Monthly Archives: August 2012

Six in 10 adults now get physically active by walking

Sixty-two percent of adults say they walked for at least once for 10 minutes or more in the previous week in 2010, compared to 56 percent in 2005, according to a new Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, less than half (48 percent) of all adults get enough physical activity to improve their health, according to data from the National Health Interview Survey.  For substantial health benefits, the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 2 1/2 hours per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity, such as brisk walking.  This activity should be done for at least 10 minutes at a time.

“More than 145 million adults are now getting some of their physical activity by walking,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. “People who are physically active live longer and are at lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.  Having more places for people to walk in our communities will help us continue to see increases in walking, the most popular form of physical activity among American adults.”

The Vital Signs report notes that increases in walking were seen in nearly all groups surveyed. Walkers were defined as those who walked for at least one session of 10 minutes or more for transportation, fun or exercise.  In the West, roughly 68 percent of people walk, more than any other region in the country. People living in the South had the largest increase in the percentage of people who walk, up by nearly 8 percentage points from about 49 percent in 2005 to 57 percent in 2010.  The report also found that more adults with arthritis or hypertension are walking; there was no increase in walking among adults with type 2 diabetes.

“It is encouraging to see these increases in the number of adults who are now walking,” said Joan M. Dorn, PhD, branch chief of the Physical Activity and Health Branch in CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. “But there is still room for improvement. People need more safe and convenient places to walk. People walk more where they feel protected from traffic and safe from crime.  Communities can be designed or improved to make it easier for people to walk to the places they need and want to go.”

The report highlights ways to provide better spaces and more places for walking. These include:

–State and local governments can consider joint use agreements to let community residents use local school tracks or gyms after classes have finished.

–Employers can create walking paths around or near the work place and promote them with signs and route maps.

–Citizens can participate in local planning efforts that identify best sites for walking paths and priorities for new sidewalks.

To learn more about Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and ways to get active, visit The National Institute on Aging’s Go4Life campaign has information on walking for health, success stories, and other fitness resources for older people at  For more information on CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, visit

– Natural Solutions

Can You Drink Alcohol if You Have Diabetes?

It all depends on your blood sugar control and general health, our expert says.

In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers’ questions about a wide range of topics, including questions about what’s true and not true in the field of medicine. For our July/August 2012 issue, we interviewed a researcher from the Joslin Diabetes Center about alcohol and diabetes.

Q: My husband has diabetes and says it’s OK to drink alcohol. Is that true?

A: While it’s fine for some people with diabetes to drink some alcohol, your husband’s blanket statement is FALSE. The more accurate answer would be “it depends.”

In general, “adults who are in good health and have good blood sugar control can drink alcohol,” says Elizabeth Bashoff, MD, a senior staff physician with Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. “But it shouldn’t be more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men.”

Alcohol poses several problems for people with diabetes, Bashoff explains. First, after an initial spike in blood sugar, alcohol causes that level to drop. Because being tipsy causes the same symptoms as low blood sugar (sleepiness and disorientation), your husband may not know his levels are low. Second, if he drinks alcohol while taking glucose-lowering medications, his blood sugar levels can drop to dangerous levels. Third, heavy alcohol use can aggravate some diabetes complications, including nerve and kidney disease.

Encourage your husband to drink only at meals and only when his blood glucose is under control. Ask him to wear an ID explaining he has diabetes, in case people mistake his low blood sugar symptoms for drunkenness. Make sure he talks to his doctor about alcohol, so he can get personal advice.

Find more articles, browse back issues, and read the current issue of “WebMD the Magazine.” 

Bite-Size Pieces

“Dad’s hands shake pretty badly, which can make for some long and frustrating meals. I’ve learned to cut up his food in the kitchen or right when we sit down (I cut mine as well, so he won’t feel like a child), and I encourage him to eat with a spoon, since a fork is harder to manipulate. I also put his soup in a cup, so he can sip it. He doesn’t get as frustrated.”

— Jerry, from Raleigh, North Carolina


Another Reason to Love Pecans

The American Heart Association Certifies Pecans As Heart-Healthy Food

Pecans are now designated as heart-healthy when enjoyed as part of a healthy eating pattern by the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Certification Program (, according to the National Pecan Shellers Association (NPSA). Unroasted and unsalted pecan halves and pieces can now carry the Heart-Check mark to notify consumers that they meet the program’s nutritional guidelines, including criteria for saturated fat and sodium.

Dr. Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD, the Bickford Green and Gold Professor of Nutrition at the University of Vermont and an American Heart Association spokesperson said, “We know that consumers have relied on the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark to easily identify heart-healthy foods for more than 15 years. Adding nuts, fish and other foods that are rich sources of good fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, enhances the program and gives more healthy options consumers can choose from with the same trust factor.”

“Pecans stay with you longer than high carbohydrate snacks that your body burns through quickly,” said Vickie Mabry, NPSA Executive Director. “With antioxidants as well as a tender texture, rich buttery flavor and gentle crunch, pecans make an ideal snack choice for everyone,” she added.

-Natural Solutions

Omega-3 Fatty Acid Tips

Choose the right fish. While eating more fatty fish is a good idea, some are more likely to have higher levels of mercury, PCBs, or other toxins. These include wild swordfish, tilefish, and shark. Farm-raised fish of any type may also have higher levels of contaminants. Children and pregnant women should avoid these fish entirely. Everyone else should eat no more than 7 ounces of these fish a week. Smaller fish like wild trout and wild salmon are safer. Consider eating more free-range poultry and beef. Free-range animals have much higher levels of omega-3s than typical, grain-fed animals. Consider a supplement like fish oil capsules or algae oil. Fish oil contains both EPA and DHA. Algae oil contains DHA and may be a good option for those not tolerant to fish or for vegetarians.


Blood Type May Impact Heart Risk

A new analysis suggests that having blood type O conveys some protection against heart attack and stroke, while having the far less common AB blood type appears to increase risk.

Heart disease risk typically takes into account measurable factors, such as a person’s blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight. But blood type may also prove important, says researcher Lu Qi, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. “People can’t change their blood type,” Qi says. “But we may be able to use this information to help determine a patient’s risk for heart disease and how aggressively to treat them.”

Half of Americans Are Type O. Type O is the most common blood type in the United States. About 45% of whites, 51% of African-Americans, 57% of Hispanics, and 40% of Asians in the U.S. have the blood type, according to the American Red Cross.

The AB blood type is much rarer. Only 4% of whites and
African-Americans, 2% of Hispanics, and 7% of Asians in the U.S. have it. In their new analysis, Qi and colleagues combined findings from two large studies that followed nearly 90,000 adults for at least two decades.

Compared to people with type O blood:

People with the AB blood type were 23% more likely to develop heart disease. People with blood type A had a 5% increased risk.
People with blood type B had an 11% increased risk.

Earlier studies suggest that the A blood type is linked to higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and that the AB blood type is tied to inflammation, which is also linked to heart disease. The findings appear in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

Does Blood Type Impact Treatment?

It’s not yet clear if people with different blood types respond differently to preventive treatments such as cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, blood pressure medications, and even lifestyle interventions such as diet and exercise. The study’s findings need to be confirmed, says preventive cardiologist Richard A. Stein, MD, director of the exercise and nutrition program at NYU’s Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. “I actually don’t know the blood types of any of my patients, and I would imagine that most
cardiologists will tell you the same thing,” he says. “Maybe this will prove to be useful in our assessments of how aggressively to treat patients, but we aren’t there yet.”

By Salynn Boyles
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

-WebMD Health News

Art Therapy for Dementia

Paging Drs. van Gogh, Picasso, and Rembrandt! Your loved one doesn’t have to have been a lifelong art lover to tap into art appreciation as a pathway to cognitive stimulation.

Looking at art and talking about it lets your loved one exchange ideas without requiring strong working memory, and it can be a pathway to accessing more distant memories. Museums around the country offer special art tours and programs for patrons with dementia. But you don’t have to join a formal program. Just visiting a local museum can have similar benefits.

7 Snacks That Fight Heart Disease

Sure, genetics play a big role in heart health. But lifestyle choices, like diet and exercise, play an even bigger part in preventing and reversing heart disease. The seven snacks on this list are
particularly powerful — packed with nutrients that fight heart disease and the risk factors that cause it. And because they’re portable, they’re a cinch to fit into any busy schedule.

1. Apples

Maybe it’s due to their ubiquitous nature, but apples don’t get enough credit. Never mind it doesn’t get the same health billing as exotic goji berries — the humble apple is king, especially when it comes to fighting heart disease.

Apples frequently feature in heart health studies, and it’s no wonder. When compared to the most commonly consumed fruit in the U.S., apples rank second only to cranberries (not the most snack-friendly food!) in antioxidant activity. They’re also chock-full of pectin, a fiber that interacts with other phytonutrients found in apples to deliver a host of cardiovascular benefits.

How they help: Quercetin and other apple antioxidants combat oxidative stress that can lead to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular problems, while pectin helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, a precursor and contributor to heart disease. Apples are also anti-inflammatory, which helps support overall vascular health.

Snack smart: All apple varieties deliver these heart-protective nutrients, but red apples boast the most antioxidant power.

2. Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

In his book The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Jonny Bowden cites a study of 10,000 men and women that associated regular consumption of legumes with a 22 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease.

How they help: All beans are a good bet for heart health, but garbanzo beans are the winner when it comes to reducing your risk of coronary heart disease. They’re packed with soluble fiber — which helps lower cholesterol — in addition to heart-protective antioxidants, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Snack smart: Aim for four servings a week. Grab hummus and whole-wheat pita on the go, or snack on whole chickpeas right from the can (look for brands that list only these three ingredients: garbanzo beans, water, sea salt).

3. Almonds

Researchers comparing evidence from four large epidemiological studies found that regular consumption of nuts was associated with a 37 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Why choose almonds over other nuts? It’s simple: Calorie for calorie, they’re packed with more cardioprotective nutrients than just about any other nut (walnuts are a close second).

How they help: Almonds house a slew of heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber, vitamin E, potassium, and magnesium. Magnesium contributes to healthy blood pressure, and potassium is essential for helping your heart pump blood. Almonds are also rich in
monounsaturated fat — the healthy kind — which has been associated with lower levels of heart disease in countless studies.

Snack smart: Reach for plain raw almonds or top an apple with a tablespoon of unsweetened almond butter. Work four servings a week into your routine to give your heart health a boost.

4. Blueberries

Studies show that high blueberry consumption (one to two cups per day) can improve cholesterol levels, lower triglycerides, and protect against oxidative damage that could lead to clogged blood vessels, a sign of heart disease.

How they help: Blueberries are powerful pellets of antioxidants (especially manganese and vitamins C and E) that provide protection on a cellular level. In addition to lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol, the phytonutrients in blueberries also prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, protect blood vessels, and support healthy blood pressure levels.

Snack smart: A number of recent studies have shown that organic blueberries may have a higher antioxidant capacity than their conventionally grown cousins. Opt for organic, and eat them as often as possible; daily is best. Out of season, dip into a bag of frozen blueberries — they retain virtually all of their antioxidant power.

5. Dark chocolate

In 2004, Columbian scientist Oscar Franco and his team of researchers published an article, in the British Medical Journal, that proposed a natural dietary means to reduce heart disease. It was dubbed the “polymeal” and researchers asserted that, if eaten daily, the seven proposed food groups could cut risk of heart disease by more than 75 percent. One of those seven foods was dark chocolate, which, as an individual component, was found to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by an incredible 21 percent.

How it helps: Dark chocolate has a high percentage of cocoa. Cocoa is incredibly rich in compounds known as flavanols (a type of flavonoid), which help prevent clogged arteries, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Dark chocolate has also been shown to decrease blood pressure.

Snack smart: A small amount of dark chocolate is healthy for most people. Stick to small portions (about a two-inch square, or no more than an ounce) of chocolate with a high cocoa content — 70 percent or higher.

6. Grapes

Grapes are high in various heart-protective nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and flavonoids.

How they help: Grapes support cardiovascular health primarily thanks to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Together, these nutrients promote healthy blood pressure, reduce LDL cholesterol, and help your heart pump blood. B6 is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that helps minimize the risk of inflammation, atherosclerosis, and hypertension.

Snack smart: Fresh grapes are tops for the whole nutritional package, and grapes retain these components when frozen. Eat the seeds, too — they’re loaded with healthful nutrients.

7. Figs

Figs deliver a high dose of fiber, which is necessary for any healthy diet plan, but it’s because they’re so high in potassium that they made this list.

How they help: Time and again, studies have linked potassium-rich diets with healthy blood pressure levels and significantly lower rates of heart disease and stroke. It’s interesting to note that high dietary sodium intake (common in today’s modern diet of processed food) has been closely associated with a higher rate of hypertension.

By Nikki Jong, contributing editor