Dr. Michael Leland, board-certified orthopedic surgeon and senior partner of Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute, says staying fit comes down to only a few things—eating properly and in moderation, getting proper exercise, fresh air and sunshine, and not polluting the body with substances such as cigarette smoke.
“And when it comes to diet and exercise, when you do one, you need to do the other,” he advises. “Ironically, if you go on a starvation diet to lose fat you are just as likely to lose muscle mass. Exercise burns calories and allows you to lose fat and not muscle.”
It sounds simple, but getting fit and staying fit are about as elusive as winning the lottery for many of us. Here are some ways to go about it successfully.
“The key for getting launched on a good program to stay fit for life is for people to set realistic goals so they can see measurable change taking place,” says Roger Vogie, director of Munster-based Fitness Pointe, part of the Community Healthcare System. He says working with a personal trainer or an exercise specialist—both are available at Fitness Pointe—can help get people started down that path.
Carrie Ranta, Be Lean weight-loss coordinator for Schererville-based Omni Health and Fitness Connection, an affiliate of St. Margaret Mercy, agrees that goals are critical for success. “People think long-term, but they make decisions based on the short-term,” she says. “That’s because they don’t have goals in place. You can dream all you want about being thin, but dreams don’t have action plans or benchmarks. Goals allow you to navigate the short-term easier.”
Reduce stress levels
“Everybody has stress,” says Cindy Borders, interim director of Chesterton-based Duneland Health & Wellness Institute, a partnership between St. Anthony Memorial and St. Margaret Mercy. “You can’t get rid of it. You have to learn how to manage it. Bringing down your stress level is not only important because of the things stress can cause, but because it can also help you to lose weight.”
Chronic stress and the subsequent elevated cortisol levels in the body slow down the body’s metabolism. At the same time, they enhance the body’s craving for unhealthy foods. Stress also encourages storage of excess fat in the abdomen. The end result is weight gain and the potential for other health problems.
Duneland offers 67 classes throughout the week and Borders says yoga and tai chi, disciplines long touted to reduce stress levels, are very popular. During last year’s holiday season the facility offered a three-hour seminar featuring yoga, tai chi and other ways to keep calm during times of stress.
“You have to learn how not to overact,” she says. “During the day, if you have eight small things that happen and you overreact to them all, by the end of the day you will be so stressed out you can barely function. Being calmer can lead to making better decisions in the workplace and your personal life.”
Ranta suggests eating lean sources of protein as one way of reducing cortisol levels and lowering stress. “When you are maintaining a healthy weight and you are eating foods that fuel not only your body but your brain, you are apt to deal with stressors better because you are coming from a different frame of reference,” she says.
Manage your weight
“I tell people that instead of focusing on losing weight, they should focus on living a healthier lifestyle,” Ranta says. “When you make that decision to live a healthier lifestyle, including proper eating and physical activity, your body will reward you and the weight will come off. Losing weight is just a fantastic byproduct of doing the right things for your body.”
Ranta meets one-on-one weekly with members enrolled in Omni’s Be Lean program to weigh them in and monitor their eating habits for the week. The six-month program, which can be divided into two- or three-month periods, concentrates on three areas—nutrition, exercise and motivation. “It’s just getting back to the basics and re-educating people on how to eat,” she says. “We’ve lost sight of what we need to eat and the right portions. The education is split between behavioral modification exercises and food education.”
This year Omni plans to expand the program to encompass the Thin & Healthy program. “This will bring the program full-circle,” Ranta says.
Dr. Omar Shamsi, a bariatrician (specialist in nutrition and obesity medicine) at the ReStart Center for weight loss at Methodist Hospital Southlake Campus in Merrillville, says weight-loss programs are important today because obesity has become an epidemic. “Along with obesity there are a number of medical problems that arise such as hypertension, diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea,” he says. “With weight loss you can control many of these issues. But the first step is to realize that you really need to lose weight. Some people are just not ready.”
When people sign up for the medical weight loss program, which Dr. Shamsi calls “intense,” they are usually motivated.
“They each have their own reason for losing weight,” he says. “What we do is look at their medical history, the problems they have and how much weight they want to lose, and cater to each individual person differently.”
Dr. Shamsi says taking weight off reaps numerous benefits—people look better, they feel better and they can do their jobs better. “They have a whole different attitude toward life,” he says. “Being overweight causes so many stressors in everyday life. Losing weight can build peoples’ confidence, and their depression and stress go away.”
Healthy for Life, one of Methodist’s program offerings, has three phases: weight loss, transition and maintenance. Support groups, where participants can meet surgeons and other experts as well as tell their success stories, contribute to weight loss and improved health.
“Research has shown that people who are in a comprehensive weight management clinic tend to keep the weight off,” Dr. Shamsi says. “We help keep them focused and on track.”
Losing weight is one reason people come to Fitness Pointe, a full-service medical fitness facility, which offers classes, therapy services, dietician services, personal trainers and a diabetic education program. “We encourage people to look at their overall risk profile,” Vogie says, including controlling their blood pressure or their blood sugars.
“Even with last year’s economy, our activity stayed strong. People are having to make choices about what is important in their lives, and staying active and healthy appears to be one of them,” says Vogie.
“Cardiovascular exercise—exercise that gets your heart rate up—is of key importance for losing weight,” says Borders. “But strength training is also key. As you lose the weight, lifting weights will help keep your body firm. You can do an effective weight-training program in 20 minutes, three times a week.”
Weight-bearing or gravity-loaded exercise is also essential for healthy bones and joints. As we age, we lose bone mass; no one is exempt.
“The key is the rate at which you lose bone mass,” says Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute’s Dr. Leland. “It is very important to do gravity-loaded exercises. Daily gravity-loaded exercise slows the rate of bone loss. It doesn’t have to be high-tech exercise. The simplest, most obvious one is walking. It’s also beneficial to work on a cross-country ski machine or an exercise bicycle.” Based in Chesterton, Lakeshore has seven additional locations in Northwest Indiana.
Jogging is a gravity-loading exercise, but Dr. Leland cautions that it is also impact-loading and harder on the body. As people age and begin to see signs of arthritis in their knees or hips they should consider giving up jogging or other strenuous exercise in favor of lower-impact exercises. To stay fit for life you will need to change your exercise routine to accommodate changes in your body. Beware the anti-inflammatory commercials that show elderly people playing vigorous tennis or jogging.
“They are probably causing an accelerated breakdown of their weight-bearing joints,” Dr. Leland says. “If you are exercising and you have pain in the joint, it means you are exceeding the joint’s tolerance to the exercise. Taking a medicine such as an anti-inflammatory which blocks your pain doesn’t mean you are no longer injuring the joint. It just means you are not feeling it. Many premature hip and knee arthritis patients I see now are that way because they have taken anti-inflammatory drugs since high school.”
Diet also comes into play in keeping the bones healthy. Be sure your diet includes an adequate amount of calcium and go light on carbonated beverages which have been reported to speed up the loss of bone mass.
Working out in a group setting can do more than just tone your abs or raise your heart rate; it’s also a good way to beat depression, which can lead to weight gain.
“People are getting exercise at a facility like ours, but they’re also getting good social interaction, and that’s true for all different age groups,” says Fitness Pointe’s Vogie. “Water aerobics, yoga, Pilates—those classes where there is a lot of group interaction—are very popular. People want the support of others and a sense of belonging to a group.”