Walking Speed Predicts Who Will Live Longer

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(PITTSBURGH, Pa.) -- Seniors who can still walk at a relatively speedy pace have a good chance of living to an even riper old age, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

When researchers at the University of Pittsburgh pooled the data from nine large studies that involved more than 34,000 seniors, they were able to correlate walking speed in people 65 or older with expected longevity.

At the beginning of each study, subjects were timed at their normal, comfortable walking pace for about 13 feet and periodically retested for up to 21 years.  Anyone who could ambulate, even if they used a cane or walker, was included.

The faster an older person can walk, the longer they can expect to live and, according to the researchers, walking with some pep in your step appears to be a better predictor of who survives than simply looking at someone's age and sex.

"It's a real part of the human experience to see that when someone slows down with age, they may not be doing as well as they once were," said lead researcher Dr. Stephanie Studenski.  "One of the major goals of this study was to quantify this experience for practical and clinical purposes."

Studenski notes that the act of placing one foot in front of the other requires the cooperation of many body systems including the heart, lungs, blood, bones, muscles, joints, nerves and brain -- and all of these systems synchronize, coordinate and integrate in a way that allows each individual to choose their own ideal walking speed, a speed that remains remarkably constant throughout life unless it's affected by medical issues.

For this reason, scientists consider how quickly a person walks, when correlated with age and sex, a reflection of their underlying health.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Sex Not Specified': Living as Both Male and Female

Photo Courtesy - Norrie/ABC News(SYDNEY) -- If you pass Norrie on the sidewalk, you won't be able to tell if she is a man or a woman.

The 49-year-old walks through her gritty Sydney, Australia neighborhood barefoot and wearing a dress.  She is flat-chested, has an Adam's Apple, medium-sized feet and sports a haircut that could be male or female -- short in the back and on the sides, with a mop of long hair on top.  She wears little or no make-up.

Norrie goes by only one name and is a self-described 'spansexual.'  She was the first person in the world ever to be issued identity papers that state: "Sex Not Specified."

"I see myself as male and female," she said.  Norrie is happy to be referred to as "he" or "she" in conversation.  But says she doesn't want her identity documents to be telling lies.

"In terms of M or F," Norrie said.  "I'm not specifically M or F.  You can't specify me as being male or you can't specify me as being female without committing a 'fudge' at the very least."

Two doctors examined Norrie and couldn't determine that she was one sex or the other, physically or psychologically.  So the State of New South Wales issued her a document that states: "Sex Not Specified."

Norrie was born, anatomically, as a normal boy in a small Scottish town.  Her family immigrated to Australia when she was seven, where she grew from an awkward adolescent into a glamorous gay man.

Norrie said that during the day, she was discriminated against at her job in a government office for her appearance and sexual orientation.  At night, Norrie socialized with transvestites and transsexuals where she felt accepted.

Eventually, she started dressing in drag and came to believe she was a woman trapped in a man's body.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Five Health Goals for 2011 and How to Meet Them

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Nothing gets you thinking about health quite like a month of excess. As the holiday haze clears, New Year's resolutions come into focus. But for many, January's motivation dwindles by March -- if not sooner.

Because the start of a new year is a great time to think about breaking bad habits and starting fresh, ABC News asked health experts to share some healthy resolutions and tips on how to see them through.

Lose Weight

The key to losing weight, and not January's enthusiasm, is to set realistic short-term goals, according to Lisa Cimperman, a registered dietician at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

"There's a lot that goes on between losing that first pound and losing that 100, 50 or even 20 pounds," Cimperman said. Aiming to lose one to two pounds per week can help you stay on track and power through the inevitable weight loss lulls.

Eat Better

Bringing a lunch to work every day is a great resolution, Cimperman said. Not only can it save you money, but it will force you to eat healthy foods, like fruits and vegetables, that you might not eat given the choice.

Quit Smoking

Out of 100 people who make the resolution to quit smoking, only three will succeed. But with help that number can increase to 25, according to Dr. Frank Leone, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Comprehensive Smoking Treatment Program.

"Generally people who get help, either in the form of counseling or nicotine replacement, preferably both, actually improve their odds of stopping smoking successfully, long-term, pretty dramatically," Leone said.

"The easiest way to get some professional advice on how to quit is to call the national quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW," Leone said.


Digging up the motivation to exercise can be hard in the winter months. Shorter days and cooler temperatures (not to mention sidewalks full of snow) make it hard to get out for a run. Buying a gym membership can give you the financial incentive and the indoor space to work out, but it only works if you use it.

But you don't need a gym membership to get in shape, Cimperman stressed. Running up and down the stairs in your house or apartment building or at work is a great workout. And workout DVDs, even YouTube videos, can also offer some fitness solutions on the cheap.

Walking to work or choosing the stairs over the elevator can help you burn a few extra calories each day. But to get the real health benefits of exercise, your heart rate needs a hike, according to Dr. Shukri David, Chief of Cardiology at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Michigan.

"You ideally want to increase your heart rate to 85 percent of what we call target, which is 220 minus your age," David said. That's 160 for a 40-year-old. And sustaining that increased heart rate for 15-30 minutes each day will benefit your whole body.


Heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women in the U.S. So it's important to know your risk factors and your numbers, Providence Hospital's David said.

Genetics play an important part in determining your risk, so knowing your family history is an important first step. But other modifiable factors, such as smoking, being overweight, and having diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol also increase your risk.

"You can't choose your parents, but you can certainly get your blood pressure down, you can get your blood sugar down with diabetes, you can normalize your cholesterol levels, you can stop smoking, and you can lose weight," David said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Post-Holiday Flu Increase Expected

Photo Courtesy - Med Immune(ATLANTA) – Flu activity has continued to pick up in the United States, with a post-holiday increase expected until late January.

MedPage Today reports that influenza activity has settled into a more typical pattern after last year’s H1N1 outbreak, when the flu season peaked in the fall instead of the winter.

"Flu is now with us," Dr. Dan Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division, told MedPage. "All the indexes that we follow indicate that the season has started."

Seventy percent of the circulating viruses in the U.S. are influenza A strains, said Jernigan. A vast majority of those are H3N2 with very few 2009 H1N1 strains.

Jernigan said vaccinations are extremely important due to the severe outcomes of the H3N2 strain.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Money Main Cause of Stress in Americans

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON ) – Most Americans say that money is their primary source of stress, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association.

The APA found that 75 percent of Americans consider money their biggest stressor regardless of whether they had too much money, or too little.

Nikiya Spence, a licensed financial therapist and money coach, told Consumer Affairs that issues over money can have serious consequences on financial and personal behaviors.

"People inherit problems around money from their family and this can have to do with spending and how they grow to feel about money in general," Spence said. "These underlying feelings can cause problems when it comes to finances if you're not aware of them.”

Spence said that most problems with handling money, such as spending addictions and over and underspending, are subconscious and caused by dysfunctional emotions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Twenty Percent of ICD Patients Do Not Meet Criteria for Use

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) – A new study suggests that around 20 percent of patients with an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator do not meet certain guidelines for use of the device.

The ICD, a small electrical impulse generator, is most effective when implanted in patients with advanced systolic heart failure and are therefore at a high risk of cardiac death. The device is not recommended for use in primary prevention or in patients with severe heart failure symptoms and those who have had a recent diagnosis of heart failure.

The study, however, concluded that about 20 percent of more than 100,000 patients who were studied did not meet criteria for its use, and therefore had a significantly greater risk of in-hospital death.

The research, conducted by a group at the Duke Clinical Research Institute, examined cases from January 2006 to June 2009. Results showed that the 22.5 percent of patients who did not meet guidelines for the device had a .57 percent risk of in-hospital death compared to .18 percent in those who did meet criteria for use. The risk of post-procedure complications in those who did not meet criteria was also higher.

“Although the absolute difference in complications between the two groups is modest, these complications could have significant effects on patients’ quality of life and health care use, including length of hospital stay and costs,” wrote the authors.  “While a small risk of complications is acceptable when a procedure has been shown to improve outcomes, no risk is acceptable if a procedure has no demonstrated benefit.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Funeral Industry Changes as Americans Fatten Up

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- The fatter Americans get, the more businesses stretch to accommodate them -- even funeral homes, and casket and mortuary lift retailers.

"This is, unfortunately, a sign of the times, both experienced in life and after death," said Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "We're seeing the widening of seats, the widening of cup holders and, now, the widening of caskets."

About one-third of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. About 17 percent of children and teens are obese, triple the rate from a generation ago.

Goliath Caskets, a Lynn, Ind.-based company, creates and sells caskets starting at 29 inches wide; they can run up to 52 inches wide and 8 feet long. Even the standard casket size has grown from 24 inches to about 27 inches. Goliath’s owner says the typical size changed about 15 years ago as people became increasingly overweight and obese.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Gene Variant Could Predict Chance of Depression

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) -- Whether you roll with life's punches or become depressed in the face of stress may be determined, in part, by your genes, according to new research from the University of Michigan.

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry Monday, examined evidence from 54 studies that identified a particular gene variant, often referred to as the depression gene, as a possible determinant in who will and who will not suffer from clinical depression.

Although the predictive power of the gene variant was recently called into question by a smaller 2009 meta-analysis of 14 studies, researchers argue that the gene, 5-HTTLPR, does, indeed, affect a patient's chances of developing depression.

"That [2009] meta-analysis has been criticized for many reasons, mostly because they only include a few of the studies out there on this gene," says Dr. Srijan Sen, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and co-author on the study.

"We did a meta-analysis of all 54 studies that exist and, overall, we found that the results support [the existence of the gene] pretty strongly."

Although Sen says the gene has a relatively small impact on chances of developing depression, he hopes that the meta-analysis will help fuel the discovery of other genetic variants that influence depression.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Simple Blood Test to Detect Cancer?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and health giant Johnson & Johnson are combining efforts to streamline a simple blood test that may be able to identify cancer cells in the blood stream of patients already diagnosed with a specific type of cancer.

But many experts question what place, if any, this test will have in the world of cancer prevention, early detection or even treatment.

The partnership is part of a nearly $30 million endeavor funded by Johnson & Johnson company Veridex and the advocacy group Stand Up to Cancer to develop and refine technology that will be able to accurately and quickly detect and analyze circulating tumor cells, the company said Monday.

Circulating tumor cells are a rare form of free-flowing cancer cells detached from the smallest of tumors and can be found at extremely low levels in the blood stream.

"For every one tumor cell in the blood there's over a billion normal blood cells in the circulation. So that's the big challenge for developing a test that can pull out one in a billion cells," said Dr. Daniel Haber, director of the cancer center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

CTC technology, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004, is widely used in cancer centers to monitor a patient's response to treatment. But researchers now hope to expand its use to create a faster automated version that will analyze genetic components of a tumor and ultimately guide oncologists to personalize cancer treatments for patients.

"Harnessing the information contained in these cells in an in vitro clinical setting could enable tools to help select treatment and monitor how patients are responding," said Robert McCormack, head of technology innovation and strategy at Veridex.

Some cancer experts agreed the technology may be able to track some patients' cancer progression.

"It can help oncologists determine how well the drugs are working to kill cancer cells and it potentially could tell if the tumor returns at a later time," said Dr. Sarah Blair, associate professor of surgery in the division of surgical oncology at University of California San Diego.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama to Sign Food Safety Act into Law; Funding for Implementation Unclear with GOP in Control of House

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the head of the FDA held a conference call with reporters Monday on The Food Safety and Modernization Act, which the President will sign into law Tuesday. Secretary Sebelius said that the act would finally bring U.S. food safety laws up to date and help with efforts to keep the food supply safe as the number of foodborne diseases and outbreaks have increased in recent years. Sebelius said that in the 1990s there were about 100 foodborne outbreaks every year but that now there are an estimated 350 outbreaks every year in the United States.
Because of these increased outbreaks Sebelius said that it is estimated that one out of six Americans is struck with food-related illnesses every year and that as many as 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illness.
The key part of the act that was discussed on the call involved providing the FDA with mandatory recall authority and the ability of the FDA to access food producers' records. Asked on the call about the costs of implementing the act, FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said the estimated costs over five years to implement the act was $1.4 billion. It is unclear if the new incoming Republican Congress will fully fund the act’s implementation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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