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Small health matters make a big difference

Published September 25. 2010 09:00AM

What's the chance that there's a column like this one in a newspaper printed somewhere in Great Britain? And what's with British women?

I ask those questions because of the results from a poll of 1,305 Brits. When asked how they would like to lose excess weight, two percent of the women surveyed said they'd exercise more, six percent said they'd combine a diet with more exercise, and 14 percent said they'd simply eat less.

But what about the other 78 percent of the women polled?

Nearly eight out of nine of them preferred surgery to solve the problem, with a gastric bypass being the most popular choice. Additionally, 26 percent of all female respondents claimed to never exercise and felt any surgery was preferable to visiting a gym once that's right, once a week.

A study done in France makes me wonder what's with Frenchmen who have had a heart attack or other heart problems serious enough to require surgery? One year after 248 of them completed a 12-week rehabilitation program for their hearts only 37 percent in the study were still exercising the recommended three times a week.

So why start a column with such negativity? Because the statistics exemplify a cynical mindset, one you probably don't share if you're taking time to read this column, but encounter occasionally in coworkers, neighbors, and even family members.

One that believes more often than not exercising regularly and eating right does not produce enough benefits to be worth the effort.

While you know that's not true, you'd probably like to set these people straight, so here's a slew of studies so you can do so.

The first estimates that being foolish about your health can take 12 years from your life.

Researchers at Glasgow, Southampton, and Oslo Universities reanalyzed a health survey of about 5,000 British adults done in the 1980s and then consulted their current health records. They focused on four habits that normally demonstrate an individual isn't a big believer in health and fitness exercising fewer than two hours a week, eating fewer than three servings of fruit and vegetables a day, drinking more than moderate amounts of alcohol, and smoking and found having all four reduced the life expectancy of the studied British adults by a dozen years.

While numerous prior studies had shown that each habit was deleterious to health, this study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, calculated the combined effect, finding that those having all four habits were nearly three times as likely to have died from cancer or heart disease and four times as likely to die overall when compared to those without any of the four habits.

A number of other recent studies showed that adding or eliminating a single element from your diet can really be significant and one from early in the year suggested that a single change just might negate a serious habit.

Taiwanese research performed at Chung Shan Medical University in Taichung found that cigarette smokers who did not consume any green tea were 13 times more likely to get lung cancer compared to smokers who drank at least one cup a day. Moreover, even studied nonsmokers who did not drink green tea contracted lung cancer at a rate five times greater than the nonsmokers who drank at least a cup a day.

But this is not the first news that the consumption of green tea helps health. For example, research predominantly done at Provident Clinical Research in Indiana and published in 2009 found that exercisers drinking green tea possibly because of the catechin epigallocatechin-3-gallate better known as EGCG had a greater weight loss and a lessening of abdominal fat than a control group whose exercise regiment and diet were the same as the green tea drinkers and who also received the same dose of caffeine, 39 milligrams, as found in the consumed green tea.

Another food found to aid the dieting process to some degree is the chili pepper, according to research conducted at UCLA and published in the FASEB Journal. After having 51 adult volunteers follow an 800-calorie-a-day diet for four weeks, researchers split the volunteers into three groups, giving one third a 9 mg pill of a non-burning form of capsaicin, the spicy compound in hot peppers, one third a 3 mg pill, and one third a placebo.

After giving all volunteers the same 400-calorie meal, the researchers tested to see how much energy was required to digest the meal and perform other metabolic functions for several hours afterwards. They discovered that the subjects who took the larger of the two capsaicin pills burned almost twice the energy as those ingesting the placebo.

Furthermore, all subjects who took either amount burned more fat than the placebo group.

And even though the American Medical Journal made a recommendation earlier in the year that women who don't want to diet yet not gain weight need to exercise an hour a day, findings based on the second Harvard Nurses' Health Study suggest you may get by with less than that.

Based on questionnaires filled out by more than 115,000 female nurses, researchers determined that the nurses who increased physical activity (specifically bicycling or brisk walking) by 30 minutes a day during the studied 16-year period did not gain weight and in some instances even lost some.

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