December 2008

Happy New Year – Don’t Be a Sucker and Make Your Usual Impossible-to-Keep Resolutions!

RM: Happy New Year!

JH: Same to you and to all our readers! Do I dare bring up the obvious…

RM: No – New Year Resolutions are a set up. We all tend to set lofty goals for ourselves, and eventually we break them (usually within the first month).

JH: Then we beat ourselves up, and to compensate for feeling weak, we do the exact opposite of our resolutions, like get a quart of Ben&Jerry’s Chunky Monkey to eat all at once to keep us company in our misery.

RM: Exactly my point. We set ourselves up for failure right from the start.

JH: Yes, and I’ll bet you’ve had some really high-falutin’ resolutions in the past, like doing bungee jumping twice a week, or going on, and winning, “Survivor” on TV, or…

RM: How’d you know?!! And I’ll bet you’ve had some doozies yourself, like becoming a gourmet cook, or opening a dog breeding kennel and actually giving away/selling all the puppies (and not keeping them for yourself), or …

JH: You got it – no need to go further. So what’s your solution?

RM: Well, keeping the fact in mind that most resolutions are doomed to fail, I have decided to take a new direction. I suggest you and our readers do the same. How about making resolutions that we can keep? They should be simple and fun, while still being good for you.

JH: Great idea! Let’s hear yours.

RM: These are what I propose. I will:

Take at least one spontaneous trip this year
Eat at least one hot fudge sundae without feeling guilty (this is a good one!)
Make a new friend
Try to learn to speak a new language
Go to the movies once a month
Laugh at least 10 times a day

JH: Love them!! Especially that last one; it’s much easier than drinking a glass of water 10 times a day. And because they are fun and manageable, you’ll stick to them, and be a better, healthier person because of it.

RM: That’s the idea. Now, let’s hear yours.

JH: OK. Hope you don’t think I’m copying you on some of them. I will:

Brush up my speaking Spanish
Do something positive for a different person at least once a week
Think about how good it feels to be healthy at least once daily
Read at least one totally junky novel each month
Rub all of my dogs’ bellies at least once a day
Take more naps

RM: Good job. Finding things that are fun and do-able allows us all to be successful in keeping our resolutions, which then makes us feel positively about ourselves.

JH: And that then lets us get on with whatever work we have to do, including doing the things that keep us healthy, without that huge bugaboo of self-doubt, negativity, and failure.

RM: You got it. So, now we’ll wish our readers …

Both: A Happy, Safe, and Healthy 2009!

It May Be OK for Santa, But It’s Not OK for Us!

RM: So, I can’t imagine what we’re talking about in this blog – what’s with that title?!

JH: You know – “Tis the season to be jolly…” So, I wanted us to talk about abdominal fat.

RM: Ok, important topic – but what’s the relation to those other things?

JH: I’ll tell you that when we finish talking about belly fat. In our book, we discuss how body weight and body fat are dangerous for our health, especially as we get older and are more at risk for certain diseases anyway (because of advancing age), like heart disease.

RM: Right. And we discuss how medical people don’t talk about “pounds” of weight, but use the term “body mass index” or BMI to talk about body weight. BMI takes into consideration one’s weight and height. A normal BMI is less than 25. But being overweight is not the only problem, is it?

JH: No. The distribution of the body fat is just as important. Having much of the body fat concentrated in the abdominal area is more of a risk for heart disease and diabetes than having that body fat concentrated in the area of the hips and thighs.

RM: So, being an “apple” in shape (fat mostly in the middle, or the belly, area) is more dangerous than being a “pear” shape?

JH: Absolutely. We can tell for sure which of these body shapes a person has by measuring the waist and then the hips, and figuring out what the waist measurement divided by the hip measurement, or the “waist to hip ratio”, is.

RM: So, we’ve known for awhile that being apple-shaped is dangerous to our health; is there more recent information?

JH: Yes. An important study was published in the November 13, 2008 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine in which 359,000 men and women (ages 25-70) in nine different European countries were followed for a little over nine and a half years; the researchers were able to assess the association of each person’s BMI, waist circumference, and waist-to-hip ratio with their risk for death, while controlling for other factors, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical inactivity, that might increase that person’s risk of dying.

RM: That sounds like a very thorough study. What did they find?

JH: Several things. The first one was expected: that those with the lowest risk of death had a BMI around or just below 25. The risk of death increased as the BMI increased. For those people with the same BMI, the risk of death increased as their waist circumference and their waist-to-hip ratios increased. The people with the largest waists had double the risk of death as those whose waists were normal.

RM: That’s impressive. And this was the same for men and women?

JH: Yes.

RM: And wasn’t being underweight dangerous as well?

JH:Absolutely. But since there’s a lot to talk about with that issue alone, we’ll save that for another blog. Back to the study and the risks of being overweight, more impressive was that even people who were not considered to be much overweight, but had increased abdominal fat, were at an increased risk for death.

RM: So, we’re not even safe if we’re at a good weight but have a paunch – how unfair. Two questions: isn’t the reason that increased fat in the belly area is dangerous is that it’s thought to be a special type of fat different than elsewhere in the body? And, can’t we just go get liposuction of the belly so we’ll live longer?

JH: Yes to the first question. No to the second one – go look at chapter 11 in the book again to remember why!

RM: Ok, so we know again that too much fat in the belly is bad for us. What should we do?

JH: Women should know their waist-to-hip ratios, as well as their weight and BMI. And all of this should be considered when coming up with a comprehensive plan for staying healthy. For instance, if a woman has too much belly fat, she may be advised to lose more weight through increased aerobic exercise in order to specifically get rid of the belly fat.

RM: Right. Those crunches and sit-ups just won’t do that. Actually, we should talk more about the different types of exercise and what each type specifically does for our bodies when the New Year rolls around… in 2 weeks! Now, you promised to tell what this whole topic has to do with the holidays and Santa.

JH: Easy. This time of year, there are always office and neighborhood and kids’ parties to go to, and all forms of peppermint and other candies and sweets to eat, and wonderful sequined and sparkly clothes that we pull out of the closet to wear… which often don’t fit, especially in the belly area, which makes us buy Spanx or a real girdle…

RM: I get it. You’re saying that we shouldn’t wait until the Holidays, and those glittery but too-tight clothes, to figure out that our belly is too big; and we shouldn’t make it worse by sampling all the delicious sweets sitting out this time of year! It’s best to work on it all year by keeping the body weight normal, and trying to go without the Spanx once in awhile to see how bad that paunch really is. And what about Santa?

JH: Remember the poem “Twas the night before Christmas”? What did it say about Santa?

RM: I’m supposed to recite a poem in this blog?!!! Are you nuts?

JH: Ok then, I will. About Santa, it said: “He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.”

RM: So the moral of the story is that Santa needs Spanx!

JH: Not quite! But on the risk of getting silly…or more silly… let’s just wish our readers…

BOTH: Happy and Safe and Healthy Holidays!

December 8-14 is National Influenza Vaccination Week

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated this week as National Influenza Vaccination Week not only to highlight the importance of the appropriate people (that includes us – anyone over the age of 50) getting the vaccine, but also to let people know that the months of November. December and even January are not too late to get the vaccine. Why is this? Because many people believe that if they haven’t gotten their flu shot by October, it’s too late to get it. This is not true. The activity of the influenza virus does not reach its peak until February, or later depending on your location; therefore there is still a lot of time to get it.

Who specifically should get a yearly flu shot? A new recommendation of the 2008 Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is that all children and adolescents between the ages of 5 years and 18 years should now be getting it. Previous to this, only children ages 6 months to 4 years, and children of other ages who have a chronic medical condition were advised to have a flu shot. What has not changed is that children below the age of 6 months are not advised to have it. In sum, children ages 6 months to 18 years should be getting a yearly flu shot.

The recommendation for which adults should get a yearly flu shot has not changed, and basically includes any adult who wants to reduce the risk of getting the flu, or of transmitting it to others. Adults who are especially advised to have the vaccination are those who are at high risk for getting the medical complications of the flu, like pneumonia and other infections with the bacteria Staph aureus, or those adults who are close contacts of others who are at high risk.

These recommendations specifically name the following groups of adults who should definitely get the flu shot every year:

  • • People over the age of 50
  • • People who have chronic lung, heart, liver, kidney, blood, or diabetes
  • • People whose immune system is suppressed – by having cancer or HIV/AIDS, or by taking medications that suppress the immune system (steroids or chemotherapy or drugs to prevent rejection of transplanted organs)
  • • People who live in nursing homes or other chronic care facilities
  • • Health-care workers
  • • People who live with, or are caregivers of, adults over the age of 50 or children under the age of 5 and especially under the age of 6 months
  • • People who live with, or are caregivers of, others with chronic medical conditions who would be at high risk for complications if exposed to the flu

Why is getting vaccinated so important? Many people think that getting the flu is no big deal, and just amounts to a few muscle aches and pains, fever, and respiratory symptoms that go away quickly. This is definitely not always the case. For instance, during flu season last year (the 2007-2008 season), influenza was associated with a higher death rate, and with higher rates of hospitalizations in children ages 0-4 years, than in each of the three prior years. Also notable is the fact that flu season peaked in mid-February, and continued to be seen into the month of May last year.

Is there anyone who should not get the flu vaccine? Yes. If you have an allergy to egg yolks, you should not get the flu shot; this is because the vaccine itself is made up in egg yolk. Also, if you’ve had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past, you should tell your health care provider about that. Many of these so-called “reactions” will not prevent you from receiving it again.

Today, December 9th, is Children’s Vaccination Day, and this Thursday, December 11th, is Seniors’ Vaccination Day (remember that Medicare pays for the flu vaccine). So, if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, get it! And if you know someone that hasn’t gotten it, especially if they fall into one of the groups mentioned above, remind them that it is definitely not too late in the season to get it.


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