In less than one month, people can reverse serious heart disease risk factors by making significant lifestyle changes, according to researchers.
The study looked at 31 overweight or obese men between the ages of 46 and 76. Of these, 15 (48%) were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome -a collection of health risk factors including excess fat, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Al1 of the 31 volunteers had at least one of these risk factors. In addition, 13 (42%) of the men had type 2 diabetes.
For three weeks, the men took part in a residential diet and exercise program. Their diet was designed at the Pritikin Longevity Center and included 65% to 70% complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables and whole grains), 15% to 20% protein (soy, beans, nuts and occasionally fish and poultry) and 12% to 15% fat (less than half from saturated fat).
The study participants were allowed to eat unlimited quantities of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, so they wouldn't feel hungry, says Christian Roberts, an assistant researcher in the physiological sciences department at the University of California at Los Angeles and one of the study's authors.
The men also began exercising for 45 to 60 minutes daily on a treadmill, doing both level and graded walking. Roberts says the men walked at a moderate pace, meaning they could talk while they were exercising, but if the intensity of their workout was increased slightly, talking became difficult.
The men lost approximately two to three pounds during each week of the study, but they still remained overweight or obese at the end of the three-week period.
The researchers measured blood levels of cholesterol, insulin and markers of inflammation both before and after the study. Although 48% of the men had metabolic syndrome at the start of the study, just 19% still did after three weeks. At the start of the study, 42% of the men had diabetes, but only 23% did at the end. And the average low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad," cholesterol reading decreased 25%.
"Our study found that when an individual partakes in a fairly intensive diet and exercise lifestyle modification, significant changes in their health can be noted in a short period of time," says Roberts.
"Most of the population is under the belief that it takes a long time to see improvement. But we found that we could reverse diabetes and metabolic syndrome within three weeks, despite the fact that these men were still obese," he says.
"I'm glad that more and more people are getting the message out that you can make a difference with lifestyle changes. Even just 10 pounds of weight loss makes a huge difference in blood sugar, blood pressure and your overall well being," says Dr. Katherine Nori, an internist at William Beaumont Hospital's Weight Control Center in Royal Oak, Michigan.
"If you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome, you need to know that they are reversible, and you can improve your heart disease risk profile [even] without normalizing your body weight," Roberts says.
Diet And Exercise Are Key
Both Roberts and Nori say the combination of diet and exercise is the reason for these dramatic changes. Neither measure alone is as powerful as the two together. And both say you must maintain the changes in order to sustain the health benefits.
"People have the power within themselves to make a difference. Weight loss and exercise consistently improve heart disease risk, and this is something you have control over," says Nori.