Q: I recently went through menopause, and now I'm putting on weight in my middle. Why is this, and what can I do?
A: You're not alone. Before menopause, women are predisposed to gain weight in their hips and legs (i.e., become pear shaped), but afterward the drop in estrogen can redirect body fat distribution toward the abdomen. Unfortunately, from a health perspective, your midsection is the worst place you can gain fat. Research shows that having a waist size measuring more than 33 inches—no matter how much you weigh—increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. Try to stop or reverse your weight gain by eating right and getting 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day. Moves that target the transverse abdominal muscle can strengthen your midsection. Try this exercise, called abdominal hollowing: Get on your hands and knees, letting your belly hang toward the floor. While breathing normally, slowly draw your belly button up and in toward your spine, as if you were being held in by a girdle. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Work up to 10 repetitions.
Q: I'm trying to quit smoking. Are electronic cigarettes a healthy way to go?
A: Electronic cigarettes are smokeless, battery-operated devices shaped like cigarettes. These devices are marketed as a less damaging alternative to regular cigarettes because they contain no tobacco (users get a fix by inhaling a vaporized liquid nicotine solution). But e-cigarettes have been found to contain other carcinogens and toxic chemicals, such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.
And unlike other nicotine-replacement products—like the patch, the gum, or the lozenge—e-cigarettes are not FDA approved, and there's no way to know how much nicotine you're receiving. If you're trying to quit smoking, a better solution is to start by working with your primary care physician. Research has shown that you're more likely to succeed if you do so with doctor support.
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