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We all want to be healthy. Andrew Cate reviews six studies that teach us about healthy living. Why not take just one idea and run with it?

Every new day science releases findings in the fields of food, fitness, and fat loss. But how do we know which are important, and how do we prioritize to help improve our health and quality of life?

1. Take 10,000 steps a day

A recent study has looked at what would happen to overweight, inactive people if they accumulated 10,000 steps daily for eight weeks. The results were astounding, including lowered blood pressure and improved glucose tolerance. Improved glucose tolerance reduces the need for insulin, which helps prevent fat storage short term and diabetes long term. What’s more, using a pedometer to measure steps increased daily activity levels by 85 percent.

Pedometers motivate you to become more active by giving feedback, tracking your incidental movement in addition to planned exercise. It’s a challenge to reach the 10,000, but small changes to your routine make a big difference.

Six Ways to Supercharge Your Health

by Andrew Cate
From the January 2007 Signs  

Include movement in your day, such as standing while talking on the phone, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or by walking to the next office rather than e-mailing, or going for a short walk on your break. That way, you can accumulate little bits of activity throughout the day.

Inactivity warning

If you have been inactive for some time, build up your number of steps gradually. It may be worth visiting your doctor before starting an exercise program.

2. Exercise—don’t think it, just do it

When contemplating what you might do for exercise, a new study suggests the best strategy is to get into it right away rather than thinking about it first.

The study examined people’s thoughts about exercise and their degree of participation in physical activity. The most important strategy used by people who were physical active on a regular basis was to begin exercising rather than talking to themselves about it first. According to the researchers, thinking about it undermines your resolve.

An important factor was if the self-talk was either negative or positive. Those who told themselves to focus on the benefits were the most active. They tended to be middle-aged women who were self-motivated and didn’t depend on anyone else to make them exercise.

Middle-aged men, on the other hand, were less self-motivated, often saying things like, “I should be doing this,” or, “I can’t do this.” Telling themselves they didn’t want to exercise resulted in lower levels of participation. Men who questioned the benefit of exercise at their age were least likely to be active.

While a pre-match psych-up might work for elite athletes, noncompetitive adults are better off just to start in.

3. Dark chocolate a healthier choice

In what can only be described as great news for chocoholics, researchers have discovered that people who eat dark chocolate may reduce their risk of heart disease and deep vein thrombosis.

Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids, which raise the level of antioxidants in the blood and help counteract free radical damage. This protects the cardiovascular system by reducing the risk of blood clotting and dilating vessels, which allows a better flow of blood.

Other studies show that flavonoids have antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiallergenic, and antiviral properties.

The flavonoids in chocolate were identified as fast acting and appeared to give the same blood-thinning benefits as aspirin, which could help reduce the incidence of deep vein thrombosis.

Dark chocolate has been shown to contain twice the levels of antioxidants of milk chocolate, while white chocolate contains no antioxidants. Although the exact reason for this is unclear, it may be that milk interferes with the absorption of antioxidants from chocolate.

Dark chocolate is high in fat and calories, so it’s not ideal for your waistline. Obviously, you would still get more nutrients by eating fruits and vegetables. But dark chocolate is concentrated in flavor, so it’s easy to savor and keep your portion sizes small.

4. Weight loss for arthritis

Survey findings have revealed that people with knee, foot, and ankle problems tend to weigh more than people who don’t. Being overweight, particularly the extra load from excess body fat on the knee joint, is linked to the early development of arthritis, which is common in older people. It seems that if you gain weight, your knees, feet, and ankles will suffer the consequences.

However, losing just two pounds of body weight reduces by four pounds the load placed on the knee joints. If someone takes 10,000 steps a day (now recommended for weight loss), that would equal 88,000 pounds less compression weight on your knees each day!

Losing weight has been shown to reduce arthritic knee symptoms and help to slow its progression. One study showed the improvement from weight loss was even more effective than some drug treatments, such as paracetamol, and without the known side effects of anti-inflammatories.

People with arthritis face a difficult situation in that exercise may cause pain, while inactivity leads to weight gain and more pain. The pain can interfere with everyday movement and functional capacity.

Fortunately, studies on people with arthritic knees who lose weight by dietary changes alone show similar benefits to people who lose weight through exercise. What is more, weight loss has other benefits, such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

5. Activity cuts Alzheimer’s risk

Staying active, both mentally and physically, may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, according to recent research. Alzheimer’s can progress slowly or quickly but always robs sufferers of their memory, and eventually their ability to care for themselves.

A new study found the odds of developing Alzheimer’s were nearly quadrupled in people who were less active between the ages of 20 and 60. This was true regardless of the type of activity, although spending time in intellectual pursuits appeared to be most beneficial. Another study found that people in midlife who exercised at least twice a week had about a 60 percent reduction in risk of suffering from dementia. Exercise included walking at least 10,000 steps, or five miles a day.

Top five ways to prevent Alzheimer’s

  1. Exercise regularly
  2. Maintain friendships and social connections
  3. Have a mentally challenging job or hobby
  4. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
  5. Stick to a healthy weight

The brain is an organ just like your heart, muscles, and lungs, and physical activity is also important to keep your brain healthy. The connection between exercise and mental health has been linked to an increased blood flow to the brain, which helps maintain healthy oxygen levels. Regular physical activity is also believed to stimulate nerve-cell regeneration and reduce the level of stress hormones such as cortisol, which are both associated with improved mental functioning.

6. Low GI diet better than low fat

When foods are digested and broken down, they are absorbed into your bloodstream at different rates. The glycemic index (GI) ranks foods on their ability to raise blood-glucose levels. It’s helpful to know the speed of glucose release and absorption because of the hormone insulin. The body releases insulin to control and store glucose, helping reduce blood-glucose levels. Important for weight control, insulin triggers your body to store fat. Foods that release glucose slowly (low GI foods) trigger little insulin release, while foods that release glucose quickly (high GI foods) trigger a strong insulin response. Low GI foods are more filling, providing sustained energy.

The GI classifies carbohydrates more accurately than calling them simple or complex. For example, white rice (once thought of as a complex carbohydrate) is absorbed faster than honey (previously known as a simple carbohydrate).

More than just another food fad, a low GI diet has been hailed by nutritionists as an effective path to long-term fat loss. Research shows that low GI diets can be more effective than low-fat diets for weight control, because they are easier to stick to.

While it can be difficult to keep low-fat eating palatable and interesting over the long term, a low GI diet encourages you to eat “good” fats, such as avocado, and olive oil, which add taste and flavor.

Low GI foods

  • Apples, oranges, pears, peaches
  • Beans, peas, lentils
    (also known as pulses or legumes)
  • Whole grain pasta
    (all types made from durum wheat)
  • Barley and oatmeal