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Posts Tagged ‘Fitness’

A surefire way to suck the romance out of any kiss is to envision it as free shipping for germs. Recent research by British scientists sheds light on why that is actually a good thing.

Writing in the journal Medical Hypotheses, researcher Dr Colin Hendrie from the University of Leeds said: ‘Female inoculation with a specific male’s cytomegalovirus is most efficiently achieved through mouth-to-mouth contact and saliva exchange, particularly where the flow of saliva is from the male to the typically shorter female.’

Cytomegalovirus is likely to be only one of many germs which take advantage of kissing as a transfer system and which can confer benefits rather than harm to the recipient.

Cytomegalovirus, which lurks in saliva, normally causes no problems. But it can be extremely dangerous if caught while pregnant and can kill unborn babies or cause birth defects.

These can include problems ranging from deafness to cerebral palsy.

Kissing, over the course of several months and increasing in intensity, transfers small amounts of the virus each time. The result is a built up immunity to the virus, thereby cutting the risk of infection and potential damage to the fetus tremendously. Previous research had hypothesized that kissing was important because it conveyed fitness information about the individual through saliva. Given this new data and given that there are many other methods for determining fitness, kissing is not likely to have evolved as a means of determining fitness from an evolutionary perspective.

Dr Hendrie said: ‘Information concerning body tone, smell, reproductive condition, disease state and, of course, personal physical and oral hygiene can all be gained solely from close physical proximity.’

‘The small amount of additional information from kissing is an unlikely pressure for its development.’

People have subconsciously understood for a long time that germs can be transferred via kissing, hence that use of copious amounts of alcohol when strangers kiss. Clearly, it is being used as an antiseptic.

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Here is a “dog bites man” story from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and Massachusetts General Hospital.

It is no secret that anabolic steroids have all sorts of nasty side effects.

Anabolic steroids can cause many adverse effects. Most of these side effects are dose-dependent, the most common being elevated blood pressure, especially in those with pre-existing hypertension, and harmful changes in cholesterol levels: some steroids cause an increase in LDL cholesterol and a decrease in HDL cholesterol. Anabolic steroids have been shown to alter fasting blood sugar and glucose tolerance tests. Anabolic steroids such as testosterone also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease. Acne is fairly common among anabolic steroid users, mostly due to stimulation of the sebaceous glands by increased testosterone levels. Conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) can accelerate the rate of premature baldness for males who are genetically predisposed, but testosterone itself can produce baldness in females.

There is a whole bunch more (we left out some of the nastier bits) where that came from. Now we can include damage to kidneys as a side effect of abusing anabolic steroids too. In fact, the damage incurred is worse than what is seen in the kidneys of morbidly obese individuals.

The investigators studied a group of 10 bodybuilders who used steroids for many years and developed protein leakage into the urine and severe reductions in kidney function. Kidney tests revealed that nine of the ten bodybuilders developed a condition called focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, a type of scarring within the kidneys. This disease typically occurs when the kidneys are overworked. The kidney damage in the bodybuilders has similarities to that seen in morbidly obese patients, but appears to be even more severe.

However, some good news also comes from this study:

When the bodybuilders discontinued steroid use their kidney abnormalities improved, with the exception of one individual with advanced kidney disease who developed end-stage kidney failure and required dialysis. Also, one of the bodybuilders started taking steroids again and suffered a relapse of severe kidney dysfunction.

If stopped in time, kidney function can improve enough for daily functioning. Kidneys in particular are so vulnerable to the effects of anabolic steroids because they are affected both directly and indirectly:

The researchers propose that extreme increases in muscle mass require the kidneys to increase their filtration rate, placing harmful levels of stress on these organs. It’s also likely that steroids have direct toxic effects on the kidneys. “Athletes who use anabolic steroids and the doctors caring for them need to be aware of the potentially serious risks to the kidney,” said Dr. Herlitz.

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There are many sad tales appearing on the internet which present people who are angry because they feel mistreated by their insurance company. Those personal anecdotes are designed to raise an individual’s ire and natural desire to do something about it. The reader may notice that conveniently attached to such stories are mentions of a solution to the problem: healthcare reform as being debated into law by Congress.

The setup seems almost too easy. David, the little man (or woman, or child, or family) gets beaten on by a Goliath (big insurance company) who treats them as mere numbers in a soulless quest for ever increasing profit, only to have Congress and others swoop in to save the day. Someone should create a comic book about that story because it would be entertaining – and fictional.

Yes, we are cynical and skeptical at heart and are willing to wager that many of our readers who come across such saccharine tales of heartache also immediately think “what are they selling?“. Being cynical and skeptical to a degree one notch below annoying is a trait commonly found in scientists because it is an important part of the scientific process. Not all of you are like that (yet), so for those of you who are new to all this, buckle up and hang on for an interesting ride.

Why would insurance companies do silly things, like deny coverage to an unusually heavy baby, if the bad publicity is so damaging to their reputation?

The answer is because insurance companies use statistical tables to make decisions, and anyone caught at the tail end will have a rough time. Here is the most interesting quote from the story of baby Alex Lange:

The frustrated parents said their child was the odd infant out in a cruel numbers game. A chart by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used by insurers puts Alex in the 99th percentile for weight and height for babies his age.

The BMI chart is an example of flawed statistics being used, but it is also not entirely inaccurate for a population wide assessment. In general, someone who has a BMI above 30 is far more likely to be unhealthy than to be an athlete. The problem is for those in the middle, in between normal and obese, who are merely considered overweight.

One flaw in the system is that while most people in the obese range are unhealthy, the same cannot be said for those in the overweight range. Pay close attention the next time you are at the park or the gym to those chunky guys who can outrun you. In fact, someone with low body fat who is athletic in that range between casual Frisbee player and professional athlete can often be classified as overweight.

Insurance companies can get away with using the BMI to classify people into broad categories, which then affects their premiums or if they are eligible for insurance at all because the government continues to use it, even though it is flawed. According to the CDC:

BMI is a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.

If the BMI chart is based on an illogical formula concocted over 200 years ago and can only give a general assessment of obesity in a population while failing on an individual level, why is it still in use by the government?

The answer is because government loves to create problems for which it is the solution. Pay close attention to what is happening here because this is a pattern that repeats over and over again.

First, the CDC called more than one million people between 2006 and 2008 and collected their information. The fact that the data are suspect because people routinely lie about their height and weight should be obvious even to a non-scientist. Second, after the data was gathered and processed, a conclusion was reached:

Experts believe there are several reasons for the differences. People with lower incomes often have less access to medical care, exercise facilities and more expensive, healthier food. In many places, minorities are disproportionately poor.

“Poverty is a very strong driver of obesity,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

The differences being referred to are the differences between the African-American communities and other communities in terms of obesity. We already know the reason for those differences, and it is the reason the BMI chart is racist. So, where does that conclusion lead to?

The only way to deal with our “obesity epidemic” is to address the “poverty epidemic” — of course, as measured by yet another government psuedo-science statistic called the “poverty line”. And how do we deal with that? You guessed it, create more entitlement programs, programs to be run by the very same government that is funding the study, a study based on a statistical measure that is meaningless, where the statistics are unreliable and unverifiable but all point to the same convenient conclusion — the government needs more of your money.

And the media will now happily play along, running b-roll footage of some fat dude at Disney shoving ice cream in his pie hole or a fat mother and her fat kids waddling along through Frontierland, their butts bouncing up and down, as they stroll through the theme park in too-tight shorts and too-short t-shirts.

Laugh if you want but this is the same government that wants to ration your health care. Guess what? Fat people move to the back of the line under such a government-run health care system. Still laughing?

Although baby Alex Lange’s story inspires outrage, it is the insurance company taking all the heat, rather than the government. If the government banned the use of the BMI chart because of its flaws the insurance companies would be forced to evaluate everyone on an individual basis leading to fairer premiums. Individualized healthcare is one result of a market based system because a fair market needs to distinguish between a healthy 200 lb. person and a 200 lb. couch potato. Currently, they are both considered equally risky to insure and such a system does not foster individual responsibility.

People are even angrier today according to newspapers because a report which concluded that the healthcare reform bill recently approved by the senate finance committee would end up costing everyone more money is false – at least according to certain members of Congress and economist from MIT.

After an insurance industry report said that premiums would rise sharply with the passage of comprehensive health care legislation, Jon Gruber, a health care economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he evaluated the report Monday at the request of Senate Democrats and found it deeply flawed.

Coming from a prestigious academic institution does not guarantee that Jon Gruber is telling the truth but it does lend him a lot of credibility, so he will be taken seriously. We are skeptics and our site is geared towards teaching non-scientists, so how can a non-expert determine if someone with fancy credentials is telling the truth when what they are saying goes against logic and common sense?

In this instance the answer is amazingly simple.

Mr. Gruber, who helped Massachusetts with its effort to provide universal health insurance coverage, said that the industry report failed to take into account administrative overhead costs that he said will “fall enormously” once insurance polices are sold through new government-regulated marketplaces, or exchanges.

We need to examine the situation in Massachusetts since they implemented universal health insurance in a way very similar to the proposals in the Baucus bill. Depending on how the situation turned out, it will either serve as a model for the current bills in Congress or a dire warning against them and will establish the reader establish Mr. Gruber’s real level of credibility.

The Wall Street Journal talks about the situation in Massachusetts (and other states, so go read the whole thing):

Guaranteed issue alone, the argument goes, results in slightly more expensive premiums, which drives healthier individuals out of the risk pool, which in turn further drives up premiums. The end result is that many healthy people opt out, leaving a small pool of sick individuals with very high premiums. An individual mandate, however, would spread those premium costs across a larger, healthier population, thus keeping premium costs down.

The experience of Massachusetts, which implemented an individual mandate in 2007, suggests otherwise. Health-insurance premiums in the Bay State have risen significantly faster than the national average, according to the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health foundation. At an average of $13,788, the state’s family plans are now the nation’s most expensive. Meanwhile, insurance companies are planning additional double-digit hikes, “prompting many employers to reduce benefits and shift additional costs to workers” according to the Boston Globe.

And health-care costs have continued to grow rapidly. According to a Rand Corporation study this year, the growth now exceeds state GDP by 8%. The Boston Globe recently reported that state health-insurance commissioners are now worried that medical spending could push both employers and patients into bankruptcy, and may even threaten the system’s continued existence.

That certainly paints a cheery picture. There is more wonderful news from The Boston Globe:

The state’s major health insurers plan to raise premiums by about 10 percent next year, prompting many employers to reduce benefits and shift additional costs to workers.

Increases will range from 7 to 12 percent, capping a decade of consecutive double-digit premium increases, according to a Globe survey of the state’s top health insurers. Actual rates for 2010 will depend on the size of the employer and the type of coverage, with small businesses and individuals expected to be hit hardest. Overall, premiums are more than twice as high as they were 10 years ago.

The higher insurance costs undermine a key tenet of the state’s landmark health care law passed two years ago, as well as President Obama’s effort to overhaul health care. In addition to mandating insurance for most residents, the Massachusetts bill sought to rein in health care costs.

The failure of the Massachusetts system is far from hidden. Who is Jon Gruber hoping to fool by flashing his academic pedigree? Is the general population reading the news so incapable of examining the issues in any depth such that Mr. Gruber can brag about the wonderful state of universal health insurance in Massachusetts without the rubes bothering to check and see how things actually turned out?

Many newspapers and other outlets reporting on this situation are in favor of universal healthcare becoming law, damn the facts, and so reports on the subject tend to be biased by omission of key details which would entirely change the outcome of the story. The real anger is by citizens who are frustrated at being ignored by their elected officials and maligned by some members of the media.

When a layperson expounds about a subject in a way that it is clear they are out of their depth, we excuse the ignorance or quickly sniff out the agenda. However, we must hang our heads in shame when a fellow scientist abuses their position of trust and respect to mislead the general public. Jonathan Gruber’s motivation for lying is not important, simply because such lying is unacceptable. Studying science is about shedding light on the world’s mysteries, and so we have fulfilled our responsibility by illuminating this situation with sunlight, the best disinfectant.

Exit question: What are you going to do about it?

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Video Games: Good For The Heart & Body

Parents would greatly prefer if their children engaged in plenty of outdoor exercise. Unfortunately for some parents, their children actually lead almost completely sedentary lives. Those children are at a high risk for health complications, especially if a lack of exercise is combined with poor dietary choices.

Even if you are fortunate and have children who are physically active there are still reasons to moderate their activities during their time in front of the television. There are real skills which can be gained from interactive media, beneficial to boys and girls alike, which they simply will not gain from hours of passive television consumption.

An active video game system like the Nintendo Wii can be beneficial to kids who otherwise get no exercise at all, according to recent research published in Pediatrics.

Scientists at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center found that playing active video games like the Wii can be an effective substitute for moderate exercise.   No one is saying children should stop playing outside or doing real exercise but active video games can be a suitable alternative at times.  Basically, if an obese child is going to sit around and play video games instead of exercising, something is better than nothing.

Here are the detailed finding of the research:

  • Children use similar amounts of energy playing Wii boxing, doing DDR at Level 2 and walking 2.6 mph. They burned about three times as many calories doing these activities as they did while watching television, about 3 calories a minute playing the games compared with 1 calorie a minute lounging in front of the TV.
  • Kids used about two to 2½ times more energy playing Wii bowling and doing the beginner level of DDR as they did watching TV. They burned 2 to 2½ calories a minute during the activity.
  • Boys used more energy than girls when playing DDR and bowling, but both boys and girls used about the same amount of energy walking and playing Wii boxing.

DDR2 is referring to the game Dance Dance Revolution 2. Boxing, tennis, and bowling are part of Wii Sports, the game that comes bundled with a new Wii. There are other fun fitness related games from Nintendo, such as Wii Sports Resort and the Wii Fit (which has games incorporating a unique balancing board).

Amazon.com has a special notice up:

Celebrate Sunday’s Wii Price Drop with Savings
If you are considering a Wii, you might like to know that the price of the Wii console will drop to just $199.99 starting at 12 AM PST, Sunday, September 27, 2009. Come back when it does and celebrate your purchase with surprise savings on some of our best games and accessories for Wii!

We recommend marking your calendar.

UPDATE: The notice is no longer up at Amazon, but the discounted price of $199.99 is still in effect.

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Tennis elbow, characterized by pain, weakness and inflammation or degeneration of the wrist-extensor tendon that connects to the elbow, is one of those intractable overuse injures that, until recently, yielded very reluctantly to treatment.

Tennis players are not the only people who might suffer from tennis elbow. Golfers, plumbers, and even people who lug around heavy briefcases can get it.

Treatments range from acupuncture to corticosteroids to surgery, usually with limited — if any — long-term success.

Muscles and ligaments work in two possible ways. Concentric contractions are when the fibers tighten and get shorter, like doing a bicep curl. Eccentric movements are in the other direction, when the muscle fibers are lengthening. A new technique was developed which focused on eccentric exercises.

“We couldn’t believe” how fast and well the therapy worked, says Timothy Tyler, PT, ATC, a clinical research associate at the Nicholas Institute and one of the authors of the study. “We were seeing improvements in five weeks, even three. It was crazy.”

Here’s the treatment exercise they developed:

He and his colleagues realized that a single, unhurried exercise using a tensile bar that looks like an oversized licorice stick could create an eccentric contraction all along the forearm. In the exercise, a person holds the bar upright at his or her side using the hand connected to the sore elbow, then grasps it near the top with the good hand. The top hand twists as the bar is brought around in front of the body and positioned perpendicular to the ground; the sore hand then takes over, slowly untwisting the bar by flexing the wrist. “Afterward, you should be sore,” Tyler says. “That’s how we know it’s effective.”

Dr. Tyler goes on to explain precisely why eccentric movements work better:

Eccentric contractions require the muscle to work against a force, in this case the coiled bar. “You can load a tendon so much more eccentrically” than with concentric exercises, Tyler says. “So we think the process may be remodeling the tendon.” Ultrasound studies by other researchers, including the group in Belgium, have shown that damaged tendons typically become less thick, indicating they are less damaged, after a course of strenuous eccentric exercise.

The rubber bar used by Dr. Tyler to treat tennis elbow, the Thera-Band Flexbar, is available for under $20. Yes, this is one of those unique cases where “cheap” and “effective” can be combined together in a legitimate way. Although it shouldn’t take too long to perform this exercise, its effectiveness depends on the commitment level of the patient.

“It’s not a difficult exercise but it is unique, so I would advise people to be taught by a physical therapist, if possible,” Tyler says. If not, proceed on your own — after, of course, an examination by a doctor; elbow pain can have many causes, not just tennis elbow. “In my opinion, you’re not going to hurt yourself,” Tyler continues, although you should be prepared for a commitment. His patients did three sets of fifteen repetitions every day. Beginners should start with three sets of five repetitions, adding more as the repetitions get easier, Tyler says.

Images demonstrating the technique are available at the source.

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Ubisoft is releasing a new fitness game for the Nintendo Wii, titled Your Shape.

From the press release:

“Partnering with Jenny McCarthy was a no-brainer for us,” said Tony Key, vice president of sales and marketing, North America. “Her commitment to fitness, and exceptionally wide fan-base, make her an ideal fit for the Your Shape brand. Best of all, she will make the workout fun for players, which is an element that has been missing in the fitness game market.”

It is understandable that a major company promoting a fitness game would turn to a recognizable figure to help garner sales. A cursory glance would indicate that Jenny McCarthy is a passionate advocate of health and fitness.

Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism, was released in mid-September 2007 and her latest book, Healing and Preventing Autism: A Complete Guide, was released in March of 2009. McCarthy has recently become the spokesperson for Weight Watchers, encouraging healthy living and nutrition for new moms, and she currently has a development deal with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. She will be seen next in the ABC Family original movie, “Santa Baby 2.”

However, a major corporation like Ubisoft should be held responsible for doing more than a cursory examination of their newest star. Had they bothered to look, it would be obvious that Jenny McCarthy is a wacko.

It sounds as though Ubisoft didn’t use any brains when it chose its new avatar. Here’s a hint, Ubisoft: If you want your Wii program to have any credibility as a “health” guide, partnering with an anti-vaccine wingnut whose knowledge of health science is so risibly inadequate as to be beyond contempt and who with her boyfriend Jim Carrey (who is also an anti-vaccine loon) has led anti-vaccine protests in Washington, is not a good idea.

The more insidious explanation is that Ubisoft is perfectly aware of Jenny McCarthy’s lunacy, but they don’t care because her status as a minor celebrity will increase sales amongst a demographic (young moms) who are ironically most affected by anti-vaccination stupidity.

Please take a moment to send a polite e-mail to Ubisoft explaining why lending corporate support to an individual like Jenny McCarthy, who peddles pseudoscience and causes a genuine public health risk, is a good way to lose your support.

Jocelyn Portacio
Senior Corporate Communications Specialist
Jocelyn.portacio@ubisoft.com

Lisa Revelli
Corporate Communication Manager
lisa.revelli@ubisoft.com

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You can’t be a runner past the age of 40, as I am, without hearing that running will ruin your knees, by which doomsayers usually mean that we’ll develop “degeneration of the cartilage in the kneecap, which ­reduces its shock-absorbing capacity,” says Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the new book “The Runner’s Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer and Faster.” In other words, we’ll be afflicted with arthritis.

It seems to be common knowledge that certain sports and exercises such as distance running are bad because of the eventual suffering in the knees by participants. A long term study of runners has found that there is no particular reason for that to be the case simply because the knees are being used more often and in a tougher fashion than walking or other milder exercises.

In fact the opposite is true:

Instead, recent evidence suggests that running may actually shield somewhat against arthritis, in part because the knee develops a kind of motion groove. A group of engineers and doctors at Stanford published a study in the February issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery that showed that by moving and loading your knee joint, as you do when walking or running, you “condition” your cartilage to the load. It grows accustomed to those particular movements. You can run for miles, decades, a lifetime, without harming it. But if this exquisite balance is disturbed, usually by an injury, the loading mechanisms shift, the moving parts of the knee are no longer in their accustomed alignment and a “degenerative pathway” seems to open. The cartilage, like an unbalanced tire, wears away. Pain, tissue disintegration and, eventually, arthritis can follow.

The key factor is injury. Preventing an injury by strengthening the muscles involved in running is a good start. Once an injury has been sustained, it is likely to lead to another and possibly cause even more damage, so always consult with a doctor before resuming a normal running regimen.

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