It seems yet another study is telling us what we already know: Don't smoke, exercise, avoid being overweight, and eat more fruits and vegetables. The good news is doing all four of these things can slash your risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. The bad news is millions of people in the country just aren't heeding the well-known health advice. Why not?
In the study, researches looked at data from nearly 25,000 German participants to gauge the connection between four specific healthy habits and a person's chance of having a heart attack or stroke, or developing diabetes or cancer.
The factors included:
1. Not smoking
2. Having a BMI (body mass index) below 30
3. Getting at least 3.5 hours a week of physical activity
4. Eating a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in meat
In a follow-up that took place about eight years later, about 2,000 of the 25,000 had developed one of the chronic diseases listed above. After adjusting for important variables, researchers found that people who hit all four of the healthy habits enjoyed a 78 percent overall lower risk of developing a chronic illness. Broken down, it translated into a 93 percent lower risk of developing diabetes, an 82 percent reduced risk of having a heart attack, a 50 percent lower risk of having a stroke, and a 36 percent reduced chance of developing cancer. Having a BMI below 30 was the single factor that gave the most protection.
This large study injects even more evidence to support the "you do have control over your own health" school of thought. Very often, the ball is in your court when it comes to common chronic disease reduction. But despite all the evidence, millions of us turn our backs on healthy habits. So what, exactly, is the deal? Unfortunately, the deck may be stacked against our best intentions. "The short answer is that we all live in an environment that promotes overeating and sedentary behavior. People cannot make healthy choices in an unhealthy environment," explains Marion Nestle, PhD, professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. She also wrote What to Eat(North
Point Press, 2007). "So the environment needs to improve in order to make it easier to do what we all know we need to do. Making healthy food available needs to be the default."
Despite all of our excuses, most of us can at least slip out for a 10-minute walk here or there, or even invest in a pedometer to reach a goal of at least 10,000 steps a day to boost physical activity levels. And there are plenty of free or cheap resources out there to help you quit smoking. What may be a hardest of all is finding healthy, convenient food to put on your table every night.
Here's how to protect yourself from the overzealous food marketers that are destroying your family's waistlines—and health.
• Understand you're being tricked. In his book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite (Rodale 2009) David Kessler, MD, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, describes how the food industry has injected fat, sugar, and salt into virtually everything because it sets off our biological triggers. To avoid the food industry's fattening tactics, cook at home as often as possible, using whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Farmer's markets are great places to find cheap produce. If you can score organic, all the better. That means pesticides linked to diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cancer, and all sorts of other ailments weren't used on your food as it grew in the fields. The Rodale Recipe Finder will help you with easy, tasty, healthy recipes.
• Think before eating out. When you do eat out, pause before you enter the restaurant, and picture yourself eating healthy food. By also focusing on the moment, known as mindfulness, you can put the brakes on an impending salt- and fat-soaked binge-eating episode.
• Demand better. Join with other concerned neighbors and demand more sidewalks and bike paths in your community, lobby your child's school for healthier food, and when you walk into a grocery store or restaurant, understand how the environment influences your choices, and do what you can to counteract it.