Give the Gift of Health

Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005

Is your loved one prepared to deal with the prospect of losing weight and getting in shape? If not, here's how you can help.


By Jean Lawrence
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

The next time you go to the doctor, he or she might weigh you and then measure your waist. Why? Doctors are being asked to get tough on flab. To help a loved one prepare for this "delightful" development, give the gift of health this holiday season.

How About a Personal Nutritionist?

Why should Oprah have all the fun? Hire someone a personal nutritionist. For a couple of hundred dollars, it might go something like this, Connie Crawley, MS, RD, a nutrition and health specialist at the University of Georgia at Athens, tells WebMD: "The consulting dietitian will ask your recipient to keep a food diary for a couple of days or a week. I ask for two weekdays and a weekend day. This is a good exercise, because most people are not conscious of what they eat."

Then, Crawley says, the dietitian will meet with the person for one to two hours (plan to spend as much as $100 an hour). "The dietitian will look over the food record, weigh the person (if the consultation is for weight loss) and calculate body mass."

Following that, the dietitian will help the person plan menus. "Usually," Crawley says, "this will consist of setting a pattern, such as a fruit, a vegetable, meat, and so on. Information will also be given on portion size."

Since it is difficult to cover everything in one visit, plan to pay for a follow-up, too, Crawley advises.

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Some people also stay in touch with their dietitian via faxes or calls. You can locate a dietitian by checking the Yellow Pages or asking at your nearest medical center. The person's health plan also may have one.

If the hands-on, personal touch is not the style of your recipient, some of those high-end gadget places sell computerized "nutritionists" or PDA programs. For about $50, a device called Personal Nutritionist, for example, prompts you to enter every bite you eat and then spits out calorie, cholesterol, carb, and sodium counts and keeps weekly averages. Its database contains 10,000 foods, which should cover everything outside of an Uzbek restaurant.

Health & Fitness Gifts Under $100

Nutritionist Crawley and Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council of Exercise (ACE), reel off a list of health-related gifts that could find their way under the tree:

  • Exercise bands. These are good for people who travel or weaker people who might drop a dumbbell on their face. A book or video on how to use the bands can be slipped into a stocking.
  • Workout clothes. Check out the new fibers that wick away perspiration. You can find styles for everything from snowboarding to cross-country skiing. Athletic footwear places also offer gift certificates.
  • Dumbbells. This is the best strength-training gift of all, says Richard Cotton, an exercise specialist and spokesman for ACE. "They provide a large variety of exercises and work real-world muscles that you need to pick things up and function in the world."
  • Stability ball. This is basically a reinforced beach ball that is used as a platform for exercises. Adjusting yourself to the ball works every muscle in the body.
  • Heart rate monitor. Most people use the wrist-type.
  • Jump rope. This is not child's play, though -- make sure your recipient is aerobically fit.
  • Workout gloves. Weights can be tough on the hands.
  • Yoga mat. These are good for Pilates, too.
  • Health food. Those stores often provide gift certificates good for vitamins and exotic creams and oils.
  • Pedometer. Experts say shoot for 10,000 steps a day.
  • Chinning bar. They make them easy to install in any doorway.
  • Scale. The ever-popular. It comes in many varieties these days, even one that talks.
  • Steamer. Steamed food does not add fat calories.
  • Oil sprayer. To add a touch of olive oil taste to foods, your friend can spritz from one of these new-fangled atomizers.
  • Food scale. A good one costs $70, Crawley says, but can really help realign portion sizes.
  • Coated pans. These don't come cheap, but can cut added oil significantly.
  • Milk frother. This little beauty makes a nice topping for coffee without a trip to the corner coffee bar. You'll burn a calorie or two pumping it (though it also comes in battery-operated). Best of all, it works best with skim milk!

Maybe a Personal Trainer?

If you decide to give the gift of a trainer, do your research, Richard Cotton, an exercise specialist and spokesman for ACE, tells WebMD. Word of mouth, checking qualifications, and seeing if the person specializes in your recipient's special needs (age, youth, disabilities) is recommended.

"The trainer will sit down with the person and interview him or her about health history and problems," Bryant tells WebMD. "A factor will be what sorts of exercise the person likes or dislikes or has tried. Then the trainer will take the person through a basic workout."

For continued attention -- such as Bruno standing over your loved one during every workout -- plan to spend. "(But) I think you could get a good one-month gym membership right now for a reasonable amount," Bryant notes.

Home Gym Takes Lots of Thought

Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, fitness research director at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass., is the author of Strength Training Past 50. He tells WebMD it is crucial to spend time before spending money. "Know the recipient -- is he or she older? A youngster? Overweight? Sedentary?"

Space is also a consideration. Treadmills, stationary bikes, recumbent bikes, rowing machines, and elliptical trainers take up space. If they don't have a room of their own, they may be featured at the next yard sale.

And these machines cost serious money -- think $1,000 or more.

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Ahh -- Best Gifts of All

Even the most dedicated exerciser does not live by sweat alone. How about a gift certificate for a massage? Or a basket of spa products to go with that new Jacuzzi?

"You know what I think the best health gift is?" Crawley asks. "Fruit-of-the-Month from one of those fancy places."

What to Avoid

Cotton advises taking those ab rollers off the list. "Or almost anything you see on an infomercial."

What about home cholesterol kits? Crawley and Bryant are not in love with these. "You get your most accurate reading from your physician," Crawley notes. "Also, the doctor can interpret better."

You also might want to avoid springing a health gift on someone who is not expecting this approach. There's nothing like handing a new scale to a woman expecting a sexy negligee.

Originally published Dec. 5, 2003.

Medically updated Oct. 15, 2004.

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

SOURCES: Connie Crawley, MS, RD, nutrition and health specialist, University of Georgia, Athens. Richard Cotton, exercise specialist, spokesman for the American Council of Exercise (ACE). Wayne L. Westcott, PhD, fitness research director, South Shore YMCA, Quincy, Mass. Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist, ACE.


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