Live smart: reduce the risk of chronic diseases

Most health problems don’t start with one single event in our lives – they are usually the result of a combination of factors; therefore, smart living patterns may protect us from a variety of chronic conditions.

The risk factors of chronic diseases are similar for many health problems; therefore smart living patterns can protect us from a variety of chronic conditions. Here are some ways that the development of illnesses may be prevented or delayed:

Balancing the calories we eat and the physical activity we get in order to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight is important. The best approach to weight management consists of two simple parts:

  1. Stay physically active, with 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
  2. Avoid eating more calories than our body uses each day. (Generally this is anywhere from 1600-2400 calories each day for women, and 2000-3000 calories each day for men, depending upon activity level; less if we want to lose weight.)

Be physically active; it does more than just manage our weight. Physical activity may help prevent against diseases by affecting our hormone levels and helping stimulate the colon to eliminate waste. Regular physical activity is linked to lower risks of several types of cancers.

Enjoy a variety of plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains each day. Fiber-rich plant-based foods contain a complex mix of disease-fighting nutrients and phytonutrients (plant compounds which are thought to have health-protecting qualities).

Eat vegetables and fruits! They are comprised of vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. What’s more is that they are low in fat.

Watch the amount of fat you consume. To maintain the best health it is important to limit our intake of saturated fat, trans-fat and cholesterol by choosing lean meats or meat alternatives (plant-based proteins such as soy and other legumes, and fish at least twice a week), and by selecting fat-free, 1% fat or low-fat dairy products or their soy, rice or almond milk equivalents. Don’t forget to read the product label for fat and other nutritional information.

Choose and prepare foods with little or no salt. There’s a direct link between sodium intake and increased high blood pressure. And high blood pressure (also known as “hypertension”) is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and other conditions.

Don’t forget the whole grains. Besides giving us the fiber that our bodies need to stay “regular” (less constipation, fewer hemorrhoids and a reduced chance of diverticulosis), whole grains are loaded with phytonutrients and some key vitamins and minerals that offer a wide range of health-promoting benefits. Look for the word “whole wheat” or “cracked wheat” on bread, cracker and pasta labels; some other whole grains are buckwheat, brown rice, bulgur, hominy, millet, popcorn, quinoa, whole oats and oatmeal, wheat berries, whole (not pearl) barley and whole rye.

Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all. What’s “moderation?” It’s up to one drink a day for women and two for men. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Make your life a non-smoking zone. In addition to being linked to cancer, smoking also lowers our blood levels of some protective nutrients.

The United State Department of Agriculture offers a food guidance system called MyPlate, which just turned one year old! Visit the My Plate website to learn more about healthy eating, weight management, and physical activity, as well as to use their interactive Super Tracker and other cool tools to help you plan, analyze and track your food and physical activity!

For more information on nutrition, disease prevention, classes of interest to people living with diabetes or other chronic conditions, and other issues of interest to Michigan families, please see the Food and Health section of this website or contact a Michigan State University (MSU) Extension educator in your area.

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