20 Health and Fitness Facts Based on Research that Could Help You

We are inundated each day with hundreds of adds while online, on our phones, watching TV, or from just about anything else we may read. With that said, there is a great deal of conflicting information and more than one view on just about any health/fitness/exercise topic. I’m always interested in where the content and data are coming from and are they backed by science. Even when it is, there can be times that the information or data collected has been taken from a small sample size or the researcher had a vested interest in the research being done.

Here are a few health and fitness facts for you that come from prominent academic sources involving research that you can hopefully use to improve your own health and fitness.

  • The University of Pennsylvania Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory looked at the sleeping and eating behavior of 225 people. They reported, in the journal Sleep, when you’re awake between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., you’re more likely to consume extra calories. The group ate an average of 553 more calories, typically choosing foods higher in fat, when they were kept awake until the early morning hours.
  • Research published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, show mind-body interventions (MBIs) such as meditation, yoga and Tai Chi do more than just relax us; they can ‘reverse’ the molecular reactions in our DNA which cause ill-health and depression.
  • Research from the journal Obesity, shows exposure to higher levels of cortisol, an indicator of stress, over several months is associated with people being more heavily, and more persistently, overweight. The research involved 2,527 men and women aged 54 and older who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, that looked at data over a four-year period.
  • Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance, and his colleagues have shown through their research that every additional 150 calories of added sugar consumed above daily requirements was associated with a 1.1 percent increase risk of type 2 diabetes. A second study showed subjects who got 17-21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8% of their calories from added sugar. The risk was more than double for those who consumed 21% or more of their calories from added sugar (D’Adamo, 2015).
  • “Fat (in our diet) is not the problem,” says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.” Research from Harvard University published in the New England Journal of Medicine followed subjects over a twenty year period and determined that the food most often associated with weight gain was you guessed it, white potatoes (NEJM, 2011).
  • The fact is that a brain hijacked by a diet high in sugar and flour blocks weight loss. It does this in three ways: (1) sugar and flour raise baseline insulin levels far past what our bodies were designed to handle. The elevated insulin not only sets us up for diabetes, but it turns out its blocking the brain from recognizing a critical hormone: leptin. (2) after eating the average American amount of sugar for just three weeks, 22 teaspoons, the brain’s pleasure receptors do something called “down-regulating.” Essentially, to cope with the excessive stimulation, the brain takes some of its receptors offline. (3) willpower isn’t a dimension of your personality, something some people are born with and others simply lack. Willpower is a cognitive function and we all have about the same amount, fifteen minutes, give or take. Meaning any successful diet MUST expect that your willpower will fail AT LEAST once a day and work anyway (source: Susan Pierce Thompson, PhD).
  • The average American consumes too much added sugar on a daily basis. Americans currently eat about 76 pounds of different forms of sugars every year. Even though we have seen a 15% decrease in added sugar consumption since 1999, according to government data, the typical person still eats about 94 grams (or 375 calories) on a daily basis (U.S. Department of Agriculture).
  • A meta-analysis published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reviewed 49 studies of men ages 50 to 83 who did progressive resistance training and found that subjects averaged a 2.4-pound increase in lean body mass.
  • Approximately three decades of age-related strength loss and two decades of age-related muscle mass loss can be recovered or reversed within the first couple of months of starting a strength training program. (Ivey, 2000).
  • A study in the journal Nutrients suggests a daily intake of 1 to 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight for older adults who do regular strength training. This is much higher than 0.8 grams/kg/body weight than you may have previously read or been told. This would mean, for example, that a 175-pound man would need about 79 grams to 103 grams a day. If possible, divide your protein equally among your daily meals to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
  • It was reported in Stuart Phillips 2016 paper, Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health, that “evidence suggests that intakes of high quality protein in the range of 1.2-1.6 grams/kilo/body weight is a more ideal target to achieve optimal health outcomes in adults.”
  • The average American spends more than 9 hours a day sitting. Research shows that people who sit the most have a 112 percent increase in the Relative Risk (RR) of Diabetes and a 147 percent increase in the RR of cardiovascular events compared to people who sit the least. Sitting down for a large part of the day has similar mortality rates to smoking (Wilmot et al., 2012).
  • According to research, individuals who did not strength train lost about 5 to 7 pounds of muscle every ten years and a by-product of this was that there was a reduction in their metabolism by about 50 calories a day. As you grow older, the loss of muscle becomes more pronounced and by the time you reach the age of 70, the muscular system has experienced a 40 percent loss of muscle mass and a 30 percent decrease in strength.
  • Strength appears to peak between the ages of 25 and 35 and is maintained or slightly lower between ages 40 and 59 and then declines by 12-14 percent per decade after 50 years of age, according to research published by Doherty in 2001.
  • Research has demonstrated that individuals who use a pedometer take an additional 2,000 steps each day compared to nonusers and their overall physical activity level increases by 27 percent. Looks like its time to break out the pedometer and start to step it up!
  • In a 2014 study in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Australian researchers looked at the relationship between various personality traits and exercise and other health-related habits. The researchers found that people who thought they had control over their lives were more likely to exercise and adopt other healthy steps than those who felt that luck or fate largely dictated their lives.
  • According to Len Kravitz, PhD, a researcher at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, “High intensity interval training (HIIT) adds up to 15 percent more calories to the total calories expended.” That means if you’ve worked off 550 calories doing HIIT, you can reasonably expect to burn at least another 83 calories post-exercise.
Credit: https://sunstonefit.com
  • Research has shown that drinking 17-ounces of water upon waking up in the morning will increase your metabolic rate by about 30 percent over the next few hours. The same researchers believe that over the course of a year, individuals who increase water consumption by just 1.5 liters a day could burn an extra 17,400 calories and experience a five-pound weight loss.
  • Research from the University of Massachusetts Medical School determined that those who skip breakfast are 4 ½ times more likely to be obese compared to people who make time to eat in the morning.
  • According to a Georgia Centenarian Study, individuals who eat breakfast regularly have lower rates of Type 2 diabetes and are less likely to develop heart failure over the course of their lifetime compared to than those who don’t eat breakfast. The study that looked at older Americans, over a 13-year period, suggests that regularly eating breakfast may lead to a longer-than-average life span.


Phillips SM et al., (2016). Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health, Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 41: 565-572

Sarah E. Jackson, Clemens Kirschbaum, Andrew Steptoe (2017), Hair cortisol and adiposity in a population-based sample of 2,527 men and women aged 54 to 87 years. Obesity, 25 (3):539 DOI: 10.1002/oby.21733

Ivana Buric, Miguel Farias, Jonathan Jong, Christopher Mee, Inti A. Brazil (2017). What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices. Frontiers in Immunology, 8 DOI: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00670

Wilmot EG1, Edwardson CL (2012). Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis, Diabetologia. 55(11): 2895-905. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2677-z

Poon, L.W., Clayton, G., & Martin, P., et al. (1989). Individual similarities and differences of the oldest-old in the Georgia Centenarian Study. The Gerontologist, 29, 43.

Boschmann M, Steiniger J, Hille U, Tank J, Adams F, Sharma AM, Klaus S, Luft FC, Jordan J. (2003). Water-induced thermogenesis. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 88(12):6015-6019

Ivey, FM et al., The Effects of Age, Gender and Myostatin Genotype on the Hypertrophic Response to Heavy Resistance Strength Training. J. Gerontol: Med Sci 55A: M641-M848, 2000.

Mozaffarian D, Hao T, Rimm EB, Willett WC, and Hu FB, (2011). Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men. New England J Med; 364:2392-2404.

Thompson SP (2017). There Is A Reason You Can’t Lose Weight

D’Adamo P.J (2015). The Many Consequences of Sugar Imbalance


Differences Between Muscle Tissue and Body Fat

The body is an amazing organism and is made up of many different elements, including various tissues, bones, organs and fluid. The two that we seem to focus on the most, when it comes to exercise and our health, are muscle and fat. We exercise and monitor our nutritional intake to build one, muscle, while trying to lose the other, fat (also known as adipose tissue). photo-60

Skeletal muscle is the most abundant tissue in the body accounting for approximately 42% and 35% of body weight in men and women respectively. An average male who weighs 185 pounds would have about 78 pounds of lean muscle tissue while a female who weighs 140 pounds has approximately 49 pounds of lean muscle tissue. The remaining body weight, once muscle and fat are accounted for, includes water, mineral, bone and organ weight (the average human heart weighs about 10 oz. while the brain weighs about 3 lbs.). That same average male that where talking about may have, on average, about 25% body fat (or 46 pounds of fat) while that average female may have 30% body fat (or 42 pounds of fat).

One of the amazing things about muscle tissue is that it has the ability through regular, progressive exercise, to increase in size (known as muscle hypertrophy). Donnelly and colleagues have reported that strength training studies (lasting from 8 to 52 weeks) have shown increases of 2.2 to 4.5 pounds of muscle mass. On the other hand, fat tissue typically decreases in size when an exercise prescription is consistently followed. In addition to increasing in size, muscle can also get stronger and with additional training, improvements can be seen in endurance capacity, power output and force production as well.

Fat is stored in the body in the form of triglycerides and also stored in fat cells which are called adipocytes. According to Coyle, about 50,000 to 60,000 calories of energy are stored in fat cells throughout the body. Fat can also be stored within skeletal muscle cells. Protein stores in muscle can account for about 30,000 calories of energy. Muscle tissue can contribute approximately 20% of the body’s total daily energy expenditure compared to 5% for fat tissue.

The photo shows equivalent amounts of both muscle and fat (5 lbs.) but the same amount of muscle, which is more dense, takes up one-third less space compared to fat. Five pounds of muscle and fat may in fact weigh the same but that is where the similarities end. Muscle tissue, pound for pound, requires 3-4 times more calories to maintain compared to fat and is important in the process of energy metabolism. A pound of metabolically active muscle tissue requires 5-7 calories per pound while fat tissue is less metabolically active, needing about 2 calories per pound.

Finally, muscle plays an important role in the aging process. With advancing age we experience a loss of exercise capacity. This is due to first, to a decline in skeletal muscle mass and strength during aging and then a decrease in maximal oxygen uptake mainly due to a drop in maximal heart rate, according to Henning Wackerhage, PhD, a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Exercise Physiology at the University of Aberdeen.


Marieb, EN and Hoehn, K. (2010). Human Anatomy and Physiology (8th ed.). San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings.

Elia, M. (1999). Organ and Tissue Contribution to Metabolic Weight. Energy Metabolism: Tissue Determinants and Cellular Corollaries. Kinney, J.M., Tucker, H.N., eds. Raven Press. New York.

Donnelly, J.E., Jakicic, J.M., et. al. (2003). Is Resistance Training Effective for Weight Management Evidence-Based Preventive Medicine. 1(1): 21-29.

Wackerhage, H. (2014). Molecules, Aging and Exercise in Molecular Exercise Physiology. Routledge.

Coyle, EF. (1995). Fat metabolism during exercise. Sports Science Exchange, 8(6):59.

Book Review: How Fat Works


“I’m interested in how the body reacts to excess fat and how fat metabolism and the genetics of fat metabolism play a role in insulin resistance and fatty liver disease.”

Author Philip A. Wood, Ph.D (not related) has written a great book, How Fat Works (Harvard University Press, 2006). This is a well written book by a Professor at the Burnham Medical Research Institute on the inner workings of fat. One of the most interesting chapters in the book, in my opinion, was chapter 14, Exercise to Burn Fat. Dr. Wood explains process of both aerobic and anaerobic metabolism with great clarification as well as other aspects of basic metabolism in general. A section, in chapter 16, titled Increase Insulin Sensitivity was also very interesting. He talks about how some of us may have food sensitivities towards macronutrients like fat and carbohydrates. This book is well worth the read, no matter if you’re just a fitness enthusiast or a professional in the industry. For a deeper dive into the book check out this article published by Susan Fried in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

The “Fats” of Life!

Despite all of the flashy magazines, fad diets and news articles, current recommendations from the Institute of Medicine suggest you choose a diet containing 45-65% of your daily calories from carbohydrates, 10-35% from protein and 20-35% from fat. You should consume less than 10% of your total calories from saturated fat, less than 1% from trans fats and less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily.

UnknownWhy is Fat so Important in the Diet?

Fat provides a feeling of fullness, calories, vitamins and nutrients that the body needs to survive. The amount of fat you eat is important because fat matters but calories count. If something is fat free that does not necessarily mean that it has any fewer calories than regular fat foods. Fat-free does not mean that you can eat unlimited amounts of the food. Any extra calories in your diet will cause weight gain and so if you are trying to maintain your weight; your calorie intake needs to equal the calories expenditure. Fats are categorized into two types, saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are the most unhealthful and are associated with increased levels of cholesterol. Saturated fats are what we call solid fats, meaning they are solid at room temperature. They are usually from animal sources such as meat, butter and cheese. Some vegetarian sources of saturated fat are coconut and palm kernal. Consuming a diet high in saturated fat will increase your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and also your risk for heart disease.

Trans Fats

Another type of fat is unhealthy fat is called trans fat. Trans fat is an unusual type of unsaturated fatty acid that is similar in shape to a saturated fatty acid. It naturally occurs in dairy and beef. It is also produced when manufacturers hydrogenate or add hydrogen to an oil to make it more spreadable, solid or more shelf-stable. Items like stick varieties of margarine, baked goods, commercially prepared foods and fast foods contain up to 50% of their fat from trans fat. Eating high amounts of trans fat can raise your LDL cholesterol and decrease you HDL or “good” cholesterol. It also produces inflammation and may increase your risk for heart disease.

Foods High in Trans Fat

  • Bake goods and fast foods
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Animal products


Cholesterol is an important substance which can be made by our bodies and is not an “essential” nutrient. It is present in foods of animal origin only, meaning there is no cholesterol in plants. Cholesterol forms the major parts of plaques that narrow arteries in atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of arteries and is the underlying cause of strokes and heart attacks. The National Cholesterol Education Program advises for a consumption of 300 milligrams or less of cholesterol per day. Cutting back on meat and animal products is a good way to decrease your intake of cholesterol and saturated fats. It is important to know that foods high in saturated fat and trans fat raise cholesterol more so than food cholesterol does.

  • 3 oz of top sirloin steak trimmed to ¼” fat = 84 mg of cholesterol
  • 3 oz of light turkey meat = 51 mg of cholesterol
  • 1 cup whole milk = 24 mg of cholesterol

Good Fats

Fat free foods have become so popular, but a diet too low in fat is unhealthy. Monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are “good” fats and can help to promote a healthy heart. Monounsaturated fats contain one unsaturated bond while polyunsaturated fats contain more than one unsaturated bond. These fats help increase the HDL or “good” cholesterol and lower the LDL cholesterol in our blood.   

Essential Fats

There are two polyunsaturated fats that are considered essential in the diet, Linoleic Acid and Linolenic Acid. These are fats that cannot be synthesized by our body and so we must get them from the food we eat. They are used to make Eicosanoids that help regulate many bodily functions. Linoleic acid is an omega 6 fatty acid and it should make up 5-10% of your total calories. That would be approximately 17 grams per day for men and 12 grams per day for women. It is found in food such as

  • Seeds and Nuts
  • Grains
  • Vegetable Oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, sunflower, sesame, soybeans)

Linolenic acid is an omega 3 fatty acid and should make up 0.6-1.2% of your total calories. Men should consume about 1.6 grams per day and women 1.1 grams per day. It is found in foods such as

  • Oils (canola, flaxseed, soybean, walnut, wheat germ)
  • Nuts (walnuts, butternuts)
  • Seeds (flaxseed, soybeans)    

Excessive amounts of either omega 3 or omega 6 fatty acids can interfere with normal functions that depend on a proper balance between the two.

Quick Facts

  • Nonfat milk has 0 grams of fat and is a 90 calories per 8 oz serving.
  • Whole fat milk has 8 grams of fat (5 g of saturated fat) and 150 calories per 8 oz serving.
  • A small croissant contains 12 g of fat (7 g of saturated fat) and 260 calories.
  • 1 measure tablespoon of fat provides 10 grams of fat or about 120 calories.
  • Cheeses are the single greatest contribute of saturated fat in the diet.

The Bottom Line  

Choose unsaturated fats when cooking. Limit trans fat intake to less than 1% of your calorie intake. Limit Saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your daily calories

This guest post was written by Debra Wein, MS, RD, NSCA-CPT, CWPD, a nationally recognized expert on health and wellness. She has nearly 20 years of experience working in the health and wellness industry and has designed award winning programs for both individuals and corporations across the country. She is president and founder of Wellness Workdays, a leading provider of worksite wellness programs, and president and co-founder of Sensible Nutrition, Inc., a consulting firm that provides nutrition and wellness services to individuals. Debra is also the Program Director of the Wellness Workdays Dietetic Internship, the only worksite wellness focused internship for dietetics students interested in becoming Registered Dietitians that is approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Debra helped to formulate and design KOKO’s current nutrition program.