Week of May 28, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is it true that regular soft drinks are a concern for heart health? Doesn't heart disease risk come from too much saturated fat and sodium?

A: Studies linking sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption with increased risk of heart disease have surprised many people. It's true that too much saturated fat increases risk of heart disease and too much sodium tends to raise blood pressure, which also raises risk. Being too sedentary raises heart disease risk as well. Another concern is that regular soft drinks are concentrated sources of calories, and being overweight increases heart disease risk. Recent studies still link frequent consumption of regular (sugar-sweetened) soft drinks with increased heart disease even after adjusting for people's weight and recent weight changes. In two large U.S. cohort (population) studies, the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, each 12-ounce daily serving of a regular soft drink increased risk of heart disease 15 to 19 percent, even after accounting for differences in physical activity, blood pressure, blood cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. Among women, weight related to part but not all of this link. For men, those with highest consumption of regular soft drinks had higher levels of several markers of chronic low-grade inflammation compared to those who drank the least. Inflammation can damage blood vessels and seems to be an important contributor to cardiovascular disease (as well possibly promoting development of type 2 diabetes and cancer). Perhaps part of the increased risk of heart disease was related to other differences between those with higher and lower soft drink consumption, but for now these findings do add more support to recommendations from several expert health panels that we avoid or minimize consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.

Q: Is there any benefit to what look like ski poles that I see people walking with in the park?

A: These poles are called walking poles or trekking poles and they offer several possible benefits. You can work more muscles in your walk with the increased arm movement, such as your chest and abdominal muscles a bit. If you have difficulty with balance, especially walking on uneven outdoor terrain, walking poles can be a big help making those walks safer. These poles can be especially helpful if you like to walk hills. As you climb up, the poles can transfer some weight to your upper body, reducing leg fatigue; as you go down hills, they can help you keep your balance and reduce stress on knees and other joints. Walking poles differ in weight and features. Some have an anti-shock feature, which can be especially helpful for people with weak ankles, knees or hips. But it does add to the poles' weight and price, so may not be worth it if you're looking mainly for balance and support or a chance to add upper body movement to your walks. It's important to learn how to adjust the poles to proper length for your body. For walking on flat ground, your elbow should bend at a 90-degree angle with your forearm flat and parallel to the ground. You may want to shorten them a bit for more support on an uphill climb, or lengthen them a bit for better balance as you go down a big hill. All in all, the poles aren't fitness magic, but the right type can be a fun addition to hiking and may make those walks safer for people with balance problems.

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