Even if you can't exercise for a long time every day, it's still worth doing when you can, especially when you are younger.
A new study, published in the journal Circulation, finds that younger women who exercise just 2.5 hours a week, or 30 minutes a day for five days a week, may cut their risk for heart disease by up to 25 percent.
"The habits and the choices we make in the first half of our life determine our well-being and freedom from chronic disease in the second half of our lives," wrote Dr. Erin Michos, an associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Importantly, higher levels of physical activity have been shown to be associated with reduction in rates of heart disease, stroke, cancers, diabetes and many other chronic health conditions."
It doesn't matter whether women achieve the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in a few sessions or many, according to lead researcher Andrea Chomistek, an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Indiana University's School of Public Health. She suggests joining a gym or walking or bicycling, or any other moderate activity that is enjoyable — all can be enough to reduce the risk of heart disease.
And it's not limited to women — Chomistek says that men, too, can achieve a similar benefit with a few hours a week of moderate exercise, although this study was done on women.
"It is important for normal-weight, overweight and obese women to be physically active," she said, adding even walking is beneficial.
For the study, Chomistek and her colleagues collected data on more than 97,000 women, ages 27 to 44, who took part in the Nurses' Health Study 2.
The researchers looked at the frequency, amount of time, intensity and type of preferred physical activity in which the women participated. During 20 years of follow-up, 544 women developed heart disease.
The researchers found that women who were the most physically active during their leisure time had the lowest risk for heart disease — 25 percent lower than women who exercised the least.
Exercise didn't have to be strenuous. In fact, the research found that moderate exercise, such as taking a brisk walk, was associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
The women who seemed to benefit the most exercised the most, at least 150 minutes a week. And, it didn't matter what weight a woman was when she started exercising to lower her risk for heart disease, Chomistek said.
Q and A
Q: I keep hearing about pulses like black beans as super-nutritious foods. But aren't they fattening?
A: Actually, research shows that as long as they're not prepared with lots of high-calorie flavorings, pulses and other dried beans may play a doubly valuable role for people who are overweight. Pulses are the dried seeds from the legume family and include chickpeas, lentils, split peas and other dried beans. The high fiber and protein of dried beans such as kidney, garbanzo and lentils may make them more filling and help hold off hunger longer than lower calorie vegetables like tomatoes or broccoli. A recent analysis of 21 trials found that when total calories were the same, people eating a half to three-quarters cup (cooked) pulses daily maintained almost a pound less weight in trials that aimed for weight maintenance. In trials that cut calories for weight loss, the bean-eating groups lost about four pounds more than those getting no pulses. Note that in these research studies, there was an average follow-up of only six weeks. And pulses' weight advantage came when comparing groups whose total calorie was the same. Chickpeas, dried beans and other pulses have about 115 calories per 1/2 cup serving. Here's the double benefit: health risks associated with overweight and obesity (high levels of blood sugar, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure) seem to improve when people consume pulses frequently, and this can happen even without weight loss. Try beans as a replacement for some or all of refined grains like white rice in a casserole, soup or tortilla dish. Use beans to replace meat in chili. Substitute dried beans for higher calorie foods rather than just adding them to your current diet. Add beans to a green salad, or serve a bean and vegetable side dish instead of having white bread or rolls or a sugary gelatin side dish. - American Institute for Cancer Research.
If you're looking for something new to take to the office for lunch, try this Asian Chicken Wrap. It's from the So Easy cookbook by Registered Dietitian Ellie Krieger. The wrap has a yogurt-based sesame sauce, crunchy veggies and chicken and weighs in at 380 calories.
Asian Chicken Wrap
3 tablespoons plain Greek-style nonfat yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon Thai-style chili sauce, such as Sriracha
12 napa cabbage leaves, white center ribs removed
4 whole-wheat wrap breads
4 cooked chicken breast halves (about 5 ounces each, sliced into 1/2-inth-thick slices
1 red bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
To make the sauce, combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, brown sugar, soy sauce, mustard, sesame oil and chili sauce and stir until well blended. The sauce will keep up to 5 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. To make each wrap, place 2 cabbage leaves on 1 wrap bread, then layer with a quarter of the chicken and peppers. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the sauce. Top with an additional cabbage leaf. Fold the bread about an inch over each end of the filling, then roll up. Serve or wrap in foil to go. Makes 4 servings; serving size: 1 wrap.
Per serving: 380 calories, 35 g protein, 29 g carbohydrate, 12 g fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber, 420 mg sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.