Your guide to a healthier, happier 2020

Topics: Public Health, Wellness Programs, Food/Nutrition

American Health Line's editorial team in 2019 read through scores of news stories and studies on the lifestyle choices that we face every day— from whether diet sodas increase the risk of premature death to whether exercising in the morning is better.

As part of our Year in Review, we compiled this list of top stories to help you stay happy and healthy in 2020.

Eat better

Are diet fads making Americans eat healthier? Maybe.

A study published in JAMA in September found U.S. adults are eating healthier, but low-quality carbohydrates, like sweets and French fries, continue to make up more than 40% of their daily calorie intake, which the researchers say is too much.

Are diet sodas dangerous? New research deepens the debate.

An observational study of published in JAMA Internal Medicine in September found drinking soft drinks, including diet sodas, every day is linked to a greater risk of premature death. But some experts warn that observational studies like this one fail to answer a fundamental question: Does drinking soda cause harm or is it simply associated with unhealthy behaviors?

What do processed foods do to your body? Here's what 3 new studies found.

Three separate studies published this year found processed foods—which represent more than half of the average U.S. resident's diet—negatively affect an individual's cardiovascular health, overall mortality risk, and weight.

Is red meat really bad for you? A new study ignites a scientific food fight.

In October, the Annals of Internal Medicine published new recommendations that concluded there is no convincing evidence that adults need to reduce their intake of processed and red meats to improve their health—breaking with years of existing guidelines for red meat consumption. The findings launched the nutrition world into a divisive debate that included questions about the author's past industry ties.

The 4 things experts know for sure about weight loss

Diet studies often have conflicting results, so experts do not have all of the answers when it comes to weight loss and dieting—but while there are many unknowns, there also are some weight loss facts backed by science. Gina Kolata of the New York Times rounds up what decades of research on diet has proven—and not proven.

'Fasting diets' are all the rage for weight loss. But do they actually work?

Julia Belluz of Vox rounds up evidence on the health benefits of fasting diets—and finds early research suggests the diets might help with more than weight loss, but it might be too early to tell.  

The 'ideal diet' for you (and the planet), according to research

A group of 37 specialists from 16 countries determined an "ideal diet" for the planet and people would include less meat and more fruits, nuts, and vegetables, according to study published February in The Lancet.

The 'shockingly small' evidence for low-salt diets

In the New York Times' "The Upshot," Aaron Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, explores the lack of evidence showing low-sodium diets benefit patients with heart failure and other conditions—and how providers should adjust their sodium recommendations moving forward.

Exercise

You need 10,000 steps a day to be healthy, right? Maybe not, according to research.

Many fitness trackers are programmed to encourage users to reach 10,000 steps per day, but a study published in May in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that, when it comes to increased longevity, there might not be anything special about that number after all.

Could Fitbits be the secret to measuring the 'sixth vital sign'?

A study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center published in February in JAMA Network Open found that for every 100 extra steps post-operative patients took their likelihood of having a long hospital stay diminished—but those benefits capped at 1,000 extra steps.

Exercise might fight depression. But how much do you need?

A study published November in Depression and Anxiety found exercise might be linked to a reduced risk of depression, including among people who are genetically predisposed to the condition.

Is morning exercise really better for weight loss? Here's why you should be skeptical.

Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and health care economist, in the New York Times' "The Upshot" explains why people might want to think twice before they decide to move their workout routine to the morning.

Is your Fitbit actually boosting your health? A new study offers hope.

A study published in June in PLOS Medicine found that participants who were randomly assigned to receive a pedometer and behavioral support were, several years later, more active and at lower risk for heart attack, stroke, and bone fractures, compared with those who did not track their steps.

She quit medicine to open a CrossFit gym. (And she thinks she's having a bigger impact now.)

There are no studies specifically on the long-term health effects of CrossFit, but Vox's Julia Belluz writes that there are many on the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Belluz breaks down the existing research on HIIT, which has been shown to lead to more significant gains in cardio-respiratory fitness when compared with other types of training.

Stay well

What your BMI fails to capture—and 3 easy-to-use metrics that might be better

James Hamblin, a preventive medicine physician, in The Atlantic examines three metrics research suggests could be better than body-mass-index. 

These 5 lifestyle factors could cut your Alzheimer's risk by 60%

A study presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in July found five lifestyle factors could have a significant effect on the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, and a separate study published July in JAMA found lifestyle changes could lower dementia risk, including for those genetically predisposed to the disease.

The 8 proven ways to prevent dementia, according to WHO

The World Health Organization in May released new guidelines for reducing the risk of developing dementia—with a few surprising tips.

The 7 proven ways to fight cancer (that many US residents still aren't doing)

A new research review by the American Cancer Society published in April in the Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention identifies seven ways people can lower their risk of cancer, including kicking the smoking habit and consuming a healthier diet.