Forty pounds in four months? Three dress sizes in three weeks? Two inches in 20 days? These are not the numbers you should be thinking about when it comes to a healthier “you” in the new year. If you want to get results, you need to set realistic goals and focus not on short-term gains, but a lifestyle change. To get started, here are some time-tested numbers to keep in mind to help in your quest. Instead of targeting an ideal “size,” go forth and shed bad habits and adopt a new lifestyle for lasting, positive change.
Number of calories in a pound
“Calories” is not a bad word; they’re needed to convert food into the energy we need to live. Calories come from carbs, proteins and fats. But fats contain more than twice the number of calories per gram (9) than proteins or carbs (4). We can have too much of a good thing here, and when that happens food isn’t converted into energy. It’s stored as fat. There are only two ways to get rid of that fat — increase your activity level or decrease your caloric intake. Sometimes just knowing how many calories are in a bag of chips (426) will make you more tempted to reach for the cup of grapes (100) the next time you’re asked to choose a side dish at a deli. Check out websites such as CalorieCount.about.com, or you can download smartphone apps such as Calorie Counter for a look at how many calories are in everything from beans and beverages to your favorite fast food items.
Maximum milligrams of sodium we should consume each day
The bad news is, the average American consumes nearly 25 percent more than that daily. But in our defense, it’s easy to have too much of the salty stuff. The Mayo Clinic reports just one teaspoon of table salt contains 2,325 milligrams of sodium and, though sodium is needed to help our muscles relax and contract, too much of it can put strain on our heart and/or lead to kidney failure. Processed foods, like the familiar college staples of packaged noodles, lunch meat and canned soups, are the biggest sodium bombs, but if you check food labels, sodium is seemingly everywhere. Look for foods that say “no sodium” or “no salt added,” and when cooking or flavoring don’t use more than one-fourth of a teaspoon of salt daily.
Dollars, per year, that physically active people save on health-care costs
Looking and feeling better still not enough to convince you to get healthy this year? Let your pocketbook be your guide. This statistic comes courtesy of the American Heart Association. Obviously, the healthier you are, the less costly trips you make to the doctor or pharmacist.
Desired total cholesterol (in milligrams) per deciliter of blood
A substance contained in the fats in your blood, cholesterol helps with important functions like healthy cell growth. But high cholesterol levels can lead to heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends anyone over age 20 get their total cholesterol (plus “bad” LDL and “good” HDL cholesterol levels) measured every five years. Anything in the 200 to 239 range is borderline high, while anything above 240 means you are at more than two times the risk of developing heart-related disorders than someone in the ideal total cholesterol range. You’ve almost surely heard that certain “super foods” can help lower your cholesterol, but they bear repeating: According to the Mayo Clinic, oatmeal and other high-fiber foods; fish such as salmon and albacore tuna; almonds and other nuts; and olive oil can all help in your battle with bad cholesterol.
Average calories burned by walking one mile
That is based on a 160-pound person walking an average speed of 3.5 miles per hour, a comfortable pace for most people. Obviously, if you walk faster, or you weigh more to start with, you’ll burn more calories per hour. There are handy calculators to help you see how many calories can be burned participating in various activities — from washing your car to hiking — based on your weight. Some activities, like faster-paced running, result in nearly 900 calories burned/hour. You could easily lose one pound weekly from just running strenuously (or other intense activities) three times a week. Of course, we must still couple such vigorous exercise with reasonable and nutritious eating. Sweat-inducing races don’t give us a license to eat all the cake that we want.
Number of minutes you should exercise per day, five days/week
This doesn’t mean you have to lift weights or run until you puke every day. This simply means, to effectively lose or maintain your weight, and to help your cardiovascular health, you need to get your heart rate up with moderate to vigorous physical activity. The American Heart Association suggests walking. Try to walk for 15 minutes, and gradually build up to 30. Then, as you feel more comfortable, mix it up a bit with faster pacing throughout the walk or try a hillier course.
18.5 to 24.9
Ideal Body Mass Index
Your BMI is the ratio of your weight to height (for adults). If your BMI is 25 or more, you’re considered overweight. Above 30? That’s considered obese. BMI is a good indicator of your risk for developing fat-related conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes or heart disease. But BMI is not without its limitations; even professional athletes are considered obese in some cases, as it doesn’t account for very muscular body types. Nor does it account for individuals in the “underweight” range who are older and have lost muscle mass over time. Here’s a BMI calculator from the Mayo Clinic you can use to track your progress toward better health.
Servings of fruit and vegetables you should eat each day to limit cancer risk
Think “five” sounds like a lot? It’s not. Consider that one serving is just a tennis ball-sized tangerine or plum — or just four leaves of lettuce. The American Cancer Society suggests snacking your way to five a day. Stick some dehydrated fruits in a bag for snacking at lunch, or enjoy pre-washed carrots, broccoli and cauliflower instead of chips in front of the TV. Remember: the brighter, the better. Look for colorful, antioxidant-rich and nutrient-dense produce like apples, oranges and squash. Some of the most powerful cancer fighters and antioxidants are in the berry family. So load up on strawberries, blueberries and cranberries.
Weeks it takes to develop a healthy lifestyle habit
The January 2012 issue of Runner’s World notes it takes surprisingly little time for us to get into the daily routine of going to the gym or hoofing it on the track. Getting into a good dietary and fitness-related habit is crucial to our success in developing a healthy lifestyle, as opposed to a “crash-and-burn” weight-loss attempt. Though habits are developed quite quickly, RW notes that it takes six months for these changes to become as second nature to us as bathing or brushing our teeth.
Hours of extra life expectancy for every hour you walk
This incredible fact comes from the American Heart Association. You can see how that would add up in the long term. Walking itself is cost-effective — put on your shoes and go. Just be sure to commit yourself to such activity every day. And it will be almost impossible for you not to think of this number the next time you take a stroll around the block.