Everybody Needs TLC

Recently, I visited a friend’s office before we met for lunch. I couldn’t help but notice the co-workers who were either on their way to or returning from lunch. Many had large, colorful bags filled with fast food in one hand and huge plastic cups of soda in the other. I sat there for 10 minutes watching this sample of America pass by. I found myself in a daze until two people caught my eye. They were the only people who were not overweight. What does that say about our country’s overweight problem? Each of us is responsible for making the choice to eat healthy and exercise. The results of these choices manifest themselves in different ways. Everyone knows of someone who eats donuts for breakfast, pizza for lunch and nachos for dinner, yet never seems to gain weight. However, appearances can be deceiving, even when it comes to good health. No matter how fat or thin you are, your diet and activity level plays a large part in determining your risk for what is known as metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of medical disorders, which increases your risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. However, excepting major inheritable problems, an errant lifestyle is responsible for the majority of lipid and metabolic disorders. Therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC) can not only improve the lipid, glucose and weight measurables, which indicate a risk for metabolic syndrome; they also prevent the associated diseases, which take far too many lives each year.

In a three-year study conducted by the Diabetes Prevention Program, participants at risk for developing diabetes lost an average of 8.8 pounds (I know what you’re thinking, “THAT’S ALL?” - Read further!), yet new onset diabetes was reduced 58 percent. Those over the age of 60 cut their risk by more than 70 percent. This remarkable outcome was achieved with modest dietary changes and about 1000 calories worth of exercise a week. This study did not measure the changes in body composition and waist size, which inevitably follow regular exercise and improvements in diet.

A 2008 Australian study did measure the changes in waist circumference and body fat of 78 children over the course of eight weeks. The children performed two sets of 11 resistance exercises twice a week. With no controlled changes to diet or prescription for other exercise, the waist sizes and total fat mass of the children dropped. The children’s risk for developing diabetes also fell because their insulin sensitivity improved.

Another notable example of the effectiveness of TLC is the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) trial, which significantly lowered the blood pressure of participants in just three weeks. Using changes in diet alone, the 459 adults reduced their consumption of saturated fats, red meat and refined sugar and ate more fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. When protein intake was increased with the inclusion of more poultry, fish and nuts, even greater gains resulted.

Beyond blood pressure and other benchmark numbers such as HDL and LDL cholesterol, The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in 2002, which demonstrated a sometimes-overlooked value of even moderate exercise. Participants walked approximately 12 miles a week at 40 to 55 percent of their aerobic capacity. At the end of the study, LDL particle concentration was significantly reduced, although the conventional lipid profiles did not change. This is not to mention improved artery function, which comes with regular exercise. In other words, you just helped your heart with that 30 minute walk.

Collectively, these studies and the more than 175 other TLC efficacy trials published since 2000, indicate a healthy diet and regular exercise lower your risk of developing a host of debilitating and often deadly diseases.

The only question is: What’s for lunch, a turkey sandwich and a walk, or a burger from the drive-through?