By Elliot Fisher MS, CSCS, PES, NSCA-CPT
Health is a top priority. I have clients all the time that do x, y, and z to improve their health and often it’s something small that has minimal impact on their health. Some of these things that clients try might include eating organic instead of conventional produce, eating less sodium, avoiding added sugar, and taking supplements. Now these things aren’t bad and definitely have their advantages. For example, I take a lot of supplements like multivitamins, vitamin d, zinc, magnesium etc. but they have little effect on my overall health. Added sugars aren’t health positive and they can definitely lead to overeating but if they’re consumed in moderation the health ramifications are minimal. In this blog we’ll cover nine things to focus on that will make a dramatic change on your health.
1. Track Calories/Be Mindful of Energy Balance
The first thing I would be concerned with is controlling your energy balance. Energy balance is the number of calories you're consuming vs expending. We should roughly be around an equal calorie balance daily so we’re eating about as much as we're burning but there’s room for more or less. The problem is when we tend to be chronically in a small surplus of calories and gaining fat overtime, or chronically undereating (this is much less common). It’s a good idea if you're trying to build muscle to eat in a small calorie surplus and eat in a deficit if you’re trying to lose weight or body fat. Also if you’re overweight it is very important for your health to lose weight (meaning you need to be in an energy deficit) or if you’re underweight to gain weight (be in an energy surplus).
2. Having an appropriate BMI
Going back to tracking energy expenditure and knowing if you should maintain your weight, gain, or lose weight: It’s extremely important for your health to be at an appropriate BMI/body fat percentage. It’s common to hear nowadays that BMI is garbage and doesn’t accurately assess health. This is partly true. You can certainly be overweight or obese and be healthy on paper. However, statistically people with normal BMI almost always have very good health, while people who are overweight or obese often have much worse health.(1) If you’re healthy at a heavy bodyweight you would likely be even healthier at a lighter bodyweight. If you’re unhealthy at a normal body weight you would likely be even less healthy at a higher bodyweight.
3. Track Protein Intake
Protein is important for maintaining lean body mass. When dieting to lose weight it’s extra important to keep protein high to minimize muscle loss. Also, there’s evidence that when protein and calories are equated carbohydrate and fat consumption don’t matter much on weight loss or health outcomes.(3)
4. Regular Exercise
Exercise is very important for your health. Regular exercise can help with dyslipidemia, hypertension, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and many more chronic diseases.(4) The American College of Sports Medicine and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise/week along two resistance training workouts/week.(5)
5. Limit Alcohol Consumption and Drug Use
Alcohol is a big part of many of our social lives. Unfortunately it’s really bad for your health. There’s evidence that a drink or two per day can help with cholesterol, but overconsumption leads to health consequences such as cancer, diabetes, mental health issues, cardiovascular disease, and issues with the liver and pancreas.(6) Limiting alcohol as much as possible can make a huge impact on your health.
6. Avoid Trans Fats
Fat is often blamed for dyslipidemia, and certainly excess saturated fats and excess calories can skew your cholesterol. However, even in moderation, trans fats have a strong negative impact on your cholesterol and health.(7) Most fast foods have some trans fats so eat out less often, avoid fried foods, and try to look up the nutrition facts beforehand to find better options.
7. Eat Fruits and Vegetables
The World Health Organization recommends having five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.(8) Fruits and vegetables have lots of different vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that all have different health benefits. Eating enough daily is important for your body to get enough nutrients to maintain it’s health.
8. Eat Enough Fiber
Processed foods are typically low in fiber and most Americans don't get enough from their highly processed diet. Eating more whole foods like beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are all great ways of getting more fiber in. It’s recommended to get 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed per day.(9) I have another blog I’ve written on the health benefits of fiber that you can read here: https://www.zenith-fitness.com/post/the-importance-of-fiber
Sleep is critical for health. It’s not uncommon for people to have poor sleep schedules. A good recommendation is to sleep 7-9 hours/night and to try to get enough sleep so that your not tired throughout the day.(10) Another important (but not very adhearable) way to get better sleep is to go to bed and get up at the same time each day.(11) I think this is tough for most people because we get up early for work and want to stay up late with friends on the weekends. I would recommend trying to stick to as consistent of a schedule as you can in order to get quality sleep if you can’t commit to the same sleep and wake schedule.
These nine tips are all SUPER important for your health. If any of these things are sub par in your life you can likely see it in your health (low sleep and high blood pressure, high bmi and cholesterol, trans fats and cholesterol, alcoholism and mental health issues, etc). Before you try to eat a certain new super food, or do a special workout plan, or take a new supplement, review this list and see if you’re maximizing these things first!
Pedro L Valenzuela, Alejandro Santos-Lozano, Alberto Torres Barrán, Pablo Fernández-Navarro, Adrián Castillo-García, Luis M Ruilope, David Ríos Insua, José M Ordovas, Victoria Ley, Alejandro Lucia, Joint association of physical activity and body mass index with cardiovascular risk: a nationwide population-based cross-sectional study, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, Volume 29, Issue 2, January 2022, Pages e50–e52, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurjpc/zwaa151
Haff, G. Gregory, and N. Travis Triplett, eds. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning 4th Edition. Human kinetics, 2015.
Segal-Isaacson CJ, Johnson S, Tomuta V, Cowell B, Stein DT. A randomized trial comparing low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets matched for energy and protein. Obes Res. 2004 Nov;12 Suppl 2:130S-40S. doi: 10.1038/oby.2004.278. PMID: 15601961.
Ruegsegger GN, Booth FW. Health Benefits of Exercise. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2018;8(7):a029694. Published 2018 Jul 2. doi:10.1101/cshperspect.a029694
Rehm J. The risks associated with alcohol use and alcoholism. Alcohol Res Health. 2011;34(2):135-43. PMID: 22330211; PMCID: PMC3307043.
Mozaffarian D, Aro A, Willett WC. Health effects of trans-fatty acids: experimental and observational evidence. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;63 Suppl 2:S5-21. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602973. PMID: 19424218.
Pem D, Jeewon R. Fruit and Vegetable Intake: Benefits and Progress of Nutrition Education Interventions- Narrative Review Article. Iran J Public Health. 2015;44(10):1309-1321.
Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr, Ferreri S, Knudtson M, Koraym A, Waters V, Williams CL. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutr Rev. 2009 Apr;67(4):188-205. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x. PMID: 19335713.
Hirshkowitz M, Whiton K, Albert SM, Alessi C, Bruni O, DonCarlos L, Hazen N, Herman J, Katz ES, Kheirandish-Gozal L, Neubauer DN, O'Donnell AE, Ohayon M, Peever J, Rawding R, Sachdeva RC, Setters B, Vitiello MV, Ware JC, Adams Hillard PJ. National Sleep Foundation's sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep Health. 2015 Mar;1(1):40-43. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2014.12.010. Epub 2015 Jan 8. PMID: 29073412.
Walker, M. (2018). Why we sleep. Penguin Books.