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Life-changing health improvements possible just six weeks after behavior change, according to BYU study

Basic changes in diet and exercise can lead to a dramatic drop in a person's risk for chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease in as little as six weeks, according to a study by Brigham Young University professor of exercise science Steven Aldana.

"This is not a diet, not a trend, not a fad that will go away," said Aldana. "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."

To be published Feb. 28 in the "Journal of the American Dietetic Association," the study also explains that participants experienced significant reductions in body fat, cholesterol levels and blood pressure as they adopted a diet emphasizing unrefined "food-as-grown," like grains, legumes and fresh fruits and vegetables and implemented a 30-minute-a-day cardiovascular exercise program.

"Although the notion that proper nutrition and exercise is good for you is not revolutionary, it's important that people know that major health benefits can come quickly," says Aldana, the author of a new book, "The Culprit and the Cure," that reiterates that there's no magic solution to the health problems in today's world. "Best of all, by making similar changes you can enjoy similar benefits."

Tim Butler, a health management analyst for Intermountain Health Care's Health Plans division, says that the study's encouraging findings may motivate people to take more control over their lifestyles.

"This research demonstrates that there is a tremendous gap between what we know and understand about human health, and what we do," said Butler. "When we make a personal decision to change our habits and apply our health knowledge, we bridge that gap to improve our health."

The study, co-authored by BYU health sciences professor Ray Merrill, BYU graduate students and Illinois healthcare professionals, details the participation of 337 volunteers age 43 to 81 years from the Rockford, Ill., metropolitan area in a 40-hour educational course over four weeks.

Administered by the SwedishAmerican Health System, the Coronary Health Improvement Project lecture series touted the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices and how to make improvements in nutrition and physical activity.

But a person doesn't have to participate in CHIP specifically to enjoy its rapid benefits to overall health.

"It really doesn't matter which lifestyle change program you go with," Aldana said, explaining that the CHIP diet is similar to others designed to reduce hypertension. "This is about healthy living. Make a decision, get the right information and tools and involve people to show you how to change, and then great things can happen."

Writer: Lexi Allen

Aldana, Steve-L.jpg
Photo by Steven Aldana

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