According to the CDC and American Heart Association, heart disease (which includes heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases) is the number one cause of death in the United States and claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Since 1984, it has claimed more women’s lives each year than men. It’s striking that while one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, one in three dies of heart disease, killing approximately one woman every minute.
These are staggering figures. More awareness is clearly needed, especially since this is primarily a disease of lifestyle and improvements in the areas of stress, smoking, nutrition, and physical activity slow, stop, and reverse its progression.
Lifestyle overhauls are overwhelming. Messages of getting our consumption of saturated fat, sodium, and overall calories in check, while increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, unsaturated fats, whole grains, low-fat protein and dairy products can cause the kind of stress some might feel is best relieved by smoking, not by exercising.
To outsmart the biggest threat to our health, we must engage the power of our mind, by far our strongest potential ally. We must trust that slow, consistent improvements are adequate, as they really are the only ones that are sustainable.
For example, for most people hearing the message to become more physically active conjures up images of painful exercise and gym fees, usually resulting in little sustained action and lots of sitting around in discouragement or denial. Missed in the fray is the smaller step of getting into the habit of consistently decreasing sedentary living. This means to use our body a little more here and there throughout the day.
Studies have shown that something as simple as standing up and walking at a normal pace for two to five minutes once an hour (for example, to get a drink, water a plant, pull some weeds, walk out to the shed, change the television channels manually, or talk to a colleague at work) during an eight-hour period of time where you are usually mostly sitting is estimated to burn approximately 100 calories a day, enough to lose ten excess pounds in a year without eating less. It also has the capacity to improve cholesterol and blood glucose levels. In as short as two weeks, simply breaking up usual periods of sedentary time causes an increased fitness level, energy level and feeling of well-being, as well as an increased feeling of confidence in what your body can do. Building on this success, you are much more prepared mentally as well as physically to tackle adding a formal exercise plan and making it stick.
Starting small builds a pattern of success, a smart strategy to beat the biggest threat to your health.
Debbie Coblentz is a registered dietitian, Your comments in response to this article are welcome — send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.)