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Lack of Diet & Exercise Are More Dangerous for Your Health Than You Think

March 08, 2016

Did you know that physical inactivity and poor diet combined are responsible for more premature deaths every year than smoking?

About 678,000 people die every year due to poor nutrition and obesity-related diseases, while tobacco accounted for 465,000 premature deaths, according to 2010 statistics. 

If these figures are shocking, honestly, they shouldn’t be. Unhealthy eating and physical inactivity are linked to several diseases, some of which are preventable. Heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes are all linked to lack of proper diet and exercise.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, millions of Americans live with chronic diseases that are directly related to diet and inactivity. Obesity affects more than 78 million Americans; nearly 67 million Americans have high blood pressure; 26.6 million have heart disease and 6.4 million have experienced a stroke.

Of all these conditions, heart disease is the most concerning because it is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S and is responsible for more than 611,000 deaths every year. Proper diet is particularly important in combatting heart disease because eating a diet filled with saturated fat, salt and sugar can lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, both of which increase plaque buildup in the arteries that can lead to blockages and affect the heart’s ability to properly function.

Making Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes are critical to staying healthy, but making these changes is difficult for many people. The standard American diet doesn’t help either. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 75 percent of Americans don’t eat enough fruits, 50 percent don’t eat enough vegetables and 64 percent eat too much saturated fat. A high intake of saturated fat and a low intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers, according to the CDC.

We often repeat the general message that proper diet and exercise are important, but it’s critical for people to understand the concrete steps it takes to achieve a healthy lifestyle. If your goal this year (and beyond) is to get and stay fit, here are some gradual ways to do it:

Lower your salt intake:

The new dietary guidelines recommend 2,300 milligrams or less of salt every day for Americans — that’s the equivalent of one teaspoon. To reduce your salt intake, experiment with other seasonings, like herbs, fresh garlic, cumin or lemon zest. All these things add flavor to foods without increasing the health risks associated with sodium.

Limit sugar and saturated fat:

Sugar and saturated fat should be less than 10 percent of your daily calories, respectively. Start small by swapping red meat for leaner cuts or by using skinless, white meat chicken in some of your dishes. Swap one sugary drink a day (like soda or sports drinks) for water or black coffee — but skip the cream and added sugar. If you can’t curb your sweet tooth, try to include natural sugars in your diet, like those found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat dairy products.  You can add berries to plain Greek yogurt or try roasting vegetables to amplify their natural sweetness. My mom always said, “Roasted carrots and squash taste like candy.”

Don’t be sedentary:

Most Americans spend 8 hours or more every day sitting, but this isn’t great for your health. You burn 50 fewer calories a day when you sit compared to when you stand. Walking also burns fat. For example, a one-mile walk burns nearly 100 calories. It can be difficult to find time to exercise, but you can sneak in exercise by standing a few times a day during your work day, walking during lunch breaks or even for 20 minutes a few times a week before or after work. Taking up a hobby, like gardening, doing yard work, joining a dance class or volunteering at local charity events are great ways to stay active, too. As Runner’s World says: “Do what you can to burn as many calories as possible in exercise and daily living.”

It isn’t easy to make these lifestyle changes, but doing them gradually will have a positive impact on your overall health. Many of the diseases caused by poor diet and lack of exercise are largely preventable. Reduce your risk for serious health issues in the future by taking small steps today to stay healthy.