PLoS One

  1. How office work leads to obesity

    I know a nice, big comfy chair parked at your desk is as much of an office status symbol as a Mercedes parked in your very own spot.

    But maybe it's time to do away with chairs completely -- before they kill us.

    A new study finds that we're spending more time in office chairs than ever before, with 80 percent of us now working at jobs that involve little to no actual movement throughout the day.

    Just 50 years ago, by comparison, half of all Americans worked at jobs that involved at least moderate movement -- including jobs in mining, farming, construction, and manufacturing.

    What's that got to do with your office chair killing you? Everything. Because the researchers say all that extra sitting means men now burn 142 fewer calories each day, on average, than they did back in 1960.

    For women, that tragic number is 124.

    That adds up fast. The researchers even speculate in PLoS One that just 100 extra calories a day would be enough to cause the weight gain we've seen over the past half century.

    Now, it would be easy to respond to this study by running to the treadmill and burning 100 calories a day... and that seems to be what the authors are getting at when they suggest that office workers strive to meet the government-recommended goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

    But that's not the answer either.

    Studies have shown time and again that exercise alone won't make you thin... and it won't even cut your risk of an early death.

    You can do that by eating better and getting more moderate activity spaced throughout your day –- and it's easy enough to do without joining a gym or buying expensive exercise equipment.

    Park further. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk across the room instead of picking up the phone and dialing a co-worker's extension.

    And try to get out of the office for a walk each day -– just make sure that walk doesn't end at someplace that serves milkshakes.

  2. Polypill madness strikes again

    Supersizing might be on the outs when it comes to fast food -- but it's all the rage in the drug industry.

    And right now, researchers are busily testing the limits of the ultimate in supersized meds: A drug that combines FOUR different pills in one, giving you a chance to swallow once... and experience side effects in four different ways.

    Would you like statins with that?

    The drug is called a polypill, and the latest version combines a cholesterol-lowering statin with two blood pressure meds -- along with some aspirin, just for good measure.

    The latest study claims this pill can slash the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent -- but if you read the fine print, you'll find it's not a claim backed up by the study itself.

    In fact, none of the patients in the study dodged heart disease or strokes... or maybe you could say all of them did.

    Since the study lasted just 12 weeks, either statement could be equally true.

    Let me explain. The researchers gave 378 people between the ages of 50 and 70 either a polypill or a placebo. Then, they compared before-and-after readings for cholesterol and blood pressure.

    When they found a 9.9 mmHg drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 0.8 mmol/L average reduction in LDL ("bad") cholesterol among patients who took the polypill, the researchers declared victory and went home.

    But while no real lives were saved in this brief study, 58 percent of the people who took the polypill experienced very real side effects -- and 23 percent had to quit because they couldn't handle them, according to the details published in PLoS One.

    You don't have to test your own tolerance for those side effects -- because you don't need a polypill or even the individual drugs found inside it.

    The truth is, both cholesterol and blood pressure can be brought under control through lifestyle changes -- and in many cases, they don't even have to be dramatic changes.

    A study last year, for example, found that a handful of nuts a day lowered LDL levels by an average of 7.4 percent.

    On a similar note, other studies have identified common, healthy ingredients -- like oatmeal and cinnamon -- that can slash your BP levels.

    For more tips on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels without drugs, visit the Web site of the Health Sciences Institute, where you'll find an extensive online library of natural treatments for any number of conditions.

    And some of them are pretty tasty.

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