6 Habits of the Leanest Americans

If you’re searching for a fitness role model, you might want to skip the Hollywood Hills and look to the everyday Americans residing in the Rocky Mountains, instead. Colorado has remained the leanest state in the country for the past decade, boasting an overall obesity rate of 21 percent. Compare that to the national average of 28 percent, and the takeaway is clear: The Centennial State is doing something right. 

But it’s not as if Colorado is a fitness fantasyland where everyone is an Olympian and calories don’t exist. “Our climate, culture, and physical surroundings might make it a little easier to be active and stay at a healthy weight,” says Holly Wyatt, MD, associate director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado-Denver and co-author of State of Slim: Fix Your Metabolism and Drop 20 Pounds in 8 Weeks on the Colorado Diet. “But anyone can adopt the key factors for weight maintenance in their own state.”

After years of studying the habits of the successful weight “losers” in the National Weight Control Registry and observing the healthy behaviors of their Colorado neighbors, Wyatt and her colleague and co-author James Hill, PhD, executive director of the Anschutz Center, have identified six healthy habits for staying slim for good. Here they are, as adapted from State of Slim.

Coloradans take 1,000 more steps per day than the national average of 5,500 steps, according to a study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise that Wyatt and Hill conducted. And not surprisingly, the research showed that obesity rates were correlated to the number of steps taken. Without regular movement, your metabolism becomes slow, sluggish, and inflexible. This makes weight gain inevitable and lasting weight loss next to impossible.

Adopt this habit: Whether it’s a walk with the dog, a hike with a friend, or a workout at the gym, make movement a priority, not another dreaded task on your to-do list.

With all their activity, Coloradans love to eat, but they’re selective about their food. The majority of their calories come from minimally processed foods that deliver the most flavor and nutrition so their bodies perform at their best. At restaurants and at home, the emphasis is on quality, not quantity.

Adopt this habit: Think of yourself as a “foodie” and seek out inventive recipes and restaurants that serve fresh, delicious meals. A healthy-size portion of a great-tasting dish is better than a huge serving of fare that’s filled with refined carbohydrates, fat, and sodium.

Colorado is famous for its beautiful scenery and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, but the typical Coloradan doesn’t hike a tall peak before breakfast every day — or even once a month. It’s their communities and immediate surroundings — the plethora of parks, the bike paths in their neighborhoods, and their friendly walking groups — that provide an important nudge for healthy living.

Adopt this habit: Surround yourself with lean, active people, and you might become healthier, too: Harvard University researchers found that people in the same social network tend to have similar body mass indices The reason is simple: you’re likely to engage in the same eating and physical activity patterns as the people you spend most of your time with.

For Coloradans, being in good shape physically gives them the energy and confidence to do the things that are most important to them, whether it’s about providing for family, achieving professional success, or pursuing what they’ve always wanted to do in retirement. Making that connection is what spurs them to get up early to hit the gym — even if it’s icy cold outside — or the willpower to pass on the second portion at dinner.

Adopt this habit: Ask yourself: Is the way you’re living your life consistent with what you want to achieve? If it’s not, what changes do you need to make? When living healthfully becomes a key value in your life, it will motivate you to accomplish your goals.

In general, Coloradans have an upbeat attitude. It’s not that everyone is running around happy all the time; it’s more a sensibility that you are responsible for your own happiness. And science supports the idea that a positive attitude can help you achieve amazing results: Research psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, PhD, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has shown that cultivating a positive mind-set can enhance relationships, improve work performance, reduce depression, and contribute to better health.

Adopt this habit: Instead of saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it,” think, “If I believe it, I will see it.”

Over the years, Wyatt and her colleagues have asked hundreds of Coloradans why physical activity and healthy eating are important to them, and their answers are always the same: they enjoy living this way. Yes, people who succeed at weight loss and healthy living do spend a lot of time thinking about healthy eating and physical activity, but it’s not from a place of anxiety or a desire to be “good.” Rather, they relish and look forward to these things.

Adopt this habit: The key to success is savoring this lifestyle and doing it in a way that brings you happiness, rather than a feeling of hardship.

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