7 ways to be healthier in 2007
AN APPLE A DAY - AN APPLE A DAY By Tyrone M. Reyes, M.D. () - January 9, 2007 - 12:00am
Every year, researchers make progress in understan-ding the secrets to health and nutrition – and translating those findings into practical steps you can apply to your daily life. With that in mind, I reviewed some of the news highlights of the past year to extract seven of the best tips you can use in 2007. None of these ways to better health require a radical lifestyle change; these are simple, practical steps you can start taking today towards living healthier longer.

1. Start The Morning With Whole Grain Cereal

You’ve got lots of choices to add whole grains to your diet throughout the day, but recent research points to breakfast as a specially good place to start. Several studies have associated whole-grain consumption with a reduced risk of heart disease and with a slower progression of plaque buildup in the arteries of heart-disease patients. Researchers from Tufts University in Boston found that the progression of atherosclerosis was less in women who reported eating more than six servings of whole grains weekly. Cereal fibers seem to be a particularly potent source of this protection. Women who start the day with a breakfast cereal are also less likely to be overweight than those who skip breakfast, according to a new study from the Michigan State University. Much the same result was found in a Maryland Medical Research Institute study of teenage girls who ate cereals for breakfast.

And what are whole grains? That’s whole wheat, whole rye, whole oats, whole corn, and whole barley. Also, brown rice, wild rice, sorghum, and others. (More on whole grains in a future article.)

2. Add 30 Minutes Of Exercise Per Week

Researchers continue to demolish your excuses for not exercising, or not exercising enough. Maybe you’ve heard that people with arthritis shouldn’t exercise, for instance. Researchers at Northwestern University debunked that myth: Just the opposite turns out to be true; in fact, older people with arthritis who exercise are less likely to develop physical limitations that hamper their daily lives. Before you exercise, however, consult a physiatrist (a specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation) on your best exercise options.

Can’t find time to exercise? A study from the Harvard School of Public Health even found that if you manage to exercise only on weekends, that’s still better than not exercising at all. Of course, the latest recommendation is a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise daily – and 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily to keep from gaining weight. But even if you can’t meet these guidelines, don’t let that discourage you from upping whatever level of physical activity you’re doing. Jeanne Goldberg, PhD, professor of nutrition at Tufts University in Boston, says, "Just because you can’t do as much as they recommend doesn’t mean you can’t set guidelines for yourself."

3. Drink Milk, But Make It Low-Fat

The jury’s still out on the dairy industry’s claims that milk facilitates weight loss, but there’s nonetheless plenty of evidence to back the new dietary guidelines’ recommendation of three servings of dairy products daily. You already know that low- or non-fat dairy products help you meet your need for calcium, which is essential for staving off osteoporosis. Eating and drinking your calcium, however, not popping a pill, is most effective.

Recent research suggests some surprising additional benefits from dairy consumption. Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, using data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, found an association between consumption of low-fat dairy products and reduced risk for men of developing adult-onset diabetes. And it’s not just the guys who are finding new reasons to drink milk: University of Massachusetts researchers, analyzing data on participants in the long-running Nurses’ Health Study, found that getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D may reduce women’s likelihood of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). One serving of dairy means eight ounces of milk or a cup of yogurt. But remember to make your dairy low-fat or fat-free: Drinking three glasses of whole milk daily instead of skim milk adds almost 200 calories and 14 grams of saturated fat, which can contribute to weight gain and higher levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

4. Add Vitamin D

Think of vitamin D as calcium’s partner. Vitamin D promotes the absorption of dietary calcium. You need an adequate vitamin D level to make use of the calcium. Research continues to support vitamin D’s importance in building bone strength against osteoporosis and the risk of fractures. Vitamin D may also improve muscle strength, reducing the risk of crippling falls in the elderly.

You may not be getting enough vitamin D, however. Although the RDA for older adults is between 400 and 600 International Units (IU) of vitamin D, Tufts research suggests you may actually need 700 to 800 IU to fully benefit. Unlike calcium, it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from dietary sources alone. (Note, for example, that yogurt, while a good source of calcium, doesn’t deliver the vitamin D benefit that milk does.) Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at Tufts, recommends combining inexpensive vitamin D supplements containing 400 IU with a multivitamin also containing 400 IU.

5. Eat More Fruits And Vegetables

Hardly a day goes by without more evidence that the produce and the frozen vegetable and fruit aisles are the healthiest sections of your grocery store. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, for example, analyzed data from more than 100,000 participants in two large, long-running studies. They confirmed that the participants who ate five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily had a decreased risk of heart disease. No wonder, then, that the new dietary guidelines recommend an admittedly daunting-sounding nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. But don’t be discouraged by that number. For fruits and vegetables, a serving is only a half-cup, so you should aim for two cups of fruits and two half cups of vegetables daily in a 2,000-calorie diet. That study on brightly colored produce should be a reminder to eat a "rainbow" of fruits and vegetables. In particular, eating a variety of colors is a good way to make sure you’re regularly sampling all five vegetable sub-groups – dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables, and other vegetables.

6. Switch Your Fats

Don’t get carried away by the FDA’s qualified claim for the heart-healthy benefits of olive oil. "Olive oil is not necessarily better than all other vegetable oils; the olive oil companies simply filed their petition first," cautions Alice Lichtenstein, director of Tufts’ Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory. But the olive oil endorsement should inspire you to switch from saturated animal fats to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated vegetable oils.

Keep in mind, though, that all fats are pretty much identical when it comes to calories – about 120 per tablespoon. So don’t add vegetable oil to your diet, substitute it for less-healthy fats. Aim for a diet moderate in total fat – 25 to 35 percent of your total caloric intake. Since that number can be hard to calculate day to day, use common sense, determine whether you are currently in calorie balance, and choose healthy fats. Stick to vegetable oils in food preparation and serving (such as in salad dressings), and minimize fats from dairy and meat.

7. Have Fish For Dinner

The evidence continues to mount that fish, particularly those rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and tuna, is good for your heart as well as your head. Among post-menopausal women diagnosed with coronary artery disease, those who ate more fish has a slower progression of plaque buildup in their arteries. As for your head, the latest evidence that fish consumption helps keep your brain sharp comes from a Rush University study of older Chicago residents over a six-year span: Those who ate fish twice a week showed a 13 percent slower annual decline in mental abilities. Adds Lichstenstein, "Eating fish twice a week is part of a healthy diet and it doesn’t have to be hard to do once you get in the habit."

None of these recommended research-based steps to a healthier you this year has to be hard, for that matter. So why not start the New Year right and be healthier in 2007?

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