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Relationships and weight gain: Valentine’s Day musings

My friends in the Revolution Weight Management Center asked me to blog about weight and relationships… at first I wondered if they were trying to stage an intervention or something: have I gained that much weight since I started working here? Ha ha. No, I haven’t… but maybe that’s because I have such a skinny husband?

As it turns out, research suggests that married couples are influenced by one another’s dietary habits. If you marry a person with poor eating habits, you are much more likely to adopt them yourself. Also, they say that marriage leads to more regular (read frequent), larger meals and increased financial pressures, stress levels and decreased exercise frequency.

Well, I guess choosing the right spouse has never been more important for weight control? Marriage doesn’t automatically lead to weight gain, but you should eye your boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé(e) with suspicion at the dinner table. When I was dating my husband I noticed that he ate small portions, never finished his plate, and didn’t like dessert. He liked to run, had good sleeping habits, drank in moderation, and wouldn’t notice a super model if she fell in his lap. Sound too good to be true? I still ask myself that every day. They don’t make too many like Steve, I’ll tell you!

Anyway, I must confess that before our wedding I was in the best shape of my life, running about 20-25 miles a week, shunning all products containing high fructose corn syrup, and taking good care of my health. Now I exercise irregularly, sneak in rich dining experiences, and skip meals. I weigh about the same, but have (I’m sure) exchanged fat for muscle.

What do I make of this? Well, I need to force myself to go running again with my husband (he patiently runs at my pace as I lumber along next to his gazelle-like frame) and be more mindful of my eating habits. This is a never-ending battle for me, but it is made so much easier by having a supportive spouse who never deviates from good health practices.

So as Valentine’s Day approaches, observe your loved one’s eating and exercise habits with a critical eye. You are likely to be influenced by them more than you know. And for those of you who have a “Steve” in your life, thank your lucky stars, put down the box of chocolates, and show him how much he’s appreciated!

P.S. Steve would like to tell you that he (thanks to me) now enjoys dessert and craves ice cream from time to time. I guess my influence on him hasn’t been as positive.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

The secret to long life and good health

My dad is 76 years old. He takes one baby aspirin a day and has no medical conditions. He looks about 10 years younger than his age, and his mind is sharp and clear. How does he do it?

I think the secret is the time he spent working on a farm. At age 40 he retired from his consulting firm in Manhattan and bought some land in rural Canada. Without realizing what he was getting himself into, my dad bought some cattle to work the farm. When winter came he had to keep the animals in the barn, and he soon discovered that each steer and cow produced its own weight in manure every 2 weeks (that’s about a half ton for those of you city slickers out there). So all winter long my dad shoveled manure. He did this for 35 years.

My dad now keeps fit with regular sit ups and push ups in the morning and long walks every day. But to me, the secret to his success was the shoveling. Life is full of little ironies – sometimes “crappy work” can result in amazing health benefits.

Although the New York Times wrote a fairly scathing review of my mom’s book about their adventures in shoveling (which ultimately led to a yogurt business) – I think my dad got the last laugh.  Healthy and well, he can look forward to a long and enjoyable retirement.  I wonder if the folks in Manhattan (who choose to spend their lives shoveling a less physically challenging BS) can say the same?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Metabolism: does exercise boost it?

Well, I always hoped that the rumors were true – that gaining muscle mass would increase one’s resting metabolism. How many times have you heard fitness gurus tell you that if you bulk up with muscle you burn more calories even when you’re sitting around, watching TV?

Unfortunately, the truth is that even the most impressive muscle gains result in only a tiny increase in resting metabolic rate. In one case I recall a man who lost ~40 lbs of fat and gained ~20 lbs of muscle. His metabolism increased by a mere 50 calories/day.

In my experience, metabolism seems to be more a factor of nature rather than nurture. You’re born with a certain internal engine – and not much changes that (at a given body weight). However, exercise burns calories – and that can lead to weight loss, etc. It’s just that the baseline metabolism doesn’t change all that much.

Stay tuned for my next blog entry where I’ll explain why metabolism may be linked to diet failure.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Are Pet Owners Really More Unhealthy?

As I was reviewing some research articles for a blog I was planning about the benefits of pet therapy in pain management, I came across a recent Finnish study suggesting that pet owners are more likely to be overweight and unhealthy than those who had no pets.  It just didn’t seem right to me – so I decided to go to the source and read the original article.

The researchers surveyed about 8 thousand people.  They found that a total of 80% of those with pets and 82% of those without pets reported good health.

They also said,

“In the multivariate ordinal logistic regression analysis, perceived health was no longer associated with pet ownership. When investigating which explanatory variables included in the model caused the disappearance of the statistical significance, basic education, form of housing, or BMI did so.”

Translation:  being at risk for poorer health is not really about your pet, it’s about your socio-economic status and the degree to which you are overweight.

But this still begs the question: why are Finnish people in poorer health more likely to have a pet?

The authors offer this explanation:

“Pets seem to be part of the lives of older people who have settled down and experience an increase in the number of illnesses, whereas young healthy single people have no time, need, or possibility for a pet.”

Hmmm.  Would an American survey find similar results I wonder?  Is there any cultural bias in these data?  What do you think?  Are American pet owners more likely to be overweight and socio-economically challenged than non-pet owners?

Source:  Koivusilta, L. and Ojanlatva, A. PloS ONE, December 2006; vol 1: pp e109. News release, Public Library of Science.


This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

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