Move more, eat better

Small steps add up in achieving health and fitness

Elisabeth Marsh, a certified group-exercise instructor and personal trainer, is interim assistant director of fitness and wellness for UC Davis Campus Recreation.

Another year, another well-intentioned but half-hearted attempt to get fit. Batteries removed from remote controls, a self-imposed Ben & Jerry’s embargo—it never seems to last. We asked local fitness instructor and personal trainer Elisabeth Marsh to unveil the secret to a lasting health success.

This article publishes in late January, i.e., the time of year when everybody’s just starting to fail at their New Year’s resolution to lose weight and exercise more. Why does this always seem to happen?

Resolutions are set with the greatest of intentions, however are most often approached as a “quick fix”—something that people want now. Resolutions are set without taking time to think about the approach, the timeline and the effort to accomplish the goal. The bottom line is quick fixes are unrealistic and will fail. Resolutions take time, especially if related to health and fitness.

Through your work, do you know people who’ve made resolutions and stuck with them? Have examples?

Here at [UC Davis], we have a great partnership with the Cowell Student Health Center and our campus’s personal-training program. Students who may be at risk of poor health are referred by a health professional, and the two departments subsidize the cost of a fitness consultation and personal-training session. One gentleman that comes to mind started out on referral and was so motivated after the first session he came back and purchased more sessions. Not only did he begin to see improvements in his blood lipid levels and weight but in his energy and self-confidence. It was enjoyable to share in his success as he found a new lifestyle.

What are some of the most straightforward, simple steps a person can take to improve their overall health and fitness?

Start by some simple, free goal setting. Make your goal or resolution SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed. For example, for weight loss, one is setting themselves up for failure with a resolution of “I am going to lose 10 pounds in a week in 2009.” Turn that into “I am going to lose 30 pounds by June 30, 2009, by exercising 30 to 60 minutes, three days a week. I will lose 1 to 2 pounds a week safely by … ”

• Remember: There is no elevator to the top; you have to take the stairs.

• Consistency is key. Start by just showing up!

• Find a buddy, because research shows that those who work out with a friend are more likely to stick with it.

• Write it down. Research also shows that when we write down what we eat and do as exercise, we maintain the weight loss.

• Try group exercise—the group dynamic is fun, motivating, social, and the best part is it’s not boring.

• Get a trainer. Trainers are passionate about fitness and want to share this with you. A trainer can provide confidence in the weight room, help you find your way out of a plateau or rut and personalize the workout based on your resolution/goal.

• Prepare for setbacks. For every two steps forward, you may take one back. This is human nature, and it’s OK!

What do you recommend to a person who wants to eliminate a bad habit—like smoking or eating too many Doritos—but has already tried and failed at it many times?

Define your goals and then commit yourself to achieving them. Approach your goal with active baby steps, while preparing for lapses. Change is not easy and takes commitment. Don’t do it alone. Get help, whether it is a professional support group or a supportive friend.

What kind of exercise do you recommend for people who can’t afford a gym?

You can have a gym without walls and do lots of things outdoors. Walk the dog, run, bike, swim, play with your kids. ExerciseTV (if you have cable), use $4.99 Netflix to get exercise DVDs, bike to work instead of drive.

What do you recommend to a person who can’t seem to find time to exercise because their schedule is just around-the-clock, four-lanes busy?

No one has time. You make the time. It may mean you get up one hour earlier, squeeze in a workout on your lunch break or study flashcards while on the stair mill—you just make the time.

We have plenty of vegetarian readers. When it comes to nutrition, is there a “good” way and a “bad” way to be a vegetarian?

The American Dietetic Association offers a “vegetarian” food-guide pyramid. Their tips are listed in Table 1.

What are the healthiest foods people should make sure they have in their diet? The unhealthiest?

A good rule of thumb is to choose nutrient-rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, and not nutrient-dense foods, like doughnuts. I’ll start by answering this and saying that there is room for all foods in moderation. It may mean only on a special occasion once a year, yet you are not totally eliminating it. Depriving yourself of certain foods or an entire food group often does not work (as is the case with many popular fad diets). We need to pay more attention to our portion size and remember that yes, drinks do contain calories, too. Include a variety of whole grains and a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Try to avoid a linear diet where you eat only apples, the same cereal every day and the same microwave pizza.