Cutting down the time spent in front of TV and eating more fruits and vegetables can lead to a healthier lifestyle, researchers say.

Previous studies have associated prolonged TV watching or sitting for a long time as an independent risk factor for obesity and diabetes type-2.

"Just making two lifestyle changes has a big overall effect and people don't get overwhelmed," said Bonnie Spring, professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and lead author of the study.

For the study, researchers recruited 204 patients of ages between 21 and 61. These participants were assigned randomly into four groups. Group one had to increase intake of fruits and vegetables plus increase physical activity: the second group had to decrease fat intake and sedentary lifestyle; third group had to decrease fat and increase physical activity and the fourth one had to increase fruit and vegetable intake and cut down time on sedentary leisure.

All participants were paid to finish the treatment. They could earn $175 if they reached the weight-loss goal. After the treatment ended they could switch back to their previous lifestyle but they had to send data about their health for 3 days a month for 6 months. They were given $30 to $80 during this phase of the study.

"We said we hope you'll continue to keep up these healthy changes, but you no longer have to keep them up to be compensated," Spring said.

The researchers found that people who ate fruits and vegetables and stopped being couch potatoes maintained weight loss. About 86 percent of people in the study said that once they lost weight they tried to maintain it and that it enhanced their confidence levels.

"We found people can make very large changes in a very short amount of time and maintain them pretty darn well. It's a lot more feasible than we thought," Spring said.

A study published in 2004 said that only 25 percent of American population gets the required 30 minutes or more of physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for obesity, diabetes type 2 and heart diseases.

The article recommends that people receptive to weight loss must be encouraged to lose about 0.5 lbs to 2 lbs per week. The concept of "no pain no gain" is an outdated one, experts say. Even modest weight loss can do wonders for a person's overall health.

"Americans have all these unhealthy behaviors that put them at high risk for heart disease and cancer, but it is hard for them and their doctors to know where to begin to change those unhealthy habits. This approach [ of ditching the couch and eating fruits and vegetables] simplifies it," she said.

The study is published in Archives of Internal Medicine.