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Walking

Walking routinely can reduce your risk of dialysis.Stock photo

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

In my recent article about chronic kidney disease (CKD), I wrote that about 90 percent  of the estimated 35.5 million U.S. adults who have CKD are not even aware they have it (1).

How is this possible?

CKD is typically asymptomatic in its early stages. Once it reaches moderate stages, vague symptoms like fatigue, malaise and loss of appetite can surface. It’s when it reaches advanced stages that symptoms become more evident. Those at highest risk for CKD include patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and those with first-degree relatives who have advanced disease.

What is the effect of CKD?

Your kidneys are essentially little blood filters. They remove waste, toxins, and excess fluid from your body. They also play roles in controlling your blood pressure, producing red blood cells, maintaining bone health, and regulating natural chemicals in your blood. When your kidneys aren’t operating at full capacity, it can cause heart disease, stroke, anemia, infection, and depression — among others.

How often should you be screened for CKD?

If you have diabetes, you should have your kidney function checked every year (2). If you have other risk factors, like high blood pressure, heart disease, or a family history of kidney failure, talk to your physician about a regular screening schedule. A 2023 Stanford School of Medicine study recommends screening all U.S. residents over age 35. The authors conclude that the cost of screening and early treatment would be lower than the long-term cost of treatment for those undiagnosed until they are in advanced stages (3). In addition, they project it will improve life expectancy.

Does basic exercise help?

One study shows that walking reduces the risk of death by 33 percent and the need for dialysis by 21 percent (4). Those who walked more often saw greater results: participants who walked one-to-two times a week had a 17 percent reduction in death and a 19 percent reduction in kidney replacement therapy, while those who walked at least seven times per week experienced a more impressive 59 percent reduction in death and a 44 percent reduction in the risk of dialysis. The study included 6,363 participants with an average age of 70 who were followed for an average of 1.3 years.

How does protein consumption affect CKD?

With CKD, more protein is not necessarily better. It may even be harmful. In a meta-analysis of 17 studies of non-diabetic CKD patients who were not on dialysis, results showed that the risk of progression to end-stage kidney disease, including the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant, was reduced 36 percent in those who consumed a very low-protein diet, rather than a low-protein or a normal protein diet (5).

How much should I reduce my sodium consumption?

In a study, results showed that a modest sodium reduction in our diet may be sufficient to help prevent proteinuria (protein in the urine) (6). Here, less than 2000 mg per day was shown to be beneficial, something all of us can achieve.

Are some high blood pressure medications better than others?

We routinely give certain medications, ACE inhibitors or ARBs, to patients who have diabetes to protect their kidneys. What about patients who do not have diabetes? ACEs and ARBs are two classes of high blood pressure medications that work on the kidney systems responsible for blood pressure and water balance (7). Results of a study show that these medications reduced the risk of death significantly in patients with moderate CKD. Most of the patients were considered hypertensive.

However, there was a high discontinuation rate among those taking the medications. If you include the discontinuations and regard them as failures, then all who participated showed a 19 percent reduction in risk of death, which was significant. However, if you exclude discontinuations, the results are much more robust with a 63 percent reduction. To get a more realistic picture, this result, including both participants and dropouts, is probably close to what will occur in clinical practice unless patients are highly motivated.

Should you take NSAIDs?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which include ibuprofen and naproxen, have been associated with CKD progression and with kidney injury in those without CKD (1). NSAIDs can also interfere with the effectiveness of ACE inhibitors or ARBs. Talk to your doctor about your prescription NSAIDs and any other over-the-counter medications and supplements you are taking.

What should I remember?

It’s critical to protect your kidneys. Fortunately, basic lifestyle modifications can help; lowering sodium modestly, walking frequently, and lowering your protein consumption may all be viable options. Talk to your physician about your medications and supplements and about whether you need regular screening. High-risk patients with hypertension or diabetes should definitely be screened; however, those with vague symptoms of lethargy, aches and pains might benefit, as well.

References:

(1) cdc.gov. (2) niddk.nih.gov (3) Annals of Int Med. 2023;176(6):online. (4) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014;9(7):1183-9. (5) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2020;(10):CD001892. (6) Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2014;23(6):533-540. (7) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(7):650-658.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel — and how much sharper your thinking is if you add walking to your daily regimen. METRO photo

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

What does it take to get us out of our seats? We know that exercise is good for our long-term physical and mental health, but it’s still elusive for many of us. It’s just too tempting to let the next episode of our new favorite series autoplay or to answer those last few emails.

Many of us tried to get out of gym class as kids and, as adults, we “want” to exercise, but we “don’t have time.” I once heard that the couch is as bad as the worst deep-fried food; it perpetuates inactivity. Even sleeping burns more calories than sitting and watching TV.

I have good news. There is an easy way to get tremendous benefit in very little time. You don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t have to join a gym. You can even sharpen your wits — with your feet.

The New York Times’ Science Times carried an article a few years ago about Esther Tuttle. At the time, Esther was 99 years old, sharp as a tack and was independently mobile, with no mobility aids required. She continued to stay active by walking in the morning for 30 minutes and then walking again in the afternoon. The skeptic might say that this is a nice story, but its value is anecdotal at best.

Well, evidence-based medicine backs up her claim that walking is a rudimentary and simple way to get exercise that shows incredible benefits. One mile of walking a day will help keep the doctor away. For the step-counters among you, that’s about 2,000 steps a day for an adult with an average stride length.

Does walking improve brain function?

Walking also has a powerful effect on preserving brain function and even growing certain areas of the brain (1). Walking between six and nine miles a week, or just one mile a day, reduced the risk of cognitive impairment over 13 years and actually increased the amount of gray matter tissue in the brain over nine years. Whoa!

Participants who had an increase in brain tissue volume also had a substantially reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that grew included the hippocampus, involved with memory, and the frontal cortex, involved with short-term memory and executive decision making. There were 299 participants who were dementia free at the start of the trial. The mean participant age was 78. Imagine if you started younger?

In yet another study, moderate exercise reduced the risk of mild cognitive impairment with exercise begun in mid-to-late life (2).

Even better news is that, if you’re pressed for time or if you’re building up your stamina, you can split a mile into two half-mile increments. How long does it take you to walk a half-mile? You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel — and how much sharper your thinking is.

How does walking affect mood?

Researchers performed a meta-analysis of other studies related to the relationship between exercise and depression. They found that adults who walked briskly for about 75 minutes per week cut their risk of depression by 18 percent (3). That’s only half of what the Centers for Disease Control recommend. 

If you ratchet up your exercise to running, a study showed that mood also improves, mollifying anger (4). The act of running actually increases your serotonin levels, a hormone that, when low, can make people agitated or angry. So, exercise may actually help you get your aggressions out.

How do I reset my sitting ‘habit?’

A particular challenge I hear these days is that working from home reduces much of the opportunity to walk. There’s less walking down the hall to a meeting or to refill your water bottle. Instead, everything is only a few steps away. It’s as if our work environment is actually working against us.

If you need a little help getting motivated, here is a terrific strategy to get you off the couch or away from your computer: set an alarm for specific points throughout your day and use that as a prompt to get up and walk, even if it’s for only 15 minutes. The miles will add up quickly.

A client of my wife’s schedules meetings for no more than 50 minutes, so she can walk a “lap” around her house’s interior between meetings. She also looks for opportunities to have a good old-fashioned phone call, rather than a video call, so she can walk around while she’s talking or listening. Of course, this is one person, but it might give you some ideas that will work for you.

Walking has other benefits as well. We’ve all heard about the importance of doing weight-bearing exercise to prevent osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. Sadly, if you don’t use them, bones weaken and break. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that helps strengthen your joints, bones and muscles.

So, remember, use your feet to keep your mind sharp and yourself even-tempered. Activities like walking will help you keep a positive attitude, preserve your bones and help increase the plasticity of your brain.

References:

(1) Neurology Oct 2010, 75 (16) 1415-1422. (2) Arch Neurol. 2010;67(1):80-86. (3) JAMA Psychiatry 2022. 79(6), 500-559. (4) J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2010 Apr;32(2):253-261.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Walking improves bone health and brain volume

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

What does it take to get Americans off the sofa? We know that exercise is good for our long-term physical and mental health, but it’s still elusive for the majority of us. It’s just too tempting to let the next episode of our new favorite series autoplay or to answer those last 12 emails.

As kids, many of us tried to get out of gym class, and as adults, we “want” to exercise, but we “don’t have time.” I once heard that the couch is as bad as the worst deep-fried food. It perpetuates inactivity. Even sleeping burns more calories than sitting watching TV, for example.

I think part of the problem might be that we don’t know what type of exercise is best and how long and frequently to do it. 

I have good news. There is an easy way to get tremendous benefit with very little time involved. You don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t have to join a gym. You can sharpen your wits with your feet.

Jane Brody has written in The New York Times’ Science Times about Esther Tuttle. Esther was 99 years old, sharp as a tack and was independently mobile, with no aids needed. She continued to stay active by walking in the morning for 30 minutes and then walking again in the afternoon. The skeptic might say that this is a nice story, but its value is anecdotal at best. 

Well, evidence-based medicine backs up her claim that walking is a rudimentary and simple way to get exercise that shows incredible benefits. One mile of walking a day will help keep the doctor away. 

Walking has a powerful effect on preserving brain function and even growing certain areas of the brain (1). Walking between six and nine miles a week, or just one mile a day, reduced the risk of cognitive impairment over 13 years and actually increased the amount of gray matter tissue in the brain over nine years.

Participants who had an increase in brain tissue volume also had a substantially reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that grew included the hippocampus, involved with memory, and the frontal cortex, involved with short-term memory and executive decision making. There were 299 participants who had a mean age of 78 and were dementia free at the start of the trial. Imagine if you started earlier?

In yet another study, moderate exercise reduced the risk of mild cognitive impairment with exercise begun in mid-to-late life (2).

Even better news is that, if you’re pressed for time or if you’re building up your stamina, you can split a mile into two half-mile increments. How long does it take you to walk a half-mile? You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel — and how much sharper your thinking is.

This is a terrific strategy to get you off the couch or away from your computer. Set an alarm for specific points throughout the day and use that as a prompt to get up and walk, even if it’s only for 15 minutes. The miles will add up quickly. In addition to the mental acuity benefits, this may also help with your psychological health, giving you a mental break from endless Zoom calls and your eyes a break from endless screens.

If you ratchet up the exercise to running, a study showed that mood also improves, mollifying anger (3). The act of running actually increases your serotonin levels, a hormone that, when low, can make people agitated or angry. So, exercise may actually help you get your aggressions out.

Walking has other benefits as well. We’ve all heard about the importance of doing weight-bearing exercise to prevent osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. Sadly, if you don’t use them, bones weaken and break. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that helps strengthen your joints, bones and muscles. 

So, remember, use your feet to keep your mind sharp and yourself even-tempered. Activities like walking will help you keep a positive attitude, preserve your bones and help increase the plasticity of your brain.

References: 

(1) Neurology Oct 2010, 75 (16) 1415-1422. (2) Arch Neurol. 2010;67(1):80-86. (3) J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2010 Apr;32(2):253-261.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

High blood pressure can be lowered in part by exercise. METRO photo
Collaborate with your physician on lifestyle changes that improve risks

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is commanding a lot of attention in the U.S, where it’s pervasive, affecting approximately 45 percent of adults over 18 (1). Over the last decade, new and extended studies have given us better clarity about treatments, stratifying approaches to ensure the best outcomes for patients.

Since 2017, hypertension severity has been categorized into three stages, each with its recommended treatment regimen. One of the most interesting shifts with this recategorization was the recategorization of what we used to call “prehypertension” into what we now call “elevated” blood pressure and “hypertension stage 1.” 

Elevated blood pressure is defined as systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 120-129 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) of less than 80 mmHg, while Stage 1 includes systolic blood pressure of 130-139 mmHg or diastolic blood pressure of 80-89 mmHg (2). A simple chart of all levels can be found on The American Heart Association’s website at www.heart.org.

The consequences of both prehypertension and hypertension are significant, even though there are often no symptoms. For example, they increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack dramatically.

In an analysis of the Framingham Heart Study, researchers found a 3.5-fold increase in the risk of heart attack and a 1.7-fold increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease among those with prehypertension (3). This is why it’s crucial to treat it in these early stages, even before it reaches the more severe levels of hypertension.

Another study, the Women’s Health Initiative, which followed more than 60,000 postmenopausal women for an average of 7.7 years, showed an increase in heart attack deaths, heart attacks and strokes compared to those with normal blood pressure (less than 120/80 mmHg). In the Strong Heart Study, prehypertension independently increased the risk for cardiovascular events at 12 years significantly (4).

This can have a dramatic impact on quality of life.

Treating elevated blood pressure

In my view, it would be foolish not to treat elevated blood pressure. Updated recommendations for treatment, according to the Joint National Commission (JNC) 8, the association responsible for guidelines on the treatment of hypertension, are lifestyle modifications (5).

Lifestyle changes include a Mediterranean-type diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. It’s important to focus on fruits, vegetables, reduction in sodium to a maximum of 1500 mg (2/3 of a teaspoon on a daily basis), exercise, weight loss and no more than moderate amounts of alcohol (1 or fewer drinks for women and 2 or fewer drinks for men on a daily basis) (6). Some studies have also shown that a diet rich in potassium helps to reduce blood pressure (7). Fortunately, foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes have significant amounts of potassium. However, do not take potassium supplements unless instructed for other reasons by a physician; high potassium can be very dangerous and may precipitate a heart attack.

The danger in treating elevated blood pressure comes only when medication is used, due to side effects. For example, the Trial of Preventing Hypertension (TROPHY), suggests the use of a hypotensive agent, the blood pressure drug Atacand (candesartan) to treat prehypertensive patients (8)(9). The drug reduced the incidence of hypertension significantly compared to placebo over two years. However, after stopping therapy, the following two years showed only a small benefit over placebo. Still, the authors implied that this may be a plausible treatment. The study was funded by Astra-Zeneca, the makers of the drug. 

In an editorial, Jay I. Meltze, M.D., a clinical specialist in hypertension at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, noted that the results were interpreted in an unusually favorable way (10). 

Elevated blood pressure is an asymptomatic disorder that has been shown to respond well to lifestyle changes — why create symptoms with medication? Therefore, I don’t recommend treating elevated blood pressure patients with medication. Thankfully, the JNC8 agrees.

Treating Stage 1 hypertension

For those with Stage 1 hypertension, but with a low 10-year risk of cardiovascular events, these same lifestyle modifications should be implemented for three-to-six months. At this point, a reassessment of risk and blood pressure should determine whether the patient should continue with lifestyle changes or needs to be treated with medications (11). It’s important to note that risk should be assessed by your physician. I am encouraged that the role of lifestyle modifications in controlling hypertension has been recognized. When patients and physicians collaborate on a lifestyle approach that drives improvements, the side effects are only better overall health.

References: 

 (1) cdc.gov. (2) heart.org. (3) Stroke 2005; 36: 1859–1863. (4) Hypertension 2006;47:410-414. (5) Am Fam Physician. 2014 Oct 1;90(7):503-504. (6) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018 May, 71 (19) 2176–2198. (7) Archives of Internal Medicine 2001;161:589-593. (8) N Engl J Med. 2006;354:1685-1697. (9) J Am Soc Hypertens. Jan-Feb 2008;2(1):39-43. (10) Am J Hypertens. 2006;19:1098-1100. (11) Hypertension. 2021 Jun;77(6):e58-e67.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

Metro photo
Moderate exercise is better for weight maintenance than weight loss

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

It’s that time of year again, when exercise product commercials flood the airways. If you have “lose weight” on your list of 2022 resolutions, it’s helpful to consider what the research tells us about the relationship between exercise and weight loss.

Unfortunately, exercise without dietary changes may not actually help many people lose weight, no matter what the intensity or the duration (1). If it does help, it may only modestly reduce fat mass and weight for the majority of people. However, it may be helpful with weight maintenance.

Ultimately, it may be more important to reconsider what you are eating than to succumb to the rationalization that you can eat with abandon and work it off later.

Don’t give up on exercise just yet, though. There is good news: Exercise does have benefits for a wide range of conditions, including chronic kidney disease, cognitive decline, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, fatigue, insomnia and depression.

Exercise may not result in weight loss

The well-known weight-loss paradigm is that when more calories are burned than consumed, we will tip the scale in favor of weight loss. The greater the negative balance with exercise, the greater the loss. However, study results say otherwise. They show that in premenopausal women there was neither weight nor fat loss from exercise (2). This involved 81 women over a short duration (12 weeks). All of the women were overweight to obese, although there was great variability in weight.

However, more than two-thirds of the women gained a mean of 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of fat mass by the end of the study. There were a few who gained 10 pounds of predominantly fat. A fair amount of variability was seen among the participants, ranging from significant weight loss to substantial weight gain. These women were told to exercise at the American College of Sports Medicine’s optimal level of intensity (3). This is to walk 30 minutes on a treadmill three times a week at 70 percent VO2max — maximum oxygen consumption during exercise — or, in other words, a moderately intense pace. 

The good news is that the women were in better aerobic shape by the end of the study. Also, women who had lost weight at the four-week mark were more likely to continue to do so by the end of the study.

Other studies have shown modest weight loss. For instance, in a meta-analysis involving 14 randomized controlled trials, results showed that there was a disappointing amount of weight loss with exercise alone (4). In six months, patients lost a mean of 1.6 kilograms, or 3.5 pounds, and at 12 months, participants lost 1.7 kilograms, or about 3.75 pounds.

Exercise and weight maintenance

However, exercise may be valuable in weight maintenance, according to observational studies. Premenopausal women who exercised at least 30 minutes a day were significantly less likely to regain lost weight (5). When exercise was added to diet, women were able to maintain 30 percent more weight loss than with diet alone after a year in a prospective study (6).

Exercise and disease

Walking the dog several times a week is a good moderate exercise. METRO Photo

As just one example of exercise’s impact on disease, let’s look at chronic kidney disease (CKD), which affects 15 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (7).

Trial results showed that walking regularly could reduce the risk of kidney replacement therapy and death in patients who have moderate to severe CKD, stages 3 to 5 (8). Yes, this includes stage 3, which most likely is asymptomatic. There was a 21 percent reduction in the risk of kidney replacement therapy and a 33 percent reduction in the risk of death when walkers were compared to non-walkers.

Walking had an impressive impact, and results were based on a dose-response curve. In other words, the more frequently patients walked during the week, the better the probability of preventing complications. Those who walked between one and two times per week had 17 and 19 percent reductions in death and kidney replacement therapy, respectively, while those who walked at least seven times per week saw 44 and 59 percent reductions in death and kidney replacement. These are substantial results. The authors concluded that the effectiveness of walking on CKD was independent of kidney function, age or other diseases.

Therefore, while there are many benefits to exercise, food choices will have a greater impact on our weight and body composition. 

However, exercise can help maintain weight loss and is extremely beneficial for preventing progression of chronic diseases, such as CKD.

So, by all means, exercise, but also focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods instead of calorically dense foods that you may not be able to exercise away.

References:

(1) uptodate.com. (2) J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Feb;29(2):297-304. (3) ACSM.org. (4) Am J Med. 2011;124(8):747. (5) Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010;18(1):167. (6) Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997;21(10):941. (7) cdc.gov. (8) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 Jul;9(7):1183-1189.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

Walking may reduce the need for dialysis. METRO photo
Simple lifestyle changes can have an impact

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

On the heels of National Kidney Month in March, let’s look more closely at strategies for reducing chronic kidney disease (CKD). Those at highest risk for CKD include patients with diabetes, high blood pressure and those with first-degree relatives who have advanced disease. But those are only the ones at highest risk.

CKD is tricky because, similar to high blood pressure and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), it tends to be asymptomatic, at least initially. Only in the advanced stages do symptoms become distinct, though there can be vague symptoms in moderate stages such as fatigue, malaise and loss of appetite.

What are the CKD stages?

CKD is classified into five stages based on the estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), a way to determine kidney function. Stages 1 and 2 are the early stages, while stages 3a and 3b are the moderate stages, and finally stages 4 and 5 are the advanced stages. Stage 5 is end-stage renal disease, or kidney failure.

Who should be screened?

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Physicians, those who are at highest risk should be screened including, as I mentioned above, patients with diabetes or hypertension (1)(2). 

In an interview on Medscape.com, “Proteinuria: A Cheaper and Better Cholesterol?” two high-ranking nephrologists suggest that first-degree relatives to advanced CKD patients should also be screened and that those with vague symptoms of fatigue, malaise and/or decreased appetite may also be potential screening candidates (3). This broadens the asymptomatic population that may benefit from screening.

Slowing CKD progression

Fortunately, there are several options available, ranging from preventing CKD with specific exercise to slowing the progression with lifestyle changes and medications.

How much exercise?

Here we go again, preaching the benefits of exercise. But what if you don’t really like exercise? It turns out that the results of a study show that walking reduces the risk of death and the need for dialysis by 33 percent and 21 percent respectively (4). And although some don’t like formal exercise programs, most people agree that walking is enticing.

The most prevalent form of exercise in this study was walking. Even more intriguing, the results are based on a dose-response curve. In other words, those who walked more often saw greater results. So, the participants who walked one-to-two times per week had a significant 17 percent reduction in death and a 19 percent reduction in kidney replacement therapy, while those who walked at least seven times per week experienced a more impressive 59 percent reduction in death and a 44 percent reduction in the risk of dialysis. There were 6,363 participants for an average duration of 1.3 years.

How much protein to consume?

When it comes to CKD, more protein is not necessarily better, and may even be harmful. In a meta-analysis (a group of 10 randomized controlled trials) of Cochrane database studies, results showed that the risk of death or treatment with dialysis or kidney transplant was reduced by 32 percent in those who consumed less protein compared to unrestricted protein (5). According to the authors, as few as two patients would need to be treated for a year in order to prevent one from either dying or reaching the need for dialysis or transplant.

Sodium: How much is too much?

Good news! In a study, results showed that a modest sodium reduction in our diet may be sufficient to help prevent proteinuria (protein in the urine) (6). Here, less than 2000 mg was shown to be beneficial, something all of us can achieve.

Medications have a place

We routinely give certain medications, ACE inhibitors or ARBs, to patients who have diabetes to protect their kidneys. What about patients who do not have diabetes? ACEs and ARBs are two classes of anti-hypertensives — high blood pressure medications — that work on the RAAS system of the kidneys, responsible for blood pressure and water balance (7). Results of a study show that these medications reduced the risk of death significantly in patients with moderate CKD. Most of the patients were considered hypertensive.

However, there was a high discontinuation rate among those taking the medication. If you include the discontinuations and regard them as failures, then all who participated showed a 19 percent reduction in risk of death, which was significant. However, if you exclude discontinuations, the results are much more robust with a 63 percent reduction. To get a more realistic picture, this result, including both participants and dropouts, is probably close to what will occur in clinical practice unless the physician is a really good motivator or has very highly motivated patients.

While these two classes of medications, ACE inhibitors and ARBs, are good potential options for protecting the kidneys, they are not the only options. You don’t necessarily have to rely on drug therapies, and there is no downside to lifestyle modifications. Lowering sodium modestly, walking frequently, and lowering your protein consumption may all be viable options, with or without medication, since medication compliance was woeful. Screening for asymptomatic, moderate CKD may lack conclusive studies, but screening should occur in high-risk patients and possibly be on the radar for those with vague symptoms of lethargy as well as aches and pains. Of course, this is a discussion to have with your physician.

References:

(1) uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org (2) aafp.org. (3) Medscape.com. (4) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014;9(7):1183-9. (5) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(3):CD001892. (6) Curr Opin Nephrol Hypertens. 2014;23(6):533-540. (7) J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(7):650-658.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com. 

METRO photo
A good pace and mindset may improve your outcomes

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Medical professionals (including me!) often press you to exercise. This sage advice seems simple enough; however, the type, intensity level and frequency of exercise may not be well-defined. For instance, any type of walking is beneficial, right? Well, as one study that quantifies walking pace notes that some types of walking are better than others.

We know exercise is beneficial for prevention and treatment of chronic disease. But another very important aspect of exercise is the impact it has on specific diseases, such as diabetes and osteoarthritis. Also, certain supplements and drugs may decrease the beneficial effects of exercise. They are not necessarily the ones you think. They include resveratrol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen). Let’s look at the evidence.

Walk with a spring in your step

While pedometers give a sense of how many steps you take on a daily basis, this number isn’t all that’s important. Intensity, rather than quantity or distance, may be the primary indicator of walking’s benefit.

In the National Walkers’ Health Study, results showed that those who walk with more pace are more likely to decrease their mortality from all causes and to increase their longevity (1). This is one of the first studies to quantify specific speed and its impact. In the study, there were four groups. The fastest group was almost jogging, walking at a mean pace of less than 13.5 minutes per mile, while the slowest group was walking at a pace of 17 minutes or more per mile.

The slowest walkers had a higher probability of dying, especially from dementia and heart disease. Those in the slowest group stratified even further: those whose pace equaled 24-minute miles or greater had twice the risk of death, compared to those who walked with greater speed.

However, the most intriguing aspect of the study was that there were big differences in mortality reduction in the second slowest category compared to the slowest, which might only be separated by a minute-per-mile pace. So, don’t fret: you don’t have to be a speedwalker to realize significant benefit.

Align your mind and body

The mind also plays a significant role in exercise. The results of one study note that a positive mindset while exercising makes a big difference in the exercise’s impact (2). Researchers created two groups. The first was told to find four positive phrases, chosen by the participants, to motivate them while on a stationary bike and repeat these phrases consistently for the next two weeks while exercising.

Members of the group who repeated these motivating phrases consistently throughout each workout were able to increase their stamina for intensive exercise after only two weeks, while the same could not be said for the control group, which did not use reinforcing phrases.

‘Longevity’ supplement may negate exercise benefits

Resveratrol is a substance that is thought to provide increased longevity through proteins called Sirtuin 1. So how could it negate some benefit from exercise? Well it turns out that we need acute inflammation to achieve some exercise benefits, and resveratrol has anti-inflammatory effects. Acute inflammation is short-term inflammation and is different from chronic inflammation, the basis for many diseases.

In a small randomized controlled study, treatment group participants were given 250 mg supplements of resveratrol and saw significantly less benefit from aerobic exercise over an eight-week period, compared to those who were in the control group (3). Participants in the control group had improvements in both cholesterol and blood pressure that were not seen in the treatment group. This was a small study of short duration, although it was well-designed.

Impact on diabetes complications

The majority of Type 2 diabetes patients suffer from cardiovascular disease. The good news is that exercise may improve outcomes. In a prospective (forward-looking) observational study, results show that diabetes patients who exercise less frequently, once or twice a week for 30 minutes, are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and almost a 70 percent greater risk of dying from it than those who exercised at least three times a week for 30 minutes each session. In addition, those who exercised only twice a week had an almost 50 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality (4).

The study followed more than 15,000 men and women with a mean age of 60 for five years. The authors stressed the importance of exercise and its role in reducing diabetes complications.

Calculate your fitness age

You can calculate your fitness age without the use of a treadmill, according to the HUNT study (5). An online calculator utilizes basic parameters – age, gender, height, weight, waist circumference and frequency and intensity of exercise – to help you judge where you stand with exercise health. This calculator can be found at www.ntnu.edu/cerg/vo2max. Your results may surprise you.

Even in winter, you can walk and talk yourself to improved health by increasing your intensity while repeating positive phrases that help you overcome premature exhaustion. Exercise can also have a significant impact on complications of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and resulting death with diabetes. As a bonus, getting outside during the day may also help you avoid the effects of the “winter blues.”

References:

(1) PLoS One. 2013;8:e81098. (2) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct. 10. (3) J Physiol Online. 2013 July 22. (4) Eur J Prev Cardiol Online. 2013 Nov. 13. (5) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43:2024-2030.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

METRO photo

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

There are some compelling studies that show exercise’s powerful effects in altering our genes. Recent studies show its impact on specific diseases. Exercise has effects on diabetes and a host of other chronic diseases, including kidney stones, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease and breast, colorectal and endometrial cancers (1).

There are also studies on simple ways to motivate yourself during exercise. One showed that those who repeat positive mantras like “feels good” while exercising were able to persist in their exercise routines for longer periods (2).

Why is this so important and why am I harping on exercise during the holidays? Because we are too sedentary, and this is the time of the year when we are inclined to overeat. According to data from the 2015-2016 National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, we spend 6.4 hours a day sedentary (3). And this percentage is trending up.

Exercise and your genes

While you may be waiting for gene therapy to cure our chronic illnesses, it turns out that exercise may have a significant impact on our genes.

No waiting required; this is here and now.

Photo from Pixabay

In a study, results showed that thousands upon thousands of genes in fat cells were affected when participants exercised (4). The study involved sedentary men and asked them to exercise twice a week at a one-hour spin class. According to the researchers, the genes impacted were those involved most likely in storing fat and in risk for subsequent diabetes and obesity development. Participants’ gene expression was altered by DNA methylation, the addition of a methyl group made up of a carbon and hydrogens. These participants also improved their biometrics, reducing fat and subsequently shrinking their waist circumferences, and improved their cholesterol and blood-pressure indices.

The effect is referred to as epigenetics, where lifestyle modifications can ultimately lead to changes in gene expression, turning them on and off. This has been shown with dietary changes, but this is one of the first studies to show that exercise also has significant impacts on our genes. It took only six months to see these numerous gene changes with modest amounts of cardiovascular exercise.

If this was not enough, another study showed substantial gene changes in muscle cells after one workout on a stationary bike (5).

Exercise versus drug therapy

We don’t think of exercise as being a drug, but what if it had similar benefits to certain drugs in cardiovascular diseases and mortality risk? A meta-analysis — a group of 57 studies that involved drugs and exercise — showed that exercise potentially has equivalent effects to statins in terms of mortality with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease (6).

This means that, in patients who already have heart disease, both statins and exercise reduce the risk of mortality by similar amounts. The same was true with prediabetes and the use of metformin vs. exercise. It didn’t matter which one was used, the drug or the lifestyle change.

Don’t change your medication without consulting your physician.

Kidney stones and exercise

Anyone who has tried to pass a kidney stone knows it can be an excruciating experience. Most of the treatment revolves around pain medication, fluids and waiting for the stone to pass. However, the best way to treat kidney stones is to prevent them. In the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, exercise reduced the risk of kidney stones by as much as 31 percent (7).

Even better, the intensity of the exercise was irrelevant to its beneficial effect. What mattered more was exercise quantity. One hour of jogging or three hours of walking got the top results. But lesser amounts of exercise also saw substantial reductions. This study involved 84,000 postmenopausal women, the population most likely to suffer from kidney stones.

Sex as exercise

We have heard that sex may be thought of as exercise, but is this myth or is there actual evidence? Try to keep a straight face. Well, it turns out this may be true. In a study published in the PLoS One journal, researchers found that young healthy couples exert 6 METs — metabolic energy, or the amount of oxygen consumed per kilogram per minute — during sexual activity (8).

How does this compare to other activities? Well, we exert about 1 MET while sitting and 8.5 METs while jogging. Sexual activity falls between walking and jogging, in terms of the energy utilized, and thus may be qualified as moderate activity. Men and women burned slightly less than half as many calories with sex as with jogging, burning a mean of 85 calories over about 25 minutes. Who says exercise can’t be fun?

I can’t stress the importance of exercise enough. It not only influences the way you feel, but also may influence gene expression and, ultimately, affects the development and prevention of disease. In certain circumstances, it may be as powerful as drugs and, in combination, may pack a powerful punch. Therefore, make exercise a priority — part of the fabric of your life. It may already be impacting the fabric of your body: your genes.

References:

(1) JAMA. 2009;301(19):2024. (2) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct 10. (3) JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(7):e197597. (4) PLoS Genet. 2013 Jun;9(6):e1003572. (5) Cell Metab. 2012 Mar 7;15(3):405-11. (6) BMJ 2013; 347. (7) JASN online 2013, Dec. 12. (8) PLoS One 8(10): e79342.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.

Officials from Shoreham Village, Suffolk County and utility companies look at plans for the North Shore Rail Trail, which will stretch from Wading River to Mount Sinai. Photo from Anker’s office

Work is picking up once again on the North Shore Rail Trail project, also known as Rails to Trails. Plans are for a 10-mile bike and walking path along LIPA-owned right of ways from Wading River to Mount Sinai.

Workers have done grading and the subbase for the North Shore Rail Trail. Plans are to pour asphalt starting from Mount Sinai. Photo by Kyle Barr

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Medford-based DF Stone Contracting, which was tapped for the Rail Trail project, has finished grading and creating the subbase layer on the path from Crystal Brook Hollow Road in Mount Sinai to Sound Beach Boulevard in Miller Place. Workers are still laying the subbase layer heading further east.

Though there was a period during the pandemic when work stopped for about a month in order to create a safety plan for the project, the company should be ready to start laying down asphalt some time in October. That part of the project will run from Crystal Brook Hollow Road up to Sound Beach Boulevard and should be finished by the end of the year, the legislator said. 

Though the project may have to break for the winter, the hope is to have the entire path open to the public by summer of fall 2021.

“It’s literally moving along,” Anker said.

The $8.82 million trail is being funded through federal and state grants, along with Suffolk County funds. Despite major financial difficulties that Suffolk County faces due to COVID-19 and the subsequent business shutdowns, Anker said the funding for the trail is definitively set. 

If anything, she said the ongoing pandemic has made even more of a case for the trail.

“The pandemic has made people understand how important it is to have outdoor recreational locations,” she said.

This week Anker and officials from the Village of Shoreham, including Mayor Brian Vail, former mayor Ed Weiss met with officials from Verizon, Altice and PSEG Long Island to discuss the trails path. Plans are to go across the old stone bridge that arches across Woodville Road. To make the path accessible, workers would need to run the electrical lines under the bridge instead of over it. The bridge would also need new guardrails and fencing, particularly fencing that curves inward so people on the bridge can’t throw items over and onto cars passing underneath.

There are some more spots along the trail that present challenges. One is a power substation at the corner of Apricot Road and King Road in Rocky Point, where Anker said the path will need to snake around the substation rather than through it. Another is along Echo Avenue in Sound Beach, a relatively highly trafficked road where the path would need to cross. The legislator said she and the county Department of Public Works would need to work with the New York State Department of Transportation in order to make such a place safe to cross.

This article has been amended to correct the ownership of the right-of-ways on the North Shore as well as how far workers have added the subbase layer on the trail.

Walking helps strengthen your joints, bones and muscles. METRO photo
Walking’s benefits extend beyond physical fitness

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

There is great emphasis on exercise in medicine and in society. We have heard it is good for us ever since we were children in gym class striving for the presidential fitness award.

The average reaction, unfortunately, is an aversion to exercise. As kids, many of us tried to get out of gym class, and as adults, we “want” to exercise, but we “don’t have time.” The result of this is a nation of couch potatoes. I once heard that the couch is the worst deep-fried food. It perpetuates inactivity, especially when watching TV. Even sleeping burns more calories.

I think part of the problem, generally, is that we don’t know what type of exercise is best and how long and frequently to do it. These days, for many who depend on gyms, dance studios and other exercise-related facilities for exercise are struggling to find meaningful substitutes.

Well, guess what? There is an easy way to get tremendous benefit with very little time involved. You don’t need expensive equipment, and you don’t have to join a gym. You can sharpen your wits with your feet.

Jane Brody has written in The New York Times’ Science Times about Esther Tuttle. Esther was 99 years old, sharp as a tack and was independently mobile, with no aids needed. She continued to stay active by walking in the morning for 30 minutes and then walking again in the afternoon. The skeptic might say that this is a nice story, but its value is anecdotal at best.

Well, evidence-based medicine backs up her claim that walking is a rudimentary and simple way to get exercise that shows incredible benefits. One mile of walking a day will help keep the doctor away.

Walking has a powerful effect on preserving brain function and even growing certain areas of the brain (1). Walking between six and nine miles a week, or just one mile a day, reduced the risk of cognitive impairment over 13 years and actually increased the amount of gray matter tissue in the brain over nine years.

Those participants who had an increase in brain tissue volume had a substantially reduced risk of developing cognitive impairment. Interestingly, the parts of the brain that grew included the hippocampus, involved with memory, and the frontal cortex, involved with short-term memory and executive decision making. There were 299 participants who had a mean age of 78 and were dementia free at the start of the trial. Imagine if you started earlier?

In yet another study, moderate exercise reduced the risk of mild cognitive impairment with exercise begun in mid-to-late life (2).

Even better news is that, if you’re pressed for time or if you’re building up your stamina, you can split a mile into two half-mile increments. How long does it take you to walk a half-mile? You’ll be surprised at how much better you will feel — and how much sharper your thinking is.

This is a terrific strategy to get you off the couch or away from your computer, another hazard for many of us working or schooling from home. Set an alarm for specific points throughout the day and use that as a prompt to get up and walk, even if only for 15 minutes. The miles will add up quickly.

In addition to the mental acuity benefits, this may also help with your psychological health, giving you a mental break from endless Zoom calls and your eyes a break from endless screens.

If you ratchet up the exercise to running, a study showed that mood also improves, mollifying anger (3). The act of running actually increases your serotonin levels, a hormone that, when low, can make people agitated or angry. So, exercise may actually help you get your aggressions out.

Walking has other benefits as well. We’ve all heard about the importance of doing weight-bearing exercise to prevent osteoporosis and osteoporotic fractures. The movie “WALL-E” even did a spoof on this, projecting a future where people lived in their movable recliners. The result was a human skeletal structure that had receded over the generations from lack of use. Although it was tongue-in-cheek, it wasn’t too far from the truth; if you don’t use them, bones weaken and break. Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that helps strengthen your joints, bones and muscles.

So, remember, use your feet to keep your mind sharp. Activities like walking will help you keep a positive attitude, preserve your bones and help increase the plasticity of your brain.

References:

(1) Neurology Oct 2010, 75 (16) 1415-1422. (2) Arch Neurol. 2010;67(1):80-86. (3) J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2010 Apr;32(2):253-261.

Dr. David Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.