By Stan Mukoro
Adolescence in Lagos in the 1980s was filled with the usual peer pressures. Drinking, smoking and the promotion of recreational drug use was very popular and the cool things to do. Lucky for me, my dear mother was a force to be reckoned with and quickly diverted my attention to a Shotokan karate club. In the beginning, I was not happy about this extracurricular activity but I learned to appreciate it. Consequently, my exercise habits were born.
The connection between diet, exercise and improved physical and psychological health really rang clear in my mind in May 2003 when my oldest brother Gerry suddenly died. His loss made me take a step back and evaluate my food choices and my exercise routine. Even though I was jogging 15-20 miles a week through the flatlands of Houston, what I was eating did not compliment my physical activity. I decided to do something about it and made a lifestyle change that I have yet to regret.
Somehow I can visualize the eye rolling and hissing as you are reading this. Don’t deny it. You are thinking to yourself, â€œhere goes someone else harping on that lifestyle change thing again.â€ No matter if it’s a family gathering or going out with your friends, enjoying your favorite foods and washing it down with a non-alcoholic or alcoholic beverage is all too common in either setting. The gym is so far in the back of your mind at this point that the thought of making time to exercise is nearly non-existent. You like your lifestyle just as it is. The problem, however, is it fits you better than your favorite pair of jeans.
If that is true and you are ready to make some changes, pat yourself on the back because you just made the first step and are on your way to understanding what the whole â€œchange your lifestyleâ€ mission is all about.
Eating is how we get our nourishment. We want to eat. We need to eat. Some people approach eating the wrong way and fail to remember the importance of a balanced diet. As teenagers we ate as frequently and as much as we wanted to because our bodies were still growing and combined with how much more active we were we needed more food to meet our energy needs.
As we age, the body’s energy requirements become less and the food choices we make must be adjusted according to how physically active we are. It is important to ensure we are maintaining a balanced diet and exercising portion control. A variety of foods including fruit, vegetables, wholegrain breads, pasta, rice, fish, eggs, lean meats and some milk and dairy products. I try to aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
A diet rich in vegetables is highly recommended for men to prevent prostate cancer. Starches (bread, pasta, beans, rice and potatoes) make up about a third of my diet. On rare occasions I may enjoy a good steak, short ribs or a rack of lamb but typically my ‘meat of choice’ is fish. Eating fish is heart healthy and also benefits our brain. The brain already has a lot of fat so try not to eat foods that are high in saturated fats. If you value your brain cells, trim the fat from meat before cooking it and avoid full-fat dairy products. Omega-3 fats found in salmon are good for the heart but they should be consumed in moderation because they have quite a bit of oil in them.
How your food is cooked is just as important as the food itself. Ease up on the fried foods and replace them with steamed, stewed, boiled or grilled foods. Lightly seasoned and cooked just right means you are likely not to miss the fried crispy coating and you’ll save yourself from unnecessary calories and unwanted fat.Â Be careful with salt, pepper, sugar and other spices. Check out the sodium and sugar content before you start sprinkling.
I have a simple rule when it comes to exercise: bad calories in, bad calories out. All calories are not bad calories and it’s important to work out smart and not work out hard to avoid burning the wrong calories. Calories from fat, protein and carbohydrates are all processed differently in the body. Simply put, eating fat makes you fat. Protein calories repair your muscles and are used as fuel in the body. Carbohydrate calories are also used a fuel source when chosen correctly and combined with the right foods.
Cardio is my favorite type of workout. My exercise of choice is a stationary bicycle, better known as a ‘spin bike’. It requires a lot of stamina and once you get the hang of it, you may find yourself addicted to spinning. During the week, I’m awake at 4:30 a.m. and at the gym by 5 a.m. Thirty minutes of weightlifting gets me in the groove for the one hour spin class at 6 a.m. I take a little time cool down and stretch after the class and that wraps and bags my daily exercise.
To be the biggest or strongest man in the gym who works out the longest is not the goal. The goal is to get into a routine that works for you. If you miss a workout or eat some junk food occasionally, it won’t ruin your efforts. Gradually reshaping your attitude about food and exercise and maintaining consistency is the purpose.
Your body depends on what you put in it and what you do to it. If you learn how your body works, it will tell you when you have eaten the wrong foods or overexerted it in the gym. Commit to redesigning your lifestyle and incorporate healthy eating and exercise habits one step at a time. Think of it as a compromise between what you like to do and living healthier. By following these general practices, as well as maintaining regular office visits for your annual physical and check-ups, it is possible to live well in old age as opposed to just living into old age.
Stan Mukoro is an image consultant living in Atlanta, Georgia.
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Weekly tip: Adapting a health conscious lifestyle doesn’t mean you can’t go out and hang at the bar anymore. Next time you are out with friends, replace your favorite cocktail with a light beer or vodka with soda and twist of lime to conserve calories.