Dr. Garko’s Top Ten Health Resolutions for
2009 To Improve Nutritional Fitness
Michael Garko, Ph.D.
Host – Let’s Talk Nutrition
It is the beginning of the New Year and the nation is facing an economic crisis rivaling that of the Great Depression of the 1930s. If there were ever a time when one needed to be optimistic and healthy in mind, body and spirit, then that time is now.
However, the truth be told it is most likely rather difficult for people to focus on making health resolutions when so many have lost or are about to lose their investments, retirement accounts, jobs or homes, among many other economic related factors of day-to-day life. Even those who have not been affected in such ways are distracted, distressed and even depressed by the grim economic conditions. That is the bad news.
The good news is that, notwithstanding the difficult current economic circumstances, humans are endowed with the will and wherewithal to remain optimistic and motivated to overcome the financial and psycho-emotional challenges stemming from the current economic circumstances of the nation.
One way in which people can weather this volatile economic storm is to adopt and put into practice a set of goals to create, sustain and reclaim (if necessary) a healthy mind, body and spirit. Therefore, the January issue of Healthful Hints outlines my top ten health resolutions for 2009 for those who are resolute in protecting and improving their most important possessions, their health.
Purpose & Nature of the Resolutions
My top ten health resolutions for 2009 reinforce, repeat and build upon my 2008 list of resolutions. As with last year’s resolutions, they are intended to serve as practical goals to improve a person’s overall health status and well-being. However, they are different in that they focus specifically on helping a person to strive toward and achieve nutritional fitness.
Nutrition as the First Principle of Health
The underlying assumption of my 2009 list of New Year’s resolutions is that nutrition is the first principle of health. That is, nutrition is the premier necessary condition to:
• Create health and prevent disease
• Slow the process of aging and modulate its effects throughout the lifecycle
• Supply the body with energy
• Help the body heal itself from injury and disease
• Live a physical activity life
• Assist in creating and sustaining psycho-emotional and spiritual health
In short, all roads to health eventually lead back to nutrition in one way or another or by one route or another. My perspective is that nutrition is nature’s primary care physician for the body, mind and spirit.
The Concept of Nutritional Fitness
Nutritional fitness is the extent to which the body is being nourished with essential and non-essential nutrients and its ability to digest (i.e., chemically & mechanically breakdown food), assimilate (i.e., absorbing nutrients into blood stream), metabolize (i.e., biochemically breaking down and transforming nutrients into energy), utilize those nutrients for the growth and repair of cells tissues and organs. It is also the extent to which the body is able to eliminate nutrient-derived digestive and metabolic waste products. Thus, nutritional fitness represents the nutritional condition or status of the body and its ability to process essential and nonessential nutrients2.
Resolutions for 2009
All of the health topics implicated in the resolutions are discussed in earlier editions of Healthful Hints and archived broadcasts of Let’s Talk Nutrition. It is recommended that readers visit www.letstalknutrition.com and click on the links, Healthful Hints and Show Schedule, to learn more about those health topics presented in this New Year’s issue of Healthful Hints.
Resolution #1 – To Eat a Balanced Diet of Fresh Whole Foods
A balanced daily diet of fresh whole foods is foundational to good health and wellbeing. “Eating a balanced diet is probably the most important aspect of nutrition in regard to long-term health” (Haas, 1992, p. 516)
Eating a balanced diet of fresh whole foods involves selecting a variety of different foods based on the following nutritional categories:
• Macronutrients – Proteins, fats & carbohydrates
• Micronutrients – Vitamins, minerals, amino acids & fatty acids
• Food Groups – Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry & meats
• Flavors – Sour, bitter, sweet, spicy & salty
• Colors – Red, orange, yellow, green, blue & purple
• Acid-alkaline – Acid forming & alkalizing foods (see Haas, 1992)
Balance of macronutrients. Macronutrients serve as sources of energy. Diets high or low in one or the other of the macronutrients (i.e., protein, carbohydrates or fat) cause all sorts of health problems and nutritional imbalances and deficiencies. For example, eating a diet high in carbohydrates will trigger insulin release. High insulin levels tend to result in the body storing fat. Eating complex carbohydrates and “good” fats (i.e., essential fatty-acids) will counterbalance or otherwise offset the carb-insulin get fat effect.
Eating a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat results in other potential problems, some of which are low energy levels and feeling lethargic, constipation from an adequate amount of dietary fiber, an overworking of the liver and kidneys and diminished cognitive functioning from lack of proper nourishment (i.e., glucose & essential fatty acids) to the brain, all of which can disrupt the flow of having a good time during the holidays.
The Untied States Department of Health and Human Services and Untied States Department of Agriculture (2005) created the following guidelines for the consumption of macronutrients:
• 45%-65% of calories derived from carbohydrates
• 20%-35% of calories derived from fats
• 10%-35% of calories derived from protein
Balance of micronutrients. Micronutrients contain no calories or energy but serve as the activators of energy found in the macronutrients. They are the metabolic helpers of the body. Without them, life would not exist. There are approximately 52 essential nutrients. Essential nutrients are those vitamins and minerals and other micronutrients that the human body cannot synthesize or create in sufficient quantities which the body requires. They are nutrients obtained from food. Hence, this is why they are called “essential.” To ensure that that these essential nutrients are part of a daily diet, it is “essential” to eat a variety of fresh whole foods backed-up with a daily protocol of dietary supplements, which is discussed in Resolution #2.
Balance of food groups. Besides macronutrients (i.e., proteins, fats or carbohydrates), the concept of food groups is one of the most frequently used ways to select foods for a balanced diet. It is recommended to eat a diet consisting mainly of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and beans, with moderate amounts of dairy products, eggs, fish, poultry and meats. The diet that predominates currently is one constituted primarily of concentrated meats, dairy products and refined foods, with a minimal amount of fresh whole foods (see Haas, 1992).
Balance of flavors & colors. The concept of a balanced diet consisting of eating foods varying in flavors (i.e., sour, bitter, sweet, spicy & salty) and colors (i.e., red, orange, yellow, green, blue & purple finds its beginnings in the Chinese culture. According to Chinese philosophy an excess or deficiency of certain flavors or colors upsets the homeostasis of the body and leads to the development of disease. The general recommendation is to eat a diet that is varied in flavors and colors4.
Balance of acid-alkaline. Human blood has a normal pH of 7.41. Eating a diet that is too acidic or alkaline can create an imbalance in the body’s normal pH. Certain foods are alkaline (e.g., all vegetables, most fruits, millet, buckwheat, sprouted beans and seeds, olive oil and soaked almonds) in nature, while others are acidic (e.g., wheat, oats, white rice, refined flour, refined sugar, meats, fish, poultry and dairy products). Certain foods are considered balanced in terms of pH (e.g., brown rice, corn, soybeans, lima beans, almonds, sunflower seeds, Brazil nuts, honey, most dried beans and peas, tofu, nonfat milk and vegetable oils). Haas (1992) recommends a diet higher in alkaline and balanced foods than acidic foods.
Resolution #2 – To Augment Daily Diet with a Basic Supplement Protocol
It is important to take nutritional supplements daily so that you can provide your body with the nutrients its needs to stay healthy or otherwise be at optimal nutritional status. At a minimum, it is recommended that you take a good multiple vitamin and mineral formula. Use the multiple as the foundation of your supplement protocol. Among other benefits, a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement will help restore those nutrients depleted by sugar (e.g., chromium & copper) and stress (e.g., Vitamin A, E & C, the B vitamins, zinc, selenium, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, sulfur & molybdenum) and assist in keeping the body at an optimal nutritional level.
The multiple vitamin and mineral can be augmented with a greens supplement. This will assist in keeping the body in an alkaline state and provide the body with those phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, enzymes and other nutrients found in energizing green foods.
It is also recommended to take a potent antioxidant formula, immune formula and Omega 3 fish oil to keep the nutritional status of the body at an optimal level.
Finally, it is recommended that fiber, probiotics and digestive enzymes be included in a daily supplement protocol. Including them help create a healthy digestive system. You are not just what you eat. You are also what you absorb. An unhealthy digestive system prohibits the proper absorption of nutrients to maintain an optimal nutritional status. Many health and nutrition experts believe that it is almost axiomatic that health begins in the colon. Some frame it as, “death begins in the colon.” Nutritional fitness is predicated upon the proper digestion of food and absorption of nutrients into the blood stream. Including fiber, probiotics and digestive enzymes will go a long way in supporting the processes of your digestive system.
Resolution #3 – To Drink At Least Two Liters of Water Daily
Water is essential for optimal health. The human body is made-up of at least two-thirds water. It is implicated in nearly every major bodily process (e.g., circulation, digestion, absorption, elimination, etc.) essential for sustaining life and maintaining good health.
There are at least four good reasons to drink a minimum of two liters of water daily. First, water is a natural appetite suppressant. It creates a feeling of satiety/fullness, thereby, functioning as an appetite suppressant to help prevent overeating.
Second, water is a natural way to help detoxify the cells, tissues, organs and systems of the body, ridding them of toxins. Toxins can stem from the (1) normal metabolic processes within the body, (2) outdoor environment (outdoor & indoor) in the form of hazardous chemicals (e.g., organophosphates – typically used as insecticides, organochlorides – typically used pesticides, carbamates – typically used as fungicides & herbicides, phthalates – typically used to soften plastics & prolong shelf life of fragrances & solvents) and heavy metals (e.g., aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, platinum & mercury), (3) indoor environment in the form of aerosol sprays, asbestos, bleach, carbon monoxide, paint, paint remover, plastics, tap water, tobacco smoke, to mention a few, (4) medical/dental toxins and (5) processed and preserved foods (see Watson & Stockton, 2006).
Third, staying well hydrated will assist the detoxifying systems of the body such as the gastrointestinal system (i.e., liver, gallbladder, colon & entire gastrointestinal tract), respiratory system (i.e., lungs, bronchial tubes, throat, sinuses & nose), urinary system (i.e., kidneys, bladder & urethra), lymphatic system (i.e., lymph channels & nodes) and integumentary system (i.e., skin) to work more effectively in removing toxins from the body.
Fourth, drinking lots of water can help prevent dehydration. Dehydration can cause headaches, an inability to concentrate, drowsiness, constipation, impatience, irritability and fatigue, among numerous other effects that can contribute to a poor sense of wellbeing.
Resolution #4 – To Eat At Least 35 Grams of Fiber Daily
Include fiber rich foods (i.e., grains, fruits, vegetables & legumes) or supplemental forms of fiber in your daily diet to increase the odds of staying healthy. Many people do not eat enough fiber rich foods to reach the goal of eating a minimum of 35 grams of fiber a day. Therefore, using fiber supplements is a useful way to get fiber into the diet. By the way, be sure to drink plenty of water when eating fiber to prevent constipation and improve digestion and elimination.
There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. Each type of fiber has its own unique chemical and physical properties, which provide certain health and gastrointestinal benefits.
Some of the health benefits of soluble fiber include:
• Helps regulate blood sugar/glucose and insulin levels by slowing down digestion in the stomach and small intestine, thereby, delaying the conversion of other carbohydrates into glucose which in turn delays the release and absorption of sugar and stabilizes blood glucose levels
• Helps increase the uptake of vitamins and minerals and other nutrients by slowing down the digestion in the stomach and small intestine and, thereby, allowing more time for food nutrients to remain in the digestive process and become absorbed
• Reduces blood cholesterol levels by dissolving in water and creating a thick gel which slows digestion and binds with cholesterol and bile salts preventing them from becoming absorbed
• Increases the feeling of satiety or fullness, thereby, helping to prevent overeating and weight gain
Some of the health benefits of insoluble fiber include:
• Promotes regular bowel movements
• Helps to move bulk through the intestine
• Facilitates or speeds up the transit time in the colon by adding bulk to the stool allowing for a faster passage through the intestine, removing toxic waste material in less time and allowing for fermentation to take place along the entire length of the colon including the end
It is recommended that at least 35 grams of fiber be consumed daily by eating such foods as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes. In order to achieve the greatest health benefits from fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber need to be eaten daily in a ratio of 50:50. The following foods are good sources of insoluble fiber:
• Cereals made from bran or shredded wheat
• Crunchy vegetables
• Rye flour
• Wheat bran
• Whole wheat pasta
• Whole wheat products
Good sources of soluble fiber include:
• Citrus fruits
• Dried beans
• Oat bran
• Raw cabbage
• Rye flour
The table below provides excellent examples of different categories of foods and their fiber content. Additional information about the fiber content of other specific foods can be found at the United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database.
|Navy beans, cooked from dried||1 cup||19.1|
|Kidney beans, canned||1 cup||16.4|
|Split peas, cooked from dried||1 cup||16.3|
|Lentils, cooked from dried||1 cup||15.6|
|Refried beans, canned||1 cup||13.4|
|Cereals and grains|
|100% (wheat) Bran Cereal||1 cup||17.6|
|Quinoa, cooked||1 cup||9.3|
|Bulgur, cooked||1 cup||8.2|
|Pearled barley, cooked||1 cup||6.0|
|Oat bran, cooked||1 cup||5.7|
|Instant oatmeal, cooked||1 cup||3.7|
|Rice, long-grained brown, cooked||1 cup||3.5|
|Artichoke hearts, cooked||1 cup||9.1|
|Spinach, frozen, cooked||1 cup||7.0|
|Brussel sprouts, cooked||1 cup||6.4|
|Winter squash, cooked||1 cup||5.7|
|Mushrooms, cooked from fresh||1 cup||3.4|
|Prunes, uncooked||1 cup, pitted||12.1|
|Asian pear||1 pear||9.9|
|Guava, fresh||1 cup||8.9|
|Raspberries, fresh||1 cup||8.0|
|Blackberries, fresh||1 cup||7.6|
|Nuts and Seeds|
|Almonds||1 ounce (23 kernels)||3.3|
|Pistachio nuts||1 ounce (47 kernels)||2.9|
|Pecans||1 ounce (20 halves)||2.7|
|Peanuts||1 ounce (33 kernels)||2.4|
Resolution #5 – To Limit Daily Intake of Refined, Processed Carbohydrates
Consuming refined processed carbohydrates is what gets people into a lot of dietary and nutritional trouble. Carbohydrates in and of themselves are not bad. In fact, carbohydrates are essential to a healthy diet. They are the master fuel for the body. Carbohydrates can provide the necessary “good” calories, vitamins, minerals and fiber needed to meet energy demands and to stay healthy throughout the year. The nutritional recommendation is to eat the “good” carbohydrates derived from fruits and vegetables. The “bad” carbohydrates are found in foods made from highly processed white sugar and white flour. Highly refined white flour and white sugar in the form of sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (corn sugar), and high-fructose corn syrup are found in many of the foods such as cakes, cookies, candy, crackers, soft drinks, pastries, potatoes and white rice to name a few. These refined carbohydrate foods contain lots of empty, non-nutritional calories and are high on the glycemic index (GI) scale. Eating foods with a high GI index rating will cause a rapid spike in insulin levels. Elevated insulin levels leads to the body storing more fat than it normally would, resulting in weight gain.
Sugar. When it comes to refined, processed carbohydrates, sugar deserves special attention. To say that sugar is toxic to the body is an understatement. The documented deleterious effects of sugar are almost too numerous to list. Nevertheless, some of the harmful consequences of consuming too much sugar on holiday health would include:
• Suppressed immune system
• Elevated blood glucose and insulin levels
• Mineral imbalance (i.e., depletion of chromium and copper)
• Interference with the absorption of calcium and magnesium
• Interference with protein absorption
• Increase in systolic blood pressure
• Acidic digestive tract
• Increase in sodium and water retention
• Hyperactivity and anxiety
• Increase in cholesterol, triglycerides and homocysteine
• Increase in low density lipoproteins (LD)
• Decrease in lipoproteins
• Trigger food allergies
• Weight gain
The B vitamins, vitamin C, zinc, chromium, L-glutamine can help to modulate sugar cravings and assist in sugar withdrawals. Also, a diet made-up of complex carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains & vegetables) and protein will help to stabilize blood sugar levels and blunt the craving for sugar.
Resolution #6 – To Limit Daily Intake of Saturated & Trans Fats
Much has been written on the unhealthy aspects of saturated and trans fats. Suffice it to say that eating a diet containing high levels of saturated and trans fats is among the most deleterious dietary practices to overall health and wellbeing. High fat diets have been associated with cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease in particular), cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction and infertility, among other diseases and disorders. For readers who want to learn more about fats/lipids and their relationships to health and their relationship to disease it is recommended they read Mary Enig’s book, Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol.
Resolution #7 – To Limit Daily Intake of Sodium
Ecological, epidemiological, and experimental human studies have established a positive correlation between blood pressure and the intake of sodium, a relationship that was recognized initially a century ago. Another established relationship is that of increasing blood pressure and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality (see Alderman, 2000).
According to Alderman (2000), “the pharmacological capacity to reduce blood pressure has produced one of the great public health accomplishments of the 20th century.” Notwithstanding Alderman’s observation of the ability of drugs to lower blood pressure, there are nutritional and other natural methods to help with the lowering blood pressure but without some of the serious side effects of blood pressure medications, a topic thoroughly explored on Let’s Talk Nutrition.
Although Alderman’s (2000) review of the literature on Salt, Blood Pressure and Human Health raises interesting questions about the beneficial health effects of low sodium diets on overall and cardiovascular health, generally, and blood pressure, specifically, the body of scientific studies from medical literature on the ability of sodium to contribute to higher blood pressure readings and the negative impact of high blood pressure on cardiovascular health, suggest that it would be prudent for everyone to adopt the New Year’s resolution of avoiding the daily intake of excess sodium, especially the elderly and those with high blood pressure readings who should monitor and modulate their intake of sodium in conjunction with a doctor.
Resolution #8 – To Limit Daily Intake of Alcohol & Tobacco
Alcohol and tobacco undermine the nutritional fitness of the body. It is firmly established in the medical literature that the excessive use of either alcohol or tobacco has serious and devastating health consequences. Both alcohol and tobacco use have been associated with everything from cardiovascular disease to cancer and numerous other life threatening maladies.
Effects of tobacco smoke on overall health. The Surgeon General’s 2004 report on The Health Consequences of Smoking is a sobering account of the devastating effects of tobacco smoke on virtually every cell, organ and major system of the human body, including the heart and cardiovascular system.
Studies reveal that compared to nonsmokers regular smokers and individuals exposed repeatedly to passive tobacco smoke have more of an increased chance for (1) biomolecular oxidative damage to DNA, proteins and lipids than nonsmokers, (2) endothelial injury and dysfunction, a primary determinant in the development in atherosclerosis, (3) blood clots/thrombi along the arterial walls (4) plasma fibrinogen, a protein increasing the formation of blood clots, (5) localized arterial inflammation and systemic inflammation, reflected by increased levels of such biomarkers as leukocytes and C-reactive protein, (6) adverse lipid profiles, measured by higher concentrations of low density lipoprotein (LDL) and lower concentrations of higher density lipoprotein (HDL), (7) a higher oxygen demand induced by the release of catecholamines, which are associated with an increase in baseline heart rate, contractability and vascular tone, (9) deficient blood flow to the heart caused by a constriction of proximal an distal arteries and increase in coronary vessel tone, all of which results in a decreased oxygen supply to heart tissues and (10) lower levels of antioxidant micronutrients such as Vitamin C and carotenoids to neutralize free oxygen radicals that damage the endothelium of the coronary arteries (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).
Even 42 years after the Surgeon General’s first report of the effects of smoking on human health, the catalogue of diseases and harmful effects associated with tobacco smoke continues to grow. In addition to coronary heart disease (CHD) and all other forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD), there is now substantial evidence to infer a causal relationship between active smoking and abdominal aortic aneurysm, acute myeloid leukemia, cataract, cervical cancer, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, pneumonia, periodontitis, stomach, bladder, esophageal, laryngeal, lung, oral, and throat cancers, chronic lung diseases, reproductive effects and sudden infant death syndrome (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).
By the way, most researchers and healthcare providers, including the Surgeon General of the United States, consider smoking to be the most important, lethal and preventable modifiable independent risk factor for CVD, generally, and CHD, specifically (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).
Effects of alcohol on overall health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2001), “excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States … and is associated with multiple adverse health consequences, including liver cirrhosis, various cancers, unintentional injuries, and violence” (p. 866).
The CDC (2004) presented the following sobering (no pun intended) account of its estimated number of alcohol-attributable deaths (AADs) and years of potential life lost (YPLLs):
In 2001, an estimated 75,766 AADs and 2.3 million YPLLs were attributable to the harmful effects of excessive alcohol use … . Of the 75,766 deaths, 34,833 (46%) resulted from chronic conditions, and 40,933 (54%) resulted from acute conditions. Overall, 54,847 (72%) of all AADs involved males, and 4,554 (6%) involved persons aged <21 years. Of the deaths among males, 41,202 (75%) involved men aged >35 years; of those deaths, 41,202 (58%) were attributed to chronic conditions. For males and females combined, the leading chronic cause of AADs was alcoholic liver disease (12,201), and the leading acute cause of AADs was injury from motor-vehicle crashes (13,674). In addition, in 2001, an estimated 11 lives were saved because of the potential benefits of excessive alcohol use, all of which were attributable to a reduced risk for death from cholelithiasis (i.e., gall bladder disease).
Of the estimated 2,279,322 YPLLs, 788,005 (35%) resulted from chronic conditions, and 1,491,317 (65%) resulted from acute conditions …. Overall, 1,679,414 (74%) of the total YPLLs were among males, and 271,392 (12%) involved persons aged <21 years. Of all YPLLs among males, 973,214 (58%) involved men aged >35 years, of which 53% were attributed to chronic conditions. Deaths from alcoholic liver disease resulted in 316,321 YPLLs, and deaths from motor-vehicle–traffic crashes resulted in 579,501 YPLLs (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2004, pp. 866-867).
With respect to nutrition, alcohol contains a lot of calories and its diuretic effect promotes dehydration and the loss of nutrients. According to Haas (1992), “alcohol … uses nutrients that it does not provide for its own metabolism, impairs the metabolism of many others, and reduces liver stores of even more” (p. 952). Alcohol suppresses the immune system; it impairs the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the small intestine, especially the B-vitamins (e.g., B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, choline & folic acid); it impairs the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., Vitamins A, D, E & K) by the liver; and it impairs brain function. There are many other deleterious effects of alcohol on the body.
Resolution #9 – To Eat Small Meals Frequently Throughout the Day
Two favorite eating patterns are to skip meals or to eat three large meals a day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). Skipping meals puts the body in starvation or fasting mode causing it to hold on to calories and stored fat, lowers its metabolic rate and ability to burn and use calories, causes blood sugar levels to fall leading to overeating at other meals, especially the next one and compromises its nutritional status. Eating three large meals puts a heavy digestive and metabolic load on the body and causes blood glucose and insulin levels to rise dramatically.
Eating four to six small meals throughout the day is a better dietary alternative than skipping meals or eating three large meals throughout the day. Eating frequently through the course of the day helps to keeps the body supplied with nutrients and, thus, more nutritionally fit. It also helps modulate binging and cravings because you do not have to go for long periods of time without eating. The frequent small meal model also regulates blood sugar and insulin levels and keeps the body supplied with energy.
Resolution #10 – To Engage In Regular Physically Active
As Plato said over 2,000 years ago, “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it” (Plato). Regular physical activity, whether in the form of a structured exercise program or just part of daily living routines, will help to keep the body nutritionally fit, energized and healthy throughout the year and your entire life.
Health benefits of regular physical activity. Chronic disease and premature death are inevitable consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. However, it is established firmly in the scientific literature that regular physical activity improves a person’s health in ways that can modulate and even eliminate the development of chronic diseases and conditions and extend life (see U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1996; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2002). In a report on Physical Activity and Health, the Surgeon General of the United States, relying on hundreds of studies, stated that “the body responds to physical activity in ways that have important positive effects on musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, respiratory, and endocrine systems” (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1996, p. 5).
Established health benefits associated with regular physical activity include the following:
• Reduces the risk of either becoming sick or dying prematurely from CVDs and conditions and other leading chronic conditions and diseases (e.g., cancer & diabetes)
• Reduces the risk of developing Type II/non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus
• Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer (Findings are either too inconsistent or insufficient to draw firm conclusions regarding a relationship between physical inactivity and the development of endometrial, ovarian, testicular, prostate or breast cancer)
• Helps to lose weight and sustain a healthy weight, thereby, preventing overweight and obesity, risk factors for CVDs
• Helps build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, thereby, resulting in managing osteoarthritis better, reducing the risk of developing osteoporosis and becoming stronger so as to walk and move about without falling
• Psychologically speaking, helps to lessen depression and anxiety, improve mood/state of mind and increase ability to accomplish daily tasks throughout the life span
• Improves quality of life for individuals suffering from poor health by enhancing physiological and psychological well-being (see U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2002)
Furthermore, on average, people who are physically active tend to outlive those individuals whose day-to-day existence is sedentary. Even a moderate amount (i.e., 30 minutes a day) of moderately intense physical activity on a regular basis helps prevent disease and promote physiological and psychological health for young people and adults, while lowering morbidity and mortality rates for both older and younger adults. There is “an emerging consensus among epidemiologists, experts in exercise science, and health professionals that physical activity need not be of vigorous intensity for it to improve health” (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1996, p. 3).
Health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle. On the flipside of the health coin, epidemiologic studies, cohort studies, case-control studies, cross-sectional studies and clinical trials have established that physical inactivity is a major risk factor for a variety of diseases and conditions, including the following:
• All-cause mortality
• Musculoskeletal problems (e.g., sarcopenia/loss of muscle mass, strength & function)
• Osteoporosis and bone fractures, osteoarthritis, low back/lumbar pain
• Metabolic conditions (e.g., overweight & obesity, Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension/high blood pressure & metabolic syndrome)
• Neurological conditions (e.g., cognitive impairment & dementia)
• Cardiovascular disease (e.g., coronary heart disease & stroke) (see U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2002; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2000; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 1996; Vuori, 2004).
The connection between nutritional fitness and physical fitness. Nutritional fitness and physical fitness are inextricably linked. It is clear from decades of scientific research that regular physical activity is fundamental to good health. While I consider nutrition to be the first principle of health, it must be accompanied by regular physical activity in order to achieve and maintain optimal health over the lifespan. At the same time, it is my view that too many people are erratic with or unable to sustain their exercise-training program or engage in regular physical activity because they suffer from a poor nutritional status and, thus, lack the optimal energy levels to meet the physiological energy demands of being physically active on a regular basis.
Many people are well-intentioned and really want to live a physically active lifestyle. Typically, they do not have too much difficulty getting started but find it far more difficult to sustain a regimen of regular physical activity. There are a variety of reasons as to why such a large segment of the population fail at being physically active on a day-to-day basis and give way to a sedentary lifestyle, even though they know that regular physical activity will improve the quality of their lives and health. Notwithstanding all of the behavioral, psychological, sociological and physiological variables that bear upon whether or not people will engage in regular physical activity, nutritional factors cannot be underestimated.
Specifically, too many people have difficulty in being physically active because they are neither nutritionally informed nor nutritionally prepared enough to meet the energy demands associated with living a lifestyle characterized by regular physical activity. Stated another way, many people who are well-intentioned about keeping their bodies moving suffer from an overall poor nutritional status and, thus, are not nutritionally fit to meet the physiological energy demands of being physically active on a habitual basis. Therefore, if it is all about the energy, then in order to be energy-ready to live a physically active lifestyle you need to energize your body with proper nutrition.
Physical fitness achieved through regular physical activity and nutritional fitness achieved through proper diet and nutrition are different sides of the same health coin. Total health is practiced and achieved by the synergistic relationship between nutritional fitness and physical fitness.
The country as a whole and each of us as individuals is faced with the current, serious downturn in the economy. Clearly, the economy is unhealthy and many are suffering because of it. It is one thing to lose material possessions. It is another matter to lose one’s health. The ability to cope with or bounce back from any adversity (economic or otherwise) is diminished significantly without good health and sound well-being.
It was in the spirit of optimism and good health that my 2009 list of resolutions focusing on nutritional fitness were created and offered. As I mentioned last year, when it comes to our health, we owe it to ourselves to make a strong commitment to keep those resolutions which will improve our overall health and wellbeing. Resolutions are only as good as the commitment to keep them and the specificity of plan to carry out and achieve them, along with the inspiration, and discipline not to let “other things” take priority over them. Become nutritionally fit. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2004). Alcohol-Attributable Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost –United States 2001. Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report. 53(37), 866-870. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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1 Essential nutrients are those nutrients the body cannot synthesize or at least make in sufficient amounts (i.e., water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins & minerals) but, yet, needs them to carry out its various biological and physiological functions. Thus, they are “essential” for the body to make.
Nonessential nutrients are those nutrients manufactured by the body from essential nutrients of carbohydrates, fats and proteins (e.g., Niacin, a B-vitamin, made from the amino acid, tryptophan; cholesterol made in the liver and intestine from fragments of carbohydrates, fats and protein; glucose made from carbohydrates; glutamic acid made from proteins; oleic acid made from fatty acids), independent of whether they are supplied by diet
2 Typically, fitness implies an optimal condition or achieving the best condition possible. It is an ideal state. However, it is important to remember that there are degrees of fitness and a person does not have to be in an optimal state of nutritional fitness to be considered healthy.
3 It is recommended that the reader refer to Chapter 12: The Components of a Healthy Diet in Haas’ book, Staying Healthy With Nutrition, to gain full understanding of how to create a balanced diet with respect to all of the five areas mentioned.
4 See Hass (1992) for a full discussion of balancing flavors and colors.
5 If the reader is interested in learning more about toxins, he/she can read my four part series on We Live in a Toxic World published in my monthly newsletter, Healthful Hints.