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Eating healthy, moving, physical fitness essential for overall well-being

Renee Ingel, Ph.D. -

We are all able to function better when we feel better, right? Staying active and keeping your body strong and free from injury not only improves how you physically feel, it also improves your mood and your ability to think clearly and be more present in your day-to- day tasks. School, work, family, social and spiritual priorities compete for our time and energy, often leaving us feeling out of balance with little time to focus on our own physical and emotional selves. We eat on the run, spend hours in front of a computer, and find ourselves engaging in behaviors that prevent us from moving our bodies, sleeping too little and working too much.

Interestingly, though, physical well-being, an essential element of overall well-being, contributes to a longer, more healthful and productive life. The ability to carry out work- related functions and social activities contributes to quality of life and is impacted by domains of physical well-being such as physical fitness and proper nourishment. Each of these components enhances and improves personal balance and is achievable through small but reasonable personal goals.

Higher levels of happiness, improved overall mood, and lowered risk for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, occur through physical activity. It’s true that we are all so busy, and thinking about being more active may seem like one more thing to do. But, adding small bits of activity builds up to a total cumulative amount. And before you know it, you have hit the goals that are recommended. These bouts of activity can be accomplished with small changes in your daily routine.

Move your body

According to the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (2018),” adults should:

Perform activities that make you breathe a little bit harder and make your heart beat faster. Take a brisk 10-minute walk a few times per day, dance around the house to your favorite tunes, use the stairs instead of the elevator, play outside with your children, take a bike ride, be active with your family and friends. Make it fun, and you will be more likely to do it.

The goal is to work at a moderate pace for at least 150 minutes per week or at a vigorous pace for at least 75 minutes per week.

Not only will you reduce your risk for disease and death, you will feel better, have a better mood, sleep better and manage stress more effectively by being more active. It really is possible to fit this into your already full schedule! You will find your own best practice.

Here are some additional suggestions:

  • Use the time that you are waiting for your child to finish practice to take a walk.
  • Cut the grass by a push lawn mower instead of a riding mower.
  • Push the vacuum cleaner in your home instead of using the robot vacuum.
  • Be purposeful about putting the physical work back into the day to day routine. You will be surprised that you are easily able to meet the cumulative goals that are recommended.

Everyone can meet physical activity recommendations in a way that best suits one’s needs. Recreational, leisure, work-related and commuter activity — as well as structured exercise (fitness classes, gym time) — are the most common ways to achieve physical activity. These can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and a little bit can make a difference. In fact, there is no minimum. All movement is cumulative toward the overall amount of time established toward achieving activity goals.

Eat to fuel your body

Eating well is fueling your machine. You wouldn’t put cheap garbage gasoline in a Ferrari, right? So, think of your body as your machine. The fuel you provide produces the performance you want. Sound nourishment is different than a diet. It’s eating what you need to sustain health and moderately enjoying the things you like to eat without over-indulging.

Many of us eat on the run, which results in fast food, vending machine snacks or starving by the time you get your next meal. And then comes an indulgence in processed, salty and sugary foods that don’t help you think better or feel better. It is a common pitfall. But planning ahead will help you avoid pitfalls. When you plan ahead, you are less likely to eat foods that make you feel sluggish and hungry within a few short hours.

Instead, try packing foods in advance or scout the local fast food restaurants and pay attention to the menu options that offer low calorie and high nutritional options.

Healthy eating tips

Fast food options:
Salads without croutons, cheese or fat-laden dressing
Grilled chicken sandwich
Soup with a tomato or water base
Things to eat very sparingly are French fries, milkshakes, ice cream, cheese or cream based soups.

Packing your own:
Fresh fruit
Easy to eat packets of tuna or chicken
Air popped popcorn
Protein bars

Day to day:
Eat more plant-based foods than animal foods. This includes beans, nuts, legumes (lentils), fruits and vegetables. These foods help with digestion, are high in vitamins and minerals and low in trans-fatty acids.
Consume at least 4-5 servings of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables per day.
Choose lean sources of protein such as egg whites, grilled, broiled or baked fish and seafood, and low fat dairy.
Reduce red meat to no more than twice per week. Choose lean cuts of red meat and avoid fried or charcoal-grilled foods.
Choose whole grain/whole wheat bread (as long as no gluten allergy), whole grain pasta, brown rice, couscous, quinoa and sweet potatoes. Limit white bread, white rice, white pasta and white potatoes.
Limit processed foods that are canned or prepared frozen meals. They are loaded with salt and processed chemicals.
Be careful about the well-hidden fat and calorie blasts at the salad bar, such as croutons, bacon bits, salad dressing and cheese.

On the go:
Keep an apple, a bag of carrots and a pack of tuna or chicken in your bag. These are easy and quick and can be eaten on the run.

Small changes over time can result in big health benefits. It is possible to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight through small changes in how you eat. Meal composition is important, and mindful eating contributes to a sense of satisfaction with meal time.

Physical well-being balances the pillars of overall well-being. You are a product of how you care for yourself, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The reward of improved quality of life is worth the investment in you!

Taking care of one’s physical self also can have positive implications to one’s professional self. To learn about ways to grow healthily and professionally in your career, visit Carlow University’s College of Professional Studies.

About the Author: Ingel, who holds a Ph.D. in adult health and physical activity, is director of the doctoral and MSN Education and Leadership and Health Coach programs at Carlow University. She is co-chair of Healthy Carlow 2020 and is a certified personal trainer, health coach and group fitness instructor. Ingel promotes the initiative that Exercise is Medicine.
Contact: Renee Ingel, Ph.D.