Friday, December 29, 2006
Toning up with Technology

In the two years that I've been producing the Bod Squad fitness segments, we've covered everything from celebrity-driven workouts such as Budokon, which combines martial arts, yoga and meditation, to cardio-tennis, to training like an NFL player at Competitive Edge Sports boot camp to observing firsthand the flexibility and discipline of the Cirque Du Soleil athletes. So what's the next hot thing? Virtual fitness.

A company called RideRunRow.com and Dr. Ken Burres have developed technology that will allow you to cycle on the moon or row the Nile, sort of. Through the Internet, you can work out globally, say, run on your treadmill in Atlanta with someone from Australia. Company founder Bruce Winkler says it's the fitness industry's new frontier.

Americans spend billions on the fitness industry annually but only about 15 percent of the population goes to a gym. If you're not wild about working out in public or you don't have a lot of time, Demand Fitness lets you work out anywhere, anytime. If you feel like yoga at 3 a.m. in your pajamas, you can log on to the company's Web site and a yoga instructor will coach you along. They're not Live but they are always available.

You can also expect gyms to spice up their classes like the one I discovered in Brooklyn. Cybex Trazer is an interactive virtual fitness system. You put on a magnetic belt and watch a big screen as you work up a sweat reacting to the projected images.

To learn more about virtual fitness, watch House Call with Dr. Sanjay Gupta this weekend.

It's the new year, when people are making resolutions about losing weight and shaping up. Have you tried virtual fitness or would you consider it?

Thursday, December 28, 2006
The impact of autism
All this week, we have been talking about autism. We have touched on some remarkable research where doctors are able to peer into the brain of an autistic child, using advanced MRI scanning techniques. While they still don't know what precisely causes autism, they are able to compare the brains of autistic children with those who don't have autism.

We have also seen the burden autism takes on an entire family. I was stunned to learn the divorce rate among parents of autistic children is 80 percent.

We have also touched on the impact early intervention could have on a child. Start treating autism before age 5, even better before 2. It can help alleviate some of the biggest barriers of autism. I was heartbroken as I heard tearful parents worry about who would take care of their autistic children when they were gone.

One of our viewers, Jerry, wrote in to tell of his 27-year-old-son. "It took 22 years to get a solid diagnosis," he wrote, and "what we need now is help in managing an adult child with this condition." Jerry went on to remind us that like most children, his son is very intelligent, even graduating from college. It is the lack of social skills though, along with the lack of resources for adults, that has left his son jobless.

Jerry raises an important issue and something we don't touch on enough. It is something that will become more important as a generation of autistic children grow up. How should society take care of autistic adults? We are so used to thinking of autism as associated with children, but eventually those children grow up. Employers may be hesitant to hire an adult with diminished social skills, and society may be unwilling to incur the additional costs of paying for them if they don't work.

The other issue that we have to touch on is the cause of autism in the first place. There have been no definitive links between autism and mercury preservatives in vaccines, but still many parents remain unconvinced. What are your thoughts?
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Remembering President Ford
Gerald Ford was the first president I ever saw in real life. I was 5 years old in 1975, when my dad read in the newspaper that the presidential motorcade would be passing close to our small hometown of 4,000 people. He decided to take me and hoisted me up on his shoulders as the motorcade passed. Truth is, I really couldn't see anything. I do remember a lot of people cheering, though, and my dad getting really excited. My dad, who had emigrated from India just a few years before, had always dreamed of meeting a U.S. president, and he believed this was the closest he would get.

In the spring of 2006, I had a chance to visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It is on the campus of the University of Michigan, where Ford went to school and was a football standout. I went there with my dad, and we talked to some of the staffers about President Ford and his health. They said he was doing pretty well, aside from some "minor" problems with his heart and his lungs. He had a pacemaker put in this year and had been hospitalized for pneumonia. Still, he was fairly active and spry for being in his 90s. "But he is old," my dad said to me as we walked out.

It is true that Ford was 93 years old, the longest living president. Doctors, though, don't focus as much on age as they do on physiology. That means a 60-year-old could really have the medical conditions of a 90-year-old and vice versa. Most people would like to live like an incandescent bulb - shine brightly their entire life and then suddenly go dim. They would like to live long and die short, as Ford did. When asked what caused his death, the answer is not "old age." That hasn't been an official cause of death in this country since 1951. Most likely, it was a combination of heart and lung problems.

I called my dad early this morning to tell him Gerald Ford had died and he immediately recounted the story from 31 years ago. He also thanked me for introducing him to President Clinton a few years ago. His dream of meeting a U.S. president finally came true.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
How do I get people to care about obesity?
One of my professors in medical school once told me that being overweight or obese is linked to just about every chronic disease there is out there. It seemed to make sense, because heart disease and strokes are pretty well linked, as is diabetes. Those are the most common chronic diseases. In addition, diseases such as degenerative arthritis as well as cholelithiasis (gall bladder disease) and gout are also associated with obesity. Today, the American Cancer Society definitively added another one to the list - prostate cancer.

After studying 70,000 men for more than a decade, researchers concluded that not only does carrying around extra weight increase your risk of prostate cancer, it increases the likelihood of developing the most aggressive or high-grade forms of prostate cancer. In case you are wondering what a little extra weight means - generally, a 5-foot-10-inch man who weighs 180 pounds is considered overweight, and if he weighs 220 pounds, he is obese. A quick point of clarification though: Those numbers are based on the body mass index scale, which is by no means a perfect scale. And I am not just saying that because I have added a few pounds over the years... Still, the message is clear: My professor was right and obesity is linked to just about everything.

The struggle I have when reporting these stories is giving our viewers a take-away message. My guess is that most people already know that they should lose some weight. And, if they are like nearly 80 percent of Americans, losing weight will be a part of their New Year's resolutions. Still, I am not sure a story about prostate cancer and obesity will even make an impression on a typical viewer, because so many have seemingly accepted that America has become an overweight nation. What do you think it will take to start sending a message that actually provokes action when it comes to our waistline and our health?
Monday, December 25, 2006
"The Godfather of Soul" was at risk for pneumonia
James Brown Dies at 73

It was 3:20 this morning when i heard a noise... I thought maybe it was Santa, but it was actually the newsroom calling me... James Brown had died (Full Story).

I was on call for breaking news this weekend, so when I got the call, I quickly threw on some clothes and headed into work to get the details. At about 5 AM, my correspondent Rusty Dornin and I were off to the hospital where the self-proclaimed "Godfather of Soul" had passed away. Watch: James Brown Dies at 73 Video.

As it turns out, the 73-year-old music legend was spotted last Friday near his hometown in Augusta, Georgia handing out Christmas gifts to underprivileged children. After he finished there, he headed into Atlanta for a routine dentist appointment, and at some point over the weekend, he was taken to Emory's Crawford Long Hospital with severe pneumonia. At 1:45 AM on Christmas day, he passed away from what his manager says was a heart attack related to pneumonia.

While it all seems pretty sudden - one day handing out presents, the next day in the hospital - pneumonia is notorious for striking suddenly.

So should you be concerned that your chest cold may be pneumonia?

First, if you have a pretty sudden onset of symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or coughing - particularly a cough that produces greenish mucous - there may be cause for concern. Often times, pneumonia also come along with flu-like symptoms - a fever, shaking chills and muscle pains - so if you're experiencing any of these symptoms, go see your doctor, and let him or her sort out what's causing your discomfort.

Finally, know your risk factors - Young children and the elderly, those with chronic diseases and smokers have a much greater risk for developing serious lung infections like pneumonia, so if you fall into any of these categories and you have a cold you just can't seem to shake, it might be a good time to go see your doctor.
Alzheimer's advances
My uncle, Rudy, died of complications from Alzheimer's when he was 83. Although he was diagnosed with the illness in his early seventies, we think he was suffering from it long before that. What his family thought back then were just quirks - like brushing his teeth four times in one hour or wearing someone else's shoes - were probably signs of a man already losing his cognitive skills. Back then, no one knew very much about Alzheimer's. There weren't any treatments, no tests to really prove he had it... just a long waiting period of watching a vibrant man waste away.

But today there's hope. Drugs are in development to arrest the disease and new technology is helping doctors catch the illness in its earlier stages before it becomes debilitating. Recently, researchers at UCLA announced they are using a new brain imaging technique that allows doctors to see Alzheimer's before the disease hits, meaning physicians can begin treating the illness earlier. When the next generation of Alzheimer's drugs reach the market, doctors using this brain imaging technology may be able to treat Alzheimer's the way they now treat high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

The scan can detect abnormalities in the brain such as plaque buildup and nerve tangles which are the signature of the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Up until now, the only way to detect these problems was through an autopsy. Scientists say the scan could help doctors slow the progression of the disease or even stop it.

The key of course is to find the cause. And as of now, no one knows exactly why Alzheimer's happens. Some doctors say it's genetic, some say it's lifestyle... others say it's both. But more and more evidence points to lifestyle choices as playing a key role. Physicians are finding that many patients who suffer form heart disease and diabetes have a greater chance of developing Alzheimer's. It's well known that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases, so doctors worry that this may be putting these groups at higher risk for developing cognitive problems.

In fact, the Alzheimer's Association expects the rate of the disease to explode among minorities... and that by the year 2050 the number of Hispanics with Alzheimer's will grow by more than 600 percent. It also predicts that in twenty more years, the number of African Americans with Alzheimer's is expected to double. Health experts say, educating minority groups on healthy living is crucial if we are going to fight the war on Alzheimer's and win.

If someone you love is showing signs that they may be suffering from Alzheimer's... act now... don't wait. Call a neurologist, make an appointment. Early diagnosis is essential. As one doctor I spoke to said... "It's easier to protect a healthy brain then to repair one that's already damaged."

Treating Alzheimer's earlier can help a patient live a longer, fuller life. .. A life I wish my uncle could have had so many years ago.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends -- info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.
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