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Today's 'toxic environment' makes people unhealthy

PROVO — Mormons don't have to chase down their food in today's world, and everywhere portions are bigger, more calorie-laden, which makes for a toxic environment.

That toxic environment makes it easier for people to put on weight and harder for them to stay fit, said a health expert at the 2nd Annual Winter BYU Single Alumni Conference Jan. 30.

Food is more easily available and in larger quantities, so people expend less energy getting fed, said James D. LeCheminant, an assistant BYU exercise sciences professor.

"We don't have to chase our food," he said. "It's very easy to be sedentary."

There's very little need to engage ourselves physically in the modern world. There are elevators and escalators and cars to take people to where they need to go to eat.

Food is bigger.

A bagel 20 years ago contained 140 calories. Today's bagel has 350 calories before the cream cheese.

A cheeseburger 20 years ago was 333 calories, whereas today's burger is typically 590 calories.

A plate of spaghetti two decades ago was 500 calories. Today's plate is over 1,000.

A portion of French fries would have been 200 calories, versus 600 today before super-sizing.

A soda was 85 calories, versus 250 today.

Because it's easier to take in calories than to burn them off, LeCheminant said, a person can reap more benefit in his body by focusing on diet than exercise, but exercise can play a tremendously helpful part.

He said there's no need to go hard-core, but 20-30 minutes a day of moderate activity makes a huge difference in fighting the leading causes of death, including heart attacks, diabetes and related conditions that stem from obesity.

"What's the best activity to do? The one you will do," he said.

People can find all kinds of ways to incorporate the recommended 30 minutes of exercise a day into their lives.

Taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking while doing errands, dancing to music, taking small foot trips, parking further away from stores, walking to church and work, turning off the self-propel function on lawn mowers and vacuums, are all good ways to build exercise into a daily routine, he said.

"Identify the pockets of time you have, and use them for exercise," he suggested. "Vary it, stay hydrated and reward yourself for your efforts."

LeCheminant said buying and using a pedometer is helpful for some, so there's instant reward for taking a lot of steps.

He suggested going to the Web site www.mypyramid.gov to find diet ideas and calculate how many calories one is taking in a day.

e-mail: haddoc@desnews.com

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For more on the conference, go to MormonTimes.com