Healthy Living Tip #1 - Your Weight, More Than Just Appearance

       “When it comes to long-term health, keeping your weight from creeping up on you is more important than the exact ratio of fats to carbohydrates or the types and amounts of antioxidants in your food. The lower and more stable your weight, the lower your chances of having or dying from a heart attack, stroke, or other type of cardiovascular disease; of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes; of being diagnosed with post-menopausal breast cancer, cancer of the endometrium, colon, or kidney; or of being afflicted with some other chronic condition. Yes, it is possible to be too thin, as in the case of anorexia nervosa, but otherwise very few American adults fall into this category.” 
                           -Dr. Walter Willett
                            Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

     To expand briefly on this, an important metric for determining whether you are overweight is calculating your body mass index (BMI). You can easily do this by pulling up a BMI calculator on Google and entering your height and weight, or by calculating it manually (see below). Generally speaking, a BMI from 25 to 30 is considered overweight, while that greater than 30 is considered obese. These classifications are derived from numerous population-based health studies that enroll hundreds of thousands of subjects and show an increased risk of dying early as BMI increases, mainly from heart disease and cancer. According to the USDA’s 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy BMI is that between 18.5 and 25. However, don’t be misled by this “healthy range” as the cutoff is quite arbitrary. As can be seen in Figure 1 below, one’s risk of developing heart disease, type II diabetes, gallstones, and high blood pressure increases substantially (more than double) even as BMI increase from 18.5 to 25! The trend of greater disease with increasing BMI of course does not apply to really muscular body builders. But for everyone else, even those within the healthy BMI range, a tremendous health benefit can be realized by the loss of a few pounds.

        I will use an additional piece of evidence to help reinforce the message of this blog. In two long-term population studies conducted at Harvard, middle-aged men and women who had gained between 11 and 22 pounds after age twenty were up to three times as likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and gallstones as their counterparts who gained fewer than 5 pounds. If you are someone who falls into the higher weight-gain category, the message isn’t that “you’re screwed.” Rather, it is a reminder that your weight is not simply a matter of appearance, it is in fact an extremely important determinant in whether or not you live a long and healthy life, and therefore should be monitored as such. Be sure to check back next week for the second most important thing you can do to improve your health!

*To calculate BMI, simply divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches, divide that number by your height in inches, and then multiply that number by 703.

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                                                   Shahir Masri, M.S.


Your Health - What to Prioritize

             Though this blog mostly concerns chemical exposures, it is critical to keep in mind the more important role that our basic health tenants play in good health. That is, the importance of a healthy diet, exercise, and aversion of harmful habits. While avoiding toxic cosmetics, eating organic, and watching the fish you eat are things certainly worthwhile, and things I clearly advocate, their impact to health is relatively low compared to the impacts of eating well and staying active. This reality is often missed by those interested in health. More tragically, minimizing chemical exposures can give the false illusion of healthy living, when in fact a person is not leading a healthy life. You might say, what good is reducing your late-life cancer risk, albeit by a fraction of a percent, if you’re going down the path of a midlife heart attack?
              There was a time when environmental exposures represented a larger piece of total health. It was only decades ago that dirty factories filled our cities with thick plumes of smoke. Still today, while much improved, air pollution kills thousands each year. As it stands, though, the single greatest killer in America today is heart disease. And the best way to avoid heart disease is through eating right, exercising, and avoiding smoking. Even better, the perks to eating well and staying fit stretch well beyond a healthy heart. They reduce your risk of all sorts of chronic diseases, including many cancers. There are few chemicals one could avoid that would have such a broad and profound impact. In other words, eating well and exercising offer a whole lot of bang for your buck! And if you think you’re too overweight to benefit from the loss of a few pounds, think again. Studies looking at overweight people show that every 10 pounds of weight loss is associated with a substantial (10-20%) decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

              It seems in today’s society that fitness is often driven by dreams of a “sexy body” rather than long term health. This is fine in that “hey, if it drives you to be lean, then great!” However this overlooks an important piece. That is, your health is more than simply looking good. Further, the strict emphasis on a sexy body has led to all sorts of fad diets that promise weight loss without considering long term health. Most of these diets, I might add, are backed by little to no science while others, such as the Paleo Diet, can actually lead to worse health.
              Similarly crucial to good health is aversion of smoking. And not solely due to lung cancer. Statistically, smokers disproportionately flood the hospitals for all types of disease relative to non-smokers, probably due to compromised immune function. Smoking serves as a good example of what I mean by “keeping exposures in perspective.” That is, if you smoke, don’t worry about harm from urban air pollution, the smoking is far worse. Similarly, the benefit of avoiding a few toxic chemicals here and there is unlikely to amount to any meaningful improvement in health or longevity to someone who is unhealthy from a diet/exercise perspective. So if you’re serious about your health, prioritize your diet/exercise first, make sure you don’t smoke, and once these are under wraps, then worry about chemical exposures.
              Over the next two months I will be excerpting from an excellent book by leading nutritional scientist Dr. Walter Willett titled “Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy,” to bring you the seven most important things you can do to improve your health. Dr. Willett is one of the most respected scientists in nutritional medicine, and is also Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health as well as professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School. The recommendations you will read are drawn from decades of large-scale population studies and other scientific evidence, something that will hopefully be refreshing given the fad diets and spurious recommendations we often hear about in the media. So stayed tuned as I highlight the key takeaways for better health! 

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                                     -Shahir Masri, M.S.