How Diet and Exercise Improve Your Quality of Life
Small changes can help with mood, movement and pain relief
You know that eating right and exercising regularly can reduce your risk for certain diseases and help you maintain a healthy weight.
But did you also know that those healthy habits can improve your overall quality of life?
A wide range of recent studies has found that a healthy diet and exercise contribute to improved physical function, better mood and even a reduction in the incidence of arthritic flare-ups and joint pain.
The most common variable examined in the health-related quality-of-life (HRQoL) studies was the impact of obesity on quality-of-life markers.
In a 2011 Australian study, researchers found that obesity adversely impacts both physical and mental health quality-of-life scores. Somewhat alarmingly, the study also showed that a low overall score was predictive of future weight gain, creating a circular, downward spiral for those caught in this cycle.
Fortunately, over the course of a five-year follow-up, the study found that those who lost weight improved their HRQoL scores, particularly among the mental health factors.
Weight can also have a significant impact on joint pain and osteoarthritis. It’s estimated that for every 5 kilograms (11 pounds) of weight gained, the risk of knee osteoarthritis increases 36 percent.
A 2015 study of 99 overweight or obese nursing home employees found that body weight was directly correlated to a reduction in physical function and much higher frequencies of reported pain in both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing joints. Fortunately, even small amounts of weight loss have been shown to reduce inflammation and lessen symptoms of osteoarthritis.
It would seem the first order of business for improving quality of life, then, is to lose a little weight. The best ways to do that? Diet and exercise, of course!
A very encouraging study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that exercise improved physical function, mental health and even cognitive tasks, whether any weight loss occurred or not.
While it appears that any kind of activity can boost quality of life, a recent 12- month University of Illinois study found that aerobic activity, such as walking, fared slightly better than strength training when it came to making permanent positive changes to quality of life.
The participants in that study who made the biggest gains in HRQoL scores started out with just 10 minutes of easy walking three times a week, and slowly increased the duration of their walks to 40 minutes, and then gradually increased the pace, so that they were walking briskly for 40 minutes, three times a week, during the last half of the trial.
A review of recent scientific literature also confirmed that exercise is a very effective therapy for osteoarthritis. Importantly, the review found that a wide variety of exercise modes can have favorable results, but it is essential that an exercise routine be maintained over time. So even if arthritis prevents you from walking or doing resistance training, exercises like aqua aerobics, swimming and bicycling could still help improve your quality of life, if you do them regularly.
Studies examining the direct effects of diet on quality of life regardless of weight loss are lacking. But there is such a large body of research linking good nutrition to good overall health that the role of a healthy diet is indisputable.
Whether your goal is to manage your weight, boost your energy levels or reduce your risk for disease, the formula for success is eating a diet high in nutrient-dense whole foods and low in processed, fatty and sugary foods.
The 2012 Well-being, Eating and Exercise for a Long Life (WELL) Study found that the diet of adults between the ages of 55 and 65 was sorely lacking in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are a primary source of nutrients important for good health and the prevention of disease. A diet lacking in nutrients can also contribute to depression, according to a 2008 study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry.
If you think your diet could use an overhaul, there’s no need for a radical change. By simply incorporating more servings of fresh fruits and vegetables and high-fiber whole grains, you’ll greatly boost the nutritional quality of your diet.
If weight loss is a goal, then you should pair this increase in servings of healthy foods with a decrease in servings of foods that are processed, overly fatty, fried or have a lot of added sugar.
Making even small changes to your diet can have a big impact on your mood, energy levels and quality of sleep, making it more likely that you’ll feel like keeping up a regular exercise program.
Forming healthy habits is less about looking at the big picture than it is about making small, positive changes consistently. From the moment that you first wake up each morning until your head hits the pillow at night, you spend the day making hundreds of small decisions about food and exercise that cumulatively have a big impact on your well being.
By paying closer attention to those decisions and making conscious choices, you can take control of your health and improve your quality of life.