-author of The Fattening of America, says medical costs won’t go down unless Americans make a serious effort “to slim down by improving their diet and exercise patterns.”

Diet and exercise; it always seems to come down to those two things.  So what will it take for the country to realize that before we self-destruct?  Perhaps the real weapons of mass destruction are literally right beneath our noses.

Featured in February 2010 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Fitness Is A Marathon, Not a Sprint

marathon_runAt the time I began to write this article, it was hard to believe that all of the snow would ever go away; that spring would never come, and according to the groundhog, we were in store for another few more weeks of winter.  But it then became more noticeable that the daylight hours had been getting longer and the birds had resumed their chirping in the morning.  Even with all of the snow on the ground, a lot of melting occurred during the daylight hours. Spring is indeed coming and before long outdoor activity will resume.  Question is, will you be ready or has your fitness been put in hibernation over the winter?

There are several definitions for fitness.  Fitness can embody physical, mental, emotional, and even fiscal, but simply stated fitness is about being adapted, suited, and prepared. Whether or not you enjoy running for exercise or participate in races, running provides a great analogy when it comes to understanding the value of keeping fitness as a part of your everyday life.  Just like most things in life, a run is a journey between two points – a beginning and an end.  The beginning can be anything from that first step out the door, to the start of the trail, to the line on the track, etc.  The end, finish line, or goal, is different for everyone.  If the goal is to run a 5K, the finish line is 3.1 miles away; a marathon, 26.2 miles away.  But no matter the goal, there has to be a plan in place to get there and that is where most fall short in their journey.

As previously stated, fitness is about preparedness – the preparedness to ward of most self-induced costly illnesses, improve quality of life; the list is limitless. As is clearly evident in today’s society, we are a nation of unfit, unprepared people who would much rather do something quick and right now than correctly and more beneficial to our health. Fast food, convenience food, crash diets, diet gimmicks, fitness gimmicks, etc., they are all a quick fix (sprint) to a much more efficient and time honored solution – consistent, dedicated time (marathon) to doing what’s right. Imagine for a moment the runner and the pain he would have to endure running a marathon after having done little to no training.  Had he spent a little bit more time preparing for the race by training and eating smarter, finishing the marathon would at least be realistic.

Not everyone needs to run a marathon to appreciate the fact that as in life, slow and steady wins the race every time; slow to progress with the training and steady by keeping actions consistent with the goal in mind. We’re too easily swept up in the “I don’t have time”, “I’m too busy”, “I don’t need to exercise” excuses and then want the sympathy in the end when the pack has finished ahead healthy and strong and we are left in the dust of wonderment.  We’re too easily influenced by fitness gimmicks and food product marketing that leave most with such a warped sense of what it means to be healthy that they have themselves so convinced that they know what’s best. Imagine the runner again missing a turn in a marathon thinking that he knew a shortcut, only to find out that the 26.2 miles has now doubled.

A marathon is not won or raced efficiently for most by running at full speed from the start.  Unlike a sprint, which is over in seconds, a marathon is not only a test of endurance and stamina, but the mental toughness and willingness to press on when everyone else would most likely quit. As in life, it’s easy to quit, walk away when things get challenging. Most of us however are capable of even the shortest of sprints; sprinting to the car when it starts to down pour; hitting the vending machine because you didn’t eat breakfast; stopping at the fast food joint on the way home for dinner. With the sprint, it’s over in a flash and the desired result is immediate.  With a marathon, it takes time and patience.

Fitness is a lifestyle –  a life long process of eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting plenty of rest, managing the mental and emotional stresses in our lives to name a few.  Contrary to what our perceptions may be due to marketing and advertising, fitness is not a guarantee.  Rather it is achieved through proper planning and implementation of sound principles and not marketing hype. And in today’s world, nothing can be more gratifying than knowing there is something you really do have control of, and that is your health.

Featured in April 2010 Issue of the 422 Business Advisor

The Business of Failure

download (2)Why would anyone go into business if they thought they were going to fail?  Despite the statistics of new start ups that plunder in the first three to five years (2/3 in two years, 44% in four years) not one of them would say they took the leap of faith because they knew they would fail. Failure is not a goal, at least not for anyone who sets out to do something they dream about.  So why then do people try every new diet fad year after year when they know, or may be it is because they don’t, that they are doomed to failure? Is it desperation, blind faith, or the belief that “this time is going to be different”?

Consider the research that reports that 95% of those who diet are guaranteed failure, and of the 5% that do see some results, 95% of them gain it all back and then some in three years.  These statistics say it all.  Go on a diet and you will most certainly fail.  What kind of winning proposition is that? Would you invest 100% of your assets if you knew that you would lose 95%?  That’s exactly what society has done with its health, particularly its nutrition, and why the current obesity epidemic is not going to go away for quite some time. What is it about dieting that makes it so popular despite its low success rate?

The American way is that we want it fast and we want it now.  With certain aspects of life, this thought process may deliver.  However, our bodies do not work that way.  Despite all the media hoopla, all the sensationalized TV shows, and an impatient, reactive society, the body’s resistance to dieting is nature’s way of saying, “you lose – I win”.  Our bodies are designed to do one thing and that is to keep us alive.  Here’s a little history lesson to prove why diets never work.

Long ago before Wawa and Starbuck’s, there was man and the land.  To survive, he had to eat. To eat, he had to hunt and gather.  When there was nothing around to hunt or gather, he relied on stored energy (bodyfat) to keep him alive. Unfortunately, there were times when this could go on for several days with little to no food and the reason they did not die (fail) was because of the body’s natural defense against starvation. Like starving, restriction of calories (aka dieting) tells the body to enter into its survival mode.  Survival mode involves slowing of the metabolism (energy conservation), increase in fat storage enzymes (storing energy), decrease in fat burning enzymes (energy utilization), and an increase in the hunger response.  Dieting, although planned, is nothing more than premeditated starvation.  The struggle begins when an attempt to drop weight is met with the body fighting to keep it.  The winner in this endless struggle is the body. By restricting calories, the body is programmed to battle and resist every effort to drop weight. The simple truth in this is that diets can not and do not work, despite all the gimmicks and tricks that are sold to us.  If it was just as easy as cutting calories back and avoiding all the food we crave, the diet statistics would paint a different picture.

Dieting is not about losing weight.  Dieting is about quick fixes and remedies to resolve lingering problems that can not be corrected overnight.  It is psychologically, physically, emotionally, and socially draining.  It is about disobeying the laws of nature and developing habits that are not conducive to most people’s lifestyles. Even the word diet says d-i-e. Healthy living and avoiding controllable failures is all about lifestyle. In 10,000 years, man may have adapted to his new surroundings but his survival mechanism has not, and when our society has come to understand that concept, we will be in the business of success.

Featured in March 2010 issue of the 422 Business Advisor

Combating Desk Work Injuries

Woman with pain in the back officeInjuries at work are common (3.7 million cases in 2008), particularly in occupations that require physical labor. But what about the white collar folks?  The desk jockeys sitting in front of their computer; the salesman driving in the car from client to client; the endless work traveler. Do these workers miss days due to occupational hazards? After all, does anyone really get hurt while sitting at a desk?  Shouldn’t you have to lift something or be performing back breaking exercises all day long to even have a chance at getting injured while on the job? It will come as a surprise to most, but sitting is actually one of the most dangerous positions to be in as it is the root cause of a multitude of work injuries.

Before you stand up and refrain from ever sitting again, understand that we were not designed to sit for extended periods of time.  The hips flex and the knees bend to allow us to sit, but the supporting musculature gets stressed to the point where it works against us, causing back stiffness, pain, and the potential for debilitating back injuries.  Back pain however, while more easily to locate and perhaps comprehend, is not the only source of work absenteeism due to injury.  Repetitive motion injuries are the other biggest cause of pain and represent the largest expense for companies in the workers compensation arena.

Repetitive motion injuries are just as the name implies – the result of overuse and generally occur from the shoulder down.  According to the National Occupation Research Agenda for Musculoskeletal Disorders, the most frequently reported upper-extremity musculoskeletal disorders affect the hand and wrist region, with the most common being carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is generally characterized by numbness in the thumb, index and middle fingers. Aside from the pain and numbness associated with carpal tunnel syndrome, pain is sometimes felt where the thumb meets the wrist and is caused by a tendinitis of the muscles that pull the thumb back (as if you were hitchhiking). People who type tensely are prone to developing this tendinitis as they hold their thumbs over the keyboard with tension. Pain at the base of the thumb can also be caused by arthritis in the joint where the long palm bone meets one of the tiny wrist bones of the thumb. Lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, has also been known to rear its painful head from hours and hours of computer mouse usage. And even if you have been able to avoid repetitive motion injuries (RMIs), there’s still a really good chance you may or may have suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome.

If you are working on computers or at a desk, chances are you are developing poor posture habits. We tend to round our shoulders forward and crane our head forward. These poor posture habits will gradually tighten the chest muscles and weaken the back muscles. This chronic change in posture leads to what is called thoracic outlet syndrome.  Thoracic outlet syndrome is characterized by tendinitis in the neck and shoulders; compression of the nerves effecting internal organs such as the lungs; neck pain; migraines; shoulder pain; and a sense of tiredness or heaviness in either or both arms.  Like an injury report the day after a football game, the list could go on.  The good news is that most if not all of the aforementioned conditions are preventable and treatable.   Here are some quick and easy tips to keep you in play, or work:

Prevention

Posture correction – It’s amazing the results, but simply being more aware of your posture (head up, shoulders back, chest forward) will go a long way to preventing a lot of potential work related injuries.

Protect your wrist Maintain a neutral wrist position; the wrist should be flat in relationship to the forearm; it should not be bent forward or back.

Office ergonomicsTry a negative tilt of the keyboard where the row of keys closest to you is slightly higher than the row farthest away and position keyboard so that the elbows are at a 90° angle with the shoulders.

Get up and move – Every 20 minutes, just stand up and walk around; stand up when you have to answer the phone.

Treatment 

Stretching to ease tightness in the neck muscles is very important.  It is also essential to strengthen the muscles that hold the head over the shoulders.  Here are four that you can try; 10 repetitions of each exercise should be done twice daily:

  • Corner Stretch – Stand in a corner (about 1 foot from the corner) with your hands at shoulder height, one on each wall. Lean into the corner until you feel a gentle stretch across your chest. Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Neck Stretch – Put your left hand on your head, and your right hand behind your back. Pull your head toward your left shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold for 5 seconds. Switch hand positions and repeat the exercise in the opposite direction.
  • Shoulder Rolls – Shrug your shoulders up, back, and then down in a circular motion.
  • Neck Retraction – Pull your head straight back, keeping your jaw level. Hold for 5 seconds

Of course, any physical remedy could not be complete without adding some exercises, preferably away from your desk and with lots of movement. While exercise is certainly just as good a prevention tactic, it won’t hurt to take care of the matters at hand. Be sure to include resistance training to support and strengthen the skeleton and perhaps some yoga to help lengthen and stretch tight postural muscles.

Featured in December 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

No Pain, No Gain: Myth or Truth?

400_F_54184437_5HceCfzh1jgdfOipzWNlDs7oTVIGBxS6No pain, no gain.  For decades, this was the accepted mantra of those who competed in bodybuilding or power lifting events, which was then passed on to and assumed by the general population as the only way to exercise to improve health, lose weight, or change the shape of their body.  As years of research and a better understanding of the effects of exercise on the body have shown, the “no pain, no gain” theme is not really fair or accurate. Or is it? Most exercise “novices” or “naysayers” would say it is bad advice, but as a fitness professional I have another perspective to offer you.

Success, whether in life, your career, your relationships, and even your body is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone and that may require embracing some pain.  To reach high levels of physical and personal success you must approach your training, and your entire life, as an endeavor in constant growth. The ultimate truth is, you are either moving forward or moving backward; growing or dying. There’s no such thing as comfortably maintaining. To grow, you must step above past achievements; beyond your perceived boundaries and limits. That means stepping out of the known, into the unknown; out of the familiar and into the unfamiliar; out of the comfortable into the uncomfortable. You must get out of your comfort zone.

Cavett Robert, who was founder of the National Speakers Association, said, “Most people are running around their whole lives with their umbilical cords in their hands and they’re looking for some place to plug it back in.” A majority of the population is scared of the new, unknown and unfamiliar. They prefer to stay in that womb of comfort. When the going gets tough, when the effort gets painful, when the work gets hard, they always pull back into safety. But the extraordinary people do the opposite. They know they have to get out of the comfort zone, and into new territory or they’ll stagnate and die. You can’t grow or change by doing what you’ve already done. You’ve got to train just to prevent yourself from going backwards. Maintenance doesn’t occur when you do nothing. Maintenance is working to fight entropy (the tendency for things to naturally deteriorate).

Nevertheless, most people still will not leave their comfort zones. They won’t do it in business, they won’t do it in their personal lives, and they certainly won’t do it when seeking REAL change in their health and fitness. Why? Because it hurts, it’s uncomfortable, and it means more work beyond what they consider to be hard work already.  And that’s what it means to step outside the comfort zone. It is uncomfortable. Change is uncomfortable, whether it’s physical mental, or emotional.  It requires discipline, sacrifice, uncertainty and fear. To say, “no pain no gain” is bad advice is admittedly accepting things for the way they are, and if you are happy with that then no one or nothing can change your mind. The fact of life is that you don’t grow unless you are constantly stepping outside the comfort zone, and outside the comfort zone requires a little discomfort and pain.

The statement “no pain, no gain” has been misinterpreted, criticized and labeled a fallacy by many. However, those doing the criticizing are almost always the pretenders, the “comfort zoners” who haven’t achieved much. My advice to you is to ignore them. Step out of your comfort zone and follow the small percentage of people who press on and achieve great things. Embrace the “good pain” of growth and when it subsides, enjoy the benefits of the change. But I forewarn you. Enjoy the view for a short while because it’s not long before that higher level becomes your new comfort zone and then its time to press on again.

Featured in October 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Going Green With Health and Fitness?

getting-your-friends-to-go-greenGoing Green” appears to be one of, if not the mantra of the new century.  Companies worldwide are claiming to cut back on waste production, energy costs, and finding newer Earth friendly solutions for conducting business in today’s eco-conscious world.  “Going Green” initiatives began in response to the growing concern for the health of the Earth and its environment as a result of the adverse changes occurring to the planet, whether caused by man, natural causes, or some combination of both.  But what about a growing concern for the health of the population? Is it just not that important to us? Do we care more about the environment we live in as opposed to being around to actually enjoy it? Or is it we just don’t understand enough the actual long term cost of an unhealthy life and its impact on us and the Earth? I believe the latter to be the truest.

Fitness is defined as a state of health, characteristics, symptoms and behaviors enabling a person to have the highest quality of lifeThe amazing thing about fitness is that the majority of people can obtain it.  Fitness is within everyone’s reach. All that is required is a desire to reach out, learn about it and just get started – and not for just getting ready for that vacation or reunion.

Here are some alarming statistics from the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) on what being unfit has caused in the U.S.: 13.5 million people have heart disease; 8 million people have diabetes (type II); 50 million people have high blood pressure; 121 million (2/3 of U.S. Pop.) are overweight; 60 million people (1/3 of U.S. Pop.) are obese; 250,000 hip fractures occur each year; 95,000 new cases of colon cancer each year.  The numbers are staggering, and studies provide evidence that obesity is in position to take over heart disease as the number one killer of Americans within the next few years.  The costs associated with unhealthiness however are what are even more impressive.

According to a recent study done by the CDC and the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), the health cost of obesity in the U.S. is as high as $147 billion annually. These costs include payments by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. Obese people spend on average $1,429 a year on medical care – 42% more then normal weight people.  Some other astounding numbers:

  • Sedentary lifestyles account for 15% of all healthcare costs and only 20-25% of the population achieves the recommended 30 minutes of daily physical activity.
  • The total healthcare costs associated with a 24 year old male tobacco user are $220,000 which breaks down to a healthcare cost of $40 per pack of cigarettes of paid for by someone besides the smoker. 23% of Americans use tobacco.
  • Obesity accounts for 12% of healthcare costs and 67% of the US population is either overweight or obese.
  • Factoring in preventable health conditions aside from smoking you have an additional 40% of healthcare costs.
  • 70% of healthcare costs are tied directly to lifestyle decisions: physical inactivity, diet, tobacco use and preventable disease.
  • 70% of deaths in America are attributable to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and cancer, all of which are influenced very significantly by diet.

As is clearly evident, not being fit and healthy is a heavy financial burden. The majority of the population simply does not eat well, exercise, or live healthy lives because they don’t have time, or it’s too expensive, or whatever other excuses they can come up with.  The truth is that it is not that expensive, it’s a choice, and in the long run, it’ll cost you more to not accept that truth. Consider, you’ll pay more in doctor bills and health care costs because all kinds of things can go wrong when you’re not fit, such as high blood pressure, depression, etc., become more likely the less physically fit you are. Along with actual health care costs you’ll dump more cash into medicine and treatment costs because things like cold medicine and sleeping pills are more common among non-fit people. You’ll pay more for clothes that look just as good, but in a larger size. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Health care is expensive.  Premiums for medical coverage are at an all time high.  The cost of medications, treatments, hospitalization, therapies, etc, is rising because of the outrageous numbers of unhealthy people in this country.  They are putting an overload and demand on the system resulting in higher costs for everyone.   Healthy and fit individuals are not the cause of expensive health care.   Common sense tells us that if this country were more health conscious, more concerned with the foods we eat, more concerned with our fitness level, more concerned with the quality of our lives, we would all benefit.  Health care costs would begin to decrease, there would less demand on emergency rooms and hospitals, less prescription drugs prescribed for illness and disease, and much more.

What can “going green” with fitness do for you? Fitness keeps muscles strong and joints moving; increases energy levels and helps control weight; improves self image and psychological well-being; boosts your mood, decreases stress and depression; slows down the aging process and “adds life to your years, and years to your life”; reduces coronary risk and cholesterol; increases metabolic function, bone density and improves posture and spinal health; improves cardiovascular conditioning and endurance, aerobic capacity, flexibility and improved body composition; helps prevent injuries and back problems; enhances work, recreation and sports performance; promotes restful sleep and overall quality of life.

The bottom line is that the majority of health related illness and disease is preventable by taking control of your life.  By taking responsibility for your health, wellness and quality of life before it is too late.   Adding exercise of any kind into your daily routine can begin to change your health right away.  You can change your health, fitness level and life – It is a decision.   You can decide to be unfit, unhealthy and eventually ill, or you can decide to take charge of your own destiny and become fit and healthy.

Featured in September 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Recession Proof Your Health

recession-proofDoes your head hurt as the bills pile up? Is your heart racing as your investments and job opportunities head south? In these tough economic times, financial stress can hurt not only your wallet but also your body and your mind. According to a recent poll from the Associated Press, the recession and consequential debt may be harming the health of up to 16 million Americans. Although a recession does not kill tens of thousands of people in a single catastrophic event, it harms health in the long run. The consequences of dealing with financial uncertainties can be devastating. Bankruptcies, foreclosures and other economic woes are boosting a higher than normal demand for mental-health services. Money woes can trigger insomnia, anxiety and depression, rob you of time to get exercise and cook healthy foods, and make it harder to afford regular medical care. Aside from turning off the TV and ignoring the press, it’s time to fight back and protect your greatest asset–your health.  So what can you do to protect your health during the recession? Plenty. And you can do it with just a little extra effort — and very little money.

Bail Out Your Stress Reaction

A certain amount of stress in life is normal and healthy. But many people have too much or handle it poorly, and that can make us sick. It can lead to alcohol and substance abuse, headaches, ulcers, high blood pressure and heart disease. It can also raise the risk of obesity, diabetes, infections, back pain, irritable bowel syndrome and many other conditions. The wild stock market ride, rising foreclosure rates, and increasing layoffs may give you a queasy feeling in your stomach, but it’s your heart that is really at increased risk during a recession, cardiologists say. “We may not think of chemicals when it comes to matters of the heart, but much of the way the heart responds to stress comes down to body chemistry”, explains Cam Patterson, MD, chief of the division of cardiology at the University of North Carolina Medical Center in Chapel Hill. And several different chemical molecules can harm us as a result of stress. Our bodies react to stress by producing hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Especially for those already at risk for heart disease, the results of an outpouring of stress hormones can be deadly — or at least risky. They can build up over time, with effects that lead to damage of arterial walls and weakening plaque that may already be in a vessel. “They make the plaques more likely to explode,” Patterson says.  “Stress, anxiety, and depression all affect heart health,” says Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, section head of preventive cardiology and rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. One major effect is accelerated atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Elevated blood pressure and heart rate are also side effects of stress.

To keep financial stress from making you sick, the American Psychological Association (APA) advises you to:

  1. Pause and not to panic. Stay aware of current events without succumbing to media hysteria. Avoid the tendency to overreact or to become passive. Remain calm and stay focused.
  2. Identify stressors and make a plan. Review your finances and note which areas are stressing you. List ways you can trim spending and better handle your money. Budget for health care, food, grooming and other expenses. Write up a financial plan and review it regularly. Contact creditors if you’re having difficulty paying bills.
  3. Examine how you handle financial stress. Beware of negative behaviors such as smoking, drinking, gambling or fighting with your spouse. Get help if needed.
  4. View problems as opportunities. Realize that blowing your paycheck at the mall doesn’t bring happiness. Explore ways to simultaneously save money and boost physical and mental health such as walking, biking, cooking and having a family game or story night. Learn how healthy behaviors can save you money. If you’re overweight, for example, losing as little as 10 percent of your body weight may save you thousands of dollars in medicals costs over your lifetime.
  5. Chill out. Learn relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, mindfulness, or meditation. Even sharing your experiences in support groups can help your health during the recession.

Health is Wealth

When the economy is stressed, you need your health more than ever. Resist the urge to react to stress with unhealthy behaviors such as overeating or excess drinking. Look for positive, inexpensive ways to manage stress, such as:

Exercise. I know you’ve heard that exercise is important, but during a recession, your health may depend on it. This is particularly true if you’ve been laid off. The tendency may be to pull the covers over your head and stay in bed — or sit in front of the TV. Don’t. “Get your day started with a brisk walk”, says Winston Gandy, MD, co-director of cardiac ultrasound at Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta. Hazen recommends, “Do jumping jacks, take a milk crate and turn it upside down and step on it — do something.” Repeated studies have shown the benefits of exercise to heart health, with as much as a 15% decrease in mortality rates with relatively minor changes in one’s exercise routine. Running, walking and hiking are fun activities to get your heart pumping, while having fun with your friends. The bonus: it doesn’t cost a dime!

Social support. Family and friends are more important than ever in tough economic times. Researchers have documented that isolation harms our health and social support improves it. Connect with family and friends. Check out support groups or online communities. Join neighborhood organizations.

Sleep  Sleep is not just a time of rest, but of restoration,” says Charles Raison, MD, director of the Mind-Body Clinic in the department of psychiatry at Emory University School of Medicine. While we are sleeping, our bodies repair a lot of the damage that happens during the day. Although we need eight hours of sleep a night, many Americans live in a sleep-deprived state, and that’s not good for our health during the recession, or any other time. To sleep better, avoid doing stressful things before bedtime, such as paying bills, reading about your diminishing retirement fund, or having a tense conversation with your partner or family. If you have trouble sleeping on a regular basis, discuss this with your doctor.

Nutrition  Eat healthful foods and limit fatty, processed foods. Fresh vegetables, fruit, and lean meats should top your grocery list. Skip desserts and fried foods — and save money, too. If you’ve been laid off, it’s especially important to watch your weight.. “Suddenly people begin to see 5 pounds around their middle, and they don’t know where it came from,” Gandy says. Often, it comes from mindless nibbling and snacking throughout the day. That extra weight, particularly around the middle, can increase a person’s risk of heart disease. Before heading to the store, create lists and reduce your impulse buying with a grocery list, and stick to the list. When you are hungry, don’t shop. Keep your attention on the perimeter of the store where the fresh produce and foods are. Processed and packaged foods are in the middle. Be a smart snacker and avoid junk foods that are low on nutrition and high in calories.

Above all, while the financial news is horrible, focus on the good things going on in your life. Even if you have lost a great deal in your retirement fund, maybe you still have your house. Maybe you still have a job. And with a little extra attention, you can still have your health.

Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.

Featured in July 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Fit

tftTimes are tough, financially speaking of course. Our greed has now become the very cause of the enemy we now face. But even in a troubled economy, there is a glimmer of hope; that things can only get better.  While no one can accurately predict or guarantee when that will happen, one assurance we can all and should grasp is the one asset we have 100% control over – our health.  Without our health, there is nothing but illness, decline, and darkness; much worse than any bad news that could ever come from Wall Street. That’s why even on Wall Street, they’ve taken matters into their own hands, physically speaking of course.

Exercise has numerous benefits, from improved cardiovascular health, to decreased body fat…the list simply goes on and on.  But if there was one benefit of exercise that could prove to be priceless in today’s financial climate, it is to reduce stress.  Amid layoffs and stumbling stock prices, concerns about staying fit could seem trivial to most. Yet, businesspeople wonder how a terrifying financial climate will affect their physical fitness and if exercise could help them weather hard times. A New York Times article published in October of 2008 reported on how business professionals in the financial district were leaning to exercise to be their beacon in a dark time.  Popularity in so-called mind-body disciplines such as yoga, Pilates, and meditation have risen in response to recent economic uncertainties.  Since the number one excuse for skipping exercise is lack of time, several health clubs in the financial district are even offering shorter, cheaper personal training sessions to not only entice more business professionals, but encourage them that they can ill afford to miss out on taking care of themselves.   There are those however, like Amy Sturtevant, an investment director for Oppenheimer & Company in Washington, who find themselves doubling down on conditioning for relief.

“Professionals are doing their best not to panic, but I know a lot of professionals who are panicking” about the markets, she said. “The only way to get away from it is to have some kind of outlet.”  Ms. Sturtevant, a mother of four, is training for her fourth marathon. With brokerage clients needing more hand-holding, she said, she stints on sleep rather than skip her 5 a.m. daily boot camp and 20-mile weekend runs.  Fitness matters more than ever if you’re laid off, career counselors advise, not just for health, but to network and stay positive. “The last thing you want is to gain 20 pounds during a job search,” said Dr. Jan Cannon, author of “Finding a Job in a Slow Economy.” “That just compounds that sense of, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ” Exercise, she added, can also spur creativity. “You know how we always have those ‘aha’ moments in the shower?” Dr. Cannon said. In the same way, “a good brisk walk can be very helpful.”

For a motivated few, extra time for conditioning actually proves a rare upside of unemployment. “A lot of people who are between jobs are using this downtime to go after a goal,” like a triathlon, said Mr. Hanson of Cadence Cycling. Dr. Cannon recalled a client whose workouts last spring “got more frequent as time went on” — to block out the disappointment, and to give her something to get up and do every day.  “She lost 40 pounds.”

No matter how the state of our economy unfolds, the importance of taking care and managing our health never decreases.  Some will see fitness as an opportunity to do something positive; others will see it as something that just doesn’t take much priority or is where they’re going to cut their spending.  And for those who still want to make excuses for themselves, here’s a favorite quote from Edward Stanley to help reinforce the message: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”  Financially speaking, that is a deadly cost.

Featured in February 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

Fitness To Go

neon_drive_thru_sign-image0011Imagine for a moment that while heading out to work for another day of toil and labor, you stop at your favorite place to grab a coffee, breakfast, or whatever you do to start your day.  Then while on your way to your confinement for the next eight to ten hours, you pull into a drive-thru; only this drive-thru is not a bank or another fast food joint.  It is a body shop.  Here you drop your body off and head off to work while your body is flexed, stretched, and exercised while you sit at work.  When it’s time to punch out, you are not only eager to pick up your body fit, firm, and relaxed, but happy about the prospect of not having to exercise and eating anything you want while you veg out yet again in front of the TV.  Sounds good, doesn’t it? (This is the part where your body suddenly shutters awake and you realize this was only a dream.)

Would be nice though, wouldn’t it? And if this sounds ridiculous, well, it is.  But no more ridiculous than the thought that a single pill can burn body fat or replace the effects of real exercise which people buy into everyday.  In today’s society, it seems the only thing that can not be received from a drive-thru is exercise. (You can even do a drive-thru wedding in Vegas!) Come to think of it, the drive-thru represents the complete antipathy of achieving optimal health and fitness. Sit in your car (burn zero calories; shorten muscles); pick up nutritionally devoid food (add empty calories); go to the bank (deposit or withdraw your hard earned money that was probably achieved the same way it was received – sitting); stop by the drug store for your prescription (to “remedy” the effects of your lack of activity); pick up a six pack and a movie (add more calories and create more inactivity). What is it about the drive-thru that makes it so appealing to the masses? They’re convenient. They’re quick (mostly). They allow us to stay in our car, and it should come as no surprise that some people take better care of their car than themselves. Is fitness something that can be offered on the drive- thru menu? After all, if we can find a way to make fitness available in a drive-thru, wouldn’t people be more apt to do it? One would hope.

So let’s take a look at the first two benefits of a drive-thru: convenience and time efficiency.  Obtaining health and fitness requires two things: a body and a mind.  Can’t get much more convenient than that! Everyone has a body and the ability to think on their own.  The body was built to move, so move it! It was not designed to sit or remain still.  The good news is that even the most able body needs rest, but far too many people think stillness works best for them. Most of us have heard an old ad slogan that said the mind is a terrible thing to waste.  This is especially true when the mind believes it can’t or won’t do something good for itself.  Fitness is a mindset, and if you don’t have it, it can be an incredibly daunting road.

The second alluring quality of the drive-thru is time efficiency.  The number one reason why people say they don’t exercise is that they simply don’t have the time. Yet if they already had the correct mindset, time would not be an issue. It’s this exact mindset that allows you to reverse that thinking.  It’s not that there isn’t enough time to exercise – it becomes there simply isn’t any time to not exercise.  Finding the time to exercise is like the difference between ordering the triple decker burger or the chicken sandwich.  You might think that ordering the chicken sandwich is the healthier alternative, but in the long run is no better a choice than ordering anything for your nutrition through a window!  There is simply no justification.

Fitness is and always will be something that is worked for and earned.  It can be convenient and it doesn’t require a tremendous amount of time; just a proper mindset.  And the next time you go to the drive thru, think about how cool it would be to order a slimmer waistline, a lower blood pressure reading, a decreased stress level, and a super-sized set of muscles that function to keep your body moving and feeling good. Congratulations! You’ve just invented the first fitness drive-thru. All it took was the mindset to think that it could all happen for you.

Featured in May 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor

No Excuses

no-excusesNo excuses – quite possibly the favorite of expression of most physical trainers, and this one is no different. It is a common slogan in athletic environments, often seen on the back of t-shirts and sweatshirts or on the walls of weight rooms and locker rooms. These are two simple yet powerful words. The slogan urges athletes to maintain their focus and to put in the physical and mental work needed to perform at their best. Simply put, there is no excuse for doing something that could prove to be detrimental to performance or avoiding the work that needs to be put in. Yet think about how often we make excuses that impact our careers, our livelihood, or our health.

Maybe it is an excuse not to get a task completed today or to skip the workout. Maybe it is an excuse you make in order to justify that second helping of dessert. Or maybe it is you blaming the weather, or your negative attitude, or worse, someone else for your lackluster performance in the boardroom or on the field of play. There is any number of things you could blame for why you were not prepared to perform your best. No excuse. As with many of the mental skills and concepts you can read and learn about, the notion of making no excuses, of holding yourself accountable for your behavior is easy to understand but much more difficult to implement.

While the words are powerful, it is the action behind the words that speaks volumes. Do you back up these words with action? For example, anyone who has ever competed as an athlete can readily identify when excuses have been used as a crutch, but by then it is too late, as the workout or performance has already been compromised. Think back on the past few weeks of your work or your exercise program and identify the situations where you may have allowed excuses to impact your behavior. Were there moments where you thought, in retrospect, “I could have given more,” “I should have gotten up earlier to exercise even though the bed was more comfortable”. My guess is most of you can identify at least one situation where you came up with an excuse to not work as hard as you could have, to not exercise on a given day, or to explain a less than stellar behavior. Awareness of instances where you make excuses is important as it is through this awareness that you can attempt to change future behavior.

Besides opening your eyes to the excuses you make, an additional challenge is to figure out how to be pro-active as opposed to reactive. So, instead of identifying excuses after the fact and “kicking yourself ” for it, work to seize them before they impact behavior by identifying your tendencies and patterns. It is a tough challenge, but here is an example that may help you understand how to do this and why it is so important.

As is increasingly more popular this time of year, Mr. X as we will call him has committed to running a marathon in the fall.  He does not miss a day of training. He has been training hard for the past several moths and tends to do decent in trial races but never quite achieves his performance goals. When critically analyzing his preparation and training, it becomes evident that the truly “hard workout days” present a barrier for him. On these hard training days, Mr. X has a tendency to back off a bit. He always has a reason for backing off —one day it is the wind in his face; another it is the slight twinge he felt in his quad earlier that day; another it is thinking about the work that needs to be done back at the office. Despite that the reasons differ every time and appear separate, are these in fact excuses, perhaps? Mr. X tends to come up with seemingly valid reasons not to get after it on his hard training days. But in analyzing his preparation, it is interesting how these things only pop up on the hard days. His training is just where it should be on the lighter days. In looking back and analyzing his performance, Mr. X recognizes that he is making excuses, and just as importantly, he realizes how important those hard days are to reaching his goals. It finally clicks in his mind that there is a cause-effect relationship and those excuses are keeping him from performing at his best.

Apply this to yourself. Do you have excuse tendencies? It is important to identify these tendencies as it becomes easier to than avoid them. By knowing unique situations or factors that seem to relate to coming up with excuses, you can be pro-active in avoiding them. For some of you, it may also be valuable to dig deeper and take a look below the surface to see what might be going on. Is there a reason why you are coming up with excuses that need to be addressed head on? There simply is no excuse!

Featured in June 2009 Issue of 422 Business Advisor