America Is Fat, but You Don’t Have to Be

In a culture where diet and exercise fads come and go, what do you need to do to be healthy? Renowned fitness expert Vinnie Tortorich offers three key behaviors that must be repeated to get and stay in shape. Anyone can do it.


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People always want to know: “How do I get fit?”

My answer is, “fit to be what?”

A powerlifter? A marathon runner? Or maybe you want to look good, feel good, or just know everything works.

I’ve been a personal trainer for 40 years. I’ve trained Hollywood celebrities, captains of industry, stay-at-home moms, and ultra-athletes. I’ve trained post-surgical clients, overweight children, and obese adults.

I’ve seen health, diet, and exercise fads come and go.

But three things endure. Three behaviors that must be repeated—day after day—to get fit, stay healthy, and earn a spot in what I like to call the fitness middle class.

What is the fitness middle class?

Look at a picture from Woodstock, 1969. I challenge you to find 10 overweight people or 10 bodybuilders. The extremes just aren’t there. Everyone looks… trim. That is—or was—the fitness middle class. And that’s what America has lost.

So, how can we get it back? And how can you be part of it?

First: Move every day.

There are two types of exercise: aerobic and anaerobic.

The goal of aerobic exercise is to strengthen your heart and your lungs. This may include walking, running, swimming, climbing stairs, or jumping rope. If you’re really out of shape, start with a walk to the mailbox. Tomorrow, maybe walk to the end of the block. Before long, you’ll be walking around the block. You get the idea.

Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, builds muscle mass. Muscle wasting starts around 35. It’s a medical condition called Sarcopenia. That’s why people shrink as they get older. If you lose one pound of muscle per year, between your 35th and 80th birthdays, you’ll effectively lose half your muscle mass. Many doctors will tell you there’s nothing you can do about this. They’re wrong.

When President Ronald Reagan was wounded by an assassin’s bullet at age 70, doctors put him on a weightlifting routine as part of his recovery. He added so much muscle, his tailors had to make new suits.

What kind of muscle training should you do?

If you go to a gym every day and do squats and bench press, great; but if that’s not you, at a minimum:

You have a floor. Do push ups.

You have a doorway. Do pull ups.

Dumbbells are great, and very convenient. Yard work is great exercise too. Cleaning your house even counts.

Second: Cut back on sugars, grains, carbohydrates, and processed foods.

Here’s the sad truth: America is fat. But you don’t have to be.

Here’s the best way to lose weight: no sugars, no grains. Remember it this way: NSNG. Okay, you’re not going to be perfect about this. You’re human. But the closer you get to it, the better.

If you’re going to eat carbs, stick to veggies and some fruit. Avoid crackers, chips, fries, and anything you’d find at a state fair.

Meat, fish, eggs, broccoli, cauliflower, walnuts, pecans, and cheese are all your friends.

Avoid anything processed. Bread is processed. You can’t walk into a wheat field and eat wheat off the stalk. Sugar is processed. Seed oils are processed. Just about everything that comes in a package is processed.

Here’s another fact: exercise is a poor way to lose weight. Washboard abs? You get those in the kitchen, not the gym.

But I can hear you say, “this is great advice for people who shop at Whole Foods. But I’m not that person.”

I get it.

So, here’s the solution: spend less on fast food and more on good food. You’ll save money in the long run.

Here’s what you cannot afford—poor health, and the medical bills that will come from being obese.

Third: Get some sunlight.

Vitamin D is your friend.

Growing up in Louisiana, I was outside in the sun for hours a day, every day. So was every human for all time until five minutes ago.

At some point, Americans became scared of the big yellow orb in the sky. Today, we slather our kids in three layers of sunscreen every 15 minutes.

Vitamin D helps your immune system, bones, muscles, and connective tissue. There’s a good chance the last time you saw your doctor, he prescribed vitamin D supplements. But the best solution is all-natural. Do something outside.

Let’s review.

Move every day.

No sugars, no grains.

Get some sunlight.

That’s it. Reaching the fitness middle class isn’t complicated. Anyone can do it.

Let me add this: A little is better than nothing. More is better than a little.

I’m not a fitness scrooge. I care more about what you do between New Year’s and Christmas than between Christmas and New Year’s.

On your birthday, enjoy the cake. On Thanksgiving, eat the stuffing.

You can live a little… and be healthy at the same time.

I’m Vinnie Tortorich, host of the Fitness Confidential podcast, for Prager University.