As pointed out in the past, despite everything we know and has been said about the health benefits of exercise, a recent study shows us that 43 percent of employed adults do not exercise nearly as often as they should. At the same time, a new joint study from researchers from the University of Sao Paulo and Tufts University in Boston reminds us that over half of what Americans eat (nearly 60 percent) is considered "junk food." These behaviors continue to persist in this country despite constant warnings that being sedentary and eating this way is sure to increase one's risk for chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke and cancer.
So what's standing between those with the desire to be healthier and the action needed to achieve better health? Could it be, at least in part, information overload and the human ability to tune things out? Maybe we should back up a bit and try to simplify the matter.
As Simin Nikbin Meydani, director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, tells Time magazine, eating healthier does not have to be complicated and done by the numbers. You don't have to go vegan or Paleo. You can start by simply making sure that your plate contains foods of more than two different colors. If it's got green, red and brown, for example, you could be on your way to getting the nutrients you require. We should also make sure you consume it and enjoy it with someone else. "Sharing a meal with friends and family impacts our health and how we age and fare as we get older," Meydani reminds us.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that American adults do two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week, plus some muscle-strengthening on the side. If that seems too much, or you're loathe to calculate such things, don't despair. You can benefit from even a small amount of added movement each week and uncomplicated exercises like walking. Some will always be better than none; to start, do that to which you're comfortable committing.
A small behavioral change can also lead to embracing a wider checklist of healthier choices. Many experts believe that each lifestyle change a person makes supports other positive steps that can be added. Not surprisingly, a recent study tells us that people who changed the widest variety of aspects of their life to be healthier see bigger improvements in their mood and stress levels compared to people in clinical trials who changed just one part of their lifestyle.
What's also clear is that, in order to achieve the maximum benefit that the food we eat can provide, we need to think about what we actually eat before we eat it; to start by considering eating whole foods and trying to avoid processed ones. According to Dr. Qi Sun, of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and the senior author of a recent study of the effects of whole grain foods in diet, eating a diet rich in whole grains would reduce a person's risk of dying early.
The study found that eating three servings of whole grains a day was associated with a 25 percent lower risk of death from heart disease, and a 14 percent lower risk of death from cancer, compared with eating one serving or less of whole grains daily.
In fairness, it's not like people are not concerned about what they eat. According to government research, about 77 percent of U.S. adults look at labels when they shop. But if we've learned anything, it's that food labeling is not always our friend. Americans spend more than $40 billion a year on foods identified as "all natural." Surveys show that consumers seek out the "all natural" label believing the food was produced without genetically modified organisms, hormones, pesticides and artificial ingredients.
This reality has led to more than a hundred class action lawsuits accusing companies of misleading consumers. The issue of whether genetically modified foods can be labeled natural has been raised in more than 50 legal cases. Until now, the Food and Drug Administration has "respectfully declined" to weigh in on the issue. While the FDA is at last considering the matter, it has yet to engage in rulemaking to establish a formal definition for the term "natural" in food packaging.
By law, products must be checked out by the Food and Drug Administration before they can be added to our food. But since 1958, there has been a growing list of exemptions to this law. Today, it's hard to know definitively whether some of the estimated 10,000 chemical additives spread throughout our grocery store food supply pose a health problem to us. We consume them in very small amounts day-to-day and that, we're told, poses no health risks. At present, neither the government nor food manufacturers have taken on the time or expense of measuring possible long term effects of these additives. It is a problem not dissimilar to the one we have with the pesticides that are sprayed on the fruits and vegetables we eat.
We've now recently learned what many experts have long suspected — heavy use of the world's most popular herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson's, infertility and cancers, according to a recent study. Roundup is by far the most heavily used herbicide in the country, and the Food and Drug Administration has no idea how much of it ends up on the food we eat. The FDA has never bothered to test for chemical residues on foods headed to market.
The EPA is now conducting a standard registration review of "glyphosate," Roundup's active ingredient.
In the meantime, I urge you to exercise at least a bit more and to eat at least a little bit healthier. Most importantly, to travel that extra mile (if need be) and pay that extra expense (if you can) to buy certified organic foods.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
Photo credit: Tim Sackton