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Want to Lose Belly Fat? Start Moving

The belly fat you can see may not flatter your figure, but it isn't as harmful to your health as hidden belly fat surrounding internal organs deep in the abdomen. That's the stuff that boosts the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some kinds of cancer. Now, researchers at Duke University Medical Center have shown that the best way to lose this dangerous fat is with aerobic exercise. The Duke team compared aerobic exercise, resistance training (exercising with weights) and a combination of the two during an eight-month study with 196 overweight adults ages 18 to 90. They found that aerobic exercise burned 67 percent more calories than resistance training. It also had beneficial effects on known risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, including elevated liver enzymes, fasting triglycerides and fasting insulin resistance (here, the normal amount of insulin secreted is not sufficient to move glucose into cells - thus cells are said to be "resistant" to insulin's action). No such positive changes were seen in the resistance training group. The aerobic exercise performed in the study was equivalent to jogging 12 miles per week at 80 percent of maximum heart rate.


How Do You Handle a Child's Sleeping Problems? (Poll)

A recent Q&A looked at "Ferberizing" an infant: Ferberizing: Should Babies Cry Themselves to Sleep? Check out the article and let us know your thoughts on the act of "Ferberizing" an infant!


Eating to Lower Cholesterol

If your cholesterol is on the high side, you may be able to help bring it down with a diet that includes nuts, whole soy foods and high fiber foods. The latter includes vegetables, and breads and cereals containing whole grains like oats and barley. A study published in the August 24/31 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that this "portfolio" diet yielded better cholesterol-lowering effects than the low fat diet that has been traditionally recommended to bring down high levels of LDL ("bad" cholesterol). Study participants on the portfolio diet lowered their LDL by more than 13 percent, compared to only a three percent reduction among participants who followed a low-fat diet. Essentially, on the "portfolio" diet, participants replaced sources of saturated fat such as red meat and dairy products with foods that provide healthy fats, namely nuts and soy products. The diet also calls for substituting plant sterol enriched margarine for butter.

My take? I've long recommended including nuts and whole soy based protein (instead of animal protein) in your diet if you're trying to lower your cholesterol. I also think it's a good idea to reduce the amount of sugar and flour in your diet when you're trying to bring down your cholesterol. Recent evidence indicates that added sugar - in the form of table sugar (sucrose) or high-fructose corn syrup - is probably a greater contributor to heart disease than is saturated fat. I disagree with the inclusion of margarine in the "portfolio" diet and discourage its use in general because the highly processed fats it contains promote inflammation, cancer and damage to the immune system. The monounsaturated fat found in olive oil and nuts is the healthiest fat of all and the type I recommend that you rely on the most, whether or not you're trying to lower your cholesterol.


Exercise for 15 Minutes: Live Longer

Here's more evidence that even a little bit of exercise can make a big difference to your health. Researchers in Taiwan followed more than 400,000 people for an average of eight years and found that 15 minutes of exercise daily can boost life expectancy by three years. Compared to inactive individuals, participants who exercised for just under 15 minutes per day were 14 percent less likely to die from any cause during the eight years of the study, and 10 percent less likely to die of cancer. Beyond that, each additional 15 minutes of daily exercise lowered the risk of death - from any cause - by four percent, and the extra physical activity cut the risk of death from cancer by one percent. Earlier this month, a review published online in Circulation showed that people who get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week reduce their risk of heart disease by 14 percent compared to inactive people and that exercising five hours per week can lower heart disease risk by as much as 20 percent. The new study from Taiwan was published online on August 15 by The Lancet.


Obesity May Not Be So Dangerous

New research from Canada suggests that being obese, by itself, may not be so bad - as long as you don't have weight-related medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and heart disease. Investigators at the University of Alberta looked at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and were able to identify obese individuals based on lifestyle factors and medical history. They devised a five stage system for classifying obese men and women assigning scores (on a scale of 0 to 4) based on the number of health problems an individual had, with higher scores indicating individuals that had developed more of these associated problems. Bottom line: those with scores of 2 or above were 1.5 times as likely to die during the nearly two decades of the study's follow-up as those with lower scores. Scores of 3 raised the risk to 2.5 times as likely to die as low-score patients. The system may give doctors a new way to identify obese patients who would benefit most from weight loss or medical treatment.


Too Much TV May Shorten Life

In June of this year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated that watching two or more hours of television daily raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and now a report from Australia has calculated how many years a daily TV viewing habit can shave off life expectancy. Investigators from the University of Queensland suggest that every hour spent watching TV lowers life expectancy by nearly 22 minutes. The study team reviewed data on more than 11,000 individuals age 25 and older and found that sitting in front of the TV for an average of six hours a day may mean a loss of nearly five years of life and that watching six hours of television daily may shorten life even more than smoking and obesity. The researchers looked at data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study and calculated their results based on the 9.8 billion hours of TV that participants watched in 2008, which would add up to the loss of 286,000 life years. The findings were published online August 15 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

My take? This report echoes earlier evidence that a TV habit can be unhealthy. In the past, my objections to watching a lot of television have focused on associated unhealthy behaviors: eating too much junk food or using television for stress management instead of utilizing more effective approaches, such as breath work and other relaxation techniques. Clearly, time spent watching television can eat into available time for daily exercise, which we all need for optimum health. The Australian researchers noted that the effects of watching television elsewhere in the world are likely to be comparable which they claim represents a public health problem on par with smoking, obesity and an inactive lifestyle.


More Protein for Dieting Postmenopausal Women 

If you're past menopause and want to lose weight by cutting calories, you'll likely lose muscle as well as fat, but adding protein to your diet can help offset the muscle loss. Another bonus to added protein: it helps cut down on hunger, according to University of Illinois researchers who followed two groups of healthy postmenopausal women for six months. All the women were following a 1,400 calorie a day weight-loss diet. One group of women received a powdered whey protein supplement twice a day; the other group received a placebo containing carbohydrates. Before and after the study, all the women were evaluated for strength, balance, the ability to walk 50 feet, stand up five times from a chair and lift a book 12 inches above shoulder height. After the study, the researchers found that all the participants' strength decreased as their weight fell, but that those whose diets included the supplemental protein lost 3.9 percent more weight and had a relative gain of 5.8 percent more thigh-muscle volume than those in the other group. The investigators noted that age and weight-related loss of muscle mass can affect strength, balance, and the ability to perform such everyday activities as climbing stairs and getting up from a chair.


Red Meat and Diabetes

Cut back on red meat - processed and unprocessed - and you may dramatically lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. After analyzing responses to more than 442,000 questionnaires from studies over 28 years, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that eating a daily serving of about 1.8 ounces of processed red meat such as hot dogs, sausages or bacon is linked to a 51 percent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes. The same analysis showed that eating 3.53 ounces daily of unprocessed red meat boosts the risk by 19 percent. The research team also found that substituting a daily serving of nuts cut the risk by 21 percent, substituting low fat dairy led to a 17 percent risk reduction and eating whole grains lowered the risk by 23 percent. The study didn't find that processed and unprocessed red meat causes type 2 diabetes, but rather that increased risks of the disease are associated with the regular consumption of these meats. The study was published online August 10 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.