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Susan H. Konek '73 & Johanna H. Hernandez '04

Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, Class of 1973 & College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 2004

Susan Konek

It's a new year and for many that means it’s time for a New Year's resolution! A recent study concludes that more than 66 percent of Americans are either overweight or obese, so it's no surprise that living a healthier lifestyle tops the list of most popular resolutions for New Years. Read on as two alumni experts in the fields of nutrition and fitness share helpful tips and information on how to be a healthier you in the New Year.

“To me, being healthy is limiting your fats and maintaining a well-balanced diet by incorporating the various food groups into your daily routine,” said Susan Konek '73, Director of Clinical Nutrition at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Chair of the American Dietetic Association's Pediatric Nutrition Practice Group.

Susan encourages people who want to be healthier to focus on incorporating good nutrition into what they eat, and not to think of it as dieting.

“The foods we eat serve very specific functions within the body,” she said. “That's why it is so important that your diet contains the appropriate portions from each of the five food groups - grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and meats and beans. The USDA Food Guide Pyramid offers excellent, simple suggestions on how much of each group to include in daily meal planning.”

She explained that when you don't get the recommended serving from each food group, you’re depriving your body of the nutrients that it needs in order to maintain itself.

For example, the dairy group supplies calcium. According to Susan, once you reach your 30's, your body will start to pull calcium from its bones if you don’t already get a sufficient amount from what you eat and drink. That can lead to serious health problems such as osteoporosis.

People often find it hard to maintain a healthy diet because of temptation from sweets and other junk food, but according to Susan there are some helpful tricks you can keep in mind when temptation strikes.

Write down what you eat. It helps you to identify things that you need to adjust. Then you can target one or two things to change and give yourself a realistic goal.

Don’t eliminate certain things completely. Allow yourself to eat things that you like, just do it in moderation. That way you'll be far less likely to cheat or give up completely.

Pack your lunch and snacks. It makes it so much easier to know exactly what you're putting in your body if you're not always eating out. Packing your lunch is also a great tip to keep in mind if you’re trying to be healthy on a budget.

According to Susan, buying fruits and vegetables that are in season keeps costs down, and so does purchasing canned or frozen produce.

“They tend to be cheaper, but are still full of great nutrients,” she said.

Susan talked about some common mistakes that people make when trying to eat healthy and, in particular, lose weight.

Skipping breakfast. Many people think that if they skip breakfast it will help them lose weight, but eating breakfast is essential in maintaining your metabolic rate. So actually, if you skip breakfast your metabolism will slow down.

Cutting out carbs. Whole grain products have a lot of great vitamins and fiber. They’re also often fortified with folic acid which is very important for women who are pregnant. In addition, whole grains are very filling so they'll keep you from snacking in between meals.

Incorrect serving sizes. Especially when you eat out, serving sizes are often much larger than the recommended amount. Also, if you're trying to encourage healthy eating for your child, remember to scale down their portion size. A typical 3 to 5 year old's serving size is 2/3 of an adult portion.

Susan also recommends dietary supplements if you're not getting certain essential nutrients from the foods you eat.

She explained that vitamin D is extremely important because it allows calcium to be absorbed by the body, and it plays a role in the strength of your immune system. Studies have also shown that vitamin D is even helpful in preventing certain types of cancer.

“You can get your vitamin D from the sun, but if you live in a place where you’re not exposed to the sun every day, you should be taking a supplement,” said Susan. “Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods.”

Susan suggests taking fish oil if you are not already eating fish about twice a week. Certain types of fish contain omega 3 fatty acids which can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease.

While one obvious reason may be for weight loss, Susan listed a number of other motives for maintaining a well-balanced diet.

“You will have more energy and less fatigue, experience increased alertness, feel healthier overall, and have an increased quality of life.”

But if a healthier lifestyle is your goal, it is important to remember that eating well and exercising go hand-in-hand.

Johanna Hernandez '04 is a behavioral specialist consultant, a mobile therapist, and also a fitness instructor at Drexel University's Daskalakis Athletic Center. Johanna believes that fitness should be more than just a New Year's resolution; it should always be a part of your daily life.

“The key to sticking with it is enjoying it,” she said. “If you don't enjoy work out classes, go for a walk or play sports.”

She continued to explain that exercising should be something that makes you feel good and that you can easily incorporate into your life.

And just like Susan, Johanna had a long list of reasons why exercise is so important.

“In addition to helping you lose weight, it increases your overall heart health, your energy level, and the level of endorphins in your body which makes you happier. It's a great way to get involved socially and it increases your life expectancy.”

Another benefit to her healthy lifestyle is that it makes her a positive role model for her young daughter.

Do you think you’re too busy? According to Johanna, there is no excuse for not incorporating at least a half hour of physical activity into your day.

“Do ten minutes of cardio in the morning, lift weights at your desk at lunchtime and do ten more minutes at night,” she said.

Here are some tips Johanna has for those who want to avoid paying a gym membership:

Use workout videos. They work, and they’re affordable.

Watch the fitness channel or free work out videos online.

Get information for free at your local library.

Lift things like heavy fruit, books, even children.

She continued, “Start out by taking a walk. It doesn't matter how long; just get out there. If you walk for ten minutes and that starts to get easy, increase the time or mix in some running. You should be constantly giving yourself goals to achieve so that you don't get bored.”

As always, please consult your doctor before making changes to your diet or exercise regimen.