America's Biggest Health Threats (and How You Can Overcome Them)
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America's Biggest Health Threats (and How You Can Overcome Them)

On her reality show, Could You Survive?, health-and-fitness guru Pamela Peeke, MD, teaches real women how to get fit enough to be prepared for anything. Here, she shares her get-fit strategies for surviving everyday life's biggest challenges, from couch potato syndrome to the hidden health risks in your pantry.

Get Fit to Survive

If you had to scale a cliff to get help or run down 20 flights of stairs to escape a burning building, could you do it? For too many people, the answer is no. That's why health-and-fitness guru Pamela Peeke, MD, is on a mission to toughen us up -- before disaster strikes. Use her get-fit strategies to make sure you're ready for anything.

Hurricanes. Car crashes. Forest fires.

Thanks to global warming and a world that's crazier and more crowded than ever, the chance that any one of us will be involved in a 911 situation is on the rise. Yet our ability to get through it is in question. More than half of Americans don't do enough activity to get any true health benefit, and 25 percent of us never exercise, period. That has FITNESS advisory board member Pamela Peeke, MD, freaked out. "People think, 'Oh, if I really had to sprint a mile in an emergency, I could,'" says Dr. Peeke, host of a new reality show called Could You Survive? that debuts on the Discovery Health Channel on December 4. "But the truth is, lots of them couldn't pull it off." She points to Hurricane Katrina as an example. "I saw one woman on the news who lacked the stamina to hold on to the bough of a tree long enough for a rescuer to reach her," she says. "The coverage was so tragic -- and eye-opening -- that it gave me the idea for my TV series."

Here's how the show works: On Day One, participants are put in the middle of a (staged) disaster, such as a building collapse or a car wreck, and they have to make their way to safety. Not a single person gets through fast enough to save herself. "Realizing so dramatically that their lives are at stake is the best motivation these women have ever had to get in shape," Dr. Peeke says. With help from her and a team of former Marines, the contestants make over their diets and work out four days a week. They build muscle and increase their strength and endurance. Then, one month later, they get the chance to redo (and survive) their disaster challenges.

On the next few pages we'll teach you how to steer clear of five truly sneaky fat traps you face every day.


Health Risk #1: Your Couch

The Culprit: Your couch. "Our culture gives us every excuse not to move," Dr. Peeke says. "We're either glued to our computers, driving someplace, or vegging in front of the TV." And with every step we don't take, we get more and more out of shape.

The Fix: Work in a little exercise whenever you can -- do biceps curls while reading e-mail, get in some lunges while waiting for your laundry to dry. Or do as many bent-knee push-ups as possible. You'll strengthen five muscles at one time.

Health Risk #2: Your Snacks

The Culprit: Your snacks. With a coffee place on every corner, a burger joint on every highway, and pizza just a phone call away, resisting can be tough. (Especially when those cinnamon buns at the mall smell so good!)

The Fix: "Make sure you're never starving," Dr. Peeke says. "Keep healthy food with you at all times -- in your bag and at work -- so you can munch on a banana or have a yogurt instead of buying a fattening snack."


Health Risk #3: Your Job

The Culprit: Your job. Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours chained to our desks and computers. We e-mail coworkers instead of getting up and talking to them.

The Fix: "Squeeze in a very brisk 15-minute walk during the afternoon and you'll burn off an extra 95 calories," Dr. Peeke says. Do that every single day for a year and you'll lose 10 pounds.


Health Risk #4: Your Alarm Clock

The Culprit: Your alarm clock. When life gets too busy, the first thing to go is pillow time. "But the sleepier you are, the more you'll eat, because your body thinks the extra calories will help it overcome the exhaustion," Dr. Peeke explains. Your willpower will also be weaker when you're tired, making you that much more likely to chow down and less likely to go out and exercise.

The Fix: Aim for seven to eight hours of shut-eye every night. "Sleep deprivation is just as bad for your body as smoking cigarettes or drinking heavily," Dr. Peeke says. "It also puts the aging process on fast-forward. The result? You'll not only develop wrinkles before your time, you also won't live as long as you would if you were well rested."

Health Risk #5: Your Bank Account

The Culprit: Your bank account. Stress is another thing that makes us eat too much. And we don't need to tell you there's plenty of it going around these days. (Thanks, Wall Street!)

The Fix: A little exercise is one of the best ways to relieve tension. Plus, getting in better shape will help you feel more empowered. "Can't afford a gym membership? Walk or run, and do some calisthenics in front of the TV," Dr. Peeke suggests. Or get an at-home workout DVD. "Eat as much fresh food -- including lean protein like chicken -- as you can, and stay away from the processed stuff."

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, January 2009.