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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Reap benefits of better health with gradual lifestyle changes

• Finding time for fitness

By Michael Tsai
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  Exercise Honolulu

The Honolulu County Medical Society, state Department of Health and City and County of Honolulu are sponsoring a series of "Walks in the Park" through Feb. 17.

The free walks are held each Sunday at O'ahu community parks. For details, call 536-6988 or visit www.exercisehonolulu.com.

Here we are, two weeks into 2002, and how many of our New Year's resolutions have already followed the family Christmas tree into the chipper?

How many of us actually made progress on losing those 20 pounds or dropping those 40 cholesterol points before our knees buckled under the weight of our ambitions? How many days of vegetarian leftovers did we actually reheat in the office microwave before we headed to Grace's?

"Everyone wants good health," says Dennis Chai, an associate professor of kinesiology and leisure science at the University of Hawai'i. "We all know that physical activity and good nutrition are important, but it's keeping up with a good exercise program or eating regimen that's the tough part."

Experts agree that many health resolutions — get in shape, lose weight, reduce cholesterol — are doomed because the goals people set for themselves are too high and may require changes in lifestyle that are too dramatic to maintain.

Public and private health agencies continually issue updated guidelines for healthy living. Gov. Ben Cayetano and state Department of Health officials Wednesday announced a Start.Living.Healthy campaign to encourage healthier eating, more exercise and no smoking.

The National Cancer Institute and the nonprofit Produce for Better Health Foundation recommends five fruits or vegetables each day. The American Heart Association suggests at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each day.

But, good intentions noted, not everyone is able to adopt and adhere to these standards right away. As the causes of poor health are often subtle and insidious, so can be the response. By gradually integrating small changes into our daily routines, experts say we can effect long-term improvements in our overall health.

In addition to a rigorous exercise schedule that includes running, weights, basketball and tennis, Chai said, he takes advantage of everyday opportunities to get in some extra physical activity. Time permitting, he walks from his lower-campus office to classes or meetings on the upper campus. He takes the stairs. Sometimes he even works standing up.

"You burn more calories standing than sitting," he said.

At home in Kailua, Chai said, he has a big back yard full of weeds to keep him busy and he makes sure he has a half-hour at the end of the day to stretch.

"That really helps," he said.

Jodi Leslie, acting supervisor of the state Department of Health's nutrition and physical activity section, said the same approach works with eating.

"The problem with a lot of people is that they don't eat enough fruits or vegetables," she said. "But you can add more fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods into your diet by adding them to dishes that you already enjoy — like chili, spaghetti, stir-fry, oatmeal ..."

Many people resort to unhealthy food out of convenience, Leslie said.

"It is faster to just grab a candy bar than to wash and prepare a salad," she said. "But if you go to the store, buy some produce, slice it and bag it, you're set for days."

A little time management can also help you improve your health without disrupting your schedule.

"If you have an hour for lunch, you don't have to sit there for the whole hour eating and talking," Leslie said. "You can eat for half an hour, then go walking with your friends or co-workers for half an hour."

Personal trainer Tory Gomes said a regularly scheduled workout can serve as a good anchor for a physical fitness regimen, whether it's a weekly run with friends or a more structured program.

"That way, no matter whatever else comes up, you have something set in stone that you have to show up for," she said.

And there's no shortage of free programs to choose from in Hawai'i — be it Exercise Honolulu's "Walks in the Park" or the Honolulu Marathon Clinic, which meets every Sunday at 7:30 a.m. at Kapi'olani Park from March through December.

Leslie said health plans, hospitals and other health-related businesses are good places to look for free or low-cost fitness programs.

"The important thing," she said, "is that you just keep moving."