Your Health Checkup: Breakfast, Diet, and Exercise

When you eat, what you eat, and how much you move all play a role in living a long and healthy life.

Woman preparing for a work day by putting on a jacket, carrying a cup of coffee, and grabbing a pastry off her kitchen counter.

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“Your Health Checkup” is our online column by Dr. Douglas Zipes, an internationally acclaimed cardiologist, professor, author, inventor, and authority on pacing and electrophysiology. Dr. Zipes is also a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post print magazine. Subscribe to receive thoughtful articles, new fiction, health and wellness advice, and gems from our archive. 

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In my last column, I discussed the risks of eating eggs for breakfast. I hope that information encouraged readers to substitute another food, such as bananas, yogurt, or cereal and fruit, and not stop eating breakfast, since skipping breakfast entirely appears to carry its own risk.

Investigators analyzed the eating habits of a nationally representative group of 6,550 participants aged 40 to 75 years (with a mean age of 53 years, almost half males), and followed them for 17 to 23 years. After adjusting for multiple confounding factors (always a weak point in such studies), they found that participants who never ate breakfast compared with those who ate breakfast everyday had an 87 percent increased risk for cardiovascular mortality and a 19 percent increased risk for death from any cause.

The authors noted that breakfast is an important meal, but almost 25 percent of young people skip it every day. They cite a host of health risks from doing so, including obesity, lipid problems, hypertension, diabetes, and coronary and cerebrovascular disease. This study doesn’t prove causality but only an association and other factors may be important as well.

As I have stressed, what you eat is as important as when you eat. In a study of 16,068 individuals with a mean age of 64 (slightly more than half women and a third African American), the authors evaluated five types of diet: plant-based, southern, convenience, sweets, and alcohol and salads (see figure.) Those individuals adhering to a plant-based food diet including vegetables, beans, fruit, and fish enjoyed a 41 percent reduction in heart failure. Those who ate a diet loaded most heavily with fried foods, organ meats, processed meats, eggs, added fats, and sugar-sweetened beverages had a 72 percent increased risk of heart failure. The results of this study show that adhering to a plant-based diet reduced heart failure risk in a diverse population of American adults, even when they had hypertension, a known risk factor for heart failure.

Chart showing the types of food that affect the risk of heart failure, with plant based diets showing a decreased risk and southern cuisine showing a heightened risk.
Dietary patterns can increase or decrease your risk of heart failure. (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Volume 73, Issue 16, April 2019)

Another recent study of over 400,000 men and women from nine European countries followed for 12 years found essentially the same dietary risks for red and processed meats, in this instance causing coronary artery disease (heart attacks).

And finally — I know I keep harping on it— physical activity is critically important. People can offset the impact of sitting at work all day, which is associated with an increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular death among the least physically active adults, if they perform moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in doses that meet current recommendations.

Because walking and vigorous physical activity can most consistently reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality caused by sitting all day long, go do it, starting today! Walk the dog, play ball with your kids, join a fitness center, but do something!

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  1. Excellent motivational articles on improving overall health for mind and body. Thank you.


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