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Too Much TV and Your Health

It's not exactly news that a couch potato lifestyle is hazardous to health. But a study published June 15 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) illustrates just how self-destructive this behavior can be. A research team from the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Southern Denmark analyzed the data from eight studies that included more than 175,000 individuals and found that watching TV for two hours a day (and Americans log a daily average of 5 hours in front of the tube!) raised the risk of type 2 diabetes by 20 percent over 8.5 years, the risk of heart disease by 15 percent over a decade and the risk of dying from any cause by 13 percent during a seven-year follow up. The TV itself isn't directly to blame. The investigators theorize that time spent planted on the couch and the associated eating habits - too much junk food at the expense of fresh fruits and vegetables - are the primary contributors. The research also turned up another bleak reminder of how unhealthy current TV habits are: even among adults who exercised, those who watched the most television were still at higher risk of dying during the study.

My take? I understand the need to unwind after work. I enjoy watching movies at home in the evenings, but I recommend balancing this with health-promoting relaxation techniques, including breath work and exercise, as the best means of reducing the stress in your life. Then there's the issue of eating while watching TV: many people munch habitually and without conscious thought, swallowing food without really tasting it. One consequence of this practice is overeating. Who has not mindlessly shoveled in quantities of popcorn or chips while watching a movie or staring at a television screen? In particular, I worry about the eating habits of kids who watch a lot of television. A study from the University of Minnesota that tracked nearly 2,000 high-school and middle-school teenagers found that high-school kids who watched more than five hours of television per day had poor intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and calcium-rich foods. What's more, those bad habits translated into higher intakes of snack foods, fried foods, fast food, sugar-sweetened beverages and trans-fats five years later. Sadly, the JAMA study suggests that these habits are equally widespread among adults.


How Would You Describe Your Diet? (Poll)


Diabetes Increasing in Cats and Dogs

The obesity epidemic isn't sparing companion animals - they're getting fatter, and the added weight has led to more diabetes.  A report from a national chain of 770 animal hospitals shows that since 2006, the incidence of diabetes has increased 32 percent in dogs and 16 percent in cats. Dogs are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Treatment consists of daily insulin shots and a special diet. The breeds at greatest risk are bichon frise, cairn terrier, dachshund, keeshond, miniature poodle and puli. Cats - particularly fat cats - are prone to type 2 diabetes; their bodies produce insulin but don't respond to it normally. Treatment is weight loss and insulin shots. Among cats, the breeds at highest risk are Maine coon, Russian blue and Siamese. Researchers estimated the increased risks by examining data from 2.5 million dogs and cats cared for in the chain's hospitals. For both types of diabetes, symptoms in dogs and cats are excessive urination, increased thirst and weight loss despite a healthy appetite.

See 3 tips for overweight pets.


What's Your Favorite Morning Beverage? (Poll)

Recent studies have shown that coffee may have anticancer effects. However, if you're not a coffee drinker, I wouldn't start; caffeine can trigger anxiety, insomnia and even digestive and urinary problems. Instead, focus on the dietary and other lifestyle measures that can influence the risks of all types of cancer.

 Do you drink coffee every morning? If not, what morning beverage gets you up and going?


Meditation Eases Hot Flashes

It takes some training, but practicing mindfulness meditation does seem to help ease hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia in menopausal women, according to study results from the University of Massachusetts. Researchers there taught mindfulness meditation to 55 women between the ages of 47 and 69. A comparable group of 55 women of the same age who had the same symptoms were placed on a "waiting list" for training. The women in the first group attended classes once a week for eight weeks and also had a full day of training in mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing on the present. When the study began, the women reported five or more moderate to severe hot flashes or night sweats daily. After nearly two years of practice, the meditating women reported their symptoms bothered them about 15 percent less than they had at the outset, compared to a decrease of only 7 percent in the women who were on the waiting list. The study was published in the June 2011 issue of Menopause.

My take? Mindfulness is the technique of bringing all of our awareness to the here and now, to the sensations in our bodies and our breathing, for example, rather than letting much of it slip away in contemplation of the past and future or of other subjects that are not in the present. The assumption is that when we act with full awareness, our actions are more likely to achieve what we intend. These study results offer further evidence that mindfulness meditation can have a positive effect on health. Other than hormone replacement therapy, women have few options that they can count on to address menopausal symptoms. Mindfulness meditation is a risk-free method that is certainly worth trying.

Cool images can also ease hot flashes.


3 Natural Ways to Treat ED

Erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to achieve or maintain erections sufficient for intercourse, often has a psychological component, and counseling is encouraged as a primary treatment strategy. However, ED can also be a symptom of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, both of which can impair blood supply to the penis. In addition to lifestyle measures such as checking your medications, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and managing stress levels, I recommend the following herbs to help address ED:

  1. Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba). This herb may improve arousal in both men and women, perhaps by increasing blood flow to the genitals. It should not be used by those on blood thinners such as Coumadin/Warfarin.
  2. Ashwaganda. Derived from the roots of a plant in the nightshade family called Withania somnifera, ashwaganda is reputed to be a mild aphrodisiac and has long been popular in India. Ashwaganda is generally safe - follow the dosage on the package, and give it six to eight weeks to have an effect.
  3. Standardized extract of Asian ginseng. Asian ginseng, or Panax ginseng, is a good general stimulant and sexual energizer. Asian ginseng is considered safe but can raise blood pressure and cause irritability and insomnia in some people. Follow the dosage on the package, and give it a six to eight-week trial to see what it can do.

Is ED linked to heart disease?


Yo-Yo Dieting Is Better Than Staying Fat

Ideally, everyone who needs to lose weight could do it successfully and permanently, but that doesn't often happen. Until now, repeatedly losing and regaining weight - yo-yo dieting - has been regarded as harmful. But that belief may soon be challenged if a new study in mice proves correct. Since it isn't practical to test the lifetime effects of yo-yo dieting on humans, researchers at Ohio University put three groups of 10 mice each on one of three diets: high-fat, low-fat or a yo-yo diet, which alternated four weeks of high-fat food with four weeks of low-fat food over the lifespan of the mice. Then researchers then compared the weight, body fat and blood sugar of all the mice. They found that the average health of the yo-yo group was better than the health of the mice on the lifelong high-fat diet. The yo-yo mice also lived 35 percent longer than the high-fat diet mice, and their lifespan was similar to that of the mice on the low-fat diet. Based on these results, the investigators speculated that the negative effects of yo-yo dieting might be overemphasized.

More on Diets & Weight Loss


How Do You Quell Anxiety? (Poll)

In this recent Q&A from my site, I discuss the effectiveness of magnolia bark as a treatment for anxiety. Of course, there are plenty of lifestyle changes that can alleviate both anxiety and depression. Which of these measures work best for you? Please share in the comments as well.