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Should we concentrate on ensuring that our bodies are in tip top physical condition or aim to be as thin and shapely as possible? Is physical fitness more important than body weight? The latest research confirms that robust physical health matters more than being super skinny and that some very thin women may still be at risk for significant health problems.

According to a report in the British Medical Journal, doing battle with excess kilos doesn’t guarantee better health. For most people it is natural to have a few curves; this does not mean we are “fat” or unhealthy. It’s the amount of physical exercise that we do that is the key to our health, not our dress size.

The chronic physical inactivity that plagues so many people is linked to several serious “lifestyle” diseases. Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease are all linked to unhealthy choices in food and activity level. The heart is a muscular organ and needs to be exercised to stay strong just like all our other muscles. You can be very thin and follow a good diet, but if the heart isn’t trained, your health is in jeopardy.

If you are overweight and fit, you may outlive a thin or normal-weight person who has a low level of cardiovascular fitness. So our body weight has less to do with longevity and health than the diet gurus would have us believe.

How Fit is Fit?

Physical fitness can be measured using accelerometers and these reveal that most people don’t exercise nearly enough to stay healthy. If you’re 25-45 years old you should be able to run or cycle non-stop for 20 minutes and walk quickly up six flights of stairs without pause. Anything less and you’re considered unfit, or so says Gavin Sandercock of the University of Essex. BMI (Body Mass Index) and body weight don’t really matter; fitness is the key to health.

This doesn’t mean that being overweight is healthy, just that being slightly overweight and fit can still be considered physically fit and healthy. Very slim people can hide layers of internal fat and high cholesterol. Normal weight is ideal, but even more important is paying attention to training our heart and lungs to optimal fitness levels. Of course, being very overweight or obese is not healthy and should never be encouraged.

Stress, poor diet and obesity all lead to health conditions that take years off your life. Most indicative of poor condition is the amount of belly fat we carry. This is a risk factor independent of diet and exercise and has even been linked to an increased risk of cancer. When somebody is overweight their risk of heart disease increases by 20% but underweight people are an incredible 60% more at risk.

Measuring our waistlines may be more useful than BMI calculations. Women’s waists should measure 32 inches, men’s less than 37 inches. Concentrate on these rather than BMI measurements when determining which fitness program is best for you.

Make lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity (take up a sport or start running and do aerobics), eat less fatty meat and full-fat dairy produce, don’t smoke and drink moderately. This gives you the best chance of cheating the mirror and beating Father Time at his own game. Staying healthy is a choice, so forget about how much you weigh and choose a strong, healthy heart that goes the distance instead.

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The “Boost Your Mood” Food Guide

By Amanda Gia Johnson

The key to staying as healthy as possible is lowered inflammation, healthy weight maintenance, and not being overrun by negative stress and depression. The following foods have the key elements to accomplish those goals and also improve the quality of life.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Inflammation in the body is defined as experiencing disturbed function. Disturbed function in the body leads to disease and diminishes quality of life. If the inflammation or improper function can be prevented, diseases can be cut off at the pass and avoided altogether.

1. Tart Cherry

Cherries are full of unique anthocyanins and other compounds that naturally mediate the inflammation in the body. These and some other deeply colored berries, fruits, and vegetables contain nutrients that combat inflammation. While all cherries pack an anti-inflammatory punch, tart cherries contain higher levels of the flavonoid anthocyanin.

2. Cruciferous Vegetables

Your mom was right to make you eat your Brussels sprouts! Cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower reign supreme with cutting down inflammation. There is a clear cut difference between inflammation levels in individuals who consume cruciferous vegetables regularly as opposed to those who do not.

3. Legumes

Chronic inflammation is one of the leading causes of cancer. Legumes, most specifically lentils, are the superheroes of cancer prevention. They have an abundance of phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. One of the most important nutrients of all legumes is dietary fiber. The presence of fiber in all legumes is one of the essential nutrients to combat inflammation.

4. Green Tomatoes

Not to be eaten raw due to toxic compounds, cooked green tomatoes are vitamin and mineral dense. These nutrients ward off cell degeneration which occurs with time and sedentary lifestyles. They are great post workout foods because the active, valuable compound tomatidine is a muscle builder. Muscle atrophy occurs naturally with aging. Cooked green tomatoes’ tomatidine works against that process extending your life.

Healthy Weight Maintenance

One of the keys to maintaining a healthy weight is eating nutrient dense foods that will keep you fuller for longer periods of time. Protein and inflammation fighting fiber are the nutrients that have many health benefits and will keep hunger pangs at bay. Swapping out high saturated fats for healthy unsaturated fats will also help with maintaining a healthy weight.

5. Olive & Olive Oil

This antioxidant super food fights and prevents cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and the list goes on. It combats obesity despite its high caloric content. Instead of butter and margarine which lack nutrients, use olive oil which is rich in phenolic antioxidants. These antioxidants are also found in honey, the majority of legumes, berries, cruciferous veggies, green tea, onions, chocolate, red wine, among others. These antioxidants combat inflammation as well. The monounsaturated fat content in olives and olive oil has been found to enhance the body’s breakdown of stored fat equaling weight loss!

6. Whole Grains like Quinoa, Freekah and Teff

With these exotic whole grains, your palette and your hunger will be satisfied. Along with being high in hunger fighting protein, these grains are known for controlling and preventing diseases such as diabetes, certain colorectal cancers, and macular degeneration. You’ll live longer and will be able to see which is a bonus! Replacing wheat with freekah and teff will give you immediate benefits. Substituting rice with quinoa is a smart move. These grains are clear examples that all carbs are not bad

7. Wild Caught Alaskan Salmon

This omega-3 fatty acid rich fish also is high in protein and other beneficial amino acids. Any protein that provides good fats and is low in bad fats is an ideal staple to any diet.

Mood Boosters

Depression is caused by imbalances in brain chemicals especially serotonin and dopamine. There are various triggers such as substance abuse, emotional trauma, vitamin deficiency, and physical diseases that can negatively impact this balance. Strategically including the following foods to your diet will increase key brain chemicals that boost your mood and thwarts the imbalances that cause the doldrums that shorten lifespan and make it unbearable to boot.

8. Shell Fish

Vitamin B12 and zinc are immediate mood boosters and are found in most shellfish such as clams and oysters. Vitamin B12 is used by the brain to make dopamine and serotonin which are the “happy” chemicals. Zinc is present in brain cells and helps create new brain cells.

9. Walnuts

Walnuts are a Super Food that provides alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is necessary for proper levels of dopamine and serotonin. Proper levels of ALA also prevent inflammation.

10. Coffee (in moderation)

Caffeine sometimes has a bad reputation, but that is when used in excess. Coffee has beneficial health effects, but as it pertains to mood, caffeine stimulates the production of dopamine and serotonin.

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