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Lifeline

Stay lean, live longer

For the past few years, the "obesity paradox" has been getting a lot of attention. It began when several studies suggested that people who packed on the pounds with age lived longer than those who stayed thin. But the research didn't properly account for factors such as cigarette smoking or an underlying serious illness that can trigger weight loss and contribute to an early demise.

An analysis of studies that followed 1.5 million Americans over time may finally resolve the issue (New England Journal of Medicine, Dec. 2010). After excluding smokers and people with underlying illnesses, the researchers found that the death rate across various age categories was lowest for people whose body mass index (BMI, see note) was in the normal range (20 to 24.9), and then increased steadily with BMI.

People who were morbidly obese (a BMI of 40 or greater) were 2.5 times more likely to have died during the study period than those who maintained a normal weight. Cardiovascular disease was the most common cause of death among people who were overweight or obese.

The study wasn't perfect. It was based on white Americans, so the results may not apply to African-Americans, Hispanics, or other ethnic groups. Still, at a time when 68 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, this study provides a reminder that it's important to keep your weight within the healthy range, or work to move it in that direction, to protect your heart and live longer.

Note: To calculate your BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Divide that number by your height in inches. Divide again by your height in inches. Or you can look it up at www.health.harvard.edu/bmi.

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Market affects heart troubles

The country's financial downturn has caused a lot of economic pain, usually measured in terms of lost jobs and home foreclosures. It may be time to add a health dimension to the misery index, with heart attacks soaring as the stock market crashes (American Journal of Cardiology).

Researchers at Duke University reviewed medical records for 11,590 people who had undergone testing for heart disease during a three-year period, and then compared monthly heart attack rates with stock market levels. Heart attacks increased steadily during one eight-month period -- September 2008 to March 2009 -- that was particularly bad for the stock market.

While you can't control the stock market, you can take extra precautions to protect your heart when the economy tanks. The basics consist of a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress management, and taking medications as prescribed. Think of these lifestyle habits as a long-term investment in your health.

Compiled from News wire sources

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