Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks

Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks

by Morton E. Tavel MD


Publisher Brighton Publishing LLC

Published in Health, Fitness & Dieting/Reference, Health, Fitness & Dieting/Personal Health, Health, Fitness & Dieting, Nonfiction

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Book Description

This book provides an introduction to contemporary scientific thought about how to follow a healthy lifestyle while, at the same time, how to avoid wasting large resources on useless—sometimes dangerous—techniques and treatments.

Sample Chapter


Few people realize that the benefits of regular exercise extend far beyond just physical fitness and the resulting sense of well-being. What’s really special is that, to be beneficial to the average adult, exercise need not be of Olympic proportions: By this we mean 30-60 minute sessions at least three times weekly that include almost any activities from brisk walking to strenuous aerobic workouts. The many benefits obtained stem from solid medical research. The ways that exercise helps us are almost too numerous to detail. Its effect is well known in preventing and treating heart disease and strokes, and in reducing and preventing elevated blood pressure levels.

At this point, however, one might ask whether there is a minimum level of exercise below which benefits are lost, and also whether one can be too old to gain from physical activity. Surprisingly, every small bit seems to count, with no age limit. In one large study[i], researchers analyzed exercise data from 1,170 people aged between 74 and 84. By recording and comparing sedentary periods with slow walking and moderate walking or equally intensive activities, they evaluated age, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and other measures. From this they were able to assess participants’ 10-year heart risk. They found that excessive sitting each day was associated with elevated risk, as opposed to progressive risk reductions with low to moderate activities. This information suggests that, even in the elderly, simply replacing sedentary existence with light activities of all types may confer important benefits that probably include decreased risk as well as better bodily function and mobility.


A positive attitude is one of the best and immediate benefits of exercise: Not only do normal people feel more upbeat for extended periods of time, but many studies have shown that exercise is an effective way to combat serious depression. It is so effective for this purpose, it seems to equal or exceed the benefits obtained from those ubiquitous antidepressant medications constantly blaring on the TV commercials.

And all these benefits come at a cheap sticker price—a deal that’s hard to beat! Other important ways that exercise is beneficial are explained below.


For the past 20 years, evidence has been accumulating that exercise can prevent some cancers, especially those involving the colon and breast. The list of potentially preventable cancer types has been growing, with evidence now suggesting that the prevention may also include cancers of the lung, esophagus, uterus, and prostate gland.

Regarding cancer in men, prostate cancer is one of the most prevalent forms, being diagnosed in approximately 223,000 men yearly, but fatalities are relatively low, at 29,000. This is followed by lung cancer (total 110,000, deaths 88,000) and colorectal cancers (total 72,700, deaths 27,000).

In women, a whopping 230,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are being diagnosed yearly in the U.S., of which a total of 39,500 are expected to die from this disorder.

The National Cancer Institute[ii] has provided an extensive review of this subject: In 2003, a paper in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reported that more than a hundred population (epidemiologic) studies on the role of physical activity and cancer prevention have been published. The authors noted that:

“The data are clear in showing that physically active men and women have about a 30-40 percent reduction in the risk of developing colon cancer, compared with inactive persons … With regard to breast cancer, there is reasonably clear evidence that physically active women have about a 20-30 percent reduction in risk, compared with inactive women. It also appears that 30-60 min/day of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity is needed to decrease the risk of breast cancer, and that there is likely a dose-response relation.”

These studies were collected mainly by questionnaires about exercise regularity and subsequent development of cancers. Although this type of information is convincing, we now have even more conclusive results derived from careful assessment of physical fitness and development of cancer, at least in men, as noted below.

According to a 20-year, prospective study of more than 17,000 men at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas[iii], levels of measured cardio respiratory fitness appear to be as predictive of cancer risk and survival as they are of heart disease risk and survival.

Their data showed that the risks of lung and colorectal cancer were reduced 68% and 38%, respectively, in men with the highest level of fitness, compared with those who were the least fit.

Although fitness did not significantly reduce prostate cancer incidence, the risk of dying was significantly lower among men with prostate, lung, or colorectal cancer if they were more fit in middle age.

Although prior studies have shown that being physically active is protective against cancer, this study is unique because it looked at a very specific marker—cardio respiratory fitness as measured by maximal exercise tolerance testing. What was unexpected was that evidence of fitness not only predicts prevention of cancer but also even mortality after cancer has already been diagnosed.

Thus quantitative measurements of fitness might be compared with measuring your cholesterol, providing us with a very specific number to target. Merely asking someone about his/her physical activity may not provide that information.

The 17,049 men in the study underwent exercise testing with a treadmill or bicycle and risk factor assessment at an average age of 50 years as part of the long term study. Metabolic equivalents (METs) were used to record the men’s fitness and to place them into five graded groups. Lung, colorectal, and prostate cancers were assessed.

Follow-up data were recorded over twenty years. Compared with men in the lowest fitness group, hazard ratios for developing lung and colorectal cancer men in the highest fitness group were 68% lower for lung cancer and 32% lower for colorectal cancer, even after researchers adjusted for such risk factors as smoking, body mass index, and age. In men who had already developed all these cancers, mortality also declined in the higher fitness groups.

These findings indicate that everyone can benefit from improving their fitness. The study did not evaluate whether a particular type of exercise contributed more consistently to cardiovascular fitness, but in general, activities performed at high intensity, regardless of type, seemed to be the best way to improve fitness and provide the most optimum results.

Additional research is needed to determine fitness and cancer risk in women, fitness and risk of all major site-specific cancers and the necessary change in fitness to prevent cancer.

In the meantime, plenty of exercise is fit for all! EXERCISE AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE

Several studies have shown that regular exercise could prevent the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease (dementia). This was further supported by a large study[iv] in which a preventive medicine clinic studied midlife fitness levels and the subsequent development of all-cause dementia in advanced age, and the findings were quite illuminating, especially because of the large numbers of persons studied and the length of follow-up: The project followed 19,458 community-dwelling, non-elderly adults who had a baseline fitness examination by means of a treadmill test. They eventually encountered 1659 cases of dementia covering literally thousands of person-years of follow-up (median time of follow-up, 25 years). After adjustment for several extraneous variables, those individuals showing the highest fitness levels demonstrated a much lower likelihood of developing dementia than the group with the lowest fitness levels, a difference that averaged a striking 36%.

These researchers concluded that higher midlife fitness levels were associated with a lower risk of developing any type of dementia later in life, regardless of its cause. Why the brain responds so favorably to exercise is uncertain, but at least one previous study[v] that used brain imaging showed that brain shrinkage, normally found in aging, could be retarded by regular exercise, a finding that raises intriguing possibilities.

Of course, studies of this type are always subject to limitations, but the researchers concluded; “all these gathering results should be taken seriously, especially since high levels of fitness confer so many other health benefits free of any significant long-term risks.” Perhaps we might conclude that one is never too fit not only for body, but also for mind! EXERCISE AND BODY FAT DISTRIBUTION It is well known the regular exercise reduces the percentage of fat carried by the body, especially important if it is distributed around the waist and abdomen. Such fatty deposits often lead to the development of dangerous tendencies such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

But to what age do these directives extend? Researchers from theUniversity of Illinois have shown—as in the case of adults—that normal weight children should undertake regular physical exercise. Their study[vi] divided 220 eight- and nine-year old children into two groups. The intervention group trained five times per week for 70 minutes over a nine-month period with moderate to vigorous physical activity. They measured before and after cardio respiratory fitness, fat content, abdominal fat content and its composition. The control group had no training targets.

After the nine months, no change of fitness in the control group was found. Compared to the intervention group, the children in the control group increased the body fat percentage and the abdominal fat structure. Thus, there was a marked difference between the two groups. “The initial weight did not play a role," said study author N.A. Khan, adding further that “The weight of healthy-weight children who don’t exercise enough doesn’t remain stable; normal-weight children who don’t exercise gain an excess amount of weight for their age. When they become overweight, there is a tendency that the fat will be stored in the abdomen.” That clearly goes in the wrong direction, warns the author, and advises parents to urge their children to exercise regularly.

Thus it appears that exercise is good for humans at every age, and it probably cannot begin too soon. EXERCISE INCREASES PAIN TOLERANCE

Finally, regular exercise may even alter how a person experiences pain, and this has been analyzed extensively[vii]. For some time, scientists have known that strenuous exercise briefly and acutely dulls pain. As muscles begin to ache during a prolonged workout, the body typically releases natural opiates, called endorphins, and other substances that can slightly dampen discomfort. This effect usually begins during the workout and lingers for perhaps 20 or 30 minutes afterward.

But whether exercise alters the body’s response to pain over the long term and, more pressing for most of us, whether such changes will develop if people engage in moderate, less draining workouts have been unclear.

So a more recent study employed six weeks of exercising, using a program of moderate stationary bicycling protocol in volunteers for 30 minutes, three times a week, for six weeks. In the process, the volunteers became more fit, and these volunteers were compared to a control, non-exercising, group. As expected, the control group showed no changes in their responses to artificially induced pain. But those in the exercise group displayed a substantially greater ability to withstand pain. Although the pain began at similar threshold levels, their tolerance had risen. Those volunteers whose fitness had increased the most also showed the greatest increase in pain tolerance.

Results such as these suggest that those who exercise do not find the pain as threatening after exercise training, although discomfort is still experienced, an idea that fits with entrenched, anecdotal beliefs about the physical fortitude of athletes.

Pain tolerances were tested using people’s arms and the exercisers trained primarily their legs, and this suggests that something occurring in the brain was probably responsible for the change in pain thresholds, a really intriguing idea.

The study’s implications are considerable and indicate that the longer and more vigorously we stick with an exercise program, the less physical pain of any type we are apt to feel. The brain probably begins to accept that we are tougher than it had thought, and it allows us to continue longer, although the pain itself is still present.

This study also could be applicable to people struggling with chronic pain of all types, such as those suffering from “fibromyalgia,” a poorly defined condition characterized by widespread muscular pains. Although anyone suffering from chronic pains of any cause should consult a doctor before starting to exercise, this type of experiment suggests that at least moderate amounts of exercise can change peoples’ perception of their pain and help them to be able to better perform activities of daily living. When coupled with the other multiple health advantages of exercise, the implications should be obvious to all of us.


Excerpted from "Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks" by Morton E. Tavel MD. Copyright © 2015 by Morton E. Tavel MD. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

Morton E. Tavel MD

Morton E. Tavel MD

Now retired, Dr. Tavel MD, FACC, was a physician specialist in internal medicine and cardiovascular diseases. In addition to managing patients for many years, he held a teaching position (Clinical Professor) at Indiana University School of Medicine. He was consulting cardiologist/internist for the Care Group, Inc., a division of St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis and was the director of the cardiac rehabilitation program. His civic activities include, among others, having been past president of the local and Indiana State divisions of the American Heart Association. He has presented numerous speeches and lectures before national audiences. His medical research includes over 120 publications, editorials, and book reviews that have appeared in peer-reviewed national medical journals. Dr. Tavel authored a book on cardiology (Clinical Phonocardiography) that persisted through four editions over a period of approximately 20 years, and has been a contributor to several other multi-authored textbooks. He has served on the editorial boards of several national medical journals. RECENT BOOKS Snake Oil is Alive and Well: The Clash between Myths and Reality. Reflections of Physician. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz., 2012 Hell in the Heavens: The Saga of a WW2 Bomber Pilot, by Tavel, ME and Tavel, DE. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz. 2013. Health Tips, Myths and Tricks: A Physician’s Advice. Brighton Publishing, LLC, Mesa, Ariz. 2015.

View full Profile of Morton E. Tavel MD

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