News Flash: Not All Calories Equal in Weight Loss, and More Health News

Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at changes to the new government exercise guidelines, and new research that shows a greater weight-loss boost from a low-carb diet.

Move it, move it

The federal government just made the first big change in 10 years to its activity guidelines to try to get more Americans moving.

Currently, only about 26 percent of men, 19 percent of women and 20 percent of all teens meet the existing 2008 guidelines to maintain health, which call for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity each week, with muscle-strengthening exercises two days a week. Youth aged 6 to 17 need 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a day.

Recognizing how few of us are meeting this bar, the new guidelines count all movement toward this goal, from climbing the stairs at work to walking the dog for five minutes. (The previous guidelines stated that only 10-minute bouts of movement counted.)

“The new guidelines demonstrate that, based on the best science, everyone can dramatically improve their health just by moving—anytime, anywhere and by any means that gets you active,” said Adm. Brett Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services in a press release.

Lack of physical activity costs the nation nearly $117 billion in health-care costs each year, and 10 percent of all premature deaths are attributable to failure to meet the activity levels outlined in the guidelines, according to HHS.

But more important, regular movement improves sleep, reduces anxiety, and improves blood sugar control and cognitive function for a better quality of life now while offering longer-term benefits such as reduced risk of eight types of cancer and reduced risk of high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes, as well as a lower incidence of dementia.

For the first time, the new guidelines also make activity recommendations for preschoolers and provide more information about why movement is important for older kids and adolescents—namely a healthier brain and better academic performance, as mentioned by NPR.

Lower carb, higher metabolism

The traditional weight-loss advice of counting calories, reducing portion size and trimming fat may need to be revised, according to a new study published in the journal BMJ and reported in The New York Times.

Researchers found that overweight adults who cut carbs from their diet and replaced them with calories from fat sharply increased their metabolism. After five months on the diet, those who lowered their carbs to 20 percent of their total calories burned roughly 250 calories more per day than people who ate a high-carb, low-fat diet, suggesting that all calories are not equal when it comes to weight loss.

“This study confirms that, remarkably, diets higher in starch and sugar change the body’s burn rate after weight loss, lowering metabolism,” Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, the dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University told The New York Times. One reason may be that low-carb dieters had a sharp decline in the hormone ghrelin, which promotes hunger and body fat by lowering energy expenditure.

The results still need to be validated by other investigators, and they do not suggest that fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates should be cut from the diet along with the added sugar, flour and refined carbs cut in the research, said endocrinologist Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard Medical School, who helped write the study.

Photo credit: Brenda Godinez, Unsplash