Get Fit Huntington

HQ and Men's Health Editor Brian Dalek join forces to identify 50 ways you can lead a healthier life.

By Brian Dalek

A colleague of mine asked a question that brought back an unsettling reminder a few months back: “What do you think of West Virginia being the fattest state?” He knew I proudly grew up there and was asking about a headline we all see too often about some new survey or report on obesity. The news didn’t rock me. Instead it made me sigh and recall other bad headlines like when Huntington was named the “Fattest City” in the country, which eventually led chef Jamie Oliver to sweep in with cameras.

Here are the cold, hard facts: According to the most recent West Virginia Health Statistics Center data, the state is still bulging past the national average when it comes to prevalence of diabetes (12 percent), heart disease (6.7 percent) and no physical activity (a whopping 35.1 percent).

But we might be making some progress. In August, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released their annual report on obesity and health, where West Virginia dropped from third to fourth in the rankings with an obesity rate at 33.8 percent. It’s still high, but we’ve leveled off.

As for the Huntington/Tri-State region, it’s no longer the national champion, but a none-too-flattering ranking of No. 3 by the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index poll shows there is still work to be done.

Now it’s time to move toward the healthier end of that list. For a region that prides itself on hard work, it’s time to do the same with our health. As an editor at Men’s Health – one of the largest health and fitness magazines and websites in the world – I teamed up with the staff of the Huntington Quarterly to compile this list of 50 (and then some) tips to get the area moving, eating better and living healthier lives. Let’s shed these statistics along with our extra pounds.

Get a Pet
The health benefits of having a pet are well documented. Among other things they can improve your mood, stave off loneliness, reduce stress and control blood pressure better than drugs. So, head down to Little Victories Animal Rescue or your local animal shelter and help save a life. It might save your own.

Skip the Elevator
Taking the stairs at work could make you fitter. In a British Journal of Sports Medicine study, sedentary people who walked the stairs for eight weeks at least five days a week increased their aerobic capacity by 17 percent compared to a control group, and there was a 7.7 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, known as the “bad” cholesterol. The best part is they kept their diet and daily routine the same.

Make This Appointment Now
Going to the dentist may lower your risk for heart attack and stroke, according to a Taiwanese study. People getting their chompers cleaned twice or more a year had an overall 24 percent lower risk of heart attack and 13 percent lower risk of stroke compared to people with fewer dental cleanings. The cause? Inflammation causing plaque that starts in your mouth can move to your arteries.

Grab a (Wiffle Ball) Bat
It’s not just for kids anymore. Grab some friends and join the league that meets at St. Cloud Commons Park for competitive games that get you swinging, diving and running the bases each week. It’s way more active than watching baseball from the stands. (

Get Up, Stand Up
According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, men who sat more than six hours a day were 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Plus, this remained virtually unchanged after adjusting for physical activity level. Fight back with a standing desk. You could burn up to 300 extra calories a day if you’re on your feet. Check out the products offered by Ergotron ( or try building one yourself.

Protect your Heart – with Chocolate!
Dark chocolate, that is. A 2012 study in British Medical Journal found that people with hypertension or risks of heart disease who ate 3.5 ounces of dark chocolate daily decreased the risk of cardiac events over 10 years. Credit the flavonoids that have known heart-protecting benefits.

You’re Not Nuts
Everybody likes snacking, just make sure you do it the smart way. A 2011 study from Louisiana State University found that people who ate a handful of nuts a day had about a 5 percent lower chance of developing type-2 diabetes.

Take Time to Give Back
If you’re in-between jobs, try volunteering. One recent study showed that people facing a major stressor — like job loss — were 30 percent more likely to die in the next five years than people who weren’t stressed out. The lone exception being those who gave a helping hand.

Boost Your Mood with Yogurt
One recent study showed that brain scans in people who ate yogurt rich in probiotics for eight weeks had better moods. Probiotics are also great for your digestion, beating stress and fighting off colds.

Cut Your Cravings with Computer Games
A recent study found that people who played a challenging computer game had less cravings than those who had an easier test. Think of games like Tetris, or keep your brain sharp with a website and app like Lumosity. (

Eat the Right Pasta
One study from Penn State showed that people who ate whole-grain pasta over refined grains lost almost twice the belly fat. Make that switch for all your pastas, bread and rice.

Double the Burn, Half the Time
Don’t have 30 minutes to run? Don’t worry. Interval training allows you to condense runs or biking workouts as you mix in bursts of speed for 30 seconds or more with short periods of rest. You could try it by running harder during the chorus of a song playing on your iPod. Numerous studies have shown it burns more calories during and even after workouts than longer aerobic workouts at a steady pace.

Go Blue
Blueberries are a superfood for a variety of reasons, but definitely for their anti-inflammatory properties. A Harvard School of Public Health study reported that eating blueberries (and strawberries) reduced the risk of heart attack in women by as much as 33 percent. These berries used in smoothies or dropped in your morning yogurt can also fight diabetes, help your brain and stave off cancer.

Sleep Your Way Slim
You might be more likely to pick up a Snickers if you logged less shut-eye. A recent study from the University of California-Berkeley showed that people who had a full night’s rest (eight hours) were less likely to desire unhealthy foods. Brain scans showed the sleep-deprivated brain had less activity in the frontal lobe — where we make our decisions — and increased activity in the amygdala — our reward zone.

Save Your Brain with Fish
A large study in the journal Neurology showed that having a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids could cause faster memory loss in older adults. Combat this with two 4- to 6-ounce servings of oily fish like salmon or mackerel a week.

Down on the Farm
The farmer’s market is the place to be. The food is fresher, healthier and tastier. Plus you’re supporting local growers.

Halt Muscle Soreness
The day after that first workout is always a pain (literally). But if you follow the advice of several studies, downing some cherries will help you stop soreness faster so you can get back to the gym. This fruit stimulates antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Eat cherries or drink some sweet or tart cherry juice before or after your workout.

Milk Muscles
You don’t need a fancy protein shake to add some tone to your muscles. One Canadian study found that women who had a high protein/high dairy diet gained the most muscle and lost the most fat — almost 10 pounds. The absorption properties of casein and whey found naturally in milk are a great muscle-building combo. Try drinking 1-2 glasses of milk after your workout.

Why You Should Walk After Dinner
In a recent study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, older adults who walked for 30 minutes four days a week showed not only respiratory improvement, but also a cognitive improvement — even with some people who had slight mental fogginess — after 12 weeks.

Self Deep-Tissue Massage
You get older, you get stiffer. Instead of shelling out for massages every other week, invest in a foam roller. You can target specific muscles and joints that have deep knots and kinks. It can be a little painful, but 5-10 minutes is just as beneficial as an hour at the massage therapist.

Store it Right
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a harmful chemical that can be found in those plastic water bottles and containers you use at work. The bad news is BPA has been linked to diseases like diabetes, according to a study in the online journal PLOS ONE. Buy “BPA Free” plastics instead, and never heat plastic in the microwave as it can leach the chemical into your food.

Don’t Believe the Myth
Ever hear that running will kill your knees and hips? That’s crazy talk. A recent study followed 15,000 walkers and 75,000 runners over seven years and saw that running decreased the risk of osteoarthritis. Even as little as a mile or two every other day is enough to keep you slim – reducing your weight in the process – and build up strong cartilage around the joints.

What’s Wrong with Your Messy Desk?
Binging on a bag of potato chips in the second half of your day? It might be time to organize your workspace. According to a University of Minnesota study, 80 percent of people sitting in an untidy office chose chocolate over a healthy snack like an apple.

Go Clubbing
A cycling or running club is a great way to share info and gain experience and many clubs are involved in advocacy. In addition to camaraderie, club memberships often instigate big improvements in performance. Check out the Huntington Road Runners ( and ACE Cycling ( for more info on these local clubs. Not really the commitment type? Try a group run or ride. Both Roberts Running Shop and Jeff’s Bike Shop in Huntington have regularly scheduled group runs and rides.

Run For A Reason
All year long there are walks and runs for a variety of worthwhile charities. Start training now for a 5K that will both burn calories and support a good cause.

Screen Test
No matter how healthy you are, there’s still a chance you can develop medical problems. Ask your doctor about the health screenings that are right for you. Many are sponsored by Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center and are free to the public. The key is to catch problems early before they become serious. It can literally be the difference between life and death.

What’s Up Doc?
Before you start any exercise program, make an appointment to see your family doctor for a physical. In fact, you should have a physical every year to check on the state of your health including blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and a variety of other key indicators of your general health.

Find a workout Partner on your Phone
No exercise partner? No problem! Download one of these apps to your phone for the perfect exercise push.

It’s social media for the runner or cyclist. It tracks your workouts, compiles your personal bests, and even lets you compete with people who run the same routes. Climb up the leaderboard for motivation! (

Sign up, put money in your account and meet your workout goals. If you miss a day, a little cash comes out of your account. If you nail your goal, you get the change from those who didn’t keep their pact. Nothing like money for staying healthy! (

Zombies, run!
Take your afternoon run up a level. Enter a targeted pace (say 10 minutes a mile). If you fall behind, you’ll hear crazed zombies getting closer in your headphones. Plus, it’s an adventure game where you’re rewarded for beating those brain eaters. (

Fitter at Ritter
You don’t have to run 10 miles a day to get fit. In fact, walking the trails at Ritter Park is a wonderful foundation to a healthier life. If you really want to see dramatic results around your waistline, simply add some variety to your walks. A few bursts of speed walking, jumping or skipping will burn more calories. To really shed the weight, try hitting the hills. For more information go to "How to walk off the belly fat" at

It’s All Fun & Games
Don’t feel like running on the treadmill or Stairmaster? No problem. Try playing a game with a friend – tennis, racquetball, basketball, handball. The excitement and camaraderie of competition can make your workout fly by.

Golf A La Cart
Instead of riding in a cart, try walking when you golf. Walking 18 holes on a hilly course is the equivalent of walking 5 miles, compared to just 0.5 mile when using a cart. Researchers in Sweden found that walking the course is comparable to a 45-minute fitness class.

The Buddy System
For some people, exercising on their own can be a drag. If that’s how you feel then use the buddy system and find someone to team up with. The benefits are plentiful. Research shows that you’ll stick with your program longer, be more consistent because you have someone counting on you and, best of all, time will go by faster.

Go Techno
Want to find out how active (or sedentary) you really are? Then try wearing one of the many activity trackers on the market. These high-tech wristbands sync with your smart phone or computer to calculate steps taken, heart rate, calories burned and more.

Drown Your Sorrows
The benefits of drinking more water are endless. Here are just three: 1) One glass of water stopped midnight hunger pangs for almost 100 percent of the dieters studied at the University of Washington; 2) Research indicates that 8-10 glasses of water a day could significantly ease back and joint pain for up to 80 percent of sufferers; 3) Drinking five glasses of water daily decreases the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent and breast cancer by 79 percent.

Start Me Up
Eating a healthy breakfast is essential to starting your day. It fires up your metabolism, balances blood sugar levels and helps reduce hunger throughout the day. Research shows that people who eat breakfast lose weight faster than those who skip.

Laugh It Up
Doctor’s orders: Rent a Will Ferrell movie tonight. Laughter is indeed the best medicine according to many sources including the Mayo Clinic. It reduces stress, stimulates a variety of organs, improve your immune system and relieves pain.

Get High
High Intensity Training that is. Huntington’s H.I.T. Center uses the latest advances in science to help you achieve your fitness goals. Personal trainers monitor your workout sessions to ensure that you reach maximum results. Your one-hour sessions are definitely intense, but the results speak for themselves.

What You Want in a Personal Trainer
You won’t get magically healthy by asking your fit buddy for workout advice. (Hint: if he says “just do situps,” slowly back away). We asked Christopher Lane, personal training coordinator at Marshall University’s Rec Center, about how to find someone who will get you on the path to fitness that’s right for you.

Yoga may seem like the latest trend, but it has been around for 5,000 years. The reason it’s survived all these centuries? It works. Yoga is a mind-body pursuit that improves strength, flexibility and balance. It also reduces stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia and back pain. So, hit the mat!

Like Your Mom Said…
Eat your vegetables. A recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who didn’t consume any veggies or fruits lived three years shorter and had a 53 percent higher mortality rate than people who ate five servings per day.

Thunder Struck
Are you looking for a different kind of gym experience? Then look no further than CrossFit Thunder near Marshall where members push each other to the limit. CrossFit is extreme but so is the camaraderie of men and women who support each other in and out of the gym.

Why the y?
The Huntington YMCA has over 100 classes you can try to get back in shape. That’s great, but where to start? Cheryl Justice, senior health and wellness director at the YMCA, breaks down the classes that are packing studios and have the most bang for your buck.

Video Craze
If you have to play a video game, at least try Nintendo’s Wii Fit. Here you can learn yoga, strength exercises, aerobic activities and balance moves. It sure beats lounging on your butt.

Eat More
Is that a typo? Nope. We’re talking about eating more often. Research shows that people who eat six smaller meals a day lose weight much faster than those who eat three larger meals. Why? This approach fuels your metabolism and helps keep you satisfied throughout the day, preventing overeating later in the day.

Get Your Groove On
Zumba has become a fitness craze over the past few years, but it’s popular for a reason – it works! Zumba is a high-intensity dance class set to upbeat music. Not only is it good for your physical health, but memorizing the routines works your brain as well.

The Biggest Loser
Have you tried to lose weight on your own but found yourself falling back into old habits? Try a weight loss program! Plans like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig offer in-person meetings as well as online support systems to help keep you accountable.

D.U.I. – Dieting Under the Influence
Exercising and eating right, but still not losing weight like you want? Look at your alcohol consumption. In addition to being empty calories, alcohol also limits inhibitions, which can be detrimental to dieting. Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health problems like liver disease and heart trouble. If you don’t want to cut out alcohol completely, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day and watch high-calorie mixers like soda and sugary juice.

Cola Wars
Grabbing a can of Coke in the checkout line seems harmless, right? Wrong. There are 39 grams of sugar in one 12 oz. can of Coca Cola, but the American Heart Association recommends men limit added sugar to 36 grams per day and women limit added sugar to 24 grams. Diet sodas aren’t safe either. In addition to obesity, consuming large amount of regular or diet soda has been linked to higher blood pressure and strokes. Stick with water instead!

Kiss the Cook
When Chef Jamie Oliver came to town in 2010 with his hit TV show, he set up “Jamie’s Kitchen” in downtown Huntington where people could gather and learn to cook with fresh, wholesome ingredients. Today, the kitchen now known as “Huntington’s Kitchen” is still going strong thanks to the support of Cabell Huntington Hospital. So, do yourself and your body a favor and sign up for a cooking class today.

Walk The Dog
Dogs are the ultimate personal trainers. They’re available anytime day or night, always in a good mood and, unlike you sometimes, they love to exercise. Their enthusiasm is infectious which makes their daily walk all the more enjoyable.

Lap it Up
Swimmers have about half the risk of death compared with inactive people. And it’s not like you have to spend all day on your freestyle form. One U.K. study found that men who burn only 50 calories daily while swimming are 62 percent less likely to die of heart disease than guys who burn more calories golfing or walking because of the good cardio workout.

So where do you start?
Wherever you can. If I’ve learned anything as an editor at Men’s Health, it’s that even the smallest changes can make a big impact. There’s no silver bullet, but cutting soda from your diet, adding some cardio throughout the week or making smarter dining-out decisions are things that can drastically alter how you feel in a matter of weeks. Try some of this advice and see how it works for you. You’ll be shocked how easy, beneficial and fun being healthy really is.

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