Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Three short videos to make your day

August 18, 2008

These 3 videos are well worth watching (and brief: 1 min, 4.5 min, and 4.5 min).

[note: If you have a good internet connection and a wide screen monitor, be sure to watch them in full-screen mode (click on the icon in the lower right corner of the video frame on the website).]

  1. If your life is like this,
  2. take a deep breath, and watch this.
  3. Then go out and do this (or one of these affordable versions: here and here and here).

Let me know what you think!

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Give up a car? Get a bike? Maybe.

August 13, 2008

After decades of being a two-car family, my wife and I recently gave up one of them and bought two bikes. Now, don’t think we are being heroic — we are both retired and live in a very convenient in-town neighborhood. We can walk or bike to many stores and restaurants and friends’ houses, and the climate here is pretty good. Still, it is very nice not paying for insurance, taxes, upkeep and depreciation on the car we gave up. We definitely are driving less than we used to, and I go days at a time without driving (my wife often takes the car on out-of-town trips to visit family, and at those times I am completely car-free).

A huge bonus is that we have found we love cycling around town, and I went in with a friend who has an SUV to buy a very good bike rack, so we can sometimes take the bikes to other places for a change in scenery.

To really see what is possible (and difficult) when you become car-free, check out this blog.

If you have found a way to cut down on driving, and increased your use of more healthy forms of transportation (for you and the planet), let us know.

The stigma of not owning a pet

August 12, 2008

I confess, I don’t have a pet in my house. Increasingly, I feel I have to defend myself for my non-pet status, or at least fend off well-meaning friends and relatives who clearly believe I am deprived (at best) or depraved (at worst). People assume, because I don’t want a dog, that I “don’t like dogs.”

I love animals, and have had pets (dogs and cats) most of my life, but when our last cat died a few years ago, I vowed to go pet free for the indefinite future. My wife is ambivalent about this, and would love to have a dog or cat, until her emotions calm down and she reasons it out. We are extremely busy, love to travel, and don’t have good outdoor space for a dog. But more and more people we know are getting dogs, and apparently feel it is their duty to convince us to get one, too (cat-owners seem less interested in spreading the joy). We tell them that as soon as I die  my wife will get a dog (on the way home from the Emergency Room, she says), and we have named him or her “Skippy.”

Pets (“animal companions”) do seem to provide people with some health benefits (dogs, for example, take us for walks), and they are great for lonely people and people who like being a caregiver. I am not denying they can be a lot of fun.  Now, 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog (of those, 37% own more than one), and we in the U.S. spend over $43 billion a year on our pets (up from $23 billion in 1998). The average dog-owning household spends $1425 annually (estimated) on food, boarding, vet care, toys, etc. (the comparable figure for cat-owners is $990). See these sites (here and here) for statistical information.

I am interested in what you think. If you have a dog, do you want others to, also? If you are not a pet owner, do you ever feel defensive because of it?

What can we learn from the latest major “diet” study?

July 18, 2008

A major, well-designed research study of the effectiveness of various “diets” on weight loss and health has been published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. The researchers carefully followed 322 moderately obese people (mostly middle-aged men) for two years in a workplace setting where a lot of support and education was given along with a controlled diet. The research subjects were divided into three groups who ate one of the following: a low-fat, restricted-calorie diet; a Mediterranean, restricted-calorie diet; or a low-carbohydrate, non–restricted-calorie diet.  In the final analysis, all three groups lost weight (mostly in the first six months) and had health benefits, but the Mediterranean and low-carb groups had the best outcomes. Overall, 85% of subjects stuck to their diet for the full 2 years.

What we can learn is that education, structure and support are important in maintaining a consistent eating pattern (this study took place in Israel where the mid-day meal is traditionally the main meal, so the impact of the workplace is significant).  We also learned that the two diets with the best outcomes (in terms of weight loss maintenance, reduction in waist circumference, and some health measures) were the Mediterranean and low-carb. Finally, as written in the original article, we learned:

Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets may be effective alternatives to low-fat diets. The more favorable effects on lipids (with the low-carbohydrate diet) and on glycemic control (with the Mediterranean diet) suggest that personal preferences and metabolic considerations might inform individualized tailoring of dietary interventions. … The low-carbohydrate and Mediterranean diets had some beneficial metabolic effects, a result suggesting that these dietary strategies might be considered in clinical practice and that diets might be individualized according to personal preferences and metabolic needs [e.g., diabetics might do better on the Mediterranean diet; people with lipid problems might choose the low-carb diet]. The similar caloric deficit achieved in all diet groups suggests that a low-carbohydrate, non–restricted-calorie diet may be optimal for those who will not follow a restricted-calorie dietary regimen. The increasing improvement in levels of some biomarkers [health indicators] over time up to the 24-month point, despite the achievement of maximum weight loss by 6 months, suggests that a diet with a healthful composition has benefits beyond weight reduction.

One limitation of the study is the fact that most of the subjects were middle-aged men (only 16% were women).

Diet research is hard to do, and this study benefited from having a relatively controlled setting (workplace with main meal being served there). This is also a weakness, because few in the real world have that much structure and support.

The take home message for me is that even with almost ideal conditions it is hard to lose much weight, but weight can be maintained after the initial six months and the health benefits continue in the maintenance phase. Also, the study does help us (a little) choose what kinds of foods to add or subtract from our permanent diet (lifestyle), as opposed to a temporary “weight loss” diet. So, for example, I may decide to add more fish and chicken (and less red meat), more Tabouli (I love it), and less sugar and starch (if I cut way down on these, I won’t have to count Calories so much). Nothing we didn’t already kind of know, but this is reinforcement for that.

For a more detailed summary of the research see this site.

Weight loss strategies

July 16, 2008

This research report appeared in the current news summary from medscape.com. The study only shows associations and not cause and effect, but is worth noting because of the large number of people surveyed.  Though not conclusive, the report reinforces the advice to self-weigh regularly, eat breakfast daily, and avoid fast-food.

July 8, 2008 — Overweight or obese adult patients with type 2 diabetes who followed various weight-loss interventions had lower body mass indexes (BMIs), according to the results of the Action for Health in Diabetes (Look AHEAD) clinical trial reported in the July issue of Diabetes Care [2008;31:1299-1304].

This is a cross-sectional study within an ethnically diverse population with type 2 diabetes from 16 US centers (the Look AHEAD study) to correlate eating patterns with BMI and to describe the most common weight-control strategies in patients with type 2 diabetes.

“Intentional weight loss is recommended for those with type 2 diabetes, but the strategies patients attempt and their effectiveness for weight management are unknown,” write Hollie A. Raynor, PhD, RD, from the Brown Medical School/The Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, and colleagues from the Look AHEAD Research Group. “In this investigation we describe intentional weight loss strategies used and those related to BMI in a diverse sample of overweight participants with type 2 diabetes at enrollment in the Look AHEAD. . . clinical trial.”

Study Highlights

  • The Look AHEAD study included 5145 patients aged 45 to 74 years with type 2 diabetes with a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or more (or 27 kg/m2 or more for those receiving insulin), with 33% of participants from ethnic minority groups.
  • Excluded from this analysis were those with inadequate control of diabetes and with underlying diseases that influenced lifespan.
  • Weight-control practices included a list of 23 behaviors that participants chose from, expressed as a percentage of participants using each practice and duration of use of each practice, up to 52 weeks.
  • Those who self-weighed weekly had a lower BMI (35.3 kg/m2) vs those who weighed themselves once a month.
  • Those who consumed 6 or more breakfasts weekly had a lower BMI of 35.6 kg/m2 vs those who consumed 3 to 6 days per week (36.7 kg/m2).
  • Overall, participants consumed 1.9 fast-food meals per week.
  • BMI was 35.1 kg/m2 for those reporting no fast food per week vs 36.9 for those reporting 3 or more fast-food meals per week.
  • The 3 most prevalent weight-control practices by duration of use were increasing fruit and vegetable intake, cutting out sweets and junk foods, and reducing consumption of high-carbohydrate foods, with duration of practice from 20.3 to 26.5 weeks.
  • Overall, a larger amount of intentional weight loss, self-weighing less than once weekly, and more fast-food meals consumed were associated with a higher BMI, whereas consuming more breakfasts was associated with a lower BMI.