What we ask

By Marsha Bonhart

Trying to stay healthy is a job. Do this. Don’t do that. Eat this. Don’t eat that. How to properly work, live, play and eat is the quintessential quest.

Editors of the “Well” section of The New York Times polled readers to find out what they most wanted to know about maintaining good health and created a list. It ranges from “What is the best time of day to exercise?” to “Do you floss or brush first?” to whether or not you can “catch up” on lost sleep.

Times experts say to lose weight, you should get up earlier and exercise before you eat breakfast. Now, that is a contradiction of earlier studies that claim you need some amount of food before you hit the treadmill. Apparently, science has evidence that exercising on a completely empty stomach, or the so-called wee hours condition, can burn more calories and can even help keep the pounds off.

This is according to a six-year old study by Belgian researchers who told young men to eat more calories and fat than what they normally ate. Some stayed sedentary; others worked out hard in mid-morning after breakfast.  After a month and a half, as expected, the sedentary group had gained weight with new fat cells and developed some insulin resistance, which is a precursor to diabetes. The exercising group that worked out after breakfast packed on fewer pounds but also had some insulin issues. But there was another group of men that had exercised in the morning without eating—they gained none or very little weight, had healthy insulin levels and burned more fat than the others.

Peter Hespel, Ph.D., was part of the Belgian research. He tells Times readers that preventing weight gain obviously means combining a healthy, well-balanced diet with a physically active lifestyle. The optimal strategy to prevent increases in body weight is obviously to combine a healthy, well-balanced diet with a physically active lifestyle. But, he says, “If you are cheating on the healthy and well-balanced diet part, we demonstrated that early-morning exercise in the fasted state is more potent than an identical amount of exercise in the ‘fed’ state for maintaining healthy waistlines.”

Reducing blood pressure is one of the most common health concerns. Medications are most often prescribed, but not without the additional natural directive—exercise. Physicians appreciate any form of physical activity by their patients because any consistent movement seems to work to control hypertension.

High blood pressure creates stiff blood vessels, but exercise changes that, allowing blood to flow more freely. So when you work out, the effect takes place immediately. It appears, according to The New York Times article, that the best way to get optimum results from exercise is to break it up. One study showed three 10-minute walks prevented blood pressure spikes better than one 30-minute workout. We now find even just standing might work because apparently, blood pressure readings are higher on hypertensive overweight people who sit consistently all day. More research showed workers who stood every hour for at least 10 minutes had improved blood pressure readings and even greater when they walked slowly for the same number of minutes. What was gained by the study is finding that exercise intensity does not appear to play any significant role in helping people control blood pressure—movement is what matters.

You don’t have to floss every tooth—just the ones you want to keep. Artfully pulling the coated string in and out of your teeth along the gum line is a way to reduce chances of bloody gums and gingivitis, the inflammation that can lead to tooth loss. And we know to prevent cavities you have to brush your teeth daily. So when you hit the bathroom in the morning, which comes first, brushing or flossing?

After reading The New York Times article written by Catherine Saint Louis, I found some dentists advise patients to brush with a fluoride toothpaste and then floss. The theory is your mouth will contain fluoride as you maneuver the floss. Another school of thought suggests flossing is not a proven way to prevent cavities, even though some dentists and hygienists suggest otherwise.

A four-year old review (with little evidence) found that people who brushed and flossed regularly had less gum bleeding than the folks who didn’t floss. That same report found only “very unreliable evidence that flossing might reduce plaque at one and three months, and no studies reported on the effectiveness of flossing combined with teeth brushing for cavity prevention.”

Staying up late every night until you have a weekend is not healthy. Sleep is one of nature’s best elixir vitae. So don’t think you can catch up. What is lost, in the case of sleep hours, may be lost. Sleeping just a few hours each night, as I know all too well, will catch up with you within a few nights. I have suffered the effects: impairment of attention, learning and memory. Each hour that you lose creates sleep debt and you carry it with you. However, one British researcher found that if you catch a few winks for less than 20 minutes, you get the same effect of an extra hour of nighttime sleep. Here’s the real rub: if you consistently do not get at least five hours each night, you can look forward to hardened arteries and they aren’t likely to heal by returning to a healthier sleep pattern. You can also develop diabetes, high blood pressure and memory loss. You probably haven’t heard it like this since your mom told you, but—go to bed.

Be well,

Marsha

Marsha Bonhart is an assistant vice president of public relations and programs at Wilberforce University, the nation’s first private, historically black college. Reach her at MarshaBonhart@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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