If you’ve paid attention to human health trends and rates of obesity, it’s easier to see that on the average, we are heavier than we used to be. It’s easy to pin these changes on unhealthy habits, including a more sedentary lifestyle with minimal exercise, and diets filled with fat, salt, sugar, and artificial additives. Technological advances have made it easier than ever to fall into these bad habits, certainly. Having access to more food while doing less individually to actually get it certainly creates a “perfect storm” for weight gain. However, perhaps there’s more to it than that.
According to one study, carried out in Toronto, Ontario, there certainly is. Performed by researchers from York University, the study concluded that the average person of today would inevitably need to reduce their daily caloric intake while increasing their level of exercise to keep off any extra weight, as compared to a person of the same age roughly 40 years ago. This suggests immediately that there is, in fact, more to our increased average weight than our habits (which admittedly could still be healthier). But how did the researchers determine that this way the case?
Researchers came to this conclusion based on the information they found after considering the dietary habits of just over 35000 adult participants. This data, covering the period between 1971 and 2008, was made available by the National Health and Nutrition Survey. Aside from this dietary information, the researchers factored in data related to physical activity for nearly 15000 participants between the years of 1988 to 2006. Given that diet and exercise are arguably two of the most significant factors regarding health and weight gain, this information represents a healthy pool of data from which to draw results.
Specifically, the researchers took a look at three critical factors within the data; doing so revealed that even when the three were the same, the average person in 2006 would still have a higher body mass index, or BMI, than an otherwise similar person in 1998. The differences were as great as 10%. That’s a 10% increase in the space of eight years- despite the fact that both the person from 1998 and the person from 2006 would be taking in the same calories, consuming the same level of macronutrients, and exercising just as much and just as often.
Unfortunately for all of us concerned about our health, it’s not simply a matter of how many calories we burn vs how many (and what kind) we take in from our food. It’s much more complicated, and there are factors that we just haven’t considered, or at least, haven’t considered enough. Based on the findings, it’s clear that these factors were either nonexistent, or less of a factor in the past, but they are certainly relevant now. Because of this, it is essential to keep track of them and manage them efficiently, if at all possible. Consider these six factors:
Stress, by and large, is a huge component of most of our lives today. It’s not at all uncommon for Americans to complain about how stressed they are. This can lead to weight gain both directly, and indirectly. The stress hormone, cortisol plays a role in this. In times of stress (think fight or flight), cortisol boosts the level of energy available to the body but increasing the level of glucose (blood sugar). In the past, this was useful for fighting, or escaping from, a dangerous predator. However, such threats to our survival are rarely so physical, and therefore unnecessary.
Products are not the only thing that may have chemicals in them. In fact, much of our food has been altered, whether it is genetically, or chemically. This is a significant change from our ancestors, and even from just a few generations ago. Numerous additives and preservatives to alter color and flavor were less common or nonexistent in the past few decades. Pesticides, for example, a relatively recent phenomenon, are poison to pests; perhaps they have some adverse effects on us as well. There’s also the fact that the soil, after generations of farming, simply has fewer nutrients.
There’s no denying that the number of chronic illnesses has increased significantly in recent years. With an increase in illness, there is an increase in medication usage as well. Many medications, regardless of which illness they treat, cause weight gain, as well as many other negative side effects. Antidepressants, for example, have been known to cause significant weight gain. Medications may also indirectly affect weight based on the way they increase appetite or promote lethargy. Weight may not simply increase as a result of medications. It may actually fluctuate instead, which can be intensely stressful, causing difficulty with one’s wardrobe.
Have you heard of gut flora? This term refers to the helpful bacteria found in the intestines, which plays an essential role in breaking down food and other things consumed. In regards to our health, the gut flora can also take care of toxins and other harmful aspects that make it into the digestive system, which can also prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast. While not actually a part of the digestive system, a healthy digestive system will have input from gut flora. The trend toward eating unhealthy foods takes us away from weight-friendly probiotic foods like yogurt.
Some of these factors we can do very little about. Our environment and our stressors have changed, and the rules have as well, so for such things, we can only practice better self-care; find ways to de-stress during and after the day, such as meditation, and non-taxing social interaction. When it comes to our food, we can make better choices in the products we buy, opting for organic ones, and ensure we eat healthy and balanced diets. We can minimize the products we consume that have artificial ingredients, or high levels of fat, salt, and sugar.Related: How to Get Rid of Dangerous Visceral Fat
Other things that we can do involve switching in natural products or alternative habits to cut down on harmful chemical use. Using natural soaps and fragrances rather than heavy cleaning chemicals or perfumes comes to mind. If at all possible, we should apply the same strategy to medication. Sometimes, natural remedies and lifestyle modification are more useful than prescribed medication anyway, though this is not always the case. The bottom line is, health and wellness are an equation. Sometimes medicine plays a role, but a healthy diet and regular exercise are critical to this equation, and so are lifestyle changes.