Even Busy People Have Time for These Healthy Changes

Jan 24, 2018

For many of us, it’s one of our favorite mantras: I’m busy, I don’t have time to go to the gym today. I’m busy, I’ll just go through the drive-thru and grab a quick bite. I’m busy, I need more caffeine to keep going.

Is the “B” word getting in the way of you being healthy you?

“Our lives are hectic and fast-paced,” says Mohita Patel, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at the USMD Frisco Clinic. “Everyone is busy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have time to take care of ourselves. People would be truly surprised if they knew how a few small changes can make a big difference in their overall health.”

Dr. Patel offers these easy, no-cost ways to be good to yourself every day.

Give your heart just 10 minutes a day.

Think you have to spend an hour in the gym doing cardio to be heart healthy? “Last May, the Journal of the American Medical Association published results of a study that showed even 10 to 15 minutes of exercise per day can make changes that affect your heart in a good way,” Dr. Patel says. “Researchers followed 500 people and found that those who walked at a regular pace (just two to three miles-per-hour) for 10 to 15 minutes a day enjoyed a healthy benefit.”

Devoting that 10 to 15 minutes will improve oxygen levels to your heart and circulation. Plus, if you’re not already walking on a regular basis, this small window of time will help you build stamina.

Show your bones a little love.  

Weight bearing exercises help keep the bones strong and keep bone density normal. While walking is a form of weight-bearing exercise, Dr. Patel says it’s a good idea to add a few other moves that target specific areas of the body.

“Lunges, pushups and squats are exercises that put extra pressure on your bones,” she explains. “Doing them not only build muscles—which burns more calories—but putting pressure on your bones helps prevent osteoporosis. These types of weight-bearing exercises for post-menopausal women because it helps with bone reabsorption.

Weight-bearing exercises targeting the upper body help build strength. “Pushups are good, but if your knees make getting down on the floor difficult, you can do pushups standing upright by pushing off a wall,” Dr. Patel advises. “Arm curls and overhead presses with light weights are also good. Twenty reps with three- to 15-pound hand weights is a good start, but even if you do them without weights, you’ll feel your muscles working and enjoy the benefits.”

If you have back or knee issue, Dr. Patel says yoga and tai chi are great weight-bearing exercises that don’t require weights.

Start off with 10 minutes of targeted weight-bearing exercise twice a week and see if you can work your way up to 30 minutes twice a week. If you can’t do 30 minutes twice a week, even 10 minutes twice a week delivers benefits.

Always discuss exercises with your doctor before you begin an exercise program to make sure you are starting appropriately and are doing the right types of exercises for you. If you already have brittle bones some exercises can increase your risk of fracture.

Eat more slowly.

“We’re a society that’s always on the go, so don’t always take the time to sit down and enjoy our food and think about what we’re eating and what we’re putting into our mouths,” says Dr. Patel. “We’re often done in five minutes or less with our food and then we move on. It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain saying, ‘Hey, I’m full now.’ So spend at least 20 minutes eating your food. Pay attention to what you have in front of you. Really chew your food, taste it. Really savoring your food will help curb how much you’re actually eating, and help you avoid snacking later.”

Skip the diets, focus on portion sizes.

“There are so many diets,” says Dr. Patel. “Atkins, the Zone diet, Ketogenic diet, South Beach, Weight Watchers, the Raw Food diet—there are literally thousands. All of them can help with weight loss, but the problem with nearly all of them is that they aren’t sustainable. You can’t keep up with them for years, let alone the rest of your life.

Rather than obsessing over a particular diet, Dr. Patel suggest a simpler strategy for weight loss: Focus on portion sizes.

“Start by eating five or six bites less than you would normally eat at each meal,” she suggests. “Do that for a week or two and then you’ll be ready to start smaller portions at the outset. It’s an easy way to reduce your daily calories by 100 to 200 calories without even really trying very hard. That small change can add up to half a pound per week.”

Another simple way to trim 100 calories from your daily diet is the cut out a snack.

“Most snacks contain more than 100 calories, says Dr. Patel. “I have a patient who liked to drink a Dr. Pepper every day. She decided to cut it out of her diet so she began by cutting back to drinking one every other day. Slowly, she increased the number of days she went without a Dr. Pepper. Now she only rarely has one, and has lost more than 10 pounds in just a couple of months by making that one little change—cutting out that one sugary soda she used to have every day.”

In fact, Dr. Patel encourages individuals to avoid sugars.

“As a whole, reducing the amount of sugar you consume will really affect how your metabolism works, as well as really help with weight loss,” she says. “It’s tough at first, but after one to two weeks of consistently cutting back, you’ll be used to less sugar. Start off slowly if you need to by cutting back on sugars one or two days a week, and keep going until you have cut out sugar all together or only use it rarely (less than once a month).

Let your plate be your eating guide.

When you do sit down to eat a meal, there’s an easy way to not only limit the number of calories you eat, but to ensure you eat a balance of good foods. “The MyPlate method is great because you don’t have to count calories or weigh your food,” Dr. Patel explains. “Instead, you use a small plate as a visual cue to help you make smart food choices and control your portion sizes.”

Here’s how it works: Divide your plate in half. On the one side, fill three-quarters of the half with vegetables and the remaining quarter with fruit. Divide the remaining half of the plate in two. Fill one half with protein (beans, eggs, fish and meat). The remaining half should be filled with carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, starches and potatoes). Small portions of fats can be served on the side (dairy, yogurt, cheese).

“The plate method is good for everyone—including diabetics,” Dr. Patel says.

Drink more water.

“Our brains sometimes confuse thirst for hunger,” Dr. Patel explains. “Often may think you’re hungry when you may just really be thirsty. If it’s only been a couple of hours since your last meal, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be hungry that fast. Most of us don’t drink as much water as we should.”

With nearly 60 percent of the human body composed of water, experts recommend drinking at least 60 to 64 ounces of water each day.

“It’s hard to drink that much water every day, but it really does make a difference,” says Dr. Patel, “not only in helping you avoid overeating, but in terms of carrying vital nutrients to every cell in your body, flushing toxins, lubricating your joints, and a lot more. Still, I have a lot of patients who say they don’t like water and don’t drink water.”

If you don’t like water, add something to it to flavor it. Add slices of fresh fruit or smashed berries—or a little juice (less than one-fourth of a cup) to a full glass of water. Use your imagination to create flavorful combinations to add tasty variety.

Keep a food diary.

Writing down what you eat throughout the day serves two purposes—first, it can give you real insights into what and how much you eat every day. Maybe you didn’t realize you grab so many snacks from the office vending machine or haven’t eaten a green leafy vegetable in three days.

“A food diary is a great way to help keep yourself accountable for what you’re eating,” says Dr. Patel.

“You can use a small journal to keep track or tap one of the food diary apps like MyFitnessPal that are out there.”

“With the apps, you enter your age, height and weight, along with how much you want to lose,” Dr. Patel explains. “It then tracks what you’re eating. It also has tools for restaurants so you can know how many calories are likely to be in the food you order while eating out. Depending on how much weight you want to lose, it’ll tell you how many calories per day you can consume—including fats, proteins, etc.”

Let your doctor help you.

Staying motivated is often the biggest part of make healthy changes. “Partner with your primary care physician. We’ll not only encourage you, but help you be accountable,” adds Dr. Patel. “When you’re on your own, it’s easy to slip, but when you’ve shared your goal with your doctor, it’s easier to stay on track.”

Are you looking for a caring physician who can care for you and your whole family? Dr. Patel is here when you need her. Call 972.377.1490 to schedule an appointment.

Mohita Patel, M.D., USMD Health System. Dr. Patel is board certified in family medicine by the American Board of Family Medicine.