Surveys indicate that many of us make New Yearâ€™s resolutions to eat more healthily or exercise more frequently, yet do not sustain the enthusiasm of January throughout the year.
What if the burst of energy and good intentions could be maintained over a longer period, perhaps with the help of a coach? What kinds of health benefits would appear?
Researchers from Emory and Georgia Tech recently published an analysis of the changes in the health profiles in 382 Center for Health Discovery & Well Being participants who completed a one-year evaluation.
The senior author is Greg Gibson, PhD, professor of biology and director of the Center for Integrative Genomics at Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech postdoctoral fellow Rubina Tabassum, now at the University of Helsinki, is the first author.
â€œWhat do most people in developed countries need to do? Eat better, exercise more regularly and stress less,â€ Gibson says. â€œItâ€™s unclear whether most of the impact comes from the interaction with partners, or simply from participation and goal-setting, but the overall effect is quite good.â€
The main points:
*These are â€œessentially healthyâ€ people — healthier than the general population in the United States â€“ but almost half started out with high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. There was no control group, and not everyone pursued the same exact program. The average age was 48 years and 28 percent of the group was considered obese. Thatâ€™s less than the United States population as a whole.
*On average, the 382 participants lost a moderate amount of weight (it works out to about three pounds) and saw their blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol go down significantly over that first year (121 to 116 mmHG for systolic BP, 112 to 105 mg/dL for LDL-C). They also reported lower scores for depression and anxiety.
*Not everybody achieved their stated goals â€“ only about 40 percent of those that prioritized weight loss (the most common goal) saw it happen. On average, there were no improvements in glucose or insulin levels, but only a small number of people actually had high glucose or diabetes.
*A closer look at the data shows that people with higher risk scores experienced more of the benefits. Data on a subset of 119 participants with metabolic syndrome — the intersection of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol — were presented at the 2014 American Heart Association meeting. This group lost an average of 10 pounds and saw LDL-cholesterol go down from 115 to 105 mg/dL over two years.
*The authors estimate the annual cost, including health partner services and medical tests, at $1000 per participant. Could the health benefits possibly outweigh the cost? The authors argue that the majority of long-term savings over decades would come from just a fraction of people (10 â€“ 15 percent of study participants) with high cardiovascular risk factors.
*Letâ€™s not overlook mental health. Participants reported improved mood and less anxiety. â€œI would argue that that the more dramatic improvements came in the area of mental health,â€ Gibson says.
*With respect to scalability, the CHDWB group was composed of volunteers, interested in improving their health. Including more people might rope in those who are less enthusiastic, and thus less likely to benefit.
*Despite the group being employed and generally healthy, about 20 percent of initial evaluations generated some kind of clinical referral. This finding may have some bearing on the debate over whether annual checkups are dispensable.