Speaker: Lifestyle leads to gain

ST. MARYS — The United States is the most overweight country in the world, Joe Piscatella says, and the weight can be attributed to the unhealthy lifestyle many Americans lead.

“Unfortunately, in the United States, our lifestyle is out of whack,” Piscatella said. “The result is we have numbers of diseases and debilitating conditions that have a lot less to do with our genetic make-up and a lot more to do with the way we choose to live.”

Piscatella, a nationally recognized expert on healthy living, spoke Monday to participants of the Grand Health Challenge and Family Health Challenge about “Overcoming Barriers to a Healthy Lifestyle.”

He said a lifestyle is composed for four things — diet, exercise, smoke and stress.

“We we talk about lifestyle for health, we’re talking about four basic things,” Piscatella said. “The first is diet — what do I put in my mouth, that’s a lifestyle choice ... Do I chose to exercise on a regular basis — that’s certainly a lifestyle choice ... Do I chose to smoke? That’s the single most important choice you make in regards to your health, particularly your cardiovascular health ... And finally, do I chose to stay under stress?”

He noted everyone has stress.

“The question is not if I’m going to have less stress in my life, the question is am I choosing to manage that stress that I already have,” Piscatella said.

The way that people put together diet, exercise, smoking and stress is a lifestyle and that lifestyle can be good or bad. He noted that most people are aware of the health risks associated with an unhealthy lifestyle — including diabetes and heart disease — however, most are not proactive in living a healthier lifestyle.

“Nobody came here tonight to learn for the first time that what you put in your mouth has something to do with your cholesterol level and your pants size — that’s not news,” Piscatella said. “If we get it and we understand it, has that cognitive understanding lead to behavior change?...It doesn’t, it doesn’t at all.”

Stress is often what people cite as their problem.

“It’s daily, chronic stress that gets in the way,” Piscatella said. “In fact, 89 percent of Americans say, ‘I have way too much stress in my life.’ ”

He noted that most Americans are stressed because they do not have enough time and the lack of time leads many to an unhealthy lifestyle.

“This (stress) has become an important player,” Piscatella said. “It’s not just diet, it’s not just exercise — it’s understanding the role of stress.”

He recommended following three steps to managing stress. The first is to define a goal.

“I do not believe in stress reduction,” Piscatella said. “I think it’s an oxymoron and I don’t think that there’s anything that I could teach you here tonight that would allow you to get up in the morning without the stress. I think a more reasonable goal is to figure out how to better manage the stress that’s already in your life. How to manage it more efficiently. That’s what the real goal is.”

The second step is to identify the chief sources, including external and internal sources of stress. External sources of stress include “life events,” Piscatella said, including moving, births and death of a spouse among others.

Piscatella described Type A personalities as those with more internal stressors. Type A personalities, he said, are high achievers, feel guilty doing nothing, love numbers, do not delegate responsibilities, are competitive and have a sense of time urgency.

He noted that he has observed an increase in people with a Type A personality.

“In the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve developed a more stressful society,” Piscatella said. “Type A personality is a learned behavior characteristic. You’re not born Type A, you learn it from the society that you’re in. That means it can be modified.”

He noted that Type A personalities have increased health risks.

“There are some characteristics of the Type A personality that not only destroy diet and exercise, but they also raise the risk from the coronary standpoint,” Piscatella said, noting that Type A personalities are more likely to have anger and hostility, be socially isolated, be depressed and have dissatisfaction.

The final step in Piscatella’s three steps to managing stress is to take action.

“What you need to do to manage stress successfully is to get your mind and your body into a position called the relaxation response,” Piscatella said. “There are some things you can do, both physically and mentally, that will allow you to get there.”

He recommended deep breathing, turning off the news and regular exercise to reach the relaxation response. Having  a regular exercise routine, Piscatella said, is important. He said having a partner to exercise with and keeping a journal to hold oneself accountable help keep a regular exercise routine.

He also recommended keeping goals and values in mind and having a positive mindset to also help mentally reach the relaxation response.

He challenged attendees to make choices for their health.

“Life is not a dress rehearsal,” Piscatella said. “On your one time through, you will make choices — you already made one choice and that is to accept the challenge. You will make choices that will either put you on the road to health or will put you on the road to disaster. I implore you to make the right choices ... It all boils down to this: If you will not take the time for your health today, I can guarantee you will have to make time for your illness tomorrow.”