Diet, Nutrition & Fitness

How Do I Know If the Symptoms I’m Experiencing Are Normal?

October 06, 2011


  • "How many times is normal to get up at night and go to the bathroom?” 
  • “If I’m having trouble hearing the television, am I going to go deaf?” 
  • “Is it normal to forget where you parked your car - I’m only 40!”
  • “Is it ok if my mom is taking naps during the day, or should I be concerned? She did just retire.”


These are common questions that I get from patients as they get older. And it can be challenging to know the answers when you’re not a medical professional. Yet, it is important to be able to tell the difference between what is a normal part of aging versus a disease. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you should be having ten different medical problems. Yes, you will have some problems such as trouble reading fine print by the time you’re 40, but you’re not going to start having a life of aches and pains just because you’re older. 


I find there are two sorts of patients – those that come in whenever they have any change in a body function, have scoured the internet and now think they have a brain tumor; and then there are those folks who rarely ever come into the office with complaints because they attribute it to “I’m just getting old.” The reality is that it is often diseases that make getting old frustrating, not the normal changes associated with aging. As we get older, too often we are embarrassed to bring up concerns to our doctors, or even get advice for our aging parents. So people needlessly live with pain, depression, bladder problems, vision problems – all the time thinking that these are normal changes, when sometimes they are not!


So I’m here to help you get some more information as to when you should be concerned about that mole on your back, and when you should say that’s just a normal part of aging.  Take the quiz, and let’s see how you do.


More on Aging:

5 Stereotypes About Aging That Aren't True

How Do My Sleeping Habits Change as I Age?

How Does Aging Affect Driving Ability?

7 Ways to Keep Fit

August 22, 2011

Yoga Well, it’s almost the end of summer. I know some of you have been quite active – swimming, hiking, running. Others I’m sure keep saying they’ll wait for Labor Day to get back to the gym. Whichever best describes you, I have some tips to make being active your daily mantra.

Most of us are familiar with the numerous benefits of exercise and daily physical activity, but it can be challenging to find the time to work out regularly. You’ll be more successful by having the mindset of becoming more physically active rather than simply adding “exercise” to a long list of daily chores.

1. Do what you love.

Are you a dancer, runner, or perhaps a swimmer? Getting exercise by doing what you already love is a great way of incorporating physical activity into your life. Even if your favorite thing to do is play video games, there’s a way nowadays to make it active! You could play games that use motion sensor technology, allowing you to move while you play. Or pick dance titles that let you move.

If going to the gym is more your thing, find one that’s close to home, or, even better, within walking distance. You’re more likely to use that gym membership if it’s nearby. If you do have to drive there, don’t spend 20 minutes circling for a close parking spot. You’re there to work out, remember? Instead, park far away and walk all the way to the exercise machines. And don’t forget to bring your favorite music –it makes gym time much more fun!

2. Set realistic goals.

Getting some exercise, even if it’s not for the full hour you had hoped, is better than none.  Don’t let the perfect workout be the enemy of good. Go easy on yourself at first. No one, especially your doctor, is expecting you to run a marathon the first day. Even 30 minutes of activity broken up into three 10-minute segments throughout the day has a proven benefit. If you haven’t been active in a long time, try aiming for even 5-10 minutes of activity. Remember, slow and steady wins the race every time. Too often, people set lofty goals and then become frustrated when they can’t reach them.

When setting exercise goals, I often tell patients to decide whether you’re a morning gym person or an afternoon/evening type. Believe me - you know which one you are! Working out in the morning can give you energy for the whole day and keeps your metabolic rate up – but if you are a zombie before that morning coffee, it’s not going to work. Evening workouts after work can be perfect for folks who get a second wind after 5 pm.

3. Move while at work.

Again, this is where having the mind set of moving and being physically active can really help. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk to speak with people rather than calling them or emailing them. Go old-school! In the age of online social networking, nothing beats old-fashioned, real face-time.

Stand, rather than sit, whenever you can. While waiting for those photocopies, do some stretches at the copier. Sure, it might look a little strange at first, but you might actually live longer! During your lunch hour, take a walk outside around the building.

4. Be active at home.

Exercise while watching your favorite TV show. Come on – is it really that hard to do a few pushups or sit-ups during commercial breaks? Try it!

5. Find a buddy or partner to exercise with you.

Nothing ensures success like having someone to motivate and push you on those days when you’d rather just be lazy or quit. Getting your kids involved in sports can also help them learn healthy habits early on and is a great bonding experience for everyone.

6. Take a vacation.

Yes, you read that right! Let the next vacation be one that incorporates some physical activity like hiking. Tour a new city by walking, jogging or biking. Sorry, Segway tours don’t count.

7. Keep a journal.

Keeping a record of your goals and accomplishments is one way to give yourself a pat on the back when you see how far you’ve come. It also helps to have those fitness goals written down somewhere. And if you really want to be bold - tell your friends your goals;  that way, they’ll be asking you about it every so often!

Being active isn’t meant to be painful. Many times, it can actually be fun. See how these tips can help improve your fitness level. The little changes you make to your lifestyle now can yield big results. Years from now, your body will thank you for it!


More Fitness Tips:

Walking to Lose Weight

Total Body Workout Routine

5 Office Exercise Tips


Photo Source: Thinkstock/Valueline

Is This Normal? The Essential Guide to Middle Age and Beyond

July 20, 2011

Book Is it normal to forget where you parked your car? Do we really shrink as we grow older? Does everyone experience lower libido as they age?

More than 78 million American adults are nearing the age when unexpected aches and pains, weight gains, sudden illnesses and confusing mental changes begin to occur. As children, our questions about how our bodies will change are met with knowledge and patience—anything to make the transition as seamless as possible. But at 50 or 60, there’s no one to help us figure out whether the changes we’re experiencing are a cause for concern or just a normal part of aging.

Is This Normal? is a guidebook that focuses on putting this generation at ease by answering their most common questions. From superficial concerns to everyday aches and pains to more serious medical problems, Dr. John Whyte, chief medical expert at Discovery Channel, cuts through the confusion and provides practical answers for the most common age-related health issues. In Is This Normal?, he answers a broad range of questions, such as:

  • How much weight gain is normal as we age—and why is it so hard to lose?
  • Is it normal to need a pair of reading glasses just to decipher a restaurant menu?
  • What are the signs of Alzheimer’s versus normal memory loss?

With compassion, reassurance, and friendly guidance, Dr. Whyte provides cutting-edge medical advice for the effects of aging we face every day—from gray hair and wrinkles to cardiovascular health. Is This Normal? arms readers with the essential knowledge and preventive strategies they need stay healthy and vital for decades to come. 

Buy the Book Today!

More Aging Myths, Tips and Tricks:

7 Anti-Aging Tips

Aging IQ Quiz

5 Myths About Aging and Your Health

5 Stereotypes About Aging

How to Make Working Work for You

August 30, 2010

Andrew taylor
Patients often ask me how they can best prepare for a new addition to the family while juggling the stress of their jobs and everyday life. Let’s be honest – it’s tough! Did you know that nearly 60 percent of married mothers with children under 3 years old are active in the workforce?

This is almost double the number of working moms in 1975, and the latest studies show that fathers feel just as stressed as mothers do! It’s no easier for single parents: In single-parent families with children under 3 years, 57 percent of mothers and 77percent of fathers are employed. As it becomes more common for both mothers and fathers to work, parents find themselves struggling to handle the demands of a baby while providing for the family. With some simple adjustments, though, parents can ensure a less stressful experience for themselves and more time for the family.

Working too hard is a serious consequence for parents. You’ve probably heard of burnout from work, but did you know it can also drain you of your enthusiasm at home? How can you avoid burnout? Here are 3 easy tips:

  • You can start by using your breaks more wisely for a little bit of de-stress time. Do some deep breathing or close your eyes and envision something relaxing. Try this during your coffee breaks or when you have a bit of down time at work.
  • Use your commute as time to unwind from work and to separate work from home. Let this time serve as a gap between the pressures of work and the joys of spending time with family, and change your mindset accordingly. Stop using commute time for e-mails and texting!
  • In addition to prioritizing and improving your time management, keep your expectations as real as possible. Sometimes, it’s not going to be possible to go to the movies because Junior has an ear infection.

Now that you’re effectively avoiding burnout, what else can you do to be a successful working parent?

  • Many parents find managing a new addition much easier when they are able to work from home, using baby’s frequent naps as the perfect time to get work done.
  • Some employers also offer compressed work weeks or flextime schedules. Compressed work weeks let you work only four days per week as long as you work a couple of extra hours each day, leaving a full day open to take care of things at home. Flextime allows employees to choose when they want to work, as long as they meet the required number of work hours.
  • Great news for fathers: Some employers are also offering paternity leave.

Check with your employer about your options when you are expecting a baby. Many employers are willing to reasonably accommodate their employees when it comes to a new baby.

Armed with these tips, parents can now focus on what’s most important: enjoying the newest addition to their family and knowing that the family’s needs are met. Don’t let your job boss you around at the expense of your family life; make working work for you.

(Image Credit: Andrew Taylor/

How Big is Your Teaspoon?

February 17, 2010

All moms and dads know the drill—the sick kid, middle of the night shuffle into the bedroom with a syrup of some kind in hand. You pour it onto a spoon, send it down the hatch, feel junior’s forehead, then try to go back to sleep. Parents have performed this ritual since the beginning of time, but getting the right amount of medicine into your child is an inexact science at best.

Blame it on the spoon. Sometimes you’ll pour too little, sometimes too much, depending on its size. Like everyone else, you probably assume the dose is close enough -- that it all evens out in the end. But the practice isn’t as benign as you might think. Spoons have actually been linked to dosing errors and pediatric poisonings.  

A recent article in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine1 looked at how close moms and dads came to giving their children a 5 milliliter dose of a common liquid medicine using various methods, including spoons and those little cups that come packaged with medications. After testing nearly 300 parents, researchers discovered that 50% or them made mistakes, even the ones who were confident they’d gotten it right. The spoons you take out of your kitchen drawer and the convenient cups were among the worst culprits.  

The FDA recommends against using kitchen utensils to give, or take, liquid medications. So do I. Safer alternatives are out there, and I encourage my patients to use them. The best bets are measuring droppers, dosing spoons, and oral syringes, especially the ones with bottle adapters. Any of these options will get you within safe range of the desired dose, and you can pick them up  at your local pharmacy.

Research shows that no matter how sure you are of your ability to dole out the recommended dose, getting it right is a tricky business. So the next time you have to give your child liquid medication, skip the spoon and play it safe.

[1] Arch Pediatr Adolesc  Med. 2010;164(2):181-186

Resolutions need to be from the heart, and for the heart

January 11, 2010

Oh yes, 2010 has finally arrived. The start of a new decade!  Hard to believe that many of us were worried about the "Y2K" bug just a decade ago!  Does that really seem ten years ago? Where has that time gone? Before we know it, we will be writing about 2020.

 Just as in 2000, certain traditions prevail, including the esteemed tradition known as the New Years Resolution. I bet you have made one or two...and by this point, some of us have already broken those resolutions.

My good friend, Dr. Mehmet Oz, has discussed this issue as part of the "Ultimate 20," and believes that resolutions have the best success rate when they have a personal meaning.  Specifically, he believes that people do not simply follow through on their resolutions based on what they know alone (the "factual component"); instead, they require an emotional component for the greatest success rate. So what exactly comprises the "emotional component" for successfully obtaining a New Year's resolution?

For instance, let's say you are trying to focus on removing two "vices" from your lifestyle, specifically  smoking and unhealthy diets. Already, many of us know about the need to quit smoking or follow a healthy diet. Smoking has been linked in literature with lung cancer and increased mortality. Diseases such as hypertension and diabetes can result, in part, from an unhealthy diet that is high in salt and sugar. Surely the literature proclaims a need to change your lifestyle, but one is often left pondering the question- "what is in it for me besides some academic findings from literature?" And somebody always knows somebody who smokes and seems fine.

The answer is simple- other people are depending on you and your attainment of these New Year Resolutions! When you know a spouse, dear friend, or significant other wants you to quit smoking and improve your diet, this strikes at your emotions. You certainly don't want to let them down; of course they believe in you and they will certainly be there for support! So this embodies the "emotional support." Facts are good to know, but they do not always have a personal touch!

But of course, training for this lifestyle modification will not be easy. In light of this challenge, Dr. Oz mentions that the pathway to better health is similar to a marathon. If you are aiming for a successful completion- you need to keep on a constant training regimen. You cannot start one day and then stop a few days later.  Of course, similar to an exercise program, if you have someone who is ready to "practice" with you on that "marathon" to fulfill your New Year's resolution, it makes achieving and maintaining your goals all that much easier.

So, when feeling that your New Year's resolutions are somehow unobtainable, think of Dr. Oz and his philosophy. Don't just think of only yourself, think of the benefits you will give for others!  Think of the way that achieving your goals will help both you and your special team of support! Here's to a great 2010 for all of you and to making sure that you both accomplish your New Year's resolutions and maintain them going forward!

Sleep—Too Much of a Good Thing?

January 08, 2010

I realize that everyone is talking this month about the need to get more sleep. With the
holiday season over and busy work days back upon us, we are flooded with messages
urging us to get sleep despite the numerous time constraints of our daily lives. And I
have even written in the past to sleep better.

It is true that too little sleep is bad for your health – it can cause a heart attack, it can
make you gain weight, as well as increase your risk for cancer and even make you die
prematurely. But what about the flip slide – is it possible to get too much sleep? And
what counts as “too much”?

A recent article in the Journal of Sleep Research looked at the association between the
number of hours we sleep and the possible health risks. After looking at the results from
over 20 other research studies, researchers discovered that adults who sleep on average
more than 9 hours per night experienced more health problems such as obesity and stroke
than those who got a restful 7-8 hours. Some scientists believe that too much sleep is
actually more dangerous to our health than too little sleep.

Now I’m not talking about those of us try to “catch up” on sleep on the weekends, trying
to make up for the nights we sleep too little. (And I might point out there’s no such thing
as “catching up on sleep.”!) The exact mechanism for the increased health problems is
not known but some think longer sleep leads to less exposure to daylight, as well as lower
levels of beneficial stress. That’s right…some stress can be beneficial.

 I often find that when patients come in complaining of too much sleep that there is often
an underlying problem. Often, they are depressed and don’t have an interest in getting
out of bed. Depression is often under-diagnosed and too much sleep can be an early sign.
Luckily there are good therapies – both with and without drugs to fight depression.
Others actually are equating the number of hours in bed with sleep, when in fact they are
getting too little sleep due to restlessness and sometimes chronic pain. And if you are
sleeping during the day, that could be a sign of obstructive sleep apnea.

I also want to point out that as we get older, we do not need more sleep. I can’t tell you
how many patients come in with elderly parents and complain they sleep all day. Well,
something is wrong there and should be evaluated. As we get older, the quality of our
sleep decreases but the total amount of sleep should stay the same --- 7-8 hours.

Like many of you, I do like to sleep! One of the reasons I did not go into surgery or
anesthesiology is that I don’t like to get up before 6 am! I do recognize, however, that
developing a good sleep regimen is important for good health. So like many others have
told you, establish a regular sleep time in the evening and wake-up time in the morning
and stick with it every day, including weekends. Sleeping longer on weekends actually
messes up our biologic clocks. It’s only natural that there are going to be days when you

sometimes get more, and sometimes get less. But aim for 7-8 hours of sleep a night, and
you will do well! Like a lot of things, too much sleep isn’t good for you!

Getting Over That Plateau

January 26, 2009

You’ve been on the treadmill for what feels like days on end.  You are watching what you eat and drink.  However, despite earlier success watching that scale move in the direction you wanted it to, you’ve hit the infamous plateau!  What do you do? 

These 5 tips will help you break through any plateau and continue on your path to success.  By educating yourself and making sure you have all the proper behavioral “tools”, you can make more positive changes and continue to improve your health day after day!   Believe me, it’s worth the effort.

1.    Plan Ahead:  Without a plan, you won’t know where you’re trying to go.  You may have all the information in the world, are making the right food choices, increasing your exercise intensity, etc, but if you don’t plan your great intentions will go right out the window.  Pack your meals ahead – take some time on Sunday, for example, and prepare some extra food for throughout the week.  Pack this the night before work each day, so you’re never stuck without any options, forcing you to turn to the vending machine or fast food. 

2.    Learn to Grocery Shop:  This one is right in line with planning ahead.  Your weight loss efforts really start before you make any meals in your house.  They start at the grocery store and if you don’t know what do look for, you’ll struggle when faced with the 50,000 products that fill grocery store shelves.  Here is a simple step – stick to the perimeter of the store for 90% of your shopping.  Outside of produce, grains, seafood, meat, poultry, and dairy, there’s nothing else you need at the grocery store in terms of food. And make a list before you go, and stick to it.  It goes without say that you should not go grocery shopping when you are hungry – that’s a recipe for disaster!

3.    Realize there is no magic bullet.  Many folks become discouraged when beginning an exercise or weight loss program because they expect a magic bullet, or overnight success.  But starting a simple exercise program or reading a “diet” book won’t cure a 30 year ice cream or soda addiction.  Small steps each day mean big changes in the long run; nothing will happen overnight and it’s important to continually encourage yourself.  Unhealthy habits weren’t created overnight and they won’t be changed overnight.  You need to work towards improving your habits day after day.   

4.    Work with a friend(s) or spouse.  Social support has been shown to improve the ability to lose and maintain weight loss.  Use this to your advantage.  Get a group of friends, family members, or co-workers together to get on a plan and work towards a goal.  It’s much more likely that you make time for exercise if you know you are meeting other people; it is just another way to be held accountable.  At the very least, get a friend to train with; this will help both of you when trying to push and break through to the next level. 

5.    Eat Breakfast!  You’ve clearly heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right?  Well, if not…it’s true!  Not only has research shown that those who eat breakfast regularly consume higher levels of many nutrients, but it has also shown time and time again that those who eat breakfast daily have lower body fat levels and body weights!  And, get this, you’ll be more physically and mentally alert all day!  Please don’t skip this important meal. 

There are always going to be many barriers to changing eating and exercise behaviors and breaking through plateaus.  Step out of your comfort zone and have a change of mindset.  It’s very easy to stop at a fast food restaurant or order a pizza for dinner, instead of taking 10 or 20 minutes to prepare a healthy meal.  The time to make a change is now!

Related Links:

Join the National Body Challenge FREE today! 

Use our National Body Challenge Community to stay motivated!

Behaviors & Goals – If you bite it you must write it!

January 19, 2009

Have you ever try to ride a bicycle with one flat tire?  You don’t get very far.  Anyone can go “on a diet” for a few weeks to lose weight.  But learning how to change behaviors for good will enhance success. 

Losing weight is not rocket science.  It’s really quite simple:   In order to lose weight, calories in have to be less than calories out.  But what can revolutionize a lifelong struggle with weight management is learning how to take in less calories or expend more calories.  Here’s one tip that can help everyone achieve their weight loss and weight maintenance goals – if you bite it, you must write it!

This is called self-monitoring and it is arguably one of the most effective component of successfully losing and maintaining weight loss.  There are many reasons why it is so effective—here are just a few. 

#1: It teaches portion control

Many don’t understand what an appropriate serving looks like.

In today’s age of ‘Burritos the size of your head,” calories can add up very quickly.    Research has shown that portion sizes have increased over the last several decades to 2-3 times the recommended serving size.    You need to remove “supersize” and “large” from your vocabulary.

When writing it down, though, you will have to measure the serving to get a close count as to how much you’re putting in your body.  Once you actually learn portion control, you’ll quickly get a grasp on just how easy it is to overeat.   

#2. It increases your awareness

All too often, we eat for the activity rather than for physiological hunger.  We eat while we work, while driving, or while doing household tasks.  Too often we combine eating with relaxation such as watching TV, reading, or attending sporting events.  However, research has shown that coupling events with eating increases calorie intake. 

Once distracted, we become unaware of the amount we have consumed and do not feel fuller by eating more. Rather than serving any physiological need for food, eating becomes merely an activity.  Keeping a daily log of your intake, though, increases your awareness and decreases the likelihood of overconsuming calories or eating for other reasons aside from physiological hunger!

#3. It decreases overall calorie intake.

Research suggests that simply recording the foods and beverages consumed naturally decreases the amount of calories we eat.  This benefit is a natural off shoot of the first 2 benefits – when we are more aware of portion sizes, we eat less calories, and when we are more aware of what we are putting in our body, and we naturally eat less.  In fact, data from the National Weight Control Registry, a registry of men and women who have lost at least 30 lbs and maintained that for at least one year, has tracked behaviors of these individuals.  One of the behaviors that is attributed to their success is daily journaling and monitoring of their intake! 

This doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your lifestyle; it’s a simple behavior that can help you reach your goals!  If you bite it, you must write it!

Related Links:

Join the National Body Challenge FREE today! 

Keep a journal online through the National Body Challenge Community!

Move More! – Everyday Steps Towards Better Fitness

January 12, 2009

We have become a nation that sits on our butts!  That’s right!  More than half of adults engage in no physical activity at all! That’s disappointing, since more and more data show that regular exercise has been linked to decreased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  Being physically active can even reduce premature death. 

What is physical activity?

Regular physical activity is defined as participating in moderate intensity activity (gardening, walking briskly as if you are late for the bus) for at least 30 minutes a day on 5 or more days a week  or vigorous activity (such as running, heavy yard work etc.) for at least 20 minutes a day 3 or more days per week. 

This may seem like a lot, especially if you have a lot going on in your life. However, remember that every bit counts.  You don’t have to go to the gym to reap the benefits of physical activity. Don’t overlook the small ways you can be more active every day.  Take more stairs at home or work, park farther away from the office and from the store and get up from your desk frequently throughout the day.  Small changes maintained over the course of the year can add up to be significant improvements in health!

Try a pedometer too.  Pedometers are also known as step counters; they measure the amount of physical activity you do throughout the day.  It is recommended to take a minimum of 10,000 steps per day; this is equivalent to exercising at least 30 minutes per day.  These are a fantastic tool when trying to increase physical activity or for those who are looking to maintain the recommended level of activity each day.   And the feedback is instantaneous – if you haven’t walked 10,000 steps before bedtime, you better get moving!

Continue reading >

John J. Whyte, MD, MPH is the Chief Medical Expert & Vice President for Continuing Medical Education where he develops, designs and delivers health programming.








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