7 Critical Life Choices to Live Healthier and Have a Better Diet

by Charles Platkin, PhD

I know, the choices are not always easy, but at least think about the following as you live your life – your quality of life could depend on it.

1.     Where You Choose to Live

You may not feel as if you have a choice about where you live, but you do.  And it matters.  For instance, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health and American Journal of Health Promotion found that people who live in the suburbs — and drive everywhere — weigh 6.3 pounds more than those who live in compact cities and are able to walk more.  Also, living near the seaside or countryside is best for exercise. That is the conclusion of researchers from the University of Plymouth, England, who found that all outdoor locations were associated with positive feelings (enjoyment, calmness, refreshment), but that visits to the coast were most beneficial and visits to urban parks least beneficial.

Another, less scientific conclusion is that it’s best to live in a warm climate. While many people in the South tend to eat less healthfully, I know that when I lived in a warm climate I was more weight conscious and more active because the climate was more conducive to being outdoors.

If you’re looking for a new place to live, make sure to consider the following:

Are there suitable and scenic walking and hiking trails (which research shows encourage more walking) in your potential new area? Does your neighborhood have public or private recreation facilities (such as parks with walking, hiking or biking paths)? Are they in good condition? Can you see yourself using them? Are there local fitness centers and/or areas for water sports? Does your local public school have any facilities you can use (like a track and/or a swimming pool)? Does your neighborhood shopping mall have walking programs available? Do concerns about safety at the public recreation facilities in your community influence your using them? Do you have safety concerns about walking in your neighborhood? Have you thought about how you can overcome these safety issues?

Also, check out WalkScore.com, an innovative website that will show you just how pedestrian-friendly your new or current neighborhood really is.

Take a look at the American College of Sports Medicine’s area fitness rankings here: http://www.americanfitnessindex.org/quickview.htm, as well as Facebook’s fitness rankings (they reviewed various data from Facebook users): https://www.facebookstories.com/stories/24903/facebook-s-fittest-cities

Finally, you should definitely take a look at the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program at http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/. It’s a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.  They rank the health of nearly every county in the nation, including factors such as how many fast-food outlets there are (not good), if there is excessive drinking in the area (not good), access to recreational facilities (good) and physical inactivity (not good), as well as many other variables.

2.     Career / Job

Is it possible to increase your activity level just by changing jobs? Well, that may not be practical, but some jobs actually can keep you in shape. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) looked at 10 different occupations and how many steps they require each day.

The average person accumulates 3,000 to 5,000 steps per day; the goal is to increase that number by about 20 percent per month and eventually achieve 10,000 steps per day. Here are a few examples of jobs and their average steps per hour:

  • Police officers 663
  • Lawyers 633
  • Nurses 986
  • Restaurant servers 1,772
  • Construction workers 1,206
  • Mail carriers 1,906

OK, but many of us do NOT have active jobs that burn calories.  Here are a few things you can do to ramp up your activity level.

  • Casual is better: Research shows that when you wear casual clothing you’re more active.
  • Walk to work: Pick a home that is close to your job so you can walk or bike every day.
  • Measure everything: Using a pedometer is probably one of the more effective ways to motivate yourself to take more steps. You simply strap it onto your waist, and it will keep track for you.
  •  Climb it: Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Have walking meetings: Instead of sitting around, have your meetings while you walk.
  • Stand tall: Hold meetings without chairs so participants are required to stand. Your meetings will probably become more time-efficient, too.
  • Use your head: Obtain a phone headset and stand, or better yet, pace during calls.
  •  Old school: Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of e-mailing or phoning.

3.     Dog vs. Cat

Yes, cats and dogs provide affection, and that can decrease risk of disease and improve your overall health, but when it comes to increasing physical activity, dogs are the ticket. There’s something about getting out and walking with your dog.  Maybe it’s the fact that you need to walk your dog so it can do its business. Or maybe it’s so you can walk with your best friend.  In any event, the research supports the fact that dog owners walk more.

4.     Marriage

When you get married, there is a good chance you’re going to gain a few pounds.  In fact, according to a study by Cornell University’s Jeffery Sobal, Ph.D., published in Social Science and Medicine, newlyweds gain more weight than singles or people who are widowed or divorced. Another study in Obesity Research reported an average weight gain of 6 to 8 pounds over a two-year period after getting married. And there is also a very good chance that men will gain weight after a divorce.

So, what’s the advice here? Don’t get married? Don’t get divorced? Marriage offers many benefits, including improved levels of happiness (yes, happiness) and well-being.  The idea is to try to find a marriage partner who has the same health values you do.  For instance, marrying someone who has unhealthy eating and exercise habits may not be a deal breaker for you, but it’s certainly something you should think about and add to the equation.  A confession here, when I met my wife we actually had a discussion about eating out — she loves it, and I was worried that I would gain back all the weight I’d lost if I started eating out all the time. So, again, it’s something to consider.  Finally, if you do marry a poor eater/exerciser, make sure you’re mentally prepared and come up with ways to combat the potential issues.

5.     Parenthood / Children

It makes sense that if you have children, especially when they’re young, you will have trouble finding time to stay active and eat .   According to a study from the Duke University Medical Center appearing in the Journal of Women’s Health, researchers found that women faced on average a 7 percent increased risk of obesity per child born, and men an average of 4 percent.  Of course, with poor sleeping patterns, irregular eating, no time to do anything but take care of these young lives, it’s not easy to keep yourself healthy.

The point: Don’t have children — ONLY kidding.  Again, you need to plan for your health and don’t let being tired or busy interfere with your eating and exercise behavior. Best advice: Keep unhealthy foods out of your house (you’ll be spending lots of time there), see No. 6 below (create a home gym), make a plan and stick to it.

6.     What You Do with Your Spare Room, Basement or Garage

Make room for a gym in your spare room, basement or garage.  In fact, I converted the garage (or at least part of it) in the house I recently purchased into a gym.  I installed an inexpensive TV, painted the floor with white epoxy floor paint, and installed a fancy $99 mirror from Ikea, a few free weights, a yoga mat, an exercise ball, bands, my 17-year-old Precor 546 elliptical trainer (works like a charm) and a pull-up bar from Amazon.com (Ultimate Body Press Wall Mounted Pull Up Bar).  For less than $500 (including the TV), I had myself a beautiful working gym. I’m even going to purchase one of those wind trainers. It attaches to your bicycle for indoor training during cold weather and basically turns the bike into a stationary bike.  No excuses for not going to the gym when it’s right there in your house.

7.     Friends

You probably don’t think you “choose” your friends. You figure it just happens.  But you always have a choice in life, and choosing friends is no different.  When you choose a friend, not only should you get along and have fun, you also need to determine if that person thwarts your overall goals or helps you to achieve them. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you become a cold and calculating person.  Just be aware of your peers’ influences on your life.

There is very strong research showing that we are influenced by our family and friends. According to researchers from the School of Psychology at the University of Dublin in Ireland, friends play an important role in how much we exercise.  Makes sense: If you have friends who are very active all the time, you start to see that as the norm and might move toward it. Or, if you’re already active, having active friends could help to keep you that way.  Food is the same. I know that when I’m around healthy eaters I tend to eat healthier; it’s just easier.  The foods they serve when you’re at their homes are healthy; they want to go to healthy restaurants; they’re more active — it matters.

So it wouldn’t hurt to make a few new friends who are health and fitness conscious. Mind you, I’m not asking you to replace your old friends — just find a few new ones who don’t carry that extra doughnut in their briefcase or purse. A critical factor in your potential for successful weight loss is the company you keep — that is, other people within your social environment. You need to think about whether your spouse, family, partner, friends and colleagues eat poorly and/or are sedentary. If so, you might want to widen (no pun intended) your social circle.

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