People of all ages can improve the quality of their lives and reduce the risks of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, some cancers and type 2 diabetes, with ongoing participation in moderate physical activity and exercise. Daily exercise will also enhance one’s mental well-being and promote healthy musculoskeletal function throughout life.

Although habitual physical activity is an attainable goal on the path to a healthier life, more than half of U.S. adults do not get the recommended ≥ 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day at least 5 days per week.  The following are just three of the areas that can positively be affected by regular physical activity at this recommended level.

1. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD)– The leading health-related cause of mortality for men and women in the U.S. is cardiovascular disease. Meaningful cardiovascular health benefits may be attained with long-term participation in cardiovascular exercise. How much exercise is enough?

ACSM sought to address that question properly last year when it updated its stance on the recommended quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness in healthy adults.  Their recommendation is 3-5 days per week at moderate to high intensity for 20-60 minutes.

Higher levels of cardiovascular fitness are associated with a 50% reduction in CVD risk in men. This study demonstrated that increasing physical activity to a total of at least 1,000 kilocalories per week is associated with a 20% reduction of mortality in men.

Another study showed that physically inactive middle-aged women (engaging in less than 1 hour of exercise per week) doubled their risk of mortality from CVD compared with their physically active female counterparts. It should be emphasized that CVD is a multifactor process and that “not smoking, being physically active, eating a heart-healthy diet, staying reasonably lean and avoiding stress and depression are the major components of an effective CVD prevention program.”

2. Diabetes, Insulin Sensitivity and Glucose Metabolism -Diabetes has reached endemic proportions, affecting 170 million individuals worldwide. One unfortunate health consequence of physical inactivity is the weakening of the body’s insulin regulatory mechanisms. Elevated insulin and blood glucose levels are characteristic features involved in the development of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

When insulin function starts breaking down, the body’s blood sugar levels rise, leading eventually to the onset of “prediabetes” and then type 2 diabetes. Diabetes incidence is growing among youth and adults, largely as a result of obesity and inactivity.

Regular aerobic exercise meaningfully increases insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism, which means the body’s cells can more efficiently transport glucose into the cells of the liver, muscle and adipose tissue.

Although the mechanisms for improvement are not fully understood, it appears that both resistance training and aerobic exercise offer a strong protective role in the prevention of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

3. Hypertension– Hypertension is a major health problem. Elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels are associated with a higher risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD), congestive heart failure, stroke and kidney failure. There is a one-fold increase in developing these diseases when blood pressure is 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

In many cases, clients can reduce elevated blood pressure by decreasing weight and lowering alcohol and salt intake in their diet. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, performed 3–5 times per week for 30–60 minutes per session, appears to be effective in reducing blood pressure.  In a recent meta-analysis of 54 clinical aerobic exercise intervention trials, findings (in hypertensive men and women) included a reduction, on average, of 3.84 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 2.58 mm Hg for diastolic blood pressure.

HEALTHY SNACKS  (from National Council on Strength and Fitness, July 2013)
Sometimes it’s not the calories as much as it is the nutrient composition of foods that satisfies one’s hunger. In fact selecting the right foods at the right time can significantly change the endocrine and neurochemical responses that affect both food intake and body weight. Research suggests that healthy snacks can be used effectively to promote a feeling of fullness (satiety) and play a role in total food intake. “Appetite control is an area of weight management that is receiving increased attention as the food industry aims to provide consumers with foods that will keep them fuller for longer, reducing inter-meal hunger and overall energy intake,” said nutrition researcher, Roberta Re, Ph.D.

Researchers suggest that current snack decisions in the US contribute to the obesity epidemic, linking foods like chips and cookies with higher body fatness; but those problems could be thwarted with some simple adjustments in the nutrient selections. Snacks containing healthy oils, higher protein content and high-fiber such as nuts for instance, may limit overall daily food consumption.

In a study using almonds as a mid-morning snack, participants reported increased feelings of satiety “resulting in a reduced energy intake at lunch and dinner with no increase in overall” calorie intake. Other supportive investigations found similar effects with low sugar yogurt and high fiber cereal; in both cases participants’ overall daily intake was lowered after consuming the healthy snacks. Researchers suggest the first step is knowing the energy density and makeup of the foods you consume. Siding with higher protein content, fiber and essential oils promotes healthy outcomes from better nutrition and reduced caloric intakes.

NOT ALL FRUITS ARE CREATED EQUAL (from WHFoods Newsletter,  July 2013)

This time of year there is an abundance of a wide a variety of fruits, many of which are only available only during the summer months. And summer fruits are great for weight control. They provide an excellent source of nutrients for minimal caloric cost, while still satisfying our sweet tooth. Fruits like strawberries, raspberries and cantaloupe contain only 70.100 calories per one cup serving!

But here’s the caveat. Not all fruits are created equal. One of the things to consider when selecting fruits is how they affect our blood sugar levels. A food’s glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how much your blood sugar increases over a period of two or three hours after consuming it. Sweet fruits, such as pineapples, papayas and mangoes, break down quickly during digestion and have the highest glycemic index. Other fruits, such as apples, grapefruit, pears, blueberries and plums actually have a low to medium GI value. Raspberries have the low GI value of just 40.

Remember that the GI for fruit juice and dried fruit is much higher than for whole fresh fruit because the juice contains less pulp and skin than the whole fruit, and drying fruit greatly concentrates its sugar content.