Friday, May 22, 2009

100 Steps a Minute

As a rule, we don’t like to use the word, “exercise,” when we talk about finding ways to become more physically active. We’ve all seen the National guidelines urging all Americans to engage in "moderate physical activity" at least 2.5 hours a week, or 30 minutes a day, five days a week. So, instead of "exercise," let’s talk about . . . Walking.

A new study published in the May issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine points out that most people are familiar with the recommendation to get 30 minutes of exercise (there’s that “e” word) most days, but that fewer people know that means moderate intensity, and fewer still know what “moderate” means.

Now we know. The study finds moderate means the equivalent of a brisk walk, and “brisk” means about 1,000 steps every 10 minutes (that’s 100 steps a minute). It’s important to note that while many people measure their steps with a pedometer, the study also found that about half the pedometers on the market aren’t accurate.

But, “moderate” is also defined as the pace where you noticeably increase your heart rate and breathing rate, yet are still capable of speaking in full sentences. No pedometer required.

Need more to sell you on the benefits of walking? Walking briskly for one mile in 15 minutes burns about the same number of calories as jogging an equal distance in 8.5 minutes. And walking an extra 20 minutes each day will burn off 7 pounds of body fat per year. With each step you take, you will be helping to prevent chronic health conditions. As you walk off extra pounds you’ll also be doing your knees a big favor. For every pound of weight lost there is a four-pound reduction in the load placed on the knee joint with each step. The accumulated reduction in knee load for a one-pound loss in weight would be more than 4,800 pounds per mile walked. Lose 10 pounds and your knees would be subjected to 48,000 less pounds of pressure per mile.

Maybe it’s time to start thinking about lacing up those walking shoes?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Are You Drinking Calorie Bombs?

It’s not just what you eat. Liquids make up about 22 percent of our daily calories. A 12 oz. can of sweetened soda contains 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar that do nothing at all to satisfy hunger. An extra can of soda a day can pile on 15 pounds in a single year. The average American drinks about 2 cans of soda per day. By cutting soda and those 300 calories, you could save 8,400 calories in four weeks—and lose about 2.4 pounds. And, this means you haven’t consumed the equivalent of nine cups of sugar!

And, there’s more. Liquid calories don’t satisfy the appetite the way whole foods (even junk foods, shudder the thought) do. Why? When solid food is consumed before (snacks or appetizers) or during a meal, the volume and caloric content of that food limits what else you eat, or should eat, fairly proportionately. Most caloric drinks consumed before or during a meal are not satiating and have little or no effect on how much you eat in one sitting or over the course of several meals. Because liquids travel more quickly than food through the intestinal tract, they alter the rate of nutrient absorption, which can affect satiety hormones and signals. Through liquids, more calories are ingested in a short period of time.

When you consider that an appropriately sized meal is anywhere from 400 to 700 calories, and one 44-ounce Super Big Gulp is 800 calories, you start to see the extent of the problem. A 16-ounce Starbucks blended coffee Frappuccino is 470 calories.

Now, here’s the good part. Since liquid calories don't contribute to feelings of satiety, cutting back on them shouldn’t make you feel deprived—or hungry. Thinking along these lines—this single, positive change is easier than some to make. And, water (I know, it doesn’t sound exciting) is a healthful substitute.

This takes us back to “mindful eating,” or in this case, drinking. The next time you drink a high-calorie soda or beverage (including specialty coffee drinks), check-in with your stomach an hour later. How do you feel? Are you still satisfied?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obesity and Our National Security

We know it’s threatening our fiscal security through health care costs (obesity is a major contributor to and accelerator of chronic disease, which accounts for 75 percent of the $2.2 trillion spent on health care in the United States each year), but did you know obesity is also threatening our national security? Do you know that since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, the obesity rate among U.S. troops has more than doubled? And do you know that combined, obesity and health-related problems, including physical inactivity, have eliminated as much as three-quarters of recruitment-age youth? Obviously, this results in a shrinking pool of eligible candidates for service.

Here’s a bit of a twist though. While we talk a lot about personal responsibility, it may be time to stop looking at obesity only as an individual personal issue, and maybe start looking at it as an issue with far reaching repercussions to our national health and safety. According to Defense Department figures provided to the AP, during the past four years 47,477 potential recruits failed to pass induction physicals because they were overweight.

So here’s what I think is a scary, and hopefully thought provoking insight. The impact on national security is real. We’re losing potential recruits to obesity, and at the same time, health care spending is now 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense.

What does this say to you?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Are You Watering Your Brain?

We all know we need to drink water every day. The recommended amount to start follows the “8 x 8 rule”—eight 8-oz glasses a day. If you really want to figure it, divide your body weight in half for the number of ounces you need each day. Then divide that by 8 to get the number of 8-oz glasses per day.

But why?

Lots of reasons. You know you need to stay hydrated. To help with food digestion, body function, and to help signal when you’re full, you should drink a glass before each meal. Drinking water before a meal helps with weight loss for this very reason. But, did you know, you need to “water your brain” for optimal mental performance?

The brain is made up of a series of neural connections. These neurons have a space in between called a “synapse,” that’s full of water. When a signal runs along a neuron, it gets to the synapse and releases a chemical called a neuro-transmitter which carries the signal across the water to the next neuron.

What happens if there’s no water in that synapse? New research has shown that by the time you become thirsty, the water in your synapse is so dehydrated that the signal has trouble getting through. The result: your brain can’t function as well and your ability to learn, react, and store and retrieve information is significantly reduced.

So, water your brain for optimal mental performance, and water yourself to keep your body hydrated. At the same time, keep in mind that:

  • The American Journal of Epidemiology reports that those who drink more than 5 glasses of water a day are 41 percent less likely to die from a heart attack than those who drink less than two glasses.
  • Water is used by the body to help flush out toxins and waste products from the body.
  • Drinking a healthy amount of water has been found to reduce the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent. It can also reduce the risk of bladder cancer by 50 percent and potentially reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Now I’ve made myself thirsty. Cheers!