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Stress Reduction Can Improve Health

Aired January 6, 2007 - 08:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming up on HOUSECALL, steps you can take today to start losing weight/stress and get your health on track. Plus...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you're trying to get something done, it can be a terrible curse.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's something we all do, why multitasking could be harmful to your job.

And have you checked your cabinet lately? Your medicine cabinet, that is. We'll show you what to keep and what needs to go.

SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning and welcome to HOUSECALL. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This morning, we're helping you jump start your health for 2007.

Let's start with an important topic, stress. Your body thinks it's under attack. Now back in the day, it was from predators. Now, it's urgent e-mails, ringing phones, even the news. Stress can be a good thing, but being under it constantly is not.

CNN's Heidi Collins now with a look at one of the biggest culprits.


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Tara Oolie, this is zen. At her day spa in Manhattan, Oolie has perfected the art of selling calm. The setting exudes relaxation and harmony, but she rarely stops long enough to follow her own business mantra. Just calm down.

TARA OOLIE, OWNER, JUST CALM DOWN: There's always a million things going on. And when I think I have a minute to breathe, all of a sudden the phone rings.

COLLINS: Booking appointments, crafting gift certificates, chatting with vendors, noting payroll, and greeting her guests.

OOLIE: You can have like hot chocolate, hot apple cider...

COLLINS: She's multitasking, trying to be efficient, something many of us do. A recent study done by a London University professor found multitasking can actually reduce your IQ by 10 points. It's not a permanent drop, but eye-opening about what happens to your cognitive skills. By way of comparison, it's doubled the IQ dropped after smoking marijuana.

With cell phones, Blackberries, instant messaging, Tivo, call waiting, all of it now so easy, that well, it's all backfiring. American companies actually lose an estimated $588 billion each other to inefficiency in the office.

CLAUDIA WALLIS, "TIME" MAGAZINE: In terms of both productivity and in terms of, you know, even your social life, you know, it helps you keep in touch. It helps you to communicate to your colleagues and friends.

But if you're trying to get something done and you need concentration, it can be a terrible curse. Breaking into your thoughts. Pinging and zinging just when you, you know, are coming to a conclusion on something.

COLLINS: Look around most offices today and you see people typing while talking on the phone, surfing the Net, and toggling between projects.

The fact is balancing all that pinging and zinging burns up an average of 2.1 hours of our time every day. We waste more than two hours each day on unnecessary interruptions.

Dr. Edward Hallowell is the author of "Delivered from Distraction" and a psychiatrist who specializes in attention deficit traits. He says we are engaged in a lot of things, but doing few of them well.

EDWARD HALLOWELL, PSYCHIATRIST: If you multitask too much, you won't do anything well. And it's an illusion because people oh, I must be working hard, I'm multitasking.

COLLINS: Dr. Hallowell does have some advice for all of us. Learn to prioritize and above all else...

HALLOWELL: Remember that you do have control. Not total control, of course. But you can make some changes. And then chief among the changes, and this is one that most people never think of, create a positive emotional environment. Your brain will work much better in an atmosphere of positive emotion.

COLLINS: Heidi Collins, CNN, New York.


GUPTA: All right. Thanks, Heidi.

You do have control. Studies show chronic stress, though, can actually age your body, not to mention lead to depression, diabetes, and increase your risk of obesity.

Interesting, though, it's not the actual amount of stress you're under that causes your body to react, but your perception of how much stress you're under, how you handle it. Here to help us slash stress levels this morning from New York is Dr. Howard Shapiro, who specializes in weight control and life management.

First of all, welcome to the show, doctor.


GUPTA: Doctor, let me just start off with something pretty basic. If someone is stressed right now, say over a family disagreement, post- holidays, or a list of things that they haven't gotten done yet, what can they do this minute as they're watching to de-stress?

SHAPIRO: Well, I mean, I think there are a few things that people can do. One of the things is to take a moment and just meditate.

Another is to do a relaxation technique. A third would do deep- breathing techniques. Or just take a walk. Go outside and do a little bit of exercise if you had to. Just walking is one of the best ways of lowering your stress level because it takes you away from that immediate problem that's on your mind. And I think these are the things that people can do with little effort.

GUPTA: Getting your mind off of it, adding a little physical activity, that makes sense. We have some e-mail questions lined up. So get a little bit more specifics here. Let's start off with Patil in New Jersey who writes this.

"Everyone has stress in their daily life, but how can I determine that this is harming my health before it is too late? What are the acceptable stress levels?"

SHAPIRO: Well, first of all, I don't think there is a specific level that's acceptable level to the same person. Everybody has a different level of stress that they can accommodate.

And I think if it gets you to the point where you feel uncomfortable, where you feel or overwhelmed, then it's an unacceptable level of stress.

The other things that people have to be aware of is even what these feelings of stress really are. For example, some people complain of headaches. Some complain of being dizzy and fatigued. Some people have digestive problems. And they really think these are medical problems, and in reality, they're not. They're really stress problems.

GUPTA: It is amazing how many of those sorts of chronic problems are related to stress. Keeping that theme, another question now from Texas. Maria asks this. "How does stress affect your weight?"

Now some people think, you know, you're stressed, you don't eat as much, you may lose weight. Is that the case?

SHAPIRO: Well, I think there's two different levels of stress. You know, some people say when I'm stressed, I can't eat. Other people say, when I'm stressed I eat everything in sight.

I think it's a different level of stress and how somebody interprets it. If you have an acute stress, something that I can't get to a meeting on time, I'm trying to get to the airport, and I have a lot of traffic, some other situation where it's a time element and you feel some stress, these things are things that are easy to deal with.

On the other hand, sometimes you might get a stress level that is really overwhelming. And in those circumstances, you have to learn how not to catastrophize it. Not to make it something that is greater than it really is.

GUPTA: Speaking of weight, we're getting the best tips on weight loss coming up after the break. Now if you've been splurging the last few weeks, we've got some sure fire strategies to help drop the pounds, get you back on track.

And later in the show, we're checking out your medicine cabinet. What should stay, what should go? For instance get this, hydrogen peroxide, good treatment for cuts, or out of date? That's coming up later in the show.


GUPTA: Welcome back. Well, it may seem like a big number, but break it down, and it's not as hard as you think to do. However if you've been indulging over the last few weeks, cutting back can be difficult. But our medical correspondent, Christy Feig, has some tips that might make things a little bit easier.


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No matter what diet you try, it all comes down a basic formula. Weight loss will happen if you burn more calories than you eat. But if you've tried and failed before, you've probably run into some of the danger zones, like portion distortion. The size of a portion of food has at least doubled on average over the last 20 years.

ELIZABETH NABEL, DR., NATL. INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: The average restaurant meal now is about 2,000 calories, which is the total sum of calories that we encourage adults to eat per day.

FEIG: Instead, try to split a meal with a friend, or take half home for another day. And eat more slowly. It takes your brain 15 minutes to get the message you've been fed. And don't forget to exercise. It speeds up weight loss, because it bumps up the number of calories you burn. Strive for 30 minutes of moderate activity like walking every day.

NABEL: If you've never exercised before, it's unrealistic that you're going to get out there and you're going to jog two to five miles a day. Rather, set a realistic goal.

FEIG: Most of all, don't rush the weight loss.

NABEL: If you take weight off quickly, you're at risk for regaining it quickly as well.

FEIG: Losing just a pound or two a week will help your body adjust to the new lifestyle changes that will keep those pounds off. I'm Christy Feig reporting from Washington.


GUPTA: All right, thanks, Christy. Good advice. As always, the Opinion Research Corporation did a poll for CNN checking out American's diet plans in the new year. Not surprisingly, an upswing on a number of folks planning on dieting after the holidays.

Get this, though. A decade ago, only a third of those polled planned on changing their eating habits. This year, it's up to 40 percent. We're here to help. Back with us is Dr. Howard Shapiro. He's a weight-loss specialist. He's also a bestselling author of "The Picture Perfect Weight Loss." Welcome back, doctor.

SHAPIRO: Thank you.

GUPTA: Doctor, you've just heard Christy Feig's piece. I mean, this is what you do for a living. What's the best advice that you have for people who want to get on the weight-loss bandwagon?

SHAPIRO: Well, I think the first thing people should do is understand or figure out why they want to lose weight, because that's the most important thing. And two or three weeks into a program when they start to get weak, and they don't want to continue, if they keep refreshing in their mind why they started in the first place, that's going to help.

I think the second thing to do is to do a food diary, something that makes them aware of when they're eating, why they're eating, the degree of hunger, and also if they are eating because of stress or if they're eating because they're lonely or depressed.

The third thing they should do is eat a variety of food. In my book, we have a food pyramid where we talk about eating a lot of fruits and fibers. That's the bottom rung of the pyramid. It's a little bit different than the USDA pyramid. And we tell people to eat a lot of fruits, a lot of vegetables because of the fiber. It's filling. It's low calorie. Then eat healthy proteins like fish and soy, beans, and legumes, and then whole grains. So if you're eating a variety of foods, that makes it a little bit easier.

And then, one of the other things that we try to tell people, obviously, is to exercise.


SHAPIRO: Get moving. Do things as subtle as you want. Even if it's a sport, or even if it's washing the car or household chores, but get yourself to be a little active.

And if you do these things, you will keep yourself on track and it won't be a difficult situation. GUPTA: That's good advice. And the food diary really seems to work because you pay attention to how much you're eating. Let me ask you something before we go to our inbox, just in general. We've gone from being a nation that used to be one of the most fit, robust nations in the world, to becoming a nation that's remarkably overweight and obese. Why do you think we got there? How did we get to this place?

SHAPIRO: We got there really easily. First of all, we got there because the fast food industry is high in calories, high in fats, high in foods that are really foods that will make you eat a lot them and also will make you overweight.

The second thing is the portion sizes are gigantic. When I was a kid, I went to the movies. I got a small bag of popcorn. Now you get fed a bucket of popcorn.

The portion sizes are great. The foods are high in fat. There's food everywhere you turn. And these are the things that make people gain weight.

Plus, we're not as active. You don't even have to get up and go across the room and change the channel on the television. You hit a remote control button. And these are the things that have put us in a position that we don't want to be in. And we're really unhealthy.

And the biggest problem is, this is the first generation of children that are going to have a shorter life span than the previous generation. And that's totally unheard of.

GUPTA: Dr. Howard Shapiro, thanks so much for being with us. Good advice, as you always give. We really appreciate that.

SHAPIRO: It's my pleasure.

GUPTA: All right. And we've got a lot more coming up. First though, check your medicine cabinet. When we come back, what you need to know about where you keep your medicine and when it's time to toss it out.

Plus, a new program targeting veterans. Why their health is at risk and what's being done about it. But first, more of this week's medical headlines in "The Pulse."


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A drink or two a day may help men with high blood pressure lower their risk of a hard attack. A study of 11,000 men suggests small amounts of alcohol reduced the risk of hard disease by raising levels of good cholesterol and reducing the likelihood of blood clots.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says portable generators are so dangerous they ought to carry danger levels. Deadly concentrations of carbon monoxide can result in generators used in closed space.

Children who don't get a good night's sleep may be more likely to be depressed. A study published in the journal "Sleep" looked at over 500 kids with depression. More than 70 percent reported sleep disturbances like insomnia, the inability to sleep, and hypersomnia, sleeping too much.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.



GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. Earlier, we asked if your mother's standard treatment for cuts, hydrogen peroxide, is still considered the gold standard or it is out of date? Well, the answer surprised some of my colleagues. It's out of date.

It turns out hydrogen peroxide actually irritates skin cells around those cuts and those scrapes, which extends the time it takes to heal. Makes it longer.

Instead, doctors recommend you wash with warm water, then apply anti bacterial ointment, such as Neosporin. So we get to thinking here about HOUSECALL about the question of what you should be keeping in your medicine cabinet. We want you to think of the new year as your time to go through your medicine bottles.

Why, you may ask? Well, just watch this.


GUPTA (voice-over): Have you checked your medicine cabinet lately? Well, if not, experts recommend you get to it, because your medicine may not be doing what it should.

CYNTHIA COFFEY: I really recommend checking your dates on your OTC products, as well as your prescription products. And that's because a lot of products will either be less effective or degrade and cause more harm in the long run.

GUPTA: For example, Nitro Glycerine tablets that can stop an angina attack lose effectiveness if repeatedly exposed to sunlight or moisture. And the antibiotic Tetracycline can cause a deadly skin infection if taken past its expiration date.

COFFEY: Thousands of people go to the hospital every year because either they've not been treated appropriately because of medication, they're not taking the right doses. They could be taking expired drugs, where it's not working as effectively and causing long term complications.

GUPTA: Another piece of advice from the pharmacist, read the labels on all medicines to make sure you're taking the right dose. And also to make sure you're not taking medications with the same active ingredient.

COFFEY: With certain products, it can cause liver or kidney damage. So it's very important to be cautious of your labels and read your labels. GUPTA: And once a staple in any mother's medicine cabinet, syrup of Ipecac is not recommended to induce vomiting if your child swallows something poisonous. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics stresses keep potential poisons out of sight and out of reach of children, and post the number for Poison Control near the phone.

Finally, be careful where you store the medicine. Two of the worst spots are in the bathroom or over the kitchen stove. Because of changes in temperature and humidity. Those conditions can even cause drugs to deteriorate and even expire before the date on the label.

COFFEY: So I really recommend that keep them in a tote, in a nearby closet, or some place that's out of reach of children, and something that's not in direct light. And it doesn't have extreme temperature changes. Room temperatures are very good temperature to keep products at, unless otherwise stated.

GUPTA: As for getting rid of expired medications, experts say don't flush them, as they could contaminate the water supply. Instead, talk with your pharmacist. Some will dispose of your old medicine.


GUPTA: And one more tip, if you find any leftover antibiotics in your medicine cabinet, throw them out regardless of the expiration date. You see, when you're prescribed antibiotics, in order for them to be effective, you need to take the full course that is prescribed. So there shouldn't be any leftovers and they won't be of any use.

Coming up, the U.S. Navy gets serious about getting lean. Find out their plan for weight loss.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. As you know, if you've been watching the show, more men and women in the military are getting heavier. And that can be cause for dismissal.

Now the Navy is overhauling the menu of every ship in its fleet, reducing fatty foods. And current service members aren't the only ones struggling with weight issues.

Get this, 70 percent to 75 percent of veterans are considered overweight, which is higher than the rest of the American population. So the V.A. Administration is trying to help these older soldiers fight a new kind of war, one on fat.




GUPTA (voice-over): "Fine" is not a word Earl Ward often heard when he went to the doctor.

EARL WARD: You should have seen me a few years ago, because I was -- had a big gut.

GUPTA: Because of that gut, he became a diabetic and he suffered from sleep apnea.

WARD: I wasn't doing much. I used to be very active.

GUPTA: He's one of thousands of veterans across the country signing up for a new fitness and nutrition program at the V.A. called "Move."

PHYLLIS GATEWOOD, MOVE COORDINATOR: The overall goal is to get our veterans to start eating healthier, become more physically active, and start focusing on those behaviors so that we can help them manage their weight.

GUPTA: Each vet who visits the doctor at the V.A. and is overweight gets referred to "Move." Far from a boot camp, it treats each veteran individually.

WARD: They don't beat me down, as they say, but they do educate and advise and counsel. And I participate in any program that they offer.

GUPTA: And the program's paying off.

YVETTE WILLIAMS, DR.: Very nice. 118 over 65. Great, that's doing very well.

GUPTA: Ward's sleep apnea is gone. His cholesterol levels are better and he's even been able to cut back his diabetes medications.

WILLIAMS: Changing your diet has made a lot of things better, even though we're don't have as much weight loss as we wanted.

GUPTA: But if he keeps "Move" up, a healthy weight should come eventually.

WILLIAMS: I'm looking for a sustained weight loss over a long period of time that can fit into their regular routine. I think you're doing very well.

WARD: Well, thank you.


GUPTA: You know, it is great to see how losing weight can actually improve your overall health. It really does make a difference. So keep up the good work, Earl.

Coming up, did you make a healthy resolution to start the year? If so, we've got some expert advice for staying on track.



GUPTA: Hey, it's New Year's resolution time. And I certainly know that no matter what you promise yourself, it's easier said than done. So I wanted to give you a few tips for making a good resolution and hopefully sticking to it. First of all, don't set the bar higher than you can jump. That's tempting to envision yourself in three months being 40 pounds, but that's not possible or even healthy for some people. So start with ten pounds. There's no reason you can't promise to lose another 10 once you lose the first 10. So start small.

Also, decide who you're going to tell about your resolution. Now if you tell everybody, you're going to be have a whole network of people holding you to task. But if you don't want to succeed, more people are going to know about it. So decide which course you want to take and stick to it.

Finally, you don't need to stick to the rules. Making a New Year's resolution at New Year's can put a lot of pressure on you. So make yours in February or March. And by the same token, if you promise to quit smoking or lose weight by March and you haven't done it, don't give up, just make another resolution that you can stick with.


GUPTA: Just one of my podcasts. And you can download those for free at i-Tunes or at

Now by subscribing at i-Tunes, you have access to a library of topics from headaches to autism. And it's all free.

Of course, tune in every weekend for another edition of HOUSECALL. E- mail us your questions to Then watch to see if they're answered.

Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.


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