Impact of healthy diet and exercise, and their interplay, on the risk of non-communicable diseases throughout a lifespan

In a recent editorial piece published in the Nutrients Journal, researchers from Spain discussed the impact of lifestyle and modifiable behaviors such as exercise and diet and their interactions on human health across ages.

Study: Effects of Diet—Exercise Interaction on Human Health across a Lifespan. Image Credit: 279photoStudio/Shutterstock.comStudy: Effects of Diet—Exercise Interaction on Human Health across a Lifespan. Image Credit: 279photoStudio/Shutterstock.com

Background

The advent of globalization and the rapid technological advancements during the last century have substantially changed people’s way of life worldwide. However, along with health care, food, transport, and technology advancements, globalization has also altered people’s choices, leisure activities, work routines, and behaviors.

These factors have, in turn, impacted the occurrence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental disorders, chronic respiratory disease, and even some cancers that are prevalent across ages.

However, these infectious diseases are also multifactorial, and lifestyle choices are important modifiable risk factors in their development, prevention, and treatment. Many mortalities due to non-communicable diseases have been associated with excess sodium or salt intake, alcohol use, and the lack of physical activity.

The editorial commented on the challenges and benefits of the interaction between diet and exercised throughout the lifespan in lowering the risk of non-communicable diseases.

Healthy lifestyle habits

The childhood and adolescent phases are critical in establishing lifelong habits for a healthy lifestyle, and evidence suggests that a childhood consisting of regular exercise and healthy eating habits can lower the risk of various chronic diseases in adulthood.

A diet comprising whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and plant proteins is essential for the growth and development of children.

However, the increasing availability of unhealthy, processed foods and the sedentary habits resulting from extended periods of electronic device usage present substantial challenges to achieving these healthy lifestyle habits.

Studies have shown that sedentary habits and low levels of exercise are also associated with consuming sweets, snacks, and sugar-sweetened drinks among children of all ages, which increases the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

The independence and autonomy of young adulthood often exacerbate unhealthy eating habits and the lack of physical activity as young adults struggle to find the time to prioritize a healthy diet and exercise amidst the increasing academic and social demands and busy schedules.

These unhealthy lifestyle behaviors increase the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease later in life.

Interventions

Growing evidence indicates that the Mediterranean diet is linked to significant improvements in body mass index, mental health parameters, and overall quality of life.

Combining such nutritional interventions with physical activity is a promising method to bring about healthier lifestyle choices.

Furthermore, the need for young adults to exercise their independence makes them ideal candidates for strategies to improve their health-related lifestyle choices and life skills.

One study that examined caloric restriction and exercise involving rope skipping, individually and in combination, reported that while caloric restriction alone and in combination with rope skipping successfully reduced body weight, only a variety of caloric restriction and exercise resulted in improvements in the metabolic profile and lowering of the inflammation markers in young adults.

However, caloric restrictions can be challenging to maintain over long periods, especially in exceptional cases with dietary restrictions or preexisting medical conditions.

While programs such as BALANCE recommend following healthier dietary patterns comprising a lower intake of ultra-processed foods, sugar, and salt and increased consumption of vegetables and fruits, they do not discuss the interactions between a healthy diet and physical activity.

The interaction between the two major modifiable factors — diet and exercise — plays a vital role in the prevention of various non-communicable diseases, and further research is necessary to understand the interplay between the two factors.

Age and lifestyle habits

Research suggests that adherence to healthy lifestyle choices decreases with age, and the physiological changes associated with aging further reduce the mobility and independence necessary for self-care and healthy habits.

Aging is associated with multimorbidity, including hypertension, hyperglycemia, abdominal obesity, and high triglycerides. Studies have shown that active older individuals show a lower prevalence of hypertension and abdominal obesity, highlighting the need to maintain healthy habits throughout life.

Physical activity is also closely linked to mental health, with studies reporting lower inflammatory markers and depression associated with exercise in older individuals.

Conclusions

Overall, the editorial highlights the importance of teaching and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits associated with diet and exercise — the two major modifiable risk factors for non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.

With increasing access to unhealthy foods and a shift towards a sedentary lifestyle across all ages, maintaining healthy dietary patterns and physical activity levels needs to be emphasized.

Further research is also required to understand the interplay between exercise and diet in lowering the risk of non-communicable diseases.

Journal reference:
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.

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