SALT LAKE CITY — Spring is here and it's also a natural time to go outside and be more physically active.
Nutrition and physical activity connect because choosing healthy foods helps you have the energy to enjoy an active lifestyle. Being more physically active can also support increased awareness of the body and how food plays a role in supporting health.
A healthy plate for an active life
Carbohydrates are the body's preferred source of fuel for an active lifestyle. Healthy carbohydrate-rich foods include grains, especially whole grains, beans and other legumes, starchy vegetables such as yams, fruits, and low-fat dairy products or substitutes like fortified soymilk.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, active individuals need at least 3 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight daily or 200 grams of carbohydrates for a 150 lb. person. That's equivalent to about 3-4 servings of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as a sandwich on whole grain bread with a side of fruit, at meals and at least 1-2 carbohydrate containing snacks daily.
Of course, individual preferences, as well as health needs, can vary. You can adjust food choices to better meet your needs. It's also a good idea to check with a healthcare provider when making changes to eating habits.
While carbohydrate-rich foods are important, having a balance of nutrient-rich foods each day is what's most beneficial for a long-term healthy eating pattern. A healthy plate is made up of about one-quarter of carbohydrate-rich foods.
Another one quarter should be from lean protein foods. Protein-rich foods include fish, poultry, lean meats as well as eggs, cheeses, and nut butter. Getting enough protein supports muscle as well as other body tissue maintenance.
Last, but not least, one-half of the plate should be from a variety of colorful vegetables to provide nutrients needed for repair, maintenance, and other necessary physiologic processes.
Enjoyment of movement, getting started
In today's "all or nothing" culture, it can be easy to want to go to extremes when it comes to diets as well as exercise. Gradual increases in physical activity, however, may help individuals enjoy moving more, prevent injury, and sustain a more active lifestyle long term. Many people may feel benefits with even small bouts of activity such as 10 minutes of walking or other physical activity at a time.
With this in mind, all movement counts throughout the day. One of the best ways to establish healthy habits including eating and exercise patterns is starting with small step goals that feel doable. Then gradually increase toward at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days or about 150 minutes or more each week. It's also important to check with a doctor as well to ensure safety when starting or changing exercise routines.
To get started, try stairs more often, doing yard work or household chores, playing with the kids, and walking to complete errands. More structured exercise may include going for a 20-30 minute walk at a moderate pace, swimming, jogging, playing tennis or other sports, strength and resistance exercises, and activities that improve flexibility such as stretching. Walking after meals, especially dinner meals that tend to be larger is a great way to get help with blood sugar control.
For those with mobility limitations, try seated or standing exercises that still provide health benefit based on individual abilities. After starting to be more active there may be challenges that come up busy schedules or limited energy level. Take rest days regularly and aim to get enough sleep. Finding an activity partner is another support for continuing with physical activity. A partner can help keep you accountable for being active as well as help make exercise more fun!
As you make physical activity a more consistent and regular part of your daily routine, you'll likely notice benefits such as improved energy levels and sleep, reduction in stress, increases in balance, flexibility or improvements in strength. In addition, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are many longer-term health benefits associated with physically active including lowered risks for heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers.
Reduce sedentary time
Another way important and easy way to improve health is to reduce sedentary time. Sitting during the day, typically in front of screens such as computers or televisions, has negative impacts on health that can't be compensated by exercise. Experts suggest breaking up sitting time by standing or walking around briefly every 30 minutes or so.
Establish a healthy mindset for exercise
Ultimately, what will help you maintain an active lifestyle will vary. Recent research has suggested that focusing on positive experiences during physical activity, such as enjoyment of movement or perception of energy or strength, rather than the outcomes (only focusing on weight loss for example) can support individuals in sustaining an enjoyable relationship with exercise for the long run.
When considering your physical activity routine keep in mind that research on "mindful exercise" suggests that healthy physical activity will:
- Rejuvenate the body, not exhaust or deplete it
- Enhance mind–body connection and coordination
- Alleviate mental and physical stress
- Provide genuine enjoyment and pleasure
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