Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Healthcare and Wellness and Prevention! Oh My! - The Other Side of Reform

About a week after I blogged about the healthcare reform debate and the omission of prevention as a way to manage and improve healthcare costs, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that a portion of the American Recovery and Reinstatement Act would focus on just that: PREVENTION.  For a quick second I thought, “Hmm… while surfing the web, did Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius come across my article and think “wow, this Allegra is right, we need to do something about this!”   Yes, I’m quite sure that’s how it went down. In any event, it was music to my ears, or rather my eyes since I was reading. But the release announcement from the HHS specifically said that $373 million of the allotted $650 million for the American Recovery and Reinstatement Act would be put towards the Community Prevention and Wellness Initiative geared towards prevention and getting Americans healthy. The goal? According to Sebelius, it is “to make disease prevention and health promotion a priority”

As the saying goes “talk is cheap”.   I’ve often commented that if something is important to an institution or organization, you’ll know for certain when you see how much is budgeted for that initiative. Well,  judging by the amount designated to prevention and wellness, I would say that this administration does indeed care. And it seems as if its leaders are trying to set, or rather, live the example. President Barack Obama’s push is on Healthcare Reform, while his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama appears to be the staunch advocate for wellness and prevention. We’re seeing media clips regularly of the First Lady planting gardens and shopping at Farmer’s Markets. Recent interviews in Women’s Health and Children’s Health Magazines reveal Mrs. Obama’s philosophy on healthy living and the importance of setting the example. She was very forthcoming about the struggles that she faced as a career Mom who was juggling the responsibilities of a high-powered career, mother and wife. She says at one point in the interview, that because of the schedules that she, Barack and the girls had, fast food meals and sugary drinks and snacks became the convenient option. It wasn’t until the family pediatrician who had been noticing trends in obesity in the youth in their community, flagged that the BMI, (body mass index) of one of the Obama girls was high and suggested that the Obama’s may want to keep an eye out. With that warning, Mrs. Obama made the decision to make “minor” changes as she called it. Since the girls already had active lifestyles, the logical change was to modify what they were eating. Sugary drinks and snacks were replaced with fruits and vegetables, and the family sat down for dinners together more often. These changes made such a significant impact that the same doctor during the next visit wanted to know what Mrs. Obama had done to achieve such results.

 The Obama’s are also very active and committed to their fitness routines. No, this isn’t the first time that we’ve had a President who was committed to a healthy lifestyle, but this is the first time that we’ve heard and gotten insight into the First Lady’s activities. The fact of the matter is this, as stated in my article “An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: What’s Missing in the Debate Over US Healthcare” what we do plays a significant role in our health. I am very excited to see the moves that this administration is making on emphasizing wellness and prevention. Just today, only 2 weeks after the initial budget announcement, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that the first $120 million would be made available for States and Territories to begin program implementation and will have 2 years to complete their work. The unfortunate thing is that the mainstream media does not seem interested in publicizing these efforts. Rather than helping to promote wellness, they seem more inclined to promote drama. So this leaves it to people like me, Fitness/Wellness and Health Professionals to monitor this activity and GET INVOLVED! This is where we come in and help to make these changes. I’m committed to a better America and doing my part to make it so. So trust that this is a space that The Body Beautiful by Allegra will continue to watch closely. Stay Tuned…

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fashionably Lazy or Functionally Impaired?

Photo courtesy of

I saw this and just HAD to comment. I do love fashion, and I can understand the marketing mentality of “if it's cute enough, folks will be inspired to work out" It’s kind of the fashion version of "If you build it they will come" Hmmm.... sure! Considering the many fashionably unfit women who willingly don workout attire by Juicy Couture, Bebe and Victoria's Secret with Nike shoes that have never dashed for anything but a sale. I say, cute, but no. I wouldn't recommend the use of ankle weights or hand weights for just random activity. The extra weight coupled with repetitive, movements that impact the joints do not make a great recipe for safe and effective fitness. If anything, you're doing more harm than good with these things as you are putting your joints at risk. Ankle and wrist weights should be used for "stationary" lifting such as leg raises, bicep curls, lateral raises etc. where the body is firmly positioned in a fixed spot, not walking around, running, or shopping.

Photo courtesy of

YES on cuteness, but NO on function and effectiveness.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Just a Spoonful of Sugar?

I guess the Original Super Nanny, Mary Poppins, really knew what she was talking about. Attached is a great piece on the detrimental aspects of artificial sweeteners. I've advised my clients about the use of artificial sweeteners for some time now. Go with what's natural, the body knows how to process these better. In fact, with only 15 calories per teaspoon, normal sugar alone is not the "BAD GUY” What does us in is the amount of sugar used. As an alternative, instead of artificial sweeteners try one of the 3 natural sweeteners recommended in the attached article. Most of these natural sweeteners are much more concentrated than the typical sugars that we are used to which means that in order to get the sweetness that you like, you'll use less.

Health Expert Dr. David Friedman Reveals Which Sweeteners Are Best:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: What's missing in the debate over US Healthcare

A very interesting article appeared yesterday in the Chicago Daily Herald. It was titled “What's the cause of the health-care crisis? Look in the mirror” It’s written by Dr. Patrick Massey, Medical Director for Complementary and Alternative Medicine for the Alexian Brothers Hospital Network in Illinois. It details the imbalances in the current American healthcare system which has a large spend on “disease maintenance” and less focus on cure and prevention. Attached is the link: 

But why is this article so important? Because as Americans continue to spend billions of dollars on prescription medication, chronic disease is still on the rise. Many of these chronic diseases are those that are directly related to weight and can be prevented. According to the National Coalition on Healthcare, national health spending is expected to reach $2.5 trillion in 2009, accounting for a little more than 17 %of the gross domestic product (GDP). And studies from the National Institute of Health (NIH) show that Obesity costs the American healthcare system close to $100 million annually with Diabetes costs at $150 billion and heart disease costing $300 billion annually.

Regardless of which side of the fence we sit, most Americans recognize that healthcare in this country does require some sort of a reform; the differences lie in how it should be executed. But amidst all of the clamor and chaos, one glaring piece of information is not really being discussed: PREVENTION. Last month, based on a recent study published in the mid-August issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, it was revealed that lifestyle choices play a very large role in the prevention of chronic diseases. The study followed 23,153 Germans from ages 35 – 65 over an 8 year time period. What it found was that those who adopted a healthier lifestyle reduced their chances of developing these diseases significantly, 80% overall. By maintaining 4 main healthy factors: no smoking, maintaining a healthy weight (BMI less than 30%), exercising 3.5 hours/week or more, and adhering to healthy dietary principles such as eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and red meats sparingly, participants lowered their risks of developing the following chronic diseases:
  • Cancers - 36%
  • Stroke – 50%
  • Cardiovascular Disease – 81% and
  • Diabetes – 93%.
Bottom line… it’s all in what you do. Yes, there are some key factors that play a percentage in the development of chronic diseases: genetics, environment, and some medications, but the largest percentage is WHAT YOU DO. I've served as a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Assoc.’s Project Power program and recently spoke to audiences at the Chicago Diabetes Expo about the various forms of diabetes and what role activity and diet play in the controlling or prevention of the disease. I told participants, as I often tell audiences when I speak, “what you do today sets you up for every tomorrow”   This is true. When we live in a society that screams for us to keep up with the Joneses, we place our importance on material things, expensive cars, beautiful homes, a Sex And the City style wardrobe with accessories to match, but less focus is placed on ourselves, our physical selves. I frequently use car analogies with clients and audiences. One in particular is this: You have one car, it’s the only car you have and you plan to keep it around for as long as you can because you can’t afford to buy another one. Since that car needs to last for an indefinite period of time, you keep up with the maintenance schedule, regular oil changes, tire rotations, tune-ups etc. You make certain that you’re putting in the right gasoline for your car (whichever one that will be), and because you really like your car, you keep it clean with regular car washes and wax jobs. Why? Because it’s all about performance and making certain that you do what you can to PREVENT that car from breaking down. Now imagine your body as the car. You only get one body, so why would you treat your body any differently? The same care that we give to our cars, homes and wardrobe, we should give to ourselves. Aim to prevent chronic diseases in your life. You have the power to change your future by simply deciding to live a healthier lifestyle today.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

30 Days to a Fitter You: Tips on Getting Started With a Fitness Program & Sticking To It

In my years as a Fitness Expert I have heard it all, "I want to lose 15 pounds in 2 weeks" to” I want to get six-pack abs, but I don't want to give up what I'm eating” Still, other popular goals are “I want to tone up, I want to lose weight or I want to feel good". Although these goals are a good start, the problem with these same goals is that they are not realistic or specific. Research has shown that people who are working towards goals are generally happier and healthier than those who are not. But, research has also shown that approximately 45% of people, who set goals for themselves, usually fall off within the first 3 months of their program, while an additional 20% fall within the 6 month time frame. This "fall off" is usually as a result of individuals setting goals that are not realistic.

So how do I know if I’m setting proper goals? When setting goals, ask yourself the following questions:

Is my goal specific? Know EXACTLY what you want and be specific in your wants. Change "I want to tone up" to "I want to have more muscle definition in my arms, legs, etc. Or, I wear size 12 today; I want to get down to size 10 in 30 days." If at the onset of your goal setting exercise you’re not exactly sure of the specifics, or even if you think that you are certain, go through your goals with a childlike mindset and question everything. Most of us are very familiar with the way a child will ask the question “WHY?” over and over and over again until he or she gets the answer that is agreeable to them. For the adult, it’s quite annoying because to us it seems quite obvious. But to the child, it’s better understood in the simplest of terms. Continue to question your goals until you have broken them down to the bare minimum.

• Sample conversation:

I want to lose weight. Why?

Because I don’t like how I feel. Why?

Because I can’t go up one flight of stairs without feeling sluggish. Why?

Because I’m always winded and short of breath. Why?

Because I don’t have the energy to climb the steps. BINGO!

Specific goal: I’d like to get into enough shape to increase my energy levels to allow me to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

Can my goal be measured? This is important. It is often said that “What gets measured, gets done!” You want to put items in place that are easily measurable and are going to allow you to see your progress and gauge how you are doing against the goals that you have set. This will serve as your roadmap to success. Using the above example:
Specific goal: I’d like to get into enough shape to increase my energy levels to allow me to climb a flight of stairs without getting winded.

• Can this be measured? How can this be measured?

• Make a commitment to climbing one flight of stairs a day for the next 30 days using the same flight of stairs or a flight with the same number of steps. Take note of your daily or weekly progress. At the end of 30 days, how do you feel?

Is my goal realistic? We often get ourselves into trouble by setting goals that are not very realistic. Going from a size 16 to a size 8 in two months is not realistic from a healthy perspective and neither is running up 100 flights of stairs in 30 days if you’ve been recently living a sedentary lifestyle. It’s best to start small as small successes lead us to big wins. Small successes also provide us with the feeling of accomplishment and let’s face it, the more accomplished we feel, the more likely we are to stick to our goals. So if we take this back to our stair climbing example, climbing up the full flight of stairs might be a bit trying at first depending on the person. The initial thought might seem easy enough, “okay, I’ll climb a fight of steps without stopping”, but depending on the physical conditioning of that person, that might not be so easy to do, the person may have to stop one or two times to catch their breath before completing the task and that’s okay! Each step further that is climbed today is one more step than what was climbed yesterday. Many times we beat ourselves up by solely focusing on the end goal and not the importance of the journey. Revel in the fact that you did more today than you did yesterday, and for that reason alone, you are BETTER today than you were yesterday,

“It is not enough to take steps which may someday lead to a goal; each step must be itself a goal and a step likewise.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How much time do I have to reach this goal? Give yourself a timeframe. If your boss or teacher gives you a deadline to complete a report, you'll do what it takes to get it done by that time. The same principle applies here. What I find that always works best, is to use some sort of milestone occasion like a wedding, birthday, vacation or anniversary. Last year before my 20 year high school reunion, the Facebook status updates of my classmates were littered with class reunion style work-out plans such as “Reunion in 2 months, gotta’ hit the gym, or dieting for my reunion” etc. ,they were determined to meet their goals by that specific date. Framing up your goals with a definitive timeline definitely helps to solidify the end goal, but a better way to keep you on track is to break out your timeframe into smaller chunks. Remember what I said about starting small? Break your timeframe into a 30 day cycle. 30 days is a good measure as it typically takes the body about that time to make adjustments to the new changes. In addition, it also generally takes 30 days to change a new behavior into a habit if done on a consistent basis. 

I have my goals so now what? Once you have answered these questions and your goals meet the above criteria, WRITE IT DOWN! The saying goes "the smartest people think on paper". To write something down is to make a promise, and to hold you accountable. This essentially becomes your contract with yourself. Sign it, date it and put it someplace where you will constantly see it. A common place is on the refrigerator or on a bulletin board. I’ve been known to tape things to mirrors just to insure that I will see it on a consistent basis. The one thing that you do not want to do is to put it away. I’ve heard this said many times, “oh, I put it in my purse/wallet so that I can carry it with me at all times”. Though the intentions might be good, in the wallet or in the purse are also out of sight and we all know how that quote is completed…”out of sight, out of mind”. Keep it out in the open! And if you’re worried that someone might see it, don’t. If anything, the sight of your written goals and the commitment that you have made to move yourself towards a healthier lifestyle just might inspire someone else to do the same.

Re-evaluate, Revise, REWARD: Every 30 days do a check-in. Review your progress against your goals and evaluate what you have done and where you are. During this check-in period, you may see that your goals have changed, or they have gotten more refined than when you started. At this time, begin to implement new changes to your routine that you will carry out over the next 30 days. And here’s my favourite part, once you’ve evaluated your progress and re-evaluated your goals, REWARD yourself! Buy that new suit or dress or indulge in a spa day. But whatever you do, not only just feel good about the accomplishments that you have made over this time period, but acknowledge you and reward yourself for a job well done!

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