Bodily Benefits Of A Big Butt

If you’re prone to worrying whether your ‘butt looks big in this’, particularly after the holidays, you can take comfort that there may be health benefits.

Oxford University scientists – who have looked at all the evidence on the health effects of storing more fat on the hips, thighs and bum, rather than around the waist – show that having a ‘pear shape’ is not just less bad for you than an ‘apple shape’, but actively protects against diabetes and heart disease.

The team from the Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology, and Metabolism (OCDEM) have published their summary of the latest research in the International Journal of Obesity today.

‘The idea that body fat distribution is important to health has been known for some time,’ says Dr Konstantinos Manolopoulos, one of the paper’s authors along with Dr Fredrik Karpe and Professor Keith Frayn.

‘However, it is only very recently that thigh fat and a larger hip circumference have been shown to promote health, that lower body fat is protective by itself.’

He adds: ‘This protective effect is independent of weight. However, if you put on weight, thigh circumference will increase but your waist circumference will also increase, which over-rides the protective effect.’

‘Control of body weight is still the best way to stay healthy, and the advice remains the same: it is important to eat less and exercise more.’

The Oxford researchers explain that the body uses its fat tissues to store energy in the form of fatty acids, which can be released when needed, for example after heavy exercise or a period of starvation. Both tummy and thigh fat handle this process, but fat around the waist is much more active in storing and releasing fatty acids in response to need throughout the day. Thigh fat is used for much longer term storage.

More waist or abdominal fat tends to lead to more fatty acids floating around the body where it can get deposited in other organs like the liver and muscle, and cause harm. This is associated with conditions like diabetes, insulin resistance and heart disease.

Thigh fat on the other hand, traps the fatty acids long term, so they can’t get deposited and cause harm.

'Thigh fat and a larger hip circumference have been shown to promote health, and lower body fat is protective by itself,' said Manolopoulos.

The scientists also review evidence that abdominal fat and thigh fat release different levels of hormones. Waist fat is known to release molecules called pro-inflammatory cytokines, and inflammation is a process linked to diabetes and heart disease.

Thigh fat might also secrete more beneficial hormones like leptin and adiponectin, Dr Manolopoulos says, although this is unclear at the moment.

Dr Manolopoulos says the typical difference in male and female body shapes, with men more likely to have fat around the waist and women have more fat on their thighs and hips, neatly illustrates the health effects of different body shapes.

‘If you looked at a man and woman of the same weight and aged around 40, they would have different weight distributions, and it would be the man that was at higher risk of diabetes and heart disease,’ he says.

‘However, when women go through menopause, as well as changes in their hormones they tend to see a change in body shape. They lose body fat and move to a more ‘male’ fat distribution. They then have the same risk of heart disease and diabetes as men.’

It may be possible to use these findings in the future to reduce people’s health risks but that is a long way off, cautions Dr Manolopoulos.

‘We don’t really know how the body decides where to store fat. At the moment we need to understand more about the mechanisms the body uses. Only then will we be able to take the next step and try to influence this.’

‘In principle, this should be possible. There is a class of anti-diabetic drugs that is known to redistribute fat in the body from internal organs to fat stored subcutaneously under the skin. This improves symptoms in diabetes,’ he says.

The team at OCDEM, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is working to understand the way the body stores and turns over fat. They recently pinpointed two genes that are associated with differences in people’s body fat distribution and may be important during embryo development.

‘They are weak effects, but this is just a beginning,’ says Dr Karpe, one of the research group heads. ‘Obesity is a big problem, but it may be that the characteristics of that obesity are more important.’

Source: University of Oxford   and "Gluteofemoral body fat as a determinant of metabolic health"

Your Heart Can Warn You Of Future Attacks

Many people exercise to improve the health of their hearts. Now, researchers have found a link between your heart rate just before and during exercise and your chances of a future heart attack.
Just the thought of exercise raises your heart rate. The new study shows that how much it goes up is related to the odds of you eventually dying of a heart attack.

More than 300,000 people die each year from sudden cardiac arrest in the U.S., often with no known risk factors. Being able to find early warning signs has been the goal of researchers like Professor Xavier Jouven, of the Hopital Européen Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Jouven's team has been examining data from a study of 7,746 French men employed by the Paris Civil Service and given health examinations between 1967-1972, including exercise tests, electrocardiograms and heart rate measurements. Over an average 23-year follow-up, 83 eventually died of heart attacks, also known as sudden cardiac death (SCD).

In 2005, Jouven's team first showed that how a heart behaves before, during and after exercise could predict future problems. The risk of a future heart attack was about four times higher than normal in men whose resting hearts beat faster than 75 beats per minute (bpm) or did not speed up by more than 89 beats during exercise. Likewise, heart attacks were twice as likely in men whose heart rates didn't slow down more than 25 beats in the first minute after exercise stopped.

Just a thought
In the latest study, published last week in the European Heart Journal, the French researchers found another interesting clue in the same data set. Not only was the resting heart rate of each person taken, but also another reading right before they were to start a strenuous exercise bike test. This rate is affected by what they called "mild mental stress." It measures the body's physiological anticipation of exercise.

Think of this type of stress as the brain's warning to the body that some difficult, sweaty work is about to begin. It is normal for this rate to be slightly higher than the resting rate, but for some it is significantly higher.

The men who had the highest increase in heart rate during this period (increasing by more than 12 beats a minute) had twice the risk of eventual future sudden cardiac death compared to men who had the lowest increase in heart rate (an increase of less than four beats a minute).

So, the high-risk heart overreacts to the anticipation of exercise, and then does not respond to the full extent needed during exercise. Afterwards, it does not regulate itself down fast enough.

What's going on
Jouven hypothesized that the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the body's internal control governor, must be out of whack.

The ANS has two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Joeven suggests we think of the sympathetic system as the accelerator that turns up our response to exercise by increasing our heart rate. Putting the brakes on this acceleration are the vagus nerves, part of the parasympathetic system, preventing our heart from running out of control.

"There is a balance between the accelerator (sympathetic activation) and the brake (vagus nerve activation)," Jouven explains. "During an ischemic episode, when blood flow to the heart is reduced, sympathetic activation occurs to counteract it. However, if there is no protection by the vagal tone (the brake), the activation can become uncontrolled and then it becomes dangerous."

Finding this connection between heart rate and future heart problems is encouraging for future research, according to Jouven.

"These findings may carry significant clinical implications," he said. "Few measurements in medicine are as inexpensive and as easy to obtain in large general populations as to measure the heart rate difference between resting and being ready to perform an exercise test. The results will contribute towards a better understanding of the mechanisms of cardiac death."

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Exercise Wins Again

It just seems too good to be true. Study after research study consistently promoting the endless benefits of exercise. Couch potatoes everywhere are waiting for the other shoe to drop, telling us that all of those scientists were wrong and we should remain as sedentary as possible.
Yet four additional studies released recently each give the same prescription for improving some aspect of your health: exercise.

They add to recent evidence that regular workouts can improve old brains, raise kids' academic performance and give a brain boost to everyone in between.

Better bones
One study illustrates the effect of exercise on preventing or limiting osteoporosis, which affects more than 200 million people worldwide. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that while both resistance training (lifting weights) and high impact exercise (running) both help build needed bone mineral density (BMD), running is the better choice.

"Exercise programs to increase bone strength should be designed using what is known about how bones respond to exercise," said Pam Hinton, associate professor and lead author. "Only the skeletal sites that experience increased stress from exercise will become stronger. High-impact, dynamic, multi-directional activities result in greater gains in bone strength."  The study was published in the February issue of the Journal of Strength Conditioning.

Less pain
In a related study, exercise seemed to be one of the few successful remedies for those that suffer from low-back pain. In the February issue of the Spine Journal, University of Washington physicians summarized 20 different clinical trials that promoted different solutions to alleviating pain.

"Strong and consistent evidence finds many popular prevention methods to fail while exercise has a significant impact, both in terms of preventing symptoms and reducing back pain-related work loss," said Dr. Stanley J. Bigos, professor emeritus of orthopaedic surgery and environmental health. "Passive interventions such as lumbar belts and shoe inserts do not appear to work."

Better eye health
Also, vigorous exercise has now been linked with significantly reduced onset of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. In the study, detailed in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, researchers reviewed the eye health of 41,000 runners over seven years and found that both men and women had significantly lower rates of these two diseases than the general public.

Men who logged more than 5.7 miles per day had a 35 percent lower risk than those that ran less than 1.4 miles per day. While the correlation is strong, the reason is not clear.

"We know some of the physiological benefits of exercise, and we know about the physiological background of these diseases, so we need to better understand where there's an overlap," said Paul Williams, an epidemiologist in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Life Sciences Division.

Cancer prevention
Each year in the U.S., more 100,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer. To see what effect exercise has on lowering this rate, researchers at Washington University and Harvard University combined to review 52 studies over the last 25 years which linked exercise and the incidence of cancer. Overall, they found that those that exercised the most (5-6 hours of brisk walking per week) were 24 percent less likely to develop the disease than those that exercised the least (less than 30 minutes per week).

"The beneficial effect of exercise holds across all sorts of activities," said lead study author Kathleen Y. Wolin, Sc.D. of Washington University. "And it holds for both men and women. There is an ever-growing body of evidence that the behavior choices we make affect our cancer risk. Physical activity is at the top of the list of ways that you can reduce your risk of colon cancer."

So, are there any studies out there that link exercise with a negative outcome?

In a recent study published in the journal Obesity, Dolores Albarracín, professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, did find that people who are shown posters with messages like "join a gym" or "take a walk" actually ate more after viewing these messages than those that saw messages like "make friends."

"Viewers of the exercise messages ate significantly more (than their peers, who viewed other types of messages)," Albarracín said. "They ate one-third more when exposed to the exercise ads."

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NFL Linemen Trade Health For Super Bowl Rings

When the Arizona Cardinals met the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, every starting offensive lineman was a member of the 300-pound club.

This season, there were more than 600 players — about 20 percent of the league — in triple donuts. Even with 6-foot plus heights, their Body Mass Index (BMI) levels are all in the range of grade 2 obesity, one step below what's called morbid obesity.

This super-sizing of NFL players has accelerated in recent years, and some studies suggest health risks are growing. But studies are conflicting on this point.

And the big question on the minds of coaches and owners: Do heavier players mean more wins? No, says one NFL executive.

Strong vs. fat
The trend towards the ever-expanding football player, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, has accelerated over the last 20 years. From 1920-1984 no more than eight players in the league were over 300 pounds.

The motivation to be bigger comes from the perceived advantages on the field. When Nick Saban, now head coach at Alabama, was drafting players for the Miami Dolphins, he said: "I always say it this way: They have weight classes in boxing for a reason. The heavyweights don't fight the lightweights. What's the reason for that? Because if a big guy is just as good as a little guy, the little guy doesn't have much of a chance."

BMI is a measure of obesity based on a height to weight ratio. Often the apparently risky BMI of large athletes is dismissed because of the percentage of muscle included in their mass. The question becomes whether "big and strong" is any less dangerous than "big and fat."

Last year, Mayo Clinic researchers studied the cardiovascular health of 233 retired NFL players, aged 35-65. They found that in players less than 50 years old, 82 percent had either plaque or carotid narrowing of their arteries greater than the 75th percentile of the population, adjusted for age, sex and race. This condition could lead to a restriction of blood flow causing a heart attack or stroke.

Conflicting results emerged from a University of Texas study later in the year. They compared the health of 201 former NFL players and compared them with the population-based Dallas Heart Study and the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. Compared to the control group of men, retired players had a significantly lower prevalence of diabetes, hypertension, sedentary lifestyles and metabolic syndrome.

"Despite their large body size, retired NFL players do not have a greater prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors nor CAC than community controls," Alice Y. Chang, lead author and assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. "Age and high cholesterol levels, not body size, were the most significant predictors of sub-clinical coronary atherosclerosis among retired NFL players."

Does it matter?
Jackie Buell, director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University, recently released a study focused specifically on players with metabolic syndrome. This condition is characterized by a group of symptoms that include excess fat in the abdominal area, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and elevated levels of triglyceride. Having one or more of these symptoms increases the risk of future heart disease or attacks.

Buell's study measured these factors in 70 current college football linemen. Thirty-four players had at least three risk factors, while eight had four and one had all five risk factors.
"We understand these athletes want to be big, but they can't assume all their weight gain is lean mass just because they're lifting weights and taking protein supplements," Buell said. "The bottom line is we're seeing more and more abdominal obesity. And these findings show that athletes aren't necessarily off the hook when it comes to health risks."

Are the potential health problems worth the risk of garnering a Super Bowl ring?
Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian recently asked that very question to help his NFL draft planning. He compared the winning percentages with the average weight of NFL teams over a recent ten year period. "We found higher weight had no bearing on winning — none," Polian said. "There was a lot of noise about 'big is the answer.' We tested it. It's not valid."

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