Slim Down and Save Money

The higher your body mass index (BMI), the higher your health-care costs. ( Jason Stitt/Thinkstock by Getty Images)

The higher your body mass index (BMI), the higher your health-care costs. ( Jason Stitt/Thinkstock by Getty Images)

Need another reason to watch your weight? A new study published in the journal Obesity shows a direct relationship between body mass and personal medical costs.

Researchers from Duke University School of Medicine found that health costs increase right along with weight. Prescription and medical care costs for people who are obese may even be double when compared with people who are at a healthy weight. More than 40 percent of black women are obese.

To understand the relationship between weight and health-care costs, Duke’s team reviewed more than 17,000 insurance claims that covered a 10-year period. The researchers found that costs associated with medical and drug claims rose gradually with each unit increase in body mass index (BMI), starting with a BMI of 19.

The average annual health care cost for a person with a BMI of 19 was found to be $2,368; this grew to $4,880 for a person with a BMI of 45 or greater.

This is how BMI works. A 5-foot-6-inch person who weighs 117.5 pounds has a BMI of 19, while a person of the same height weighing 279 pounds has a BMI of 45. The healthy range is 19 to 24, overweight is 25 to 29, obese is 30 and above.

“Our findings suggest that excess fat is detrimental at any level,” said lead author Truls Østbye, M.D., Ph.D., professor of community and family medicine at Duke.


Resistance Pays Off

Aerobic exercise is great for weight loss and cardiovascular health, but two fitness experts now say that our Zumba-crazed fitness culture is causing us to miss out on the benefits of resistance training.

“Resistance exercise is too often thought of as an add-on” to aerobic exercise, and its benefits are less widely recognized, says Joseph T. Ciccolo, co-editor of the book Resistance Training for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Disease (Taylor & Francis Group) and an assistant professor of applied physiology at Teachers College, Columbia University, and director of the college’s Applied Exercise Psychology Laboratory.

Ciccolo and his co-author William J. Kraemer of the University of Connecticut cite recent research studies showing that lifting weights and using resistance bands or other forms of resistance training has great health benefits.

In a message that should resonate with any baby boomer, Ciccolo says, “a lot of people have things that keep them from doing aerobic exercise, such as arthritis or a bum knee. Focusing on aerobic exercise is a poor recommendation for an aging population.”

Kraemer and Ciccolo advise that resistance training can improve arterial health, endurance and strength, and alleviate pain in some people with fibromyalgia. Strength training also helps bone density (critical for women over 50), and helps build lean body mass.

For an easy, inexpensive, anytime resistance workout, just invest in a set of resistance bands. No weights required.


Is It Hot in Here?

No, it may just be you. If so, you are perfectly normal — even if you’re 10 or more years past menopause, according to a new study published in the journal Menopause.

Current recommendations suggest that women only consider hormone therapy for five years after menopause, in part because hot flashes supposedly stop after the five-year mark.

For years, physicians have been telling women that hot flashes stop about five years after your last menstrual cycle. The new research shows that more than a third of women experience moderate-to-severe hot flashes for 10 years or more after menopause. The authors write that the “empirical evidence supporting the recommended three- to five-year hormone therapy for management of hot flashes is lacking.”

Experiencing your own personal summer can be more than an annoyance for many women. Hot flashes and drenching sweats are often accompanied by other menopausal symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, memory and concentration problems, anxiety, irritability, and joint and muscle pain.

Some recent studies have shown that African-American women have menopause-related hot flashes more than women of other groups, but they are less likely to have symptoms such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, racing heart, stiffness and soreness in joints.

If hot flashes are a problem, discuss your options with your gynecologist. Hormone replacement therapy may help, but the decision to use hormones should be based on your personal risk factors.

Natural remedies for cooling off include avoiding alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, cigarette smoke and stress. Some women get some relief from vitamin E supplements, black cohosh, flax seeds or red clover, but be sure to talk about your overall health with your doctor before taking herbal medicines.