Importance of Diet and Exercise on Happiness
To enjoy the glow of good health, you must exercise. ~ Gene Tunney
Well it’s the holiday season, which as usual means I’m doing nightly posts on staying positive during the holidays. There are a lot of folks, including me, who find this to be the hardest part of the year to be happy. Tonight I wanted to talk about the importance of exercise and diet, all year of course, but this time of year especially.
The Importance of Diet
No secret to anyone who has met me or read this blog regularly, I’m not a skinny guy and I really love to eat. Pizza is my favorite food and coca-cola is likely rightly considered an addiction where I’m concerned. Growing up, we didn’t always have enough to eat, my mother, as a single mom 99% of the time did a great job providing, sometimes via herculean efforts. There were however a few times and one in particular for me, when quite frankly there just wasn’t enough. I was 7 or 8 years old and one night I spilled my dinner, the dog of course pounced on it when it hit the floor. I went into the kitchen to ask for more. My mother snapped at me that there wasn’t more, then crying, gave me half of her plate. Every single detail of that night is burned into my brain and it is one of my most vivid memories. It is also not a coincidence that within a year of that night, the skinny little kid that I was, turned into a chubby little kid. My mother used to joke I went from slims to huskies overnight. That’s weight that frankly I still carry, but a little less every year.
When you realize that food is not a guarantee, you look at things differently. From that night on, if there was a way to earn a dollar to get something to eat, someone offering, a chance for an extra meal or a snack at a neighbor or friend’s house, I jumped on it. My choices of food were not always the best, junk food in America, especially in the 70s and 80s was by far the cheapest and most available. So the food habits I established were certainly not the healthiest. This continued well into my early 30s and led me to a point where I was obese (250 pounds), my blood pressure through the roof (170/110) when I was put on medication and my blood sugar was well into the Type 2 diabetic range.
It was no coincidence that through those years of excessive weight, bad eating and no consistent exercise, that my allergies were really bad and I had a cold four to six times a year. The funny thing about me during that period is that I didn’t feel bad, I was active, I still cycled, I still hiked, played pick up basketball games, but I did not exercise regularly.
The importance of Diet and Exercise
When I moved to California in 2002 a couple of things happened, first I hit that magic 250 on the scale and the idea of weighing one-eighth of a ton was a hit on my psyche. Also, the doctor ordered me onto blood pressure medication. So I decided it was time to start exercising regularly and eating better. The combination was successful, I dropped 40 pounds and with medication got my blood pressure under control. I would eventually drift up to about 220 pounds where I would stay for a few years. I also noticed my allergies had backed off a bit, the semi-frequent migraines I would get had decreased a bit. I was also only getting colds 3 or 4 times a year.
It would take me another 10 years to make another big jump and it came as a result of finally having my blood sugar evaluated and realizing that it was firmly within the type 2 diabetes range. I did well getting my blood sugar down into the high-normal range, didn’t do so great with changing my weight but noticed I was getting sick even less. About a year and a half ago I got motivated again around my blood pressure and dropped to 190 pounds and got a handle on my blood sugar again. Over the last year I’ve drifted up a little over 200 again and have recently started working again and have dropped a few pounds over the last month, a positive change considering it’s the holiday season. Including of course my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving and a lot of business travel which always makes hard to eat well. So hopefully I’m heading into 2018 on a positive note and my goal is to be at 180 pounds by my birthday in August. If I make that goal it will be the lowest weight I’ve achieved since high school ended in 1982.
The benefits of diet and exercise
So this journey of positive change I’ve been on in relation to diet and exercise has yielded some benefits and a lot of learning. First the obvious, I’m lighter and this means benefits to my blood pressure, to my blood sugar and more relevant given my knee injury in 2015, less force on my joints. Also, as someone who has become a fairly serious hiker, weighing less, means less overall weight on the trail, again, better for my knees.
Some things that are less obvious, my allergies have been better. This may not be completely related to being healthier but that in combination with living in new places is a nice synergy. I’m rarely sick these days, in the last two years I’ve had one cold. I unfortunately got it while traveling in Jordan. This correlates exactly to the most consistent period of exercise in my life and I truly believe they are connected. With my blood pressure under control, at most I get one or two migraines per year. These things together have certainly made me a much healthier person.
The secret to weight-loss for me
What I’ve really learned in the last ten years for me is something pretty simple and something that should seem a little obvious but hadn’t been to me. Losing weight for me is not about working out, not at all. Losing weight is simply about eating less and particularly minimizing my carbohydrate intake, which also benefits my blood sugar levels. Please clearly understand what I’m saying. Working out, as I had described above is hugely beneficial, it has made me far healthier than when I wasn’t exercising regularly. However, if I eat normally and work out regularly I don’t lose weight. I may lose a little fat, gain a little muscle but in general my weight doesn’t drop. It’s not until I’m eating fewer calories while minimizing carbohydrates in my diet that I lose weight. This became obvious to me when I was injured and couldn’t work out but continued to eat this way. Even without the exercise I was losing weight, not as quickly, but still dropping. PLEASE don’t take this to mean I’m suggesting that you should just change your diet if you are trying to lose weight. Being thinner, but not getting regular exercise will not bring the other benefits I’ve discussed and it will leave out the next thing I want to talk about, how exercise makes you happier.
How exercise makes you happier
Throughout this journey with diet and exercise that I’ve been discussing tonight, I’ve been on a parallel journey, I’ve been getting happier. There may be some coincidence in all of this, perhaps as I was getting healthier I also happened to be doing the right things to get happier. I think there is something to that, however I also think they are connected. There are plenty of studies that talk about how exercises helps reduce stress, releases endorphins and of course being in better shape allows you to be more active and undertake more adventure, which all makes you feel better and happier.
So my friends, this regular exercise and eating better thing has certainly worked for me. My goal each week is to workout at least five days a week, to eat right 6 days a week and to never work 7 days in a row. That formula seems to be working for me and that plan or something more personalized will helpfully help you be healthier and have happy days my friends. ~ Rev Kane
A Little More Happiness