Posts Tagged ‘Fitness’

Walking, a Simple Yet Highly Effective Health Measure

November 30th, 2013 at 5:33 pm by timigustafson

At a time when extreme sports are all the hype, mundane activities like walking don’t get much attention. It’s just too basic, too boring to even think about it. Yet walking can be a great indicator of both physical and mental wellbeing. In addition, walking is considered by health experts as one of the most effective ways to stay fit and fend off illnesses like high blood pressure, heart disease, and even dementia.

A recent study from England found that taking a long walk every day can help decrease the risk of stroke, especially in older men. It doesn’t seem to matter as much how fast someone walks, just how often and for how long.

“Our study suggests that maintaining an active lifestyle, specifically by spending more time on all forms of walking, could be an important part of stroke prevention strategies in older people,” said Dr. Barbara J. Jefferis, a epidemiologist from University College London and lead author of the study, in an interview with Reuters.

According to her findings, men who walked four to seven hours each week were 11 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who walked three hours or less. Participants in the study who walked the most – more than three hours daily – had a 60 percent lower risk than those who spent the least amount of time walking.

Although this particular study included only men, there is no reason to assume that walking wouldn’t benefit women in similar ways.

Walking seems to provide other advantages as well. A number of studies have found that losing the ability to walk at a reasonably brisk pace can be an indication not just for physical but also mental decline. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic looked at stride length, cadence and velocity of older adults and concluded that gait changes and slowing pace can be early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of age-related dementia. Some of these effects may be delayed, if not prevented, in people who maintain a regular walking regimen.

Of course, there is no need to wait until old age to take up walking as a form of exercise. At any time in life, going on hikes or just strolls around the block can help with overall fitness, weight management, bone and muscle strength, balance and flexibility, and also stress management, sleep, and emotional wellbeing.

Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans are notoriously averse to walking and prefer driving even for short distances. This is especially true in rural areas and cities that lack a walkable infrastructure. Nevertheless, in its recommendations for greater public health, the agency urges everyone to get a minimum of two and a half hours moderate exercise per week. It may take some creativity and rethinking of lifestyle, but the sooner you start, the better the results will be, now and long-term.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

-->

The Healthiest Places to Live in the U.S.

June 8th, 2013 at 5:17 pm by timigustafson

How healthy you are depends largely on the diet and lifestyle choices you make. It also matters how educated and financially secure you are. And where you live – not only in what kind of neighborhood but also in which part of the country – plays a role as well.

If you are looking for the most health-promoting environment in America today, Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the place to be, according to a survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), titled the American Fitness Index™ (AFI).

The report, which has been issued annually since 2007, measures the state of health and fitness at the community level throughout the U.S. Among the considered factors are opportunities to exercise and be physically active, including access to safe sidewalks and bike paths, athletic facilities, playgrounds, public parks and so on.

“What Minneapolis does so well – they are firm believers in the ‘if you build it, they will come’ attitude,” said Dr. Walter Thompson, a professor at Georgia State University and chair of the AFI advisory board in an interview with NBC. “They spend a lot of money on their parks. They spend $227 per capita on their parks. […] So you can see they put their money where it needs to be to create a healthy environment,” he added.

By contrast, the least proactive places in terms of fitness promotion on the AFI list spend about $62 per capita on parks and other recreational facilities.

Runner-ups were Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California. Seattle, Washington, came in eighth.

The existence of public parks is an especially important indicator because it provides people with the lowest hurdle preventing them from exercising. Unlike many sports facilities such as gymnasiums, swimming pools, basketball courts, running tracks or golf courses, parks don’t require memberships or have limited opening hours.

When you provide the environment for people to exercise, there is no excuse to be a couch potato, said Thompson. And that translates to lower personal health indicators such as obesity and diabetes as well as poor lifestyle choices like smoking.

Minneapolis was also found to be especially conducive for the health of seniors. According to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Ranking Senior Report, more older people report being in very good to excellent health in Minnesota than in all other states. Also, the poverty rate among the elderly is lower here than elsewhere.

The aspect of senior health in our communities is of growing importance because the baby boomer generation, a large segment of the population, is about to retire. It is also a group of people plagued by considerable health problems, many due to less-than-perfect lifestyle habits. Creating environments that allow for the betterment of their health status is in all our interest and should be given much attention.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “How Healthy You Are Also Depends on Where You Live.”

Connect with us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

-->

Most Americans Don’t Exercise Enough – But Who Can Blame Them?

May 8th, 2013 at 1:01 pm by timigustafson

Despite plenty of encouragement from the government and health experts to move more, Americans still find it hard to adopt a less sedentary lifestyle. Merely 20 percent are in compliance with the government’s recommendations for physical activity, which advise getting at least two and a half hours per week of moderately intense aerobic exercise like brisk walking as well as some strength training such as lifting weights or doing pushups.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), call being physically active “one of the most important steps that Americans of all ages can take to improve their health.”

The Physical Activity Guidelines are meant to complement the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a joint effort of the HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are directed towards policy makers and health care professionals as well as the public at large.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the May 2013 issue of the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 52 percent of respondents to phone interviews reported meeting the recommended guidelines for aerobics, and 29 percent said they did with muscle-strength training.

The survey also came up with some other noticeable statistics. Less than a third of 18 to 24 year-olds met both aerobic and strength-training recommendations. Only 16 percent of over 65 year-olds came close. Hispanics did worse than other ethnicities. Education also seemed a contributing factor. Those with college degrees did on average better than those without. Normal-weight persons were more active than the overweight and obese. Americans living in the Northeast and the West outperformed Southerners. Colorado beat all other states. West Virginia and Tennessee came in last.

Similarly to the Dietary Guidelines, the Physical Activity Guidelines have been criticized as unrealistic and unattainable for many Americans, especially for low-income earners and those living in unwalkable and unsafe neighborhoods.

Multiple studies have shown that walkability in residential areas has a significant impact on people’s health. One study found that residents of neighborhoods with sidewalks, bike paths and public parks had a much lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than those who lived in areas without such amenities.

But unfortunately, issues of walkability and bikeability are still not included in the planning processes of many cities around the country. Walk Score, a Seattle-based company that evaluates major cities and midsized towns in the U.S., releases annual rankings of the most, and least, walkable places and rates them on a scale from 0 (= “car-dependent”) to 100 (= “walker’s paradise”). While New York City and San Francisco routinely qualify as most pedestrian-friendly and are lauded for their extensive public transportation system, smaller towns, especially in rural areas, still make it hard to get around other than by driving your own vehicle.

Physical fitness – like weight control – is considered by many as a matter of personal choice and responsibility. And to a certain extent that is true. However, other factors such as income, residence, access to grocery outlets and opportunities to be physically active within reasonable distance have all been shown to be decisive. If too many of these elements are missing, no appeal to behavioral change will suffice.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

-->

It’s a proven fact that most people change their eating habits and lifestyle choices only after a serious health scare such as a heart attack or a diabetes diagnosis. Still, in many cases that may not be enough. Old habits tend to die hard, but often there are also not many alternatives to what they’ve been doing in terms of eating right and taking care of themselves.

A recent study found that most consumers after being confronted with a major health crisis were still influenced in their choices by factors other than what’s good for their health. For example, people can find it difficult to change their long established eating habits, says Dr. Yu Ma, an economics professor at Alberta School of Business and author of the study. Another highly influential factor is price, he says. If they get a good deal on a particular item, they will go for it, and if it’s too expensive, they will stay away, no matter how much they would benefit healthwise.

Another issue is what he calls the “health halo effect.” Most people divide foods simply into two categories: healthy and unhealthy, he says. If something is considered healthful, e.g. a salad or a breakfast cereal, as opposed to a cheeseburger or a sugar-laden donut, people tend to overindulge in the “healthy” stuff without much further thought. We have seen that phenomenon when, for example, fat-free cookies came on the market and many believed they could consume those in almost unlimited quantities because of the absence of fat. Of course, eliminating the fat did not make those cookies less caloric, and the results became apparent soon thereafter.

Another study, this one on heart attack and stroke patients, showed that nearly 15 percent did not alter their eating and lifestyle habits after the incident, including poor diet choices, lack of exercise and smoking. Less than half of all participants in the study reported having made at least one change, and less than a third said they made several improvements. Only 4 percent claimed they did everything that was recommended to them to prevent further deterioration of their health.

Much of the unwillingness or inability to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices can be blamed on the widespread confusion among the public due to the ceaseless onslaught of sometimes contradictory messages in the media about health matters. In addition, many of the warnings issued by experts are hard to heed by consumers who are oftentimes ignorant, if not intentionally kept in the dark, about the nutritional quality of their food supply. For instance, recommendations to avoid high fat, salt and sugar content may be well-meaning, but they are by and large useless when ingredients lists are hard to decipher or when restaurants aren’t required to follow any dietary guidelines or to post nutritional information on their menus.

“I think people are interested in making changes and they are heeding the warnings,” said Dr. Sara Bleich, an associate professor of health policy at the John Hopkins School of Public Health to NBCNews. “But when it comes to food, it’s much more complicated. Cereal, for example, has a tremendous amount of added sugar. And not everyone understands that breakfast foods like muffins and pastry, things that people don’t consider to be a dessert or an indulgence, pack a lot of sugar.” Similar concerns apply to salt in countless processed foods, many of which don’t even taste salty, and certain types of fats, some of which are obscured by arbitrary serving descriptions on food labels.

Undoubtedly, more and more people want to be better informed about nutritional health and be empowered to make the right choices. With growing consumer demand for further regulation and protection, that may be feasible over time. But for now, it’s an ongoing uphill battle, and most of us have to fend for ourselves as well as we can.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

-->

Lifestyle-Related Ills Tend to Multiply with Age, Study Finds

April 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am by timigustafson

Seniors who suffer from chronic health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease often develop a host of other, seemingly unrelated health problems, including cognitive impairment like memory loss and dementia, according to a new study based on data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the medical records of hundreds of thousands of seniors residing in assisted-living facilities and found that most had at least one chronic health condition. What was more alarming, however, was that many had overlapping ailments. While high blood pressure and heart disease were most common, nearly half of the assisted-living residents showed signs of dementia.

“These findings suggest a vulnerable population with a high burden of functional and cognitive impairment,” the authors of the study report wrote.

Many studies have suggested a link between vascular disease and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s, said Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University’s Institute for Brain Sciences (DIBS). Therefore it may not be possible to treat dementia without treating vascular problems, he added.

But that may be easier said than done. “We don’t universally do a great job of how we treat conditions that overlap, for example Alzheimer’s and high blood pressure,” said Dr. Cythia M. Boyd, an associate professor of geriatric medicine at the John Hopkins University Center on Aging and Health, to the New York Times. “Much of the way we practice medicine is looking at disease by disease. We aren’t doing enough thinking about how to add them together and really integrate care.”

What makes things more complicated is that most doctors are not sufficiently trained in preventing or reducing lifestyle-related illnesses – not in the general public and certainly not in older patients – other than through medicating. For instance, the importance of nutrition as a part of preventive care is rarely ever mentioned in medical schools. The approximate time devoted to nutrition science over the first two years of medical education is six hours, which is clearly inadequate, according to the National Academy of Sciences. The same goes for other health-promoting measures such as exercise, especially for the aging population.

Yet many studies have provided compelling evidence that diet and exercise play a significant role for physical and mental health at any time in life but increasingly so as we age.

For example, a more recent study from Britain concluded that the so-called “Western diet,” which typically includes fried, sweet and processed foods, red meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products, increases the risk of chronic diseases, which in turn can adversely affect both physical and mental health in later years. Eating a Western diet makes it less likely to have an ideal aging process, says Dr. Tasnime Akbaraly, a researcher at the University College of London and lead author of the study report. Conversely, making dietary improvements can yield multiple benefits in this regard.

There is also further evidence that exercise can give a boost to the aging brain. Scientists at the University of British Columbia found that older women who suffered from mild cognitive impairment could improve their memory through weight training and brisk walking.

The connections between physical and mental decline may not yet be completely understood, but it seems clear that chronic diseases play a major role in the process. While these are widespread, the encouraging news is that many, if not all, are preventable by healthier lifestyle choices.

Share and enjoy on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

-->

The Pros and Cons of Competitive Workouts

April 10th, 2013 at 3:10 pm by timigustafson

I always enjoyed a competitive spirit. Throughout my life, I was convinced I could accomplish more when I was challenged by formidable rivals, both at work and sports. Playing in the streets of my childhood neighborhood in London taught me that. Only as I grew older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I gradually allowed myself to keep to my own pace, although I still welcome a good contest because it brings out the best in me.

So it naturally peeked my interest when I heard the other day about a gym opening in my neighborhood that offers competitive workouts. Actually, it is part of a chain called “CrossFit” with over 3,000 affiliations worldwide.

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that includes endurance training, weight lifting, gymnastics and other exercises. It is rigorous, to say the least. Originally designed for police and military training, CrossFit has developed an almost cult-like following.

According to the founder’s website, anybody can benefit from the training sessions, regardless of age or initial fitness level. There are also seminars and certifications for those who want to teach others. Even competitive CrossFit games are conducted annually to determine “the fittest human beings on earth.”

What sets CrossFit apart from other fitness regimens is mainly its intensity. The studio, or as followers call it, “the box,” in my area has an ominous slogan on its homepage that says, “You can rest when you’re dead.” Critics say that’s only half joking because participants are regularly driven to utter exhaustion.

Even that may be putting it too mildly. Injuries are to be expected when people constantly push themselves to (and sometimes over) the limit of what their bodies can tolerate. But there are reports of rhabdomyolysis (among fitness extremists also known as “rhabdo” or “uncle rhabdo”), an event where muscle fiber breaks down from overexertion, releasing protein myoglobin into the blood stream, which can lead to kidney damage and even kidney failure.

Regardless of warnings by health experts, extreme workout schedules such as CrossFit are becoming increasingly popular not just among athletes and fitness enthusiasts but also in today’s corporate culture.

“For us, CrossFit was a major teambuilding exercise,” said Jonathan Hefter, the C.E.O. of a New York City-based software startup company who expects all of his employees to partake in workout sessions at least three times a week. “If someone didn’t join in, it caused problems,” he revealed in an interview with the New York Times.

Proponents of corporate fitness programs agree that there are more than just physical health benefits to working out as a team. “If you can sweat and groan and moan with your co-workers you’ll have no problems working with them in a meeting,” said Karin Eisenmenger, a director of order management at Datalogix, a company in Colorado that specializes in data transactions, who was interviewed for the same article.

There is no doubt that employees should take advantage of corporate-sponsored health policies whenever they are offered to them. Things become more complicated when undue pressure is exercised to join in because it fosters the corporate culture and benefits the company in other ways.

Also, it does not always seem clear how closely monitored these workouts and how experienced trainers are. Critics warn that CrossFit, for example, certifies trainers after just one short introductory seminar, which entitles them to start their own gym and train as many members as they want. Every month, the company says, it receives 150 applications for affiliation with new gyms, or about five a day. (At its peak expansion, Starbucks opened an average of six stores per day). That’s a lot of new “boxes” opening up. It can’t be easy to ensure they all play by the rules. But then, competition is what these guys are looking for.

Share and enjoy on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

-->

Pillars of Wellbeing

April 3rd, 2013 at 10:51 am by timigustafson

I practice a special kind of meditation on an almost daily basis. Perhaps meditation isn’t the right word since it doesn’t require me to sit in silence with my eyes closed and legs crossed or anything like that. It’s more a form of taking stock of where my life is going at any particular time.

For this, I have five issues to consider: my physical health, my diet, my emotional state, my intellectual rigor and my social/relational life. These I think of as the pillars of my wellbeing. Each one matters greatly by itself, but each must also be in balance with all the others. If one goes missing, the rest will suffer as well.

Let me give an example. When I injured my shoulder in a tennis game a few years ago, I realized how much was taken away from me, not just because I had to give up playing for a while but also because a dear routine was interrupted with all sorts of consequences.

During my prolonged absence from the court, I lost my tennis buddies whose comradeship I had enjoyed tremendously. One of them, a university professor and a true intellectual, had not only been a great partner in doubles but also a stimulating presence in my life that gave me many insights in a vast variety of subjects. Due to the reduced physical activity, I felt less energetic and not as motivated in my work. And I had to watch my diet more carefully to prevent unwanted weight gain.

Needless to say, I was saddened about losing a part of my life that was more important to me than I had been aware of. In fact, it made me miserable for quite some time.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said: “Health is not everything, but without it, nothing is anything.” I am a great believer in that. I know now that my physical health is the foundation of what I can do in life, whether it concerns work or leisurely activities. It also affects my state of mind, my interest and participation in the world around me, and my ability to relate to others. And it works both ways: The happier I am, the more fulfilled I feel, the easier it seems to stay healthy and fit.

Obviously, my little meditational routine is nothing original. If you are interested in taking up this kind of exercise, I can recommend using the so-called “Wellness Wheel”, which follows a similar pattern. As the name indicates, the different components of wellness relate to each other like spokes in a wheel. Each is necessary to hold the whole thing together, none is expendable.

Wellness Wheel

Good nutrition, regular exercise, weight management as well as avoidance of smoking and alcohol and drug abuse are at the core. But so are stress management and getting enough sleep. Our emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs must be cared for. Having goals, a sense of purpose and satisfaction and fulfillment in what we do are all part of it, just like having good relationships with loved ones, colleagues and community.

Not all areas will always be at peak performance. And that’s not even necessary. We can focus on work and put our social life on the backburner for some time. We can take a break from our exercise routine for a day or two and make up for the missed time on the weekend. We can overindulge for a special occasion and then go right back to a healthy diet afterwards. What we can’t do is neglecting or sacrificing entire segments of our wellbeing because, sooner or later, it will affect the whole person.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment” and “Healthy Eating – A Never-Ending Learning Curve.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter, on Facebook and on Pinterest.

-->

Making Our Cities More Conducive to Healthy Living

March 11th, 2013 at 1:32 pm by timigustafson

Health experts have long insisted that improving our public health requires improving the environment we live in. This, of course, includes environmental protection measures such as pollution control and management of resources but also attention to housing and living conditions. Part of the latter is a better understanding of how land use, residential development and architectural design impact our health and well-being.

“Virtually everything in our built environment is the way it is because someone designed it that way. We now realize that how we design the built environment may hold tremendous potential for addressing many of the nation’s greatest current public health concerns, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, asthma, injury, depression, violence, and social injustice,” says Dr. Richard Joseph Jackson, professor for environmental health sciences and urban planning at the School of Public Health of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

There is a growing awareness in communities across the country of the need for health-promoting surroundings. And city planners begin to pay attention. They realize that sidewalks, bike paths, pedestrian zones and parks not only add to public safety but also enhance the quality of life in general. Here are a few examples:

New York City has tasked its Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to come up with new guidelines for the promotion of physical activity and health in architectural design to make future building projects “more livable and hospitable.” The guidelines are meant to give designers the tools to facilitate healthy lifestyle choices and to address health concerns such as obesity and diabetes through intelligent design, according to Arch Daily an architectural online magazine. New York City, of course is already one of the most walkable cities in the country. Still, there is room for improvement, e.g. better public transportation to recreational facilities and open spaces.

The Seattle Housing Authority has created a program called “Breathe Easy Homes”, which subsidizes affordable housing projects with features to improve air quality and reduce the risk of asthma, especially among children.

The Denver Housing Authority uses a procedure called “Health Impact Assessment” (HIA) for all its urban redevelopment plans as part of its wellness initiative, “Denver Healthy People 2020”. HIA is an assessment tool that has been put into practice in other parts of the world for many years and is increasingly accepted here as well.

“The [HIA] process is one of the foremost tools used to plan for healthy, sustainable communities. Used around the world, it promotes and assesses environmental effects upon physical and mental health. With land use policies, designs and plans influencing individual and community health, it is more important than ever to strengthen the relationship between planning and public health,” the agency states on its website.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also recommends HIA as a good resource to measure the impact of community projects on health issues.

But governmental action alone will not suffice in the creation of more health-conducive living spaces. Private developers will have to come on board as well. To ensure that today’s students of architecture and urban planning will be more sensitive towards these issues, Clemson University in South Carolina offers a program called “Architecture Plus Health,” where relationships between architectural settings and the health of their inhabitants are researched. The goal is to teach future architects and designers how to apply their skills with the well-being of individuals and the larger population in mind, says Dr. David Allison, the program’s director.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Making America’s Cities More Walkable – The Benefits Are Endless” and “Your Surroundings Can Sabotage Your Commitment to Healthy Living.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

-->

Obesity Must Be Addressed on Multiple Levels

February 24th, 2013 at 2:36 pm by timigustafson

Obesity has grown into an alarming public health crisis, and there is no telling when or even whether we will be able to get this epidemic under control. Over two thirds of Americans now struggle with weight problems, and there is no consensus among the experts over the precise causes. Recommendations for countermeasures range from calls for more government involvement to greater responses from food manufacturers and restaurant operators to better health education of the public.

Recent legislation for the improvement of nutrition standards of school lunches and initiatives like “Let’s Move” to reduce childhood obesity have gotten some traction, but progress remains slow and uncertain, according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Overall, there is no significant change in the current trends, and so the battle for America’s health continues unabated. There is general agreement that more, much more needs to be done.

Demands for tougher regulation of industry and policies to influence the behavior of consumers have become louder in recent years, but we have not seen the results we had hoped for. In a recent op-ed articleNew York Times columnist Mark Bittman has faulted the current Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, for being “missing in action” in the fight against obesity, especially childhood obesity. On this issue, he writes, “Benjamin, like most of her predecessors, is virtually invisible.” Even with regards to seemingly straight forward measures like curbing children’s exposure to junk food via advertisements on TV or banning soda sales from school campuses, the government remains inexplicably passive. Instead, it still lays most of the blame at the feet of the victims by overemphasizing personal accountability.

Voluntary commitments by food manufacturers and restaurant operators have not produced much success either, despite of ample promises to show more cooperation by making food labels less confusing, offering healthier alternatives on fast food menus, or limiting exposure of kids to food advertisements.

But there is another aspect to this discussion that is often neglected. It is people’s real life experience that is not taken enough into account. By this I don’t mean to lend credence to oversimplifying statements that people are responsible for their own actions and should not blame others for their demise. Those who read my columns and blog posts know very well that I am a strong supporter of many of the measures Mr. Bittman and others are proposing.

Asking folks to make better nutritional choices makes no sense if they live miles and miles away from food outlets that carry fresh produce or in neighborhoods where getting physical exercise is difficult because of safety concerns and lack of public facilities like bike paths and parks. It is also futile to make dietary recommendations that completely ignore financial limits or access to health education.

But still, no matter what we will try from here on in terms of legislation and policy making, changing individual behavior will always play a predominant role. Eating habits are rarely just about food. They are also about stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, addiction, past traumatic experiences, and more. By exclusively focusing on the quality and quantity of our food supply, we will not be able to really understand these concerns and make them part of the equation, as they need to be. As they say, all politics are local. And all health issues are personal.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

-->

More Realistic Goals, Longer Lasting Results

January 16th, 2013 at 10:58 am by timigustafson

The NBC hit show, “The Biggest Loser,” now in its 14th season, is well known for its rigorous (to put it mildly) workout sessions where contestants are regularly driven to the brink of collapse in the pursuit of rapid weight loss. Of course, all the huffing and puffing during the exercising also adds drama and entertainment without which the show would probably not have lasted this long.

Although the participants come from all age groups, this year’s focus is on obesity among children and adolescents, which is a good idea considering that 17 percent (12.5 million) of Americans age 2 to 19 are now diagnosed as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 1980, obesity rates among the young have tripled, and the latest data show only slight improvements despite of stepped-up efforts by government agencies and advocacy groups to curb the trend.

While it is disheartening to see how much damage the obesity crisis is doing to all generations, programs like “The Biggest Loser” can help convey the message that it is never too early or too late to make positive changes, provided one is willing to put in the hard work. For that they should be applauded. Still, there are some disconcerting elements at play here.

With progressive success in their weight loss efforts, many of the contestants develop a high, if not inflated confidence level. Naturally, a certain amount of faith in one’s abilities is necessary just to stay motivated. However, when I hear a candidate who has still a long way to go to a healthy weight range talk about her plans for running a complete marathon in the near future, I wonder how expectations of what’s possible can sometimes spin so much out of control. Yes, it would be a headline-grabbing sensation if a once morbidly obese person could pull off one of the most challenging athletic performances known to man after just a few month of training – but is that a healthy, even desirable prospect? Why this tendency to swing from one extreme to another?

It is no secret that radical weight loss bouts over short periods of time don’t last in most cases. So-called yo-yo dieting is a well-known phenomenon in the weight loss industry. Many former “The Biggest Loser” contestants have gained at least some of their old weight back. What seems feasible within a controlled environment often doesn’t hold up when people resume their own daily routines.

And there is also no need for that. The intensity and rigor of a concentrated weight loss program cannot and should not continue indefinitely. Studies have shown that most people reap the greatest benefits from light to moderate but consistent exercise such as resistance training, fast walking or jogging for limited distances (up to 20 miles per week). More than that does not produce significantly greater advantages for physical health or longevity, according to Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans who conducted extensive research on the subject. “If anything,” he says, “it appears that less running is associated with the best protection from mortality risk. More is not better, and actually, more could be worse.”

His colleague and study report co-author, Dr. James H. O’Keefe, a specialist in preventive cardiovascular medicine, agrees. “In general, it appears that exercise, like any therapy, results in a bell-shaped curve in terms of response and benefits. To date, the data suggest that walking and light jogging are almost uniformly beneficial for health and do increase life span. But with more vigorous or prolonged exercise, the benefits can become questionable,” he said in an interview with the New York Times.

So, instead of going from years of overeating and doing no exercise whatsoever to competitive running, I suggest that the young lady in question finds some middle ground where she can manage her weight and engage in an overall health-promoting lifestyle that can make life so much better for her for the rest of her life. The same goes for the rest of us.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

-->
Write your own blog

Do you have something to say? Are you passionate about a particular topic and can write regularly and coherently? We'd love to talk with you. Contact us today about blogging on this site.

Blog Search
About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

*About Community Blogs

Community blogs are written by volunteers. They are members of our community but not employees of this site or newspaper. They have applied or were invited to blog here but their words are their own and are not edited by the editor or staff of this site, and have agreed to abide by our Terms of Use. The authors are solely responsible for their content. If you have concerns about something you read on a community blog, please contact the author directly or email us.

Would you like to have your own blog on our site? Contact us today.

Archive
Categories