By: Indira Maurer, DNP, FNP-C
As a new year rolls around, so do the hopes and resolutions for a healthier lifestyle. Patients may come to us for guidance in achieving their goals to shed some weight, eat healthier, and adopt better lifestyle choices. Yet, with all the trending diet plans and exercise programs out there, determining which are the best ones to recommend to our patients can be a daunting task.
In the last 20 years, obesity rates increased from 30.5% to 41.9% in the United States1. Obesity affects all races with Black adults having the highest rate of obesity at 49.9%, Hispanic adults at 45.6%, White (non-Hispanic) adults at 41.4%, and Asian adults at 16.1%1. The long-term sequelae of obesity include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer; all of which are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death. In 2019, obesity alone had an estimated cost of 173 billion dollars in the United States1.
The question is, how can we make an impact? Let’s talk about exercise! With just 1 in 4 adults meeting physical activity guidelines, there is a great need for education and awareness of physical activity. The current recommendation includes a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity with the incorporation of muscle-strengthening activity at least 2 days per week2. It is important that patients understand that physical activity is anything that gets our body moving and burns calories. Any movement is better than none at all. It is often helpful to encourage your patients to start slow and work their way up. Some activities you can recommend include brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour), water aerobics, tennis, and biking slower than 10 miles per hour2.
Let’s shift our focus to nutrition. Diet is a personal choice that may be influenced by multiple factors such as income, food prices, individual preferences/beliefs, and cultural dietary customs. It is important that we educate our patients on the need for a well-balanced diet rather than a specific dietary “trend” that may impose demands making it difficult to follow. A healthy diet should include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains3. It may be helpful to present a visual of the recommended daily intake of the food groups. For example, fruits and vegetables should make up half of their plate for their meals4. Whole grains should make up one-quarter of their plate. The remaining quarter is for lean protein. Salt intake should be limited to less than 5 grams per day while sugar intake should not make up more than 10% of the total energy intake for the day3. Oils should be consumed in moderation with a preference for healthier vegetable oil sources3.
We have an opportunity to influence and educate our patients on making better choices to improve their overall health. Nutrition and exercise are important areas where we can start, as these steps ultimately reduce the risk of disease and increase our patients’ general well-being.
- Adult obesity facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html. Published May 17, 2022.
- American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults and kids. www.heart.org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/aha-recs-for-physical-activity-in-adults. Published July 28, 2022.
- Healthy diet. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/factsheets/detail/healthy-diet. Published April 29, 2020.
- Healthy Eating Plate. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/. Published October 4, 2021.