The Best Exercise & Diet for Good Health

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Every minute you spend walking counts toward your daily exercise goal.
Every minute you spend walking counts toward your daily exercise goal. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Even though you know broccoli and jogging are good for you, it can be hard to determine exactly which diet and exercise plan is best for overall health. For long-term results, the slow-and-steady approach beats strict diets and killer workouts.

Benefits of Exercise

Not only does exercise help you drop excess pounds and sculpt a better body, it gives you a mental health boost as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults work out for at least 150 minutes per week -- aim for 30 minutes daily and you'll exceed that recommendation. Half an hour of exercise releases neurotransmitters in your brain that relieve stress and boost your mood. To reap the full benefits of exercise, burn fat and build stamina with cardiovascular workouts, and build muscle with weight training sessions.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardio workouts get your heart pumping and make you sweat, but they're not all created equal. While walking is effective exercise for long-term health and weight loss, it doesn't burn as many calories as running a marathon. If you want to torch all the calories you can during your workout, try interval training, in which you alternate bursts of high and low intensity -- or cardio and strength training -- in a single session. If improving your overall health is your goal, change up your exercise routine to keep yourself challenged and motivated. For example, try a fitness class at the gym one day and go jogging outdoors the next.

Weight-Bearing Exercise

Weight training, whether by lifting weights or performing exercises using your body weight for resistance, builds muscle and strengthens your bones. The health benefits of weight-bearing exercise include lowering your risk of osteoporosis and increasing your resting metabolism, which means you burn more calories even when you're sleeping. The CDC recommends at least two days of weight training each week, during which you cumulatively work all the muscles in your body to exhaustion. If you don't want to pump iron, try a yoga class or resistance-band training.

Components of a Healthful Diet

If weight loss is your goal, you might be tempted to go on a crash diet, but long-term dietary change is best for your health. Whole, unprocessed foods are better for you than processed foods -- even "diet" foods -- that contain added salt, sugar and preservatives. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends that the bulk of your diet come from plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Instead of saturated or trans fats, choose healthier fats such as avocados, nuts and olive oil. Pass red meat by, except on special occasions, and trade sugary drinks for water and green tea. By basing your diet on plant foods, limiting sugar and fats and eating small meals throughout the day so you never get too hungry, you'll be more likely to reach and maintain your healthiest weight.

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