Being active and adopting smarter food choices can produce invaluable benefits.
By Sylvia Tarnuzzer, F415281
As a motorhomer, I want to enjoy this lifestyle as long as possible, traveling this great country. I’ve recognized, though, that the RV lifestyle can pose challenges for those of us who want to stay healthy. Can it be done? Absolutely! But we must make some small changes first.
As a certified nutrition-and-weight-loss coach, I assist people with the changes needed to live a fabulous life on the road for as long as possible. And as a military dependent my entire life, I also have become an expert on the traveling lifestyle.
Journey Toward Better Health
As a child, I didn’t worry about weight issues. My mother enrolled me in ballet, tap, and gymnastics classes five days a week. She also was a great cook, and we ate out on a restricted basis because of limited finances. We lived in Asia for many years, and she learned how to prepare more nutritious meals for our family.
I married Paul, my high school sweetheart, and we had two beautiful daughters. Paul was in the military, and we relocated five times by our fifth wedding anniversary. The cross-country moves created enormous stress and also caused us to eat out more than usual. Eventually, I found myself unhealthy and significantly overweight.
My husband was thin — one of those “stick people” who can eat anything without gaining an ounce. He had no idea that Type 2 diabetes ran in his family. Paul’s relationship with food changed upon receiving that diagnosis, which came as a complete shock, as he did not seem to fit the stereotype of someone afflicted by the chronic disease.
Yet another health concern: Heart disease ran in both of our families.
Finally, we decided it was time to make significant changes in our eating habits.
I went to the top U.S. weight-loss company and enrolled that day. I was determined to shed my extra pounds, learn to eat better, and cook more healthful meals for my family. If I accomplished these goals, I knew we all would benefit.
I did indeed lose the weight, and I was asked to become a leader to inspire others to do the same. For more than five years, I taught and helped hundreds of people to collectively lose more than a ton! I realized that the change to a more healthful lifestyle could significantly change one’s family tree. I’ve witnessed it in my own family, as those healthy habits we adopted are now extending to my grandchildren. It’s never too late!
Paul and I purchased our first RV in 2005 and we were immediately hooked on the lifestyle. Although we spent decades moving around the world during his 33-year stint with the Air Force, taking our home with us was a new, exciting experience. The friendships and fantastic adventures we began to enjoy made this lifestyle irresistible.
Time and again, other campers we met commented about how difficult it was to stay healthy and to exercise with a vacation mind-set. They discussed the need for a healthful eating program that addressed their special needs and concerns. If you’ve been motorhoming for any period of time, you know that this lifestyle has its own peculiarities and challenges. Dining out, potlucks, rallies, and other events can create feeding frenzies!
These conversations touched my heart. I knew my passion was to assist people to “live healthy” and enjoy the RV lifestyle as long as possible, free of the effects of chronic illness and joint pain, and with abundant energy. Helping others to lose weight, learn how food can be beneficial “medicine,” and adopt new strategies to increase energy were important tools in the process.
Simply by changing our daily food choices and consumption, we can reduce the risk of many life-threatening diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and breast and colon cancer. The obesity rate in the United States has reached epidemic proportions, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can contribute to heart disease, cancer, and stroke — three of the top five causes of preventable death. More than one-third of adults in the United States are obese. These off-the-chart numbers are calls to action, in my opinion.
Studies have shown that the more physically active we are, the less apt we may be to develop a chronic illness. Considering the rising cost of health care, the economy, and many aspects of the new health-care reform, we must act. The New England Journal of Medicine warns that life expectancy could decline over the next 50 years as the obesity figures increase. This doesn’t have to happen. With a few simple changes, we can possibly lengthen our life span; or, at least, improve our quality of life.
By the time many of us purchase our first motorhome, we are retired, or close to it. The need for a healthful lifestyle is important at any age, but even more so for seniors.
Curious why RVers in particular found it challenging to maintain good health and/or lose weight, I surveyed people who were mostly at retirement age and lived in their RVs either full-time or for extended periods. A few responses came up repeatedly:
- They ate out too often.
- They didn’t choose foods wisely.
- They couldn’t fit exercise in while traveling.
Let’s address each point separately.
Eating at restaurants too frequently can be harmful to one’s health. Restaurant foods are significantly higher in calories, fat, and sodium. If you are at risk for heart disease, have hypertension, or suffer from other chronic illnesses, you should limit restaurant dining. You also might want to find the nutrition information for restaurants you frequent most and learn which menu items are better choices before you order. All chain restaurants with 20 locations or more are required to post their nutrition information; it often can be found online and at the establishment. This information is invaluable.
When attending rallies and potlucks, it’s important to choose foods wisely. Prepare your plate first with salads, vegetables, and lean protein items; avoid or limit sauces and servings of heavy carbs, such as pasta. If you choose to go back for more, don’t take as much of those higher-calorie items, or avoid seconds altogether. The best solution is to bring a healthful item to these outings yourself so you will be sure to have a better choice. Here are some personal food favorites I always try to have on hand: all types of fruit; almonds; hummus; baby carrots; edamame; light Swiss cheese (Laughing Cow brand); lowfat cheese sticks; popcorn (homemade or 94 percent fat-free); Greek yogurt; and flatbread (Flatout brand).
Another trick is to look down the line of food before you fill your plate and make a mental note of the items you know could be more healthful, lower-calorie choices. Also, try using a small plastic spoon versus a larger serving spoon when selecting the higher-calorie choices.
Exercise can be challenging for RVers, but walking is a great way to ramp up one’s activity level. It holds many benefits as well: it assists with weight loss, tones muscles, increases energy, improves balance, builds bone mass, limits illness, reduces heart disease risk, and boosts endorphins.
Consider investing in a good pair of walking shoes. Begin by allowing yourself a few extra minutes at a rest stop or fuel stop to take a brisk walk. Once you’re comfortable walking, increase the distance as you can. Before you know it, you will have completed a quick half-mile at each stop. This won’t take up a lot of time, and you’ll get some extra exercise and increase your heart rate periodically.
Wherever you are, begin any new workout slowly and increase it as you are able. I tell clients who have not exercised in a while to start by walking in one direction for 10 minutes, and increase the length of time each week until they are walking a minimum of 30 minutes out (and 30 minutes back) at a quick pace. Before you know it, you are taking a brisk one-hour walk.
Strength training is imperative as we age. The benefits are numerous, from increased muscle mass to greater bone density and improved balance. I suggest using compact, portable exercise bands, which can be stored in a small plastic bag. You can pull them out at any rest stop, or even during the drive if you’re the passenger. You can perform many different exercises with these bands; an explanation of specific exercises can be found online or typically is included in the package with the bands. Exercise bands usually cost about $20 and can be found at discount department stores and online.
If you don’t have exercise bands and want to build muscle, you also can use your own body for resistance training. Wall push-ups are one good option. Begin by standing about three feet in front of a stable wall, arms outstretched. Place your hands on the wall. Lean your body in toward the wall and back out, bending and straightening your elbows as you would for a conventional push-up. Repeat these movements as many times as possible without feeling any pain in your muscles or back.
Another great exercise that does not require equipment is the chair squat. Simple and effective, it helps tone legs and thighs and can strengthen back muscles. Stand next to a sofa, with the backs of your legs against the seat cushions. Extending your arms in front of you for balance, squat down as though you were going to sit on the sofa, but don’t. Go as low as you can without hurting yourself, and then stand back up. It’s important to make certain you are using a stationary couch or chair, however, so it doesn’t move out from under you.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), being active can assist with mobility, improve memory and slow down mental decline, and help lower the rates of some diseases. The WHO recommends that adults age 65 and older engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week. This includes walking, dancing, golfing, and swimming. Don’t think of it as exercise — just go out and have fun.
Older adults and others who cannot perform the recommended amount of activity because of physical limitations should do whatever they can to accommodate their condition or limitations. I’ve worked with people in wheelchairs; we found activities that worked for them within their limitations. Remember: Don’t just stay on the chair or couch without doing anything. (Editor’s note: Health experts often suggest that you check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise program.)
Remember, the most important thing in life is living! So let’s begin by changing our family tree to a healthier one.
Sylvia Tarnuzzer holds certificates in health care, weight loss, and the psychology of food and nutrition. She shares healthful eating and living ideas on her Web site, www.RVHealthy.com, or call (770) 878-2412. Sylvia travels part-time with her husband, Paul, in their 2009 Tiffin Allegro Bus.