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Start New Year’s Health Resolutions Before Christmas

Holiday Feature


By Nancy DiMarco, Ph.D.

You don’t need to wait for Jan. 1 to begin making changes that will improve your life in the coming year. You can take action today that will substantially reduce your risk of developing or dying from heart disease, colon cancer and high blood pressure. All it takes is devoting 30 minutes of your time each day. Are you willing?

Speaking as a dietitian and a nutritionist, I tell my classes all the time that I truly believe that exercise is of the greatest importance when it comes to changing the risk for lifestyle-related diseases. Nutrition is next in importance and cannot be neglected, but without activity, simply changing one’s diet will not achieve all the possible health benefits.

Over the last 20 years, the fitness world, led by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), has changed its recommendations about exercise to be much more user friendly. The guidelines used to be 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least three times per week.

Now, the Centers for Disease Control and the ACSM recommend that everyone participate in at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. These guidelines are designed to promote the health benefits of regular physical activity.


A moderate intensity activity is defined as 150 calories of expended energy per day, or 1,000 calories per week. Examples include walking briskly for 30 minutes, swimming laps for 20 minutes, washing and waxing the car for 45-60 minutes or pushing a stroller 1.5 miles in 30 minutes.

The total amount of daily activity is what's important. A study conducted by the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas showed that the 30 minutes of exercise each day doesn't have to be done at one time – breaking the exercise into three 10 minute segments is fine to promote better health.

The difference between intense and moderate activities really determines whether you receive fitness or health benefits from exercise.

The fitness benefits of exercise include significant changes in body composition, such as decreased body weight, decreased percent of body fat, increased muscle mass, increased lung capacity and maximal oxygen consumption. These benefits are of great importance if you are an athlete or even someone who wants to challenge him or herself in an athletic competition, such as a marathon or strength event.

In truth, there is more health benefit for a sedentary individual embarking on a moderate exercise program.

Study after study has shown that physical activity improves health by reducing the risk of dying prematurely, reducing the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, reducing the risk of developing diabetes, reducing the risk of developing high blood pressure, reducing the risk of developing colon cancer, reducing feelings of depression and anxiety, helping control weight, helping build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, helping older adults become stronger and move without falling and promoting psychological well-being.

If I were to put all that in a bottle and sell it, I’d probably make a million dollars but be accused of being a snake oil salesman!


Still, 60 percent of adults do not exercise regularly and 25 percent don't exercise at all. Women exercise less than men do. And the older a person is, the less likely he or she is to exercise.

“Improving health through physical activity is a key public health challenge that we must hasten to meet," said former CDC director Davis Satcher. "The stakes are high and the potential rewards are great – preventing premature death, unnecessary illness and disability, controlling health care costs and maintaining high quality of life into old age.”


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Dr. Nancy DiMarco is a research professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences and coordinator of the master’s program in Exercise and Sports Nutrition at Texas Woman’s University. She can be reached at ndimarco@twu.edu.


Tips To Start Your New Year’s Resolutions Early

  • Check with your physician to get his clearance if you have any medical condition that would prevent activity
  • Exercise either in a group or with a friend for accountability. People who exercise together tend to keep exercising
  • Start slowly and gradually work into a regular schedule of activity
  • Vary your activity the way you vary your food – moderation, variety and balance are all keys to enjoying physical activity
  • Choose activities you enjoy doing but be open to trying new ones – new muscles get challenged with different activities
  • Never neglect proper fluid intake, even in cooler weather
  • Join a local fitness club or facility near you
  • Use the expertise of a qualified personal trainer (has ACSM or NSCS certifications) to jump start your program
  • Have a physical fitness assessment performed
  • Record your activity for the first few months to determine how well you are adhering to your new resolution.

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For Further Information Contact:

Roy Kron
Director of News and Information
Tel: (940) 898-3456
e-mail: rkron@twu.edu