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4 Steps to Better Health in 6 Weeks

No Fads or Gimmicks Needed for Quick Health Upgrades
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WebMD Health News

Feb. 28, 2005 -- Six weeks from now, your health could be a lot better than it is today. All it takes is a little know-how and the will to put that information to work.

Forget bizarre schemes that are hard to sustain. Sensible nutrition and exercise are what count, says Steven Aldana, PhD, an exercise science professor at Brigham Young University.

"This is not a diet, not a trend, not a fad that will go away," says Aldana in a news release. "It's adopting a nutritious way of eating and exercise that causes very important positive changes in your body's health in a short period of time."

Those changes aren't just about weight loss. They also yield healthier hearts and less risk of illnesses like diabetes and cancer, write Aldana and colleagues in the Feb. 28 edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The researchers estimate that 70%-90% of deaths from chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are due to "poor nutrition, sedentary living, and tobacco and are largely preventable." Change those bad habits, and better health will follow, they say.

Sound good? Then grab your calendar, circle six weeks from today, and start your journey to better health.

Step No. 1: Willingness to Participate

Aldana's study included 337 volunteers.

Age didn't hold them back. The youngest was 43 years old; the oldest was 81. Married or unmarried couples were highly encouraged to bring their spouse or partner.

One group of volunteers immediately started the program; the others were scheduled to take the classes six months later. All had checkups to assess their health at the start of the study and six weeks later.

The trial isn't finished yet. It's scheduled to end this fall. But Aldana and colleagues are impressed with what they've seen so far, so they're sharing the initial results.

Step No. 2: Learn How to Improve Health

Participants took a 40-hour educational course, delivered over four weeks.

Topics included nutrition and physical activity. Health hazards like smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the shortfalls of the typical American diet were also covered. Two main themes were to move more and avoid processed or refined foods. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables were emphasized as part of a healthy diet.

Most participants took advantage of the classes, with attendance near 80%. But they still had to figure out what to do with that knowledge.

Step No. 3: Use Healthy Practices in Daily Life

No fitness trainers or prepackaged meals were provided. Participants weren't living at a research facility removed from the pressures of everyday life.

Instead, each person had to decide day by day, meal by meal, how to use their new knowledge. For instance, participants wore pedometerspedometers and challenged themselves to eat more fruits and vegetables. After completing the class, they were invited to join an alumni group to support their new lifestyles.

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