How to Get Healthy and Lose Weight

DSCF5326Fall. The first visit to the apple orchard collides with the first confrontation with unforgiving blue jeans. Penance for the indiscretions of the summer diet – the campfire s’mores, the samples on the wine trail, the perfectly grilled burgers – comes swiftly.

Here in Michigan, we are the fifth-heaviest people in the country. (I don’t think they’ve highlighted that in the Pure Michigan campaign yet.) Overweight isn’t unique to our fair state, of course: Less than 30% of the American population maintains a healthy weight. There are plenty of reasons for this, but we’re going to focus on just one today.

We’re building our communities to make good health hard.

If your own blue jeans confrontation leads you to join the Weight Watchers program, you’ll find yourself invited to attend bonus sessions after the first two meetings. One focuses on your daily routines, the other on your physical spaces. These two things – routines and spaces – are a constant refrain at meetings. So what is it about the spaces that we find ourselves in that concerns the nation’s leading weight-loss program so much?

“Setting up your environment for success, wherever you are, is a really powerful tool” (here). (Tweet that.)

Tips for adjusting your spaces at home to be more amenable to weight loss include things like putting tempting food on a top shelf so it’s out of sight and pre-cutting fruits and veggies to make them easier to grab. It’s no magic bullet, but it’s about making desirable outcomes easier and undesirable ones harder.

When it comes to good health, the spaces outside our home are every bit as important as the spaces inside.

Experts say that the top barrier to getting enough exercise is finding time (here). So let’s take a look at a couple different options for getting 30 minutes of daily exercise.

10 minutes: walk child to school
10 minutes: walk home
5 minutes: walk to neighborhood coffee shop/work/grocery store
5 minutes: walk home

A thirty minute time commitment for thirty minutes of exercise.

10 minutes: drive to gym
10 minutes: get inside, get changed, get to equipment
30 minutes: exercise
20 minutes: shower, change, do hair and make-up again (guys, subtract 10 minutes)
10 minutes: drive home

Eighty minutes total time commitment for thirty minutes of exercise – in my experience that’s about right for a trip to the gym. And although we can exercise without going to the gym, all intentional exercise has the same weakness: each and every one of them involves going out of our way to make it happen. Which makes it all to easy to blow off on a rough day.

Interestingly enough, according to a study conducted by several researchers at the University of Utah women in walkable neighborhoods weigh an average of 6 pounds less than those in sprawling ones, and men an average of 10 pounds less.

Depending on your weight, that could be a pant size.

So what do we do?

Here are two ideas I’ve tried.

1. Have a bias toward walkability.

Regardless of where we live, we can take advantage of the walkable neighborhoods we pass through.

Thanks to the housing downtown, I’ve spent the past six years living in a decidedly suburban neighborhood. During this time, I’ve chosen to do something that’s like the “parking in the furthest space from the entrance to get more steps in” drill taken to the next level.

Here’s one example of what this looks like. CJ’s school is in a walkable neighborhood. When I pick her up, I act like I live there. We may walk to the park, or to the tienda two blocks away to pick up dinner. I park once, then walk where we need to go.

Do you have a place you normally go where you could walk or ride your bike? Think of a good possibility, then commit to trying it three times. Was it what you expected? Easier? Harder? Regardless, if you got some exercise it’s a win.

2. Move house.

Yup, this is extreme. It’s also what we call a big win. By choosing a home base in a walkable neighborhood, we can forever make every single decision to get somewhere by active transportation easier.

We’re in the process of doing this right now, and are evaluating neighborhoods based on walk/bike time to school, church, coffee shops (as you may have gathered, that’s a big one for me), the library, and parks. We’re also considering traffic speeds on various city streets, amount of truck traffic, and how easy (or difficult) important streets are to cross. If our city had bike lanes, that would be a big factor, too. We’ve found Walkscore to be a good tool to start with, but some of our biggest revelations have been in conversations at the park and walks through the neighborhoods ourselves.

The way we build our communities has an affect on many facets of our lives, and good health is one of them.

How do the spaces in your neighborhood affect your life – and what can you do to make them work for you? Feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail me at tulip dot lane at outlook dot com. And if you’d like to see more like this, remember to sign up at the top of the page to have posts delivered by e-mail, or like our Facebook page!

You may also like: Ten Reasons for Your Child to Walk to School.