The easiest steps to a healthier lifestyle Nothing ventured, something gained

October 15, 1991|By Garret Condon | Garret Condon,Hartford Courant

YOU HATE "HEALTH." Your idea of a workout is watching a special two-hour episode of "MacGyver." Tofu looks to you like a bathroom caulking compound. And fiber is what keeps sweaters together.

But, hey, you read the newspaper. It has probably occurred to you that it might be a good idea to avoid some of the nasty consequences of being too sedentary or eating too much of the wrong kind of food.

Nobody wants heart surgery. Maybe you would like to make a change or two -- nothing drastic.

For the defiantly unhealthy, we offer the following 10 tips culled from interviews with experts in medicine, nutrition and exercise. Getting through this list is not going to turn you into a Paula Abdul or an Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it could get you eating a little smarter and make you a little more active. (One tip too obvious for our list involves smoking. Even inveterate tofu haters must know by now that smoking is bad news.)

1. Eat breakfast. It sounds simple, but how many people do you know who protest: "I can't eat breakfast."

Sue Gebo, a West Hartford, Conn., consulting nutritionist and registered dietitian, says bluntly: "Skipping breakfast is a really bad idea." She says that studies have shown that breakfast eaters tend to have more energy and have an easier time controlling their appetites for the rest of the day.

Gebo suggests fruit or fruit juice, a starch (cereal or a bagel, for example) and a protein source, like low-fat milk or cheese, an occasional egg or a small amount of peanut butter. Go easy on sugary tarts and pastries and fat-laden meat products.

2. Walk to the 7-Eleven.

"Walking is the hottest thing for people of all ages and stages," says C. Annie Goranson, assistant professor of health fitness at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass. "When you need a newspaper or something from the convenience store, walk over there. If the kids are at a neighbor's house, walk over and get them."

Goranson notes that recent studies show walking to be one of the best aerobic activities. Those who walk regularly (30 to 40 minutes three to four times a week) have less trouble losing weight and keeping it off. If there isn't a store nearby, walk to the library or just pick a nearby landmark.

"Once people get used to being active, they subconsciously begin to watch what they're eating," Goranson says.

3. Take the stairs

This is not simply vertical walking. Climbing stairs is a good workout. And on real stairs -- as opposed to some health club stair-climbing machines -- you're carrying your full weight with each step.

You burn more calories climbing stairs for five minutes than you do in five minutes on a rowing machine. But if you always take the elevator, you need to work up gradually.

Linda Turner, director of health, physical education and member services at the Hartford, Conn., YMCA, suggests starting by taking the elevator two or three floors above your stop and walking down. Once you start to feel stronger, get off below your floor, and gradually add floors.

4. McSalad

Fast food is a way of life for many of us, especially for harried office workers who want to get out of the office for a while at lunchtime. Increasingly, these restaurants are offering lower-fat entrees.

If you are in the throes of a Big Mac attack, opt for a lean hamburger instead. Gebo notes that adding cheese to the burger just adds more troublesome fat. The YMCA's Turner suggests replacing french fries with a fresh salad (but go light on the dressing). And if you must get fries, go with the small fries.

Naturopathic physician James A. Byron adds that if you must eat fast food, consider Chinese restaurants, which often offer relatively low-fat, nutritious dishes.

5. Lunchtime workout

If you can squeeze in any kind of exercise at lunchtime, you'll have more energy for the rest of the day.

"Sometimes the lunch hour is the best time to sneak out for some short activity," says Edgar Normandin, an exercise physiologist and director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in New York. Some people may feel that if they can't walk for 30 minutes at noontime, they should just forget it, but "a five- to 10-minute walk on a lunch break is better than not doing anything at all," he says.

6. Bad parking spaces are good

Most of those consulted for this story agreed: You should create simple habits that make you more physically active. "When you go to the mall," says Goranson, "park as far away as you can." In the time it normally takes you to drive around the lot looking for the perfect space, you can park your car out in left field and walk to the entrance. "You can probably get a mile [of walking] in by parking far away," Goranson says.

7. Machine dreams

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