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Lifestyle habits dramatically cut heart disease, cancer

In 2018 Harvard’s School of Public Heath analyzed data from the CDC and two long-term population studies. They found people who practiced five specific lifestyle habits dramatically reduced their risks of heart disease and cancer compared with those who did none of them. The healthy participants

  • Ate a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and unsaturated fatty acids, and low in red and processed meats, sugary drinks, trans fats, and sodium
  • Did not smoke
  • Got at least three-and-a half hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week
  • Drank only moderate amounts of alcohol (at most one drink for women; two or less for men)
  • Maintained a healthy body mass index in the range of 18.5 to 24.9

The researchers found that practicing all five habits from age 50 onward extended life by more than a decade. Women who didn’t adopt any of the habits lived to 79 while those who did all five lived to 93. Men who did not practice the five habits lived to 75 on average while those that did lived to nearly 88.

Rethinking cardio exercise

Standard exercise guidelines call for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. But many people have trouble reaching this mark, either they just don’t enjoy it or they have physical or medical issues that make it a challenge. Then there’s the time involved.

The latest advice from Harvard Health is to try breaking down the 2.5 hours into two or three 10-minute daily segments. Then change your perception of “moderate intensity.” Any kind of exercise that gets your heart rate up, speeds up your breathing and makes you sweat a little counts as aerobic exercise. Here are some examples:

  • Brisk walking – Swing your arms and take deep breaths.
  • Stair climbing – Set a timer for about 10 minutes and go up and down at a casual pace.
  • Marching in place – Bend your elbows and swing your arms as you lift your knees as high as possible. Try 50 steps at a time, rest and repeat.
  • Household chores – mowing, raking digging and planting, washing the car and vacuuming count and can add up.
  • Weight training exercises in a circuit fashion can elevate the heart rate enough to provide cardio benefit.
  • Different movements – dancing, hiking, pickleball can all qualify if done with enough effort.

What about plant-based milks?

New guidelines just released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can help consumers better understand nutritional differences between plant-based and dairy milks, according to Melissa Wright, director of the Food Producer Technical Assistant Network at Virginia Tech University.

“While plant-based beverages might contain as much protein as dairy milk, the key piece of information that consumers don’t always know is that not all protein is equal when it comes to human digestion,” she says.

The major components making up carbohydrates in plant-based milks are fiber and sugar. Dairy milks have no fiber, so all the carbohydrates come from sugars. The new nutrition facts panel on these beverages will now distinguish between natural sugars (lactose in milk) and added sugars (like cane sugar added to plant-based milks).

Wright advises that adults 50 and older should know that switching to plant-based milk will introduce more added sugars into their diet. John Schieszer produces The Medical Minute. 

Supplements to prevent heart disease and cancer not justified

The U.S Preventive Services Task Force recently announced that there was insufficient evidence for using most vitamin and mineral supplements to prevent heart disease and cancer in most healthy adults. The task force also recommended against using vitamin E or beta carotene to prevent heart disease or cancer. In high-risk people such as smokers, these supplements could increase the risks of lung cancer or of dying from heart disease or a stroke.

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