Category Archives: Uncategorized

Obesity: It’s in your jeans. And your genes.

Have you ever noticed that some people struggle to lose weight while others seem to have no trouble maintaining a healthy body weight? Why is it that some people lack the motivation to exercise while others are can’t seem to stop moving? What about people who appear to have no interest in desserts while others have a “sweet tooth”? Why do overweight parents tend to have children who are also overweight?

The traditional answer is that some people lack willpower which makes it more difficult for them to make healthier eating and activity choices. While motivation and dedicated effort are essential for making healthy choices, genetic research has resulted in the identification of a host of genes that appear to affect physical activity and eating habits, food preferences, and responses to a diet or exercise program.

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The link between genetics and obesity is not new. Decades ago researchers found that obesity tends to cluster in families. But is this due to shared genes or a shared environment? The answer is both, but heredity plays an important role. Studies of siblings raised apart show that their body weight and fatness more closely resembled each other than the families they lived with. Other studies show wide variation in body weight among relatives, where some are obese but others are at a healthy weight. This suggests that although genes can predispose people to being overweight, personal behavior can modify this risk.

Genetic variations also explains why people respond to exercise training differently. Much of this knowledge comes from the Heritage Family Study which examined body fatness, fitness, and other health factors in over 700 individuals from 130 families. After completing the same exercise program, some people improved their fitness significantly while others experienced only a minor improvement. The prevailing explanation was that varying degrees of compliance accounted for these differences, but the Heritage study showed that genetic factors were at responsible for 40–50% of the variation in both initial fitness and improvement in fitness.

Your genes can also influence what you eat. Eating habits, including how much you eat as well as food preferences, are at least partly under the control of certain genes. Two separate genes that regulate appetite and the type of food people eat, have been identified. This might explain why some people say they always feel hungry while others are satisfied after a small meal or why  some people crave foods that are high in sugar and fat while others do not. Of course, what you eat is a behavior that you can control—you are putting the food in your own mouth, right?—but it is interesting to know that there are genetic factors that make these decisions more challenging for some.

Does this mean that healthy behaviors including eating and exercise are out of your control? Does it give you an excuse for being unhealthy? Absolutely not! Your genes may predispose you to certain health conditions, meaning you are at higher risk, but they do not predetermine your health. The expression of these genes is modifiable by your environment and your behavior. Even though you may be at higher risk for obesity, you still need to eat too much and not be active enough to gain weight. Be aware that “too much” varies greatly among people, so there is no single eating and activity pattern that applies to everyone. But knowing that you have a family history should give you even more motivation to eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise.


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Aaaa-chooo! Exercise and seasonal allergies.

 

Spring means blooming flowers, new leaves on trees, and green grass. But for millions of people, spring also means seasonal allergies. Also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, seasonal allergies are caused by pollen produced by plants. Tree pollen is the most common culprit in the spring, with grass and ragweed in the summer and fall, respectively. Allergy symptoms — watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, congestion, and cough — may start within 5–10 minutes of exposure in sensitive individuals and last for hours.

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Seasonal allergies are an abnormal response of the immune system to pollen. Inhaled pollen acts as an allergen, which stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies, including IgE. Antibodies are produced whenever the immune system encounters a foreign antigen, whether it is a virus or pollen. The IgE stimulates specialized cells in the airways called mast cells to produce histamines, which cause the familiar symptoms of seasonal allergies. This is the same process that causes allergies to dust mites, animal dander, and certain foods.

Since histamines are an important step in triggering an allergic response, seasonal allergies can be treated by using antihistamine drugs such as fexofenadine (Allegra), loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec) and diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Some antihistamines also include a decongestant (Claritin-D, for example).

Allergy symptoms can be diminished by reducing exposure to pollen. This means keeping the windows of your home and car closed and minimizing outdoor activity when pollen levels are highest, particularly early in the morning, on windy days, and when the pollen count is high. Pollen levels are often reported with weather forecasts.

People often ask if it is safe to exercise if they have seasonal allergies. In most cases, the answer is yes. Allergy symptoms are typically similar to cold symptoms, so the usual advice about exercise with a cold also applies: If the symptoms are above your neck (runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing), it is safe to exercise. That said, allergy symptoms are based on exposure to pollen and the more you inhale, the worse your symptoms. Since your breathing increases significantly during exercise, so does your exposure to pollen.

There are some cases in which exercise with allergies could have serious effects. Exercise-induced bronchospasm (EIB), also called exercise-induced asthma, is a condition that affects the majority of people with asthma, many of whom also have seasonal allergies. EIB is thought to be caused by the cooling and drying of the airways due to the high ventilation during exercise or exposure to particulate matter in the air, typically from pollutants, or pollen. EIB results in the constriction of airways, severely limiting airflow into the lungs. Asthmatics typically carry a rescue inhaler (bronchodilator) during exercise for this reason.

Interestingly, EIB also occurs in athletes, including those who compete at the Olympic level. It is more common among athletes competing in outdoor winter events (cooling and drying of airways) and indoor ice events (pollutants from ice resurfacing equipment). Through careful warm-up and use of certain approved medications, athletes with allergies and EIB can successfully compete at an elite level.

Since most of us don’t reach the exertion level of athletes, there is no reason to let seasonal allergies stop you from exercising. You may be able to exercise outdoors on days in which the pollen count is lower, especially if you do lower-intensity exercise like walking. Antihistamine medications may help ease the symptoms and shouldn’t interfere with exercise. For many people, allergy season is a good time to exercise indoors. Walking on a treadmill or an indoor track or participating in a group exercise class at a local gym are great ways to stay active on days when exercise outdoors just won’t work. By taking some precautions, you can and should exercise even if you have seasonal allergies!

 


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
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Seven habits of highly healthy people

Most common health problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many cancers, are linked to health habits such as smoking, what you eat, and how active you are. Changing these behaviors can have a big impact on your health and feelings of wellbeing.

There is no one “right” way to create a healthy lifestyle, but there are some habits that are common among healthy people. Here are seven habits of highly healthy people.

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  1. Don’t smoke.

There is no way around this one—quit! Ask your doctor about prescription and over-the-counter medications that can make quitting easier. Ultimately, though, quitting smoking is a behavior change that takes motivation, willpower, social support and time.

 

  1. Sit less.

Prolonged sitting has been linked to negative health effects that are similar to those of not exercising. The good news is that you can offset the health effects of sitting too much at work and at home by taking short breaks to get up and move.

 

  1. Move more.

You should strive to be as active as possible throughout the day. At a minimum, aim for 30 minutes of activity each day, but more is better. You can meet this goal by taking the dog for a walk, playing with your kids (or grandkids), and doing housework or yard work. Even using the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away and walking to your destination are good ways to make activity a habit.

 

  1. Get regular exercise.

While being active on a daily basis is a good goal, there are additional benefits of doing structured exercise. This could include walking, running, or cycling outdoors, visiting a fitness center, a group exercise class, or a doing exercise at home. In addition to improving endurance, strength, and flexibility, regular exercise helps with weight control, can lower blood pressure, and helps prevents and treat diabetes.

 

  1. Eat smart.

Healthy eating isn’t necessarily about eating less or avoiding certain foods, it’s about making smart choices when you shop, cook, or eat out. Eating fresh and minimally processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, and less added sugar and salt are good ways to eat smart. Learning about the food you eat and cooking meals at home more often is another common recommendation.

 

  1. Chill out.

Chronic stress can have serious emotional, psychological, and physiological effects that lead to or exacerbate many health problems. While it is impossible to avoid all stress in life, minimizing stressors and managing the way you respond to stress can have important benefits.

Regular exercise, including yoga, managing time better, and getting enough sleep, can help with minimizing your feelings of stress as well as the effects it has on your body.

 

  1. Monitor your health.

Keeping track of your health status and habits can help you set goals, evaluate your progress, and prevent surprises, like “sudden” weight gain. Some of these are measurements your doctor will make including blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose. Others you can complete yourself like your weight, what you eat, and what you do for activity. It works, too: Research shows that people who weigh themselves regularly are better able to maintain weight loss.

 

Adopting these seven habits can help you prevent and treat many chronic diseases. Some of these behaviors may be difficult to change. But keep in mind that you don’t have to be perfect—even small changes can add up to big health benefits!

 


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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Worried about your health insurance? Try this DIY health care plan.

Health care is in the news again, this time because the Affordable Care Act seems likely to be repealed. Health care has long been an important and contentious topic in both political and social circles. Given the importance that accessing quality health care has for everyone, it is unfortunate that promoting good health has turned into a political debate.

While the Affordable Care Act wasn’t perfect, it did expand access to health care, especially for people with pre-existing conditions. Ideally, a replacement health care plan will also make it easier for people to get preventive care. This is important since preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are among the leading causes of disability and death.  They also contribute to high health care costs, including prescription medications.

It turns out that adopting some simple lifestyle modifications can go a long way toward making you and your family healthier, and may save money in the long run. Since most health care plans really focus on “sick care,” it is largely up to us to improve and maintain our health. In my Health & Fitness column this week in the Aiken Standard I describe a do-it-yourself health care plan you can implement today.

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Move more

Significant health benefits, including weight loss and improved fitness, can be achieved with as little as 30 minutes of activity per day, but more is better. The activity doesn’t have to be “exercise.” It can include walking the dog, yard work, or house work. Research shows that sitting too much is just as unhealthy as not exercising. Spending less time sitting at work, home, or in the car is another easy way to improve health. And getting up and moving for even a few minutes is better than staying seated for long periods of time. Every little bit of activity really does count.

Eat smart

Making dietary changes can be difficult, but a few simple changes can lead to big benefits. While there is much debate about which diet is the healthiest, almost everyone agrees that eating more real food, especially fruits and vegetables, and less added sugar is a good place to start. Fresh fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and most are low in calories. Eating less added sugar in sweets and processed foods can help you cut down on calories and lead you toward healthier food choices. Controlling portion sizes plays as big of a role in weight maintenance as the types of food you eat, so pay attention to how much you eat. Chances are, it is more than you think!

Chill out.

Reducing and managing stress is essential for good health. Uncontrolled stress can lead to high blood pressure, poor immune function, and weight gain. Daily exercise will help, as will using stress management techniques like progressive relaxation. When you can, avoiding stressful situations is wise. Taking time to do something you enjoy each day is a good idea, too. Getting enough sleep (most adults require 7–9 hours) is also important for good physical and mental health.

Don’t smoke

Smoking cigarettes more than doubles your risk of heart disease and stroke, and is by far the leading cause of lung cancer and other lung diseases. If you smoke, quitting now is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. Nicotine replacement therapy and prescription medications can help, but quitting really does require serious dedication. It’s well worth the effort and the benefits of quitting can be realized almost immediately.

While these steps don’t replace traditional medical care, they can prevent, or at least delay, many common health conditions. Best of all, this DIY plan works with any health insurance, is basically free to implement, and can lead to both health and financial savings now and in the future.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drparrsays@gmail.com | @drparrsays

Maintain, don’t gain, this holiday season.

Now that Thanksgiving has passed the holiday season is in full swing. In addition to spending time with family and friends, the big events of the season involve shopping and eating. The bad news is that this will almost certainly result in big numbers on your credit card bill and on your bathroom scale. The good news is that the typical holiday weight gain is less than you might think. The even better news is that this weight gain can be prevented. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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First, the bad news. Research shows that, on average, people gain about one pound during the holidays. Even subjects who said they were trying to lose weight over the holidays ended up gaining about 0.5 pounds on average. The problem is that this extra weight is not lost during the spring or summer, meaning that holiday weight gain is a major contributor to the gradual increase in weight, about one pound per year, most people experience over time.

Now for the good news: The weight gain that typically occurs during the holidays can be prevented. Since people tend to gain less than one pound, even small modifications to activity or diet can make a difference. Here are some strategies:

  1. Stay active. The average holiday weight gain could be prevented by walking about one mile, or about 20 minutes, per day. Since time may be a factor, you can turn a shopping trip into a chance to be active by taking an extra lap around the mall or parking further away in the parking lot. Go for a walk before or after a family meal or party—and take your family and friends with you.
  2. Stay away from the food. Most holiday parties include lots of food, and usually not the healthiest choices. You can reduce the amount you eat by limiting your time near the food—literally, fill your plate and move away from the food. Using a smaller plate will reduce the amount of food you take, too. Getting rid of the candy dish on your desk at work or the plate of treats on the countertop at home are also smart ideas.
  3. Don’t drink your calories. Alcoholic beverages, soda, and juice all contain calories and can add up to a big part of your total calorie intake. For example, egg nog can contain over 300 calories per glass. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your favorite drinks, but enjoy them in moderation.
  4. Plan ahead. If you are trying to watch what you eat, have a healthy snack before you go to a party. You will feel less hungry so you will probably be less inclined to eat as much. If you are bringing a dish to the party, make it something healthy that you like.
  5. Focus on family and friends, not food. The holidays are a time to enjoy special meals and events with family and friends, and that should be your focus. You should enjoy your favorite foods and drinks, just do it in moderation.

You can prevent holiday weight gain by watching what you eat and staying active. It is easier to keep the weight off than it is to lose it later, so a little extra effort now is worth it in the long run. Considering that many people plan to exercise and lose weight after the holidays, you could get a jump-start on your New Year’s resolutions along with making this a happy and healthy holiday season.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

A Thanksgiving dinner that is good and good for you.

This is Thanksgiving week, and people throughout the country are planning a feast that includes traditional dishes and family favorites. Even though many of these are not the healthiest choices, they make an appearance on the table each year. For many, Thanksgiving dinner is a day marked by overindulgence and  poor nutrition choices.

In an effort to make Thanksgiving dinner healthier, recommendations for modifying or replacing traditional dishes are a common theme in magazines, on the morning TV shows, and on the web. While these suggestions are meant to be helpful, I’m not sure they actually serve to make a significant impact on health. In fact, the foods we eat and the way we eat them may be the healthiest part of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.


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After all, Thanksgiving is one day, and if there was ever a day to give yourself license to indulge, this is it! Of course, trying new foods and cooking techniques is always good, but the impact of replacing the butter in your mashed potatoes with fat-free sour cream or taking the marshmallow topping off Granny’s famous sweet potato dish for one day isn’t realistically going to make you any healthier in the long run.

The truth is that if you eat a healthy diet every day, or even most days, and you have an active lifestyle you can get away with a day—or weekend—of overeating. (Obviously, you should always follow dietary restrictions for any medical conditions you have.) The problem comes when Thanksgiving dinner is yet another unhealthy meal in addition to the others that week or month.

Some of these recommendations are worth trying, for sure. Making an alternative to a traditional dish can get your family to try new foods they might not otherwise consider. And cooking using different ingredients or techniques on Thanksgiving can give you ideas for other meals, too.

However, focusing on modifying your Thanksgiving dinner may distract you from appreciating the greatest potential health benefit of this meal. Given the current confusion about how much and what type of carbohydrates and fats we should eat, there is an increased push to get us to eat less processed food and more real food.

For many of us, Thanksgiving dinner is one of the only times we cook and eat real food. A real turkey, vegetables, and home-made dessert are a huge improvement over the processed foods most of us eat on a daily basis. While we eat turkey at other times, it is almost always in a processed form such as ground turkey or deli meat, which frequently includes other additives. Cooking and eating a whole turkey is, for most families, relatively rare. So is eating a meal that doesn’t come from a restaurant or isn’t heated in a microwave.

Additionally, Thanksgiving dinner is shared simultaneously around a common table (and maybe a kids’ table, too). All too often, meals are consumed away from the family table, frequently at different times. The benefits of eating together as a family are well-known, and can have a positive impact on nutrition, psychological well-being, and health in general. Maybe Thanksgiving dinner isn’t about the food as much as it is the company. Why not make this a habit at other meals?

This week, let’s all give thanks for family, friends, and a shared meal. Let’s also take a lesson from the day and try to prepare and eat more real food as a family. This may be the best part of Thanksgiving. That, and a second serving of pumpkin pie!


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
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 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr
Video

This video explains what functional fitness really means, and why it matters.

Earlier this week I wrote about the benefits of exercise on health, fitness, and physical function across the lifespan. Of particular interest is the concept of functional fitness, which aims to improve physical function in practical, real-life settings. This is no more important than activities of daily living, which are a major reason so many elderly lose independence. In fact, many younger people find it difficult to do these basic, day-to-day activities.

Watch and learn…

 


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr