Diet and Exercise: What Really Works?

We’re bombarded on a daily basis with fact and fiction about diet and exercise, but what really works is incredibly simple.


Be mindful about your daily intake

Fruits and vegetables are important parts of your daily diet. Together, they have the greatest amount of vitamins and the least amount of calories, sugar and fat.

To incorporate the recommended five daily portions of fruits and vegetables in your diet, start your day with berries. A cup of berries will provide your daily amount of vitamin C and antioxidants, which helps to stabilize the cell wall against incoming infections.

Lunch should include a salad (the darker the greens, the more B vitamins you’ll get). In addition to lettuce, include as many colorful vegetables as possible. The varied colors (green, orange and yellow) provide an array of different vitamins.

A citrus fruit (such as a clementine or grapefruit), is a good afternoon snack, giving you fiber and additional vitamin C.


Include the right carbs, protein and fat

Contrary to many diet experts, I believe carbohydrates are necessary. Women are particularly dependent on carbohydrates to feel good. There have been several studies that show carbohydrates help elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, the “feel good” hormones. If a woman goes on a low- to no-carb diet (e.g., the Atkins diet), she may immediately feel fatigued and depressed.

Choose complex carbohydrates, such as multigrain or whole-grain bread or cereals. Avoid white flour as much as possible (e.g., white bread, crackers, etc.).

Adult women, who are not pregnant or nursing, need about 45 grams of lean protein each day. The easiest source is chicken, fish or eggs. Besides protein—the necessary building blocks for the body—fish provides healthy omega 3 antioxidants, which prevent heart disease.

As for fats, the verdict has changed. The long-standing belief that “low fat” equals healthier has been disproven. Recent research has shown that healthy fats, such as avocados or nuts, keep you full longer and are beneficial to your blood vessels.


Snack smart

Anyone who tells you they don’t snack is probably lying. Snacking is a natural desire, even when we are not hungry. Most of us snack when we are bored, nervous or stressed. Try a drink first—a flavored seltzer or coconut water. If you are still yearning for something to eat, reach for an apple with peanut butter, air-popped popcorn or celery with hummus.

An important rule to remember is when you leave the kitchen at night, do not return! Take your cup of decaffeinated tea or coffee and go. You just finished dinner, you are not hungry. Need something sweet? Try a half-cup of berries with non-fat Cool Whip.


Make your exercise count

Any exercise is better than no exercise. Taking the stairs is better than the elevator. Park further away from the mall or supermarket. When scheduling formal exercise, try to workout six out of seven days. Know that most weeks you will not make your goal—but it’s better to aim high, right?


No woman is exempt from cardio

At least 3-4 days a week, get in 30 minutes on the bike, elliptical machine or treadmill.


Don’t coast your cardio—work it!

I suggest HIIT: high intensity interval training. Try a class, or, if you’re watching a network show on a machine, move at a steady pace until the commercials (they’ll be approximately three minutes long) and then step it up for those three minutes. When the show returns, go back to your normal pace. Do this for the duration of the program.


Download an app

There are excellent apps to keep on your phone. I use 10-20-30, which offers preset interval cues you can use while you’re out for a run in your neighborhood.


Incorporate weight training

In addition to cardio, all women need some level of weight training. This does not mean a personal trainer or heavy weights. It can be a bar class, a hot yoga class, a boot camp or a weights routine. Women need lean muscle to help burn fat while resting, so the more lean muscle you develop, the faster your metabolism and the more calories you’ll burn.

Got it? Eat clean, enjoy healthy snacks and move your body!

For more from Dr. Nancy Simpkins, read her recent columns on the site or visit her online at

Ben Kruger