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March 24th, 2010
05:51 PM ET

Keeping weight down means more than a few minutes of activity a day

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

If you're a middle aged woman and trying to keep your weight down you probably know how hard it can be. It seems like you're spending more time on the treadmill at the gym than at home. So how active do older women need to be in order to keep weight off? It all depends.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found women of normal weight who were successful in keeping the scale stable averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate activity. Which means if you want to keep the weight off you've got to stay active!

The purpose of the study was to look at how much physical activity was needed to prevent long-term weight changes in women who ate a regular diet. Researchers looked at 34,079 healthy women in the U.S. over a 15-year period. The average age of the participants was 54. Over a schedule of months, the women reported their physical activity and body weight. They were then classified into different groups, depending on how many hours a week they were active

Overall the women gained an average of 5.7 pounds throughout the study. Compared with women who were very active, those who were not as active gained about .3 pounds more. But what was most interesting is investigators found that among those women who ate a normal diet, physical activity was associated with less weight gain only among women who had lower BMIs, (Body Mass Index). That means women who were leaner kept the weight off as long as they were active. And for all the women participants, those who were successful in maintaining normal weight (as opposed to losing weight) over the 15-year period, averaged approximately 60 minutes a day of moderate activity, from walking their dogs, to jogging or swimming, or even playing with their children.

According to the lead authors out of Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School this research could help weight experts better understand why certain women gain weight as they age, as compared with others who live the same lifestyle. "Because the average U.S. adult gains weight with age, developing ways to prevent unhealthy weight gain would help them avoid having to lose weight and then trying to maintain that loss. Compared with the vast body of research on the treatment of overweight and obese individuals, little research exists on preventing weight gain," the authors write.

The data also suggest that the 2008 federal recommendation for 150 minutes per week, while clearly enough to lower the risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, is insufficient for weight gain prevention if women are not cutting calories. The authors also noted that for heavier women, cutting calories and upping their physical activity to 60 minutes or more was the only way to lose and then later maintain healthy weight in that group.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 24th, 2010
12:46 PM ET

CDC: More C-sections than ever in U.S.

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

Caesarean section births in the United States reached 32 percent in 2007, the highest rate ever reported in the country, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A third of all births in the United States were done by Caesarean section in 2007, in spite of the health and safety risks for mothers and newborns associated with the procedure, which involves major abdominal surgery. C-sections have been linked to higher rates of surgical complications and rehospitalizations of the mother. There is also a substantial cost involved: hospital charges almost double for a Caesarean delivery compared with a vaginal birth.

Since 1996, the rate of Caesarean sections rose by 53 percent from 1996 to 2007, the study said, with an acceleration from 2000 to 2007. The trend of increased births by Caesarean section was seen in all U.S. states during the 1996 to 2007 time period, and among women in all age groups.

Among the states with the lowest C-section rates were Alaska, Idaho, New Mexico, and Utah, with less than 25 percent. Some of the highest were in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, and West Virginia. In Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, and Rhode Island, the rate of C-sections increased by more than 70 percent.

The increased rate of multiple births may have something to do with the rise in Caesarean sections, although the  rates for single babies increased much more than for infants in multiple deliveries, the study said.

The study also cited nonmedical factors as potential reasons why there are so many more C-sections in recent years, such as the mother's choice, practice guidelines, and legal pressures - for instance, a study in Illinois found that rising costs of professional liability insurance may have something to do with Caesarean delivery rates.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 24th, 2010
12:02 PM ET

Study links elevated hormones, ‘preggo brain’

By Ashley Fantz
CNNHealth.com writer

Elevated hormones may explain why many women complain they experience forgetfulness during pregnancy, new research shows.

Recalled anecdotally for years – often referred to as “preg head” or “preggo brain” – women in their second and third trimester report problems with their spatial memory. They say they forget where they parked their car or left their keys.

“Women in general have been the butt of jokes that we have trouble finding our way around, navigating, and that has been a negative stereotype which I’ve always found to be denigrating,” said Diane Farrar, a midwife who also has a psychology degree. She spearheaded the study with University of Bradford and the Bradford Institute for Health. “I wanted to find out if there was scientific basis for the negativity where it concerned pregnant women.”

Farrar gathered two groups of women: 24 who were not pregnant and had no intention of becoming pregnant and 23 who were pregnant. She followed the pregnant group throughout the duration of their pregnancy and three months after birth.

All women were given computer-based spatial memory tests. The tests involved following a square moving on the screen and the women were asked to remember its location, Farrar said. At one point, the square moved into two boxes. One box moved to distract the eye while the square kept moving.

In addition to spatial memory, their mood, attention-capacity and anxiety level were measured, and their hormone levels were recorded.

The pregnant women scored 70 percent on the test. Women who were not pregnant scored 80 percent, according to the study.

“Altered hormone levels during pregnancy may affect brain regions involved in memory processing. Altered mood and increased anxiety, which may be due to altered hormone levels or pregnancy related worries, may also adversely affect memory function,” the study states. “More research is now needed to identify the neurological effects of pregnancy to help guide future research and provide information for women and those involved in maternity care.”

Pregnant women were also recorded to have more depressed moods and higher levels of anxiety than the other women, said Farrar.

“One has to keep in mind that there are factors at work here that pregnant have to deal with – loss of sleep, for example – and that’s going to affect how well their mind performs,” she said.

The good news is that spatial memory isn’t permanently hurt during pregnancy, Farrar told CNN.

“We found that memory function comes back,” she said. “Cognitive abilities will be what they were was before.”

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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