According to the President’s Council on Fitness, less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week.
I can attest to this statistic because that describes me for a big chunk of my adult life. I knew it was time for a change, especially as the big 4-0 approaches. Asian women have a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and the top two leading causes of death are cancer and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In addition to those risks, Asian-American women are also more at risk for mental health issues. In a 2013 CDC report, the third leading cause of death in Asian-American women aged 35-44 was suicide. Pairing those statistics with family history, it was becoming more and more obvious to me that I could not continue to make the same choices as I had been making for the past 20 years.
Exercise is proven to keep risk factors for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes at bay. It could also lower the risk for cancer. It’s a no-brainer, right? Despite, that fact, I have found it difficult to maintain any kind of exercise, let alone be physically active for 30 minutes a day. Growing up, I played tennis and it was something that our entire family could do together. I have memories of our family playing tennis together, but the emphasis was never on staying physically active. Part of that may have been due to the fact that with two working parents, we were primarily looked after by my grandparents. Unfortunately, my grandfather had a lot of health problems and he also had a love of all things Coca-Cola, cookies, ramen, bacon cheeseburgers and the like. Not that these things were bad in themselves, but when you consume these foods on a daily basis without much exercise, something has to give. He probably wasn’t the best model of healthy eating or of an active lifestyle.
I also realized that my parents were so busy working, taking care of us and my grandparents and adjusting to life in a different country. Creating space for exercise was seemingly difficult and it wasn’t a way of life. Coming from a background where survival mode was the only way to live – in the past and in the early years after immigrating – exercise wouldn’t necessarily be something that I would try to incorporate in my life. There was also a big emphasis on education, so most of my parents’ time was spent studying since getting into the top college was a way up and a way out. Life was different for my parents. They didn’t grow up with 60 hour work weeks, on-demand binge-worthy television or an over-abundance of processed foods.
Growing up in an immigrant family, I had to figure out what American life was about. There was no model of a typical American life in front of me, so you just pick up bits and pieces and make it up as you go along. I grew up with things that my parents didn’t have or have access to, so it’s a constant learning process of how to navigate lifestyle, food choices, work-family balance and self-care. I want to model healthy choices and an active lifestyle for my daughter. Not only do I want to change my future in regards to my health risks, I also want my daughter to have a different future when it comes to her health.
Here are the three things that I decided to do to change the future of my health:
- Create accountability: A small group of friends and I committed ourselves to healthy eating and fitness goals together. They say that having accountability helps
in staying motivated in sticking to your goals and achieving them. We created a Facebook group where we would post our various healthy eating and fitness goals. I committed to reducing my red meat intake to one time a week. Whenever I ate red meat, I would post it. If I went over the one time a week goal, I would have to throw $10 into our girls’ trip fund. Every time I went to the gym, I would post a picture of my workout.
- Start with attainable goals: I committed to doing aerobic exercise two times a week for at least 20 minutes. I have been increasing the time by five or
10 minutes each week and trying to add another day every two weeks or so. I knew that I wouldn’t go workout every day or even three times a week to start. I wanted to be successful in reaching my goals so that it would motivate me to keep going. For my healthy eating goals, I knew it would be hard to give up my meat eating, so I started with one meatless meal a week and having red meat just once a week. I’ve been trying hard to eat more vegetables, fish and drinking more water. I’ve also been using an app to track what I eat – that has helped a lot to evaluate what I’m putting into my body and to also motivate me to make better food choices.
- Get your whole family involved: My husband has also joined in on the healthy eating goals as he is in his own weight loss challenge with a group of his friends. With my daughter, I try to show her and include her in my physical activity. A few weeks ago, I signed up to play some bubble soccer. It was a fun way to get exercise and my daughter got a kick out of seeing me run around in a giant bubble. We’ve also tried to choose activities that we can do together like golf and encourage her to try a new sport. I also try to park the car further away from wherever we are going, so we walk a little bit more and try to always take the stairs. Since moving to the suburbs, walking to places has been much more difficult. It’s also a lot easier to reach your goals if your whole family is in on it, especially when it comes to healthy eating.
I am hoping that doing this today will help to change the course of my future health. I am also hoping that it I will be able to make these changes last. Maybe we can change the health statistics for women, especially Asian-American women, by committing to these small changes. Will exercise change your future?