Over the last few decades, obesity rates have increased dramatically. Along with this increase, we have also seen significant increases in chronic diseases, such as high blood sugar (type 2 diabetes), and heart disease. This is not by coincidence, but rather by correlation. Externally, we see weight gain, particularly in the abdomen, termed central obesity. Internally, metabolic changes occur that promotes the development of Metabolic Syndrome which includes insulin resistance (high blood sugar), hypertension (high blood pressure), and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol). It is important to distinguish that the health issues are not with body weight itself, as there are individuals who are traditionally diagnosed with obesity and have optimal metabolic health. Rather it is with the metabolic changes that lead to poorer health outcomes, such as stroke, and liver damage, to name a few. Additionally, these changes perpetuate each other creating a feedback loop of dysfunction and ultimately, if left unchecked, destruction.
It then, makes sense that in order to regain health, we must address the cause of these metabolic changes. What, then, is the root cause for the rise in obesity and chronic diseases? These maladaptive changes occur largely due to our increased sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. With modern technology, our society has evolved to one that utilizes mainly a computer and desk, and this lack of activity promotes disease formation. Additionally, in order to keep up with the fast-paced life, we have turned to processed foods that are quick, but not the most nutritious. Our goal then, is to correct these before irreversible damage has occurred to the organs.
To improve health outcomes, we must work on building a firm foundation of health. This foundation consists of healthy diet and lifestyle. This includes proper nutrition (including hydration), exercise, adequate sleep, and stress management. In order to rebuild health, we must first eliminate any obstacles to cure. This includes excess sugar in the diet as many Americans are significantly over the recommended sugar intake, which according to the American Heart Association is no more than 25g for females, and 37.5g for males. One of the biggest culprits of excess sugar is soda, because on average it has 39 grams of sugar per 12oz. Sugar is extremely inflammatory, feeds infection, and even degrades your joints. By eliminating sugar, we are decreasing systemic inflammation which allows for healing to occur.
While continuing to eliminate obstacles to cure, improving diet is imperative. We are literally what we eat, which means just like in our cars, if we put bad fuel in, we get bad performance, but if we put good fuel in, we get good performance. It therefore, makes sense to ensure We must replace processed foods, for a whole foods, plant based diet. This means eating meals from whole ingredients that we can easily recognize, and not a list of unpronounceable chemicals and additives. Eat more whole foods, and less food that comes in a box.
Additionally, we must move our bodies. The human body was designed for movement. When we do not use a muscle it literally wastes away, or atrophies. By working long hours in front of a computer, our body adapts to a different posture that promotes dysfunction and pain. We overuse our chest muscles and underuse our back muscles, and this muscle imbalances often lead to chronic neck and back pain. Several studies have shown that that exercise improves mood, sleep, metabolism, pain levels, and much more. Exercise decreases inflammation, improves insulin resistance and thereby metabolism, and enhances the immune system. Exercise improves bone density and longevity. Overall, exercise promotes health.
Besides good food and exercise, our health is dependent on our levels of stress. Chronic stress is harmful to the body, as it promotes inflammation and forces our body into a semi-permanent state of survivor mode. With stress, our fight-or-flight nervous system gets activated, and shunts the body’s resources into only those necessary for survival, mainly muscles. So with chronic stress, our immune system, digestive system, and reproductive systems get put on a long hold. This then leads to a host of other ailments. In order to diminish this, stress management becomes imperative. Having a moment of relaxation allows that body to go back into a more restorative and healing state. Stress management comes in many forms, and for some it looks like meditation, exercise, deep breathing, or time in nature. Whatever it is for you, the most important thing is to do it regularly.
With obesity rates continuing to rise in all communities, it is important to be aware of its associated metabolic changes and risk factors. In order to improve our own health outcomes, we must put our health in our own hands— and it starts with regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle: Eat real food, drink more water, and get enough sleep.