Having a "pear" or "apple" shape can determine the health of a woman's body - and mind. Of course, Eve knew all about the troubles an apple could bring.
If you gain weight in your chest and belly, you have an apple shape. If your weight gain is in your hips and thighs, you're a pear. Studies have long shown that if your body fat is concentrated primarily in the middle - like an apple, it is more biologically active and is correlated with health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancer.
This study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that as body weight increased in post-menopausal women, cognitive function decreased. But the worst cognitive decline occurred when high body weight was coupled with an apple shape compared to the pear shaped body fat distribution.
This troubling result seems to coincide with studies showing a higher risk of dementia in people with high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, the risk of which is heightened by having the apple-shaped body fat distribution.
If you're overweight, you may still be healthy, as long as you're physically active and eat healthfully. But if your excess weight is carried mostly around the middle, it would be wise to keep track of your health, especially your blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol, and lose weight so that your waist circumference* measures 35" or less, which is what health authorities recommend for women (40" or less for men).
*Your accurate waist circumference is measured at the level of your belly button (not the smallest part of your middle).
A new study reports that Vitamin D effects certain genes which are involved in muscle and fat mass and function. This could mean there is an important yet simple solution to the natural decline of muscle as we age, which could have many benefits - decreasing disease, falls, broken bones, and subsequent hospital and nursing home stays.
As we age, muscle mass and strength decrease, to the point where our muscles actually become "marbled" with fat (think bacon!), reducing their ability to function and our ability to live independent lives, according to the National Institute on Aging. That's because muscle mass is essential for movement, balance, and even immune function. So if we don't strength train as older adults, we're more likely to lose our independence and end up in nursing homes, creating a massive public health burden, according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, and partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.
That said, we've known for years, and I've written about, the importance of working out, eating the right amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat, eating an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative diet filled with plant nutrients like polyphenols, (found in tea, fruits & vegetables), and living a low stress life. But there are other factors which come into play that scientists are studying. One may be Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.
In the past several years, researchers are finding that Vitamin D may be instrumental in preventing diseases from colds, heart disease to cancer. Even multiple sclerosis, parkinson's disease and insulin dependent diabetes. And now, Vitamin D seems to be correlated with an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat. Yet the most needy population, the elderly, is usually deficient. That's because Vitamin D is produced by being exposed to sunshine. Today, many of us don't go outdoors and when we do we're wearing sunscreen. That particularly pertains to the aging population, whose muscle mass can mean independence - or the loss of it.
How much Vitamin D does improving muscle mass require? What should your blood level be? Ask your doctor, but perhaps share this most recent data with him/her, too: "[The National Academy of Sciences' Food and Nutrition Board's] review of data suggests that persons are at risk of deficiency relative to bone health at serum 25OHD levels of below 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL). Some, but not all, persons are potentially at risk for inadequacy at serum 25OHD levels between 30 and 50 nmol/L (12 and 20 ng/mL). Practically all persons are sufficient at serum 25OHD levels of at least 50 nmol/L (20 ng/mL). Serum 25OHD concentrations above 75 nmol/L (30 ng/mL) are not consistently associated with increased benefit."
Most of us will need to get Vitamin D from a supplement because it's in very few foods (egg yolks, salmon) and most of us don't get enough sunlight. Again, ask your doctor about your personal situation. But, the latest recommendation from some Vitamin D researchers is 1,000 IU per day but up to 4,000 daily is safe (Vitamin D can be toxic at much higher levels)... This level is higher than the official National Academy of Sciences' Food and Nutrition Board because they determine how much Vitamin D is needed to prevent rickets (a Vitamin D deficiency disease which softens the bones). They say the jury is still out as to how much is good for your overall health. The NAS scientists believe that more definitive research needs to be done to change their recommendation. In the meantime, it doesn't hurt for healthy people to increase their vitamin D intake to up to 4,000 IU daily.
A recently published study found married women are fatter than unmarried women. I'm been warning my clients of the fairer sex for years: "Ladies... He's going to 'plump you up'!" (using my best "Saturday Night Live" Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation) if you're not careful. And I have a whole chapter of tips and strategies to help in my book, Diet Simple.
My client, Linda, who successfuly lost thirty pounds and kept it off for years, is in the public eye almost daily. When she married her German husband about ten years ago, who insisted on drinking whole milk instead of skim, dining regularly on sausages and wienerschnitzel, and who did most of the cooking in the house, I could see it coming. And weight yo-yo'ing has been a problem for her ever since. But Linda's fate was easy to predict, given the circumstances.
There are other not-so-obvious examples of my married clients who often gained weight immediately after the wedding and who have a harder time losing weight than their unmarried counterparts - whether they've been divorced, widowed, or never married - makes no difference. And this study, published in the Journal of Women's Health, backs up my own observations during my 25+ years in private practice. The study showed that not only were married women more overweight, they drank more alcohol and had higher blood pressure, too. Could marriage be bad for your health? Well, I wouldn't go that far... But, here are some tips and strategies to prevent you from gaining marriage girth:
1) Keep in mind that your husband may be 50% heavier or even twice your size and need twice your calories (so you may only need to eat two-thirds or only half of what he eats),
2) Cook veggie-centric meals and soups so that both you and your husband are naturally eating fewer calories; he can always get seconds and eat more of the fattening parts of the meal,
3) If you get home earlier from work, don't wait for your husband to eat a full meal together. Eat a snack when you're hungry, and perhaps save the salad or the veggies you prepared and a little protein to eat with him, while he eats the full meal,
4) Take turns exercising. My client, Vickie, was too busy with her children before and after school to exercise. But then she and her husband decided they should trade duties. Her husband agreed to take care of the kids in the morning so that Vickie could exercise then, and he agreed to exercise in the evening, which helped him reduce work stress anyway.
Of course, all kidding aside, marriage doesn't have to have these negative health consequences. But caveat emptor!