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More evidence that there are health benefits from physical activity, even minimal amounts. Ohio State University researchers found that physical activity, even 10 minute at a time physical activity or exercise, adds up and is associated with lower amounts of cardiovascular (heart) disease in the next ten years - even for obese and overweight persons.

Being overweight or obese are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. About 40% of Americans are obese and 32% are overweight, so having a way to simply and cheaply lower rates of cardiovascular disease is wonderful. Overweight is body mass index (BMI) of 25.0 to 29.9, obesity is BMI 30 or higher, and normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.8 (see CDC guidelines)

The researchers found that physical activity is more important than weight of a person in determining the risk of cardiovascular disease over the next 10 years. Unfortunately 43% of the overweight participants and 53% of the obese participants reported being sedentary (did not engage in at least 10 minutes of continuous physical activity each week) - and these groups had the highest risk of cardiovascular disease.

What counts as exercise or physical activity? Physical activity should be at least 10 continuous minutes or more, and ideally add up to 150 minutes or more each week. All moderate (e.g. brisk walking, light yard work, vacuuming, dancing) and vigorous (e.g. jogging, swimming laps, aerobics, heavy yard work) recreation activities count. The study found that engaging in less than 150 minutes a week also lowered the risk for cardiovascular disease, just not as much as for those with 150 minutes or more each week.

Government guidelines: The Physical Activity Guidelines from the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults do at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.

Bottom line: Try to move, move, move as much as possible! Yes, a nice 20 minute (1 mile) walk counts!

From Medical Xpress: Not much exercise needed to lower heart disease risk for overweight people

A new study suggests, for obese or overweight adults, that any amount of exercise might lower the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years.  ...continue reading "Any Amount of Physical Activity Is Good For Overweight Adults"

For several years I've noticed that in a number of studies there appear to be beneficial health effects from consumption of dairy products, especially whole milk or full-fat products, and also fermented dairy products (e.g. yogurt, cheese). A recent international study (21 countries on 5 continents) found similar results: higher intake of dairy foods, especially full-fat dairy, is associated with lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), and metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and early death. Risk factors include increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, elevated triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and elevated blood glucose.  Diet plays a role in whether one develops metabolic syndrome and diabetes. [Being overweight and being inactive are also important risk factors.]

What was the higher intake of dairy products that was associated with health benefits? At least 2 servings per day. The study did not look into what kind of dairy people drank and ate - whether cow, sheep, camel, or goat milk dairy. The assumption is: dairy is dairy!

While it was an observational study, it was significant, especially because the 131,481 participants (aged 35 to 70 years) were from world regions not typically studied in dairy consumption studies. They were tracked for about 9 years.

Excerpts from Science Daily: Dairy-rich diet linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure

Eating at least two daily servings of dairy is linked to lower risks of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as the cluster of factors that heighten cardiovascular disease risk (metabolic syndrome), finds a large international study published online in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.  ...continue reading "Dairy Products, Hypertension, Diabetes, and Metabolic Syndrome"

The Scandinavians really love to drink coffee, and of course researchers study the health effects of all that coffee drinking. Two recent studies both found health benefits from drinking filtered coffee (such as drip coffee), but not unfiltered coffee.

A study conducted in Norway found that over a 20 year period drinking filtered coffee daily was associated with lower death rates, when compared to those who did not drink coffee or drank unfiltered coffee. The best health effects (lowest mortality rate) were associated with drinking 1 to 4 cups per day of filtered coffee, and the unhealthiest (highest mortality rate) was drinking 9 or more cups per day of unfiltered coffee.

The researchers thought that unfiltered coffee raised the cholesterol levels, because of the lipid-raising components of coffee - the diterpenes kahweol and cafestol, which are filtered out by coffee filters. This could explain the association between unfiltered coffee and higher death rates from heart disease. Other studies have found that higher consumption of filtered coffee results in lower levels of markers of inflammation.

As was discussed in an earlier post, a recent study from Sweden found that drinking 2 to 3 cups of drip coffee (using a filter) daily lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, while drinking boiled coffee has no health effect. The researchers put it nicely, that habitually drinking filtered coffee has a "protective role" on type 2 diabetes development.

On the other hand, other popular ways of preparing coffee don't use filters - French press, espresso, percolator, and coffee pods, and so may have similar not-so-great health effects to boiled coffee. But still unknown at this time - studies are needed.

From Science Daily: How to make the healthiest coffee

Today scientists announce the healthiest way to make a brew ...continue reading "Drinking Filtered Coffee Is Healthier Than Unfiltered Coffee"

There has been a debate for years over whether surgery plus traditional medical therapy (medications +  lifestyle changes) is better than just medications and lifestyle changes for treating blocked arteries (ischemia) and preventing heart attacks and death. A recent study looked at this issue and found that there is no advantage to initially doing invasive procedures such as bypass surgery and stents for stable heart disease and moderately and severely blocked arteries. The surgical approach did not reduce the number of heart attacks and deaths. Sooo... it looks like medications and lifestyle changes alone may be the way to start treatment.

A large international study followed patients with stable heart disease and moderate or severe blocked arteries up to 5 years (median 3.2 years), and looked at rates of heart attacks and death. Researchers found that a conservative approach (lifestyle changes and medications) had the same results as an invasive intervention approach (invasive medical procedures such as bypass surgery and stents, followed by medications and lifestyle advice) in the patients. At the end of the study, both groups had similar death and heart attack rates.

From Medical Xpress: Studies show stents and surgery no better than medication, lifestyle changes at reducing the risk for heart attack  ...continue reading "Surgery or Just Medications and Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Heart Attack and Death Risk?"

Another study finding that eating an egg each day is totally fine for our health. Of course it is! For years nutritionists were obsessed with the cholesterol in eggs, thinking it must translate into being bad for heart health. Remember the advice to only eat egg whites?

An international team of researchers looked at 3 large studies (50 countries on 6 continents) and found that there were no associations between eating about one egg a day and cholesterol levels, death, or strokes and heart attacks. And that this moderate egg intake "does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or mortality even if people have a history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes".

Eggs are a good source of essential nutrients and protein, are inexpensive, easy to cook,  and are also an excellent source of choline - which is needed for brain health (for neurological functioning).

From Medical Xpress: An egg a day not tied to risk of heart disease: new study   ...continue reading "Eating An Egg A Day Is Totally Fine"

Another great option for losing weight and better health may be to only eat within a 10 hour window, and then not eat for 14 hours (thus a nightly 14 hour fast). Many may find this easier than traditional dieting (counting calories and restricting eating). Just eat breakfast later, supper earlier, and no snacks in the evening. (But water is OK.)

Researchers from the Univ. Of California and Salk Institute conducted the 10-hour restricted eating study on persons with metabolic syndrome, most of whom were also on high blood pressure (anti-hypertensive) medicine and statins. After 12 weeks the people had lost weight, lost body fat, lowered blood pressure, reduced cholesterol, and decreased the size of their waist.

Since metabolic syndrome raises the risk for diabetes and heart (cardiovascular) disease, then 10-hour restricted eating can be an important tool to improve health. The researchers point out that in animal studies, time-restricted feeding can prevent and reverse aspects of metabolic diseases, and in healthy humans, it reduces the risks of metabolic diseases. Studies also found benefits with 9-hour restricted eating and 12 hour fasts.

From Science Daily: Clinical study finds eating within 10-hour window may help stave off diabetes, heart disease  ...continue reading "Improve Health and Lose Weight By Restricting Eating To A 10 Hour Window"

A new study has nicely illustrated how extreme air pollution gets quickly into a person and has negative health effects, but improvement occurs when the exposure to the air pollution ends.

It has long been known that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with increased heart disease and death from heart disease (cardiovascular morbidity and mortality). But now University of California researchers showed that even relatively short term exposure to high levels of air pollution has negative health effects, such as an increase in inflammation and systemic oxidation (which are linked to heart disease).

The researchers looked at 26 healthy young adults from Los Angeles who visited Beijing for a 10 week period during the summers of 2014 and 2015. They looked at both health effects (such as levels of inflammation) and also what pollutants are found in their bodies. And yes, they found both markers for inflammation and heart disease, as well as high levels of pollutants after being in Beijing for 10 weeks.

Beijing is much more polluted than Los Angeles. For example, levels of small particles in the air (PM2.5) was on average 371% higher in Beijing than Los Angeles, and concentrations of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and ozone were also at higher levels in Beijing than Los Angeles. [Note: PAHs are a group of combustion-originated air pollutants.]

Interestingly, Los Angeles air used to be much more polluted, but environmental policies and regulations resulted in the air becoming cleaner. In other words, steps can be taken to lower levels of air pollution, with would result in health benefits for everyone.

Excerpts from Medical Xpress: Study finds even a short-term visit to a severely polluted city is bad for your health  ...continue reading "Even Short-term Exposure to High Levels of Air Pollution Is Bad For Your Health"

Americans are eating so much ultra-processed food that it's now more than 50% of their daily calories. And why shouldn't they eat these foods? They're easy to get (fast foods, prepackaged foods, take out foods), they taste good, and they're great for people pressed for time. That's why they're called "convenience foods" and include fast foods, prepackaged foods, many frozen meals, take out foods, soda, packaged snacks, and many cakes, candies, and cookies.

But... there's a dark side to highly processed food. It is linked to all sorts of harmful health effects (cancer, Alzheimer's disease, etc), to chronic inflammation, and now to worse heart health. Even our beneficial gut microbes don't like highly processed foods. Instead, they like real whole foods, especially plant based foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes.

There are all sorts of ingredients in ultra-processed foods that are laboratory concoctions, from artificial and natural flavors, colors, additives, preservatives, etc. Read the ingredient lists!

The results of a new study by researchers at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) found that  for every 5% increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person ate, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular (heart) health.

From Science Daily: Too much ultra-processed food linked to lower heart health  ...continue reading "Highly Processed Foods and Heart Health"

Are statins overprescribed? Currently many people without heart disease and at low risk of heart disease are taking them as a preventive, what is known as "primary prevention". Over the years, changes in medical guidelines have resulted in more and more lower risk older healthy people being prescribed statins. But there has been controversy over this: Are the statins really preventing heart disease and deaths in these low risk people? Also, do the benefits outweigh the harms (because all medications have side-effects, some more serious than others)? Finally, are the extra financial costs worth it?

recent study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggests that statins may be overprescribed in many such lower risk cases.  But please, keep in mind that for people with heart disease, statins are uncontroversial, where there are clear benefits. The controversy is regarding statins for low risk people without heart disease.

For example, the study researchers point out that studies find that statin use can be associated with an increased risk of diabetes, various muscle problems, and hemorrhagic stroke, as well as some  milder side-effects. Yet, looking at just one country (Ireland), with the latest medical guidelines it would take about 400 lowest risk healthy people taking statins to prevent one major cardiovascular event. And the statins would be taken for years. Is it worth it? Also, the studies being published are those favorable to the pharmaceutical industry, while under reporting harms.

From Medical Xpress: For most healthy people, benefits of statins 'may be marginal at best'   ...continue reading "Are Statins Overprescribed?"

A new large study found that eating a flavonoid rich diet is associated with a lower risk of death. Flavonoids are compounds found in abundance in plant derived foods and beverages, such as fruits, vegetables, dark chocolate, tea, legumes, and red wine. The study followed about 56,000 people in Denmark for 23 years and found that eating higher levels of flavonoid rich foods was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause (all-cause mortality), heart disease (cardiovascular disease), and cancer.

The researchers found that there was an inverse relationship (the more one eats, the lower the risk of death), and that this relationship was strongest among cigarette smokers and people who consume high amounts of alcohol (more than 20 grams per day). Bottom line: Make sure your diet includes lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dark chocolate (yes!).

By the way, while other studies do find a lower incidence of heart disease and cancer in people eating a diet rich in flavonoids, in this study they were not looking at who got the diseases, but looked at deaths. Therefore the following title is misleading. It should instead say "... protects against cancer and heart disease deaths..." From Science Daily: Flavonoid-rich diet protects against cancer and heart disease, study finds  ...continue reading "Eating Foods Rich In Flavonoids Has Health Benefits"