A pastor recently asked me for advice on staying physically healthy, which led to this article. These principles (hacks) are transferable to any adult. I asked my wife Janet to help write this article, as she was a registered dietitian (RDN) and college professor before giving that up to do marriage events with me. Here are four health hacks that we have found helpful over the last three decades.
Let’s start with the WHY. The disciplines Janet and I practice are rooted in a desire to “glorify God with our body” and “to love the LORD… with all of our strength” (1 Cor. 6:20; Mark 12:30).
I won’t pretend that we are not additionally motivated by a desire to look and feel as good as possible, but these motives are insufficient for the long haul.
For those who still need further motivation, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says regular physical activity promises a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or triglycerides, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, breast cancer, depression and falls.
The pastor asked me, “In one of our last conversations you said, ‘You can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet.’ This is my challenge. Is it also true that you can’t eat yourself into healthy muscles, joints, and fitness?”
Despite all you might read in fad diets, real science points to simply doing what you learned in elementary school: eat whole foods from all of the food groups and limit processed foods as much as possible. Janet sometimes asks, “Can you name its mama?” (e.g., apples come from an apple tree, eggs come from a chicken, Twinkies come from….?).
Know how many calories are in the food you eat. We often read menus online before we go to restaurants and order accordingly. Portion sizes are typically so large that we usually split an entree and order an extra side salad or vegetable.
We have both found the MyFitnessPal app to be helpful, though there are countless alternatives.
This pastor also asked for advice on exercising, and if Janet and I had suggestions or resources. Here’s what I offered:
Cardio. Janet recommends walking because it is easy and sustainable. It’s like asking the dentist what the best toothpaste is. The typical answer is, “the one you use.”
The CDC recommends doing at least 75 minutes of cardio per week if it’s vigorous (you can talk but too out of breath to sing), or 150 minutes per week if mild/moderate. Janet and I run three miles, every other day, at a moderate pace.
Strength Training. The pastor mentioned about him and his wife working out with a personal trainer. “She nearly lamed both of us,” he said. “I decided then to never workout with anyone five years or younger than I am.”
We concur that a younger trainer can be hazardous to your health because empathy (or sympathy) from them is rare. Janet recommends strength exercises at least two days a week, starting with the plank because it works almost every muscle in the body at the same time. You can do it anywhere without special equipment, and it takes less than 10 minutes to finish. Stretch and practice balance because we lose balance as we age.
Although it is sometimes more convenient to fly solo, your chances of achieving your exercise and eating goals are exponentially greater with a partner—preferably your spouse. Who else will see and celebrate the results of your fitness more than your spouse? (The right answer is “nobody.”)
A healthy lifestyle requires some type of rhythm for consistency. Start by committing 20-30 minutes of exercise every other day. Intensity can increase gradually over time.
Janet has been a constant source of encouragement to me, and I try to reciprocate. We only get one body, so let’s take care of it for the Lord’s sake, for our family’s sake and for our own sake.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mark’s weekly encouragement is available at markdance.net.