Oct
15
2016

Commuting Affects Your Health

A research report from Great Britain was recently reviewed by CNN; it revealed that commuting affects your health.

The longer we commute to work and back the more downtime we have where we do not move our muscles. But we also are exposed to more unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks that make us deposit more fat. The original research report was published here. What were the elements of this study?

Commuting affects your health, study design

Three consecutive annual waves of the British Household Panel Survey were utilized. These are longitudinal surveys of nationally representative households in Great Britain. The sample years were 2004/2005, 2005/2006 and 2006/2007. There were 15,791 participants in the study; of these 4,056 entered the study. The main mode of travel to work was determined at each time point. The self-reported height and weight was taken to calculate the body mass index (BMI) at baseline and at 2 years. Attention was paid to switches of transportation mode (that is from active to sedentary and vice versa).

Commuting affects your health, results of study

  1. Switching from car commute privately to active travel (walking, bicycling) or public transport resulted in a significant loss in BMI. There were even larger reductions of BMI’s in those who enrolled in the first year in active transportation, because of the longer exposure. Those with the longest journeys who used active transportation had significant weight losses.
  2. A group of 787 people switched from active travel or public transport to the use of their private cars as transportation. This resulted in a significant BMI increase.
  3. The study concluded that any interventions that would allow private car commuters to switch to an active mode of transportation could contribute to the population’s BMI being reduced significantly.

Commuting affects your health, Cambridge experiment

In a 2016 study from Cambridge (Great Britain) a similar experiment was done. They studied traffic patterns in the county of Cambridgeshire. The city compared 1143 adults working in the city with 1710 people who used the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway. The public had access to a new bus network that has connections with pedestrian pathways and cyclists since 2011. Longer commuting journeys incorporated walking and cycling, for which otherwise people used a private car and public commute. When officials explained the benefit of active travel to people, there was a 1.8-fold increase of active travel. There was also a 2-fold decrease of commuting solely by car. The weekly cycling commuting time had increased to 1.34-fold compared to the previous level.

Active commute most beneficial

People who at baseline were the vast majority in being inactive in their commute, were the ones who appreciated an active commute most. There was an association of active commuting, greater overall physical activity with an improvement of health and weight loss.

Commuting affects your health, US study

A multi-city study involved the largest 3,914 municipal jurisdictions, which were located in 473 of the most populous U.S. counties. This involved 48 states and the District of Columbia. In order to encourage more active commuting (walking, cycling) many municipalities developed pedestrian zones or pedestrian-friendly zones with adjacent bus transportation. A new concept of transit-oriented developments or districts (TODs) was adopted. TODs are higher density areas that are compact. They are mixed use areas, which you find around transit stops. This encourages walking. The study was completed in 2016. It showed that the TOD zones had higher occupancy rates. Many house owners had no car as they commuted using public transportation only.

Summary about transit-oriented developments or districts (TODs)

TOD zones were more populous, people in it had higher income, and they were more racially diverse and younger. The occupants of TOD zones had a 2.1-fold higher rate of using public transportation and they also had a 2.48-fold higher rate of using active transportation to work.

Commuting affects your health, general comments

The majority of commuters in England and Wales spent 56 minutes in their cars going to and from work in 2013. In London this daily commuting time is 79 minutes. The US data are similar.

With a well-developed public transportation system the authorities developed various programs designed to replace at least some part of the commute by active commuting. This is good for your metabolism, it is good for your cardiovascular status and it gets you away from snacking junk foods driving in your car.

Commuting leads to stress

A survey from London, England polled more than 1500 commuters. 55% reported increased stress levels, 33% reported increased snacking, 29% admitted to fast food consumption, 36% complained about sleeping problems, 41% said that they reduced physical activity and 44% reported that they had less quality time with their friends and family. 58% felt that flexible work hours would improve their health and wellbeing. Remember that how you are commuting affects your health.

My own experience watching commuting in various cities

Over the years I have traveled extensively in Germany, Austria and the US. In Europe it is interesting how many years ago the pedestrian zones in the old town centers have reshaped the commuting. The U-Bahn (subway) and commuter trains have intermingling networks that shoot you out to pedestrian zones. There is no escaping from it, you have to walk before you can catch a connecting bus or tram.

Vienna (Austria)

Vienna (Austria) for instance allows you to get out at the U-Bahn station of Stephansplatz, which is a pedestrian zone around the Stephan’s Church (Stephanskirche). There is an amazing array of shops and in a side alley you can even find a Starbucks, if this is what you are looking for. When you walked enough, you hop onto any of the U-Bahn connections. This brings you where you need to be. If you are too far from your goal, hop onto a tram and enjoy the sightseeing. There are also buses that can get you there. It is all covered under the same Vienna card, which I appreciated as a visitor. It is best to park your car in the periphery and use the commuting network to get you to where you want to go.

Munich (Germany)

Munich (Germany) has a lot of cycle paths, which run parallel to the pedestrian paths. I was interesting to see business people in black suits cycle to work. Otherwise there are the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses that all interconnect.

Münster (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany)

Münster (North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany) has an extensive network of cycle paths and pedestrian walks. Buses and trams are also constantly running. The old historic town is a pedestrian zone, but anybody can commute to anywhere between walking or using the bus/tram. I found it astonishing this spring when I visited; there were hundreds of people, young and old cycling to and from work. The employers are providing huge metal racks where people can attach their bikes to with a lock.

Berlin

Berlin is another multi level commuting city in Germany. You can use the U-Bahn, S-Bahn (commuter train), bus or tram to get to work. Here is an informative video that explains.  I did not see many cyclists there. But hundreds of people are walking. Yes, there are many pedestrian zones and they interconnect with all of the commuter options. Berlin spreads over a vast area, so the S-Bahn, which is a local commuter train is particularly important. For the shorter connecting trips people commute by the U-Bahn (subway). Buses and trams plus walking do the fine-tuning to get to your destination.

Vancouver (BC, Canada)

Vancouver (BC, Canada) has some cycle pathways in the West end, close to Stanley Park. Otherwise there is a network of buses, the Skytrain, Sea Bus (between North Vancouver and downtown) and the West Coast Express (a commuter train). For the size of the city I think that Vancouver could benefit from studying some of the transportation modalities in Europe to entice the car travelers to use public transportation. When I travel to Vancouver, I use my own car, as it is so much faster to reach any goal. Public transportation is at this point not effectively connecting all the areas in this city.

Commuting Affects Your Health

Commuting Affects Your Health

Conclusion

In the past we often heard that there was nothing that could be done about traffic jams and commuter stress. Think again. Revitalization of city cores all over Europe, Great Britain and in the US has taken the TOD concept to heart and active commuting has become a reality. Whenever you can, use alternatives like cycling, walking and public transit to get to and from work. Studies have even shown that when you become an active commuter you likely will also become more active after work. Even using public transit makes the commute more active, as you are not sitting for an hour or more in your vehicle.

Use public transit, not your own car to commute

You have to get out and walk in order to catch a connection. This all helps to keep you physically more fit than the commuting style, where you sit in a vehicle and possibly dip into junk food. It is not only about body mass index reduction and decreasing your waistline. Active commuting is also a lot less stressful than the passive modality, where traffic jams add to frustration and stress at the beginning and at the end of a workday.

Jan
25
2014

Live Your Best Life

While attending the 21st Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging, Regenerative & Aesthetic Medicine the audience was treated to a magnificent speech by the keynote speaker, who you all know from the TV show  “The Doctors”, namely the ER-doctor, Dr. Travis Stork.

He said that there are 4 main ingredients that are necessary to live the “best of your life”.

1. Healthy living starts in the kitchen

You want to make sure that you leave out unhealthy foods. This includes that you also need to cut out sugar. Be aware how important protein is, so you need protein with each meal. This includes legumes, fish, chicken, turkey meat and others. Saturated fat is essential, can improve your health and makes you feel full, but stay away from unhealthy, sugary snacks.

Snacks do not harm your health, but they must be healthy ones like nuts three times per day. To include nuts three times per day lowers your risk of dying by 39% and your rate of heart attacks by 52%.

In order to prove a point about cutting out junk foods, the TV producer convinced Dr. Stork to go on a junk food diet for 7 days to see what would happen. He gained 8 pounds after 6 days, his mood was getting subdued and he started to look forward to his next meal as if he was addicted to the junk foods. But suddenly he could not take it anymore and was concerned about getting sick from this experiment (rightfully so). He told his producer that he had to stop this experiment. He explained that most of his fat accumulation was happening in the abdominal area (visceral fat) and he showed a video that illustrated this further. He explained that the visceral fat is metabolically very active, produces inflammatory agents and causes changes in the heart vessels that eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Live Your Best Life

Live Your Best Life

2. “I need you to start working out!”

We were designed to get moving. Our ancestors were gatherers and hunters, so they were constantly on the move. Our genetics have not changed, but our lifestyle habits are far removed: the sessile habits are not suiting us well healthwise. Translated into modern life this means: sit less; do gardening; use pacing as a technique to move when you are on the phone. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk (a minimum of 30 minutes three times per week). Personally, I like to add that our body never takes a holiday, so I think we should exercise 7 days per week.

3. Mind and body are connected

Stress can ruin your health. Happy people are 50% less likely to die prematurely. Laughter heals. A funny video was shared with the audience where a parent ripped a piece of paper into smaller and smaller pieces and the toddler watched with glee and laughed every time when the paper was ripped into two smaller parts. A service dog can be a great companion for disabled individuals, but pets have a positive impact on the health of any individual. They can be of help to reduce stress.

It is known that mind and body are connected. As a result, if your mind and body are balanced, your hormones get balanced and this helps to keep your metabolism in check. If your metabolism is balanced, you will avoid getting diseases like heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and even cancer.

4. Make sure you get enough sleep

40% of people do not get enough sleep. You can change your sleep behavior. How do you do it?

a)    Have a consistent bedtime/waking time. Set your alarm clock to the same time every morning. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

b)    Avoid late night caffeine as it prevents a good night’s sleep.

c)    Get active throughout the day; this will prepare you to get tired in the evening.

d)    Towards the end of the day have a to-do-list ready for the next day. This prevents tossing and turning and thinking about what you want to do the following day. You know that it is all written down on the list, so you can relax and get to sleep.

e)    No bright lights in the bedroom, no bright alarm clocks, no control lights of electronic gadgets and have light-blocking window coverings in place. Do not have a TV in the bedroom, also no cell phone, and stay away from the computer for 1 hour before your bedtime.

After you re-programmed your body and mind to a regular sleep rhythm, you automatically get tired when you should and your hormones and body chemistry find a new balance, which contributes to good health.

Dr. Stork stated that we all need to prevent disease. We do this by making health our hobby. There is no need to be obsessed about it. “Just live your best life!”

Conclusion

I summarized Dr. Stork’s presentation from the anti-aging conference, as it struck me how simple it really is to live a healthier life. If we all follow these simple steps, we are a long way into anti-aging, because it gives us the footing we need to further refine it from there.

In many previous blogs I have mentioned these 4 factors that are needed to slow down aging. However, there are other factors that may be needed like bioidentical hormone replacement when there are hormone deficiencies; detoxification, if there is evidence of toxicity; and vitamins and other supplements. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant vitamins and supplements like CoQ10, vitamin D3 and omega3-fatty acid/DHA supplements are needed to keep LDL from getting oxidized as this is the reason why people die of heart attacks and strokes and get cancer.

I have recently written a book entitled “A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging” (being published at Amazon.com in March 2014), which explains the science behind why it is important to cut out sugar and starch. Sugar and starchy foods are the foods that oxidize LDL cholesterol, and ultimately it is the oxidized LDL cholesterol that causes deaths from heart attacks and strokes. In this text I have explained how proper nutrition, exercise, hormone rebalancing, supplements and lifestyle changes will allow you to prevent the major illnesses from setting in thus extending your life expectancy considerably. Included in the book is a chapter (written by my wife, Christina Schilling) that contains 7 days of recipes for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts as well as snacks.

Last edited Oct. 25, 2014

Jul
06
2013

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

When your grandmother grew up there was very little convenience food, maybe ketchup and yes, there was processed cheese and coke. There were also bread and butter.

Now we go through a large grocery store and the center of the whole store is occupied by convenience food, row after row.

What is convenience food? It is pre-cooked or processed food that sits on a shelf waiting to be bought and consumed. You may be able to just eat it the way it is (power bars, fruit yoghurt snacks, ice cream, breakfast cereals etc.) or you just have to microwave it for a minute or two (ready made meals, pizzas). Even, if you make a fresh salad, you top it with a salad dressing that has been processed and may contain chemicals that are not necessarily healthy for you.

This blog is meant to make you think and get educated as a consumer. As a physician I am guided by what is healthy for you, but at the same time food needs to be interesting and taste good and be affordable.

As fat, carbohydrates and protein are the main food groups that we eat, I will deal with each of these categories first followed by vitamins and minerals, which we also need.

Fats and oils

Many convenience foods are full of saturated fatty acids, which contribute to the overall calorie count of the package and are one of the main reasons why we gain weight and deposit fat into our arteries in preparation for a heart attack or stroke down the road. As you may know the worst form of fat is hydrogenated fat, also known as “trans fat”.

It contains free radicals from the hydrogenation process, which damage your cells and interfere with normal body metabolism. Read labels and avoid any foods that have a long shelf life as this is due to hydrogenated fats and chemicals known as food preservatives.

This food group also contains sausages and other processed meat; I wrote a separate blog about this recently.

If you eat cheese, reduce your saturated fat intake by buying cheese with only 18% fat (such as Cantenaar cheese, Jarlsberg light, skim milk mozzarella and goat cheese). Avoid the rich 45% type cheeses. The best oil in your kitchen would be an organic cold pressed olive oil. It figures prominently in Mediterranean cooking.

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

Sugar, starch and other carbohydrates

A large portion of snacks from the mid section of the grocery store contains all forms of sugar: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup etc.  You may think that a harmless fruit juice would be healthy until you see from the ingredient list on the label that it contains 5 to 6 teaspoons of sugar per cup (250 ml) of juice.

Unfortunately our body is not equipped to process all the sugar that the food industry wants us to consume and we develop insulin resistance; the liver converts the excess sugars into fat and deposits it into our arteries and as fat deposits between our guts (visceral fat) and as subcutaneous fat in the thighs, around the hips and the waist. It is no secret that a lot of obesity is related to overconsumption of sugar containing convenience foods (snacks and sugar-laden drinks).

Often low calorie alternatives contain aspartame or sucralose (Splenda). Aspartame is an excitotoxin damaging your brain cells and sucralose was developed in the 1950’s as an insecticide. We do not want to replace disease-promoting sugar with toxins as sweeteners. Safe alternatives for sugar are xylitol, mannitol, and stevia.

What is sometimes overlooked is the fact that your body digests bread, starchy foods such as potatoes, and pasta, rice and flour products like pizza or cookies within 30 minutes into sugar that is as harmful to your pancreas as plain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The body reacts with the same overproduction of insulin converting the excess sugar into fat and depositing it in your body as described above. Much of the obesity wave we see in the past 3 decades is due to baked goods like bagels, bread, pasta and pizza. It is much better to enjoy your stevia-sweetened coffee without any bakery pieces to go along with it.

Protein in meats, dairy products and sausages

You would think that a healthy cut of meat from the grocery store would be a good source of protein for you. You probably did not think that it could be contaminated with a superbug when you bought it. This is especially true for ground meats like hamburger meat. If you bought a portion of organic meat you can be more certain that you are buying a qualitatively superior product. I discussed this whole issue of superbugs in meat and meat products in this blog recently.

We need to be aware of the agroindustry, the feedlots and what they fed the animals. I only buy organic meat and organic dairy products as my source of protein. I avoid sausages altogether because of the food additives that they contain, which are cancer causing.

The problem with prepared meats like chicken nuggets and others is that they contain breading and food preservatives and they have been deep fried, which makes these items an unhealthy choice.

What are some of the problems with dairy products? Despite the allegations that bovine growth hormone would be harmless to your health, your body thinks otherwise. Your body has hormone receptors that are very specific and bovine growth hormone can block them so your own human growth hormone from the pituitary gland cannot function properly. This is why I would recommend only organic milk products. You may have heard that in many European countries bovine growth hormone is banned for that reason.

Next the fat content of dairy products needs to be monitored: go for low-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. While we are talking about yoghurt, stay away from fruit yoghurts that have all kinds of sugar and food additives mixed in. Add fruit of your choice and stevia, if you need a sweet taste.

Vitamins and minerals

The more foods are processed, the less natural vitamins and minerals stay behind. Particularly vitamin C and the B complex group are affected, but also magnesium, which is an important co-factor to enzymatic reactions within our cells. Often processed foods contain too much salt with sodium displacing potassium from the cells resulting in a lack of energy and high blood pressure.

Your best prevention is to stick to as little processed food as possible and to eat organic. If you eat enough organic greens and vegetables, there is an ample supply of vitamins and minerals. Prepare your own soups as canned products are high in sodium; another unwanted additive is often sodium glutamate (MSG), which comes under many disguised names. It belongs to the group of excitotoxins like aspartame and is not welcomed by your brain cells.

Public Awareness

Lately there has been more of public interest and awareness to the detrimental effects of convenience foods. Alarming reports about the increase in the obesity rates, the rise in diabetes type 2 even in children have been in the media for some time. The publications are not only North American, but also European, as can bee seen in this link.

New legislation is being introduced in many states of the US regarding school snacks and vending machines in schools.

Not all food news is bad. Recently it was reported that fish oil could protect against the effects of junk food. Omega-3-fatty acids contained in fish oil are helping to rebalance the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6-fatty acids in food, which often is disbalanced towards an overabundance of omega-6 fatty aids in processed foods. Rebalancing the omega3/omega6 ratio in food helps to normalize the metabolism of the brain and prevents hardening of arteries.

What you can do to get healthy food

It starts when you buy food. Read labels and look for calories, sugar, fat and sodium content. You may be surprised how many stores carry organic foods now. The price may not be that much more. There is a useful app for your cell phone, Buycott, that you may want to download. This way you can scan items in the store and find out what ingredients are contained in a particular food item and which company produces it.

With meats it is particularly important to buy organic (because of superbugs and also because of the aspect that feed lot animals often receive antibiotics and hormones). Stick to organics also with vegetables and greens (xenoestrogens in non-organic greens that block hormone receptors). Milk products also need to be organic because of the bovine growth hormone facts mentioned above.

When you eat out, things become more difficult unless you find an organic food restaurant. You can always prepare your own salad for lunch with organic greens and a lean protein food, which you keep refrigerated until you are ready to consume it. On weekends a portable picnic in a park can be a great way to relax and socialize, especially in summer.

More information about nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014