Monday Medical: Consider changing diet and exercise at the same time
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
If you’re still trying to get started on a New Year’s resolutions to eat more healthfully or exercise regularly, researchers have a surprising tip: consider making both changes at the same time.
It may seem counterintuitive. After all, changing diet and exercise habits both require time and motivation. But research has shown people have more success when diet and exercise are tackled simultaneously.
“If you’re looking to make a change, it turns out it may not be as hard as you may think to work on diet and exercise together,” said Dr. Michelle Jimerson, a family medicine physician in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “And some studies show you may have more success doing both at once.”
For instance, a study at the Stanford University School of Medicine tracked groups of people trying to establish healthy habits. One group added exercise, one group improved their diets, and one group made both changes.
“The study showed that people who worked on both exercise and diet at the same time had more success in terms of meeting their goals,” Jimerson said. “It’s an intriguing result.”
One explanation for the success may be that the positive results build on each other.
“You’re going to feel better doing both,” Jimerson said. “If you’re focusing on just one, you might lose motivation and never get around to the other one. But if you’re motivated to make changes and do both, you can more quickly develop this healthy lifestyle that feels so good, you’re motivated to continue.”
Jimerson always reminds patients that when making changes to diet and exercise, small steps count.
“People may worry about changing both diet and exercise and feel like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to fit that in.’ It can feel very overwhelming,” Jimerson said. “But you can build on simple changes and take it in little bite-sized pieces.”
Adding exercise to your schedule doesn’t have to mean going to the gym every day for an hour. Instead, try building movement into your schedule. For instance, if you have a desk job, get up and move at least ten minutes every hour.
“It can be simple, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away from the grocery store,” Jimerson said.
When it comes to diet, studies continue to show the importance of a whole food, plant-based diet that’s heavy in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, while limiting animal products, such as meats, eggs and dairy.
One of Jimerson’s tricks to packing meals with fruits and veggies is to blend up those greens — organic when possible — and add them to everything from pancakes and waffles, to smoothies and popsicles. Casseroles and spaghetti sauce offer another opportunity to pack in the vegetables. Don’t hesitate to use frozen fruits and vegetables, which help save time and are often just as nutritious as fresh.
To decrease the amount of animal products you consume, consider trying a “Meatless Monday” or treat yourself to cheese just once or twice a week.
“It’s about trying to make small changes that are reasonable,” Jimerson said.
Don’t be surprised when those small changes add up, and fuel your motivation to stick with a healthy lifestyle.
“A lot of people come to me feeling they have low energy and low libido, and that they’re tired all the time,” Jimerson said. “But by changing exercise and diet together, they can experience so many benefits — from weight loss to improved heart health, and from better sleep to an improved mood. The two together can make a big difference.”
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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