Q: How important is diet and exercise for your overall well-being?
Having a healthy diet and exercising regularly can lower the risks of getting cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, arthritis as well as certain types of cancer. Routine exercise lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, controls weight and regulates sleep — all factors in decreasing the risk of disease. Working out also contributes to positive mental health by stimulating the release of chemicals called endorphins, which trigger feelings of positivity and happiness (and reduce the perception of pain and stress).
Q: Which is better for weight loss: decreasing calories or increasing exercise?
Cutting calories seems to be more effective at promoting weight loss than exercise. But it’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily mean it will help you keep off the weight. Studies show that crash dieting or being highly restrictive of calories eventually leads to quicker weight gain. Also, people who regularly exercise end up losing weight and keep it off over the long term. So your best bet is to do a combination both — cut calories through diet and burn calories through physical activity.
Q: How should you choose a diet?
Individual dietary needs differ, so any lifestyle changes should be chosen after consulting with a healthcare provider. Before starting any diet, you should also consider your current health condition and fitness goals.
Fortunately, there are many diets to choose from. Three of the more popular ones include the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), ketogenic (keto) and vegan diets. DASH focuses on decreasing your overall sodium intake and has been used to treat or prevent high blood pressure. With keto, you consume low-carb foods rich in healthy fats. This diet can be effective for weight loss, but is very restrictive. While it can also benefit those with diabetes or epilepsy, it may not be safe when used long term. Meanwhile, a vegan diet excludes all animal products, and when well-planned may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
Q: How often should you exercise?
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourages adults to move more and sit less throughout the day. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits. For increased health benefits, adults should engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
Intensity can be measured in different ways but generally can be determined using the talk test. As a rule of thumb, a person doing moderate-intensity aerobic activity can talk, but not sing, during the activity. A person doing vigorous-intensity activity can’t say more than a few words without pausing for a breath. Examples of moderate aerobic activities include brisk walking, water aerobics, line dancing and recreational swimming. Vigorous aerobic activities include running, tennis, jumping rope and exercise classes like kickboxing.
In addition to aerobic exercise, adults should perform muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week, such as lifting weights or bodyweight exercises, like push-ups and squats.
Before starting any exercise program, consult with a healthcare provider to make sure it will be appropriate for your individual needs including any health conditions you may have.
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