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Better Health and You

Tips for Adults

INTRODUCTION

This publication is part of the Healthy Eating & Physical Activity Across Your Lifespan Series from the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). The series offers health tips for readers at various life stages, including adulthood, pregnancy, parenthood, and later life. The entire series is also available in Spanish.

How can I use this publication?

This publication is one of many handy guides from WIN that can help you and your family. This publication gives you tips on how to eat better and be more active.

Eating healthy foods and doing physical activity on a regular basis may help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. They may also help prevent some health problems.

Start taking steps now to move more and eat better—for yourself and your family!

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HEALTHY WEIGHT

More than two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight or obese. Excess weight may lead to heart disease and diabetes. Creating and following plans for healthy eating and physical activity may help you improve your health.

What is a healthy weight?

Body mass index (BMI) is one way to tell whether you are at a healthy weight, overweight, or obese. It measures your weight in relation to your height.

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is in the healthy range. A person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and someone with a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese.

Go to the tip sheet to find a BMI table you can use to find your BMI score. You may also check the Resources section for a link to an online tool for measuring BMI.

Another way to find out if you are at risk for health problems caused by overweight and obesity is to measure your waist. If you are a woman and your waist is more than 35 inches, or if you are a man and your waist is more than 40 inches, your risk of disease may be higher.

HEALTH RISKS OF BEING OVERWEIGHT OR OBESE DURING PREGNANCY

Extra weight can cause these health problems with pregnancy:
  • gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy)
  • high blood pressure
  • increased risk for cesarean section (C-section)
Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns. You may also want to see the WIN brochure Fit for Two: Tips for Pregnancy.

What are the health risks of being overweight or obese?

Extra weight may increase your risk for

  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease and stroke
  • high blood cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • kidney disease
  • non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (a fat buildup in the livers of people who drink little or no alcohol)
  • problems with pregnancy (see box)
  • certain cancers

Why do people become overweight?

Over time, if you eat and drink more calories than your body uses or "burns off," your body may store the extra energy, leading to weight gain. Many factors may play a part in weight gain.

The World around You

Communities, homes, and workplaces can all affect people's health decisions. Foods high in fat, added sugar, and calories are easy to find. They also often cost less than healthier choices like fruits and vegetables. Also, many people lack access to safe places where they can be physically active. On top of that, many tools and devices, like remote controls and drive-in banks, make it easy to be inactive.

Families

Overweight and obesity tend to run in families. Research shows that genes can play a role in obesity. Families also share eating habits that can affect how, when, and what we eat.

Medicine

Some medicines, such as steroids (drugs used to reduce swelling) and some drugs for depression and other psychiatric disorders, may lead to weight gain. Ask your health care provider or pharmacist about the side effects of any medicines you are taking.

Emotions

Many people eat when they are bored, sad, angry, or stressed, even when they are not hungry.

Although you may not be able to control all the factors that lead to overweight, making small changes to your eating and physical activity habits may improve your health.

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HEALTHY EATING

Paying attention to what, when, how often, and how much you eat can be the first step to helping you eat better.

What kinds of foods should I eat?

Every 5 years the Government releases dietary guidelines that recommend what kinds of food to eat and to limit so you can have a healthy eating plan.

Eat more of these nutrient-rich foods

Nutrients—like vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber—nourish our bodies by giving them what they need to be healthy. The guidelines advise adults to eat the following foods because they are rich in nutrients:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice
  • seafood, lean meats, poultry, and eggs
  • fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or substitutes (like soy or rice milk) that are high in vitamin D and calcium
  • beans, nuts, and seeds

Eat less of these foods

Some foods have many calories but few of the vitamins, minerals, or fiber your body needs. Added sugars, solid fats, and refined grains pack a lot of calories into food but do not add nutrients. The Government's dietary guidelines recommend that you limit foods such as these:

  • sugar-sweetened drinks and desserts
  • foods with butter, shortening, or other fats that are solid at room temperature
  • white bread, rice, and pasta that are made from refined grains

EASY SNACK IDEAS

  • low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • fresh, canned, or dried fruit
  • sliced vegetables or baby carrots

QUICK BREAKFAST IDEAS

  • oatmeal with low-fat or fat-free milk or a soy-based drink, topped with walnuts and fresh or dried fruit
  • a slice of whole-wheat toast with a thin piece of low-fat cheese
  • fruit smoothie made with frozen fruit and low-fat yogurt
  • high-fiber, low-sugar cereal with a soy-based beverage or fat-free milk

How can I follow a healthy eating plan?

These tips may help you stay on track with your plan to eat better:

  • Have low-fat, low-sugar snacks on hand. Whether you are at home, at work, or on the go, healthy snacks may help to combat hunger and prevent overeating.
  • Select a mix of colorful vegetables each day. Choose dark leafy greens, such as spinach, kale, collards, and mustard greens, and reds and oranges such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and tomatoes.
  • Eat breakfast every day. People who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat later in the day.
  • Choose whole grains more often. Try whole-grain breads and pastas, oatmeal, brown rice, or bulgur.
  • Choose fresh fruit more often than fruit juice. Fruit juice has little or no fiber, the calories may be high, and many juices have added sugar.
  • Use fats and oils sparingly. Olive, canola, and peanut oils; avocados; nuts and seeds; olives; and fish provide heart-healthy fat as well as vitamins and minerals.
  • Limit foods and beverages that are high in sugar.

How much should I eat?

How much you should eat depends on your genes, sex, age, and how active you are. In general, men need more calories than women do, and younger adults need more calories than adults in midlife and older. At all ages, adults who are more physically active need to eat more calories than those who are less active.

IDEAS TO SUPPORT YOUR WEIGHT-LOSS EFFORTS

Eating

  • Keep a food diary. To get started, see the sample food diary.
  • Make a shopping list and stick to it. Don't shop when you're hungry.
  • Don't keep many foods high in fat or sugar in your home.
  • Dish up smaller servings. At restaurants, eat only half your meal and take the rest home.
  • Eat at the table. Turn off the TV so you don't overeat.

Behavior

  • Be realistic about weight-loss goals. Aim for a slow, modest weight loss.
  • Seek support from family and friends.
  • Expect setbacks and forgive yourself if you regain a few pounds.
  • Add moderately intense or vigorous physical activity to your weight-loss plan. This kind of activity increases your heart rate and makes you break a sweat. Examples are brisk walking, swimming, and dancing.

What if I need to lose weight?

What defines a healthy weight varies from person to person. Ask your health care provider about what a healthy weight is for you.

If you are overweight or are experiencing health problems linked to overweight or obesity, ask your health care provider if a modest weight loss would be helpful. A weight loss of 5 to 7 percent of your body weight over 6 months or longer has been shown to improve health.

Use a food diary to track what you eat

To keep a food diary, write down all the food you eat in a day. Also write down the time you eat and your feelings at the time. Writing down your feelings may help you identify your eating triggers. For example, you may notice that you sometimes overeat when you are in a big group, simply because everyone around you is eating. The next time you are eating with a big group, be mindful of that trigger and try to limit how much you eat.



SAMPLE FOOD DIARY
Time Food Feelings How I Can Improve
8 a.m. Coffee with sugar and cream, oatmeal with low-fat milk and banana Hungry. Ate my usual breakfast.
11 a.m. Low-fat yogurt Stomach starting to rumble. Adding fresh fruit or whole grains will help keep me from overeating later.
12:30 p.m. Roast beef and cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread, potato chips, can of soda Probably ate more than I was hungry for because of the "lunch deal" the deli offered me. If I pack my lunch, I won't be tempted in the lunch line.
2:30 p.m. 1/2 chocolate bar from coworker, large coffee with sugar and cream Feeling bored, not truly hungry. A snack like veggie slices with salsa is more nutritious.
7:30 p.m. Caesar salad, dinner roll, ravioli (didn't finish the whole serving), 1/2 slice of chocolate cake Out to dinner with friends, so we all ate big portions! We split dessert, which made me feel healthy. Next time, I'll have a salad with low-fat dressing. Sweet, fresh fruit is good as a light dessert.
10:30 p.m. Decaf herbal tea Had trouble falling asleep.

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Physical Activity

How much physical activity do I need?

According to the Government's physical activity guidelines, healthy adults should regularly do aerobic and strengthening activities. See the Resources section for more information on how to find these guidelines.

Aerobic Activity

Aerobic activity uses your large muscle groups (chest, legs, and back) to increase your heart rate. This activity may cause you to breathe harder. You should be able to speak several words in a row while doing aerobic exercises, but you should not be able to have a long chat.

BENEFITS OF AEROBIC ACTIVITY

Regular aerobic activity may help you …
  • Control weight. Aerobic activity burns calories, which may help you manage your weight.
  • Prevent heart disease and stroke. Regular aerobic activity can strengthen your heart muscle and lower your blood
    pressure. It may also help lower "bad" cholesterol and raise "good" cholesterol.
  • Maintain strong bones. Weight-bearing aerobic activities that involve lifting or pushing your own body weight, such as walking, jogging, or dancing, help to maintain strong bones.

Aim for at least 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) each week.

Studies suggest that being fit at midlife may help prevent heart disease and stroke as you get older. To get more health benefits or to lose weight, you may need to do more activity. Aim for 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate activity like walking at a pace of about 4 miles an hour.

Choose aerobic activities that are fun. People are more likely to be active if they like what they are doing. Getting support from a friend or a family member may also help. Try one of these activities or others you enjoy:

  • brisk walking or jogging
  • bicycling (with a helmet)
  • swimming
  • playing basketball or soccer

Activity to Strengthen Muscles

These activities make you push or pull against something, such as gravity, weights, or exercise bands.

Aim for at least 2 days a week.

Strengthening exercises should focus on working the major muscle groups of the body, such as the chest, back, abdominals, legs, and arms. Allow at least 1 day of rest for your muscles to recover and rebuild before working the same muscle groups.

BENEFITS OF ACTIVITY TO STRENGTHEN MUSCLES

Doing regular activities to strengthen your muscles may help you …
  • Use more calories. Not only do strengthening exercises burn calories, but having more muscle means you will burn slightly more calories throughout the day—even when you are sitting still.
  • Reduce injury. Stronger muscles improve balance and support your joints, lowering the risk of injury.
  • Maintain strong bones. Doing strengthening exercises regularly helps build bone and may prevent bone loss as you age.

Try these options:

  • Lift weights.
  • Use canned food or books as weights.
  • Do push-ups or pull-ups.
  • Work with resistance bands (large rubber bands).
  • Do heavy gardening (digging, lifting, carrying).

How do I get started?

You don't have to be an athlete to benefit from regular physical activity. Even modest amounts of physical activity can improve your health.

If you have been inactive for a while, you may want to start with easier activities, such as walking at a gentle pace. This lets you build up to more intense activity without getting hurt.

Start with small, specific goals, like walking briskly 10 minutes a day, 3 days a week, and build up slowly from there. Keep an activity log to track your progress. You can refer to the sample activity log. As you become more fit, slowly increase your pace, the length of time you are active, and how often you are active.

SAMPLE ACTIVITY LOG
Date Activity Total Time How I Felt
Mon., Mar. 1 Walking 2 x 15 minutes I kept a good pace.
Free weights at home 20 minutes  
Tues., Mar. 2 Walking 30 minutes  
Stretching 15 minutes Stretching felt great.
Wed., Mar. 3 Extra walking at work—used the stairs 3 times About 20 minutes total I was busy, so I just tried to move more all day.
Yoga video at home 20-minute video Yoga helped me relax.
Thurs., Mar. 4 Walking 15 minutes at lunch and 15 minutes after work Walking with my coworker was fun and relaxing.
Fri., Mar. 5 Walking 30 minutes at lunch My coworker and I picked up the pace today!
Free weights at home 20 minutes
Sat., Mar. 6 Water aerobics class 45 minute class This class is fun but exhausting.
Stretching 15 minutes
Sun., Mar. 7 Gardening 60 minutes A surprisingly good workout.

Try these activities to add more movement to your daily life:

  • Choose parking spots that are farther away from where you are going and walk the last few blocks. (Make sure the places you park and walk are well lit.)
  • Walk around the inside of a mall in bad weather.
  • Rake the leaves, wash the car, or do brisk housecleaning.
  • Visit museums or the zoo. Many of these places are free. You and your family can walk for hours and not realize it.
  • Take a break from sitting at the computer or TV. Go for a short walk or stretch.
  • If your time is limited, do 10 minutes of exercise at a time. Spread these bursts of activity out throughout the day. Every little bit counts!

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BEING GOOD TO YOURSELF

Many people feel stress in their daily lives. Stress can cause you to overeat, feel tired, and not want to do anything. Healthy eating and regular physical activity may help offset the effects of stress.

Try some of these other ideas to help relieve stress and stay on track with improving your health:

  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Practice deep breathing while relaxing your muscles one at a time.
  • Take a break and go for a walk.
  • Add short stretch breaks to your day.
  • Try a new hobby or any activity that sparks your interest.
  • Surround yourself with people whose company you enjoy.

A balanced eating plan, regular physical activity, and stress relief may help you stay healthy for life.

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LIFESPAN TIP SHEET FOR ADULTS

  • Eat breakfast every day. People who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat later in the day.
  • Choose whole grains more often. Try whole-wheat breads and pastas, oatmeal, or brown rice.
  • Select a mix of colorful vegetables each day. Vegetables of different colors provide different nutrients. Try collards, kale, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
  • Have low-fat, low-sugar snacks on hand at home, at work, or on the go to combat hunger and prevent overeating.
  • At restaurants, eat only half your meal and take the rest home.
  • Visit museums, the zoo, or an aquarium. You and your family can walk for hours and not realize it.
  • Take a walk after dinner instead of watching TV.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

Body Mass Index Table

To use the table, find the appropriate height in the left-hand column labeled Height. Move across to a given weight (in pounds).
The number at the top of the column is the BMI at that height and weight. Pounds have been rounded off.

  Normal Overweight Obese Extreme Obesity
         
BMI 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
Height
(inches)
    Body Weight
(pounds)
 
58 91 96 100 105 110 115 119 124 129 134 138 143 148 153 158 162 167 172 177 181 186 191 196 201 205 210 215 220 224 229 234 239 244 248 253 258
59 94 99 104 109 114 119 124 128 133 138 143 148 153 158 163 168 173 178 183 188 193 198 203 208 212 217 222 227 232 237 242 247 252 257 262 267
60 97 102 107 112 118 123 128 133 138 143 148 153 158 163 168 174 179 184 189 194 199 204 209 215 220 225 230 235 240 245 250 255 261 266 271 276
61 100 106 111 116 122 127 132 137 143 148 153 158 164 169 174 180 185 190 195 201 206 211 217 222 227 232 238 243 248 254 259 264 269 275 280 285
62 104 109 115 120 126 131 136 142 147 153 158 164 169 175 180 186 191 196 202 207 213 218 224 229 235 240 246 251 256 262 267 273 278 284 289 295
63 107 113 118 124 130 135 141 146 152 158 163 169 175 180 186 191 197 203 208 214 220 225 231 237 242 248 254 259 265 270 278 282 287 293 299 304
64 110 116 122 128 134 140 145 151 157 163 169 174 180 186 192 197 204 209 215 221 227 232 238 244 250 256 262 267 273 279 285 291 296 302 308 314
65 114 120 126 132 138 144 150 156 162 168 174 180 186 192 198 204 210 216 222 228 234 240 246 252 258 264 270 276 282 288 294 300 306 312 318 324
66 118 124 130 136 142 148 155 161 167 173 179 186 192 198 204 210 216 223 229 235 241 247 253 260 266 272 278 284 291 297 303 309 315 322 328 334
67 121 127 134 140 146 153 159 166 172 178 185 191 198 204 211 217 223 230 236 242 249 255 261 268 274 280 287 293 299 306 312 319 325 331 338 344
68 125 131 138 144 151 158 164 171 177 184 190 197 203 210 216 223 230 236 243 249 256 262 269 276 282 289 295 302 308 315 322 328 335 341 348 354
69 128 135 142 149 155 162 169 176 182 189 196 203 209 216 223 230 236 243 250 257 263 270 277 284 291 297 304 311 318 324 331 338 345 351 358 365
70 132 139 146 153 160 167 174 181 188 195 202 209 216 222 229 236 243 250 257 264 271 278 285 292 299 306 313 320 327 334 341 348 355 362 369 376
71 136 143 150 157 165 172 179 186 193 200 208 215 222 229 236 243 250 257 265 272 279 286 293 301 308 315 322 329 338 343 351 358 365 372 379 386
72 140 147 154 162 169 177 184 191 199 206 213 221 228 235 242 250 258 265 272 279 287 294 302 309 316 324 331 338 346 353 361 368 375 383 390 397
73 144 151 159 166 174 182 189 197 204 212 219 227 235 242 250 257 265 272 280 288 295 302 310 318 325 333 340 348 355 363 371 378 386 393 401 408
74 148 155 163 171 179 186 194 202 210 218 225 233 241 249 256 264 272 280 287 295 303 311 319 326 334 342 350 358 365 373 381 389 396 404 412 420
75 152 160 168 176 184 192 200 208 216 224 232 240 248 256 264 272 279 287 295 303 311 319 327 335 343 351 359 367 375 383 391 399 407 415 423 431
76 156 164 172 180 189 197 205 213 221 230 238 246 254 263 271 279 287 295 304 312 320 328 336 344 353 361 369 377 385 394 402 410 418 426 435 443

Source: Adapted from Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. The Evidence Report. NIH Publication No. 98–4083: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 1998.

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RESOURCES

Additional Reading from the Weight-control Information Network

The following publications are accessible from the publications section of this website. They are also available by calling WIN toll-free at 1–877–946–4627.

Active at Any Size explains the benefits of regular physical activity and describes activities that people who are overweight or obese can enjoy safely.

Just Enough for You: About Food Portions explains the difference between a portion and a serving and offers tips to help readers eat healthy portions.

The World Around You provides tips on how to use the world around you, no matter who you are or where you live, to stay healthy and fit.

Additional Resources

2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
http://www.health.gov/paguidelines

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
http://www.eatright.org

Aim for a Healthy Weight
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt

Diabetes Prevention and Control Publications
National Diabetes Education Program
http://www.yourdiabetesinfo.org

Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010
HHS and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)
http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines

Food and Nutrition Information Center
USDA
http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic

MyPlate
USDA
http://www.choosemyplate.gov

National Diabetes Education Program
http://www.yourdiabetesinfo.org

National Kidney Disease Education Program
http://nkdep.nih.gov/

Online Body Mass Index Calculator
NHLBI
http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm

The President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition
http://www.fitness.gov

USDA Website on Nutrition
http://www.nutrition.gov

Inclusion of resources is for information only and does not imply endorsement by NIDDK or WIN.

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Why should I participate in clinical trials?

Participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care, gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and help others by contributing to medical research. For more information, visit http://www.clinicaltrials.gov.


The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a national information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). WIN provides the general public, health professionals, and the media with science-based, up-to-date, culturally relevant materials and tips. Topics include healthy eating, barriers to physical activity, portion control, and eating and physical activity myths.

This publication was produced by WIN and reviewed by NIDDK scientists.

This publication is not copyrighted. WIN encourages users of this brochure to duplicate and distribute as many copies as desired.

Order free publications at 1–877–946–4627 or download an order form [PDF format - 762 Kb] and fax in your order to 202–828–1028.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
National Institutes of Health

NIH Publication No. 08–4992
June 2004
Updated August 2012

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To contact WIN, call toll free 1–877–946–4627; fax: 202–828–1028; email: win@info.niddk.nih.gov;
or write Weight-control Information Network, 1 WIN Way, Bethesda, MD 20892–3665.

Last Modified: October 25, 2013

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