Archive for the 'Baby Boomers' Category

Many Long-Term Smokers have Chronic Lung Disease, But Don’t Know They Have It

the lungsLong-term smokers are at high risk of developing a chronic lung condition called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but many are not even aware they have it during the early stages.  In a recent Canadian study of long-term smokers, about one in five were found to have COPD, but only a third of them knew they had the condition.

COPD causes a slow damage to the lungs. The destruction is irreversible, making it the leading cause of death and illness worldwide.

COPD develops slowly, and it may be many years before symptoms become noticeable. The severity of the following symptoms depends on how much of the lung has been destroyed. If you continue to smoke, the lung destruction will be more extensive than if you stop smoking.

  • Shortness of breath, especially with exercise
  • Chest tightness
  • Cough (A cough that doesn’t go away and coughing up large amounts of mucus are common signs of COPD)
  • Sputum (mucous) production
  • Wheezing

Most COPD is caused by long-term smoking and can be prevented by not smoking or quitting soon after you start. Damage to your lungs can’t be reversed, so treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and minimizing further damage.

Breathing in other kinds of lung irritants, like pollution, dust, or chemicals over a long period of time may also cause or contribute to COPD.

If you think you might be at risk of having COPD, ask your doctor to order a simple breathing test called spirometry.

More Information: Quitting Smoking, About COPD

Source:  Hill K, et al “Prevalence and underdiagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among patients at risk in primary care” CMAJ 2010. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.091784. 

Source: “Undiagnosed COPD Common”, MedPage Today, April 6, 2010  

Exercise Can Overcome the Obesity Gene

Exercise on a treadmill is an excellent way to achieve an exercise level of moderate intensityAn hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise can overcome the effect of a gene that predisposes people to obesity, Swedish researchers report.

More Information: What is Moderate Intensity Aerobic Exercise?

Source:  Ruiz JR, et al “Attenuation of the effect of the FTO rs9939609 polymorphism on total and central body fat by physical activity in adolescents: The HELENA Study” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 2010; 164(4): 328-33. 

Source: “Exercise Can Beat Obesity Gene”, MedPage Today, April 5, 2010

OTC Diet Pills Can Be Dangerous and Addictive

PillsOver-the-Counter diet pills may have undeclared pharmaceutical ingredients which can be dangerous and extremely addictive, researchers say. In fact the FDA has recently issued several warnings on diet pills with undeclared ingredients, specifically amphetamine-based ones from Brazil.

Harvard physicians report a recent case of a 29-year-old female patient who became addicted to Brazilian diet pills that contained unlabeled ingredients.  She reported taking the Brazilian diet pills for four years and had gone into debt to purchase the pills from an acquaintance, spending $160 per month.

At the time of her first visit with a physician, she had been suffering with a number of symptoms that she attributed to the pills and when she tried to quit, she would experience cravings, tremor, headache, and anxiety.

The diet pills were found to contain an amphetamine, chlordiazepoxide, and fluoxetine, which were illegal, dangerous, and not included on the label.  Apparently, all of these components could have contributed to the woman’s depression, anxiety, and hallucinations, as well as her dependence on the pills.

In an article by MedPage Today, “Diet pills with unlabeled ingredients are nothing new… In the 1960s, ‘rainbow pills’ contained amphetamines, diuretics, thyroid hormone, and cardiac glycosides. They were banned after their use was linked to sudden cardiac deaths.  In the 1980s, diet pills comprised of amphetamines, benzodiazepines, thyroid hormone, and diuretics appeared in Europe and South America. They’ve long been banned but remain widely available.”

Source: Smith BR, Cohen PA “Dependence on the Brazilian diet pill: a case report” Am J Addict 2010; DOI: 10.1111/j.1521-0391.2010.00034.x.

Source: “Adulterated Diet Pills Could Be Addictive”, MedPage Today, April 5, 2010 


Improve your Mood by Cutting Out the Fat

Fruits and vegetablesWeight loss is definitely linked to enhanced mood and a sense of well-being in overweight adults, but is their a difference between following the low-fat or the low-carb diet?

Restricting fats instead of carbohydrates was found to yield better results in terms of overall mood, Australian researchers have found.  In their study, dieters who stuck to low fat consumption had lasting reductions in hostility, confusion, depression, and overall bad mood scores during one year of dieting compared with those on a low-carb diet.

Low-carb diets are problematic in that they typically lead to more rapid weight loss, and researchers have found that rapid weight loss leads to rapid regains.  In a 2010 study from the University of Pennsylvania, participants who lost the most in the beginning were more likely to gain the weight back, and those who achieved weight loss by doing it in a slower manner, were more likely to keep it off. 

Low-carb diets are more difficult to follow long term. They require drastic changes in the way people typically enjoy their food. Cutting out fruits and vegetables, or eating a sandwhich without the bread, for instance, is hard to follow long term. Whereas in low-fat diets, all food groups are allowed with certain important changes, such as switching from whole to skim milk. or eating bread without the butter.

Source:  Brinkworth GD, et al “Long-term effects of a very low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat diet on mood and cognitive function” Arch Intern Med 2009; 169: 1873-80.

Source: “Low Fat Intake Sweetens Dieters’ Mood”,  MedPage Today, November 9, 2009

Source: M Vetter, M.D., R.D., medical director, Center for Weight and Eating Disorders, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; L Sandon, R.D., assistant professor, clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Annals of Internal Medicine, March 2, 2010,

Source: “Low-Fat Diets Beat Low-Carb Regimen Long Term”, HealthDay, March 1, 2010

What is Moderate Intensity Aerobic Exercise?

Man exercising outdoors on a bikeAerobic exercise involves continuous activity that will increase your heart rate and maintain it at a higher rate for a sustained period of time, such as for 20-60 minutes. An intensity that is considered ”moderate” can be roughly estimated to be activity that is strenuous enough to cause a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. Hard enough to break a sweat, although not so hard that you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation. If you can sing and maintain your level of effort, you’re probably not working hard enough. If you get out of breath quickly, you’re probably working too hard, especially if you have to stop and catch your breath.

According to the American Heart Association’s exercise guidelines, an adult walking at three miles per hour on a flat surface is expending about 3.3 METs, which is the low end of moderate intensity.  Light intensity exercise is less than 3.0 METs; moderate intensity is 3.0 to 6.0 METs; and vigorous activity is more than 6 METs.

Another more precise method of estimating moderate intensity would be to monitor your heart rate. Activity at 60 to 70% of the maximum heart rate is considered moderate intensity exercise, by some experts.  (Other authorities use different ranges and methods of measurement.)

  • 220 (beats per minute) minus age = maximum heart rate. 
  • then multiply 60% times the maximum heart rate to calculate the lower end of the target heart rate
  • and multiply 70% times the maximum heart rate to calculate the upper end of the target hart rate 

For instance:

  • A 60-year-old woman exercising at 60% intensity would use the following calculation:
  • 220 - 60 = 160 (maximum heart rate)
  • 160 X 60% = 96 (target heart rate)
  • 96 is her target heart rate (the rate at which she should strive for during her exercise)

To calculate her target heart rate range for moderate intensity exercise, make an additional calculation using the intensity level of 70%:

  • 160 x 70% = 112
  • So, 96 to 112 is the target heart rate for a 60-year-old who wishes to exercise at a moderate intensity

Aerobic activities include walking briskly, bicycling, using a stationary bicycle, swimming, running, jogging, stepping machine, climbing stairs, vigorous dancing, ice skating, roller skating, aerobics (regular or low impact) cross-country skiing, rowing and playing racquetball or tennis.

Note: A few high blood pressure medications lower the maximum heart rate and thus the target zone rate. If you’re taking such medicine, contact your physician to find out if you need to use a lower target heart rate.

It’s always best to check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program, and start slowly with aerobic activities or muscle strengthening exercises that are less intense at first. Beginners might want to start with as little as three 10-minute walks a day, most days of the week. People who are younger and more fit might want to aim for as much as 60 minutes a day of moderate intensity exercise.

Read more about the Benefits of Exercise and How to Get Started 

Calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index)

Sources: “Physical Activity” from MedLine Plus
Sources: American Heart Association

Women Over 50 Need to Exercise An Hour a Day to Keep the Weight Off

Daily exercise on a treadmill is an excellent way to stay fitFor normal-weight women, middle-aged and older, sixty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a day is needed to prevent weight gain, according to researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Weight tends to gradually increase with age, even among those who have maintained a normal weight in their younger years. After the age of 25 our body naturally gains 1 pound per year, if nothing else changes.

What is moderate-intensity exercise? Experts usually consider it to be strenuous enough to cause a slight but noticeable increase in breathing and heart rate. Hard enough to break a sweat, but not so hard that you can’t comfortably carry on a conversation.   In the above study, moderate-intensity exercise was considered the equivalent of one hour a day of brisk walking or 30 minutes a day of jogging or running.

Note: Check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program. If you have chest pain, feel faint or light-headed, or become extremely out of breath while exercising, stop the activity at once and tell your doctor as soon as possible.

More Information: Exercise

Source: Lee IM, et al “Physical activity and weight gain prevention” JAMA 2010; 303(12): 1173-79.
Source: “Cardiovascular Exercise” from

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Rate of Depression

Salmon and vegetables are key foods in the Mediterranean dietThe Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on consumption of olive oil, legumes, fish, vegetables, fruits and whole grains may help protect against major depression, according to Spanish researchers from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. 

In this 2009 study, participants were scored on their dietary practices and categorized according to their adherence to the Mediterranean Diet.  Those in the highest category of adherence to the Diet were found to be the least likely to develop depression, whereas those in the lowest category were the most likely.

The Mediterranean diet is based on a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fatty acids, a high intake of legumes, cereal, fruits and nuts, vegetables, and fish, moderate intake of alcohol and dairy products, and low intake of meat.

A growing body of literature is reporting the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet with respect to Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer, Cognitive Decline, Parkinson’s Disease, Erectile Dysfunction, and Type 2 Diabetes.

More Information: Depression

Source: “Mediterranean Diet May Protect Against Depression”, MedPage Today, October 5, 2009
Source: ”Mediterranean Diet Protects Against Stomach Cancer”, Reuters, January 15, 2010

A Simple Way to Make a Major Difference in your Health

Vitamin D supplementsA recent study from the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Murray, Utah has found that people who increase their vitamin D blood levels to 43 or higher may lower their risk of diabetes, heart attack, heart failure, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Heralded as “One of the Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs of 2007″, Vitamin D continues to surface in new research as a critical nutrient in maintaining good health and preventing disease, yet almost half of the world’s population has lower than optimal levels of vitamin D.  

It is well known that hip fractures and muscle weakness, in people over 50, are linked with a deficiency in Vitamin D.  Many recent studies have also found that low Vitamin D levels are associated with a number of serious, chronic diseases, such as diabetes, gum disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, peripheral neuropathy, osteoporosis, cancer, stroke, mental decline, depression, high blood pressure and heart disease.

A Vitamin D deficiency can be treated with a simple daily supplement and a blood test can measure the circulating Vitamin D levels in your blood.  A level of 30 nanograms per milliliter of vitamin D is considered normal, although this may vary from lab to lab.

Many doctors are routinely drawing blood levels of Vitamin D to to make sure patients are getting enough vitamin D to optimize good bone health and prevent chronic disease. Ask your doctor about this.

Important Note: Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, thus toxicity can occur from high intakes of vitamin D. Overdosage can occur from large amounts of supplements or cod liver oil, but it is unlikely to result from sun exposure or diet. Parents should consult with their pediatrician before giving any child vitamin D supplements. Excess vitamin D can reach toxic levels and be harmful.

  Source: “Boosting Vitamin D Can Do a Heart Good”, HealthDay News, March 15, 2010 


Is Early Alzheimers a Reason to Stop Driving?

Getting lost can easily lead to a car accident

Driving skills may still be intact in early Alzheimer’s, but the risk of getting lost on familiar streets, may be greater than one would think, according to researchers from the School of Occupational Therapy at Pacific University, Oregon. Memory and navigation skills become impaired in early Alzheimer’s while poor judgment and reasoning frequently compound the problem.

In this recent study of 207 drivers with Alzheimer’s who went missing while driving, 32 died and 35 were found injured, while 70 were still not found by the time the data was analyzed.   Most had set off on routine and familiar trips to the post office, the local store or a relative’s house. Once lost, some had driven for almost two days and covered more than 1,700 miles.   One New Jersey couple in the study, both with dementia, got lost on a trip to the store and drove around until they ran out of gas. The husband went for help but was unable to direct authorities to his car. His wife was found dead several days later.

Giving up the car keys is  often a monumental loss for elderly folks who are considered unsafe to drive. Especially for men, it’s a milestone that represents a loss of independence, freedom and control.  Families are frequently put in the difficult position of identifying the problem and enforcing the restrictions. So what is a family to do?  Here are some helpful tips and resources: 

  • This is an important time to seek the help of the elderly person’s doctor.  Have a confidential meeting or phone conversation ahead of their visit so the doctor has a clear understanding of the circumstances.  People often will listen more to their doctor and less to their spouses and children about driving ability.
  • There are many excellent resources for family members available through the Area Agency on Aging.  Call their Senior Information Line at 800-645-2810 for a copy of booklets, brochures, or DVD’s about safe driving with aging.
  • The Alzheimer’s Association offers a web-based program called “Comfort Zone” that families of Alzheimer’s patients can use if the person can still drive safely in familiar places. The driver agrees to limit driving to a “comfort zone,” and a global positioning system (GPS) monitors driving. If the driver leaves the area, the family is notified in real time.

 Read more about “Comfort Zone

Source: Linda Hunt, Ph.D., associate professor, Pacific University, Oregon; Elizabeth Gould, M.S.W., director, quality care programs, Alzheimer’s Association, Chicago; March 2010, American Journal of Occupational Health

Source: “Driving With Early Alzheimer’s May Be Ill-Advised”, HealthDay, March 12, 2010

Marathon Runners May be Causing Damage to Their Arteries

Illustration of the heart and aortaWhile moderate exercise has a protective effect on the heart, exercising too much can do harm, say Greek researchers from Athens Medical School.

In their recent study, male marathon runners had significantly increased stiffness of the aorta when compared with people who took part in moderate, recreational exercise. 

The aorta is the major artery leading from the heart and is the largest and most important artery in the body.  Stiffness of the aorta can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and even death. 


Read more:

Source: “Marathoners Face Greater Risk of Artery Problems”, HealthDay, March 14, 2010