home
RSS
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.


March 23rd, 2010
01:58 PM ET

I do not have time to train for a triathlon

By Meredith Clark
CNN Fit Nation Challenge

Meredith Clark attends a kettlebell class to build stamina for the Nautica NYC Triathlon

Meredith Clark attends a kettlebell class to build stamina for the Nautica NYC Triathlon

“I do not have time to train for a triathlon.” That’s the reality I face every morning when I’m up at 5:30 a.m., trying to squeeze in strength and cardio workouts before the day really gets churning. Those words are a mocking mantra when I make my way to the pool after work instead of catching a half-hour of rest before Bible study, community meetings and events begin that evening.

I do not have time to train – but a recent e-mail from my trainer, Ian Briggs, says otherwise.

“We basically have 16 weeks to have you ready for NYC Triathlon. It is doable but now it is critical time for you to commit to workouts,” he wrote. “I understand that you have and have had an immense amount going on but unless you are able to make this opportunity a priority it is going to be very difficult for you to complete the event.”

Translation: Making only three out of five workouts per week isn’t going to cut it anymore.

His final words gave me a slight boost: “You have the physical ability to do this (and well if you want) but crunch time has finally come.”

I entered the Triathlon Challenge with twin goals of losing weight and completing the Nautica New York City Triathlon. To date, I haven’t lost a pound. I’m admittedly a little green-eyed after hearing two of my competitors (ahem, teammates) have each dropped 20. If this were just about quick weight loss instead of building a new way of life, I’d quit now.

But the efforts I’ve put into my sporadic workouts are paying off: My running form is improving. An out-and-back is an energy boost, not a chore. (It helps both my time and my ego to dust my running partners.) No matter how I feel about getting into the pool, my endorphins come out to play as I reach and pull myself through the water. Two full months into this challenge, I’m finally ready to trade 30- and 45-minute sessions on my spin bike for a 13-mile ride Friday after work.

I’m battling to balance my career, community involvement and relationships with friends while trying to train. I’ve had to choose between hanging with friends and getting rest, or forsaking meals out for workouts. There have been broken dates, hurt feelings, exhaustion, fatigue and moments when I just don’t want to drag myself to the pool, the gym or the track.

My edge is the experience of having been here before. I lost 30 pounds two years ago, and though I’ve gained quite a bit back, the knowledge of what it took to get the weight off has stuck with me. I’m using some of the tactics I used then to get myself back on track. My two goals are still in sight, and as my trainer said, I do have time to make them a reality by my July 18 deadline. What matters now is that I don’t count the days, as boxer Muhammad Ali has said, but that I make the days count.

Here’s how I’m making each of the 117 days until the race work to help me meet my goals:

First, I used the calorie target tool on Calorie-Count.com to estimate my daily caloric intake in order to meet my weight loss goal - about 1,600 calories per day. I’m also keeping a food journal and taking 10 minutes in the morning to plan the day’s meals. Six days a week I’ll focus on eating like an athlete. (On the seventh day there will be rest and pancakes. And those will be good.) I eat when I’m physically hungry, not on a schedule, and get in fruits, vegetables and adequate protein at every meal. I’m reminded not to forsake good carbohydrates such as oats, quinoa, brown rice and bulgur. My body needs the carbs to fuel workouts. As any survivor of a low-carb diet can tell you, cutting good carbs is a fast ticket to lethargy.

My second step involves more planning to fit in my daily workouts. I wake up knowing that I’m going to train each day – sometimes in the morning, which I prefer, sometimes after work and sometimes, even as the last thing I do before bed. Yesterday I hit the lap lane from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. I was in bed just after 11 so I could make a 6 a.m. kettlebell class and fit in 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer. After work – or whenever my day is finished - I’ll ride for 30 minutes.

My third step is to keep my mind focused on the little things that make a difference. Every bite counts. So does every sip, and every minute I spending sweating. My form, my breathing, my rest – they all matter. There are 117 days left until race day. I don’t plan to let another one slip by in a blur of meetings and business trips and I-don’t-feel-like-it moments of procrastination. I plan to make every day count.


March 22nd, 2010
08:00 PM ET

You can be your own fountain of youth

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

Since the days of Ponce de Leon, people have been looking for the fountain of youth and ways to live longer. Now more and more doctors are saying each individual has the power to prolong his or her life. It just takes good health decisions and some discipline. That means eating right, getting up off the couch and giving up cigarettes, if you smoke.

To back up these theories, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington looked at four preventable health factors: Smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose, and obesity and how those behaviors affect our longevity. The scientists picked these four factors because according to statistics they're responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year from chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes. The study investigators felt that by looking at how these risk factors affect mortality and life expectancy public health officials could better address how to improve the nation's health and to reduce chronic public health conditions.

For their study, researchers used 2005 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, and an extensive review of epidemiological studies on the effects of these factors. They estimated the number of deaths that would have been prevented in 2005 if the four risk factors had been reduced.

They found statistics showed that when the four factors were present, the life expectancy of Americans was cut by 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women.

When breaking it down by each factor, doctors found smoking cut life expectancy the most. Men who smoked took two and half years off their lives, while female smokers took off a little less than two years. High blood pressure was also a big factor, cutting out a year and half of life from a man with hypertension and 1.3 years from women who suffered from high blood pressure. Those who had high body mass indexes, an indicator of obesity, cut out 1.3 years from their lifespans, while those with high blood glucose, or high blood sugar, cut their lives by half a year in men and about three months in women.

According to the researchers, as a result of these patterns, smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and overweight and obesity account for almost 20 percent of disparities in life expectancy across the U.S. These four factors also accounted for three-quarters of the events in cardiovascular deaths, and up to half of the incidents of cancer mortality.

"This study demonstrates the potential of disease prevention to not only improve health outcomes in the entire nation but also to reduce the enormous disparities in life expectancy that we see in the U.S.," said Majid Ezzati, associate professor of international health at the Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of the study.

The study appears in the March 23, 2010 issue of the open-access journal PLoS Medicine. It is the first study to look at the effects of those four preventable risk factors on life expectancy throughout the U.S.

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.

Post by:
Filed under: Cancer • Exercise • Longevity • Smoking

March 22nd, 2010
11:54 AM ET

Nanotech cancer treatment shown to work in humans

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

Nanotechnology has been generating a lot of excitement in the cancer research community. Scientists at institutions worldwide have gotten involved in looking at how tiny particles, specially designed to target cancer in the body and treat it, might work better than taking a regular drug. That's because targeted therapies would not harm healthy cells, reducing the toxic side effects seen in chemotherapy drugs.

After decades of work in animal models, there is now evidence that the approach works in humans. A paper published Sunday in the journal Nature shows that nanoparticles can successfully home to proteins associated with cancer progression, deliver medication, and turn off those proteins.

This is the first study to show that this particular method, using a mechanism called RNA interference, works in humans, said Gayle Woloschak, professor of radiology, and cell and molecular biology, at Northwestern University, who was not involved in the study.

But the study, led by Mark Davis at California Institute of Technology, is preliminary. It looked at three patients with melanoma, a form of skin cancer. Because only one of the patients consented to the biopsies due to all of the analysis, the researchers have conclusive evidence that the therapy – and not any previous treatment the patient may have had – was responsible for reducing the cancer-related protein in that patient, Davis said.

But the study showed targeting – that the nanoparticles got inside the tumor cells – in all three patients, Davis said. The more nanoparticles sent into the body, the more of these tiny structures get into the tumor cells, he said.

Although this is a small sample of participants, the study is still very important to show how the new technology works in humans, Woloschak said.

Particles used in this study were about 70 nanometers across, smaller than most viruses, Woloschak said. The therapy was injected directly into the patients' bloodstreams.

Researchers also demonstrated that a large number of different materials can be put together by using nanoparticles as scaffolds. This study used a tumor targeting agent and an anti-cancer therapy, but future possibilities include an imaging agent "so that a tumor can be observed as it is progressing through therapy," she said.

Results from the clinical trial associated with Davis' study will be presented at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June.

Largely, the idea of targeted nanoparticles as cancer treatments has been shown to work in animals, but not humans. Last year CNNHealth reported on  the buzz on "nanobees," which use this method, as well as other concepts in the works. Read more about that here.

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 22nd, 2010
11:52 AM ET

Keeping fit, on and off the track

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

Eating well at a NASCAR track is somewhat like trying to sleep at a rock concert - possible with the right determination and equipment, but very difficult. That is why many NASCAR drivers, roadies and fans don't exactly fall into the "fit" category. But at the #99 trailer, things are a little bit different. (Watch Video)

Carl Edwards works hard on and off the track to keep fit.

Carl Edwards works hard on and off the track to keep fit.

"We make a concerted effort," said Carl Edwards – one of the fittest drivers at the track. "Our guys, the truck drivers have a list of grocery items we buy. Instead of buying candy and donuts, it’s Kashi bars and dried fruit."

Outside the trailers, drivers and their crews are confronted with a fantastic selection of french fries, half-racks of ribs and cheesy nachos around each corner.

"You can walk up and down pit lane and you can get anything you want to eat, including fried Twinkies," Edwards said, "but you have to make that one extra little bit of effort to stay healthy."

As with any successful “diet'” plan though, Carl says, eating well is only half of the battle.

"Exercise is really tough on the road," said Edwards. "The number one thing I do is I try and choose a hotel with some sort of workout room, or before I get there, I go on Google maps and I look for a park or something nearby."

But, you might be asking: Why does someone who drives a car for a living need to stay fit?

"Our races are grueling. They're 500 miles, sometimes they go on for four or five hours, and it's uncomfortable," he said. "That that race will be over, and once its over, you better have laid everything out on the table because you can't go do it again."

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 19th, 2010
03:54 PM ET

Uncovering obstacles to fitness

Editor’s note: Two months ago, six CNN viewers began their quest to train for and compete in the Nautica New York City Triathlon alongside Dr. Gupta. The following is an email exchange between one of the participants – Rickey Williams – and our Fit Nation Athletic Director Laura Cozik.

Rickey Williams:

Fit Nation Challenge participant Rickey Williams.

Fit Nation Challenge participant Rickey Williams.

I used to think I was addicted to food. That doesn't make sense though. We need food. I think I've discovered what my addiction was...COMFORT. I was addicted to comfort. It is what made me eat when I wasn't hungry. I was looking for comfort. It is what made me stay still when I needed to move. I'm realizing that is the main obstacle when I experience a lack in motivation for working out or eating healthy. These are the kinds of things I want to address during this challenge.

Last night I did a 75-minute run. There were countless times leading up to the workout that I was  uncomfortable with the thought of a 75-minute run. There were countless times during the run that I felt uncomfortable and wanted to stop. I finished. I was exhausted, but felt like a champion. I woke up this morning sore and "uncomfortable".

Stronger today than yesterday! Pulling for you guys today.

Laura Cozik:

Fit Nation Challenge Athletic Director Laura Cozik.

Fit Nation Challenge Athletic Director Laura Cozik.

“Rickey, A 75-minute run??!! In early March??!! You're in good shape, I love it. So, so proud of you and thank you for wishing us all well today.
And thank you for sharing the "comfort" story. It's brave to admit such personal feelings. And truth be told, I've eaten for comfort many times.
The changes taking place are wonderful and inspiring. (Hope I don't sound too corny!) But keep in mind that with all the help CNN is providing you, you guys are still the ones out there gettin' it done! You should feel like a champion ”


Filed under: 2010 Fit Nation Challenge • Exercise • Fitness

March 18th, 2010
11:31 AM ET

Is aspartame safe?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors answers readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Richard Casselli, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

"How dangerous is food containing aspartame? Do you personally avoid it? Its been linked to the possible cause of brain tumours or other nervous system defects. If it's so dangerous, why is it still in our foods? Should we be avoiding aspartame?"

Answer

This is an interesting question, Richard, and an equally interesting debate that is ignited every few years or so. The big concern for some consumer groups and scientists echoes your own: Does aspartame cause cancer?

In the 1990s a researcher suggested that rates of brain cancer seemed to surge at about the same time aspartame was introduced here. Add to that various studies in rats suggesting aspartame could cause cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and you may understand why concern about this artificial sweetener lingers.

The fact is, current evidence does not support this idea that aspartame could cause cancer, or that it is unsafe. According to the American Dietetic Association, aspartame’s safety is documented in more than 200 objective scientific studies. The Food and Drug Administration has concluded that aspartame is safe, and there are  no strong data out there to refute that.

In 2007, the most comprehensive look at the research was conducted, and the conclusion was, again, that aspartame is safe. An important caveat to that research – it was paid for by the company Ajinomoto, which makes aspartame.

Thing is, about 6,000 products – including soft drinks, gum, candy, pudding, yogurt – all contain aspartame. When a product is so widely used, it often happens that there is some scientific scrutiny. So I would imagine this debate and these studies will continue for quite a while.

You asked if I use artificial sweeteners myself. Fortunately for my waistline, I do not have an affinity for sweets, so whether the sugar is real or artificial, I tend to steer clear. I favor fresh fruit to get my sweet fix, and fruit ultimately leaves me feeling fuller.

Now, if you do choose to use aspartame, keep in mind moderation. The FDA recommends a daily intake of no more than 50 mg of aspartame per kilogram of body weight. That amounts to 22 cans of diet soda for a 175-pound man, and 15 cans for a 120 pound woman.

And you want to exercise that moderation for any ingredient in your diet. Don't go overboard with the sugar-free foods - make sure to include low-fat foods, natural sugars, and fats to your diet. Skewing your diet in any one direction will create an unhealthy imbalance.

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 18th, 2010
11:01 AM ET

Teen girls size up schoolmates to decide whether to diet

By Madison Park
CNNhealth.com writer/producer

Girls not only look at their friends, but eye their schoolmates and peers to determine their feelings about body weight, according to research published in the March issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

A girl attending a school where the average body mass index is high is less likely to diet.  A girl attending a school where the average BMI is low, would be more likely to try to lose weight.

The study's lead author, Anna Mueller, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and her co-authors used info from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.  The data had a sample of U.S. adolescents in grades 7-12 in 132 middle and high schools in 80 communities.

"Social contexts in schools play an important role in shaping girls’ decisions to practice weight control," according to the research.

Rather than fashion spreads, actresses and models,  comparing themselves with their peers seems to be more important, Mueller said.

"The idea of normal weight is locally defined," she said.  "Adolescent culture is a unique thing. Within the school, because they spend so much time there, peer relationships there are so important, because the developmental stage of adolescence is so powerful. The school culture can be important above and beyond the family influence and the media influences."

This study has bigger implications, Mueller wrote.

"For girls’ body image, this suggests that it may be important when designing programs to address girls’ body image issues in a way that helps girls curtail the desire to socially compare with other schoolmates."

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.


« newer posts    older posts »
Advertisement
About this blog

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.

Advertisement
Advertisement