Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Exercise & Depression

Exercise provides a superb method of relieving stress. There is no question that exercise can be used to treat depression. But does a lack of exercise correlate with depression? A recent study says no.

This from the NYT:

Many people are sure that exercise improves their mood, and studies have suggested that exercise is almost as effective as antidepressants in relieving symptoms of depression. But a new study has found that even though people who exercise are less likely to be depressed or anxious, it is probably not because they exercise

Dutch researchers studied 5,952 twins from the Netherlands Twins Registry, as well as 1,357 additional siblings and 1,249 parents, all 18 to 50 years old. They recorded survey data about the frequency and duration of exercise and used well-validated scales to uncover symptoms of depression and anxiety. The study was published Monday in The Archives of General Psychiatry.

Studying twins allowed the researchers to distinguish between genetic and environmental effects, and they found that the association of exercise with reduced anxious and depressive symptoms could be explained genetically: people disinclined to exercise also tend to be depressed. One does not cause the other.

This does not mean that exercise is useless in alleviating depressive symptoms. “Exercise may still be beneficial for patients being treated for an anxiety or depressive disorder,” said Marleen H. M. de Moor, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student in psychology at VU University Amsterdam. “But we couldn’t find evidence for a causal effect in the population at large.”

Read the entire article.


In Terms Of Longevity & Cardiovascular Health, Fitness Trumps Obesity As Deciding Factor

As reported by the NYT, several new studies show that, for health, the first ingredient is physical fitness. It trumps obesity and the waist line as the prime determinant of health and longevity.

This from the NYT:

. . . [I]s a person’s weight really a reliable indicator of overall health?

Increasingly, medical research is showing that it isn’t. Despite concerns about an obesity epidemic, there is growing evidence that our obsession about weight as a primary measure of health may be misguided.

Last week a report in The Archives of Internal Medicine compared weight and cardiovascular risk factors among a representative sample of more than 5,400 adults. The data suggest that half of overweight people and one-third of obese people are “metabolically healthy.” That means that despite their excess pounds, many overweight and obese adults have healthy levels of “good” cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and other risks for heart disease.

At the same time, about one out of four slim people — those who fall into the “healthy” weight range — actually have at least two cardiovascular risk factors typically associated with obesity, the study showed.

To be sure, being overweight or obese is linked with numerous health problems, and even in the most recent research, obese people were more likely to have two or more cardiovascular risk factors than slim people. But researchers say it is the proportion of overweight and obese people who are metabolically healthy that is so surprising.

“We use ‘overweight’ almost indiscriminately sometimes,” said MaryFran Sowers, a co-author of the study and professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. “But there is lots of individual variation within that, and we need to be cognizant of that as we think about what our health messages should be.”

The data follow a report last fall from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute showing that overweight people appear to have longer life expectancies than so-called normal weight adults.

But many people resist the notion that people who are overweight or obese can be healthy. Several prominent health researchers have criticized the findings from the C.D.C. researchers as misleading, noting that mortality statistics don’t reflect the poor quality of life and suffering obesity can cause. . . .

Part of the problem may be our skewed perception of what it means to be overweight. Typically, a person is judged to be of normal weight based on body mass index, or B.M.I., which measures weight relative to height. A normal B.M.I. ranges from 18.5 to 25. Once B.M.I. reaches 25, a person is viewed as overweight. Thirty or higher is considered obese.

. . . Several studies from researchers at the Cooper Institute in Dallas have shown that fitness — determined by how a person performs on a treadmill — is a far better indicator of health than body mass index. In several studies, the researchers have shown that people who are fat but can still keep up on treadmill tests have much lower heart risk than people who are slim and unfit.

In December, a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at death rates among 2,600 adults 60 and older over 12 years. Notably, death rates among the overweight, those with a B.M.I. of 25 to 30, were slightly lower than in normal weight adults. Death rates were highest among those with a B.M.I. of 35 or more.

But the most striking finding was that fitness level, regardless of body mass index, was the strongest predictor of mortality risk. Those with the lowest level of fitness, as measured on treadmill tests, were four times as likely to die during the 12-year study than those with the highest level of fitness. Even those who had just a minimal level of fitness had half the risk of dying compared with those who were least fit.

During the test, the treadmill moved at a brisk walking pace as the grade increased each minute. In the study, it didn’t take much to qualify as fit. For men, it meant staying on the treadmill at least 8 minutes; for women, 5.5 minutes. The people who fell below those levels, whether fat or thin, were at highest risk.

The results were adjusted to control for age, smoking and underlying heart problems and still showed that fitness, not weight, was most important in predicting mortality risk.

Stephen Blair, a co-author of the study and a professor at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, said the lesson he took from the study was that instead of focusing only on weight loss, doctors should be talking to all patients about the value of physical activity, regardless of body size.

“Why is it such a stretch of the imagination,” he said, “to consider that someone overweight or obese might actually be healthy and fit?”

Read the entire article.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Food Fight: Olympic Champion versus Food Nazis

Much has been made of Michael Phelps 12,000 calorie a day diet that breaks every rule known to food nazis, including renowned nanny Michael Jacobsen. The Center for Conumer Freedom has a hilarious comparison between the two Michael's that also makes the point that exercise is at the heart of staying fit and thin.

This from the Center for Consumer Freedom:

. . . Consider Michael Phelps. Eating a diet loaded with so-called “junk” foods (white bread, fried eggs, and pasta by the pound), the famous Olympic champion downs an astonishing 12 thousand calories each day. However, at 6’4” and 195 lbs, Phelps is far from obese or unhealthy. The swimmer’s big appetite and lean physique seems to contradict the dietary rules eschewed in obesity policies. The explanation is balance. Phelps offsets the energy he eats with the energy he burns.

Most Americans don’t achieve that same balance.

Though many of us can’t keep up with Phelps’ exercise regimen, there’s plenty of opportunity for activity hidden in our day-to-day life. We drive rather than walk to work. We shop online instead of at the store. We ride rather than push our mowers. And with hundreds of channels on television, we spend more time watching sports than playing them. One contributor to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal noted:

According to the Center for Disease Control, [obesity] would basically cure itself if children engaged in the informal outdoor activities that used to be normal.

Food cops, like Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, pay little more than lip service to these couch-potato habits that have become the norm in recent years. Instead, Jacobson and other “obesity” experts single out “junk food” as the culprit behind our burgeoning behinds. Pushing a food-only approach, these sticklers lobby for highly restrictive public health policies that leave no room for common sense (and diets that leave no room for dessert). But the nutritionally risqué diets of Phelps and other top-performing athletes show that any food can be part of an active lifestyle.

Read the entire article.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Nanny State In Action

I posted below that Britain faces a nation wide crisis over widening obesity rates. Now we see local councils advocating that the State take control of "dangerously" obese children and remove them from their families.

This from the Sun:

Dangerously fat kids could be taken from their parents and put into care, council chiefs declared yesterday.

They warned that the worst cases of obesity will be increasingly seen as evidence of "parental neglect."

Social workers will have to step in to offer advice to protect the child's welfare.

In the most extreme cases, children could even be taken away from parents.

. . . The dramatic warning was delivered by the Local Government Association, which represents more than 400 councils in England and Wales.

Around one in four people in England are obese, so overweight that it threatens their health.

But experts fear HALF the population will be affected by 2032.

LGA public health spokesman David Rogers said some councils were already taking actions "where parents are putting children's health in real danger.

"Councils would step in to deal with an under-nourished and neglected child so should a case with a morbidly obese child be different?

. . . "There needs to be a national debate about the extent to which it is acceptable for local authorities to take action in cases where the welfare of children is in real jeopardy."

. . . But Mr Rogers said childhood obesity had now become an issue for every council.

Tough action was needed to protect the health of millions of children. . . .

Read the entire article.

Of all the ways that this problem can be addressed, taking a child from his family seems the absolute worst possible decision. Whether a child grows up fat or slim may be a concern of the state, but it is so patently obvious that there is so much more involved in the family unit that bears on what the child will grow into as to make this draconian policy proposal utterly insane. And even besides that, there are a thousand things the state can do to promote health and weight loss, not the least of which is mandating more physical activities for school age children. It is one thing to use the bully pulpit, another thing entirely to use the police powers of the state against a family.

But, sad to say, I am not surprised that this suggestion should arise in the U.K. As a general rule, the socialist left believes in the superiority of centralized power and that those in power - so long as they are reliably socialist - are in a better position to make decisions effecting individuals than individuals can make for themselves. Socialists also tend to have far less respect for the traditional family unit - as the U.K.'s welfare system among others makes clear. Modern Britain is a true laboratory experiement in socialism and multiculturalism transposed on top of a Western democracy.

Cross posted at Wolf Howling.


Barbecue A Pig & Add To Intelligence, In Evolutionary Terms At Least

Live Science reports on a study that credits the significant jump in human intelligence some 150,000 years ago to the development of culinary skills. Specifically, learning to cook meat and other food with sparked a giant evolutionary jump in the cognitive ability of our species.

This from Live Science:

. . . About 2 million years ago, the human brain rapidly increased its mass until it was double the size of other primate brains.

"This happened because we started to eat better food, like eating more meat," said researcher Philipp Khaitovich of the Partner Institute for Computational Biology in Shanghai.

But the increase in size, Khaitovich continued, "did not make humans as smart as they are today."

. . . For a long time, we were pretty dumb. Humans did little but make "the same very boring stone tools for almost 2 million years," he said. Then, only about 150,000 years ago, a different type of spurt happened — our big brains suddenly got smart. We started innovating. We tried different materials, such as bone, and invented many new tools, including needles for beadwork. Responding to, presumably, our first abstract thoughts, we started creating art and maybe even religion.

To understand what caused the cognitive spurt, Khaitovich and colleagues examined chemical brain processes known to have changed in the past 200,000 years. Comparing apes and humans, they found the most robust differences were for processes involved in energy metabolism.

The finding suggests that increased access to calories spurred our cognitive advances, said Khaitovich, carefully adding that definitive claims of causation are premature.

The research is detailed in the August 2008 issue of Genome Biology.

The extra calories may not have come from more food, but rather from the emergence of pre-historic "Iron Chefs;" the first hearths also arose about 200,000 years ago.

In most animals, the gut needs a lot of energy to grind out nourishment from food sources. But cooking, by breaking down fibers and making nutrients more readily available, is a way of processing food outside the body. Eating (mostly) cooked meals would have lessened the energy needs of our digestion systems, Khaitovich explained, thereby freeing up calories for our brains.

Instead of growing even larger (which would have made birth even more problematic), the human brain most likely used the additional calories to grease the wheels of its internal functioning.

. . . Today, humans have relatively small digestive systems and burn 20-25 percent of their calories running their brains. For comparison, other vertebrate brains use as little as 2 percent of the animal's caloric intake.

Does this mean renewing our subscriptions to Bon Appetit will make our brains more efficient? No, but we probably should avoid diving into the raw food movement. Devoted followers end up, said Khaitovich, "with very severe health problems."

. . . While other theories for the brain's cognitive spurt have not been ruled out (one involves the introduction of fish to the human diet), the finding sheds light on what made us, as Khaitovich put it, "so strange compared to other animals."

Read the entire article.


Obesity In Britain An Expanding Health Crisis

Cornish Pasties are a thing to be savored, but apparently our cousins across the pond are savoring them in a bit too great a quanity. According to a public health expert quoted on the front page of the Daily Times, given current trends, over half of all people in Britain will be obese in 25 years.

This from the Daily Times:

Obesity poses as grave a threat to Britain and the NHS as terrorism, a Government adviser has warned.

Public health expert Professor David Hunter criticised ministers for failing to take 'bold action' to tackle the growing crisis.

Experts have already warned that if trends continue, half the population will be obese within 25 years, causing life expectancy to fall for the first time in two centuries.

Professor Hunter, of Durham University, said that since the 1970s governments have done little more than 'tinkered round the edges' of the emerging health crisis.

'They have been talking about it for four decades but that never seems to be enough,' he said.

'The Government was quick to move for things like ID cards or 42-day detention without trial - now it needs to show similar leadership in public health.

'The threat to our future health is just as significant as the current security threat.'

Although Government initiatives were having some impact, he added, these were on a 'piddling' scale.

'Lots of the initiatives are under a voluntary agreement - but it has just come to the point where things like these are simply not working,' Professor Hunter said.

Around 25 per cent of people in England are classified as obese - so overweight it threatens their health - compared to 8 per cent in 1980.

On current trends, half of the population will be clinically obese by 2032, and those with Type II diabetes - which is triggered almost exclusively by being overweight - will rise tenfold to 19million.

Overall, obesity is thought to knock nine years off lifespan. Various cancers, including breast, colon, kidney and stomach cancer, are known to be linked to weight.

The cost to the NHS of treating obesity - already £1billion a year - will also soar.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: 'We are tackling obesity through awareness campaigns and action in schools.' . . .

Read the entire article. I think that the government is making a tremendous mistake by focusing on what people eat rather than exercise and eating habits. A cursory glance at our activity levels and obesity rates over the past century suggests that exercise and activity levels are the fulcrum of weight loss.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Relationship Between Calories & Exercise - 12,000 Calories A Day Worth (Updated)

The NY Post has the story on the dietary side of Olympic Champ Michael Phelps's training regime. You will not find it in any diet books, but it does show the relationship between diet and exercise.

This from the NY Sun:

Swimming sensation Michael Phelps has an Olympic recipe for success - and it involves eating a staggering 12,000 calories a day.

"Eat, sleep and swim. That's all I can do," Phelps, who won two more gold medals today, told NBC when asked what he needs to win medals. "Get some calories into my system and try to recover the best I can."

By comparison, the average man of the same age needs to ingest about 2,000 calories a day.

Phelps, 23, will swim 17 times over nine days of competition at the Beijing Games - meaning that he will need all the calories he can shovel in his mouth in order to keep his energy levels high.

Phelps' diet - which involves ingesting 4,000 calories every time he sits down for a meal - resembles that of a reckless overeater rather than an Olympian.

Phelps lends a new spin to the phrase "Breakfast of Champions" by starting off his day by eating three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise.

He follows that up with two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes.

At lunch, Phelps gobbles up a pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches slathered with mayo on white bread - capping off the meal by chugging about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.

For dinner, Phelps really loads up on the carbs - what he needs to give him plenty of energy for his five-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week regimen - with a pound of pasta and an entire pizza.

He washes all that down with another 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks. . . .

Read the entire article.

Update: Much more on the Michael Phelps diet from Guardian reporter Jon Henley.


Weight Loss With A Painless Twist

My experience has been that I didn't start to lose weight until I started feeding myself regularly. My aim was to eat just enough every three to four hours that I did not feel any hunger before my next meal three to four hours later. I did not consciously deny myself any food. I did consciously limit how much I ate at any sitting and paid close attention to making sure that, if I ate things that I knew would leave me feeling hungy an hour later - i.e., fruit, grains, deserts - that I would also eat at those meals some protein and oil that would dampen the glycemic effects and not leave me with false hunger an hour later. It worked. Sachi of Big Lizards has adopted a somewhat similar approach - for which she was kicked off of a Japanese weight loss bulletin board.

This from Sachi:

People as a rule tend to think that in order to gain something, they need to give up something. This concept is ancient and universal: "No pain, no gain;" "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch;" "good medicine tastes bitter." Such proverbs exit in every culture, and they reflect a common belief: If a story sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

A healthy suspicion is a good thing. We don’t want to be gullible, do we? However, some stories really are as good as they sound.

Who says losing weight has to be an act of self-flagellation? Why can't there be a way to eat anything you want and still lose weight? Plenty of people do; we all know someone who eats anything he wants but never gains an ounce. What's his secret? (Trick question; there isn't one.)

But what if someone invented a magical diet pill that would solve all your weight problems; would you take it? I suspect that an awful lot of people would not, even if believed it would really work. In fact, some of them would become violently angry: The very concept of easy and craving-free weight loss offends them, just as some people are outraged by the idea that we might somebody be able to solve our energy needs without any conservation ("making do with less") at all, or cure smoking-related diseases without forcing the entire country to quit smoking.

There is no such magic diet pill (yet!) But there really is a weight-loss system that works remarkably well for most people who try it; and it doesn't require buying special food, attending support groups, embarassing yourself on national TV, or spending any money at all. I made the mistake of alluding to it in the Yahoo topic -- and the reaction of the other posters was exactly as I said above; they were irate.

Recently, Dafydd and I both lost a lot of weight using a system promoted by British motivational speaker and hypnotherapist Paul McKenna. We first saw his four lectures on the Learning Channel (for free); we were skeptical, but we tried it... and without depriving ourselves or having any "forbidden foods," we lost a lot of weight.

For serious food lovers like us, this was an incredible solution. But McKenna didn't invent the program; all he did was observe the eating habits of NTPs and generalize to four basic rules. His real talent is actually getting people enthusiastic enough to give it an honest try.

I'm not an agent of McKenna, paid or volunteer; forgive me if I don't go into the details. If you're interested, I recommend you go to his web site and investigate it yourself. If you want to buy the book or DVD set, buy it. If not, then don't. (We bought a copy of the latter just to lend to friends and family who noticed we were suddenly much thinner and wanted to know how.)

But let me at least explain the four basic rules of McKenna system:

-- When you are hungry, eat.

-- Eat what you want, not what you think you should eat.

-- Eat consciously, savoring every bite.

-- When you even think you might be full, stop eating.

That's it. Too simple to work, right?

There are reasons why each rule supports the others; you need to practice them all, but that shouldn't be too hard. Anyway, since we weren't risking anything, we gave it a shot; and for us, the results were both quick and dramatic.

All right, enough about the program. Here's the point that leads to the story of the diet topic: The most refreshing thing about McKenna's program is that you don't have to suffer. You never go hungry; in fact, if you let yourself get too hungry, you're violating rule number one.

Since you know you can eat when you feel hungry and you're not stuck eating nothing but celery sticks and seaweed, you're under no pressure. You can easily do this for rest of your life; and that's the key.

For the past ten or fifteen years, I'd been battling ever-increasing body weight. I tried the Atkins diet, the 1000-calorie-a-day diet, the Slim Fast diet; you name it, I tried it. I always lost some weight, a few pounds, while I was dieting; once I even lost 25 pounds. But as soon as I went off the diet, the weight came back and then some. That's typical of most people's experience, as anyone who has ever dieted can tell you.

Most of the time, a diet fails because you think of it as a diet, something you're going to do until you get down to your "target weight;" and then you'll stop. It's too hard to maintain a diet forever; you're depriving yourself of everything you like to eat. So your diet is always temporary; when you lose X pounds (or get tired of dieting), you start eating like a ravenous wolverine again... and it starts all over.

But the problem isn't what you eat, it's how much you eat. There are no foods that are inherently bad; there are only bad eating habits. In fact, we eat the same food we always used to eat -- Chinese, Italian, sushi, pork chops, steak, pasta, tiramisu -- but we eat a whole lot less of it... literally half to a third of what we used to eat. What McKenna's program does is teach you how to eat what you want without eating more of it than you really need.

It worked amazingly well (along with exercising, which was never our problem; we always exercised). As my weight loss progressed, as I lost ten, twenty, thirty, forty pounds, I naturally wanted to talk about it with other people. But I understood that nothing is more boring than listening to someone else's weight loss story, unless you're also trying to lose weight. So I figured the best place to talk to others would be a (Japanese language) weight loss bulletin board. There, I figured, I could discuss various weight loss experiences with like-minded people, without boring everybody else.

There are many such boards. I tried a couple and immediately ran into a problem: Nobody had any interest in hearing about my experience. As soon as I said, "You can eat anything you want...” they tuned out. If they said anything at all, it was, “There's no such thing” or “It never works.” The fact I lost over 40 pounds didn't seem to impress them; some even called me a liar.

After b-board hopping for a while, I finally settled in a topic run by a woman who lost over 100 lbs in one year. Her handle name translated to “Three Digit,” because she used to weigh over 100 kilograms (220 pounds).

3D runs a blog called "Stoic Diet;" her method is the polar opposite of McKenna's.

. . . The fit hit the shan a few days ago, when another poster complained about not being able to control her appetite; her post sounded like she was in tears when she wrote it. Although I'd been careful not to discuss the McKenna system in any detail, I couldn't let this woman just suffer: I made the mistake of giving her few possible solutions from McKenna's lectures; in particular, I told her to try close her eyes while she ate.

(Medical dietary researchers have found that if you eat while blindfolded, you feel full after eating significantly less food than if you can see your food while you eat. The visual stimulus of food makes you feel hungrier and overwhelms your stomach's signal that it's full. McKenna suggests trying it a few times if you're having trouble stopping, until you learn to detect your stomach's "full" signal.)

That advice set off one of the other posters -- not even the person I was talking to, but a different woman. She told me my "stupid advice" to the other woman was a distraction, like an annoying noise. Also, she told me that she had been really irritated by my food list. She was especially ticked off by my lox and bagel with cream cheese breakfast. "This is too much!" She said. "How can you eat such a high fat, high calorie, and high carbohydrate food combination when you're trying to lose weight? Your posts create a hostile environment, and you make me sick!"

Her violent reaction shocked me; but I was even more astonished when 3D, the moderator, sided with the complainer and handed me a "red card" for violating one of her topic rules: I had dared to mention a different weight-loss method than her “stoic diet.” I was never even aware of such a rule, which was not written down anywhere.

When I told Dafydd about this, he immediately said, "With that absolute passion for freedom of speech, she must a liberal."

I told 3D I was merely conveying a simple trick to supplement her method. She tells people to eat less; if there's a simple, easy way to control appetite, why shouldn't people discuss it? Our mutual goal is to lose weight and keep it off, so what difference does it make how we achieve that goal?

"No!" she wrote; "that's not my goal. That's not this topic's objective at all. I am not simply trying to lose weight and maintain it: The goal is to change one's lifestyle forever. Your goal and my goal are completely incompatible. Don't think even for a second that we're heading toward the same place." (I'm translating from Japanese, obviously.)

What does she mean by “changing one’s life style?” Obviously not simply maintaining ideal weight and staying healthy; she can only mean something simultaneously more spiritual and more ominous.

. . . She seems to have taken a single quotation from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus and turned it into a dieting program:

“Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one's desires, but by the removal of desire.”

Of course, she hasn't removed desire... she just denies herself any food she desires. I don't think she really understands the point of Stoicism. Instead, 3D is like a Buddhist monk who deprives himself of every earthly desire in order to achieve spiritual "nothingness" (what a goal!) For her, the hardship of dieting is more important than losing weight. . . .

Read the entire post. There is much more. I am not familiar with Mr. McKenna's program, but I am quite familiar with most of the techniques articulated by Sachi and can speak to their effectiveness when accompanied by exercise. The one that I did not know about was closing one's eyes while eating.


Mayo Clinic Recommends Slow Speed of Weight Loss

As a general rule, I have heard that those wanting to lose weight should aim for 3 to 4 pounds per week - no more. The Mayo Clinic is recommending 1 to 2 pounds per week to preserve lean muscle tissue.

This from the Mayo Clinic:

When it comes to weight loss, slow and steady wins the race. Fast weight loss is usually followed shortly by rapid weight gain. Besides, 1 pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, so you need to burn 500 more calories than you eat each day to lose just 1 pound a week (500 calories x 7 days). If you're losing more than 1 to 2 pounds a week, it's either water weight or lean tissue you're losing, not fat. Weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week may seem like an agonizingly slow pace, but if improving your health is a long-term goal, the speed of your weight loss isn't important.

There is also countless other reasons to aim for a low speed of weight loss. Besides being the healthiest way to go about it, it also seems correlated with maintaining weightloss. At the extreme, there is also the concern with losing weight slow enough to allow your skin a chance to retract - a concern mostly associated with weight loss surgery.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sleep - Problems In Quantity & Quality

Lack of sleep is directly linked with obestisty as well as other major health maladies. Step one in weight control is getting control of sleep patterns. An article appears this week in Consumer Reports on the prevelance of sleep problems in the U.S., sleep myths and what we can do to get control over our sleep.

This from Consumer Reports, reproduced at AOL:

Trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and awakening too early afflict a lot of Americans these days. Fifty percent of those we asked about their most recent night of sleep reported those problems, and for many, they occur repeatedly. When asked about the previous month, 44 percent said they had one or more of those issues on at least eight nights, making them "problem sleepers." Our survey was a nationally representative sample of 1,466 adults conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in April 2008.

The 24/7 nature of today's world, along with continuous access to entertainment and activities, is one reason for the problem, according to the National Institutes of Health. It estimates that as many as 70 million Americans may be affected, with annual health-care expenses of $16 billion.

Another reason: health issues that interfere with sleep. For instance, 57 percent of survey respondents who said they suffered from conditions such as arthritis , back pain , or neck pain said that those ailments disrupted their sleep during the previous month.

People with sleep problems are turning heavily to medications, with some frightening results. Consider our main survey findings:

Almost one in five Americans took prescription or over-the-counter medicines at least once a week to help them sleep better. Although sleep medications are usually recommended for no more than two weeks or so, 14 percent of our respondents took some type of pill on at least eight of the past 30 nights, and 5 percent turned to prescription drugs every night of the month.

Drug side effects occurred in 63 percent of those who took sleep medications; 24 percent became dependent on the medication they used, and 21 percent indicated that repeated use reduced the drug's effectiveness. The most common side effect was daytime drowsiness, noted by more than a third of respondents.

In a parallel survey of 1,093 insomniacs, or those with chronic sleep loss, 7 percent of respondents who took a sleeping pill during the previous month reported bizarre and dangerous behavior such as sleepwalking, sleep driving, and sleep eating. Last year the Food and Drug Administration began requiring prescription sleeping-pill manufacturers to include strongly worded warnings about such possible side effects.

There are better ways to battle sleeplessness. Sound machines were a viable alternative to drugs when it came to treating some cases of sleeplessness, our respondents said. The machines, which emit soothing sounds such as water, wind, or chirping birds, were highly effective most of the time for many people, working almost as well as sleeping pills, minus the dangerous side effects.

What you can do

We all experience occasional restlessness, but the first step need not be a drug. If you have even a short-term sleep problem, examine your routines. Bad habits such as long or late-day naps, watching TV in bed, drinking alcohol or caffeinated beverages close to bedtime, eating large meals at night, allowing pets or children to share your bed, or varying bedtimes and wake-up times can cause problems.

Your bed is one source of sleep problems you might have overlooked. If you've slept on the same mattress for more than eight years, it could be time for replacement. Worn-out mattresses don’t supply the same comfort and support as newer ones. Also, if you're older than 40, your mattress needs might have changed since your previous purchase. As we grow older, our bodies become more sensitive to pressure points, so a cushiony mattress might provide a better night's sleep than a rock-hard bed. You might also try using a sound machine .

If sleeplessness persists several nights a week for at least three months, it's probably time to see a doctor.

One way to change your habits can be learned from a cognitive behavior therapist, who can set up a sleep schedule, help correct poor sleep habits, and teach you to use relaxation, breathing, and mental techniques to help with sleep. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown in trials to be effective in treating intermittent and chronic insomnia. About half of the respondents who practiced at least some aspects of the therapy found that it helped most nights.

If your doctor suggests prescription medication, new pills such as Ambien CR , Lunesta , and Sonata aren't necessarily better than the older, cheaper drugs such as estazolam or temazepam for many people who need a sleep aid for just a night or two.

Read the entire article. In a companion article, Consumer Reports looked at the self-reported causes of sleep disorders:

Overall, more than a quarter of our survey population said it took them 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep the previous night, and one quarter awakened in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep for at least a half-hour. Much of the time, respondents’ sleep was interrupted because they had to use the bathroom. Also, a third woke up much earlier than they had hoped. Such problems weren’t anomalies: Three-quarters of the respondents told us that was a typical night.

Among problem sleepers, 71 percent took at least 30 minutes to nod off; 59 percent woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall back asleep for a half-hour or longer; and 65 percent awoke much too early.

No single reason stood out as a cause of chronic sleeplessness. Our survey uncovered six characteristics that problem sleepers had in common, the most prevalent being high stress levels. Most of the time, respondents were anxious over family or money concerns, health issues, or work woes. Issues most often linked to sleep loss were worries about commuting, personal health, problems with children, and reactions to news events.

Besides stress, problem sleepers had other issues that exacerbated their insomnia. Almost 65 percent suffered from physical pain caused by arthritis or other conditions, 38 percent suffered from a respiratory condition such as asthma or a cold, and 50 percent suffered from mood disorders, including depression.

Other factors associated with sleeplessness are heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, hyperthyroidism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and menopause.

Insomnia can strike at any age, including in childhood. Those 55 and older are more likely to have other illnesses or aches and pains that can disrupt sleep; they’re also more likely to be taking medications that can keep them from falling and staying asleep. Also, as we age our bodies tend to secrete lower amounts of substances that promote deep sleep and regulate our internal body clocks, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Certain activities and behaviors, such as drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime, exercising late at night, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, shift work, and too much mental stimulation before settling in, can disrupt sleep, too. Traveling, especially shuttling across time zones, can affect sleep. And environmental such as a room that’s too hot, cold, noisy, or bright, can block a good night’s sleep.

Read the entire article. And then there are the nine sleep myths from the AOL site first linked above:

Nine myths about sleep

Think sleeping in will help you catch up on sleep? Are naps a waste of time? Click through this gallery to read findings from the Consumer Reports National Research Center about sleep myths.

Myth No. 1: Getting one hour less sleep per night than needed won't affect you.

Reality: Getting even slightly less sleep can leave you feeling less energetic, hinder your ability to think properly and respond quickly, affect cardiovascular health, and make it more difficult for your body to fight off infections, particularly if the lack of sleep continues.

Myth No. 2: Your body quickly adjusts to different sleep schedules.

Reality: Our biological clocks are programmed so we're more alert during the day and more drowsy at night. Most people can reset their internal clock by one or two hours a day, but it can take a week or longer to adjust to dramatically altered sleep/wake cycles, such as when traveling across time zones or switching from the day shift to working overnight.

Myth No. 3: You need less sleep as you age.

Reality: Older people need just as much sleep as other adults, but they often get less or find it less refreshing because they spend less time in deep, restful sleep and might be easily awakened. They also tend to suffer from aches, pains, and medical conditions that can disrupt sleep.

Myth No. 4: Extra sleep can prevent daytime fatigue.

Reality: It's not just how much you sleep but how well. Some people sleep eight or nine hours but don't feel well rested because of poor-quality sleep.

Myth No. 5: You can make up for sleep loss by sleeping more on weekends.

Reality: This pattern will help relieve part of the sleep deficit, but it won't completely make up for it. Nor will it make up for impaired weekday performance. Sleeping later on weekends can make it more difficult to fall asleep on Sunday night and get up early on Monday.

Myth No. 6: Naps are a waste of time.

Reality: Naps aren't a substitute for a good night's sleep, but they can be restorative. Napping after 3 p.m., though, can make it tougher to fall asleep at night. It can also be difficult to shake off the cobwebs if you nap for more than an hour.

Myth No. 7: Snoring is normal.

Reality: It's common, especially as we age. But snoring on a regular basis might make you sleepy during the day and more susceptible to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, according to growing evidence. Loud snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea, a serious condition in which breathing can stop during sleep for as long as a minute. Untreated, sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease, headaches, impotence, memory problems, and weight gain.

Myth No. 8: Children who don't get enough sleep will show signs of sleepiness during the day.

Reality: Unlike adults, children who are sleep-deprived typically become more active during the day, behaving improperly and having difficulty paying attention.

Myth No. 9: The main cause of insomnia is worry.

Reality: Although stress can cause short bouts of insomnia, a persistent inability to fall or stay asleep generally stems from a number of factors: a reaction to medication, depression or anxiety, or asthma, arthritis, or other medical conditions with symptoms that worsen at night.


Scotland's NHS: 90 Minutes Of Vigirous Exercise A Day Needed For Weight Loss

Based on guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis, Scotland's National Health Service is calling for 90 minutes of vigirous exercise per day to lose weight and sustain the loss.

This from the Scotsman:

IT has been revered as the perfect way to keep healthy and stay in shape.

But the traditional 30-minute-a-day exercise target is insufficient and overweight Scots will need a daily 90-minute workout to stand any chance of fighting the flab, according to new public health guidance.

The advice, which GPs and nurses are to pass on to NHS patients, also warns that light housework such as cleaning or dusting, or strolling round the supermarket, must not be counted in the daily exercise regime.

Instead, only "moderate" or "vigorous" activity such as brisk walking, running, swimming and heavy domestic chores like vacuuming, mowing the lawn or painting and decorating count.

And as part of their weekly regime all adults should perform two sessions of weight training exercises.

The updated guidance on exercise targets has been published by the Scottish Government's public health advisory body NHS Health Scotland. The recommended levels of physical activity have been renewed with ambitious new targets following a recent change in international guidelines.

The guidance is being sent out to GPs, practice nurses, health visitors and pharmacists so they can advise members of the public on how to incorporate exercise into their daily lives as part of the NHS drive to reduce the nation's soaring obesity problem.

. . . The guidance document, 'Energising Lives', states that NHS staff must make physical activity a "higher priority", with 60% of men and 70% of women not thought to be taking enough exercise.

It sets out a number of tips that staff can offer to patients. It adds: "You should do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity at work or home, on at least five days of the week. If you are already overweight or obese, then you should aim to do between 60 and 90 minutes on five days of the week."

Approved activities according to the guidance include brisk walking, running, badminton and cycling as well as heavier household and gardening chores such as mowing the lawn and vacuuming.

However, many ordinary activities of "light intensity" such as office work, shopping or cooking do not count towards the daily target. Nor does anything that takes less than 10 minutes, such as taking out the rubbish.

It adds that weight training or stair climbing should be included twice a week and that a range of activities should be aimed for to improve stamina, strength, flexibility and balance.

Last night a spokeswoman for NHS Health Scotland said the document was based on recently updated, internationally recognised guidelines produced by the American College of Sports Medicine in Indianapolis.

She added: "NHS primary care staff felt there was a need for a guide that had appropriate advice for patients. This really spells out what type of exercise to do and making it relate to people's lives. People can interpret it in different ways so this gives examples of what staff can tell patients to do. This is about how to put it into practice.

"It's up to the discretion of the GP or nurse how they use this information. It's not about going to the gym but doing things like gardening to benefit health."

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association said: "This has to operate in tandem with advice, support and education on healthy eating and making sensible lifestyle choices. In order to make a significant impact on the weight of individuals there has to be a commitment to do as much exercise as possible.

"If somebody is suffering from the medical consequences of being obese or overweight, they may be at risk of chronic heart disease, stroke or have high blood pressure but if they lose weight they are more likely to reduce their health risks. So it may be appropriate to raise the potential for exercise with the patient. That's a discussion that has to take place between the GP and the patient."

Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients' Association, described the move as "a step in the right direction". However, she warned it would not work unless people were sufficiently motivated. She added: "It's a personal responsibility and people will not be helped unless they want to help themselves."

But Edinburgh-based personal trainer Tracy Griffen said most members of the public would find it far too difficult to meet the targets. She said: "Most people who have not exercised before would struggle even to walk for 90 minutes a day, let alone do weight training.

Read the article.


Monday, August 4, 2008

The Relationship Between Exercise & Sustaining Weight Loss

It would seem that sustaining weight loss requires approximately an hour of exercise per day, at least 5 days a week. That is the conclusion of a recent long term study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicene, a subsidiary publication of the Journal of American Medicine. It comports with the observation of the National Weight Loss Registry, that of those who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off, 90% of them exercise over one hour per day.

It would seem that in the world of weight loss, the importance of daily exercise in sufficient quantity and vigor cannot be overemphasized. This from the Archives of Internal Medicine:

In addition to limiting calories, overweight and obese women may need to exercise 55 minutes a day for five days per week to sustain a weight loss of 10 percent over two years, according to a report in the July 28 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine . . .

More than 65 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, a public health concern, according to background information in the article. "Among obese adults, long-term weight loss and prevention of weight regain have been less than desired," the authors write. "Therefore, there is a need for more effective interventions." Current recommendations prescribe 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week, for a total of 150 minutes per week. However, a growing consensus suggests that more exercise may be needed to enhance long-term weight loss.

To calculate the amount of exercise needed, John M. Jakicic, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh, and colleagues enrolled 201 overweight and obese women in a weight loss intervention between 1999 and 2003. All the women were told to eat between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day. They were then assigned to one of four groups based on physical activity amount (burning 1,000 calories vs. 2,000 calories per week) and intensity (moderate vs. vigorous). Group meetings focusing on strategies for modifying eating and exercise habits, as well telephone calls with the intervention team, also were conducted over the two-year period.

After six months, women in all four groups had lost an average of 8 percent to 10 percent of their initial body weight. However, most were not able to sustain this weight loss. After two years the women's weight was an average of 5 percent lower than their initial weight, with no difference between groups.

The 24.6 percent of individuals who did maintain a loss of 10 percent or more over two years reported performing more physical activity (an average of 1,835 calories per week, or 275 minutes per week over the baseline level of activity) than those who lost less weight. They also completed more telephone calls with the intervention team, engaged in more eating behaviors recommended for weight control and had a lower intake of dietary fat.

"This clarifies the amount of physical activity that should be targeted for achieving and sustaining this magnitude of weight loss, but also demonstrates the difficulty of sustaining this level of physical activity," the authors write. "Research is needed to improve long-term compliance with this targeted level of physical activity. Moreover, continued contact with the intervention staff and the ability to sustain recommended eating behaviors also may be important contributing factors to maintaining a significant weight loss that exceeds 10 percent of initial body weight, which suggests that physical activity does not function independently of these other behaviors."

Read the entire article.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

Stretching & Muscle Strength

Apparently there is research suggesting that stretching can sap muscle strength. This is the first I have heard of it. That said, a recent study has found otherwise.

This from Reuters:

While some research has raised the question of whether pre-workout stretching hinders muscle performance, a new study suggests that a few minutes of stretching may not sap the average exerciser's muscle strength.

Stretching is part of many active people's pre-exercise routine. But some recent studies have been pointing to potentially negative effects on athletic performance.

In some studies, though not all, stretching right before a workout has been found to decrease both sprint speed and jump height. There's also evidence that stretching temporarily reduces muscle strength.

However, one question has been whether such effects would be seen after the short bouts of stretching that a typical exerciser or weekend athlete might perform.

The new study, published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, looked at just such a "practical" stretching regimen.

Researchers measured calf-muscle strength in 13 moderately active men and women under four different conditions: after no stretching, and before and after 2, 4 or 8 minutes of calf-muscle stretching.

They found that stretching did not diminish the participants' muscle strength compared with the no-stretching condition. It did, however, temporarily improve the range of motion in the ankle joint.

The findings suggest that "a few minutes of static stretching of the calf muscles before exercise is unlikely to diminish muscle strength," senior researcher Dr. Joel T. Cramer, of the University of Oklahoma in Norman, told Reuters Health.

Past studies, he noted, have shown that longer, less practical stretching regimens may in fact dampen calf muscle strength for a short time. "However," Cramer said, "most exercisers do not continuously stretch their calves for 10, 20 or 30 minutes." . . .

. . . None of this means that stretching is not useful to active people. As demonstrated in the current study, stretching can improve joint range of motion in the short term. And some studies suggest that over the long term, a regular stretching regimen can help build muscle strength.

Read the entire article.

Having spent a lifetime exercising and taking part in sports where stretching was an absolute necessity to protect one's muscles, I am convinced that, even if stretching causes a small loss in strength, of which I am not convinced, it still protects significantly against muscle pulls and related injuries injuries. I have learned the hard way that going from 0 to max with no stretching holds bad things in store.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Weight Loss: "A $44 Billion Dollar Industry With A 99% Failure Rate"

A fitness coach ponders the weight loss industry and the promise of quick losses with minimal work.

This from Newton Daily News:

She’s fed up with being overweight! It’s time for a change. The ad says lose 20 pounds and drop two dress sizes (just like the celebrity). She walks through the door of the weight loss center and is greeted by the diet counselor. The counselor weighs her, discusses current nutrition habits and puts her on the 1,000 calorie per day plan and tells her to walk/jog everyday. She is informed that her food intake will come from the packaged foods and delicious shakes sold by the center, and she will lose weight.

A week later the woman returns to the diet center after following “the program” and the first thing they do is direct her to the scale. She lost five pounds! In a week! She buys more packaged food. The second week, two more pounds! The third week,the scale doesn’t move. But the counselor is ready for this and explains she has hit the dreaded plateau. The counselor cuts her back to the center’s 800 calorie plan.

Sure enough, the woman loses weight again. The only problem is her cravings are getting the best of her. Her body is telling her to eat more; she believes it’s lack of willpower. She gives in and has some ice cream. She gets back on the scale. She’s hit her second plateau. She gives up, she quits and goes on an all out cookie binge. She gains all the weight back! She blames herself! Sound familiar?

. . . We see this same scenario day in and day out. Weight loss is a $44 billion dollar industry with a 99 percent failure rate, and obesity is at an all time high. We are on a mission to get the right information out to maximize people’s lives, not shorten them with fad diets, magic pills, surgeries and infomercials.

The truth is, the above scenario had nothing to do with willpower. The lack of quality nutrients (from processed, packaged food) and calorie deprivation made this a no-win solution. Her body was telling her to eat to survive. Her body doesn't understand she’s trying to lose weight. Protective mechanisms in her body told her she needed the nutrient she can survive off the longest, fat, and the substance that provided the quickest energy, sugar. The binge was caused by the diet.

The counselor failed to tell her the majority of her weight loss came from water and muscle tissue. Losing water means nothing with long-term weight loss, but it’s a great trick for the diet centers. They put her on the scale after a week to prove the diet was working. More significantly, she lost muscle due to such a low calorie intake. Muscle is metabolically active tissue, meaning it burns calories! By sacrificing muscle, she slowed metabolism. Muscle is also the site where fat is burned. Less muscle means reduced ability to burn fat. The result of her diet center choice: a slower metabolism, a hormonally-induced appetite, a reduction in fat burning ability and a guarantee to accumulate fat faster than previous to the diet.

Worst of all, she blames herself and plans to go back to the center and try again. After all, in her mind, it worked until she caved. . . .

Read the entire article. There is no industry more the progeny of the con men of yesteryear than the snake oil salesman who make up today's diet and weight loss industry.


Exercise, Aging & Early Onset Alzheimers

Is there anything for which exercise and fitness do not provide a positive benefit? Its been established for some time that exercise slows down brain cell loss in older, healthy adults. A recent study of people with early onset Alzheimers shows that exercise similarly limits brain cell loss in those individuals who maintain a regime of exercise.

This from the NY Sun:

Patients with early Alzheimer's disease who exercised regularly saw less deterioration in the areas of the brain which control memory, according to a study released yesterday at the 2008 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies showed that exercise positively affected the hippocampus region of patients' brains, an area that is important for both memory and balance. In Alzheimer's, the hippocampus is one of the first parts of the brain to suffer damage.

Exercise and physical fitness have been shown to slow down age-related brain cell death in healthy older adults, and earlier this month a preliminary study was published showing that exercise may help slow brain shrinkage in people with early Alzheimer's disease.

Now, researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., have used MRI and other neuroimaging tools to analyze how exercise affects the brains of those with early Alzheimer's.

The researchers found that patients with early Alzheimer's had a "significant relationship" between the size of key brain areas associated with memory and fitness, unlike healthy older adults. Those patients with better fitness ratings had less brain tissue atrophy and those with worse fitness had more brain damage. . . .

Another report from ICAD 2008 showed that a 12-month home-based exercise program reduced falls and improved balance in patients with dementia. According to researchers from Western Medicine, a consultant physician service provider for Hollywood Hospital in Nedlands, Western Australia, people suffering from dementia fall up to three times more than those who have no cognitive impairment.

Read the entire article.


Psychology of Eating - Package Size

The surprising results of a recent study showed that subjects were more likely to overeat junk food when choosing from multiple "single serving" packs as opposed to eating from bulk packages.

This from NYT:

It is a truism of public health that people consume more junk food from large packages than from small ones. In response, food companies have decreased portion sizes and introduced single-serve packages, particularly for foods like ice cream and snack chips that people have usually bought in bulk, deciding on their own what constitutes a proper portion.

But a study in Journal of Consumer Research suggests smaller packages can lead consumers to eat more, by blunting their wariness about how much they consume. In one experiment, students were primed to think about their body shape, then were given potato chips and left to watch television. They ate nearly twice as many chips when given nine small bags as when given two large ones. They also hesitated less before opening the small bags.

The authors took particular aim at “multipacks” of single-serve portions, like the Häagen-Dazs ice cream cups known as “Little Pleasures.” “Consumers may merrily consume the innocently small packages of Little Pleasures at an even higher pace,” they wrote, “leading to over-consumption.”

Read the entire article.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Health Markers: Waist Measurement versus BMI

Recent studies suggest that waist measurements are a much better indicator of health risks than the BMI commonly used as a thumbnail standard to measure obesity.

This from the NYT:

. . . The size of your waist can tell you far more about the state of your health than the number on a bathroom scale. Studies have linked larger waist sizes to higher risk for heart attack, cancer, diabetes, dementia and even incontinence.

Last month, Harvard Medical School researchers reported on a study of 44,000 nurses that showed even normal-weight women face twice the risk of premature death from heart disease or cancer if they are thick around the middle. Other studies have shown similar risks for men.

The notion of waist size as a barometer of health has been around for years, but the vast majority of doctors still put patients on a scale and calculate their body mass index, which measures weight relative to height.

But many studies of both men and women now suggest that it is not how much you weigh but where you carry your weight that matters most to your health.

In March, an analysis in The Journal of Clinical Epidemiology showed that body mass index is the ''poorest'' indicator of cardiovascular health, and that waist size is a much better way to determine, for both sexes, who is at a higher risk for hypertension, diabetes and elevated cholesterol.

Studies suggest that health risks begin to increase when a woman's waist reaches 31.5 inches and her risk jumps substantially once her waist expands to 35 inches or more. For men, risk starts to climb at 37 inches, but it becomes a bigger worry once their waists reach or exceed 40 inches.

However, those numbers are based on averages and are not always useful for very tall or short people, children or certain ethnic groups. Among the Japanese, for instance, health risks start to increase for men with a waist size above 33.5 inches, but for Japanese women, risk does not increase until their waists expand to 35.5 inches.

Last month, The International Journal of Obesity suggested that, particularly for young people, the waist-to-height ratio might be a better indicator of overall health risks. Put simply, your waist should be less than half your height.

But a thick waist does not always correspond with poor health. One extreme example is the Japanese sumo wrestler who despite his massive size still might have the cardiovascular health of a slimmer athlete. Sumo wrestlers typically store fat just beneath their skin, where it doesn't cause harm, rather than deeper in their abdomen.

Still, for most people, waist size is important. ''We've known for a long time that people who tend to deposit fat inside their abdomen are the ones who have the highest risk for diabetes and heart attacks,'' said Dr. Arya M. Sharma, chairman of obesity research and management at the University of Alberta. ''For most people who are not sumo wrestlers, it's actually quite a good indicator.''

Having a large waist means you are more likely to have fat around your heart, liver and even ordinary muscles, and it signals that you should be screened for other health problems, like insulin resistance and high cholesterol -- particularly high triglycerides.

Losing even a little weight can have a big effect. In a small study, 20 severely obese patients who were put on a very low-calorie diet lost an average of 20 percent of their body weight. That translated into only a 19 percent drop in body mass index, but waist size fell 23 percent. Inside the body, the effect was even greater. Using imaging technology, researchers found that the layer of fat around the heart shrank by an average of 32 percent, according to a report this month in the medical journal Obesity.

Stress hormones have also been linked to abdominal fat. In one study, researchers used blood and saliva tests to measure the stress response of 67 women, ages 18 to 25, who were subjected to speech and math tasks. Women who experienced the most stress during the tasks were more likely to have a thicker waist than the women who were not stressed, according to the March report in The International Journal of Obesity.

Doctors say that while diet and exercise can help shrink your waist, most people find it tough to succeed.

If you have a large waist, your first goal should be to stop gaining weight, Dr. Sharma said. Exercise and improving the quality of the food you eat will lower your risk for heart and other problems, even if you never lose pounds or inches.

''You might want to focus on being as healthy as you can and not obsess about your weight,'' Dr. Sharma said. ''Obesity management is not about treating numbers on a scale. It's about improving people's health.''

Read the entire article.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

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11 Healthy Foods Not Usually Found In Our Diets

An interesting list from the NYT a few weeks ago on twelve healthy foods not normally found in the American diet.


Here is the list from the NYT:

1. Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.

How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.

2. Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.

How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.

3. Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.

How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.

4. Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.

How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.

5. Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.

How to eat: Just drink it.

6. Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but they are packed with antioxidants.

How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.

7. Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.

How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.

8. Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.'’ They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.

How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.

9. Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,'’ it may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.

How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.

10. Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.

How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.

11. Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.

How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.


Declining Activity Levels & Childhood Obesity

Our bodies were built to hunt and gather, to be active. But in the digital age, with more kids playing World of Warcraft than playing basketball or training in tae kwon do, etc., we are witnessing the emergence of a huge nationwide problem. The "gamers" are packing on the pounds. How bad is it? The American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation issued on July 7, are that some children, as young as 8, be put on cholesterol medicine and receive lipid screening to help fight heart disease. Its bad.

The problem, while somewhat attributable to diet, is likely far more attributable to declines in physical activity. Indeed, as the post below on the health of the Masai tribesman indicates, physical activity can erase a bad diet. But a new study shows that kids across the nation and across all cultural and socio-economic divides are showing a precipitous decline in physical activity.


This from ABC News:

A disturbing new study is coming out about kids and their exercise habits. The bottom line: As kids grow from pre-pubescence into teens, their rate of exercise declines sharply.

The findings are revealed in the Journal of the American Medical Association that comes out Wednesday. Dr. Philip Nader, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of California-San Diego, conducted the comprehensive study, which followed more than 1,000 children for six years.

"What shocked me was the sharp decline in activity," Nader said. The study monitored the habits of the same children from different parts of the country, with different family incomes and different races.

At 9 years old, the kids got about three hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day from activities like bike riding, tag or basketball.

However, by the time the kids turned 15, their activity had dropped down to about 49 minutes a day. On the weekends, it was even worse -- kids got about 35 minutes a day.

Researchers estimated that kids' physical activity declined about 40 minutes per day, each year until age 15, when activity fell far below the recommended level.

The Department of Health and Human Service's Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that children and adolescents get a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity, seven days a week.

. . . What makes this study so compelling is how the kids' activities were tracked.

For a full week when the kids were 9, 11, 13, and 15 years old, they wore a computerized device on their belt, called an accelerometer, which measured their movement. The tool gave researchers an accurate view of how kids move and exercise.

The study also found that activity declined for all children across the board, regardless of where they lived, what their family income was or their race. This overarching trend of increasing inactivity points to the raised risk of obesity and heart disease facing America's children.

Nader's findings underscore changes in how children socialize in a digital age. Children spend more time at the computer and television screen, playing video games, than on the street shooting hoops.

"Here's the first time that we have a large group of kids, and it's the same kids from age 9 to 15," Nader said. "So, we are really seeing a culture and a societal decline in activity with age."

The cultural decline in activity that Nader's study identified has much wider implications. The eventual cost is more kids growing into unhealthy adults.

The study's authors called for greater governmental action and programs, beginning at the local level and within the schools, to encourage physical activity within this extremely inactive age group.

Nader also encouraged families to take their own steps to support exercise and general activity in their children and teens.

Read the entire article. Parents today face a problem unique in the human experience. Forcing kids to get outside and play is not something one finds as an issue in the written record. It can be done, but it is going to take a lot of work.


Monday, July 21, 2008

The Masi - Staying Slim & In Good Health On A High Animal Fat Diet & Active Lifestyle

The Masi Tribe have a diet very rich in animal fats and deficient in carbohydrates. Yet the average Masi tribesperson is lean, free of cardiovascular disease and has a good blood lipid profile. The reason is not genetics, its an active lifestyle. The Masi walk . . . and walk, and walk and walk averaging 13.22 miles a day. The study does not say, but I wonder what the Omega 3,6,9 ratio is of the animals the Masai consume. If I recall correctly, our animals raised on something of an unnatural diet of grains tend to have a lipid profile weighted toward Omega 6 and that, in the West, the ratios have gotten vastly out of sync. Unfortunately, the study does not address this issue.

This from Science Daily:

Scientists have long been puzzled by how the Masai can avoid cardiovascular disease despite having a diet rich in animal fats. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet believe that their secret is in their regular walking.

There is strong evidence that the high consumption of animal fats increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Many scientists have therefore been surprised that the nomadic Masai of Kenya and Tanzania are seldom afflicted by the disease, despite having a diet that is rich in animal fats and deficient in carbohydrates.

This fact, which has been known to scientists for 40 years, has raised speculations that the Masai are genetically protected from cardiovascular disease. Now, a unique study by Dr Julia Mbalilaki in association with colleagues from Norway and Tanzania, suggests that the reason is more likely to be the Masai’s active lifestyle.

Their results are based on examinations of the lifestyles, diets and cardiovascular risk factors of 985 middle-aged men and women in Tanzania, 130 of who were Masai, 371 farmers and 484 urbanites. In line with previous studies, their results show that the Masai not only have a diet richer in animal fat than that of the other subjects, but also run the lowest cardiovascular risk, which is to say that they have the lowest body weights, waist-measurements and blood pressure, combined with a healthy blood lipid profile.

What sets the Masai lifestyle apart is also a very high degree of physical activity. The Masai studied expended 2,500 kilocalories a day more than the basic requirement, compared with 1,500 kilocalories a day for the farmers and 891 kilocalories a day for the urbanites. According to the team, most Westerners would have to walk roughly 20 km a day to achieve the Masai level of energy expenditure.

The scientists believe that the Masai are protected by their high physical activity rather than by some unknown genetic factor.

“This is the first time that cardiovascular risk factors have been fully studied in the Masai,” says Dr Mbalilaki. “Bearing in mind the vast amount of walking they do, it no longer seems strange that the Masai have low waist-measurements and good blood lipid profiles, despite the levels of animal fat in their food.”

Read the entire article.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Move Over Gatorade

The big new sports drink is . . . chocolate milk? Given that the person pushing this is the head Olympic strength coach at the University of Minnesota, this rather strange idea merits some attention.

This from the Carolina Coast Online:

Chocolate milk has scored a valuable spot on and off the court. Studies suggest the unique mix of key nutrients in chocolate milk can help refuel and rehydrate your body after exercise, making it an ideal post-exercise choice.

"Athletes who choose chocolate milk can help benefit their body and their training," says Cal Dietz, head Olympic strength coach at the University of Minnesota. "That's why coaches are increasingly encouraging teen-athletes to drink lowfat chocolate milk to help replenish muscles after practice. Researchers theorize the ratio of carbohydrates and protein in chocolate milk helps muscles recover. Plus, it tastes good and provides nine essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and potassium - nutrients especially important for teen diets."

Scientists have evaluated chocolate milk as a post-exercise drink and have identified several reasons why it may be an effective recovery aid: chocolate milk contains a combination of carbohydrates and protein to help replenish exhausted muscles after exercise, and it provides fluids and electrolytes such as potassium to assist with rehydration.

Additionally, chocolate milk has high-quality protein that helps build lean muscle when combined with exercise and the added bonus of providing additional nutrients not found in most traditional sports drinks. Milk contains nine essential nutrients, including calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone strength, and high-quality protein that along with exercise helps build muscle. Just three 8-ounce glasses of lowfat or fat-free milk provides about half of the protein teenagers of all fitness levels need each day. . . .

Read the entire article.


Six Diet Myths - & Corey Everson

MSNBC posts on the "six myths" associated with carbohydrates and weight loss. Most are well known but bear repeating, such as the myth that "all natural" means "healthy," that "low fat" means that the food is acceptable for dieting, or that weight training for woment will make them "bulk up." The only one that I had not heard before was the myth that fiber cancels out calories. This sounds like a misperception growing out the diet plan from Weight Watcher's that subtracts fiber from total carbs in evaluating what one eats.

This from MSNBC:

Myth: Fiber cancels out calories

In general, high fiber foods like whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables tend to be lower in calories and healthier for you. Fiber contributes to satiety (feeling full) and keeps the GI tract running smoothly. However, adding wheat germ and walnuts to your hot fudge sundae or beef and cheese to your three-bean chili will not cancel out the hundred of calories or the bad saturated fat! Shoot for 20-30 grams of fiber a day. Most of us only get about 15 grams.

Myth: All-natural means it’s healthy

. . . The truth is “all-natural” foods can still be high in bad saturated fat, sugar, sodium and calories and low in fiber, vitamins, minerals, photochemicals and antioxidants.

Myth: Eating late at night is bad

. . . It's a myth that the food stays in your stomach all night and then turns immediately to fat. Your body does not turn off when you go to bed. There is no magic time of day that your body starts storing fat and stops digesting food. . . . The hazards of late-night eating include being starving by the time you eat dinner and overeating . . .

Myth: Low fat means you can eat as much as you want

Sodas and low fat ice cream are “low” or “no” fat but they can still cram in a lot of calories. Low-fat peanut butter has the same number of calories as the regular version because the healthy fats were removed, and sugar added. The no-fat cookie craze still has people believing they can eat a whole box of cookies and not worry about calories. Of course this is not true. We need to keep an eye on how much of everything we eat, even if it is low-fat or healthy.

Because of low-fat trends, people have become fearful of fats. But healthy fats that come from plants like olive, canola, walnut and peanut oils and fish are good for you. They are necessary for a healthy heart, immune system and brain function and help satisfy your taste buds.

Myth: Carbs make you fat

. . . Carbohydrates are the primary and preferred source of energy for your working muscles and brain. Choose whole grains like whole wheat breads and pastas, beans, fruits and vegetables to fill your fuel tank. If you go low on carbs you will not be feeling very energetic or alert.

Myth: Women who weight train will become bulky

Women like cardio because we want to burn fat. Unless women are engaging in heavy-duty weight lifting it is doubtful that bulking up will be a problem. With the right amount of weight and strength training exercises you’ll tone and strengthen. Men can bulk up with proper training but that is in part due to their much higher levels of the hormone testosterone.

In addition, as we get age we lose muscle mass and gain fat. Strength training helps stave off the aging process by helping us stay fit, lean and strong.

Read the entire article. As to that last one . . . Corey Everson would seem to be living proof of precisely what weight training can do for women . . .


Israeli Study: Low Fat Diet Is The Least Healthy & Effective

The statue above is the Venus of Willendorf. It is 30,000 years old, predating the written record by some 20 millenium. But it is an anatomically correct statue of an obese woman, thus letting us know that the problem of obesity has been with us for a long time - and apparently was possible even on a hunter gatherer diet.

"Low Fat" diets have been a fad for years and companies have been cashing in on "low fat" foods of all stripes. But fat plays a critical role in depressing appetite and the proper mix of fats (omegas 3, 6 and 9) plays a crucial role in long term health. At any rate, it is no surprise to learn today that a two year study of 322 people by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has found that the "Mediterranian" Diet and the low carb diet, both of which are moderately high in fats, are safer and more effective at creating sustained weight loss than the low fat diet typically recommended by physicians.

This from an article on the study:

. . . In the two-year study, 322 moderately obese people were intensively monitored and were randomly assigned one of three diets: a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet; a Mediterranean calorie-restricted diet with the highest level of dietary fiber and monounsaturated/saturated fat; or a low-carbohydrate diet with the least amount of carbohydrates, highest fat, protein, and dietary cholesterol. The low-carb dieters had no caloric intake restrictions.

Although participants actually decreased their total daily calories consumed by a similar amount, net weight loss from the low-fat diet after two years was only 6.5 lbs. (2.9 kg) compared to 10 lbs. (4.4 kg) on the Mediterranean diet, and 10.3 lbs. (4.7 kg) on the low-carbohydrate diet. "These weight reduction rates are comparable to results from physician-prescribed weight loss medications," explains Dr. Iris Shai, the lead researcher.

The low-fat diet reduced the total cholesterol to HDL ratio by only 12 percent, while the low-carbohydrate diet improved the same ratio by 20 percent. Lipids improved the most in the low-carbohydrate, with a 20% increase in the HDL ("good") cholesterol and, 14% decrease in triglycerides. In all three diets, inflammatory and liver function biomarkers was equally improved. However, among diabetic participants, the standard low-fat diet actually increased the fasting glucose levels by 12mg/dL, while the Mediterranean diet induced a decrease in fasting glucose levels by 33mg/dL.

In addition to the findings, this two-year study is also significant because of the relatively large number of participants coupled with a low drop-out rate – 95 percent were in the study after one year and 85 percent were still participating after the second.

Dr. Iris Shai is a researcher at the S. Daniel Abraham International Center for Health and Nutrition in the Department of Epidemiology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She conceived the study with Dr. Stampfer, the senior author, while she was a Fulbright fellow at Harvard School of Public Health and Channing Laboratory in Boston, Massachusetts.

. . . "Clearly, there is not one diet that is ideal for everyone," Shai concludes. "We believe that this study will open clinical medicine to considering low-carb and Mediterranean diets as safe effective alternatives for patients, based on personal preference and the medical goals set for such intervention. Furthermore, the improvement in levels of some biomarkers continued until the 24-month point, although maximum weight loss was achieved by 6 months. This suggests that healthy diet has beneficial effects beyond weight loss."

Read the entire article.

Cross posted from Wolf Howling