All posts in Health Benefits

Exercise, Not Diet, Has Most Impact On Weight As We Age

Exercise, Not Diet, Has Most Impact On Weight As We Age

Older Americans typically attempt to shrink their midsections by consuming more greens and lean meats, and fewer calories. More effective is regular to moderate physical activity.


“Americans should meet the federal physical-activity guideline: 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week,” Russell Pate said. “If most American adults met that guideline, rates of overweight and obesity would be substantially lower than they are today.”

Overall, Americans’ activity levels are lower because most of them are inactive at work, relying more on technology and less on physical labor to earn their livings. They also use more convenient forms of mass transportation, according to the American Heart Association.

Unfortunately, we’re paying for such conveniences with our health, and statistics prove it: Sixty-nine percent of adults are either overweight or obese, which increases the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and reproductive problems.


Are Health Coaches The New Shrinks?

Are Health Coaches The New Shrinks?


Weekly visits with a shrink used to be a popular strategy for getting a grasp on life.  But now health coaches are becoming more recognized as allies in getting lives healthier and back in sync.

In addition to being trained in behavioral change, health coaches have experience in wellness practices including proper nutrition, energizing yoga, sustained weight loss and deep meditation — and they’re popping up everywhere.

A health coach is a new type of health professional who works as a bridge between doctors and nutriontists.

“Like having a therapist, a health coach will work with you as a partner,” she said. “What’s different is that health coaches focus on helping you take stock of all the aspects of your well-being, and develop a map of where you are now and where you want to be.  We acknowledge the role of health in our lives as the foundation of a happy, full, interesting life.” Shelley Wroth, M.D., integrative health coach and physician.

Rooted in Change

Health coaching has grown  naturally from cognitive behavioral therapy and life coaching,  all with one goal:  To create positive behavioral change.  Change is difficult — something that health coaches are extremely aware of.  That’s one reason New Year’s resolutions usually fall by the wayside by the end of January.  But good health coaches take this into consideration, helping you plan for setbacks and to overcome them.

“A health coach will do more than just help you identify bad habits,” Wroth said. “We’ll help you create a plan customized to your own health, life and personal values.  And along the way, we’ll work with you to get to the bottom of what’s really going on if you get stuck.”

Health coach Laura Kraber is a member of a team of health coaches trained in dietary changes, stress-management and physical therapy at Duke University. “Making the changes necessary to support your health are challenging, but making them last can be even more difficult.”

“A health coach can help you deal with quality-of-life issues such as weight loss and stress management techniques, which are often connected.  This in-depth support has empowered many patients to make lasting changes.”

If you’re trying to lose weight, work with a coach to create your own plan — not one that focuses only on calories, but also the quality of food you eat, more nutrient dense and less inflammatory foods are much better according to Kraber. Health coaches can also help clients with advice on supplements by tailoring their use to specific situations.

For some, it may focus on things like digestive disorders or other types of illnesses. For others, it may be quality-of-life issues including sustaining weight loss or stress-management techniques.

Whatever your goals, a health coach’s job is to help you achieve them.

Each session with a health coach is tailored to a person’s needs and schedule. First sessions last from 30 to 90 minutes. Commitments are typically 12 weeks with a session at least every other week, initially, followed by month to month renewals. Sessions range in price depending on where you go, and they are not typically covered by insurance.


Accessing the Power of Gratitude

Accessing the Power of Gratitude

The exercise of gratitude as a tool for happiness has been in the mainstream for years. Studies support its effectiveness, suggesting that a positive, appreciative attitude contributes to greater success in life. While many acknowledge gratitude’s list of benefits, it can be difficult to sustain. Many of us are trained to notice what is lacking in our lives. For gratitude to meet its full healing potential, it needs to become more than just a one-time thing. We need to find a new way of looking at things and create new habits.

Practice makes perfect. If we practice giving thanks for all we have, instead of complaining about what we lack, then we give ourselves the prospect to see all of life as an opportunity and a blessing.

Gratitude focuses on where we put our effort and attention. Gratitude balances us and gives us hope.

Some Ways to Practice Gratitude

• Keep a gratitude journal in which you list things for which you are thankful. You can make daily, weekly, or monthly lists. Greater frequency may be better for creating a new habit, but just keeping that journal where you can see it will remind you to think in a grateful way.
• Make a gratitude collage by drawing or pasting pictures.
• Practice gratitude around the dinner table or make it part of your nighttime routine.
• Make a game of finding the hidden blessing in a challenging situation.
• When you feel like complaining, make a gratitude list instead.
• Notice how gratitude is impacting your life. Write about it, sing about it, express thanks for gratitude.
As you practice, an inner shift begins to occur, and you may be delighted to discover how content and hopeful you are feeling. That sense of fulfillment is gratitude at work.


Nuts Are actually a Nutritional Powerhouse

Nuts Are actually a Nutritional Powerhouse

Nuts are among nature’s healthiest food sources, although most people don’t realize it. And even though peanuts are actually peapods, they are lumped right in with a wide variety of the real thing. This nut trend as a health food is starting to catch on. People are enjoying them daily as nuts or nut butters in breakfasts, salads, sandwiches and snacks. Plastic baggies of lightly salted peanuts, walnuts, almonds and the like accompany people on excursions everywhere.

The Nurses’ Health Study of 76,464 women and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of 42,498 men, found that the more nuts people consumed, the less likely they were to die at any given age, especially of cancer or heart disease. And a clinical trial conducted in Spain showed that death rates were lower among those consuming a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra nuts.

However, these studies were conducted almost entirely among relatively well-to-do, well educated, white individuals, and despite the researchers’ care in controlling for other factors that could have influenced the results, there remained the possibility that characteristics of the participants other than nut consumption could account for their reduced death rates.

Now, strong links between nuts and peanuts and better health have also been found in a major study of people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and varied ethnic groups — blacks, whites and Asians — many of whom had serious risk factors for premature death, like smoking, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

The results were published in March in JAMA Internal Medicine by researchers at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Their study, conducted among more than 200,000 men and women in the Southern United States and Shanghai, found that the more nuts people consumed, the lower their death rates from all causes and especially from heart disease and stroke.

Nuts are high in fat, and fat contains more calories per gram (nine) than protein or sugar (four calories), even more than alcohol (seven calories). But a review of studies of large populations here and abroad by Richard D. Mattes of Purdue University and co-authors most often found that adults who eat nuts weigh less than those who don’t.

Clinical trials found that adding lots of nuts to one’s diet had a limited effect on body weight. But more important, participants in studies that included nuts in a weight-loss regimen lost more weight and ended up with a smaller waist and less body fat than participants who did not eat nuts.

One explanation for the weight control benefit of nuts is the quick satiation provided by their high fat and protein content, which can reduce snacking on sweets and other carbohydrates. Another is that all the calories in nuts, especially whole nuts, may not be absorbed because they resist breakdown by body enzymes.

Finally, in a 2013 study in The British Journal of Nutrition, Dr. Mattes and colleagues reported that consuming peanut butter or peanuts for breakfast helps to control hunger, stabilizing blood sugar and reducing the desire to eat for up to 8 to 12 hours. (My favorite breakfast: half a banana, sliced, with each slice topped by a half-teaspoon of crunchy peanut butter.)

As for their cardiovascular benefits, nuts are rich sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which prompted a health claim by the Food and Drug Administration that “Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” Two exceptions are macadamia nuts and cashews, which have too much saturated fat to qualify for this claim.

Nuts are also rich sources of dietary fiber, and almonds, Brazil nuts, peanuts and walnuts may actually help prevent constipation, countering my long-held concerns about their effects on digestion. Other beneficial substances in nuts include vitamins, antioxidants and other phytochemicals. All of which means we should make a handful of nuts a daily part of our diet. 


How to Fight the Body’s Hidden Killer – Inflammation

How to Fight the Body’s Hidden Killer – Inflammation


    Cancer.  Stroke.  Alzheimer’s.  Heart disease.  Depression.  What do these conditions share?

They are linked to chronic inflammation.  Not the kind you get when you sprain your wrist, but the long-term, systemic inflammation that results from your immune system going into overdrive and attacking errant as well as healthy cells.  This discovery may be at the root of many of our most rampant diseases.  It also implies that much of what we thought about chronic inflammation could be wrong:  How it increases as we age, where it starts in our bodies and what drugs fight it.

Scientists are currently learning more about how to combat chronic inflammation with just a handful of simple lifestyle and diet changes.  The positive effects are almost immediate.  New York City physician Joseph Raffaele noted that “mood is often lifted when you get inflammation under control.  You’re not chronically tired, you have less indigestion, you’re able to progress in workouts and headaches can go away.”

Inflammation is the body’s first line of defense against injury or infection.  Our immune system has two types of inflammatory responses:  chronic and acute.  Acute kicks in to protect us if we get hurt or fall ill, while chronic drags us down as we get older, allowing diseases to stay in the body.  This can make our immune system turn on us.

When we sprain our wrist, the body senses the sprain and our the immune system instantly sends out  first-responder chemicals called cytokines; they swiftly move through the body to the wall of the affected area; impaired cells flow out and oxygen and nutrients flow in; the healing process has started.

If the injury has caused an infection, the system will create antibodies to attack it.  If the inflammatory response gets too fervent, we harness it in:  Ice for the swelling that follows a sprain; aspirin for the fever.  Typically, the body cleans up the damage and life returns to normal.

But chronic inflammation occurs when our immune system is pumping out the cytokines.  Once released, they keep circulating our bodies, constantly causing our tissues to be inflamed.  This happens more often as we age.

A team of European researchers looked at the blood work from more than 3,000 middle-aged British civil servants for a decade and found that people with high levels of inflammation had one and a half times the odds of having a cardiovascular problem and were 50 percent more likely to have died from a major chronic disease.  As we age, our immune systems decline with us, giving us an ever-smaller reservoir of adept cells to respond to an increasing amount of damage inside the body and tissues growing old.  It is inevitable.  The body will hurt itself by trying to fix the problems that it can’t.

A key example of this process is what happens to the heart.  Over time, our cells in our coronary arteries get damaged from constant pounding of pumping blood.  This causes little cracks to form.  The body reads these cracks as wounds, signaled by the cytokines, and the immune system sends cells to repair the damage.  These cells make the problem worse as they set in motion the creation of plaques that can cause heart attacks.

Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, chief of the Division of Biology of Aging at the University of Florida, explains that our aging cells have a nasty habit of turning senescent, which means they’re no longer capable of doing their jobs and they begin spitting out their own inflammatory chemicals.  “Fat cells are the real culprits,” Leeuwenburgh says.  Even before they become senescent, some fat cells will secrete hormones called adipokines, contributing to bodily inflammation, and with age they only get crankier.  These adipokines push the body to store more fat.  This leads to weight gain and puts us on the path to Type 2 Diabetes.  In fact, many experts believe that as few as five surplus pounds spell trouble, even for those who exercise regularly.

Even though we know that some quantity of chronic inflammation is inevitable with age, we can influence how much we have by making proper lifestyle changes.  If we lower our resting heart rate and blood pressure, fewer cracks will form and less cells will be called in to repair.

There’s one place you should focus on first when making changes:  Your stomach.

“The most common cause of chronic inflammation is probably the gut,” Manhattan integrative physician Frank Lipman says.  This idea of gut inflammation entered the medical mainstream thanks in good measure to Massachusetts General gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano, who made a convincing case 15 years ago that sensitivity to a common food protein found in wheat and other grains — gluten — can make the gut “leaky.”  The theory:  Gluten causes the lining of the gut wall to grow porous, creating microscopic leakage into the bloodstream and lymph system, which in turn triggers a systemwide inflammatory response.  The cytokines go on a rampage, setting off symptoms from anxiety and fatigue to skin irritations and insulin resistance.

A host of common things can eat away at the all-important gut lining, says prominent UCLA gastroenterologist Kirsten Tillisc.  These include too much stress and alcohol, processed foods, excessive exercise, and overexposure to antibiotics and common NSAID drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.  That anti-inflammatories made the list may seem incredible — after all, these drugs are designed to ease acute inflammation when we bang up muscles or joints.  The problem?  “People to take them like candy,” says Tillisch.  Using NSAIDs to treat every ache and pain can rip the stomach lining and gastrointestinal tract, contributing to chronic inflammation. “I try to get patients off them just like any medicines that people don’t need. I say, ‘I know it feels better now, but in the long run you’re actually causing more inflammation.’ ”

A body on inflammatory high-simmer can cause problems anywhere, including the mind. Depression may be caused by cytokine-driven inflammation in the brain.  This January, a study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that people with clinical depression had levels of brain inflammation 30 percent higher than those in a control group.  The study authors suspect this could be one reason why half of clinically depressed people don’t respond to antidepressants — those pills don’t tackle inflammation levels.  The evidence is solid enough that Big Pharma is now investing millions to develop a new generation of drugs that will.  Why does brain inflammation spike in the first place?  Tillisch suspects that the reason may tie right back to a leaky gut.  The nervous system’s connection between the brain and the gut is one of the strongest in the body; if inflammation goes up in the gut, it could rise in the brain.

While the biochemistry of chronic inflammation is multifaceted, defending yourself from it is quite simple.  Follow the directions above to regulate your immune system.  Abiding by the plan won’t be hard.  These are the kinds of choices that upgrade every aspect of your life — along with the health of your insides.


Eating Just A Serving Of Spinach Every Day Could Make Your Brain 11 Years Younger

Eating Just A Serving Of Spinach Every Day Could Make Your Brain 11 Years Younger

Popeye the sailor man eats a lot spinach to grow strong muscles, right?  But that’s not all.  Spinach also makes the mind grow stronger.  That’s because Vitamin-K improves memory.

A study done at Rush University in Chicago analyzed the diets and mental functions of 900 elderly participants over a 5-year period and showed that consuming a daily serving of spinach – or certain other leafy greens – slows down the process of age-associated cognitive decline.  The study indicated that those who ate one or two daily portions of Vitamin-K rich vegetables had the same cognitive abilities as someone 11 years younger.

Kale, collards and mustard greens also slow down the brain’s aging process.  The team conducting this research plan to expand their studies to other foods with nutrients high in folate, beta-carotene and vitamin K.

“No other studies have looked at vitamin K in relation to change in cognitive abilities over time, and only a limited number  have found some association with lutein,” said Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., assistant provost for community research at Rush University Medical Center and the leader of the research team.


The research holds potential for a brain booster that is easily accessible and affordable, she said.  “Increasing consumption of green leafy vegetables could offer a very simple, affordable and non-invasive way of protecting your brain from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.” 


Why hugs have anti-aging benefits

Why hugs have anti-aging benefits

Sometimes all it takes is a hug to make you feel better, according an article in Nature’s Communications that was cited in the Huffington Post.  You may not be sure why, but you know that it is comforting, especially after a stressful day.

Studies conducted by the University of California, Berkeley show this comforting feeling has reparative and anti-aging benefits.  The “love hormone” known as oxytocin is accountable for those incredible feelings you get from giving and getting hugs.

As we age, our hormone levels drop, and research suggest it may be a factor in our bodies’ natural deterioration.  We lose up to five percent of muscle mass each decade after our thirties.

In the study,  researchers injected oxytocin into older mice with muscle damage and deterioration.  The older mice had lower levels of this hormone than younger mice initially.  But after nine days, the older mice were given the hormone and healed faster than those that were not. Their ability to repair muscle damage was up to 80 percent than that of the younger mice.

The study provided fast results and offers hope for the future use of the hormone in anti-aging regimes.  The extra oxytocin boosts aged tissue stem cells without simultaneously deteriorating muscle stem cells.  Researchers also believe that previous fears of oxytocin anti-aging molecules being associated with higher cancer risk have been dismantled.

So do yourself a favor.  Reach out and hug somebody!



Disturbed Sleep Shown To Benefit From Mindfulness Training

Disturbed Sleep Shown To Benefit From Mindfulness Training

Woman sleeping on white background
We can now add disturbed sleep to the growing list of problems made better by mindfulness training. Apparently, the practice of non-judgmental focused attention on the present moment leaves a residue that stills the brain/mind enough to help the involuntarily sleep deprived get their rest. At least that’s the conclusion from some solid new research just published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

An especially interesting, and useful, aspect of this research is that it was a randomized clinical trial using real-world interventions with real people. Adults 55 and older with at least moderate problems sleeping were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group received a six week sleep hygiene education program. The other group participated in a community-based mindfulness program taught by a certified instructor. They also received sleep hygiene instruction.

The mindfulness group met two hours per week for six weeks. As stated in the NIH clinical trials database, those in this group “will be guided through in-class meditation practices and will be assigned daily meditation homework. Active program components include sitting and walking somatosensory-focused meditation, audio-guided body scan meditation, and loving kindness meditation.” This was the real deal. It was a much more immersive experience than something like just listening to oneself breathe a few times week or relying on one of the increasingly popular mindfulness apps, worthwhile endeavors in their own right but not the same intensity as what this research studied.

The sleep hygiene education group also met twice a week for six weeks. They met as a group so as to provide equal support, attention, time, and expectation of benefit. They were taught “knowledge of sleep biology, identifying characteristics of healthy and unhealthy sleep, sleep problems, and self-monitoring of sleep behavior.” The sleep hygiene component included the kind of advice health-care practitioners—myself included—frequently provide patients with moderate sleep problems. Advice such as no alcohol, caffeine, or screens before bed; establish a regular schedule for sleep; associate bed for sleeping not TV; make bedroom dark, cool, and relaxing; avoid large meals before going to bed; exercise during the day; and (personally my least favorite) avoid napping during the day.

While both groups showed improvements in sleep by the end of the study, the mindfulness training group did significantly better in reporting reductions in sleep problems. Plus, as the authors report, the mindfulness group also showed significant improvements in “secondary health outcomes of insomnia symptoms, depression symptoms, fatigue interference, and fatigue severity.”

We know that sleep problems are significantly associated with poor health outcomes. We also know that pharmacological sleep aids all carry significant risk and have significant side effects. We need effective options other than potentially dangerous meds, especially as the population ages and more people develop sleep problems. And the fact that mindfulness training has now been shown to improve sleep among the involuntarily sleep deprived is an important step towards a more well rested, and therefore healthier and happier, population.

It also means I will be changing what I do in my practice when it comes to patients who report sleep problems. From now on sleep hygiene plus a mindfulness practice seems to be the way to go.


13 Reasons To Start Lifting Weights

13 Reasons To Start Lifting Weights

Maybe you’re convinced you shouldn’t lift weights because you prefer not looking like The Hulk. Maybe you figure you just wouldn’t like it, since you’re not one of those CrossFit types.

We hate to be confrontational about it, but frankly, you’re wrong. Despite a prevalent allegiance to cardio machines for things like weight loss and overall health, strength training not only builds muscle but can prevent disease, improve mood and — really! — help you lose weight.

Here are 13 smart reasons to include a little work with the weights into your fitness repertoire.

1. You’ll live longer.
While most forms of regular exercise can add years to your life, strength training in particular has big benefits. As we get older, the more muscle mass we have, the less likely we are to die prematurely, according to 2014 research from UCLA. “In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death,” study co-author Arun Karlamangla, M.D., said in a statement. “Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass.” And what better way to maximize those muscles than by pumping iron?

2. For better sleep.
Regular exercisers — especially those who truly push themselves — report the best sleep, and weightlifting is no exception. In a small 2012 study in older men, researchers found that resistance training reduced the number of times the study participants woke up during the night, as compared to a control group who performed no exercise.

3. Your progress is so noticeable.
There’s nothing that feels quite as rewarding as setting a goal and crushing it. If you’re new to strength work, you’ll find that a weight you once thought was impossible to lift starts to feel easy sooner than you might imagine. And then, you’ll feel like a boss.

4. To protect your bones.
Weight-bearing exercise and particularly strength training is thought to increase bone density, reducing the risk of fractures and breaks among older adults.

5. To boost your balance.
Of course, one major cause of bone breaks as we age is falling. Some of weightlifting’s benefit in protecting against osteoporosis may be improved strength and balance, resulting in fewer falls. Indeed, research suggests that various resistance routines can reduce an older person’s rate of falling by around 30 percent.

6. It can make you happier.
Like many forms of physical activity, a little lifting can work wonders for your mental health. Strength training has been linked to reduced anxiety and depression symptoms as well as improved self-esteem, and it may even give your brainpower a boost.

7. To look better in your skinny jeans.
Now, we don’t suggest you lift weights (or do any exercise, for that matter) solely for appearance — there are just so many other benefits! — but when it comes to slimming down, endless hours on the elliptical may not be getting you any closer to the results you desperately seek. In fact, building muscle may help you lose fat more effectively than simply doing cardio. “If you’re looking to lose fat, go with strength training,” trainer Nick Tumminello, author of Strength Training for Fat Loss told Business Insider.

8. To burn more calories.
Simply having more muscle on your frame helps your body burn up extra calories — even when you’re sitting completely still.

9. You can do it in under 30 minutes.
Adding strength work to your regular exercise routine doesn’t have to eat up the tiny bit of free time you had left in the day. In fact, lifting is one area where more is not always better — around 30 to 60 minutes a week, total, is plenty, according to Runner’s Times.

10. And you don’t even have to go to the gym.
We’re using the term “lifting weights,” but the world of strength and resistance training includes a whole host of options outside of what you’d find at the gym. You can “lift weights” with cans and jars you find in your kitchen. You can “lift weights” using only your body. You can buy a pair of five-pound dumbbells and lift along with a DVD in the comfort of your own living room, where the only person checking you out in the mirror is you. In fact, if you’re new to strength training, many moves are safer if performed with just your bodyweight until you can get the hang of perfect form. Plus, many of those machines at the gym aren’t adjustable enough for the wide range of bodies that use them.

11. To run faster (really!)
Or swim longer or bike harder or get better at just about any other athletic endeavor you fancy. Why? Because you’ll be cultivating stronger, more powerful muscles to then put to good use. Also, strength training can help prevent injuries in other athletic pursuits, by helping correct muscle imbalances that in turn throw your form — even just while sitting or standing — out of whack.

12. To help your heart.
Despite the name, cardio isn’t the only form of exercise with cardiovascular benefits. A resistance training routine has been shown to lower blood pressure, in some cases as effectively as taking medication. The American Heart Association  recommends adults aim for at least two strength training sessions a week.

13. Because then you can wear shirts like this.