The Benefits of Exercise and a Healthy Diet

Heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes are among the leading causes of death in the United States today. They account for about two-thirds of all Heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes are among the leading causes of death in the United States today. They account for about two-thirds of all deaths each year. All of these diseases are related to diet and lifestyle.

A person’s genetic makeup is an important determinant of his or her risk for developing these diseases, but lifestyle choices- such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and alcohol abuse- also play a vital role. People cannot control the genes they inherit, but they can control the foods they eat and how much exercise they get. A healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing disease, and may slow the progression of any conditions people already have.

A regular program of exercise increases fitness level and helps keep weight within the healthy range. It also reduces the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis. In addition, exercise promotes psychological well-being, reduces depression and anxiety, and improves mood, sleep patterns, and overall outlook on life. It stimulates the release of chemicals called endorphins, which are thought to be natural tranquilizers that play a role in triggering what athletes describe as an “exercise high.” In addition to causing exercise euphoria, endorphins are believed to reduce anxiety, aid in relaxation, and improve mood, pain tolerance, and appetite control.

A Healthy Body Weight

A healthy body weight is associated with well-being and longevity. Carrying excess body fat increases the risks of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep disorders, respiratory problems, and some types of cancer. Maintaining weight at a proper level reduces the risks of these diseases. For athletes, a healthy weight can also optimize performance. A calculation of body mass index (BMI) can be used to determine if weight is in the healthy range. Because BMI considers total body weight, rather than the amount of body weight that is from muscle versus fat, athletes who have a large amount of muscle mass may have a BMI in the overweight or obese range. This does not mean their weight creates a health risk. Only excess weight from fat is considered unhealthy.

Diet and exercise are both essential for maintaining weight. When people consume the same number of calories as they use, weight remains stable. Regular exercise increases energy usage so it allows the person who exercises to consume more food without gaining weight. For example, an active 20-year-old woman needs to eat about 500 calories more per day to maintain weight than a sedentary woman of the same age, height, and weight. Choosing a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables and moderate in fat maximizes nutrient intake without providing too many calories.

Heart Disease

Generally, when we use the term heart disease, we are talking about atherosclerosis. This is a condition in which fatty material builds up in the walls of the arteries. This causes the arteries to narrow and become less elastic. People with obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, or diabetes are more likely to develop atherosclerosis. The risk of developing atherosclerosis also is increased by lifestyle choices, such as cigarette smoking, lack of exercise, and a diet high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and Tran’s fat. Diets high in fiber, antioxidants (such as vitamins C and E), and fish and plant oils, which are high in healthy unsaturated fats, can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Adding exercise to this healthy mix further reduces risk.

Aerobic exercise decreases the risk of atherosclerosis by lowering blood pressure and increasing levels of a healthy type of blood cholesterol called HDL cholesterol. Aerobic exercise also strengthens the heart muscle, thereby lowering the resting heart rate and decreasing the heart’s workload.

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