Healthy Living

Question of the Month

Q. Are thinning bones a natural part of aging? I’m a mid-life woman and want to prevent bone loss.
A. While it’s true there are a few contributors to bone strength that are out of our control – such as our family history and declining estrogen levels – there are multiple lifestyle activities we can incorporate to keep our bones strong. The three pillars to support healthy and strong bones are calcium, vitamin D and weight-bearing physical activity.

Mid-life women should aim for 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily and 800 IU of vitamin D (to boost calcium absorption). Activities such as lifting light weights, walking, jogging, playing tennis, dancing and practicing yoga all support bone health. Talk to your doctor about a bone-density scan to evaluate your bone strength. Sometimes lifestyle effort alone is not enough to sustain bone health as we age and, as a result, prescription medications are needed. It’s never too early or too late to focus on bone health.

Smoking and the "Other" Lung Disease

When it comes to smoking and lung disease, most of us automatically think about lung cancer. But did you know that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death after heart disease, cancer and stroke? Nearly 15 million people in the United States suffer from this collection of ailments, all characterized by blockage of airflow to the lungs (the two most common types are emphysema and chronic bronchitis).

The alarming fact is that nearly 90 percent of all COPD deaths result from smoking. Educating this generation of young smokers is an important place to start since COPD develops after years – not months – of smoking. If you already have COPD and you’re a smoker, it’s not too late. Quitting can often help prevent further damage to your lungs. Have an honest talk with your doctor about the best way to stop smoking, and consider both behavioral and prescription tools.

Barbie Dolls and Body Image

Barbie has turned 50. Say the word "Barbie," and you’ll get responses ranging from total bliss to complete disgust. While there are suggestions that Barbie might create a sense of insecurity or a false sense of what beauty should be, most people agree she’s just a doll. No ordinary one, though. Barbie could be anything – doctor, lawyer, scientist. As girls and women of several generations acknowledge, Barbie is anatomically impossible in so many ways (including those permanently high-heeled feet!). Barbie took off as a cultural icon in the 1960s and is still holding her own in a very crowded doll-merchandising world. Happy birthday, Barbie!

In the News

"Brown Fat" for Weight Loss

If you’ve never heard of brown fat, you’re not alone. It’s not something often talked about, since adults have little (or none) of it. We’re all familiar with "white" fat – the storage facility for our bodies’ extra calories – which is linked to many health problems, particularly when it’s around the belly. Brown fat (colored by "mitochondria" – little energy burners usually found in muscle) actively burns calories, while white fat just stores them.

There’s been a scientific debate for decades about whether adults even have any functional brown fat (infants do). As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, a new study using highly sensitive PET scans suggests that at least some adults do have brown fat. The race for pharmaceutical companies to develop a drug that could stimulate brown fat to burn extra calories and to combat the obesity epidemic is actively under way. Nice thought, but don’t look for a pill at your local pharmacy any time soon. For now, stick with healthful lifestyle choices and FDA-approved medications, or surgery, if more support is needed.

If you have a health question for Dr. Fernstrom, e-mail her at

Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S., is the founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s "Today Show" and is the author of The Runner’s Diet. Also visit "Health Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom," a health and wellness blog at


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