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More than 97% of Americans Don’t Follow a Healthy Lifestyle

According to a recent study, America may be filled with couch potatoes.

The study, conducted by Oregon State University researchers, assessed data from more than 4,700 people who participated in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Survey. It found that only 2.7 percent of Americans eat healthy, don’t smoke and get regular exercise.

Researchers said they asked basic questions related to the four pillars of a healthy lifestyle, which include maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, getting moderate exercise and eating a balanced diet. They weren’t expecting respondents to answer like elite athletes, but they did expect their behavior to reflect general health and wellness advice that doctors typically give to patients.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

Only 71 percent of people surveyed didn’t smoke, only 46 percent got enough exercise, 38 percent had a balanced diet and a mere 10 percent had a normal body fat percentage.

While most respondents didn’t follow all four pillars of a healthy lifestyle, the one silver lining is that 53 percent of people surveyed exhibited at least two of the behaviors. Results also varied by gender. Women were less likely to get regular exercise than men, but were more likely to eat healthy and not smoke.

What This Means for Overall Health

To be healthy, you don’t need to have rock hard abs or look like an Olympic athlete. You just need to make a conscious effort every day to eat right and not be sedentary — and for good reason, many of which you probably already know.

Lack of proper diet and exercise are linked to an increased risk for several health conditions, including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. On top of that, smoking also increases your risk for chronic health issues.

Physical inactivity and poor diet combined are responsible for more premature deaths every year than smoking. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the average American diet is filled with saturated fat, added sugar and not enough nutrients from natural food sources. We eat way too many calories and don’t do nearly as much to burn them off, which leads to weight gain.

There’s plenty of evidence that poor lifestyle is affecting our country’s overall health. Millions of Americans suffer from chronic diseases that could be prevented with proper diet and exercise. More than 26 million people have heart disease; 67 million have high blood pressure and more than 78 million Americans are obese.

But there are things you can do to not be part of these statistics. Reducing the amount of salt, added sugar and saturated fat in your diet is a good first step. As I like to say, “eat a rainbow every day,” meaning fill your plate with vibrant fruits, vegetables and other whole grains. The more colorful your plate, the more nutrients it has. Also stay active. Go for a short walk or run a few times a week, volunteer in your community or participate in outdoor activities that will prevent you from being sedentary.

This is common advice, but the study is a reminder that far too many people don’t follow it. We still have work to do on this front, and the study’s researchers say more research is necessary to identify approaches that will encourage Americans to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Until then, do what you can to implement the four behaviors related to a healthy lifestyle. Even starting with one will improve your health.