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Dear Special K: I Have A Better Idea For Your Real Women Ads!

Kellogg’s Special K cereal brand has long been known for its iconic slim woman in a red bathing suit. In a bold, Dove-soap-like new ad campaign, they have decided to feature “real women” – which apparently means women with larger BMIs – in red bathing suits. A Special K spokeswoman explains,

“We want to encourage a responsible attitude when it comes to body image and to show that losing weight isn’t just about the way you look or a certain size you need to conform to, but more importantly about the way it makes you feel.

The fact that we are using real women for the first time of a variety of shapes and sizes is the perfect way to encourage women to think differently about losing weight and not just focus on the numbers on the bathroom scales.”

While I certainly appreciate the intent, I think there may be an even better way of achieving the objective of avoiding an over-emphasis on the bathroom scale. Instead of normalizing and accepting overweight bodies, why not show what women of the same percent body fat look like? That might be a healthier way to help us wrap our minds around the fact that (for example) 21% body fat on one woman might look very different than 21% body fat on another… Of course body fat alone is not a perfect measure of health – cardiovascular fitness doesn’t always correlate with it. But it’s a potential new way of normalizing healthy bodies rather than accepting a new overweight standard.

In fact, with the upcoming summer Olympic games, it might be fun to show the many faces of fitness. Women athletes at the peak of their performance look very different from one another. How about putting them all in red bathing suits?

Anyway, I thank Special K for opening the discussion – and I encourage us all to strive for optimal health. But as a physician, I believe that we shouldn’t accept overweight bodies as a new health standard. Good health does come in many shapes and sizes, but not in high levels of body fat.

Surprising Exercise Science: What’s The Use Of Stretching?

If you’re like me, you  probably feel guilty about not making stretching a part of your regular exercise routine. I attributed my history of low back pain to lack of stretching, although when I began practicing yoga last year I experienced no lasting benefits. Stretching was uncomfortable and I saw very little improvement in my flexibility for all my efforts. I eventually gave up after one well-meaning yogi told me that I may just be “genetically incapable” of making much progress. I turned to strength training and running with complete resolution of my back pain – though with a continued inability to bend over and touch my toes or sit cross legged for prolonged periods. Oh well. No traditional Japanese dining for me!

And so it was with great surprise that I read the conclusions from a recent analysis (by Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D.) of the science of stretching. I recommend that you read it for yourself (along with the links to the primary source literature). But I’m going to summarize his findings here:

Q: Does stretching reduce the risk of injuries during exercise?

A: Not that we can prove.

Q: Does stretching help you avoid soreness after exercise?

A: No.

Q: Does stretching make you stronger or faster?

A: No. In fact, there is some evidence that stretching can have the opposite effect. Why? Muscles have spring-like properties, so that when they are stretched out, they become less able to transmit as much force. Imagine the difference between the power of a thick, metal spring and a thin metal spring. Studies have shown that the more flexible you are, the less efficient you are as a runner.

My take away message is that there’s no need to flagellate yourself into stretching if you don’t like it. It really depends on what you need to do with your body – if you’re a gymnast, then stretching will always be a part of your life. If you’re a runner who hates yoga, so be it. You may never win a toe-touching competition, but then again, you can probably crush the Primal Games competition. Wish me luck as I attempt to do just that in two weeks!

Which Is More Important: To Be Thin Or To Be Fit?

These days, most adults are overweight, not active, or both. If you could change just one—become active or lose weight—which would be better?

At least for men, being more fit may have a bigger health payoff than losing weight, according to a new study of more than 14,000 well-off middle-aged men who are participating in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. Researchers followed their health, weight, and exercise habits for 11 years. They estimated how physically fit the men were by calculating their metabolic equivalents (METs) from a treadmill test.

Compared with men whose fitness declined over the course of the study, those who maintained their fitness levels reduced their odds of dying from cardiovascular disease or any other cause by about 30%, even if they didn’t lose any excess weight. Those who improved their fitness levels saw a 40% reduction.

Body-mass index (BMI), a measurement that takes weight and height into account, was not associated with mortality. The results were published in the journal Circulation.

What is “fitness”

Fitness is a measure of Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Would You Trust An Unhealthy And Unfit Cardiologist?

There was a very controversial presentation made at a recent meeting of heart doctors in Canada. I’ve been stewing about what to say about it for a week.

The title speaks to its inflammation:

Fat, unfit, unmotivated: Cardiologist, heal thyself

The presenter that made the stir, pediatric cardiologist, and IronPerson, Dr. Brian McCrindle (Toronto) argued that overweight, unfit doctors are doing their patients a disservice. His bottom line: cardiologists are acting like the rest of Western society. They are not living a healthy lifestyle.

He made three major points. (in-depth coverage can be viewed here, on TheHeart.org)

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Seven Secrets To Successful, Long-Term Weight Loss

Most people who have lost weight understand how easy it is to gain it back. In fact, I often hear patients tell me that over the course of their lifetimes they’ve “tried every popular diet out there” and yet have failed to keep the weight off permanently. If that’s your situation, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that only 20% of overweight individuals are successful at long term weight loss. But there is hope for success, and we can learn the secrets of “successful losers” from the National Weight Control Registry.

In a flash of brilliance, sociologist Rina Wing and psychologist Jim Hill decided to create a database of weight loss success cases, and simply observe how they live their lives over decades of time. They called this research study the National Weight Control Registry, and it has been enrolling study subjects since 1994.  What they’ve found is that those who have been successful at losing at least 30 pounds and keeping that weight off for at least 1 year share many behaviors in common. I believe that the closer we follow in the footsteps of these successful people, the more likely we are to be fit for a lifetime. So here goes – this is what the study subjects report: Read more »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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