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In their excellent newsletter HEALTHbeat, Harvard Medical School recently reported that, “when it comes to shedding pounds, the key is cutting calories — and it doesn’t really matter whether those calories come mainly from steak, bread, or vegetables.”
Okay, but if you commit to doing regular, calorie-burning exercise can’t you enjoy more fattening food more of the time?
Research suggests that the exercise approach will work – at least for women – if they start out at a normal weight. But for those who are overweight to begin with, exercise won’t be enough. In other words, exercise can keep you thin but it’s not going to make you thin. For that, you’re going to have cut calories and increase exercise.
If you don’t believe it, here’s the research evidence…
The study’s focus… Many studies have shown that physical activity can promote weight loss among people who are overweight or obese, but far fewer have investigated whether it can prevent unhealthy weight gain in the first place. That IS the focus of a study by Harvard Medical School researchers.
The researchers analyzed data provided by 34,079 healthy women, average age 54, who were participating in the long-term Women’s Health Study. Between 1992 and 2007, the women reported their body weight and physical activities every three years. They also provided information on matters that could affect the link between physical activity and weight change, such as smoking, postmenopausal hormone use, alcohol intake, and diet.
Participants were divided into three groups based on their level of physical activity, with energy expended in each group expressed in metabolic equivalent (MET) hours per week. A MET is a unit used to estimate the energy expended during physical activity, relative to the energy expended while sitting quietly.
The results… Not surprisingly, moderate-intensity activity, such as brisk walking, consumes more METs than lower-intensity activities such as yoga or stretching. In the study, women at the lowest activity level got less than 7.5 MET hours per week, the minimum recommended in federal guidelines (it’s the amount expended in walking briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week). The middle group got 7.5 to less than 21 MET hours per week; and the most active women got 21 MET hours or more per week, which requires at least 60 minutes per day of moderately intense physical activity — or 30 minutes per day of vigorous activity.
Over the course of the study, the women gained 5.7 pounds, on average. Those who exercised less tended to gain more: over any three-year period, women in the low and middle activity levels were more likely to gain 5 or more pounds than the most active women. When the researchers looked only at the 4,540 women who were normal weight (a body mass index of less than 25) at the study’s outset and who had managed to hold their weight in the normal range, they found that these weight-maintainers averaged 60 minutes of moderately intense activity per day.
What it means… Among normal-weight women, the likelihood of putting on weight decreased as physical activity level increased. Among women who were overweight or obese, there was no relationship between physical activity and weight gain.
Thus, for women who aren’t overweight or obese, exercise can keep off excess pounds, but it must add up to about seven hours per week of moderately intense activity such as brisk walking or casual bicycling — or 3.5 hours per week of vigorous activity such as jogging or aerobic dancing.
For women who are already overweight or obese, increased physical activity alone is not enough to prevent further weight gain. These women also need to reduce their calorie intake. But they should still get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days for the sake of the many health benefits, which include a reduced risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and stroke.
When men are asked to choose the sexiest woman out of a group, researchers find that they consistently (and usually unconsciously) pick a very particular “waist to hips ratio” (WHR). And happily for many women, a little more bum appears to be exactly what men like best. How much more? The data shows that over and over, men are drawn to a 0.7 “waist to hips ratio” (WHR).
So while Kate Moss and Marilyn Monroe definitely don’t have the same curves, they’ve both got just enough butt to complement their chest. By the way, so do Sophia Loren and the Venus de Milo.
Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is also the newest and probably the best at-home test for coronary health. Some experts go as far as to say that the best way to predict your risk for heart attack and other obesity-related diseases is simply to divide the width of your waist by the width of your hips.
Bottom line: your waist should be SMALLER than your hips, whether you’re a woman or a man. For women, a healthy waist-to-hip ratio should be no higher than 0.8 For men, there’s a little more wiggle room, but nothing higher than 0.95
If your belly has caught up to the size of your hips—even if you’re thin and fit—you’re mucking with your first-impression sex appeal. Maybe even worse, you’re playing Russian roulette with your health. We all know that obesity increases our risk for virtually every health problem, from diabetes to cancer. But recent research findings suggest that not all fat is equally bad for you. It’s what giggles around your waist that you really need to be concerned about. That’s because abdominal fat is more likely than any other fat to initiate metabolic changes that ultimately lead to clogged arteries and heart disease.
So extra fat on a woman’s hips does not appear to predict increased risk nearly as much a flabby belly. Likewise, one man’s beer belly is far more dangerous than another’s wide glide.
WHR has all but overtaken Body Mass Index (BMI) in medicine’s race to determine coronary risk. Still a useful way to determine if you’re overweight, BMI is calculated by dividing you body weight (in kilograms) by the square root of your metric height. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems and certain cancers.
But most scientists now agree that there are problems with the BMI, because it ignores muscle and bone structure. It can indicate overweight in healthy athletes and others who have a heavy, muscular build. Conversely it can underestimate body fat in older people who have lost valuable muscle, not dangerous flab. WHR on the other hand, appears to be “consistently and strongly” predictive of coronary heart disease for men and women.
A number of studies make the argument for WHR. The most recent was published just this past summer by a team at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Principle investigator Dr. Dexter Canoy reports that in following 24,508 men and women (ages 45-79) for nine years, his team found that slightly fewer than 11 percent developed coronary heart disease. And their risk increased continuously as their waist-to-hip ratio went up. Even among obese men, the rate of heart disease was slightly lower among those with a lower WHR. “And in women, at all levels of BMI, waist-to-hip ratios were strongly predictive of heart disease.”
How big a butt is big enough? Well, in the UK study, with every increase of roughly 2.5 inches in hip circumference for men and roughly 3.5 inches in women—the risk of coronary heart disease dropped by 20%.
Of course, packing on inches below your waist is not an intelligent goal. Fat is fat, and none of it is good. The evidence does remain, however: even among the overweight, bigger hips and smaller waists are associated with lower risk. And even if you maintain normal weight, you face increased risk if your waist-to-hip ratio is high.
Christmas cookies and cherry pie. Mashed potatoes, candied yams and homemade turkey stuffing! Surrounded by so much delicious holiday food, it’s terrifying to even think about getting on the scale come January 2nd.
Or maybe not…
Contrary to popular belief, most Americans gain only one pound over the holidays. Sadly, though, research from the National Institutes of Health indicates that most of us never lose that pound. And so it goes, the slow but steady s-p-r-e-a-d of our waistline.
This holiday, take hope from some new and impressive scientific research. The respected journal Sciencerecently reported on an unusual study in which researchers asked volunteers to spend 90 seconds methodically imagining what it would be like to taste, chew and swallow 30 M&Ms, one after another. Then, when presented with a bowl of real M&Ms, the volunteers ate only about half as many candies as participants who’d been asked to imagine eating only three M&Ms (or none at all).
All this defies conventional scientific thought, which has long assumed that only real sensory input can produce the feeling of fullness (satiation). This study suggests that thought alone may trigger satiation—at least where eating is concerned. The results are likely to generate new investigations into overeating and ways to curb it.
PS… Subsequent testing found that methodical thinking about M&M eating did not suppress cheddar cheese consumption; but in-depth thoughts about eating cheese did. No kidding! So put on your thinking cap.
So you have a problem. And racking your brain for a solution just isn’t helping you come up with a way to fix it.
Like a lot of people, my best problem-solving ideas usually don’t reveal themselves when I want them to. And certainly they don’t come to me while I’m working. Some people say they get ideas in the shower. Or while working out. Or from a restful night’s sleep. (Mine come to me when I’m relaxed and talking with friends about something completely unrelated to what I was trying to figure out!)
So — what does this mean? Is there a science, perhaps, to when and how our brains solve problems? Well…I found out some interesting answers from the writers of “The Winner’s Brain,” a book which examines the correlation between success and the way we creatively think through issues.
Up above is a podcast from CBC Radio exploring this phenomenon of “shower thinkers” and other models for releasing your brain to give it more room for creative problem-solving. Give it a listen.
I don’t have many health vices. Coffee has always been at the top of the list and, so, I always tell myself it is healthy to treat yourself to some things. I mean, my morning coffee experience–complete with checking email in bed and skimming a trashy gossip magazine before getting ready–makes my day. And I relish the ritual, despite some guilt over the disputed healthiness of regular coffee drinking…
Well…no longer do I feel guilty! Now, research published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association found that women (exclusively) who sip more than one cup of coffee a day had a 22% to 25% lowered risk of stroke. Even more profound, the researchers found that women who drank no coffee actually had a slightly increased risk for stroke.
While this study lacked control for medication use in its subjects, it’s important to take the findings with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, I admit that my morning ritual looks even better now, guilt-free and all. Cheers to that!
It’s spring in New York. I know because despite the cold and rain, my annual allergies have arrived with a vengeance. The symptoms: coughing, sneezing, nasal congestion even to the point that it’s hard for me to sleep.
In most people these discomforts would get suffered in silence. But given my tendency toward hypochondria, I a) tell my friends who are of little help, then b) compulsively search the internet and c) inevitably shudder to imagine that, somehow, my entire list of complaints pop up in stories about asthma.
As it turns out, I don’t think I’ve got asthma because, according to my semi-obsessive Google investigations, I don’t fall into any of the high-risk groups. Do you?
Heredity: You definitely inherit the predisposition to asthma. In fact, docs think that 60% of all asthma cases are rooted in heredity. According to a CDC report, if one of your parents has asthma, you’re 3-6 times more likely to get it than someone without this genetic link.
Gender: In kids, asthma is more common among boys than girls. Once we reach our 20’s, the ratio equalizes. And by age 40, more women have it than men.
Cigarette Smoke: Several studies confirm that smoking increases risk. There’s also research indicating that if you smoked when you were in your teens, you’re at increased risk later on. Even more findings link exposure to secondhand smoke with development of asthma in kids. And finally, if your mom smoked while she was pregnant with you, then you are at increased risk for having been born prematurely and with lower lung function—both of which are linked to developing asthma.
Weight: Seven unrelated studies find that asthma is nearly 40% more common in overweight adults (those with a BMI greater than 25 but less than 30) and almost twice as common in those with a BMI of 30+).
Socioeconomic Background: Asthma is more common in economically disadvantaged communities, so it’s not surprising to learn that in Los Angeles (where one study was conducted) three times as many African-American school children are hospitalized annually for asthma as are white kids. Twice as many Latino kids are hospitalized compared to whites.
Indoor Allergies: Indoor allergies are definitely an asthma predictor. These include dust mite allergies, cat allergies and dog allergies. One nationwide study showed that levels of indoor allergens directly linked to asthma symptoms and inhaler use. Another showed that kids living in homes with high concentrations of these allergens are 5 times more likely to develop asthma.
So I’m grateful that my parents are asthma-free, glad I’m a woman, relieved that I’ve never smoked, weighed in at a chubby 7lb 4 oz at birth, proud I try to stick to a pretty healthy diet (except around pasta!), and have learned to use all-natural allergy products to lower the levels of indoor allergens in my apartment.
Now, if I can just find something to help with my hypochondria. That can’t be fatal, can it?
There has long been contention in the medical research community as to whether vasectomy procedures affect a man’s risk of prostate cancer. And since an average of one in six men over 35 years of age decide to get a vasectomy — a procedure that leads to sterility by means of severing and tying a man’s vas deferentia to prevent the release of sperm — the topic deserves attention. Yet even data and discussion from the National Cancer Institute is as outdated as 2002.
In the meantime, a stranger correlation has come out of the woodwork: vasectomy procedures and March Madness. Intriguing and, as I thought when I first read the headlines, hard to believe.
Sure enough, the trend started in 2008 when the Oregon Urology Institute offered free t-shirts, free food and frozen peas (for swelling post-surgery). Now it seems that men are finding incentives to get a vasectomy during the March Madness month of leisurely basketball watching. By this year, the Cleveland Clinic expects the number of vasectomy procedures to increase 50%.
USA Today reports more on the story here.
Advice from “The World’s Happiest Person”
Could there really be a “happiest person in America”?
After the research polling group Gallup created their Well-Being Index to understand elements of a happy life, the New York Times came to Gallup asking if there was one single happiest person.
This hypothetical profile, Gallup reported back, is a man: ”He’s a tall, Asian American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year.”
Well, after some phone calls and digging, the New York Times found Alvin Wong. Sure enough, he matches the hypothetical profile. He lives in Hawaii with his wife, he’s 69, he runs his own business and laughed a lot during the phone call.
Looks like I’m moving to Hawaii…