Focus on Fitness: Is your attempt at wellness more of a ‘wellmess’?

By Gloria Schwartz

I was recently doing a post-workout stretch when I looked down and noticed the word “Wellness” printed on the mat. As I looked at that word, I imagined “wellmess” – a word that doesn’t exist but probably should, to reflect the feelings of confusion we sometimes experience as a result of all of the misinformation about diets and exercise.

For example, we’ve heard for several years that we should be walking 10,000 steps (about five miles) each day for optimal health. Where did this recommendation come from? It turns out that a Japanese company selling pedometers in the 1960s created the 10,000-steps guideline to sell pedometers. If you use a step-tracking device, you needn’t feel anxious or guilty if you don’t walk 10,000 steps. A four-year study of 16,000 older women found that they achieved a decrease in mortality rates with just 4,400 steps per day. Compared to less active women who walked an average of 2,700 steps daily, the mortality rate of the more active group dropped until the women reached 7,500 steps per day. After that, there was no added benefit of walking more steps. It may be unrealistic and intimidating for someone who has been sedentary for many years to suddenly get in 10,000 per day. Rather, starting with more modest goals and building up over time can be more achievable and may result in significant health benefits.

Diets are always a hot topic and there’s so much conflicting information about them. So many people swear by this diet or that diet, but most of the successes attributed to any given diet are anecdotal rather than scientifically supported. If you put individual results and personal feelings aside, the truth is that most diets are similar in that they’re some form of caloric reduction based on restricting or increasing fat, carbohydrates or protein. To help clear up some confusion, a panel of experts reviewed the top 35 most popular diets in terms of sustainability, nutritional soundness, weight loss and long-term health implications. The Keto Diet – a fad diet based on high fat and very low carb consumption – ranked as one of the worst diets at number 34. The trendy Paleo Diet – eating like a pre-agricultural caveman so no dairy, grains or legumes and high in protein – ranked low at number 29. It was considered too restrictive to be healthy or sustainable.

What were the highest ranked diets? It didn’t surprise me that the most sensible diets – the Mediterranean Diet and the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) were in the top two positions respectively. Those diets are proven to be healthy and sustainable. They include a variety of healthy foods such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish and olive oil, and eating less meat, sugar and saturated fat. The DASH Diet also includes reduced sodium intake. Benefits of these diets, coupled with an active lifestyle, include heart and brain health, cancer prevention and the prevention and management of diabetes. Visit to see the diet rankings and read about each type of diet.

There’s also confusion and misinformation around the types of exercise that are the best for overall health and weight management. Should you do cardio exercise or strength-building exercise or a combination? Doing a variety of types of exercise is your best bet for improving longevity and health. It doesn’t matter what activities you choose. If you despise aerobics classes, find something else you can do for your cardiorespiratory system such as brisk walking, riding a bicycle or swimming. If you don’t want to lift weights, find other activities to strengthen your bones and muscles, such as chores or exercises that require lifting, pushing and pulling. Keep challenging yourself, don’t be afraid to break a sweat or get your hair messy. Engage in physical activities that give you positive physical and emotional results, so you’ll stay motivated in the long term. There’s no quick fix.

One way to sift through information is to ask yourself whether something sounds too good to be true. Some truths: There are healthy foods but no miracle foods, “superfoods” are just foods high in nutrients; Yoga or dietary cleanses do not detox your body, your organs naturally detox your body; You can’t spot reduce fat, your belly fat will not go away with crunches, no matter how many you do. Gullible or misinformed people who jump on the bandwagon with fads and ignore facts waste their time and money and may risk their health.