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  • Dr. Lauren O'Byrne

Nutrition, Physical Activity Habits and Health Are Closely Related

Over the past century, essential nutrient deficiencies have dramatically decreased, many infectious diseases have been conquered, and the majority of the U.S. population can now anticipate a long and productive life. However, the rates of chronic diet-related diseases have risen, due in part to changes in lifestyle behaviors. About half of all American adults – 117 million individuals – have one or more preventable chronic diseases, many of which are related to poor quality eating patterns and physical inactivity. These include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and poor bone health.

The prevalence of obesity or being overweight has risen and remained high for the past 25 years, while Healthy Eating Index (HEI) scores – a measure of how food choices align with the Dietary Guidelines – have remained low. Similarly, physical activity levels have remained low over time.

Although the primary focus of the Dietary Guidelines is on nutrition recommendations, physical activity plays a critical and complementary role in promoting good health and preventing disease, including many diet-related chronic diseases. The settings in which people live, learn, work, and play can be enhanced to encourage increased physical activity.

I’ve worked with patients on evaluating their food choices and exercise habits to better understand how each impact their health, and I’ve put together action plans to make changes. An eating pattern may be more predictive of overall health status and disease risk than individual foods or nutrients.

A healthy eating pattern includes:

A variety of vegetables from all subgroups – dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas) and other: • Fruits, especially whole fruits • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and or fortified soy beverages • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas) and nuts, seeds and soy products • Oils

A healthy eating pattern limits: • Saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars and sodium

Key recommendations that are quantitative are provided for several components of the diet that should be limited. These components are of public health concern in the U.S., and the specified limits can help individuals achieve health eating patterns within calorie limits: • Consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars • Consume less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats • Consume less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium • If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation – up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men – and only by adults of legal drinking age

In addition to consuming a healthy eating pattern, regular physical activity is one of the most important things individuals can do to improve their health. The Physical Activity Guidelines, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides a comprehensive set of recommendations for Americans on the amounts and types of physical activity needed each day.

Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity and should perform muscle-strengthening exercises two or more days each week. Establishing and maintaining a regular physical activity pattern can provide many health benefits. Strong evidence shows that regular physical activity helps people maintain a healthy weight, prevent excessive weight gain, and lose weight when combined with a healthy eating pattern lower in calories. Strong evidence also demonstrates that regular physical activity lowers the risk of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, adverse blood lipid profile, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, and metabolic syndrome; it also reduces depression and prevents falls. People can engage in regular physical activity in a variety of ways throughout the day and by choosing activities they enjoy.

At Spry, we can offer you an individualized eating and exercise plan that includes a health coach to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle!

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