Category Archives: Health & Fitness

Fitness for fun on your active summer vacation

If you intend to take a vacation this summer, now is the time to start planning. If your vacation will involve activities like hiking, cycling, or swimming, you need to make sure you are ready for that level of activity. Even sightseeing and visiting theme parks can require far more activity than most people are accustomed to.

Unfortunately, many people find out the hard way—sore feet and achy legs, for example—that they weren’t prepared. The good news is that regular exercise now can prepare you for your next vacation so you can focus on having fun. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Family beach vacation

There is good reason to choose an active vacation. Spending time outdoors can reduce stress and walking on the beach or snorkeling in the ocean seems like fun, not exercise. The end result is that being active on your vacation adds to the restorative effect of taking time away from your usual routine. In one study, people who had a physically active vacation reported that they felt mentally and physically fitter, felt more balanced and relaxed, could concentrate better during work, were in a better mood, and felt more recuperated than those who took it easy.

Even if you don’t choose a vacation to participate in a specific exercise, you will likely spend time being active. At the very least, you will be on your feet a lot more than usual.

It is not uncommon for visitors to Disney World to be on their feet for 12 hours and walk 10 to 15 miles in a single day. Most people don’t do that much walking in a typical week! This can lead to blisters, muscle soreness, and fatigue, limiting what you can do and, at the very least, making your time less enjoyable.

If you spend much of your time sitting at work and home, you should try limit your sitting and spend more time standing and moving around. This will help you get ready for long days on your feet. If your vacation will include cycling, hiking, or other vigorous exercise, you should make an effort to build up your endurance through longer exercise sessions. And be sure to break in new hiking or walking shoes before your trip!

Your travel plans may require spending time on planes and in airports. This usually means a lot of sitting, but it doesn’t have to. Airports, especially large airports, are built for walking. You can easily walk long distances while you wait for your flight. If you have enough time, you can take a walk around the entire airport, giving you an active way to pass the time.

Passageways that showcase art, shopping, or other information make walking through the airport a more pleasant experience. If you are traveling with children, many airports have areas that allow kids to move and play. You can always get at least a few minutes of activity by taking a short walk rather than sitting in the gate area waiting for your flight to board. Once you are on the plane you can usually get out of your seat to stand up, stretch, and walk around a bit.

Your goal should be to enjoy your vacation and the extra activity it will likely include. In addition to the numerous other health benefits, improving your fitness through regular physical activity will help you appreciate your vacation time more with less stress, meaning you can return home relaxed and ready to take on your usual routine.

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Calories count, but don’t count calories!

When it comes to losing, maintaining, or gaining weight, calories count. Thanks to a host of wearable devices and mobile apps, counting calories has never been easier. This matters because changing your weight requires altering the balance between calories in and calories out. If you are trying to lose weight, this almost always means cutting the calories that you eat and increasing the calories that you burn. Despite claims to the contrary, this concept of “eat less, move more” is the foundation of nearly every effective weight loss program.

This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


Modern smart devices and mobile apps allow you to track your weight, what you eat, and your activity fairly accurately. Many apps can measure the intensity of exercise by using the GPS and accelerometer features of your phone itself or by syncing with a wearable device, like a smart watch or activity tracker. Some include heart rate to make the estimates even more precise. Using this technology, you can count steps, measure how many miles you walk or run, and estimate how many calories you burn.

Other apps can help you track what you eat. Whether you are counting calories or concerned about the amount specific nutrients you are eating, diet analysis apps can show you what you are really eating. Most require you to enter the foods you eat and the app calculates calories, nutrients, sugar, salt, and water intake based on standard databases. In order to get accurate results, it is important to estimate portion sizes accurately, something that is challenging even for experts. That said, these apps can be useful for tracking what you eat to help you learn about your eating patterns to develop healthier habits or meet specific goals, such as eliminating added sugar from your diet.

Activity trackers and exercise apps are especially popular for improving fitness and promoting weight loss. Both the physical activity that you do throughout the day and dedicated exercise are important for good health, physical fitness, and weight control. This technology can help you know what to do, when to do it, and how much you did at the end of the day.

Even if you aren’t concerned about exactly how many calories you burned in an exercise class or how many steps you took during the day, these devices can help you develop healthier habits. Many people are simply unaware of how sedentary they are during the day or are unrealistic about how intense their workouts really are. For many people, an accurate report of how many steps they took or how many calories they burned is helpful for gauging their success and identifying things they can improve.

While these tools can be helpful, it is important to emphasize the importance of developing healthy habits in order to improve fitness, lose weight, or keep it off. A focus on “micromanaging” steps or calories may cause you to lose sight of the “big picture” changes you want to make. For example, you should strive to be as active as you can throughout the day, even if you have already met your step or calorie goal.

Keep in mind that there are very few people who failed to meet their fitness or weight loss goal because they didn’t have the latest activity tracker or fitness app. Real success comes from making lifestyle changes to incorporate healthy eating and activity habits that you can maintain without constant reminders. While technology can help you make those changes, it does not replace the dedication needed to develop lasting eating and activity habits to promote good health.

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Chill out! Understanding and reducing stress.

Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that contribute to or exacerbate many health problems. In fact, the negative health effects of chronic stress are like those of eating a poor diet or not getting enough physical activity. That said, managing stress, including getting enough sleep, is often overlooked as a key component of good health.

The effects of stress and the importance of stress management is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


The word “stress” is typically used to indicate both the feeling of being “under a lot of stress” as well as the things that cause that feeling. The events and situations that cause stress are properly called stressors, which lead to a stress responsethat includes consequences we feel as well as physiological changes we may not notice.

The immediate effect of a stressor is called the “fight or flight” response since it prepares the body to deal with a dangerous situation. A classic example of this is a caveman who encounters a saber-toothed tiger, clearly a stress-inducing event.

The sympathetic nervous system is immediately activated, which raises heart rate and blood pressure to pump more blood to the muscles. Additionally, stored fat and carbohydrate fuels are broken down as fuel for the muscles. The adrenal glands release catecholamines (adrenaline) and cortisol (the stress hormone) to prolong and enhance this effect. This coordinated response makes sure the caveman’s body is ready for action. After the danger passes, everything returns to normal.

This physiological response is appropriate for major events like saber-toothed tiger encounters, but not for less perilous stressors like being stuck in traffic, pressure at work or home, and other personal and family issues. But the body responds with the same increase in blood pressure and hormones to them all. Unlike a rare saber-toothed tiger encounter, these stressors tend to occur on a daily basis, leading to continuous stress response.

The increase in hormones can lead to high blood pressure, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. This is partly due to elevated levels of cortisol, a hormone that plays a role in storing fat and increasing appetite. While elevated cortisol during exercise (including running away from a saber-toothed tiger) is normal, chronic overproduction can have negative effects.

While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits. To the extent that it is possible, avoiding stressful situations through better time management, setting realistic expectations for ourselves and with others, and learning to say “no” are common recommendations.

Learning how to deal with stressors to avoid the negative effects of stress is also important. Techniques that can be implemented in the heat of a stressful moment include taking a break from the situation, listening to calming music, and progressive relaxation. Even taking a deep breath can help.

Exercise has long been recognized as beneficial for reducing stress and the long-term effects of stress on your health. This includes doing something active during a stressful situation and exercising regularly to improve the way your body responds to stress. While all forms of exercise seem to work, much research and practice has focused on specific types of exercise including yoga and Tai Chi.

Other effective strategies traditionally include meditation and relaxation exercises. More and more research shows that getting enough sleep is also critical for reducing stress and the impact it has on your health. Eating a healthy diet can reduce the effects of stress as well.

The bottom line is that a healthy lifestyle includes stress management as well as a good diet and regular activity. Since all three are essential for good health, it would be wise to eat smart, move more, and chill out!

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That’s not coffee! It’s your morning milkshake.

Breakfast is often thought of as the most important meal of the day, for good reason. Eating a healthy breakfast provides energy to start the day and can be helpful for weight control. In children, a healthy breakfast is essential for proper growth and development and is linked to improved attention and learning in school. Unfortunately, many common breakfast foods are more like candy and soda than a healthy meal to start the day.

This is also true for breakfast drinks, including coffee drinks. Many popular coffee drinks are more similar to a milkshake than to actual coffee! This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Take, for example, the grande (16 oz) Mocha Frappuccino blended coffee drink from Starbucks. This drink has 410 calories, 15 grams of fat, 61 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein. To put this in perspective, 61 grams of sugar is more than most people should have in an entire day!

You could order this drink with nonfat milk and no whipped cream. That’s a good idea, but it will still have 270 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 59 g sugar. That’s still a lot of sugar!

Let’s compare that to a small (16 oz.) McCafe Mocha Frappé from McDonald’s, which is essentially a coffee milkshake. It has 500 calories, 20 grams of fat, 66 grams of sugar, and 8 grams of protein.

Sure, the calories and sugar in the coffee drink aren’t quite as outrageous as the milkshake, but it’s close. This is especially clear when you compare the coffee drink to actual coffee. A grande (16 oz.) Pike Place Roast from Starbucks has 5 calories and no fat or sugar. If you like cream and sugar in your coffee, that adds 5 grams of sugar, 3 grams of fat, and about 50 calories, still way less than either “coffee” drink.

If you don’t want plain coffee a better choice might be a grande Starbucks Cappuccino, which has 140 calories, 7 g fat, and 10 g sugar. Get one with nonfat milk and you cut out 60 calories from fat. If you are worried about how much sugar you consume and how many calories you drink (you probably should be!), this is a much better coffee drink choice than a milkshake!

This isn’t specific to Starbucks. A medium (16 oz.) iced coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts has 130 calories and 28 grams of sugar. And that doesn’t include a donut.

Does this mean you can’t enjoy a delicious coffee drink? Of course not. But don’t try to fool yourself by calling it coffee. Depending on what you order, it may essentially be a milkshake! I think we can all agree that is not part of a healthy breakfast.

I call this idea that unhealthy food makes its way onto our breakfast table Candy & Soda for Breakfast. Foods like donuts and pastries are often topped with icing and it would be difficult to distinguish many muffins from cupcakes. Many “fruit” drinks contain little to no juice but plenty of added sugar, so they are essentially soda without bubbles.

And it’s not just breakfast, either. Lunch, dinner, and snacks frequently include foods that look like a healthy choice—yogurt, nuts, and granola bars are a few examples—but really are candy and soda in disguise.

How to recover from a big race.

Participating in a running race, like the Run United event this past weekend, can be an exhilarating experience. However, it can leave you feeling exhausted and sore. Most commonly associated with weightlifting, muscle soreness can occur after any strenuous exercise, including running further or faster than usual.

This soreness is called DOMS—delayed onset muscle soreness—and it typically occurs 24 to 48 hours after exercise. It is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, which can lead to pain and stiffness. The good news is there are several effective ways to treat muscle soreness to get you back to training for your next event. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

It is important to give the muscles time to rest and recover to allow the body to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. This means taking a break from exercise or reducing the intensity of the workout for a few days. This rest period allows the body to heal and can help to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness.

Many people like to use heat or cold therapy can help to alleviate muscle soreness. Heat therapy can help to increase blood flow to the affected area, which can promote healing and reduce pain. Applying a warm compress or taking a warm bath can be effective. Cold therapy, on the other hand, can help to reduce inflammation and numb the affected area. Applying an ice pack or taking a cold bath can help to reduce muscle soreness and stiffness. However, cold therapy can also slow the healing process, so it may not be the best approach.

Gentle stretching can help to alleviate muscle soreness after exercise. Stretching can help to improve flexibility, reduce muscle tension, and promote healing. It is important to stretch gently and avoid overstretching as this can cause further damage to the muscles. Stretching after exercise or during the recovery period can help to reduce muscle soreness and improve range of motion.

Massage therapy can be effective in treating muscle soreness after exercise. Massage therapy can help to increase blood flow to the affected area, reduce muscle tension, and promote healing. A professional massage therapist can provide targeted therapy to specific muscle groups or trigger points, which can help to alleviate muscle soreness and stiffness. You can also do self massage using your hands, a ball, or a foam roller, too.

Adequate hydration is important for treating muscle soreness after exercise. Dehydration can lead to muscle cramping and stiffness, which can exacerbate muscle soreness. Drinking water and sports drinks can help to rehydrate the body and replace lost electrolytes, which can help to reduce muscle soreness and promote healing.

Getting enough sleep is important for treating muscle soreness after exercise. Sleep is a critical component of the recovery process, as it allows the body to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Getting enough sleep can help to reduce muscle soreness and improve performance in future workouts.

Finally, engaging in light exercise or active recovery can help to alleviate muscle soreness after exercise. Light exercise, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, can help to increase blood flow to the affected area, which can promote healing and reduce muscle soreness. Active recovery can also help to improve flexibility, reduce muscle tension, and prevent future muscle soreness.

In conclusion, muscle soreness after a race is common but there are several effective ways to treat muscle soreness, including rest and recovery, heat or cold therapy, stretching, massage therapy hydration, sleep, and light exercise or active recovery. By following these steps, you can effectively treat muscle soreness and more quickly recover from the race or other exercise event.

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Get ready to run. How to prepare for your next road race.

The Run United event, which consists of a 5K (5 kilometers or 3.1 miles), 10K (10 kilometers or 6.2 miles), a half marathon (13.1 miles), and a kids fun run, is this weekend. Maybe you are among the people in our area have been training for that or another event. As the event approaches, there are still some things you can do to make it a success, whether that means completing your first race or trying to set a personal best.

This advice is more relevant for people who are doing longer races but is general enough that it can help everyone. Keep in mind that it also applies to any event that involves running, walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, or hiking. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


You should cut back on your training in the week leading up to the event. This is called tapering, and it is helpful to promote recovery and reduce the risk of injury before the race. You should still stay active, but your training runs should be shorter and less intense during this time. And give yourself a rest day the day before the event.

What you eat before and during the race can also help you feel and perform better. You may have heard of carbohydrate loading, the practice of eating lots of carbohydrates before a race. This is important because it can help boost levels of muscle glycogen, an important fuel for exercise. Realistically, this process should involve more than a pasta dinner the night before the race and include a more carbohydrates for several days.

On race day, you should have something to eat and drink to make sure you are hydrated and to top off your carbohydrate stores. You should drink plenty of water leading up to the race, but not right before you start. You don’t want water sloshing around in your stomach while you run and should give yourself time to use the restroom, so you don’t need to go during the race.

If you chose to eat a small meal, it should be at least two hours before the race to make sure everything is digested and absorbed. Closer to race time, liquids are a better choice. The emphasis should be on carbohydrates, but realistically, most food will be fine.

What you do during the race mostly depends on the time you will be running and the weather conditions. If you are exercising for an hour or more, especially if it’s hot and humid,  you will certainly need water and taking in some carbohydrates is a good idea. Aid stations along the race course will have water and a sports drink like Gatorade, but you may also want to bring your own gel or other carbohydrate supplement. For events lasting less than an hour, drinking water is a good idea and even though carbohydrates may not help you, there is no reason not to have some if you want.

Something to keep in mind: Race day, and probably the evening before, is not the time to try new foods, drinks, or supplements. You definitely don’t want to learn that something you ate disagrees with you before the start or, worse, while you are running. This includes your clothing, too. A new pair of shoes or clothing can rub you the wrong way, causing blisters or chafing that, at the very least, will make your run less enjoyable. Always try out your shoes, clothes, and anything you will eat or drink during the race ahead to time to avoid an unpleasant race day surprise.

The most important thing is to have fun! Participating in a race is a celebration of your dedicated training and a chance to be part of an active, healthy community. Crossing the finish line is always a thrill whether this is your first race or not. Plus, you’ll get a cool t-shirt!

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Go (and Eat) Green for Earth Day

Since Earth Day is this is a good time to think about the impact we have on our environment and what we can do to reduce that impact. The good news is there are ways we can “go green” that are good for our health and the health of our planet, as I explain in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


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Golf for fun, fitness, and health

Now that spring has arrived and the Masters just ended, lots of people in our area are talking about, and playing, golf. Over 25 million Americans played golf last year, making it one of the most popular sports to participate in. In fact, golf is the most popular sport played by adults over the age of 55.

Often perceived as a leisurely activity for retirees or business executives, golf offers a wide range of health benefits that make it an excellent form of physical activity for individuals of all ages. Playing golf can improve cardiovascular health, enhance muscle strength and endurance, increase flexibility, improve balance and coordination, and reduce stress levels. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


According to one study, which measured heart rate in golfers not using an electric cart on a hilly cart, the intensity of a round of golf is consistent with moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Considering that the average golfer plays for about three hours per round, this accounts for a substantial amount of recommended weekly physical activity. A golfer who walks the course could burn up to 1,000 calories over 18 holes. Of course, the activity level and health benefits are reduced when riding in a motorized cart, but even that level of activity is associated with health benefits.

Playing golf can improve muscle strength and endurance. Golf requires the use of multiple muscle groups, including the core, legs, arms, and shoulders. Swinging a golf club strengthens the muscles of the upper body, while walking uphill and downhill on the golf course strengthens the leg muscles. Carrying the golf bag on the shoulders or pushing a golf cart can further enhance the benefits of the exercise.

Golf can also enhance flexibility, which is crucial for maintaining a healthy range of motion and reducing the risk of injuries. The swinging motion of the golf club requires a full range of motion of the shoulders, back, hips, and wrists. Additionally, the walking and bending involved in playing golf also contribute to improving flexibility. Together, enhanced strength and flexibility  can aid in the prevention of back pain, joint stiffness, and muscle soreness.

Playing golf can also improve balance and coordination, which is essential for performing daily activities and maintaining stability. Golf requires a high level of hand-eye coordination, as well as coordination between the upper and lower body. The ability to maintain balance while swinging the golf club and walking on uneven terrain can help prevent falls and injuries, especially in older adults.

Lastly, playing golf can reduce stress levels and improve mental health. Most golfers play in a group, so golf offers social interaction in addition to activity. Furthermore, outdoor activity is known to have substantial benefits on mood and feelings of well-being, meaning that golf can be good for mental health as well as physical health.

In conclusion, golf is an excellent form of physical activity that offers numerous health benefits. The aerobic, strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination involved in playing golf can enhance overall fitness and reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Furthermore, golf can provide a peaceful and relaxing environment that can reduce stress levels and improve mental health. So, next time you think of golf, remember that it is not just a sport but also a way to stay fit and healthy.

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Exercise: The secret weapon for cancer prevention and treatment

Exercise has broad and significant health benefits, making it among the most important healthy behaviors you can adopt. These benefits include improved muscular strength and endurance, stronger bones, and better cardiovascular system function. Exercise is also essential for maintaining a healthier body weight and body composition and improving metabolic health through blood glucose and lipid regulation.

But exercise causes changes at the cellular and hormonal levels that have even broader effects. Among these is a reduction in inflammation, which has long been linked to a lower risk of heart attack. Accumulating research suggests that reduced inflammation and improved immune system function may be an important way in which exercise reduces the risk of cancer. The role of exercise in cancer prevention and treatment is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

cancer exercise group

While we typically associate the immune system with communicable diseases like cold, flu, or COVID, our immune system plays an important role in the body’s defense against cancer. Conditions like obesity, poor nutrition, and a sedentary lifestyle can promote chronic inflammation. Among other negative effects, inflammation can interfere with the normal functioning of the immune system. This impairs your cells’ natural cancer-fighting capacity, making it more likely that cancer will develop and spread. Exercise can reverse the immune system damage caused by chronic inflammation, reducing the risk of cancer development and progression as well as making it less likely you will become sick from a cold or flu.

The idea that exercise can reduce the risk of cancer isn’t new. I have written previously about the fact that regular physical activity can lower breast cancer risk by as much as 30%, improve survival, and reduce the risk of recurrence. One study confirms that high levels of physical activity can significantly lower the risk of breast cancer along with many other common types including colon, bladder, lung, kidney, and endometrial cancers.

In addition to helping reduce the risk of cancer development and recurrence, regular exercise can help you handle cancer treatment better. To be sure, cancer treatment can lead to extreme physical consequences including losses in weight, muscle mass, strength, and endurance. At least some of this is due to more time resting and less time being active, the effects of which occur within days and get worse over time.

You may have noticed this as weakness and fatigue after spending a few days in bed with the flu. Muscle strength declines at a rate of over 1% per day of bed rest, and can be 50% lower following as little as three weeks. That reduction in strength could limit a person who was already deconditioned to a point where they would have difficulty completing the most basic activities of daily living. Bed rest can also reduce bone density, exposing patients to a greater risk of fracture.

The fitter you are when you begin treatment, the fitter you will be at the end because you have “saved” more strength and endurance in your fitness bank. You simply have more you can lose before you get to a point at which you can’t complete your normal activities. In fact, maintaining physical activity is a key component of cancer treatment. And post-cancer exercise programs are becoming more common as a way to help people recover from cancer treatment and rebuild strength, endurance, and feelings of wellbeing.

The best approach is to be active now to reduce your risk of cancer (and many other chronic diseases) and build strong muscles and bones to help you successfully handle any cancer treatment or periods of other illness you may encounter later.

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Why body fat—and where it’s at—matters for health.

Everyone knows that fat is where the extra calories you eat end up and the reason your clothes fit too tightly. Body fat, or adipose tissue, is an efficient way to store excess energy. When you eat more calories than you expend, the extra energy can be stored as fat. Body fat is essential for storing extra energy, something that allowed our caveman ancestors to survive times when food was scarce. Beyond simply storing energy, research also shows that fat plays an active role in health and disease. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

waist circumference

Some fat is stored beneath your skin, which you can feel when you “pinch an inch.” This is called subcutaneous fat, and it is what most people think about when they think of body fat. It is also the fat that people see change when they gain or lose weight. But you also store fat in other places in your body, which can have important health effects.

Subcutaneous fat is stored between the skin and muscle and may or may not be distributed evenly throughout the body. Some people tend to store fat in their hips and thighs while others store it in their upper body. Much of this is determined by genetics, which also influences where fat is lost during weight loss.

Fat is also stored beneath the muscle wall in the abdomen. This is called visceral fat because it surrounds the intestines and other internal organs. Visceral fat is known to be associated with a greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease than subcutaneous fat. This is in part due to the chemical signals called adipokines that are released from visceral fat and have effects on other organs and tissues resulting in insulin resistance and inflammation.

A simple way to tell if you have excess visceral fat is to measure your waist circumference. If it is greater than 36” for females or 40” for males, you are at risk. This is especially true if you aren’t able to pinch much fat around your waist, which suggests you have less subcutaneous fat and more visceral fat. Keep in mind that this isn’t foolproof, and a high waist circumference doesn’t always mean excess visceral fat, but it’s a good indicator.

Fat can also accumulate inside the liver, a condition is called fatty liver disease. You might expect this to be the result of eating too much fat in your diet, but a more common cause is too much sugar. When you eat excessive amounts of sugar, the liver can turn it into fat. This is especially true if the sugar is fructose, which is found in many artificially sweetened foods and beverages as high fructose corn syrup. When the liver converts fructose to fat it damages the liver and can lead to inflammation, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

The bottom line is that excess fat anywhere is unhealthy, but some forms of fat are particularly dangerous. Losing weight and body fat can reduce the negative effects of body fat. Improving your diet to reduce sugar intake is important for weight control and to minimize liver damage. Exercise also plays an essential role in reducing or reversing some of the negative effects of excess fat so you should strive to be more active every day regardless of your body weight.

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