Thursday, May 26, 2011

Walking Counts as Exercise

People try all these insane diets," then give up when they don't lose weight and don't feel any better, says Vik Khanna, executive director of Health and Wellness for Mercy Health Ministry in Chesterfield, Mo.

Instead, Khanna recommends baby steps to fitness — as in walking.

"It's one of the things that is very underrated," Khanna says. "Walking is the universal best exercise. It's accessible. Most of us can do it into our 80s and 90s."

Not only will you feel better, you can also improve your memory and maybe even live longer. How's that for multitasking?

A study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that regular walking improved older people's ability to remember things. Also, says Khanna, "studies show that older adults who walk faster live longer."

So, once you get up and start putting one foot in front of the other, then pick up your speed.

"The problem is, most of us stroll," Khanna says. Going faster will make you feel even better, and you might lose weight.

Walking at 2 mph, a 150-pound person burns about 171 calories, taking more than 20 hours to lose a pound.

At 3 mph, it would take 15 hours to lose a pound.

Just one hour of walking at 3 mph, and you'll burn off the effects of a 99-cent bag of M&M's.

Getting off the couch …

Start with a slow walk, just a few minutes a day.

Increase time gradually.

Then walk faster.

Make a game out of it by spotting an object and speeding toward it.

Let breathing return to normal then speed up again.

Close to 20% of young adults have high blood pressure, a new government-funded study reports.

For the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, researchers from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill asked 14,000 men and women between the ages of 24 and 32 about their high blood pressure history and then took blood pressure readings of participants.

High blood pressure (hypertension) was defined as 140/90 millimeters of mercury or higher. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a normal blood pressure is 120/80 or less.The researchers found that 19% of participants had high blood pressure.

"We were surprised by the figure," says Kathleen Mullan Harris, a principal investigator of the study and professor of sociology at UNC. "Nobody really knows or had known what the prevalence was of high blood pressure among young adults. This is the first estimate we have on this."

The findings, published online in Epidemiology today, are significantly higher than other recent research from another large, ongoing health study, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which found only 4% of adults 20 to 39 have high blood pressure.

"We explored several possible explanations for the difference between this study and NHANES, including participant characteristics, where they were examined, and the types of devices for measuring their blood pressure," says Harris, but none of those factors could account for the differences.

The results concern heart experts. "These statistics are certainly worrisome ," says Chip Lavie, medical director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Prevention at the John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute, in New Orleans. "A prevalence of 19% at such a young age is already a high prevalence that will certainly lead to substantial cardiovascular disease as aging occurs."

The study authors wrote that many young people are unaware that they have high blood pressure. Eleven percent of participants said they had been told they had high blood pressure prior to the research, fewer than the 19% found to have high blood pressure during the study.

"We've usually thought of this population as being healthy and these are people that shouldn't be sick and they are," says Steinbaum. She blames salt- and sugar-packed processed foods and says young adults need to get moving and making healthier food choices. If they don't address it, this group of young adults will get cardiovascular disease.

Steinbaum says you can't change risk factors for heart disease like family history, age, and your sex, but you can address other risk factors that lead to heart disease including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a sedentary lifestyle, stress, smoking, and diabetes.

Source:Mary Brophy Marcus, USA TODAY 5/25/11

"Eighty percent of the time, heart disease is preventable," Steinbaum says.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Genetic testing for sports genes courts controversy

The DNA scans, the first of an expected wave of attempts to use genes to enhance athletic performance, can steer children toward games they are most likely to win — and perhaps get scholarships to play, the companies say. The tests also let children — and adults — tailor workouts to their innate skills, the firms say, as well as spot those prone to life-threatening heart problems, concussions and other injuries.

“The main purpose of the test is to maximize performance in the minimum amount of time and minimize risk,” said Bill Miller, chief executive of American International Biotechnology Services in Richmond, which began selling the test three weeks ago.

Critics, however, see the kits as the latest in a flood of questionable genetic tests that entrepreneurs are hawking. No one can accurately gauge the influence of genes on athletic abilities or vulnerabilities, they say. The results may be needlessly alarming or falsely reassuring, they say. Skeptics also fear that the trend will encourage overzealous parents and coaches to push kids into sports they dislike or discourage them from physical activities they enjoy — and might succeed at — despite their genes.

“This is really disturbing,” said Lainie Friedman Ross, a pediatrician and bioethicist at the University of Chicago. “Sports and physical activity should be fun for kids. It shouldn’t be, ‘You’re going to be the world’s greatest athlete’ or ‘Give up now, kid, because you won’t have a chance’ because of your genes.”

FDA as referee?

The growing availability of mail-order DNA scans has spurred excitement about finding genetic clues to ancestry, health and proclivities. But the testing has also raised alarm because genetic data can be misleading, misinterpreted and misunderstood, and it can leave consumers vulnerable to discrimination by employers and insurers.

The plethora of tests has prompted the Food and Drug Administration to begin stepping in, causing one company last year to abandon plans to sell a genetic screen at Walgreens stores, others to discontinue offering tests directly to consumers and some to begin working with the agency to validate their methodology.

‘This is just a tool’

Another company, Atlas Sports Genetics of Boulder, Colo., was the first to offer athletic DNA testing in the United States. For $169, Atlas sells an Australian lab’s test that analyzes a gene that controls a key muscle protein. The ACTN3 protein can make muscles better at producing quick bursts of power.

“A lot of people get confused and think we’re saying this can tell you whether you or your child will be the next Michael Jordan,” said Nat Carruthers, Atlas’s president of operations. “It doesn’t tell you that. But it will tell you whether you are producing this protein and whether you are predisposed to be good at a sprint sport or an endurance sport.”

The results, obtained by mailing to a lab a saliva sample swabbed from inside a cheek, can help active people maximize their workout regimens and sports choices based on their muscle type, Carruthers said.

“If someone trying to run marathons says, ‘I’m trying to do all the endurance training, but it’s just not working out. I can’t keep up with the workouts,’ or they are trying to lose weight and they say, ‘I’m going to the gym and I just can’t do these workouts,’ we can say, ‘You need to train in a different way,’ ” Carruthers said.

Bradley Marston of Bountiful, Utah, had his 10-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, tested last year because he was curious to learn more about why she excelled at soccer.

“I already knew she had that something special. This is just a tool to help me determine what to do with her strengths as well as some of her shortcomings,” Marston said.

Elizabeth’s test indicated that her muscles are predisposed more to quick spurts of power than to long trials of endurance.

“I am not the type of father or parent that is pushing my daughter to succeed. It’s not all about winning. The focus is about having fun. This tool can just help us,” Marston said.

Genetics of performance

Although the ACTN3 gene has been linked to enhanced performance among some elite sprinters, it does not seem essential to Olympic-level athletics.

“It looks like the gene does contribute something, but only a very small amount at the very, very elite levels,” said Stephen M. Roth, who studies the genetics of physical performance at the University of Maryland. “For 99 percent of the world, it does not matter.”

More recently, American International began screening for the ACTN3 gene, as well as six others that the company says influence strength, energy and endurance. In addition, the $200 test checks cheek swabs for variations of three genes that the company says can signal risks for fatal heart muscle and rhythm emergencies. Sports X Factor can also supposedly identify those who are vulnerable to concussions and need more rest after suffering a head injury to minimize the risk of brain damage.

Targeting children

“One of the main target audiences is kids,” Miller said. “We want to make sure they are not out there blindly playing with one of these mutations and have a heart attack or a concussion. It gives parents peace of mind that their kid is not going to drop dead in the middle of a workout.”

Critics, however, argue that too little is known about the genes in the test panel to reliably interpret the results.

“If the test comes back negative, the parent might say, ‘Put them back in,’ ” said Carl Foster, a professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. “If you get your kid back into competition too quickly and he gets another concussion, the kid is dead now.”

Several experts expressed concern about including the gene called ApoE for information about concussions. ApoE plays a role in Alzheimer’s disease, which means youngsters excited about tomorrow’s soccer game and their parents may find out that they are at risk for a devastating brain disease decades later.

“I think this company is a good advertisement for the need for more regulation of . . . genomic testing,” said Hank Greely, a Stanford University lawyer and bioethicist.

Despite such concerns, one of American International’s first clients was Ryan Muetzel, who was trying it out for clients at his Athletes Edge private training company in Boca Raton, Fla. Muetzel’s test concluded that he’d be good at track and field but prone to knee injuries — all of which he said is true.

“If kids are trying to get college scholarships, or just be happy and successful, what is going to make them happy?” he asked. “No one wants to be the worst kid on the team.”

Source:Rob Stein,Washington Post; Published: May 18,2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Does Late Night Eating Cause Weight Gain?

A link between late-night eating and weight gain has been debated for years. But though many dieters suspect a connection, it has not been borne out in studies.

Most of the research on the matter has been carried out in animals, and with mixed results. A 2005 study of primates at Oregon Health & Science University found that late-night meals did not lead to extra weight gain; whether consumed at 10 a.m. or 10 p.m., a calorie was just a calorie.

But a study on adult men and women, published in April in the journal Obesity, has added support to the claim that eating late does have a greater effect on the waistline.

In the study, researchers followed the sleeping and eating patterns of 52 people over seven days. About half the subjects were “late sleepers,” meaning the midpoint of their sleep cycles was 5:30 a.m. or later. The others were “normal sleepers,” whose midpoints were before 5:30 a.m.

At the end of the study, the scientists found that the late sleepers had higher body mass indexes, typically downed more calories at dinner, and ate fewer fruits and vegetables. The late sleepers also slept fewer hours, a habit that is generally linked to weight gain. But even after adjusting for these and other variables, the scientists discovered that eating after 8 p.m. was associated with a higher body mass index, suggesting that late-evening calories are, for some reason, more hazardous to your weight.


Recent studies suggest that eating at night may in fact lead to more weight gain, though it’s not clear why.

Source: Anahad O'Conner NY Times Health 5/16/11

Monday, May 16, 2011

Foods With Benefits, or So They Say

START in Aisle 2, third shelf from the bottom: here is grape juice for your heart. Over to Aisle 4: there are frozen carrots for your eyes.

In Aisle 5: vitamin-packed water for your immune system. In the dairy case: probiotic yogurt for your insides and milk for your brain.

In aisle after aisle, wonders beckon. Foods and drinks to help your heart, lower your cholesterol, trim your tummy, coddle your colon. Toss them into your cart and you might feel better.

Or not. Because this, shoppers, is the question: Are all these products really healthy, or are some of them just hyped?

The answer to that question matters to millions of Americans who are wagering their money and their waistlines on hot new products in the grocery aisles called “functional foods.”

Food giants like Dannon, Kellogg and General Mills don’t claim these products actually prevent or cure diseases. Such declarations would run afoul of federal regulations. Nor do they sell them as medical foods, which are intended to be consumed under a doctor’s supervision.

Rather, food companies market functional foods with health-promoting or wellness-maintaining properties. Such claims are perfectly legal, provided that they are backed up by some credible science.

All those heart-healthy red hearts on your box of Quaker Oats cereal or that can of Planters peanuts? That happy-colon yellow arrow on the tub of Activia yogurt? It’s all part of the marketing of functional food.

Over the past decade, despite all those sales pitches for “natural,” “organic” and “whole” foods, functional food has turned into a big business for Big Food. And more Americans are buying into the functional story. Sales of these foods and beverages totaled $37.3 billion in the United States in 2009, up from $28.2 billion in 2005, according to estimates from the Nutrition Business Journal, a market research firm.

But as sales soar, federal regulators worry that some packaged foods that scream healthy on their labels are in fact no healthier than many ordinary brands. Federal Trade Commission officials have been cracking down on products that, in their view, make dubious or exaggerated claims. Overwhelmed regulators concede that they are struggling to police this booming market, despite recent settlements with makers of brands like Kellogg’s Rice Krispies and Dannon’s Activia, which the authorities say oversold their health benefits.

Consumer advocates and some nutritionists are equally blunt. They say shoppers are being bamboozled by slick marketing. Many people grab products with healthy claims on the front of the package and overlook crucial nutritional information, like calorie counts, in the small print on the back.

“Functional foods, they are not about health,” says Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. “They are about marketing.”

Walk through any supermarket, and you’ll see what Ms. Nestle means.

Here in Aisle 2 is a box of Quaker Oatmeal Squares cereal, made by the Quaker Oats Company. The front of the box, in large white print, proclaims: “Oatmeal helps reduce cholesterol!” Scientists generally agree that fiber can be good for your heart. But read the adjacent smaller print, which the Food and Drug Administration requires, and you’ll find that one serving of Quaker Oatmeal Squares contains only a third of the amount of soluble fiber needed daily to help reduce the risk of heart disease. In other words, you may have to eat three bowls of cereal daily — 630 calories’ worth, without milk — to benefit.

Down the aisle is Welch’s 100% Grape Juice, with no fat and emblazoned with a red-heart certification from the American Heart Association. An eight-ounce glass has 36 grams of sugar; a regular-sized Snickers, by comparison, has 30.

No one is saying that these products are unsafe or unhealthy, or that there isn’t science behind them. But nutritionists like Ms. Nestle contend that the kaleidoscopic array of functional foods on offer, with all those different claims, has left many consumers confused about the products’ actual health value. And, in some cases, regulators say, manufacturers are bending, or even breaking, the rules about how they market these products.

“If people can’t rely on even the most trusted food brands to have good science backing up their claims, who can they rely on?” asks Mary K. Engle, the director of the advertising practices division at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington.

Over the last two years, the F.T.C., which oversees food advertising, has filed complaints of deceptive marketing against Kellogg, Dannon and a subsidiary of Nestlé.

None of the companies have admitted wrongdoing. But each has separately settled with the agency, agreeing to certain restrictions on health-related claims.

The agency’s concern, says David C. Vladeck, director of its bureau of consumer protection, is not only that people might be paying more for foods that are no more healthful than other brands. At a time when millions lack health insurance, he also worries that people who buy foods that, for instance, claim to bolster immunity or reduce the risk of prostate cancer might forgo a flu shot or a doctor’s visit.

“If people are going to spend their money for health benefits,” Mr. Vladeck says, “they ought to get them.”

SO what’s a shopper to do?

“This is very confusing to consumers. It’s confusing to a lot of health professionals,” says Wahida Karmally, the director of nutrition at the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University Medical Center. “Just because they call it functional, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be good for you.”

Source: New York Times 5/15/11

Friday, May 13, 2011

McDonald's Introduces "Just For You"

McDonald’s is personalizing its healthy-menu efforts by launching a new “Made Just for You” platform. The company debuted the new platform yesterday at its First Taste Event in New York City.

McCafĂ© beverages, chicken-based options, and salads have all been placed under the “Made Just for You” banner. McDonald’s also used the First Taste Event to announce the addition of two “Made Just for You” items: the Mango Pineapple Real Fruit Smoothie and the Asian Salad.

Chef Dan Coudreaut, senior director of culinary innovations for McDonald’s USA, says restaurants can no longer develop menu options without having a conversation about their nutritional profile, and that this more intense look at nutrition encouraged McDonald’s to launch the “Made Just for You” platform.

McDonald’s development team, he says, is actively balancing flavor with the healthy attributes of each new menu item.

For McDonald’s, Coudreaut says, that means thinking outside the box to bring in healthier foods previously unheard of in the fast food industry, like oatmeal. But while McDonald’s is working with the portion sizes of some of its menu items, the chef says developing healthier menu options does not mean tinkering with the iconic McDonald’s dishes like the Big Mac.

“Rather than going after the negative [nutritional components] … it’s really going after the presence of positives,” he says. “Can we start introducing more fresh produce? Can we start introducing more vegetables, more fruit? Like the smoothies, like the oatmeal, like the Asian Salad, edamame, things like that. That’s where I think we’re going to win.”

Julia Braun, nutrition manager of product innovation and development for McDonald’s, has the task of tracking the nutritional data of every menu option Coudreaut and his team develops. She says the development team uses three filters to establish whether or not a new dish is up to snuff nutritionally: food groups, nutrients, and portion size.

“In most cases, taste leads; we let the chefs be creative, we let the product development team do their thing, and then we take a look at the nutrition and say, ‘Are there any red flags, are there any opportunities to improve it?’” Braun says.

Not coincidentally, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are some of the stars of the “Made Just for You” platform. And future menu development at McDonald’s, Coudreaut says, will continue to focus on these food groups and the ability for consumers to pick and choose the components of their meal.

Source:Sam Oches, QRS; 5/12/11

Monday, May 9, 2011

Americans Walking, Biking a Bit More, Research Shows

Americans walked and biked a bit more in 2009 than they did eight years earlier, new research finds.

But the increases were minor, especially for cycling, according to the report published online May 5 in the American Journal of Public Health.

For the study, researchers analyzed data from the 2001 and 2009 U.S. National Household Travel Surveys and found that the average American made 17 more walking trips in 2009 than in 2001, covering nine more miles each year, and made two more bike trips covering five more miles.

The prevalence of "any walking" among Americans remained the same, although the percentage of those who walked at least 30 minutes daily increased slightly from 7.2 percent in 2001 to 8 percent in 2009.

In addition, the study found that the prevalence of "any cycling" among Americans remained at 1.7 percent, and the percentage of those who did at least 30 minutes of cycling daily remained at just under 1 percent.

Walking and cycling increased among men, the middle aged, employed, well-educated and people without cars, but decreased among women, children and seniors. This suggests that social inequities play a role in discouraging "active travel," the researchers noted in a news release from the American Public Health Association.

"In designing the right mix of policies, it is important to target women, children and seniors, who are the most vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists and require special attention to protect them from the dangers of motor vehicle traffic," John Pucher, of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and colleagues wrote.

"Improved infrastructure for walking and cycling should be combined with educational and promotional programs to help encourage the necessary behavior change toward a more active lifestyle," the researchers concluded.

Source:FRIDAY, May 6 (HealthDay News)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Do Video Games Make You Eat More?

An hour spent playing video games may make teenage boys eat more over the rest of the day, a small study suggests.

The study, of 22 normal-weight teens, found that the boys ate a bigger lunch when they had a pre-meal video game, versus an hour spent relaxing. And they did not make up for the extra bites by burning more calories through gaming, or by eating less later in the day.

On average, the boys downed 163 calories more on the day when they played video games, researchers report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Exactly what that means for video gamers' waistlines is unknown. But the findings add to studies that have linked kids' screen time -- from TV and computers -- to the odds of being overweight.

While those studies observed patterns, and do not prove cause-and-effect, the current study actually tested the idea that something about video-gaming itself might affect eating habits, explained lead researcher Jean-Philippe Chaput.

It's not clear why boys ate more on game day, according to Chaput, who researches obesity and lifestyle at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada.

"We didn't see an increase in hunger," he told Reuters Health, adding that neither the boys' self-ratings of hunger nor their levels of appetite hormones appeared to be affected by playing video games.

Instead, Chaput speculated that there is a subtle "mental-stress effect," and eating food may satisfy the brain's need for a "reward."

"And most of the food we'd want," Chaput said, "would be sugary and fatty."

He noted that in past research, he has found a similar effect of computer work on calorie intake.

For the current study, Chaput's team had the teenage boys come to a research lab on two separate days: on one morning, they played a soccer video game for an hour, followed by lunch; on another morning, they sat quietly for an hour before lunchtime.

The boys then went home and kept a record of what they ate for the rest of the day.

Overall, Chaput's team found, the teens spent more energy when they played video games than when relaxing. But their food intake more than compensated for the energy they burned that day, netting them an extra 163 calories.

There are still many questions -- including whether findings from the research lab translate into the real world.

Chaput speculated that the number of extra calories could be even greater in real life, where kids often spend hours playing video games in a day, and may eat junk food while they play.

On the other hand, it's not clear if the extra calories seen in this study are an "acute effect" that would fade if someone played video games regularly, according to Chaput.

But if video games do regularly affect how kids eat, he said, it would be concerning. Even though an extra 163 calories "sounds minor," Chaput said, "if it is chronic, it could have a major effect over the years."

By comparison, a can of regular coca cola contains 90 calories.

For now, Chaput suggested that parents try to limit their kids' time in front of the TV and computer, and replace some of those sedentary hours with physical activity.

Experts generally recommend that children get no more than two hours of screen time per day. But research suggests that few kids meet that goal.

Chaput suggested that parents "act as role models" for their kids, and spend less time parked in front of the tube themselves. "Go outside and play with your kids," he advised.

Still, Chaput said he is not blaming video games for the childhood obesity epidemic. "Obesity prevention is complex. This is just one factor in the overall picture."

One question for future studies, he said, is what kind of effects "active" video games, like Wii games, might have on kids' calorie balance.

On the positive side, they get users to move and burn calories; but if they also encourage overeating as compared to old-fashioned exercise, like riding a bike, that would be a downside.

Source:Amy Norton,Reuters News Service 5/4/11

Monday, May 2, 2011

Can You Be Fit and Fat?

Many of us would describe the ideal runner's body as lean, lanky, lithe. But then someone who is none of those things blows past us in a 5-K, leaving us questioning what "fit" really looks like. Some doctors say people who are overweight (body-mass index, or BMI, of 25 to 29.9) or obese (BMI above 30) will face health issues, regardless of how often--or fast--they run. But some studies show that heavy people who exercise can be cardiovascularly healthy and may live longer than their sedentary but skinny peers.

We asked two experts to, ahem, weigh in. Glenn Gaesser, Ph.D., director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, says you can be fit and fat. Amy Weinstein, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who studies the impact of obesity and exercise on disease, disagrees. Here's why.

Is it possible to be overweight and healthy?YES

Virtually every weight-related health problem can be greatly improved or cured with a moderate level of exercise, even if you're overweight. The amount of exercise necessary to achieve a fitness level that greatly reduces disease and mortality risk is the equivalent of brisk walking for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, or running 20 to 30 minutes a day, three days a week.

Based on research I've seen and studies I've performed, it appears that physical activity cannot completely reverse the ill effects of carrying excess weight on diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The reason for this is unclear. There may be hormones and proteins that regulate weight and affect chronic diseases, which physical activity cannot reverse.

But can a butterball really outrun a lean machine?YES

It's possible for a heavier runner to be faster than a thinner runner if the heavier runner has the necessary ingredients for better endurance: higher VO2 max, higher lactate threshold, and better running economy. Genes play a huge role as well, as does experience.


Well, sure, it's not impossible. But a person who is overweight would be faster if he lost weight. A loss of about two pounds will theoretically increase speed by about a meter per minute of running. So if a runner runs a 5-K in 20 minutes, a two-pound weight loss would make him five seconds faster overall.

Do heavy runners get injured at the same rate as thin runners?NO

Being overweight increases your risk of arthritis. Research shows that obese people have almost three times the risk of arthritis in the knees. So it would make sense that heavy runners are at a higher risk of injuring their joints.

Should runners disregard age-related weight gain?YES

To control your weight as your metabolism slows down, you probably have to double your exercise. After age 40, you'd need to run about two more miles per week, each year, in order to maintain your weight. So if you are running 25 miles a week at age 40, you'd have to do 27 miles at 41, 29 miles a week at 42, and so on. That might be more than most people are willing to do. That's why I promote physical activity for health and not for losing weight, because it takes a lot. If your weight is creeping up but your cholesterol and blood pressure stay in the healthy range, I wouldn't worry about it.

Source:Runners World 4/30/11