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Global Statistics


Fight Disease with Diet and Exercise

“You are what you eat” may sound like a worn out cliché, but its truth becomes more evident every day. Add a little, “You are how much you move,” and you’ve got the formula for a healthier life: a sound diet and regular exercise. Study after study has found a connection between diet and exercise and ailments such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the leading killers of American men and women.

While the claims of some supplement manufacturers, including those who tout certain vitamins and minerals as anti-aging agents, are unsubstantiated, some nutrients have been shown to prevent certain diseases. Folic acid’s well-documented role during pregnancy in the prevention of neural tube defects is one example. Keep in mind, however, that good nutrition does not mean increasing your intake of certain “star” nutrients. The keys to a healthy diet are balance, variety and moderation (see Food Guide Pyramid).

Studies have also shown that regular aerobic exercise—rhythmic movement sustained for at least 20 minutes three times a week—improves the ability of your heart, lungs and blood vessels to use oxygen, thereby helping to prevent heart disease. Jogging, swimming, biking and cross-country skiing are all forms of aerobic exercise (see Heart Rate Target Zone).

Supplementing aerobic exercise with anaerobic, or isometric, muscle-strengthening and stretching exercises, such as weight lifting, weight-resistance and gymnastics, will help you keep going longer during your aerobic activities, lower your chances of injury and help protect you against certain bone diseases.

To illustrate the importance of a balanced diet and a regular exercise routine, here are a few examples of diseases that may be prevented or treated through both, with a description of how particular foods and exercises can help.

Heart Disease

DIET: If an artery becomes clogged, a heart attack can result. A diet low in animal fats and cholesterol (both of which can be found in meats, eggs and dairy products) can help prevent fatty build-up on artery walls. Try to limit your daily dietary cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams or less. (One egg yolk has 213 mg. and three oz. of cooked beef or chicken have 76 mg.)

• Fat should be limited to 30 percent of your daily caloric intake, with no more than 10 percent coming from saturated fats (found mostly in animal products and coconut and palm oils). Saturated fats raise blood levels of the “bad” cholesterol, or low density lipoproteins (LDLs), that can build up on artery walls. While polyunsaturated fats don’t pose the same risk, recent Harvard studies have questioned the role of hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as those used in margarine. Monounsaturated fats, the kind in olive oil, on the other hand, may actually lower LDL cholesterol. Until more is known, however, the key is moderation when it comes to fats of any kind.

• Soluble fiber (found in fruits, beans, vegetables and oats) lowers LDL cholesterol. Aim for 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day.

• Sodium may contribute to high blood pressure in some people. So it’s best to limit sodium to 3,000 mg a day (one teaspoon of salt contains about 2,000 mg of sodium).

• Vitamins A, C, and E, known as antioxidants, seem to offset some of the damage caused by heart-disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure and smoking. They may also increase levels of the “good,” or protective type of cholesterol, high density lipoproteins (HDLs), which carry cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, where it is eliminated from the body. Vitamin A is found in carrots, peaches, apricots, squash and broccoli. Vitamin C can be found in green and red peppers, citrus fruits and tomatoes. Good sources of Vitamin E include corn, soybean oil and nuts.

• Folic acid (found in dried beans, fortified cereals and dark leafy vegetables) can help correct a common metabolic abnormality that raises heart attack risk by more than three-fold. The current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for folic acid may be too low to ward off heart attacks, researchers say, but no new recommendations have been set.

• Excessive alcohol consumption can increase the level of some fats in the blood, raise blood pressure and cause heart failure or stroke. Moderate drinking, however, seems to pose no threat, and a drink or two a day may even have a protective effect by raising HDLs. (Note: This may increase risk of other diseases, see cancer and osteoporosis below). Limit your intake to 1 to 2 ounces of pure alcohol per day (1 ounce equals 8 oz. of wine or 24 oz. of beer).

EXERCISE: Being overweight puts an added burden on your heart, but regular exercise can help you maintain an appropriate weight.

• Regular aerobic exercise seems to significantly increase the “good” cholesterol and is associated with lower blood pressure.


DIET: Eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is associated with a reduced risk of cancers of the lung, prostate, bladder, esophagus, stomach and colon.

• A high-fat diet seems to increase the risk of developing cancers of the breast, colon and prostate.

• The antioxidant vitamins found in fruits and vegetables appear to offer protection against cancer by blocking the formation of carcinogens in the stomach, protecting DNA from damage caused by oxidation and enhancing the function of the immune system. It is still unclear, though, whether the protective benefits stem from the antioxidants themselves or some other property inherent in fruits and vegetables.

• Heavy drinkers of all types of alcoholic beverages are at increased risk of cancers of the oral cavity, larynx and esophagus. As little as a drink or two a day places a woman at increased risk of breast cancer.

EXERCISE: Exercise appears to increase blood levels of the body’s natural killer cells that fight off cancer cells. That may help explain why people who are physically fit have lower death rates from cancer.

• Exercise can lower estrogen levels in the blood, reducing the risk of breast cancer and other cancers of the reproductive tract in women.


DIET: A high sugar intake won’t cause diabetes in people who aren’t diabetic, but it will aggravate the condition of those who are.

• Soluble fiber (found primarily in fruits, vegetables and legumes) helps regulate blood glucose levels.

EXERCISE: Exercise can decrease the amount of insulin people with diabetes need.

• People at normal weight are much less likely to develop non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Exercise can help keep weight down.


DIET: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found primarily in cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, trout and tuna) keep the body from producing certain chemicals that cause painful inflammation in joints afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis. More studies are needed to determine if these oils are an effective and safe way to block inflammation.

EXERCISE: Exercises recommended by a doctor or physical therapist are an important part of arthritis treatment. Range-of-motion exercises, for example, which require moving a joint as far as it comfortably will go, increase and maintain joint mobility and decrease pain.


DIET: Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bones throughout one’s life, and in preventing osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease. Since estrogen plays a role, too, a woman’s calcium needs increase when estrogen production slows. Post-menopausal women need 1,500 mg of calcium a day. The best sources of calcium are low-fat dairy products (since fat inhibits calcium absorption), but it can also be found in broccoli, kale and sardines. However, to get the amount of calcium you’d get in one glass of skim milk (300 mg), you’d have to eat the equivalent of four cups of cooked broccoli.

• Vitamins D and C help promote calcium absorption. Vitamin D can be found in fortified milk, canned salmon and sardines. Sun exposure—just 10 to 15 minutes a day—is an excellent source, too. As with calcium, the need for Vitamin D increases with age.

• Caffeine increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine. Coffee drinkers can offset the loss by increasing their calcium intake.

• Regular alcohol consumption of as little as two to three ounces per day appears to be damaging to bones, even in relatively young to middle-aged men or women.

EXERCISE: Bones are constantly being broken down and reformed. Anaerobic, weight-bearing and weight-resistance exercise can help build bone when you’re young and prevent loss as you age, keeping bones from becoming porous, fragile and more prone to fracture. Inactivity speeds the loss of calcium.

Food Guide Pyramid

Traditionally, a balanced diet has been defined as one that includes foods from each of the four food major groups, placing equal emphasis on each. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture has now updated its thinking to correspond to the low-fat, high-fiber diet recommended by health experts to prevent disease. The resulting guide is more like a pyramid. The idea is to eat more of the foods on the bottom (grains, vegetables and fruits) and less of those toward the top (meats, dairy products, fats, oils and sweets). Next to each food group is a range of recommended daily servings: The highest numbers are for tall, active men; the lowest are for short, inactive women.

6) Fats, Oils & Sweets:
Use Sparingly

Limit calories from these, especially if you need to lose weight. Limit fat to 30% of your diet. Remember that 1 gram of fat has 9 calories

5) Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs & Nuts:
2–3 Servings

A serving equals: 2–3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish; 1/2 cup of cooked dry beans, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter count as 1 ounce of lean meat

4) Milk, Yogurt & Cheese:
2–3 Servings

A serving equals: 1 cup of milk or yogurt; 1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese; 2 ounces of processed cheese

3) Fruit:
2–4 Servings

A serving equals: 1 medium apple, banana, orange; 1/2 cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit; 3/4 cup of fruit juice

2) Vegetable:
3–5 Servings

A serving equals: 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables; 1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or chopped raw; 3/4 cup of vegetable juice vegetable juice

1) Bread, Cereal, Rice & Pasta:
6–11 Servings

A serving equals: 1 slice of bread; 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal; 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta

Heart Rate Target Zone

To benefit most from aerobic exercise, it is important to maintain your heart rate within the recommended target zone while you exercise. Your target zone is 60 to 75 percent of the maximum heart rate recommended for someone your age. Both are listed above. To see if you are within your target zone, take your pulse at intervals during exercise. Count your heart beats for 10 seconds and multiply by six.

Age (years)Heart Rate Target Zone (beats/minute)Average Maximum Heart Rate (beats/minute)
20120 – 150200
30114 – 142190
40108 – 135180
50102 – 127170
6096 – 120160
7090 – 113150

How Much Fat Is Too Much?

Excess body fat has been linked to illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Keep in mind that how much body fat you have has nothing to do with how much you weigh.

An easy self-test to help determine your fat quotient: Pinch and measure the fat folds at your waist and abdomen, making sure you’re not pinching muscle as well. If you can pinch an inch or more, chances are you have too much body fat. Other, more accurate tests are available through fitness facilities or your doctor. Experts recommend that women have about 20 percent body fat, men, 15 percent.

If you consume more calories than you burn off through physical activity, the extra calories get stored as fat. The caloric needs of an individual vary depending on height, weight, age and level of activity. General recommendations: 2,000 to 2,700 calories a day for men, 1,600 to 2,200 for women (pregnant and nursing women need to add 300 and 500 calories respectively).

Where those calories come from matters, too. Fats, for example, have more than twice the number of calories of proteins and carbohydrates—nine per fat gram—and fewer nutrients.

But remember, simply limiting your caloric intake, may only cause your body to burn muscle tissue. Add exercise to the equation to help ensure that your body uses stored fat rather than muscle for fuel.

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