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Want to Feel Better? Move More

By Charlyn Fargo- It seems so simple, this thought that exercise makes us healthier. But nearly 80 percent of adults don’t get enough exercise for optimal health, according to the second edition of the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

We really do know that. Here’s a little reminder that making time for exercise can make all the difference in feeling better. The good news is that even a little bit of daily physical activity — of any intensity level — can pay off in the short and long term so long as you move more and sit less.

These new guidelines by a federal advisory committee are an update from 10 years ago, based on a comprehensive review of recent exercise research.

Here are a few reasons to get moving, based on what the experts say.

1. Exercise has well-established health benefits: reduced blood pressure and anxiety as well as improved blood sugar, blood cholesterol and sleep. Other benefits include lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, depression and certain cancers.

Exercise also improves bone health, helps with weight control and improves overall quality of life. And a couple of new findings: It boosts well-being by improving gut health. A new study, published in JAMA Network Open, even suggests that the more pushups a man is able to complete (40 is the magic number from a study of 1,104 men done by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health), the lower his cardiovascular risk.

2. The new guidelines recommend we do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week (or 75 minutes vigorous). And while any exercise is good, more exercise is better.

3. We need strength training exercise — weight lifting, anaerobic — as well as aerobic exercise. Adults over 65 also need balance exercises such as standing on one foot or walking backward.

4. If you don’t have a 30-minute block, it’s OK (and still beneficial) to do three sets of 10 minutes. That’s a new takeaway from the latest guidelines.

5. To help with motivation, the guidelines recommend finding a fitness instructor or coach or working out with a friend.

The bottom line is even the lowest levels of physical activity can make a difference. Starting small can make a difference in lowering risk of diseases. We can all benefit from a few more pushups, a brisk walk or an aerobic dance.

Q and A

Q: Are some nut butters more nutritious than others?

A: All nut butters, like their whole-nut counterparts, are healthful, providing protein, some fiber and an array of vitamins and minerals, along with potentially beneficial plant compounds (including sterols). And though nut butters, like nuts, are high in fat, most of this fat is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, the kinds of fat that improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease when substituted for saturated fat in one’s diet.

The specific nutrients in nut butters vary somewhat, however, depending on the type of nut. Walnut butter, for instance, is richest in alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid), while almond butter provides a small amount of calcium (about 55 milligrams per tablespoon). Studies have shown that all kinds of nuts have heart-healthy effects, and there’s no reason to think that plain nut butters wouldn’t have the same benefits. A 2009 study in the Journal of Nutrition, in fact, linked both nuts (1 ounce, most days of the week) and peanut butter (1 tablespoon, most days of the week) to lower cardiovascular risk in women with Type 2 diabetes.

Choosing nut butters can seem overwhelming, given the ever-growing selection. For the healthiest nut butters, look for products that contain nothing but nuts — or at least list nuts as the first ingredient. Small amounts of salt and sugar can make nut butters more palatable and are not necessarily a deal breaker unless you are on a strict low-sodium or low-sugar diet. Eat all nut butters in moderation, as their calories can add up quickly.

Information courtesy of University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter.

RECIPE

Winter weather is a great time for soup. Here’s a healthy one — with plenty of vegetables — from Eating Well magazine.

SOUTHWESTERN VEGETABLE & CHICKEN SOUP

2 medium poblano peppers

2 teaspoons canola oil

12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces

1 1/2 cups chopped onion (1 large)

1 1/2 cups chopped red or green bell pepper (1 large)

1 1/2 cups green beans, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (or frozen, thawed)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 (15-ounce) can black beans or pinto beans, rinsed

1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

4 cups chopped chard or spinach

1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 cup fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for serving

To roast poblanos: Position oven rack about 5 inches from the heat source; preheat broiler. Line the broiler pan with foil. Broil whole poblanos, turning once, until starting to blacken, 8 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a paper bag and let steam to loosen skins, about 10 minutes.

When the poblanos are cool enough to handle, peel, seed, stem and coarsely chop them; set aside. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium and add onion, bell pepper, green beans and garlic.

Cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in chili powder and cumin; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in broth, beans, tomatoes and the chopped poblanos; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.

Add the reserved chicken and juices, chard (or spinach) and corn; return to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes more to heat through and blend flavors. Top each portion with 1 tablespoon each cilantro and lime juice; serve with lime wedges. Serves 8. (Serving size: 1 1/2 cups.)

Per serving: 213 calories; 17 grams protein; 25 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams fat (1 gram saturated); 39 milligrams cholesterol; 7 grams sugars; 6 grams fiber; 386 milligrams sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

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