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Being Overweight in America – A Travesty To Your Health and Your Future
In this article, I want to spend some time on an area that plagues our society more than any other area regarding obtaining and maintaining optimal health. The topic is weight control.
In 1980, a government survey stated that more than 25% of all Americans at any age were overweight. In 1998, nearly 35% of Americans weigh much more than is considered safe and healthy. The trend is not only not improving, it is rapidly decreasing. It shouldn’t surprise you that the number one reason people join health clubs and fitness spas is to lose weight. Most people seem to understand that exercise can help in the “battle of the bulge”, but few realize just how important it really is.
We are all aware of the fact that weight gain is the result of consuming more calories than we burn on a daily basis. Over time, this excess of calories is stored as fat – 3500 more calories absorbed than burned results in a weight gain of one pound. Just 50 calories a day of extra intake than you burn is equal to a minimum of 5 pounds gained in a year! Most people think that they are simply eating more than they should, but research shows that the real problem is that they are instead burning too few calories. The wrong approach to losing weight can make the problem worse than it was when you started!
When people lose weight simply by dieting and eating fewer calories, they actually lose muscle and bone along with the fat they can lose. The less muscle we have, the less available it is to burn those calories we eat. We become less active in our metabolism and it becomes even more difficult to lose extra weight. Does any of this sound familiar? You will end up putting on 5-10 pounds more than you lost as soon as you start eating again, even if you eat the same amount of food during your meals as you used to!
If this is the case, what is a sensible approach to losing weight? It should be a program that includes sensible nutrition in the form of balanced meals, some form of aerobic activity such as walking, and some form of strength training. Yes, strength training as in lifting weights and building muscle! It’s not as scary or difficult as it sounds, so don’t jump to conclusions that make you feel like you can’t participate in a program like the one I’m describing. Let’s take a minute and touch on a few of the benefits of incorporating strength training into your weight loss approach.
First, it increases your metabolism. Weight lifting is a great way to burn calories and it builds muscle, which in turn burns extra calories during times of rest. Building more muscle provides a more efficient “furnace” for your metabolism to burn more of those unwanted and over-consumed calories. Having a higher metabolism will even help your body burn calories while you sleep – what an added bonus!
The second thing you should consider to help with weight control is to get into an active form of exercise regularly. This is best illustrated by the way it brings into your life a more active lifestyle. Being able to do the things you used to be able to do but are now “too tired” or “don’t have the energy” to do is just one of the many benefits of starting exercise. Once you start, your body builds momentum with each day you exercise, building on the previous day’s efforts. As this momentum continues, the same level of exercise becomes much easier, and you get better at it simply by staying consistent in your efforts. You are then in a position to add extra exercise as it begins to pay dividends in giving you the energy you need. It’s like a bank account – you can’t withdraw until you put something in and start building some reserve. Living a more active lifestyle is putting energy units into your “energy account” that you can draw from in the future. Start walking some of the places you usually drive, take the stairs instead of the escalator or the elevator. There are so many things you can do to start building savings into your energy reserve account. I will pay significant interest and dividends for a lifetime!
Exercises such as lifting weights and firm running, tighten and tone your existing muscles. Everyone talks about being “out of shape” and most of them are talking about the excess “flab” that has developed over the years. A pound of fat is bulkier and has less shape than a pound of muscle, so with muscle exercise you’ll look much better before the scale shows that you’ve lost pounds. How you carry the weight you are is more important than the amount that shows on the scale. Strengthening and toning muscles also contributes to the total burning of calories.
If nothing else, exercise and burning more calories with the end result of losing inches as well as weight will help you feel better about yourself. One of the main reasons people don’t start an exercise program is that they don’t feel good about themselves. They cannot muster the mental energy needed to perform the physical effort required to achieve any fitness goal. There is so much to be said for just getting started. This is where the “magic” begins to take place. By starting, you already have a reason to be proud of yourself and feel better about yourself on the first day. It doesn’t matter how much you can do on the first day or the first week or even the first month – remember, it’s already more than you did before, so feel proud of your efforts! When you start to see any kind of result, it reinforces the desire to keep going, which in turn makes you feel even better about yourself. The cycle continues when you set realistic daily goals that can be as simple as walking around the block. The next goal might include walking around the block without being out of breath followed by walking 2 blocks and the beat continues!
Discuss what your ideal weight really is with someone who knows, such as your doctor or fitness trainer. Weight loss when done right involves losing 1-2 pounds per week of fat while sparing muscle and bone. You must exercise to protect the muscles and bones because there is no other way to avoid this. When you think about it, that’s 50-100 pounds in a calendar year and very few people should lose more than this amount. Start cutting out that second helping at every meal. Check out some books in the library about a healthy, balanced diet and what should be included at each meal. Add to that the daily 15-20 minute walks along with starting to lift some weights and exercise as we discussed last month and you are well on your way!
You only need to burn 3500 extra calories than you consume to lose a pound of fat. That equates to reducing just 500 calories per day which divided over 3 meals a day is simply reducing each meal by 170 calories. Don’t eat that second piece of bread and butter, put the gravy on your mashed potatoes, or just reduce the proportions you eat by 1-2 ounces. The point I’m illustrating is that it just doesn’t take much to cut 170 calories a day. You can also burn these many extra calories through the exercise you incorporate into your day without changing much about your diet, so there are limitless ways to achieve this very realistic goal. Just start and watch the results drive you to continue the process when you realize how easy it is!
(A special thanks to Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D. for providing much of the research drawn upon in writing this article)
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