Nutrition and Health
Nutritious eating can be defined as the act of consuming foods that have the right amount of essential ingredients to keep our bodies working at their very best. Foods provide the wide array of vitamins, minerals, protein, starches, and fats needed for:
- growth and development
- tissue repair
- a strong immune system
- proper working of our GI track
- optimal brain function
Nutritional requirements vary based on our individual status:
- physical activity level
Nutritional needs change as we go through each stage of the lifecycle, from preconception through old age. Various tools and guidelines have been developed to aid us in understanding how to meet our needs. (A good place to start is the USDA's choosemyplate.org site.) Some guidelines are directed at the prevention or control of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, but all have the same foundation:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- whole grains, breads, and cereals
- legumes, nuts, and seeds
- moderate amounts of low fat dairy, fish, poultry and lean meats
It is important to evaluate the nutrition quality of our food intake because we now know that nutritious foods can be our best medicine for promoting a long and healthy lifespan.
In America, we are a nation of plenty. Although hunger and food insecurity continue to be a problem for many disadvantaged groups which cannot be overlooked, more health problems have recently been attributed to an excess of calories, fats, and protein, and a lack of physical activity. For instance:
Type 2 Diabetes
Balancing our food intake with the amount of energy we burn off through physical activity must be a priority if we are to halt the epidemic of obesity that is being seen throughout our country. Moreover, obesity is growing rapidly in our youth, which is leading to staggering rates of Type 2 Diabetes, a condition once only associated with middle age.
The good news is that you can improve your health and fitness level at any weight by taking small steps to eat healthier and increase the amount of physical activity you and your family get each day.
Parents need to set the example for their children by creating a healthy environment that includes nutritious foods and fun physical activity. Studies have shown that kids most often eat the same why their parent's eat. It is important that we give our children consistent messages by role modeling good health practices.
Seniors need to aid in the prevention or control of various diseases by leading a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a healthy weight. As we age, our risk disease increases as our body's ability to absorb nutrients decreases. Overweight and obesity only increase those risks further. Seniors will need to eat foods that contain high levels of vitamin and minerals while keeping calories moderate to compensate for the changes that occur throughout the aging process.
At any age or weight, you can maintain and even increase your muscle mass through healthy eating and proper physical activity, especially resistance exercises (i.e. free weights; resistance bands). Functional abilities such as walking, grasping, and even dancing, have been maintained and enhanced and the quality of life has been improved through increased movement and eating the right foods.
Physical Activity and Health
America is currently facing a national health crisis. A serious lack of physical activity, along with poor food choices and over-eating, has made U.S.citizens both fat and very out-of-shape.
Our nation's level of overweight and obesity in adults increased from approximately 47% back in 1976, to 61% in 1999. Currently 68% of our nation's adults are considered overweight or obese (2007-2008).
In children and adolescents, the incidence of overweight and obesity during the same time frame nearly doubled, and continues to grow. Currently 17% of our nations children and adolescents aged 2-19 are obese (2007-2008).
Chronic diseases associated with obesity are increasing including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, the negative effects of prolonged distress in our lifestyles, and tobacco-related illness.
A recent study estimated annual medical spending due to overweight and obesity (BMI > 25) to be as much as $92.6 billion in 2002 dollars (9.1 percent of U.S. health expenditures).
A further look at the numbers reveals that within obese adults:
Approximately 80% of obese individuals currently experience high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and/or other related medical conditions.
Amongst our nation's youth, about 60% of children ages 5 - 10 years old identified as being overweight are beginning to exhibit early symptoms associated with heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
Physical activity is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages and abilities in reducing the incidence of chronic disease morbidity and mortality. There are no demographic or social groups anywhere who could not benefit from physical activity. No matter where you live, work, or play, people such as yourself can significantly improve their own health and the health of their community by helping themselves and others to become more physically active.
Only tobacco use contributes to more deaths than does sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits in the United States.
More than 60% of adults within the U.S. do not engage in the recommended amount of daily physical activity.
Approximately 25% of adults are not active at all.
Among adolescents and young adults, nearly half of youth ages 12 - 21 years are not vigorously active on a regular basis. About 14% of youth in this age group report no recent physical activity at all. In 2009, 18% of high school students had participated in at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity on each of the 7 days before the survey, and only 33% attended physical education class daily. Participation in physical activity declines as young people age. Current recommendations for youth (ages 6–17) are to participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily.
Older adults can also benefit from physical activity. It does not have to be strenuous in order to achieve health benefits. Loss of strength and stamina as we grow older is attributable in part to a reduction in physical activity. Inactivity increases with age. By age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity at all. Among adults age 65 and older, walking and gardening, or yard work, are by far, the most popular physical activities.
Benefits of Physical Activity
Regular physical activity that is performed on most days of the week reduces the risk of developing or dying from some of the leading causes of illness and death in the United States. Regular physical activity improves health in the following ways:
- Reduces the risk of dying prematurely
- Reduces the risk of dying prematurely from heart disease
- Reduces the risk of developing diabetes
- Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
- Helps reduce blood pressure in people who already have high blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of developing colon cancer
- Reduces feelings of depression and anxiety
- Helps control weight
- Helps builds and maintain healthy bones,muscles, and joints
- Helps older adults become stronger and better able to move about without falling
- Promotes psychological well-being