Keeping Extra Pounds off your Holiday List

expanding SantaAlthough by now you’ve hopefully now finished the last of the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, the holiday eating season has just begun. And, as a result, over the next month, the average American will gain one or two pounds. While that might not sound like much, the annual weight gain adds up from year to year and can lead to significant gains as the years goes by.

So, if the seams on your favorite holiday outfit are already bursting ahead of the onslaught of holiday parties, all-you-can-eat buffets, peppermint bark and eggnog, now’s the time to consider strategies to maintain your current weight and still enjoy the season.

At this time of year, most of us are bombarded with food. High calorie treats appear everywhere you look. Tables are filled with home-made cookies, gingerbread, hot apple cider, and irresistible savory appetizers. But resist you must, says Amy Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University.  Here’s her advice to keep you lean this holiday season:

holiday weight cartoonBe picky about your splurges. You can eat crackers and cheese any time, but the holidays are a time to sample special seasonal treats that people have spent a lot of energy preparing. So, if you’re at a holiday buffet, browse before you graze to size up your best options. If that delectable chocolate dessert beckons, enjoy a slice but pass on the brownies or soda. Allow yourself to indulge, just choose where you want to spend your calories.

Be mindful. When there’s a bowl of chips right in front of you, you are more likely to keep munching without really thinking about it. So pay attention to what you’re eating. Slow down and savor every bite, taking the time to appreciate what you’re putting into your mouth. Watch your portion size.

Plan ahead. If you know you are going to a party in the evening, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch. Don’t starve yourself; in fact, consider eating a snack to take the edge off of your hunger. Bring something healthy to potlucks so at least you can count on one healthy option being offered. Seasonal fruit such as pomegranates, clementines and cranberries are terrific holiday dishes because they are pretty, festive and, best of all, guilt free.

Conversation is calorie-free. Once you’ve taken a plate of food at a holiday gathering, step away from the table. Find a comfy space where you can talk to others. Fill up on fellowship, which is calorie-free!

Water is calorie-free, too. So, drink up. Alternate a glass of water with every alcoholic beverage to pace yourself as you celebrate and prevent a next day hang-over. Consider creating a wine spritzer by adding flavored sparkling water to your wine. Instead of drinking lemonade or soda with a meal, choose water. Not only does water fill you up, it’s also good for your digestive system, skin, muscles and kidneys.

Christmas fitness woman wearing santa hatIn addition to watching what you eat and drink, you should offset holiday calories by becoming more active. Saint Louis University associate professor of physical therapy and athletic training, Ethel Frese, DPT, offers the following tips:

Be realistic.  Becoming more active is a great way to mitigate a few extra calories, but it is not license to add massively to your diet. So, suppose you splurged and ate a 350 calorie pastry, on top of your normal daily calories. If you want to burn off all of the excess, you’ll need nearly an hour of intense exercise. While it’s not necessary to count every calorie, it is good to have a rough idea of how your calorie intake corresponds to your exercise, and know that it can take more exercise than you might think to balance out your food intake.

Everything counts. That said, don’t be discouraged. Exercise offers many overall health benefits, and burning off even an extra hundred calories a day makes a significant difference. In some cases, extra activity may be a natural part of your routine this season. Walking from the back of a packed parking lot at the mall and scouring stores for the perfect gift provides good exercise. House cleaning for company can burn calories, as can shoveling snow, playing with children and putting up decorations.

Fight the urge to hibernate. If rainy or snowy days tempt you to stay at home watching movies and reading books, be sure you don’t make a habit of avoiding outings. Bundle up and get out for fresh air and exercise. Run errands, stop by to see friends and neighbors, drop off canned goods at a food pantry, check out an exhibit at a museum or build a snowman!

Be consistent. The secret to success is to add a little bit of exercise each day. The effort really does add up, and you’ll find that daily activity makes you feel healthier, more alert, and happier in general. You’ll enjoy the season more without the sluggish feeling brought on by too many sedentary hours. Even if you don’t burn off all of the extra calories through exercise, you’ll limit the damage and in January, you’ll appreciate having only one pound to lose, instead of five.

Remember that the secret to controlling your weight is balancing the calories you take in (food) with the calories you burn. “Even the healthiest eaters need to exercise and the best exercisers need nutrition,” says Moore. “Nutrition and exercise provides the one-two punch of holiday weight management.”

Holiday DietMake your weight management mantra for the season to maintain not gain.

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Side Effects of Sex

monday-morning-blues--large-prf-1124686656It’s Monday morning, it’s cold and the holidays are still too far away to be a reality for most of us.  Not a lot to be cheerful about?  Right!

Never fear, SRxA’s Word on Health is here to help start your week off right with some health news that may just bring a smile to your face.

While many people associate a healthy lifestyle with grueling workouts, strict dieting and general deprivation and misery  – this is a misconception.

According to Dr Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, web entrepreneur and New York Times best selling author, healthy habits can be among the most rewarding.  Take sex. It counts as moderately intense exercise plus it boosts numerous aspects of both physical and mental health. As long as you’re engaging in safe-sex practices, increasing your sexual activity is a surefire strategy to better health!

benefits of sexMercola suggests regular sex can reduce stress, bolster self-esteem and foster feelings of intimacy and bonding between partners.  Better still, a healthy sex life can result in a longer, healthier and, most would agree, more enjoyable life.

In case that’s not enough – here’s 10 more healthy side effects of sex:

1. Improved Immunity

People who have sex frequently have significantly higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is part of the immune system that forms your body’s first line of defense. Its job is to fight off invading organisms at their entry points, reducing or even eliminating the need for activation of your body’s immune system. This may explain why people who have sex frequently also take fewer sick days.

2. Heart Health

According to one study, men who made love regularly (at least twice a week) are 45% less likely to develop heart disease than those who did so once a month or less.

Sexual activity not only provides many of the same benefits to your heart as exercise but also keeps levels of estrogen and testosterone in balance, which is important for heart health.

3. Lower Blood Pressure

Sexual activity, and specifically intercourse, is linked to better stress response and lower blood pressure.

4. It’s a Form of Exercise

Sex helps to boost your heart rate, burn calories and strengthen muscles, just like exercise. In fact, research recently revealed that sex burns about 4 calories a minute for men and 3 for women, making it (at times) a ‘significant’ form of exercise. It can even help you to maintain your flexibility and balance.

5. Pain Relief

Sexual activity releases pain-reducing hormones and has been found to help reduce or block back and leg pain, as well as pain from menstrual cramps, arthritis and headaches. One study even found that sexual activity can lead to partial or complete relief of headache in some migraine and cluster-headache patients.

6. Help to Reduce Risk of Prostate Cancer

Research has shown that men who ejaculate at least 21 times a month (during sex or masturbation) have a lower risk of prostate cancer.

sex and sleep7. Improve Sleep

After sex, the relaxation-inducing hormone prolactin is released, which may help you to nod off more quickly. The “love hormone” oxytocin, released during orgasm, also promotes sleep.

8. Stress Relief

Sex triggers your body to release it’s natural feel-good chemicals, helping to ease stress and boost pleasure, calm and self-esteem. Research also shows that those who have sexual intercourse responded better when subjected to stressful situations like speaking in public.

9. Boost Your Libido

The more often you have sex, the more likely you are to want to keep doing it. There’s a mental connection there but also a physical one, particularly for women. More frequent sex helps to increase vaginal lubrication, blood flow and elasticity, which in turn make sexual activity more enjoyable.

10. Improved Bladder Control in Women

Intercourse helps to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which contract during orgasm. This can help women improve their bladder control and avoid incontinence.

Happy Monday!

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Working Out to Ward Off Depression

depression-and-exercisePhysical activity is being increasingly recognized as an effective tool to treat depression. But now researchers have taken the connection one step further.  In a review published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, George Mammen has demonstrated that moderate exercise can actually prevent episodes of depression.

This is the first longitudinal review to focus exclusively on the role that exercise plays in maintaining good mental health and preventing the onset of depression later in life.

Mammen analyzed over 26 years’ worth of research findings to discover that even low levels of physical activity (walking and gardening for 20-30 minutes a day) can ward off depression in people of all age groups.

Mammen’s findings come at a time when mental health experts want to expand their approach beyond treating depression with costly prescription medication. “We need a prevention strategy now more than ever,” he says. “Our health system is taxed. We need to shift focus and look for ways to fend off depression from the start.”

ladyexerciseMammen acknowledges that other factors influence a person’s likelihood of experiencing depression, including their genetic makeup. But he says that the scope of research he assessed demonstrates that regardless of individual predispositions, there’s a clear take-away for everyone. “It’s definitely worth taking note that if you’re currently active, you should sustain it. If you’re not physically active, you should initiate the habit. This review shows promising evidence that the impact of being active goes far beyond the physical.”

Let’s hope so.  Now that I’m back in the gym six days a week maybe all the push-ups and perspiration will keep the Prozac at bay!

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Don’t Fall into a Fear of Falling This Fall

falling_in_autumnAs we transition from summer to fall, don’t let a fear of falling keep you from being active.  That’s the alliterative advice of Helen Lach, Ph.D., associate professor of nursing at Saint Louis University School of Nursing.  And she should know!  Lach specializes in gerontological nursing, and has studied ways to prevent falls for more than 20 years.

While falls can cause problems, we want people to be both cautious and still maintain an active quality of life,” Lach said. “You can’t get rid of all of the risk in your life. But older adults need to maintain their strength, function and activity to the level they are able.”

Lach recently wrote a review article that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association that showed fear of falling is a significant problem in nursing homes.

People in nursing homes tend to be frailer and have more health problems and physical limitations than older adults who are in the community,” Lach said.

?????????????????????????????????????????The fear of falling can stop some nursing home residents from doing anything, even participating in their own daily care. They become frozen in inactivity, which makes them depressed and bored. They get more out of shape, which creates more health problems that actually increase their risk of falling.”

Lach notes that the fear of falling is part of a cycle that can lead to a frailty and a downward spiral in health.

As people do less, they become less able to engage in activities. They have difficulty moving around, and their gait and balance deteriorates. This puts them at an increased risk of falling, which unfortunately means the fear of falling actually becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.”

It’s important that nursing home staff members recognize that about half of residents have such a deep fear of falling that they limit their activities, and develop a way to assuage those fears. Exercise programs offered in a safe and supportive environment can be valuable in helping residents feel better – both physically and psychologically.

fall prevention exercisesSenior adults who aren’t in long term care facilities also may need to confront their fear of falling. Tai Chi, walking, weight training and simple exercises to increase muscle strength – such as practicing sitting and standing to strengthen leg muscles or standing on one foot with a chair at arm’s reach can make a world of difference.

Good Advice for all of us.

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Not so Chilling News for Runners

ice bath 2As a former marathon runner, I vividly remember having to endure ice-cold baths after heavy training sessions and competitive events in an attempt to reduce inflammation and speed up my recovery.  i also recall that this process was not only time consuming but also bone-chillingly painful.  While I enjoyed race running and even embraced the hours of pavement pounding leading up to competition, I loathed this recovery.  Each time as I sat shivering, I’d miserably moan to anybody who would listen that I’d be better off with a glass of wine, a nap in the sun, a hot bath and an early night!

So it was with mixed emotions I read about a new study that found ice baths aren’t all that effective.  And while I’m glad for the next generation of athletes, I can’t help but wish this has been published 20 years earlier.

The study, published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, showed no mitigation of post-exercise strength loss or decreased soreness in subjects who engaged in post-exercise cryotheraphy, or ice baths, compared to a control group.

It doesn’t help you feel better and it doesn’t help you perform better,” says lead researcher Naomi Crystal. “Ice baths are very popular as a treatment, but the research is really mixed as to whether they’re beneficial. They’re miserable. If it doesn’t work, you don’t want to waste your time.”

The researchers had 20 active college-age men run downhill at a grade of 10% for 40 minutes. Half the subjects then submitted to a 20-minute ice bath, standing in a tall recycling bin filled with thigh-high ice water cooled to a chilly five degrees Celsius (40 degrees F).

cryotherapy researchThey then measured the ice bath’s effect on soreness, strength, swelling and inflammation by conducting three post-exercise measures taken at intervals from one hour to three days:

  • the subjects’ perceived soreness while walking down stairs
  • quadriceps strength on a resistance machine
  • thigh circumference
  • concentration of plasma chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2), a marker for inflammation

The results showed no difference in strength or perceived soreness between the subjects who took ice baths and the control group. Thigh circumference did not change significantly for any of the subjects after the run.

Difference between the two groups’ CCL2 concentrations, while not statistically significant, showed a trend toward lower concentrations in the cryotherapy subjects, although this measure varied greatly between the subjects.

icebathThe lack of difference between the control and the cryotherapy group surprised the researchers. “I expected to see an improvement in soreness, an improvement in strength with the ice bath,” says Crystal.

Although the researchers conclude that their study does not support the use of cryotherapy for recovery from exercise, Crystal’s personal view is more moderate. “I’m not convinced that it doesn’t help at all,” she says. “Use them sparingly. Use them in tournament situations, use them with an athlete who has done something extraordinary. But for day-to-day athletes, I wouldn’t recommend them. They’re painful, and they’re time consuming.”

Amen Sister, amen!

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Does Belly Fat cause tumors to go Belly Up?

belly_fat6People store fat in two ways – one you can see and one you can’t. The fat you can see is just under the skin in the thighs, hips, buttocks, and abdomen. That’s called subcutaneous fat. The fat you can’t see is deeper inside, around the vital organs – heart, lungs, digestive tract, liver as well as in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis. That’s called visceral fat.

Many people are self-conscious about the fat they can see. But actually, it’s the hidden visceral fat that may be a bigger problem, even for thin people.  Having too much of it is linked to a greater chance of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and certain cancers.

According to a new study published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, visceral fat is directly linked to an increased risk for colon cancer.

There has been some skepticism as to whether obesity per se is a bona fide cancer risk factor, rather than the habits that fuel it, including a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle,” said Derek M. Huffman, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. “Although those other lifestyle choices play a role, this study unequivocally demonstrates that visceral adiposity is causally linked to intestinal cancer.

Prior research has shown that obesity markedly increases the likelihood of being diagnosed with, and dying from, many cancers. In this animal study, Huffman and his colleagues wanted to see if removing visceral fat in mice genetically prone to developing colon cancer might prevent or lessen the development of these tumors.

To do this they randomly assigned the mice to one of three groups. Mice in the first group underwent a sham surgery and were allowed to eat an unrestricted “buffet style” diet, which resulted in them becoming obese. Those in the second group were also provided an unrestricted diet and became obese, but they had their visceral fat surgically removed at the outset of the study. Mice in the third group underwent a sham surgery, but were then put on a calorie restricted diet causing them to lose visceral fat.

obese mouseOur sham-operated obese mice had the most visceral fat, developed the greatest number of intestinal tumors, and had the worst overall survival,” Huffman said. “However, mice that had less visceral fat, either by surgical removal or a calorie-restricted diet, had a reduction in the number of intestinal tumors. This was particularly remarkable in the case of our group where visceral fat was surgically removed, because these mice were still obese, they just had very little abdominal fat.”

The researchers then subdivided the groups by gender. In female mice, the removal of visceral fat was significantly related to a reduction in intestinal tumors, but calorie restriction was not. In male mice, calorie restriction had a significant effect on intestinal tumors, but removal of visceral fat did not.

abdominalobesityThese finding suggest what most women have known for years i.e., that there are important gender differences when it comes to weight. But it also provided an explanation for how belly fat, diet and cancer risk are linked.  In addition, the study emphasizes the need to promote strategies that reduce abdominal fat in obese individuals.

So how can you get rid of this dangerous deep belly fat?  According to experts, there are four: exercise, diet, sleep, and stress management.

Exercise: Vigorous exercise trims fat, including visceral fat. It can also slow down the build-up of visceral fat that tends to happen over the years. But forget spot-reducing. There aren’t any moves you can do that specifically target visceral fat. Half an hour of vigorous aerobic exercise, done four times a week is ideal.  Jog, if you’re already fit, or walk briskly at an incline on a treadmill if you’re not yet ready for jogging. Vigorous workouts on stationary bikes and elliptical or rowing machines are also effective.

Diet: There is no magic diet for belly fat. But when you lose weight on any diet, belly fat usually goes first.  A fiber-rich diet may help. Research shows that people who eat 10 grams of soluble fiber per day, without any other diet changes, build up less visceral fat over time than others. That’s as easy as eating two small apples or a cup of green slimpeas.

Sleep: Getting the right amount of shut eye helps. In one study, people who got six to seven hours of sleep per night gained less visceral fat over 5 years compared to those who slept five or fewer hours per night or eight or more hours per night.

Stress: It’s unavoidable, but what you do with your stress matters. When you’re stressed you  tend not to make the best food choices when they’re stressed. Getting social support from friends and family, meditating, and exercising can all help to tame stress.

Short on time? If you could only afford the time to do one of these things, exercise probably has the most immediate benefits, because it tackles both obesity and stress.

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Teaching your child the ABC’s of Heart Health

blood pressure heartHeart disease is not a major cause of death among children and teenagers, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it is the largest cause of death among adults in the United States. In fact, someone in America dies every 37 seconds from some form of cardiovascular disease.

Certain factors that play an important role in a person’s chances of developing heart disease. Some of these life-style risk factors can be changed, treated, or modified, and some, such as congenital heart disease cannot.

Zachary Stone M.D, a primary care physician at the University of Alabama, agrees that it’s possible to build a future free from cardiovascular disease by starting heart-healthy habits at a young age. Most of the risk factors that affect children can be controlled early in life.

The process of atherosclerosis, which is the hardening of the arteries and is known to cause heart attacks, strokes and sudden death, has been shown to begin in early childhood,” says Stone. “It’s important to concentrate on healthy lifestyles in children to prevent adult cardiovascular disease.”

kids-heart-healthThe three main areas to watch are diet, activity levels and smoke exposure.

Diet: Good nutrition can help to decrease cardiovascular disease. It can help prevent hypertension, high cholesterol and obesity. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease. 1 out of every 3 American adults is obese and obesity is linked to more than 110,000 deaths in the United States each year. Childhood obesity in the United States is also on the rise. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, between 16% and 33% of children and teenagers are obese. Because obese children are more likely to be obese adults, preventing or treating obesity in childhood may reduce the risk of adult obesity.  A young person’s diet should be low in saturated fats and primarily consist of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Healthy HeartActivity: One easy way to increase physical activity in children is to limit their sedentary activities.  Parents should limit television and multimedia to 1-2 hours per day and ensure that their kids participate in at least one hour of moderate activity daily.

Smoke exposure:  Exposure to smoke is dangerous to the health of a child for many reasons, including that it can increase the risk of developing heart disease as an adult. According to the CDC, more than 3.6 million middle and high school students smoke cigarettes, and nearly 4,000 kids under age 18 try their first cigarette every day.  More than 90,000 people die each year from heart diseases caused by smoking. Among young people who would otherwise have a very low risk of heart disease, cigarette smoking may cause as many as 75% of the cases of heart disease. And, the longer a person smokes, the higher the risk of heart disease. Parents should talk openly to their kids about both the dangers and bad effects of smoking, such as yellow teeth, bad breath, smelly clothes, shortness of breath and lung damage.  Parents also need to act as a role model for their children, by not smoking or allowing others around them to smoke, thereby reducing their exposure to second-hand smoke.

Baby_with_HeartKeeping kids heart healthy is an investment in their future and yours, and may be the best gift you can ever give.

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