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The Rewards of Physical Activity

Previous studies have shown that physical inactivity is one of the risk factors for ischemic stroke "in other words the type of stroke that results from restriction of blood supply to the brain and then may lead to brain function damage (American Heart Association; ). Among the African-American members in ARIC, physical activity related to mild sports was found to lower the odds of having an area in the brain blocked from its blood supply. This was studied using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain to scan for small lesions that had not been previously detected (full details in Dubbert PM and collaborators, Journal of Neurological Science 2009;284:135-9 ).

Another group of ARIC scientists observed that increases in physical activity significantly increased a person’s blood level of "good cholesterol" (HDL-cholesterol) regardless of their gender or race (full details in Monda KL and collaborators, Journal of Lipid Research 2009;50:1685-91 ). Having a lower odds of stroke and increased levels of "good cholesterol" from an active life style will surely please your loved ones and doctor.

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The Benefits of Healthy Choices


A correlation was recently found between the amount of low-fat dairy servings that ARIC participants consumed and their risk of developing hypertension. The more low-fat dairy servings consumed instead of high-fat dairy options, the lower their blood pressures measured every 3 years from 1987-1999 (full details in Alonso A and collaborators, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009;63:1272-5 ).

Previous studies have found that people with a certain genetic variant have lower triglyceride and higher HDL-cholesterol levels in their blood than those individuals without this variant. More recently this rare genetic variant was found in 2% of ~8,500 Caucasian ARIC study participants. Researchers did find that if an individual’s caloric intake was composed of large amounts of carbohydrates, the benefit of having this genetic variant was no longer visible (full details in Nettleton JA and collaborators, Atherosclerosis 2009;203:214-20). This study was unable to tell the difference between different kinds of carbohydrates (which can range from complex carbohydrates such as fruits and whole grains to sources of simple sugars such as candy and carbonated drinks). However, this study does indicate that the best prevention may always be a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.

Resources

American Diabetes Association Recipes

Aim for a healthy weight -National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Healthy Lifestyle American Heart Association

The WISEWOMAN Program

Weight Loss and Control- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)

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Obesity: Food for Thought
  • Morland and collaborators studied whether your community plays a role in determining your weight. In 2006 they found that the presence of more supermarkets in a community leads to lower levels of residents being overweight or obese. The presence of more small convenience stores on the other hand related to higher levels of overweight and obesity in the community. This shows how important access to healthy foods and daily choices are in maintaining a healthy weight (full detals in Morland K, Diez Roux AV, Wing S. Supermarkets, other food stores, and obesity: the atherosclerosis risk in communities study. Am J Prev Med. 2006 Apr;30(4):333-9. ).


  • Our doctors tell us to eat well and avoid what is bad for us. A study by Nettleton and collaborators in 2008 found that our doctors are right after all. ARIC participants that ate more high-fat dairy products and more eggs had a higher risk for heart failure. In contrast, ARIC study participants who reported eating more whole grains had a lower risk of heart failure (full details in Nettleton JA, Steffen LM, Loehr LR, Rosamond WD, Folsom AR. Incident heart failure is associated with lower whole-grain intake and greater high-fat dairy and egg intake in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Nov;108(11):1881-7. ).


  • Yatsuya and colleagues reported in 2009 that if all of the borderline obese and obese ARIC participants (with a BMI of 28.6 kg/m2 or greater) were able to lower their indexes to the BMI level of the majority of ARIC participants, then 18 less ischemic strokes would occur for every 100 that currently occur. This is an important decrease in a very disabling condition that can cause permanent death to portions of the brain and sometimes long term impairment. A decrease in this kind of strokes would have a positive impact in medical centers, as well as within your own family or community (full details in Yatsuya H, Folsom AR, Yamagishi K, North KE, Brancati FL, Stevens J; Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study Investigators. Race- and sex-specific associations of obesity measures with ischemic stroke incidence in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Stroke. 2010 Mar;41(3):417-25. ).


  • A study of early retirement by Houston and colleagues in 2008 found about one fifth of ARIC participants were able to retire before age 65. Among this fifth, African-Americans were 2-3 times as likely as white participants to retire early due to health reasons. If an ARIC participant reported being overweight or obese at age 25 they were more likely to retire early because of health problems than a participant who had normal weight at age 25 (full details in Houston DK, Cai J, Stevens J. Overweight and obesity in young and middle age and early retirement: the ARIC study. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2009 Jan;17(1):143-9. ).
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Can it still help to become physically active for the first time late in life?
A. No, the benefits of physical activity are only seen earlier in life
B. No, the benefits only go to those who have been active for many years
C. Yes, the benefits can been seen at any age
D. Yes, the benefits can been seen later in life if one is still in good health