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With shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders throughout the nation, many of us stayed inside and fired up Netflix.

Now, we’re a nation of less-fit people than we might have been earlier this year, even if we have gone back to work. That needs to change — and you can get in shape, quickly, with regular activity.

Did you know that not being active can actually harm your health in the same way that being active can enhance it? Many people may be tempted to say something along the lines of, “Yes, I know that being more active is good for me, but if I slack off, I will just stay in the same condition I am now. So, no harm if I decide to spend more time watching television.”

But research continues to show, in a very stark way, that physical inactivity is not only harmful to your health (the WHO says inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality) but that it can quickly undo whatever health benefits you may have gained from previous physical activities.

It also may be tempting for you to believe that if you don’t have a weight issue, you are in the clear and don’t need as much — or any — physical activity to stay healthy. The truth is that not being physically active increases everyone’s risk of dying from a preventable disease.

This includes an increased chance of developing diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression and certain cancers, to name a few. In fact, someone who is mostly sedentary has an up to 30% increased risk of death compared to people who move regularly.

Deconditioning Happens

Remember the expression about something taking years to build and only a second to break? Whoever came up with it could just as easily have been talking about how quickly we can lose the benefits of having an active lifestyle. How quickly? While some changes are almost immediately noticeable, the general research consensus is that within two weeks of decreasing physical activity, negative changes can be seen across a variety of health measurements.

According to the well-respected Cleveland Clinic, cutting back on physical activity can take a toll on muscle mass and increase body fat in just two weeks. These changes can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Other physiological changes that research has identified include:

• A rise in blood pressure among a group of pre-hypertensive men who were using exercise as a way to lower their blood pressure

• Blood sugar levels remaining elevated after a meal after only three days of being sedentary

• Decrease in metabolic rate, which can result in weight gain and changes in body composition

• The heart losing the efficiency it built up with exercise and physical activity – it can start losing its ability to handle extra blood flow by up to five percent in 24 hours, and resting heartbeat also starts increasing by up to four to 15 beats per minute within a month of reducing physical activity

• Cholesterol levels may increase

• The body’s ability to effectively use oxygen (technically known as VO2 max) declines so drastically that most of the aerobic capacity gained over the previous two or three months is lost within two to four weeks.

How quickly anyone will see these declines will depend on how active they were before going inactive, their age (the older someone is, the quicker the decline), and why the person is taking a break. Everyone is unique, but everyone who becomes sedentary or reduces previous activity levels will experience these types of negative changes.

You Can Bounce Back and Get in Shape

Faced with this information, it’s quite possible that your clients may simply throw up their hands and say, “Why bother? Pass me the chips, please.” But before they give up on getting in shape, make sure they know that the good news is that they can start to reverse the damage of inactivity pretty quickly.

In fact, research indicates some markers will return to where they were in about the same amount of time a person was inactive. Others may take a little longer to get back to where they were before they hit the couch. Again, factors such as age play a role.

Cardiovascular function, for example, returns to where it was within two weeks. Body fat, waist circumference and insulin sensitivity also come back fairly quickly. Regaining muscle mass and VO2 max capacity, however, could take twice as long as the time someone was inactive to get back to where they were (but they do return). And the younger someone is, the quicker they can get in shape and return to where they were.

The Role Nutrition Plays

This should almost go without saying, but good nutrition goes hand-in-hand with being active. Neither alone will promote good health; if someone is not giving their body what it needs, no amount of exercise will make up for nutritional deficiencies and no amount of healthy eating will make up for, or negate, a sedentary lifestyle.

What kind of diet is best? Research continues to indicate that a primarily plant-based diet that includes a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables is best. Some foods that are great for getting the nutrition needed for a healthy, active lifestyle are spinach, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, avocados, dark chocolate and bananas for magnesium; nuts, lima beans, broccoli, sweet potatoes and tomatoes for potassium; lamb, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, chicken and chickpeas for zinc; and wheat-bran cereals, whole-grain products and shellfish for copper.

It’s also important that meals are prepared at home as much as possible to be able to better control what is in (and not in) each meal and also to have better portion control.

You might also consider including routine, comprehensive nutrient tests as part of your active, healthy lifestyle. If someone is nutritionally unbalanced (meaning they have too much or too little of a specific nutrient), this may increase their risk of developing cardiovascular issues and other conditions that could make it difficult to perform physically. If the test reveals an imbalance, a competent health care professional can help with making the necessary dietary changes or recommend quality supplements you can take.

Get in Shape Now

Start back slowly by setting realistic goals and not overdoing it at the beginning — getting active is not an all-or-nothing endeavor. See how easy it is to increase your activity levels with things you do every day, such as walking when you talk on the phone, or parking at the far end of a parking lot or taking the stairs.

To get in shape without turning it into an unpleasant grind, do something you enjoy versus something you think you should be doing. Consider getting a training app to track your progress and give you motivation. And remember to fuel your body with the food and supplementation it craves.

About the Author

Joy Stephenson-Laws

Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs, a national nonprofit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is “Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy,” available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores. Her articles for MASSAGE Magazine include “Dr. Google Will See You Now — But That Might Not Be Best” and “Mineral Research That Does Not Lie.”

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