Keep fit & avoid the 'immigrant inches'
Woman exercising on treadmill (© Rubberball/Getty Images)
My sister-in-law weighed in at 105 lbs. when she moved to Miami from Puerto Rico in 1998. She's a tiny thing, at 5'1", and had one of those little waists that you could wrap a belt around twice. Fast-forward fourteen years and two babies and she finds herself stuck in a constant battle with 30-45 extra pounds that stealthily attached themselves to her frame.
"When I was in Puerto Rico, I walked more, was more active. In Miami, I became so busy with school and work that fast food was just part of my routine," she confessed.
She's not alone, of course. Even immigrants who come here from countries with much lower obesity rates tend to acculturate to our high calorie/low activity ways. After 15 years in the United States, immigrants typically increase their body mass index (BMI) by 1.39, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That translates to a 9-11 lb. weight gain for average size men and women.
After having her sons, one of whom falls into the 38.2% of Latino children who are overweight or obese, my sister-in-law made a few changes to her lifestyle that - little by little- have helped her shed about 15 lbs.
"I started taking the boys to the park twice a week and controlling my portions, cut out the fast food and I take the stairs at work," she says.
Part of my sister-in-law's motivation to get active is simply the desire to look her best (we do live in Miami), but raising healthy kids is easier when parents adopt good nutritional habits and an active lifestyle. Children often forget the things you tell them (Eat your veggies! Get off the couch!), but they will remember the things that you do.
Another thing that will make you get off your behind is the fear of chronic illness. My mother-in-law - who is from the Dominican Republic - suffers from Type-2 diabetes, as do several of her sisters. Research by the Dominican Endocrinology Society estimates that 15.5% of the population of the Dominican Republic suffers from diabetes, and for Hispanics living in the United States, the American Diabetes Association puts the number at 11.8 %. Those statistics and our family history have us both worried about our children's health. I won't even start to discuss my father-in-law's high blood pressure...
I do my best to set an example for my kids when it comes to diet and exercise. My fitness routine typically involves about 45 minutes to one hour at the gym about three times-a-week and - if I'm lucky - a Bikram yoga class. I take both of my children to the day care at the gym so they know that mommy's going to get her sweat on. I take my kids outside every day to run around as long as we can stand the Miami heat or I just throw them into the pool for a while. On weekends, my sister-in-law and her kids join us and we take turns as lifeguard.
After all that time in the pool, those kids will usually eat anything you put in front of them - even broccoli.
FIVE WAYS TO STAY FIT
1. Drink water, just water - no soda, no juice. OK, you can have your daily coffee but skip the huge lattes covered with whipped cream.
2. Keep experimenting with fitness classes until you find what you like. Maybe you will like the classes that combine cardio with weights. Maybe you prefer kickboxing. Mix it up to stay motivated.
3. Try eating your carbs in the morning. For lunch and dinner, load up on protein, salads and veggies.
4. Put gym time into your weekly schedule. It's easy to not go if you didn't have it planned.
5. Sign up for a 5k, a triathlon or join a soccer or softball league. Nothing keeps you motivated like competition.
A four-month trip to the Dominican Republic turned into a two-year residence for Amy Reyes, a Michigan native whose Spanish was just good enough to find a bathroom. She fell in love with the culture, the music, the language and later met her husband and moved to Miami, which is about as close to the United States as one can get without leaving Latin America. Amy Reyes is Assistant Editor at Miami.com and writes for the Miami Herald. She has a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.