Benefit to improving diet and exercise at the same time …

Posted: October 1, 2017 at 7:46 am

When you decide its time to live a healthier lifestyle, youre likely to get better long-term results if you start improving your diet and increasing physical activity at the same time.

It may seem better to improve just one thing at a time. But while you dont have to make drastic changes overnight, a new study suggests that its best to begin by bettering both your nutrition and your activity level.

This gives me hope that making two changes at the same time can work, says Kathy McManus, director of the nutrition department at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Womens Hospital.

The study, from Stanford University researcher Abby King and colleagues, enrolled 200 people over age 44 whose diets and physical-activity levels were well below healthy standards. They were hoping to improve their lifestyles, but were not specifically trying to lose weight.

Study participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups:

For all groups, the exercise goal was to increase moderate-to-vigorous physical activity to 150 minutes (two and a half hours) each week. The diet goal was to get five to nine daily servings of fruits and vegetables and to reduce saturated fats to 10% of total calories consumed.

What happened? The control group met none of these goals. Those in the diet-first group met their dietary goals. Those in the exercise-first group met their activity goal. But only those in the simultaneous group met both goals.

On the other hand, nobody lost significant weight. Many of us are trying to do that, also, McManus says. We dont know how this would play out if the focus of lifestyle change were on weight loss.

Lifestyle change is very hard to do by oneself. Most people need counseling and encouragement. McManus praises the Stanford study for providing much-needed data on how healthcare providers can help people achieve lifestyle change. However, she notes that every individual has his or her own lifestyle and needs an individualized approach to changing it.

The patient is really the expert in his or her own self-change. We are experts in medicine, but patients are experts on their own behavior, McManus says. We elicit dialog around that, building on any successful changes theyve made in the past. And we develop connections about what matters to them and why it matters, understanding and empathizing with what they will miss if they leave out, say, the high-sodium snacks theyve been eating.

It doesnt work merely to tell people what they must do, what they need to do, or what they should do.

We use phrases such as, Other folks have found, Some have benefitted from, and You might consider, she says. Once patients feel listened to they are more open to what you have to say.

Over time, McManus says, people place more importance on healthy behaviors and become more confident in their ability to make changes.

Without confidence, behavior change chances are slim, she says. We go from that, to where the individual is driving his or her own intervention and behavior change.

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