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More reasons to eat fruits, vegetables

Published July 27. 2013 09:03AM

A bemused look on his face. A shake of his head. A chuckle to himself. I had not expected my question to the chiropractor to elicit such a response.

After reminding me to keep doing the five sets of two stretches for five seconds to counteract the lingering discomfort in my glutes brought on by crashing into a fallen cyclist and probably fracturing my pelvis last November, I asked if the stretches could be held for a longer period of time.

I asked because I'm used to holding my normal stretches between 30 and 60 seconds, but those are always done after exercise when my muscles are loose. Since the chiropractor was suggesting these be done upon awakening and before I rode (as well as after), I feared a longer stretch of a cold, weakened muscle might actually cause it to tighten.

"I was thinking about the last patient I told to do these stretches," the chiropractor explained. "He told me he didn't have enough time. I said, 'Dude, it's 50 seconds a day.'"

(Obviously, the other patient wasn't a cyclist, so he was only asked to stretch in the morning, and yes, my chiropractor does use the word "dude.")

"I say only 5 seconds," he continued, "just because if I say longer most people won't bother. You can always do more."

I retell this story as much for my benefit as yours. I need to be reminded from time to time that not everyone makes health his or her number-one priority. Typing the prior sentence makes me want to compose a column on why everyone should, but that's for some other Saturday.

Today, I'd simply like to note that those other things some people place before their health, especially noble endeavors like excelling in the workplace, being an active parent, or taking care of an elderly one, get a major boost from you having better health. Because of that, I often choose to write about relatively minor changes in your daily life that can lead to that.

One of those: eat more fruits and vegetables.

Yes, I know that this has been suggested to you maybe even demanded of you since the time you were liberated from your high chair, but new research keeps finding new reasons to do so.

Take, for example, the results of research performed at Queen's University in Belfast on 83 volunteers between the ages of 65 and 85. When asked, this group normally averaged two servings of fruits and vegetables a day, what the researchers defined as 160 grams and what amounts to approximately three heaping tablespoons of vegetables and a medium-sized apple.

For the next 12 weeks, half of the volunteers upped their consumption to five servings of fruits and vegetables per day still only half of what many experts suggest and then all 83 were given a vaccine for pneumonia. Four weeks later when all volunteers were tested for the antibodies produced as a result of the pneumonia vaccine, the volunteers who had increased their fruit and vegetable consumption had far more than the those who did not.

Prior to this, studies found the immune system to be strengthened from specific nutrients abundant in fruits and vegetables such as vitamins C and E and beta carotene but this study is the first to show benefit when subjects got more of these nutrients naturally and simply through choosing to increase consumption of whatever fruits and vegetables they liked.

A study performed in England at the University of Shellfield discovered a correlation in a randomized trial of 217 subjects between the ages of 65 and 85 between using a low-dose multivitamin and fewer doctor and hospital visits.

After three months of taking the multivitamin and after an additional three months, the third of the subjects taking the low-dose multivitamin reported less illness as well as fewer doctor and hospital visits than the third told to make no lifestyle changes.

The remaining third of the subjects were told to consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, eat fish at least twice a week, snack on nuts once a week, and avoid all breads other than whole-grain. This group also trumped the placebo group in the aforementioned areas.

Although all three groups reported nearly the same number of infections, those in the improved-diet group recovered quicker.

Finally, a massive study of the data on 44,561 people throughout all of the United Kingdom found the vegetarians defined for the study as those consuming no meat or fish to be 32 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease than the meat eaters. They also had lower levels of the "bad" cholesterol and lower systolic blood pressure.

Vegetarians obviously benefit from eating increased amounts of fruits and vegetables, but they get just as much of a health boost from what they eliminate.

By eschewing animal meat, vegetarians eliminate the greatest source of saturated fat, the fat that has been linked to heart disease.

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