Friday, February 18, 2011

Can't Find the Car Keys? You Might Want to Take a Long Walk

We know that regularly walking for exercise is an excellent means of maintaining physical health. Now there's new evidence that a moderate amount of regular walking can improve the brain's resistance to Alzheimer's disease and reduce memory loss.

An ongoing 20-year study at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania monitored cognitive decline and physical activity levels among 426 individuals. Some of the study participants were healthy, some had mild cognitive impairment and some had mild Alzheimer's disease.

During the study, scientists tracked how much walking each patient did in a week, and after 10 years, conducted MRI brain scans to look for changes in brain volume. Study results showed that higher levels of physical activity were correlated with greater brain volume. (Brain volume declines indicate dying brain cells and deteriorating brain health.)

Scientists concluded that healthy adults need to walk at least 6 miles a week to maintain brain volume and significantly reduce the risk for cognitive decline. Cognitively impaired individuals need to walk at least 5 miles to maintain brain health.

Results of the study were presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in November 2010.*

Incorporating regular walking into your normal routine can help reduce those embarrassing 'senior moments' and protect against more serious cognitive decline over the long term.

*Radiological Society of North America (2011, January 2). Walking slows progression of Alzheimer's, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 18, 2011, from­

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Green Tea Could Prevent Glaucoma

Those who know me know that I'm a big tea drinker. Now, there's yet another reason to drink tea, specifically, the green kind. reports that regular consumption of green tea could prevent glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness.

While early treatment can slow down the disease and loss of vision, there is currently no cure for glaucoma. But researchers have found evidence that the phytochemicals in green tea can prevent glaucoma and other eye diseases from developing.

According to a recently published study in the American Chemical Society's Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers found proof that the lens, retina and other parts of the eye absorb sight-protecting green tea catechins, reported.

This is significant news, because until now, scientists weren't sure that the flavonoids, or catechins, in green tea could pass through the gastrointestinal tract to penetrate deep into the tissues of the eye.

Glaucoma is a silent disease, usually causing no warning symptoms until the disease has progressed. As damage to the optic nerve worsens, vision is gradually reduce to tunnel vision, before robbing its victims of sight entirely.

My usual preference is for Darjeeling black tea, but in the summer I often combine black, green and white tea bags in a pitcher of homemade iced tea. And if I need an extra jolt of caffeine in the early afternoon (my drowsy time), I add both black and green tea bags to a single cup of boiling water. That will supply enough caffeine to keep an elephant awake!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do You Eat Like an Olympic Athlete?

That’s a loaded question, because depending on how you look at it, it could mean you’re in the best shape of your life. It might also mean that you’re an Olympic couch potato.

Most Olympic athletes follow a balanced diet that’s not much different from what would be recommended for you or me, although their food plan is most likely custom-designed for them by a professional nutritionist, based on their chosen sport and caloric needs.

Extreme Carbs for Michael Phelps

Some athletes are notorious for consuming an astonishing number of calories. Olympian swimmer and gold medalist Michael Phelps told The New York Post that he takes in an average 12,000 calories a day. (Compare that to the average caloric needs of an adult man at about 2,000 calories a day.)

Here’s what a typical entry in Phelps’ food diary might look like.

Breakfast: Three fried-egg sandwiches loaded with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise, followed by two cups of coffee, a five-egg omelet, a bowl of grits, three slices of French toast topped with powdered sugar and three chocolate-chip pancakes.

Lunch: A pound of enriched pasta and two large ham and cheese sandwiches with mayonnaise, washed down by about 1,000 calories worth of energy drinks.

Dinner: A pound of pasta and a whole pizza.

Phelps’ diet may be extreme, but it’s no secret that elite athletes like him have to stay in prime physical shape if their years of intense training is going to pay off in gold, silver or bronze.

Interestingly, ancient Greek and Roman Olympians reportedly followed a meat-centric diet with similarities to today’s Atkins diet.

A Healthy Menu for an Olympic Speed Skater

Modern-day athletes don’t necessarily take the high protein route. Here’s what U.S. News & World Report says was on the menu for 24-year-old speed skater Maria Lamb one day during off-season training leading up to the Vancouver competition:

Breakfast: 1 cup of oatmeal with ¼ cup of raisins, cinnamon, sea salt, and 1 teaspoon of honey, a banana smoothie with ½ cup skim milk, ½ cup low-fat plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal, and ice.

Workout nutrition (during 2½-hour roller ski session): 2 Clif Shots (energy gels)

Lunch: 2 slices whole-grain rye bread and 2 tablespoons hummus, 2 cups of carrot cilantro soup, a smoothie made with 1 banana, ½ cup nonfat plain yogurt, 1 scoop soy protein powder, 1 teaspoon virgin coconut oil, cinnamon, water, and for dessert, an apricot and a handful of cherries.

Mid-day snacks: Medium apple, Clif Nectar bar.

Workout nutrition (during 2½-hour strength training session): ½ Clif Bar.

Recovery nutrition (after workout): Other half of Clif Bar, medium banana

Dinner: Whole-wheat pasta tossed with sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, tomatoes, corn, onion, garlic, oregano, fresh basil, and olive oil; one egg. glass of milk, handful of almonds.

Snack: ¾ cup homemade granola (includes rolled oats, rye, whole-wheat flour, wheat bran, buckwheat groats, flaxseed meal, soy protein powder, walnuts, cinnamon, salt, honey, vanilla, and applesauce)

Maria consumed a total of 4,067 calories which included about 141 grams of protein, 685 grams of carbohydrates, and 102 grams of fat.

In some extremely strenuous sports, women have a hard time eating the calories needed to replace calories burned. Cross-country skiers, for instance, need to consume 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day, said one U.S. Olympic Committee sports dietitian quoted by U.S. News & World Report.

Fruits and Veggies, Watch the Sugar for Olympic Cyclist

Cyclist Kristin Armstrong says that like anyone else, she has to watch what she eats or she’ll gain weight. So she eats a lot of fruits, vegetables and whole grains while avoiding high fructose corn syrup or too much added sugar.

According to, athletes like Armstrong match what they eat to how much they exercise rather than eating the same size meals every day. They’re more in touch with whether they feel hungry or full, and eat accordingly. When they’re not training, they cut back on portions to match their energy output; this allows them to maintain roughly the same body weight all year long, whether they’re training for the Olympics or not.

Olympic athletes look at food the way an auto mechanic looks at oil; both are necessary to keep the engine running well. Most, said, eat a diet that’s rich in carbs, with smaller amounts of protein and fat. Alcohol is not a regular part of the diet. Fresh fruits, salads and whole grains are, and protein is always combined with carbs to help them feel full.

Content, Not Calories

In 10 Tips for an Olympic Body, swimmer and three-time Olympic gold medalist Brooke Bennett says that content is more important than counting calories.

Like Armstrong, she emphasizes fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and slow carbohydrates; she also watches her sugar intake carefully, because if it’s not burned off during exercise, it metabolizes quickly and will put on weight.

According to the CBS News story, Olympic athletes eat five to six smaller meals daily, and each meal includes protein to increase lean muscle mass.

Although most of us will never physically challenge ourselves in the way that Olympic competitors do, we can still take a lesson from them by adapting Olympians’ dietary choices to our own more sedentary lifestyles. Consider modifying your diet to include five or six smaller meals a day, combining protein with a low glycemic, carb-rich menu at each meal and limiting alcohol and added sugars.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Turn Exercise Into Child’s Play

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about some old-fashioned children’s games that are making a comeback in the fitness world. I couldn’t be more pleased, since I’m the proud owner of both a jump rope and a hula hoop.

These games can form the core of your exercise routine or can be used to change up your fitness program to prevent boredom from setting in.

Jumping rope
Jumping rope provides an excellent cardiovascular workout, builds muscular endurance and improves coordination. Now, new research indicates it may also be the ultimate brain exercise.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), jumping rope “prepares” the brain for learning in a number of ways. By raising the heart rate, more blood gets to the brain, feeding it needed oxygen and nutrients for enhanced mental focus. And the rhythmic aspects of jumping rope can mimic the basic rhythm patterns of language that are needed for basic reading skills. What’s more, aerobic exercise has been shown to grow new brain cells in rodents, and scientists hope the same may be true of humans.

Jumping rope helps improve agility, coordination and balance while also burning calories in a very big way.

Jumping rope, says the Mayo Clinic, burns more calories than most other sports except for running and rollerblading. A 160-pound person jumping rope for an hour will burn 730 calories, more than would be burned by high impact aerobics (511 calories), jogging at 5 miles per hour (584 calories), racquetball (511 calories), cross-country skiing (511 calories) or using a stair treadmill (657 calories).

What else does jumping rope have going for it? It’s inexpensive and requires very little equipment, can be done practically anywhere and can easily be packed in luggage if you’re traveling.

The hula hoop
While you can still find those lightweight hula hoops you remember from your childhood, fitness experts have improved on traditional hoops by creating weighted hula hoops that are bigger and heavier. Counter intuitively, it’s easier to keep a heavier hula hoop going, allowing you to exercise for a longer period of time. Smaller and lighter hula hoops require more energy to keep them rotating.

Regardless of the type you use, hula hooping can be an aerobic activity when done for 10 minutes or longer. An hour of intense “hooping” can burn as many calories as an hour on the treadmill, according to a recent article on the subject in Time magazine.

Can you recall other childhood games that would fit well in your exercise regimen today?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Compounds Found in Green Tea May Slow Prostate Cancer

A recent study of men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer showed that consumption of a compound found in green tea significantly lowered serum levels of HGF, VEGF and PSA, which are biomarkers indicative of cancer progression.

Results of the study, published in Cancer Prevention Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, described reductions in serum levels of more than 30%.  Other biomarkers were also positively affected.

The active compound in green tea, called Polyphenon E, was given to 26 men who were scheduled for radical prostatectomy. The men consumed four capsules containing Polyphenon E., or the equivalent of about 12 cups of brewed green tea, each day for a period ranging from 12 to 73 days, with a median duration of 34.5 days.

"These studies are just the beginning and a lot of work remains to be done, however, we think that the use of tea polyphenols alone or in combination with other compounds currently used for cancer therapy should be explored as an approach to prevent cancer progression and recurrence," said James A. Cardelli, Ph.D., professor and director of basic and translational research in the Feist-Weiller Cancer Center, LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport. 

Researchers may need to conduct a randomized trial to make sure that other factors, such as diet or vitamin supplements, were not responsible for the change in biomarkers. They may also look to see if different combinations of plant polyphenols are more effective than Polyphenon E alone.

They are working now with colleagues at New York’s Columbia University to conduct a similar trial among breast cancer patients.

"There is reasonably good evidence that many cancers are preventable, and our studies using plant-derived substances support the idea that plant compounds found in a healthy diet can play a role in preventing cancer development and progression," said Cardelli.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Put to the Test, Popular Exercise Video Game Loses Steam

So, your kids have been permanently parked on the couch this winter and you're considering plunking down $90 for a Wii Fit in hopes that the exercise video game will boost their activity level.

If they're like most kids, yours will love Hula Hoop and Rhythm Boxing, just two of the games featured on Wii Fit. And they're in good company. Analysts believe that the wildly popular Wii Fit, which emphasizes strength training, aerobics, yoga and balance games, will eventually become the best-selling video game of all time. 

But how much of a workout will they really get?

That's the question the American Council on Exercise (ACE) wanted to answer, so they enlisted the help of researchers at the University of Wisconsin La Cross Exercise and Health Program.The researchers recruited 16 volunteers for the study, and after establishing their fitness baseline, taught the recruits how to use the six most aerobically challenging games in the Wii Fit program: Free Run, Island Run, Free Step, Advanced Step, Super Hula Hoop and Rhythm Boxing. Recruits were then tested in six-minute cycles of each activity while their oxygen uptake, heart rate and RPE (rate of perceived exertion) was monitored.

The two Wii Fit games that required the greatest effort were Island Run and Free Run. "However, neither was sufficient enough to maintain or improve cardiorespiratory endurance as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM)," ACE's November/December 2009 report said. In all cases, researchers found that an individual performing the actual activity instead of the virtual one on Wii Fit would burn significantly more calories. 

How could this be? Two examples, according to researchers, are the Free Step and Advanced Step, both aerobic step activities. But while traditional step aerobics involves stepping on a 6-inch-high platform, the Wii Fit balance pad is just 1- or 1.5 inches high, said researchers, thus reducing the number of calories burned.  Researchers also discovered that Wii Fit's Rhythm Boxing burns only a third of the calories that would be expended in traditional boxing because the Wii Fit software provides mandatory instructions before each boxing move, keeping the user standing in place for as much as 15 seconds at a time and thus lowering the total calorie burn potential.

According to researcher John Porcari, Ph.D., "I guess anything is better than nothing, but we were a little bit underwhelmed with the exercise intensity of some of the exercises. The Wii Fit is a very, very mild workout."

If the kids are clamoring for a Wii Fit, don't despair. If they become hooked on Wii Fit, it could mean they'll stick with exercise more faithfully. Just make sure they're making time for traditional workouts, too.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Turbo-Charge Your Diet With 36 Top Power Foods

The Cleveland Clinic has listed 36 "power foods," foods that are so rich in nutrients and health benefits that nearly everyone should include them in their diet.

The Cleveland Clinic has been consistently named one of the nation's best hospitals in U.S. News & World Report's annual "America's Best Hospitals" report.

The 36 power foods have been organized by categories that include vegetables, proteins, fruits, soy foods, grains and legumes.

Vegetables: Aim for at least 1 to 2 cups of these vegetables at 2 meals each day.

  1. Asparagus
  2. Bell peppers
  3. Bok choy
  4. Broccoli
  5. Carrots
  6. Garlic, onions, leeks, shallots
  7. Spinach, watercress, Swiss chard, romaine, kale, beets and mustard greens
  8. Potato (with skin)
  9. Sweet potato
  10. Tomato
  11. Acorn or butternut squash
(I'll happily eat all the vegetables listed above, although I'm not sure I've ever tried bok choy in my soups and I'll usually favor baby spinach over kale or Swiss chard.)
    Proteins: Eat 1 3- to 6-oz fillet or 3-oz. can of fish each week. Eat 2 to 4 tablespoons of peanut butter each week.

       12. Tuna (canned in water or fresh)
       13. Salmon (fresh or canned pink)
       14. Natural peanut butter

    (I love my peanut butter but have to work on more interesting tuna recipes.)

    Fruits: Eat 3 servings of fresh (best), frozen or canned fruit daily. If blood sugar is a concern, eat whole fruits, not fruit juices.

      15. Apples
      16. Apricots
      17. Bananas
      18. Berries
      19. Cantaloupe
      20. Citrus
      21. Kiwi
      22. Papaya
      23. Peaches

    (If I were stuck on a desert island and had to choose one food group to live on, it would be fruit, so no problems here. I love dried California apricots, but the higher sugar content is probably not a great thing in huge quantities.)

    Soy foods: Use in place of meat sources.

      24. Soy milk and cheese
      25. Soy nuts
      26. Tofu and tempeh

    (This is the only category I don't enjoy, perhaps because I don't have the right recipes.)

    Grains: Eat 2 to 4 cups of cooked oatmeal (not instant) each week. Eat 2 tablespoons of wheat germ daily and 2 tablespoons to one-quarter cup of ground flaxseed each day.

      27. Barley
      28. Brown rice
      29. Bulgur
      30. Flaxseed
      31. Oatmeal
      32. Wheat germ

    (I supplement my cats' diet with ground flaxseed and make my own granola with old-fashioned oatmeal, wheat germ and dried fruits. I also enjoy whole wheat berries, which didn't make this list.)

    Legumes: Include 1 cup of legumes in your daily diet and include an extra cup on 2 days of the week. Use legumes as a protein source for lunch and two dinner meals.

      33. Black beans
      34. Black-eyed peas
      35. Kidney beans
      36. Lentils

    (I love beans, but am turning away from the convenience of canned beans back to dried, due to the widespread use of bisphenol-A in the lining of many canned products.)

    How many of the top 36 find their way into your diet?