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Good News…And The Bad

Posted 03/26/2012

I recently saw a documentary about comedienne Joan Rivers. At one point, she shows viewers her “joke room,” which contains an entire wall filled with her joke files. Among them is a drawer packed with good news/bad news jokes.

Most of us feel anxiety when someone says, “I’ve got good news and bad news. What do you want to hear first?” Anxiety #1: the agony of decision making. Which do we really want to hear first? Anxiety #2: no matter which we choose, one will be bad news.

Good news/bad news jokes are ancient, first recorded in the Bible. Poor old Job (expect anyone else?). The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Millennia later we’ve advanced to…

Lawyer to client: “I’ve got good news and bad news for you. Which first?”
Client: “Give me the bad news.”
Lawyer: “Your blood was found all over the crime scene.”
Client: “That’s terrible! How can there be good news?”
Lawyer: “Your cholesterol’s down.

So today, a good news/bad news health tip
Me being a cup-half-empty Eeyore sort of person, I’ll give you the bad news first. But I promise we’ll end on a cheery note and within 15 minutes of finishing today’s health tip you could be doing something you love that’s good for you.

The bad news   In an immense study that tracked the physical activity of 222,497 Australian men and women over age 45, those whose waking lives were spent essentially sitting down had a significantly greater risk for early death from any cause than those who reported measurably less duff time. Provocatively, the dangers of too much sitting applied to everyone—even those who otherwise were quite physically active.

Even if study participants regularly did the recommended 30 minutes of vigorous daily physical activity, they still had risk issues if they were spending many of the remaining 6,500 minutes of the waking week in a chair.

In other words, all your exercise/physical exertion remains beneficial, and by doing it you’re better off than someone sedentary, but it’s not enough to reduce the risk of sitting for most of the rest of the time.

Long stretches of chair time–with or without the gym–increase obesity, decrease muscle tone, weaken blood vessels, and boost the risk of heart problems, diabetes, and cancer. We accumulate hours of inactivity in our cubicles, cars (cabs, buses, trains, trucks), in waiting rooms, in front of our computers and TVs, sipping Budweiser in lounge chairs, and seated at movies and spectator sports. Not to mention reading.


So here’s my revised exercise prescription:

  • As I’m sure you have been doing, continue to exercise vigorously at least 30 minutes every day.
  • After exercising, don’t sit down. Stay standing and move around. Walk on your errands and walk part or all of the way to work. Think about making a stand-up desk for using your computer and doing other work. Here’s how one woman did it for $20.

If you’re reading this in a seated position, let’s stand up now for…

The good news   By now, you must know that regularly eating a little dark chocolate is good for you, and the higher its cocoa percentage the better (usually high cocoa numbers mean less sugar too). Rich in plant-based antioxidants called phytonutrients, high-quality dark chocolate helps control your blood pressure, reduce heart disease risks, and improve your metabolism by increasing your sensitivity to insulin. Yet, you might wonder, since chocolate contains sugar and fats, is eating it every day really a good idea?

Yes, it is.

(That is good news!, the crowd cheers.)

In a report in last week’s Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers at the University of California School of Medicine measured the Body Mass Index (BMI) of 1000 patients 20 to 85. Then, all were given a questionnaire about their chocolate intake. If you’re not sure what your BMI is, click here, and you can calculate yours, filling in your current weight and height to see what category (underweight, normal weight, etc) you belong to.

You’d expect eating chocolate would nudge your BMI upward, that chocolate-eaters would all have unhealthy BMIs, wouldn’t you? Wrong. People with the most regular chocolate consumption also had the healthiest BMIs.

The researchers had theories but no positive answers as to just why this was occurring.  We do know the antioxidant polyphenols in chocolate (called catechins) improve muscle function and performance, and also increase lean muscle mass. In rats, weight loss occurs when chocolate calories replace other calorie sources like grains.

Overall, the researchers commented that these findings were intriguing and the data clear: daily chocolate=healthier BMIs.

So the very next time you see one of those high-grade chocolate bars placed seductively next to a cash register…go ahead and buy it, doctor’s orders. Open it quickly and have a couple pieces on the way to your car or on your walk home.

In fact, I have a better idea. Why wait? Get up from your chair of death right now and walk briskly to the nearest chocolate sales point. Treat yourself to the very best chocolate you can find and…

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment

  1. Rick says:

    As I read this and then found articles at NY Times and so on, I was wondering if the issue is staying in one position (sitting or standing) for 8+ hours daily. If we all shift to standing but still do it for so long, then will we have health problems that way, too?

    Second question: My BMI is 19.0 according to the tool Dr. E referenced in the article. I live in Colorado and am active with regular cycling, cross country skiing, and other activities. I may be in the best cardiovascular shape of my life at 41. But I have been sitting in front of computers for the majority of my work for years. How does this large amount of sitting and associated risks pertain to me? I guess my question is whether more exercise than 30 minutes per day and higher intensity outweigh the risks of extended sitting? Or will a shift to standing at work be noticeably helpful for someone like me, too?

  2. SKS says:

    I am curious whether problems with sitting are partially or completely addressed by using a yoga ball instead of a chair. It seems that it would be a viable option to the standing workstation since the muscles of the core and legs are engaged, but of course I am hoping so because I am sitting on one…

  3. Antonia Olsen says:

    Regarding the dark chocolate and BMI correlation – I eat about 1 0z of dark chocolate a day (71% cacao and not much sugar). The joke around our house is that my husband cannot eat the last of it or he will be responsible for me grabbing everything sweet in sight and putting on lots of pounds. This amount of chocolate per day is very satiating and decreases my need for all sweets or chips or other not-so-healthy foods.

  4. LKP says:

    Speaking of quality chocolate, one of the best I’ve tried is Green & Black’s, 85% dark organic. It’s rich, smooth, and just sweet enough. I grab a few pieces along with a handful of organic walnuts for a quick and satisfying dessert.

  5. ernie foutopolous says:

    Dr. E.
    I subscribe to several health newsletters, and I have to tell you that I have never been more depressed. Everyday, I am bombarded with columns telling me that my water is poison and the clothes I wear could be eating away at my skin tissue.
    Whenever my circle of friends would be discussing the latest health concern, I would say something like; “the next thing you know, they’ll be telling us that sitting in an easy chair is bad.” And everyone would laugh at my obvious exaggeration.
    You know what they say, Dr. E, that truth is stranger than fiction. Thinking about all this further depresses me, and I would go to my bedroom and lie down except that mattresses are probably the latest unpublicized carcinogen.

  6. Dr E says:

    Hi Ernie
    Newsletters of all stripes seem to relish worst case scenarios. Rather than getting depressed, I would suggest you simply see most of these gloom and doom reports as “suggestions” to make some relatively minor lifestyle changes. Concerning the dangers of “sitting,” just tell yourself to get up occasionally and walk around, but beyond that, don’t sweat the small stuff. Obviously, I am sitting as I write this and about to board a plane where I will sit some more. You just can’t agonize over all this.
    The only things that are REALLY dangerous to your health are skydiving, hanggliding, driving without a seatbelt and smoking. Everything else is just statistics and can change when the next researcher in line analyzes them. Your water, mattress and easy chair are all likely okay; their ‘dangers’ are probably a fraction of a percent and won’t affect you. Unless, of course, you are also lighting up a cigarette at the same time

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