How to Live a Longer & Happier Life: A Roadmap to Good Health
Donald Henderson, M.D., M.P.H
I am often puzzled by patients who report that they hardly eat anything yet they continue to gain weight. I see hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, stroke, and overall disability worsened by personal choices. We all want to be healthy and live longer. But we don’t always have the commitment to make a change in our lives.
When I drill down on the question of what my patients eat, the answers are interesting and include foods that are direct deterrents to good health. Many have candy, ice cream, potato chips and other snack foods in their kitchen, but who’s forcing them to eat it? The mystery as to why my patients who eat little but gain weight is solved by counting the calories they consume.
The average adult female should consume between 1,800 and 2,200 calories per day to maintain their current weight; for men, the daily range is between 2,200 and 2,800 calories. Now, if you’re overweight or obese, by just reducing your caloric intake by 500 calories per day, you will lose one pound per week. It’s that simple. The key is to become keenly aware of what you are eating and how many calories you are consuming.
Sixty-eight percent of Americans are either overweight or obese. Weight determines your health status and quality of life. If you add a moderate amount of physical activity to your weekly routine, your success will be even greater. On average, simple physical activity such as walking will burn 180 calories for every 30 minutes of activity. Walking an 18-hole golf course while pulling a club cart will burn between 1,600 and 1,800 calories. If you weigh 180 pounds and play with your children for one hour you can burn 400 calories. This estimate varies based on your starting weight and the amount of weight loss can even be greater. You get the point? We cannot over stress the importance of these factors. Exercise will help, but to become healthier you will need to count your caloric intake. Start by always reading the label. Then, decide if that sweet drink or piece of cake is really worth the extra 500 calories.
If you’re committed to more healthy nutrition for you and your family, begin by identifying and removing all the obstacles and poor food choices.
• Set a start date and stick to it
• Get a walking buddy or someone who can support you on your health improvement journey
• Keep a food journal so you can monitor what you’re eating and how you feel
And if you need to lose weight, develop a meal plan that supports your goal. First, let’s review what’s at stake. If you commit to lose at least 5-10% of your total body weight, you will save money on medication, feel better, and prolong your life. Your back pain, knee pain and shortness of breath will be improved and your mood will be lightened. And if you suffer from depression or anxiety, studies have indicated that weight loss can help lessen your symptoms. Ten percent weight loss improves and may prevent hypertension, diabetes and heart disease and can decrease the risk of certain cancers.
If you are ready to get started, let’s review the suggestions we outlined at the beginning of this series and commit to making a pledge:
1. I will weigh myself each day and record the results. Perform this task every morning before eating and after emptying your bladder. Write down the results. At best, unless you are part of a medical weight loss program, expect a maximum weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week.
2. I will not drink sweet drinks of any kind; I will only drink water. Avoid juice, sodas and energy drinks.
3. I will skip dessert. Empty calories from desserts go straight to your hips and belly. Too much back and front will make you look like a duck rather than the beautiful person you are.
4. I will give up all fried foods for the next 30 days. Notice how satisfied you feel at the end of a healthy meal.
5. I will increase my level of physical activity each week. Take the stairs up or down one or two flights or walk for 30 minutes at a steady pace. I will look for ways to increase my physical activity every day.
In future issues, we’ll introduce you to healthy food choices and discuss things you can do to maintain your health. We’ll also give tips on the use of supplements and alternative medications that can support your wellness plan.
Dr. Donald Henderson is Medical Director of Encore Wellness & Weight Loss and has a private practice specializing in Gastroenterology and Internal Medicine in Los Angeles.
I’d like to hear from you and answer any questions you have regarding your personal health and wellness program. Please update me on your progress by forwarding your questions or comments to