Linked Benefits of Healthy Eating and Exercise

benefits of healthy eating and exercise

                                 Stressing the Necessity of Exercise and Diet                          

A Calamity:

With the progression of urbanization, getting what we need from day to day has never been easier. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but combining sedentary lifestyles with an ever-increasing dependence on junk food is. 

Unfortunately, an alarming number of people are strangers to the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. And health is suffering more and more consequences because of it.

In 2016, WHO estimated about 1.9 billion adults are overweight and 650 million obese. More recently, the CDC  reported that in 2017-2018, nearly 42.4% of US adults were obese. That qualifies obesity as a national epidemic.

Even if the figures haven’t risen since then, this means over 2.5 billion humans (nearly one-third of the 7.7 billion global population) live in countries where obesity and overweight kill far more people than malnutrition.

As of June 1, 2018, a WHO report attributed 41 million deaths – 71 percent of the global total each year to non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Two of the four major factors contributing to our risk of NCDs are physical inactivity and an unhealthy diet. Both were strongly associated with cardiometabolic disease or syndrome.

Physical inactivity contributes significantly to:

  • unhealthy weight gain
  • obesity
  • high cholesterol
  • elevated blood pressure

 

and high blood glucose levels.

All these conditions heighten the risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases such as metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a cluster of cardiometabolic risk factors associated with an increased risk of multiple chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. 

A 2017 CDC report stated that, in 2012, one-third of the US population met the definition and criteria for metabolic syndrome. 

Although these statistics are terrifying, MetS is reversible. The Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948, found a significant decrease in metabolic syndrome risk after diet and lifestyle changes.

 The Framingham Heart Study

The Framingham Heart Study is a cohort study conducted initially with 5,209 adult subjects from Framingham, Massachusetts. It’s now on its third generation of participants.

A  study headed by researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine and published in the March 31, 2021 JAHA selected 2,379 of the FHS’ third-generation subjects to examine the correlation between MetS development and a healthy lifestyle. Their research gives us a clear view into the profound difference the benefits of healthy eating and exercise can have. 

The participants reported their daily dietary information through questionnaires. Omnidirectional accelerometers worn on their hips measured their activity.

The researchers requested the participants adhere to the physical activity and dietary guidelines published by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Of the participants, 28 percent adhered to both sets of guidelines. Another 47 percent adhered to only one. The results:

●    Those who followed the physical activity guidelines had 51-percent  lower odds of MetS

●    Those who followed the dietary guidelines had 33-percent lower odds of MetS

●    Those who followed both sets of guidelines had 65-percent lower odds of MetS.

The benefits of healthy eating and exercise are clear but require action.

Vanessa Xanthakis, assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics in the Section of Preventative Medicine and Epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine and part of the team running the study, stated:

– “The earlier people make these lifestyle changes, the more likely they will be to lower their risk of cardiovascular-associated diseases later in life.”

A Misconception:

Many of us balk at fear the idea of exercise and a sudden, significant lifestyle change. Age is often the deciding factor because of a misconception that we only benefit if we start exercising when we’re young. 

Harvard Medical School instructor of medicine Doctor Nikolaos Perakakis stated: “It’s never too late to start exercising to have a significant profit from it,” during a presentation.

In a study published in BMJ in 2019, participants aged 40 to 79 increased their exercise to WHO’s recommended minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity. 

Results concluded that those in the participants’ age group maintaining WHO’s minimum recommendations would potentially prevent 46 percent of inactivity-related deaths!

 Solutions

Benefits Of Healthy Eating and Exercise:

A lifestyle that includes both healthy eating and exercise is essential to your well-being. The recent Boston University School of Medicine study did not measure those who followed a plant-based diet, but only those who followed US dietary recommendations, yet they still showed significantly lower odds of MetS. 

Consider just some of the benefits of following a plant-based diet and committing to moderate exercise: 

    ●    Weight control. If you want to lose pounds or maintain a healthy weight, your diet can’t provide more calories than your body expends. 

A whole-food, plant-based diet is a nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, lower-calorie option, and regular exercise burns any extra calories you take in. 

    ●    Lowered risk of heart disease.  Plant-based diets (such as DASH or a Mediterranean diet, says this 2016 American Family Physician article) are best for reducing cardiovascular risk.

Exercise strengthens your heart and improves your circulation. The more you train, the stronger your heart will become. Regular training decreases the risk of high cholesterolcoronary artery disease, and heart attack

    ●  Management of blood sugar and insulin levels.  The NIH recommends eating a diet low in sugars and fat and high in “whole grains, fruits, and vegetables” to prevent diabetes.

Exercise can also lower your blood sugar and increase insulin efficiency, reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

    ●    Improved mental health and mood.  Exercise releases mood-improving endorphins and hormones, according to the Mayo Clinic.

 And we now know that what we feed our gut microbiome (aka our “second brain”) has a tremendous effect on our feelings of loneliness and anxiety.

     ●    Improved sexual health. This article from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine examines the connections between diet, cardiovascular disease, and erectile dysfunction.

It suggests that eating a heart-healthy plant-based diet is the best way to avoid or cure ED. The NIH also mentions that exercise has the potential to prevent ED. In women, exercise may increase sexual arousal.

      ●    Reduced risk of some cancers.  The Mayo Clinic explains why both a plant-based diet and regular exercise (aim for 30 minutes per day) reduce our risk of several types of cancer.

Where Can I start?

You can start enjoying the benefits of healthy eating and exercise by changing your diet and exercise regimen at a comfortable rate. For example, commit to one plant-based meal per day and gradually wean yourself from animal-based foods.

As to exercise, WHO recommends weekly goals of 150 to 300 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity.  Start at your own pace and let your body tell you when it’s ready for more.

Many daily activities involve exercise. To get your blood flowing, make them more challenging:

– Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

– Park further from your destination and enjoy the walk.

– Wash the car yourself.

And whenever possible, add to the fun by sharing your activities with people you love!    

– Join an online exercise class with a friend

– Take up outdoors sports like frisbee golf or kayaking 

– Go on regular hikes with family members

Keep track of your progress. Who doesn’t like seeing improvement? Record your daily times or reps in a small notebook.

Introduce variety. Spice things up by listening to music or watching documentaries while exercising. Vary your routines, so you don’t get bored.

Find bad-weather options. At-home YouTube video workouts and stair climbing are great indoor alternatives!

Whether you struggle with MetS or not, the benefits of healthy eating and exercise are readily available for all of us.

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