Health

Everyday Habits That Cause Obesity, Says Science

Obesity is a national epidemic that may be evolving into a national emergency. Today, 40% of Americans are obese, compared to 15% in the 1970s. And that isn’t just an aesthetic concern. Dozens of studies have found that obesity shortens life and degrades its quality, raising the risk of many chronic diseases (including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia) and increasing the chances of becoming severely ill or dying from COVID-19. In the past, it’s been perhaps too easy to look the other way as the pounds creep on. But now the stakes have ever been higher to stop that process. These are everyday habits that cause obesity, according to science. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.

Hungry man sitting in a restaurant, holding a ketchup packet adding it to his sandwich
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Eating processed foods high in added sugar doesn’t satisfy your body—that low-quality junk burns up fast and crashes your blood sugar, encouraging you to eat more. That’s a classic pattern for packing on the pounds. “In the United States, most people’s diets are too high in calories—often from fast food and high-calorie beverages,” says the Mayo Clinic. “People with obesity might eat more calories before feeling full, feel hungry sooner, or eat more due to stress or anxiety.” The UK’s National Health Service says it even plainer: “Obesity is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little.” 

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Downing sugar-sweetened drinks—such as soda and juices—is a quick ticket to consuming more calories than you burn, and that increases your risk of obesity. “People can drink many calories without feeling full, especially calories from alcohol,” says the Mayo Clinic. “Other high-calorie beverages, such as sugared soft drinks, can contribute to significant weight gain.”

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“Sleep loss creates a hormone imbalance in the body that promotes overeating and weight gain,” says the National Sleep Foundation. Poor sleep alters the production of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones that regulate appetite, and that can increase feelings of hunger. Not sleeping enough also seems to slow metabolism and increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol (which tells the body to hold on to fat). People who are chronically tired also tend to exercise less, which can lead to weight gain. Experts advise getting seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night to promote overall health, including weight.

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“If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you can easily take in more calories every day than you burn through exercise and routine daily activities,” says the Mayo Clinic. “Looking at computer, tablet and phone screens is a sedentary activity. The number of hours spent in front of a screen is highly associated with weight gain.”

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The most easily fixed obesity risk factor is the amount of exercise you get each day. “Keeping active can help people stay at a healthy weight or lose weight,” says the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It can also lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and certain cancers, as well as reduce stress and boost mood. Inactive (sedentary) lifestyles do just the opposite.” Experts advise that all adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (such as brisk walking, biking or gardening) each week. To lose weight, you may need more. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.


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