Eating More Veggies And Doing More Exercise Works Wonders

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A new Northwestern Medicine study reveals that just by simply spending less time on the sofa means not as much time is spent eating sweets. The study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, demonstrates that changing just one bad habit has a domino effect on others.

Cutting down on sedentary leisure time like watching TV automatically reduces the intake of junk food and saturated fats, doubling the benefits, as both behaviors are closely linked.

The results reveal that the most effective way to get back on track from a bad lifestyle is for individuals to change two major factors in their behavior; The first is reducing the time spent watching TV or in front of a computer, and the second is to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Leading author, Bonnie Spring, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine says:

“Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don’t get overwhelmed. Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits. This approach simplifies it.”

Following this simple strategy enables people to undertake big changes in their lives within a short period of time and also maintain them.

Spring decided to investigate the most effective approach to encourage people to change their unhealthy habits, such as consuming too much saturated fat and eating insufficient fruits and vegetables, as well as not being sufficiently physically active and spending too much sedentary leisure time.
The study
From 204 adult participants between the ages of 21 to 60 years who all led an unhealthy lifestyle, Spring and her team randomly assigned the participants to one of four treatments, i.e. increasing their fruit and vegetable intake and physical activity or decreasing fat consumption and sedentary leisure time, reducing fat intake and increasing physical activity, or increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption and reducing their sedentary leisure time.

During the 3-week treatment period, all participants were asked to enter their daily information into a personal digital assistant, uploading it to a coach who was available to them by telephone or email as required.

The participants were rewarded with a payment of $175 for meeting the goals during the three-week trial. After completion of the trial, the participants were no longer asked to maintain the lifestyle changes but to send data three days per month for six months in order to receive between $30 to $80 each month. Spring said: “We said we hope you’ll continue to keep up these healthy changes, but you no longer have to keep them up to be compensated.”

She continued: “We thought they’d do it while we were paying them, but the minute we stopped they’d go back to their bad habits. But they continued to maintain a large improvement in their health behaviors.”

The results revealed that the average servings of fruit and vegetables changed from 1.2 to 5.5 to 2.9 from the start of the trial to the end of the six-month follow-up, whilst the average minutes per day of sedentary leisure time reduced from 219.2 minutes to 89.3 minutes until the end of the 3-week trial to 125.7 after six months. The daily calories from saturated fat decreased from 12% to 9.4% after three weeks to 9.9% after six months.

86% of the participants stated that they tried to maintain the changes once they had made them and that eating more fruit and vegetables gave them the feeling that they would be capable of any of these changes