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You Docs: Positive attitude is good for your health

  • Published Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, at 2:07 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, at 5:46 a.m.

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At the end of the 1979 Monty Python film “Life of Brian,” Eric Idle, Graham Chapman (Brian) and a few dozen others are being hung up to dry (literally), so Idle’s character tries to cheer up everyone by singing, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Well, if you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease and someone tells you to cheer up, it may sound as absurd as that scene’s dark humor. But staying positive is smart medicine. People diagnosed with heart disease who have an upbeat attitude and who exercise live a lot longer and more robustly than those who don’t.

Researchers followed more than 600 patients with ischemic heart disease for five years and found that those who received optimism counseling and participated in an exercise program cut their risk of dying during those years by 42 percent. Conversely, folks with heart disease who also are depressed have a 20 percent increase in all causes of mortality and hospitalizations.

Bottom line: If you have heart disease, you’ll benefit by brightening your mood and increasing your physical activity (which always improves outlook, too). Spend more time with friends and family; volunteer to help others less fortunate; identify something you’ve always wanted to learn or do – then go for it. And start a progressive walking program targeting 30 minutes a day or more. (We say, aim for 10,000 steps daily.) With your doc’s permission, look into more aerobic activities, like swimming or classes at the gym or in a rehab program. And remember, always look on the bright side of life.

Sexual dysfunction

“Celibacy is to a yogi what electricity is to a light bulb,” say some esoteric practitioners of spirituality. But we say, yoga can be to a couple with a fading sexual relationship what throwing a switch is to a light bulb. Researchers at Loyola University in Chicago have noted that “partnered yoga” can ease some of the problems couples have as a result of decreased libido, painful intercourse, inability to have an orgasm, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.

If you’re having these kinds of relationship problems, massage, breathing exercises and mutually beneficial yoga postures may help re-establish trust, increase comfort with each other’s body (and your own) and rekindle feelings of intimacy. Although statistics on how common these problems are vary wildly, it’s fair to say that when couples’ sexual difficulties arise, some are temporary as a result of illness or stress, while others are more long-lasting. In either case, it’s important to find solutions or workarounds.

Partnered yoga can help you do just that. But remember you must strike a balance between your two levels of flexibility, strength and stamina so that you both enjoy every move. Then yoga can ease muscle and joint pain that often gets in the way of a robust sex life. And when done together, you’ll each activate your vagus nerve, which affects heartbeat, muscle movement and breathing, and boosts feel-good brain chemicals. For more info on yoga benefits (try a partnered warrior pose and tree pose) check out http://www.sharecare.com/ and “You: The Owner’s Manual, Revised.”

Screening

Online quotes about things said while getting a colonoscopy reveal the dread and the humor that people feel when it’s time for this most-probing of exams: “Can you hear me now?” “Could you write a note for my wife saying that my head is not up there?” And, “Hey doc, find my dignity yet?”

But as squeamish as you may feel about the procedure, it’s one screening that produces great health benefits. The more than 10 million people a year in North America who get scoped are the reason that the incidence of colon cancer is declining precipitously. And if everyone at normal risk for colon cancer were screened every 10 years (from age 50 until 75), it could eliminate 61 percent of distal cancers (in the lower colon) and 22 percent of proximal cancers (in the upper colon). That’s because spotting and removing non- or precancerous polyps and adenomas (benign or precancerous tumors) during a colonoscopy stops colon cancer from developing.

Unfortunately, only 69 percent of men and women over 50 have ever been screened for colon cancer (colonoscopy is the most effective, but not the only method). So, if you’re 50 or older and have never had a colonoscopy, ask your doctor about arranging for one. And remember: Eighty-five percent of folks who get colon cancer have no family history, so everyone needs to be screened. Chances are you won’t have to do it for another 10 years.

TV drug ads

For 16 hours a year (nine times a day for the average viewer) friendly voices come through the TV promising that a brand-name medicine can cure what ails you. That’s the estimated onslaught of direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising on U.S. television. (In Canada, ads can mention either the brand or the indication, but not both.)

Now a new report sounds a consumer alert: While 43 percent of Rx ad claims are objectively true (for nonprescription medicines it was only 23 percent), 55 percent are potentially misleading and 2 percent are false. So how can you get the benefits you need from medications without falling for the hype? Here are three tips.

1. When drug ads come on TV, be skeptical. Ask yourself why it is always rugged men driving big trucks who have ED? And why is it always dreamy-eyed women who look like they could spin their own wool who are fighting depression? If you take a second look, you’ll be able to differentiate between the pitch and the substance.

2. Before you ask your doc for a medication you’ve seen on TV, or whenever you get a new prescription, read the prescribing information (it’s on the website and in the package). You’ll discover usage; warning and precautions; info on clinical studies; and much more.

3. Then ask your doctor how the med will affect you; what’s the goal and the risk of taking it; and are there alternative medications that can achieve the same result?

Together, make an informed decision about what meds you take.

Sleep incompatible

There was a time when TV’s married couples never slept in the same bed: Rob and Laura Petrie (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”) were confined to single beds separated by a nightstand; so were June and Ward Cleaver (“Leave It to Beaver”). That great divide might ease sleep-compatibility issues, but most couples prefer a shared slumber where, unfortunately, snoring (67 percent), cover-grabbing, temperature battles, leg thrashing (34 percent), sleep talking and late-night TV-watching or reading can cause ongoing problems.

If you’re losing sleep because your loved one wakes you up over and over, try these solutions:

• If your partner snores, figure out why. Is it from nasal congestion? Try a decongestant and/or allergy med before bed. Because of awkward head and neck positions? Experiment with different pillows and positions. If it seems like a more serious problem, such as sleep apnea, get the snorer to the doc for diagnosis and treatment.

• Make the bed up with two sets of covers, so you can regulate your sleep temperature and keep covered up or not, as you want.

• Sleep talking, leg thrashing and late night TV (insomnia?) can come from stress and lack of physical activity. Walk 10,000 steps throughout the day; try meditation and progressive relaxation before bedtime – and no TV. If you think restless leg syndrome is a problem (it’s a genuine neurological condition), get diagnosis and treatment.

• If all else fails, try getting to sleep before the commotion starts; you may benefit from a king-size bed, earplugs and an eye mask. Sweet dreams.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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