Exercise is not enough to counteract the impact of daily soda consumption

How would you like to wipe out the benefits of the 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise you logged this week? It’s not a very attractive proposition, but that’s what you’d be doing if you only drank two 12-ounce cans of soda every day. Yes, all that hard work goes out the window by drinking a couple of sugary drinks, be it soda, fruit juice or energy drinks. Plus, soda can increase your risk of heart disease. How can this be?

A study published in January found that even when people met U.S. exercise guidelines for 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking), they couldn’t fully counteract the negative effects of sugary drinks . The 30-year study measured cardiovascular risk, the world’s leading cause of death, in about 100,000 adults, men and women. The study sheds new light on the advertising that often links these drinks to physical activity, without implying negative effects of consumption.

The researchers, from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Laval University in Canada, reported an 18% higher risk of cardiovascular disease when study participants drank just one sugary drink a day, regardless of their exercise levels. When daily consumption increased to at least two drinks per day, this risk increased to 21% among participants who met US exercise guidelines compared with those who rarely or never drank sugary drinks. The researchers noted that physical activity can have a positive impact and halve the cardiovascular risk associated with sugary drinks, but it will not completely cancel the risk.

What is the concern?

Why are these new findings so important? Although experts report that heavy consumption (500 calories or more each day) of sugary drinks in the US is declining, it remains significant. Global consumption exceeds recommended levels. About 60% of children and 50% of adults drink at least one sugary drink a day.

According to the CDC, sugary drinks are the top sources of added sugars in the American diet. In addition to cardiovascular disease, consumption is associated with weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes and kidney disease, not to mention cavities, tooth decay and gout. Viewed through a geographic lens, adults in the Northeast are the most likely to drink sugary drinks, with 68% drinking at least one a day.

With so many products on the market, it’s important to differentiate sugary drinks from those classified as low-calorie sweeteners, which experts define as sweeteners with little or no calories and a higher intensity per gram than those with calories. These are drinks with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose, and plant extracts such as steviol glycosides are often marketed as ‘sugar free’ or ‘diet’.

Scientists report that the health effects of these sweeteners are inconclusive, suggesting that more research is needed. For adults who drink a large volume of sugary drinks, researchers believe that low-calorie sweeteners can be a temporary substitute to reduce the number of sugary drinks these people consume.

While half of all adults drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per day, Healthy Food America tells us that “children, teens and young adults are by far the largest consumers of sugar-sweetened beverages.” Older adults are less likely to consume them in large amounts. Among men aged 40-59, 50% consume at least one sugary drink per day, compared to 65% of men aged 20-39. This metric drops to 43% in men aged 60 and over.

The research shows that among people over 40, there is little difference between men (6.9%) and women (6.1%) when measuring daily caloric intake from sugary drinks. And the CDC reports that the average total calories from sugary drinks decreases with age in both men and women.

How to avoid sugary drinks

The American Heart Association highlights research to avoid sugary drinks that includes the added benefit of reducing calories from solid food intake. Research shows that drinking calories in the form of sugary drinks can reduce your satisfaction with food calories. This can lead to eating more calories than you need. By limiting your intake of sugary drinks, you can reduce the likelihood that you will overeat. It’s not a bad blow to your health. TheAHA also offers some practical tips to help you stay away from the excess sugar in these drinks:

Read nutrition labels and check ingredients.Misleading labels can make drinks loaded with added sugars seem healthy. Before drinking an energy drink, read the label carefully. Ingredients such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, syrups, concentrated fruit juice, agave and honey represent added calories. A single container can hold more than one serving.

Start slowly.Like the expert advice associated with many diet and exercise programs, if sugary drinks are a big part of your diet now, cut back slowly. The AHA recommends mixing half sweetened and half unsweetened drinks to gradually reduce the sweetness and eliminate the sugar.

Make your own smoothie.When you’re craving something sweet or need an afternoon energy boost, a homemade smoothie is a great alternative to coffee or soda. Blending frozen fruits and vegetables with plain yogurt, milk, or fat-free water can give you the thrill you’re looking for and may even save you a few pennies.

Drink water.Water is clearly the best alternative, but it may seem rather pedestrian to many. Experts suggest carrying a refillable bottle and keeping it nearby. Quick access can help develop the habit of drinking water. To inject some flavor, add slices of fruit. And, my personal favorite, don’t forget the sparkling water or seltzer. I like mine plain to protect against any artificial flavors that should be avoided.

You can’t exercise to avoid bad nutritional habits. No matter how many minutes you log each week, consuming sugary drinks can offset your hard work, and that’s no small feat. Yes, these drinks are everywhere and sometimes passed off as healthy, but with a little attention to detail you can avoid the pitfalls. Another example where a little effort can make a big difference. I’m going to drink to this.

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