'American Ninja Warrior,' dietitian shares secret to healthier lifestyle

Colorful vegetables, home-cooked meals are key

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. – David Schwartz's new workout partner hasn't mastered push-ups yet, but she's already a champ at "tummy time."

"You got to get your workout in, too. There, you're doing good," said Schwartz, encouraging his 14-week-old daughter, Madeline Joy.

Schwartz is not only a new dad, he's also an "American Ninja Warrior" contestant and a registered dietitian at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. It's a combination of all of those roles that is pushing him to help others live longer, healthier lives.

"My job is basically to teach people about the importance of eating healthy and maintaining their ideal body weight and trying to reduce their risk of chronic disease," said Schwartz.

He sees the impact poor choices have on his patients.

"The prevalence of type 2 diabetes is really alarming," said Schwartz. "The standard American diet has been very detrimental to our health."

Schwartz made it to the "American Ninja Warrior" finals in Denver last season. He was nicknamed "The Beekeeper" on the show for the beehives he keeps behind his Farmington Hills home, supplying his honey "ninja fuel."

Schwartz said his secret to success is actually quite simple.

"My wife and I love to cook lots of colorful vegetables, and I really do think it's the most important part of any healthy diet," he said.

He said eating more colorful vegetables is a change everyone should make, along with eating less of the processed food that harms our health.

"If there's anything that Americans should really avoid, it would be a lot of processed wheat and processed meats," said Schwartz.

Processed meats include things like hot dogs and deli meats. Processed wheats include white bread, white flour, white pasta, pastries and baked goods.

"They are going to cause those glucose levels to spike up, and overall it can lead to insulin resistance and possibly even type 2 diabetes," cautioned Schwartz.

Sugary-sweetened beverages are also a bad idea.

"Coffee is a great beverage. Hot tea is a good beverage, and [so is] really loading up on plenty of water," recommended Schwartz.

While many people make the mistake of trying to overhaul their entire lifestyle at once, Schwartz said a more targeted approach is often more successful.

"Simple changes can have a huge impact on our health. Just trying to incorporate more colorful vegetables into every meal and just getting some sort of regular exercise on a daily basis," said Schwartz.

Schwartz is always in training. During Local 4's visit, even the fireplace was fair game for some rock-climbing practice. But you don't have to go to extremes. Schwartz said you can start by walking after meals or finding a partner to work out with. Most of all, find something you enjoy.

"I really like to play racquetball or squash, tennis. Anything that you really love to do that gets you some regular exercise into your daily routine is so important," he said.

Cooking at home is also critical.

"One of the best ways to decrease our intake of processed foods is to cook on a regular basis. It's the greatest way to add more vegetables into your diet. Even if it's just frozen vegetables, you can just throw those in a pan and sauté them up," said Schwarz.

Schwartz loves kale -- really, really loves kale.

"I do think it's one of the most healthy vegetables. We try to grow a lot of it here and we really do put it in almost everything. We sauté up some kale and put it in scrambled eggs. We put it in our soups. We make stir fries with it," said Schwartz.

And if you think vegetables aren't your thing, Schwartz said, "Try lots of vegetables over and over again. It might take a few times, but eventually you'll learn they really do make you feel great and they can taste great, too."

Schwartz said he does indulge from time to time. He enjoys a good beer and savors a homemade fruit pie. But he said it's the daily routine of colorful vegetables and regular exercise that is the secret to a healthier lifestyle.

He also recommends getting at least seven hours of sleep a night, although he admits that has been a challenge with a newborn.

"People who are chronically sleep-deprived are much more likely to be overweight and make poor food and nutrition choices," said Schwartz.

At Henry Ford West Bloomfield, Schwartz teaches patients how to make better choices.

"I feel very lucky to work at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital because we really do have a focus on wellness. They even have a farmers market right on the Main Street inside the hospital," said Schwartz. "We have an organic greenhouse that supplies a lot of the herbs and vegetables that we feed our patients and our staff."

Schwartz hopes to compete again on "American Ninja Warrior." He has submitted his audition tape and is constantly practicing the skills needed to conquer the course.

"It's really one of the most addictive sports there is, because you always want to see how far you can make it," said Schwartz.

So what's more challenging: ninja training or being a new dad?

"I'm going to have to say being a new dad takes the cake," laughed Schwartz.

To learn more about wellness events at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, click here.