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Ingredients for a Healthy Lifestyle

If you’re having trouble sticking to your New Year’s self-improvement goals, you’re not alone. Only about 46 percent of resolution-makers keep their commitment six months into the year, according to the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

As the obesity epidemic persists nationwide, the popular New Year’s resolution to lose weight can be especially difficult. For starters, choosing between the sheer number of weight loss plans may seem overwhelming, particularly when many of the programs can appear similar or contradictory.

Sean Hashmi, MD, a Kaiser Permanente nephrologist and regional lead of the Adult Weight Management program, Southern California Permanente Medical Group, suggests an alternative approach to shed unwanted pounds and reduce the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases.

“Die-ting is not the answer,’” said Dr. Hashmi, emphasizing the word die in the word diet. “Setting reasonable, incremental goals, and focusing on living a healthy lifestyle – not short-term dietary changes – produce better and more long-term results.”

Healthy living tips

The main ingredients of a healthy lifestyle, he says, can be summed up in what he calls the SELF Principle:

Sleep. Exercise. Love. Food.

“People think being healthy needs to be complicated, but it really is this simple,” said Dr. Hashmi, who practices at the Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center and Ventura medical offices. “All four factors – sleep, exercise, love, food – are necessary. You can have the most perfect diet in the world, but if you’re not sleeping or exercising well, you’re not the best you can be and may be jeopardizing your health.”

The SELF Principle concept incorporates evidence-based research and the daily practices of areas in the world known for the highest life expectancy and lowest rates of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, arthritis, mental decline, and other serious health problems.

“You don’t have to starve yourself and you don’t need to follow the latest fad to live a full, rich life,” said Dr. Hashmi. “Just look at what the centenarians eat and adopt some of the same lessons for your life.”

Long-lived societies like Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy, for example, consume whole-food, plant-based meals centered on:

  • Whole or minimally processed plants, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes
  • Minimal or no animal-based products, such as meat, dairy, and eggs
  • Limited or no salt, refined grains, and sugar-sweetened foods and beverages

For best results, evidence suggests consuming well-balanced meals composed of 50 percent non-starchy foods, 25 percent starchy foods, and 25 percent protein.

“Eat whole-food, plant-based meals like this, and the weight will take care of itself,” said Dr. Hashmi.

SELF Principle: Lessons from Centenarians

The following highlight some key SELF Principle tips for success that incorporate evidence-based research and cultures with long, healthy lifespans that place a high priority on healthy eating, rewarding relationships, a sense of purpose, and regular physical activity.

  • Sleep: Get at least seven hours and try to wake and go to bed at the same time every day.
  • Exercise: Get 30 minutes a day, preferably in the morning or midday to jump-start your metabolism.
  • Love: Feel gratitude for everything you have, do, and give.
  • Food: Make plant-based foods the priority in your diet.

To learn more from Dr. Hashmi, watch his video here.

Potential impacts of obesity on heart health

America’s obesity rates are at an all-time high. More than one-third of adults, as well as one in five school-age children and adolescents, are obese – meaning they weigh at least 20 percent more than the ideal body weight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Obesity may lead to many diseases, but one of the greatest concerns is heart disease – currently the leading cause of death for people of most ethnicities in the United States. Obesity is closely linked with multiple health conditions that underlie cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and abnormal cholesterol.

Even without these risk factors, people with obesity may still be at increased risk for heart failure – when an enlarged or weakened heart muscle diminishes the heart’s efficiency – because of the effects of extra body fat on the heart. 

The good news is, even dropping a little weight can make a big difference. Studies of people with obesity show that losing just 5 percent to 10 percent of their weight can potentially lower their risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and other severe health issues.

Creating healthy habits

The effort to develop a healthier way of living pays off. An estimated 80 percent of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, along with 40 percent of cancers, could be improved simply by eating better, moving more, and quitting smoking, according to the World Health Organization and CDC.

Remember, change takes time. Forming a new habit takes on average more than two months – 66 days to be exact – and sometimes up to 254 days to become routine.

“To make lifestyle changes that last, take baby steps toward your goal rather than doing too much, too soon,” said Dr. Hashmi. “The best resolution – anytime of the year – is deciding ‘Today, I’m going to make a change, I’m going to take that first step.’”

For more information or help managing a health condition or making a healthy change in your life, please visit the Kaiser Permanente Southern California Center for Healthy Living.

For more information on overweight and obesity prevention, management, and trends, please visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.