It’s no secret that exercise and healthy eating can have a big impact on the way you look and feel – but there are more to the benefits of a fit lifestyle than your physique and energy levels.
Fitness and diet are contributing factors in the prevention of diseases that pose the biggest risk factors, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Wondering how you can maximize diet and exercise to live well and minimize your risks for these life-threatening illnesses? There are two places to begin your efforts: reduce inflammation in the body, and preserve your telomeres, which are the strands of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that protect them from damage, erosion and cellular aging.
Your diet has a direct effect on your inflammation, and exercise has a direct effect on the telomeres, both of which slow down the biological clock and offset the risks of diseases.
Below is a review of some research findings on how healthy eating and exercise can lower your risk of dangerous diseases.
Healthy Eating and Fitness Recommendations by Disease
- Chronic Inflammation. While not exactly a disease unto itself, chronic inflammation in the body is increasingly being identified as a root cause to many diseases, especially those related to the immune system like arthritis, asthma, lupus, colitis, psoriasis and Hashimoto’s disease. Healthy eating that avoids potentially inflammatory foods (such sugar, vegetable oil and gluten) may be key to offsetting inflammation that damages tissues and the symptoms of autoimmune diseases.
In addition, regular exercise combined with sufficient rest between workouts has been shown to increase the antioxidants defenses and reduce inflammatory protein markers in the body, and is recommended for millions of patients of the 80 or so known autoimmune diseases.
- Cancer. As exercise leads to changes in your body that offset inflammation, increase natural antioxidants and support the immune system, and all these effects have a role to play in cancer prevention as well.
A recent study from the National Cancer Institute, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, strongly supports the theory that regular exercise reduces the risk of many types of cancer. More than 1.4 million study participants provided lifestyle information including levels of physical activity, and 190,000 cases of cancer. They found that those with the highest levels of physical activity had lower rates of at least ten types of cancer, including esophagus, lung, kidney, colon, head and neck, rectum, bladder, and breast.
- Cardiovascular Disease. With heart disease as the leading cause of death in the U.S., and stroke in the top five, it’s critical to understand what we can do to avoid these and other cardiovascular diseases (CVD) such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries). A multitude of studies have demonstrated the positive relationship between increased physical activity, reduced obesity, lowering blood pressure and decreased risk of CVD.
In fact, one large international study, INTERHEART, provides convincing evidence that almost 90% of heart disease is caused by nine potentially modifiable risk factors. Through regular physical activity, healthy eating, and by not smoking, it’s possible to profoundly reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in both sexes and all age groups.
- Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes is not only a disease, it is also a risk factor for other diseases, with an especially strong correlation between CVD and diabetes. In fact, adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes, and the American Heart Association considers diabetes to be one of the seven major controllable risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Once again, weight control, healthy eating and regular exercise play major roles in helping adults avoid the onset of diabetes. To help control blood sugars, an insulin resistance diet may be useful, which includes balance of lean protein, healthy fats, high-fiber foods and high-quality dairy, and avoids sugary foods, sweetened beverages and refined carbohydrates.
A healthy, fit lifestyle remains a leading weapon in the defense against illness, aging and disease.