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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Obesity Expert Walks The Walk While Talking About Weighty Issues

He's one of the world's leading obesity experts, so go ahead and call Dr. Arya Sharma the University of Alberta's blubber buster or Capital Health's cellulite slayer.
But you certainly can't call him a hypocrite, because when it comes to getting off his duff and keeping fit h imself, the good doc practices what he preaches.
Although the gym bores him and he's just not into sports, the 48-year-old Edmonton-based physician has managed to surgically implant plenty of physical activity into his hectic lifestyle.
Most notably, Sharma - who is a trim 165 pounds at five-foot-11 - rides his bicycle to work every day.
It's a seven-kilometre trek from his Belgravia home to his clinic at the Royal Alexandra Hospital.
"A lot of people think, 'Wow, that's a long distance.' But it's not," he explains of his daily 14-km round trip.
"You cut across the university. You go over the High Level Bridge. There are actually bike paths all over the place. So it's not bad at all."
Plus, the heart-pumping, calorie-burning ride only takes him about 25 minutes and he is able to avoid rush-hour traffic congestion and doesn't have to worry about parking.
"A car would probably not be much quicker by the time you parked and walked," he adds. "In rush-hour traffic, getting across the High Level Bridge, I'm much faster on my bike than anybody in their car."
Similarly, Sharma - who works on the fourth floor of the Royal Alex's Community Service Centre - has discovered it takes much less time to take the stairs than wait for the elevator.
"I don't have time to wait for an elevator. You get on and then it stops on every floor because someone's getting on and off. It just takes forever. It's much faster and quicker to take the stairs."
Of course, a stairwell is a far healthier option.
"I probably do the flight of stairs five, 10 times a day," he says. "I virtually always use the stairs unless I'm carrying something heavy."
The busy doctor, who sees about 25 patients a day at his clinic, is chair of cardiovascular obesity research at the U of A and the scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network. Many of his patients weigh more than 350 pounds and have a BMI of at least 47.
Also serving as medical director of Capital Health's Weight Wise program, Sharma likes to routinely have "walk-and-talk meetings," and he's been known to stand during more formal meetings.
"Standing in a meeting will use more calories than sitting," he explains.
When he's not cycling to work, Sharma prefers to use public transportation because "you always get more walking in when you're running to catch a bus," he says.
"I try to get as much physical activity during the day as I possibly can."
As for his diet, Sharma says he makes sure to eat regularly. That means three square meals a day, including a good breakfast.
"As I always say, the worst time to eat is when you're hungry. Once you're hungry, you tend to make poor choices and you eat too fast, so you end up overeating," he explains. "The best way to avoid being hungry is to make sure you're eating regularly."
Of course, when you're a highly sought-after doctor and obesity guru with a packed schedule, there are times when sitting down to eat a proper meal just isn't possible.
That's when Sharma reaches for a meal replacement, such as Slim-Fast, Ensure or Boost.
"They're very cheap, they're quick and they're convenient," he says. "It's always better to replace a meal than to skip a meal that you don't have time for."
While Sharma doesn't have a sweet tooth, he does admit to a weakness for fare that is salty and crunchy. Among his biggest temptations are potato chips and nachos.
"Those are deadly," says the married father of three grown daughters who doesn't mince words. "It's probably one of the most concentrated forms of calories that you can eat."
Nevertheless, Sharma - whose past appointments were in Germany and Hamilton, Ont., before arriving in Edmonton late last summer - manages to keep himself in good shape.
And as he approaches 50 and beyond, he knows he's going to have to work even harder.
"It doesn't get easier as you grow older," he says. "It just means you have to do more, you have to be more careful about what you eat and how much you eat, and you must try to be as active as you possibly can."
According to the latest tally from Statistics Canada, Alberta's obesity rate was higher than the national average in 2007.
"Alberta is certainly one of the provinces in Canada that has the biggest obesity problem," he notes.
The bad news is there's no cure for obesity, which leads to a host of potentially life-threatening ailments. And there are plenty of causes - everything from stress and lack of sleep to poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
"It's not the thyroid," he adds. "Forget about the thyroid. It's way more complex than that."
The good news, however, is that there's no shortage of effective treatments - from counting calories and getting plenty of exercise to bariatric and gastric bypass surgery in the most extreme cases.
"Unfortunately, all those treatments are for life," he says. "Whatever treatment you find that works for you, you're going to have to stick with that treatment forever."
You've no doubt heard it before, but take it from this city's very own flab fighter: Shaping up and keeping fit is indeed a lifestyle. And that's the skinny on fat.
Visit for more information.
1) Avoid liquid calories like those found in juices, pop and alcohol. "Count those calories as part of your meal. They can quickly add up."
2) Keep active. Use every opportunity to walk or get on your bike. Stay away from elevators and walk on escalators. "You don't have to just stand still on the escalator waiting for it to take you up."
3) Get a good night's sleep. "If you don't, you get the carb cravings and you don't have the energy to be active."