There’s a common misconception that the Asian American community is healthier than our other American counterparts. A 2013 Washington Post article titled, “50 million US whites obese; Asian-Americans most fit” only added to this misconception. The negative “model minority” stereotype even applies when it comes to health! This obesity statistic might seem true at first glance since 11 percent of Asian Americans are obese when compared to the nation’s average, about 35 percent. However, it’s a misleading statistic because Asian Americans comprise a variety of different ethnic groups, each with different eating and exercise habits. When you break the numbers down, there’s a wide range of obesity rates. For example, a 2008 CDC study found that “Filipino adults are 70 percent more likely to be obese than the rest of the Asian American population—but about one in 10 Vietnamese and Korean adults is underweight.”
My bigger concern is that the overall obesity trend is only worsening across the board, regardless of ethnic background. The super-sizing of our waist size is driven by our American lifestyle, not our genes, according to a study in the American Heart Journal. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. I frequently have the “weight loss” conversation with my patients. Patients often respond, “I already know what I need to do to lose weight.” But I often wonder, then why is your weight not improving? The big issue surrounds habits. And bad habits are hard to break. So, how do you make the change? Here are 4 tips I recommend to turn a bad habit into a good one.
1. Don’t join a gym. Try the Mall.
Don’t join one at least until you’re committed to going to your gym regularly—meaning at least 3 times a week. So start small: Walk just 20 minutes a day during your lunch break. Over time, you’ll develop daily walking into a good habit. If it’s raining outside, do daily brisk walks in the mall. For the shopaholics out there, do your walk first, then reward yourself with shopping after. For the folks who think, “I’m very busy and active running around in my current job or life and it’s not working,” I say for things to change, you have to make changes. Start by increasing your pace. If you’re already active, over time your body acclimates so you need to keep pushing yourself if your current routine is too easy or not working. Don’t use lack of time as a barrier to get you healthy. You have to make the time.
2. Workout with a friend.
Exercise works even better with an accountability partner to keep you motivated. If that workout buddy is more fit than you, then all the better. A 2010 study in The Journal of Social Sciences found that the more active a person you work out with, the more likely you’ll move up to their level. The converse was also found. If you work out with an unmotivated person, they potentially could bring you down to their level. So go for your lunch time walk. But note that if you’re struggling to carry a simple conversation during your workout because you’re too out of breath to talk, then you’re pushing too hard. Simply slow down your pace. Your workout buddy will slowly improve your pace.
3. Join a sport.
Basketball is my sport of choice. I’m not that good, so I make it up with hustle. I run up and down the basketball court constantly (probably because no one passes me the ball). But at least I’m getting my exercise. If you like to dance, try a Zumba class, or dance at your local community center. Dance is great for cardio, strengthens your core, and is fun! Tai Chi is another great exercise routine. Multiple studies have backed up the effectiveness of this gentle yet powerful mind-body practice, showing it helps improve balance, strength and flexibility.
4. Do a TV cleanse.
If you find you’re coming up with excuses to do these basic suggestions at this point, then please change the way you think. Lack of time is probably the top reason for not exercising. However, if you make something a high enough priority, you will find a way to make time. Try a 1-week hiatus from watching TV, particularly Reality TV. Sorry to all the Jersey Shore fans, but it’s time to spend some time in your own reality, not someone else’s. I can assure you that you will be just fine if you take 1 week off. The world won’t stop. If anything, you’ll feel even better.
Regardless of the breakdown of obesity rates for each ethnicity, overall our waist sizes are only worsening because of the standard American lifestyle. It’s time to build up some exercise momentum, especially with the cold hibernation weather here. When it comes to turning exercise into a habit, make it easy. If it’s too hard, you’ll fail fast. If it’s too cold to walk outside, walk in the mall. If you truly can’t give up your TV shows, just promise yourself to exercise during commercials. Do you think you can fit in a minimum of 10 pushups or 10 seconds of planks during a commercial break?
Michael Corsilles, ND, PA-C, practices family medicine in Bellevue, WA.