By Kevin Kolodziejski
I bet you’ve heard a version of this story before. How somebody’s grandpa smoked three packs of Pall Mall’s every day, drank a six-pack of Schlitz every night, never missed a day of work, yet lived to be 95. The last time I did, I was a teacher and the snot-nosed teen added, “So what do you think of that, Mr. Fitness Master?” (You’ll learn why he called me that later.)
I knew the boy wouldn’t listen to reason (a view shared by his probation officer) or understand the analogy that came to mind (and not just because he’d turn 16 while still in junior high), so I held my tongue. But I know you will do both, so now I won’t.
I think when grandpa finally does pass away, you don’t take the inheritance money and play the lottery. Instead, you lower the principal on your mortgage payment or put it in an IRA.
And in a similar vein, I think it’s best to take a proactive approach to your health.
What’s a Proactive Approach to Health?
It’s best understood in light of its opposite, a reactive approach, to act in response to an unwanted or unfavorable health and fitness situation. A proactive approach, however, is not — repeat, not — a response.
Instead, it’s a series of actions prior to the unwanted or unfavorable situation to keep it from happening and increase the odds of favorable long-term health and fitness. I’m not the only one who advocates this. In fact, in a paper published in the February 22 issue of Frontiers in Public Health by Philip B. Maffetone and Paul B. Laursen argue that health problems far less likely if you’re proactive.
And that one of these health problems in particular — the one found in 80 percent of the adult world population and 91 percent of the adults in U.S. — is a big one.
What’s Meant by Overfat?
A far broader term than obesity, overfat includes the obese, the overweight, and up to 40 percent of the “normal weight individuals who also have excess body fat.” What the media have come to call skinny fat people.
But overfat is not a communicable disease. You don’t catch it but develop it over time by not being proactive and taking “modifiable health risks,” such as being sedentary and eating poorly.
Now it may seem odd for me to argue for a proactive approach when 91 percent of adult Americans are already overfat, but whether you’re in that group right now or not, Maffetone and Laursen have a single “simple” bit of dietary advice to improve your health and lower healthcare costs. It’s in the way you view the added sugar and refined carbohydrates ubiquitously added to processed foods. See them as the “new tobacco” and eat accordingly.
Refined Carbs, Added Sugar: The ‘New Tobacco’
Part of the pair’s rationale goes something like this. The last half century has clearly demonstrated diets low in calories and fat don’t work. The last quarter century has revealed that while increasing the time exercising helps, it isn’t the panacea we thought it would be, either.
What research does shows, though, is a “rapid effectiveness and healthfulness once the consumption of refined carbohydrates, including added sugars, is lowered.” That eschewing refined carbs and added sugars not only reduces excess body fat but also lowers the risks of cardiovascular disease, metabolic conditions, some cancers, and a number of other health problems. And that if you want to reverse overfat, eating a “natural balanced whole-food diet in any ratio of complex carbohydrate, fat, and protein” is the “starting point.”
And it’s that starting point that requires us to go back to the starting point of this article, and why the insolent kid called me what he did.
Why the Snot-Nose Said, “Mr. Fitness Master”
“The Fitness Master” is the title of the weekly health and fitness column I’ve written since June of 1989. So the locals, including the students in my classes, have come to know my thoughts on the optimal diet for ambitious exercise (the type I imagine you’re doing) rather well. They know I favor a diet that’s virtually all complex carbs and protein with only a tad — let’s say 10 percent — of mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat.
Not what Maffetone and Laursen suggest: “any ratio” of the three.
But my support today of a diet where you consume a higher percentage of fat doesn’t mean my views have changed — only that I recognize that guys like that 99-year-old grandpa actually do exist. They are the most extreme cases of what I’ve written about since . . . well, June of 1989. That our physiology — especially our digestive systems — are as unique as our fingerprints, and there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to eating food or engendering fitness.
You’re Unique — and Need to Experiment
But all individuals can still count on this. Health is best handled ahead of time, not once some disease or injury afflicts you.
So it’s important to be proactive, and being proactive means living life with forethought. Eating and exercising not based on a whim but a plan.
A plan implemented from the results of the experiments you conduct on yourself from reading articles like the ones you find here in that never-ending quest for optimal health — and the best possible biking results.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.