weight gain

A bicycle built for…weight!

Posted by on Jul 12, 2010 in physical fitness, weight gain | 0 comments

I’d love to be writing to tell you that researchers have discovered a bicycle specifically built to boost weight loss.  However, better yet, it seems that any bicycle may be able to help you prevent weight gain during the premenopausal years. Moreover, the more you need to lose, the greater the benefits.

For some time now, experts have been telling us that daily exercise, even walking can help stave off weight gain. But is all walking created equal? And what about bicycling, which evidently, only 5% of the population over the age of 16, and mostly women, engage in?

Researchers report that among a pool of over 18,000 women studied between 1989 and 2005 (as part of the ongoing Nurses Health Study):

  • Increasing the amount of biking over the study period seemed to hold weight gain to a mininum even if that biking equaled only 5 minutes a day.
  • Women with normal weight who biked for more than 4 hours a week by the study weight had about a third lower odds of gaining about 5% of their body weight than women who did not bike at all.
  • Women who were considered overweight and obese had about half the odds of gaining weight if they biked for at least 2 to 3 hours a week.
  • Brisk walking was much better at holding off weight than slow walking — by about  a half pound.

The key take-away points of this study is that exercising is not created equal as we age. In this case, more is less is the rule of thumb, meaning that if you weigh more, you may gain less over time if you start bicycling at least 2 to 3 hours a week. If you are lean and mean, well, biking can still yield some significant benefits when it comes to weight gain.

Biking is definitely built for staving off weight gain. Go for it!

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Fat…to boldly go where where none has gone before

Posted by on Jun 28, 2010 in herbal medicine, weight gain | 2 comments

That body tire around the middle that tends to plague most women in their late forties and fifties and into old age reminds me of Star Trek – boldly going where no fat has ever gone before. Despite an hour at the gym daily, eating healthy and moderate (okay sometimes more than moderate) intake of alcohol, I still can’t seem to conquer that bulge that’s creeping into my midsection. I’ve spoken to trainers and nutritionists about it and have even tried conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which theoretically helps reduce deposits of body fat. And still, fluctuating hormones and aging seem determined to redistribute that midsection bulge in ways that remain unacceptable (at least, to me). More importantly, however, is the fact that fat that settles in the abdominal areas increases the risk for impaired blood fat and insulin levels that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.

I’ve written about weight and the middle-aged bulge several times in the past and you can find some of these posts here. My friend Mollie Katzen and I collaborated on a post earlier this year about eating habits, food and midlife. And still, an effective solution to the bold bulge continues to elude women, trainers and researchers alike.

Still, a very small study published in the online edition of Menopause shows that hope may still spring eternal. In fact, results suggests that women who took 70 mg isoflavones daily (i.e. 44 mg daidzein, 16 mg glycitein, 10 mg genistein) for six months and then added at least an hour of intensive aerobics, circuit training and resistance training at least three times weekly for another six months experienced significant declines in blood pressure, fat mass and total body weight, and a small reduction in waist circumference (of about an inch and a half). In this particular study, the researchers selected women who were known to respond physically and beneficially to exercise. However, only the women who supplemented their exercise with isoflavones had demonstrable improvements in their fat mass and distribution. These women also experienced improvements in their insulin levels.

Clearly, the benefits of isoflavones added to exercise from both a weight and health perspective need to be explored more thoroughly and with larger numbers of women. However, it is possible that the addition of soy to a regular exercise routine may help to address that elusive bulge from entering the black hole that we call midlife.

Stay tuned!

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It’s about time…weight, that is

Posted by on Apr 5, 2010 in weight, weight gain | 5 comments

Findings from a new study suggest that time of day may play a critical role in how much weight you do or do not gain. In fact, you may be better off eating fat first thing upon waking as opposed to at the end of the day.

Mind you, this study was conducted in mice and not humans, so it’s way too early to know for sure. However, what they found that was when mice were fed a high-fat diet constantly throughout a waking period, they did not gain substantial amounts of weight, body fat or develop unusually high blood sugar. In fact, they appeared to adjust their metabolism accordingly. However, when mice were fed either high fat or carbohydrate rich diets at different times during the day, the paradigm shifted and their bodies were not always able to adjust metabolically. Here’s the skinny:

  • Mice who ate a calorically-rich, high-fat meal immediately following the four hours after waking were able to adjust their metabolism and the amount of energy they used up so that weight remained normal. However,
  • Mice who ate a calorically-rich, high-carbohydrate meal in the first four hours after wakening and then a high-fat meal four hours before rest had gained excessive amounts of weight and body fat, had blood sugar abnormalities associated with diabetes, and had increased levels of fats in the blood. Ironically this occurred regardless of total daily calories or total calories from fat.

The researchers say there is plenty of evidence showing that people who skip breakfast tend to have higher a body-mass index (BMI), as do people who engage in night eating. They also note that like the mice in the study, our circadian clocks do play a huge role in both our appetite and how we expend calories during the course of a day. Although individuals tend to vary how and what they eat throughout any given day, there is a tendency to eat carbohydrates early in the day and higher fat or more calorie dense meals later. So, it’s possible by reversing this pattern, we may be able to affect how we respond to carbohydrate rich meals (and associated weight gain) later in the day.

Granted, only time can tell and it’s essential to repeat this study in human. Plus there’s another fact that women in particular need to be aware of: hormones and age play a critical role in controlling metabolism, and how, when and where we gain weight.

Right now, the best strategy is to eat healthy foods, unsaturated fats and exercise. But if you are craving bacon, you may want to have it in the morning and not in a BLT or wrapped around a scallop later in the day.

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Just an hour a day keeps the weight away

Posted by on Mar 26, 2010 in physical fitness, weight, weight gain | 2 comments

Yikes! Seems like every time you turn around, there’s another study upping the ante on exercise. Last year, I wrote about 2005 USDA guidelines suggesting that adults need about 60 to 90 minutes of moderate physical activity a day for health and weight maintenance, i.e. at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily to stave off gradual, unhealthy body weight combined 30 minutes daily can help prevent chronic diseases.  To achieve optimal physical fitness, the recommendations suggested the incorporation of cardiovascular conditioning, weight training, and resistance exercise to improve strength and endurance. Conversely, 2008 Federal Guidelines suggested that adults needed about 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise to maintain health, while the Institute of Medicine suggested 60 minutes a day to prevent weight gain. Confused yet?

Researchers followed a group of over 34,000 women (mean age ~54) for 13 years, examining their amount and type of weekly physical activity (e.g. high versus low intensity), body weight, height, menopausal status, use of hormones or not, chronic disease, alcohol use, smoking and diet. (If you’re wondering, high intensity refers to running. bicycling, aerobic exercise or dance or use of aerobic machines, while low intensity refers to yoga, stretching, tennis, squash or racquetball, and lap swimming.)

Overall, study findings showed that on n average and regardless of physical activity level, women gained almost 6 pounds over the course of the study. However, women who exercised anywhere from 2.5 hours to less than 7  hours a week gained significantly more weight then women who exercised at least 7 hours a week (or one hour a day). In fact, women who exercised less than an hour a day were significantly more likely to gain at least 5 pounds over the first three years of the study. Note that these results apply only to normal weight women (body mass index <25).

I’ve recently increased my level of physical activity to an hour a day, not because of these study results but because I’ve been unhappy about the hormonally-driven tire that’s starting to appear around my midsection. I must tell you; it’s a huge time commitment. Undoubtedly, if you are busy in your career or with your children, finding an hour a day to exercise can be difficult. What remains unclear is whether or not this hour can be divided into increments.

What do you think? Do you have the time? Are you motivated? Or does this information discourage you?

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WISHFIT: women’s research takes a village.

Posted by on Mar 19, 2010 in exercise, heart disease, menopause, weight gain | 3 comments

I was heartened to read that the folks at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have partnered with a community of local women to fight obesity and promote a healthier menopausal transition. What’s especially novel about this program, which is called WISHFIT (Women in Southside Health FIT), is that during the first year of the five-year study, it will be relying on “pioneers” for guidance in designing and testing the program and subsequently spreading the word. One of the program’s primary researchers, Dr. Sheila Dugan, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rush University Medical School, characterizes the approach as “community-based participatory medicine,” with a critical grassroots component. I would go one step further and call it a health 2.0, social media approach to medical research.

The goals of WISHFIT are to ultimately change the behavior of women who are sedentary or engage in physical activity only occasionally in order to help reduce the fat rolls around the midsection (called visceral fat). If you’ve been reading Flashfree for awhile, you will recall that visceral fat is a common problem in menopausal women that is likely related to fluctuating hormone levels as we age. Not only is it unattractive, but the development of fat around the midsection is dangerous because it has been linked with metabolic syndrome, a variety of symptoms that in concordance, increase the risk for heart disease.

Importantly, the National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestion and Kidney Diseases are joining forces with Rush to take the study out of the laboratory setting and into the community. In fact, Dr. Dugan explains that research has shown that “there are millions of studies out there that show if we bring women into the University and have them exercise, they will lose weight and improve their fat composition. But when they are left to their own devices, they go back to themselves.”  She says that by having a community of postmenopausal women involved in developing a ‘tool kit’ of physical and stress-reducing activities or activities that help them to embrace healthier eating habits, the researchers are hoping that they can help their premenopausal peers incorporate new ways of thinking and acting so that they can get through menopause in healthier ways. She also points to data showing that change is better maintained not only by motivating the individual but also through the support of friends and social networks, which are needed for change to last.

Dr. Dugan notes that two Southside Chicago communities- Beverly and Morgan Park – have been the subject of prior research (Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation or SWAN) that identified the link between hormonal changes and visceral fat. In fact, some of the data also firmly established the link between markers of chronic disease and stress and sedentary lifestyles. The 30 Pioneers selected to lead the project will be women who participated in SWAN.

The five-year program also includes two studies examining 1) how social networks play a role in influencing health behaviors, and 2) if positive reinforcement works as well as financial incentives in getting women to change their lifestyle and become more physically active. An additional component entails before and after ‘person on the street’ interviews to educate and engage the community about what happens during menopause, heart disease and other risks and steps that can be taken to combat it.

“Midlife women already have all sorts of concerns on their minds. They need to have support around allowing themselves to take care of themselves and give themselves the freedom to actually step out of all their roles to do so. Our goal,” she emphasizes,”is to bring energy — spiritual and financial — to the community because we truly believe that the only way that these women will have a chance to take care of themselves is by everyone around them buying into how important it is.”

Noting that they are taking a three-pronged attack that entails community, social and individual level interventions, Dr. Dugan adds that community and social support are the links that have been missing in obesity research in particular.  I’d like to believe that these links have also been missing in gender research that focuses on women; in fact, perhaps this model isthe breakthrough  that is needed to change some gender inequities in our healthcare.

It really does take a village, doesn’t it? Only time will tell.

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Wednesday bubble: one drink makes you smaller…

Posted by on Mar 10, 2010 in diet, weight gain | 6 comments

Can one drink make you smaller? According to a study that appears in this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine, light to moderate amounts of alcohol may help you gain less weight. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Intuition tells me that drinking alcohol can lead to weight gain because you end up taking in more calories than you burn (as well as the fact that those calories are carbohydrates). However, in over 19,000 women (aged 39 and older) with a normal body mass index (i.e. 18.5 to 25), women who reported not drinking any alcohol had the most weight gain over approximately 13 years. What’s more, women who reported drinking about 40 grams of alcohol daily were less likely to become overweight or obese. Women drinking less than 30 grams a day had a 30% lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than women who did not drink at all. In this study, the link between alcohol intake and overweight or obesity was seen for red or white wine, beer or liquor. The strongest association was seen for red wine.

In a separate analysis, the researchers also observed an association between declines in the amount of weight, increases in alcohol intake and older age. Comparatively, the magnitude of the weight gain was smaller in older versus younger women!

Importantly, the results seen in the study remained even after researchers made adjustments for lifestyle, clinical and dietary factors such as physical activity, the presence of chronic disease and consumption of other beverages (e.g. coffee, soft drinks, tea).

Granted, 40 grams is about 1.4 ounces or about half of a normal 5 ounce glass of wine. That may not meet the craving for a glass of wine. However, perhaps the larger take-away message is that a little wine can go a long way towards staving off weight gain. My RD friends might disagree but it’s an interesting ponder.

What do you think? Can one drink (or a half a drink) make you smaller?

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