Category Archives: Health & Fitness

Active transportation is a WIN, WIN, WIN

Since Earth Day was last week, this is a good time to be mindful of the influence we have on our environment and what we can do to reduce that impact. The good news is there are that there are things we can do that are good for our health and the health of our planet. Active transportation, which includes walking, cycling, and other physically active modes of moving from place to place, is one example.

Active transportation has important environmental, health, and economic benefits for individuals and communities. Promoting active modes of transportation can reduce pollution, increase physical activity, and benefit both people and communities economically. In some areas, active transportation can replace motor vehicle use entirely. More commonly, though, physical activity can be combined with cars or public transportation to replace parts of trips.

Significant and accumulating evidence shows that motor vehicle use is a primary cause of air pollution. This includes greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and particulate matter that are released by combustion engines and industry. This has been linked to climate change and health problems, including pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases, contributing to 200,000 deaths per year.

The transportation sector is the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the United States, so physically active modes of transportation that replace motor vehicle use could have a significant impact on air pollution and health. Estimates suggest that even a small decrease in vehicle miles traveled, a measure of motor vehicle use, by increasing active transportation could lead to reductions in particulate matter and greenhouse gas production.

In addition to environmental benefits, increasing active transportation has clear health benefits. As you might expect, spending more time commuting in a car is associated with an increased risk of obesity and more active commuting is associated with a lower risk of obesity. Beyond the influence on body weight, people who use physically active modes of transportation have a lower risk of diabetes and hypertension as well as death from cardiovascular diseases.

People who engage in active transportation get an average of 12–15 minutes of physical activity per day and 30% meet the 30 minutes per day recommendation. Considering that over a quarter of trips are less than 1 mile and most are less than five miles, most people could replace at least some driving with walking or cycling.

The cost of implementing active transportation is often cited as a reason not to, but individuals and communities can benefit economically from increased active transportation. Transportation represents the second largest expense for American families and may have a greater impact on low-income households. Given that active transportation is almost always more affordable than using a car, this could help many people and families make ends meet. 

Communities that develop infrastructure and policies to promote active transportation experience direct and indirect benefits. These benefits include increased residential and commercial property values as well as the fact that people who are walking or cycling are more likely to visit businesses along their route. Depending on the location and nature of the project, implementing active transportation can have a positive cost-benefit ratio and promote job creation.

Given the environmental, health, and economic benefits, active transportation is a win, win, win for our community. Across the country, cities large and small are implementing infrastructure and policies to make them safer and more convenient for pedestrians and cyclists. Since everyone benefits from a community that supports active transportation for work and leisure, we should take steps in that direction.

Exercise during allergy season

Springtime has arrived in our area, which means warmer weather, blooming flowers, green grass, and, for many, seasonal allergies. If you suffer from seasonal allergies, you may want to know if it is safe to exercise outdoors. The short answer is yes, provided you take the right precautions. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Don’t be an April Fool when it comes to weight loss claims.

Diets don’t work!

Exercise can actually make you gain weight!

You can take supplements that will melt fat away while you sleep!

Claims like these should make you wonder if someone is trying to fool you. Since April Fools’ Day just past, it is worth learning the truth about these common weight loss myths.

Diet pills


Diets don’t work

Considering that most people who lose weight end up gaining it back, this belief is understandable. The fact is that diets do work—that is how people lost weight in the first place! The problem is that many diets simply aren’t sustainable and don’t teach healthy eating habits necessary to keep the weight off. The result is that after the diet ends, a return to old eating patterns leads to gaining the weight back. The solution, of course, is to find a diet that you can stick with even after you have lost weight, one that teaches you how to make healthy choices and adapt your lifestyle.

Exercise doesn’t lead to weight loss

The traditional advice for losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. But some research suggests that exercise itself doesn’t lead to significant weight loss. In fact, exercise alone results in lower weight loss compared to diet only or diet plus exercise. While this is true, concluding that exercise isn’t important is a mistake.

First, even if exercise only leads to a small amount of weight loss (about a half pound per week in my research) it does add up over time and can help someone achieve their weight loss goal more quickly. Second, research involving individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss in the National Weight Control Registry shows that exercise is important. It is noteworthy that 94% of these “successful losers” increased their physical activity in order to lose weight and 90% said that they maintain their weight by exercising an average of 60 minutes every day.

You can boost your metabolism and burn fat using supplements

Losing weight really does require making changes to your eating and exercise behaviors. Many of these changes can be difficult, so it is no surprise that people look for shortcuts. And there is no shortcut more appealing than a supplement that will increase your metabolism and burn fat while you sleep.

Keep in mind that there are no dietary supplements that have been shown to be safe and effective for promoting long-term weight loss, despite what the manufacturers claim. In fact, some could even be dangerous. The only way to make a meaningful change in your metabolism is to exercise and significant weight loss simply won’t happen unless you change your diet.

Be especially skeptical when you see words like “flush” and “cleanse,” which are meaningless and have nothing to do with weight loss. There are a few prescription medications and one over-the-counter drug (Orlistat) that has been shown to promote weight loss—but only when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.

Hopefully this advice will help you make healthy decisions and avoid becoming an “April Fool” when it comes to weight loss claims. The good news is that you can start losing weight today by making some simple changes including reducing your portion sizes at meals, choosing water or other calorie-free beverages when you are thirsty, and making it a point to be active every day. These modifications can lead to weight loss now and are exactly the type of changes you need to make to keep the weight off in the long run.

 

Sickeningly sweet: Added sugar and your health

You are probably aware that eating too much sugar is bad for your health. Excessive sugar intake causes hormonal changes and inflammation that can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. For decades an emphasis was placed on lowering fat intake, especially saturated fat and cholesterol, to reduce the risk of obesity and heart disease.

Unfortunately, much of this advice was misguided and while fat intake went down, sugar consumption in processed and prepared food increased. This is now seen as a primary cause of the current obesity and diabetes epidemic. The impact of sugar on health and steps you can take to reduce sugar intake are the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Let’s Agree to Agree About Food

Eating a healthy diet is a goal for many people to help them treat or prevent disease, improve exercise performance, or maintain a healthy body weight. If you pay attention to news about food and nutrition you have probably noticed that there is a great deal of controversy about what constitutes a healthy diet. It’s easy to find lists of foods to avoid and things to eat every day. Unfortunately, lists from different sources may not be the same or, worse, a food that is on one “never eat” list is on another “always eat” list.

There is a different approach you could take to plan the foundation for a truly health way to eat. Instead of focusing on what is different, think about what recommendations are shared among most “healthy” diets. Here is some diet advice that almost everyone agrees on. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Chill out! Understanding and managing stress.

There is no doubt that the past year has been especially stressful. From very real health and economic concerns to social distancing and working or learning from home, most of us are experiencing a higher level of stress. Much of this is unavoidable but finding ways to reduce the impact stress has on is essential for maintaining our physical and mental health. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Photo by Valeria Ushakova from Pexels
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Should you eat like a caveman? What you need to know about paleo and keto diets.

Which diet is the best? This is one of the most common questions about nutrition and health, with implications for weight control, chronic disease prevention and treatment, and exercise performance. Unfortunately, this is no simple answer to this question. While there are certain eating patterns and aspects of specific diets that are considered to be beneficial, there is no single diet that has been shown to be the “best.”

As a general rule, healthy eating should be informed by nutrition science, not determined by the latest trends. Many fad diets raise concerns because they restrict or over-emphasize certain foods or nutrients, rely on meal replacements or supplements instead of real food, or are supported by limited evidence.

The Paleo and ketogenic (Atkins) diets are examples of popular diets that are at odds with traditional nutrition recommendations, going against the poor “low-fat” advice we have long been provided. Given the popularity of these low-carbohydrate diets, it is worth exploring the benefits and drawbacks of each to help you decide which is right for you.

Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels
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Exercise and the gut microbiome

We tend to think of bacteria as something to avoid. Germophobes beware, but our bodies are literally covered and filled with bacteria. From our skin to the lining of our GI tract, bacteria are literally part of us. For sure, some bacteria are harmful, but many more play an important role in our health. The balance between the helpful and harmful bacteria seems to be important for health; diseases from eczema to irritable bowel syndrome can result from an imbalance.  

The combination of bacteria in our bodies is known as the microbiota, the genes of which are called the microbiome. Researchers study the bacteria themselves (microbiota) and the genes (microbiome) and use both as an indicator of the balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria. This is especially relevant in the large intestine, where there has been much research into the role of gut bacteria on health.

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Start American Heart month with some facts about your heart.

February is American Heart Month, with a focus on encouraging all of us to make heart-healthy choices to reduce cardiovascular disease risk. I thought that sharing some information about the heart, how it works, and how to keep it healthy would be an appropriate way to celebrate. This is also the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Fit to Serve

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a time to celebrate the birthday and reflect on the accomplishments and legacy of Mr. King. It is also a  on which people are encouraged to use their day off from work and school to volunteer in their community. Individuals and groups across the country participate in community service, with some making this their first-time volunteer effort and many more continuing a year-round commitment to service.

You can maximize your impact in community service activities by being fit and healthy. To be sure, there are ways that people of physical abilities can contribute, but many service opportunities require a certain level of fitness to participate. And it is certainly more enjoyable to volunteer if you aren’t being pushed to your limits. In fact, some service activities are similar in exertion to many forms of exercise and some may be consistent with maximal exercise. Unfortunately, the common pattern of inactivity and obesity can limit people’s ability to function optimally at school, work, or in leisure-time activities, including community service.This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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