Exercise

The Workouts That Can Prevent The Flu

Vigorous exercise is better than moderate exercise at boosting the immune system.

You know that vigorous exercise burns fat and builds muscle (and it may even help fight cravings)—and now you might be able to add “fight the flu” to its list of accomplishments, according to research recently released at National Science and Engineering Week.

Through an online survey, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine polled more than 4,800 people on their health habits and found that those who exercised vigorously for at least two and a half hours a week were about 10 percent less likely to come down with a flu-like illness. Meanwhile, moderate exercise didn’t seem to have any effect on the flu.

While all exercise is known to increase immunity, previous research in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology shows that high-intensity exercise is better than moderate exercise at improving the body’s aerobic capacity, a marker of overall health and fitness. And the fitter you are, the more likely your immune system will be able to wipe out nasty cells like the flu bug.

Cold or Flu: Can you Tell

However, it’s important to remember that overdoing it on high-intensity exercise can actually wear down the immune system, per a 2014 study in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. Luckily, two and a half hours of high-intensity exercise a week is all your need to reap the flu-fighting benefits of hardcore exercise.

Think you’ve already beaten this year’s flu? Not so fast. While we are nearing the end of the season, the nasty bug can strike any time of year, note the researchers.

So for good measure, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite high intensity workouts. Try them out, and fight the flu and weight gain at the same time!

30-Minute Workout: Get Total-Body Toned with this No-Equipment Circuit Workout

This article was written by K. Aleisha Fetters and originally appeared on Womenshealthmag.com.

 

Heart Attacks, Strokes Related to Type 2 Diabetes Drop Dramatically

171149853
Stethoscope rests on headlines concerning diabetes Don Bayley—Getty Images

In the new study, researchers found that the rates of heart attacks and deaths related to high blood sugar dropped 60% from 1990 to 2010. The rates of lower extremity amputations, as well as strokes, dropped by about 50%

The rates of type 2 diabetes-related complications, like heart attacks, kidney failure, strokes, and amputations, have significantly dropped in the last 20 years.

In the new study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at four major data sets and found that the rates of heart attacks and deaths related to high blood sugar dropped 60% from 1990 to 2010. The rates of lower extremity amputations, as well as strokes, dropped by about 50%, and end-stage kidney failure by 30%.

“We were a bit surprised by magnitude of the decrease in heart attack and stroke,” lead study author Edward W. Gregg, a senior epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The New York Times.

Still, over the same study period, the number of Americans with diabetes tripled, rising to 26 million. While the sharp decline in compilations is reassuring, it’s likely because the medical community has gotten better at diagnosis and treatment.

[The New York Times]

What Your Sleeping Position Says About Your Relationship

457772385
Andi Singer--Getty Images

Whether you spoon or sleep back-to-back is an indicator of how happy and satisfied you and your partner are

According to a new study, spooning with your partner really does say something about your relationship.

Researchers from the University of Hertfordshire surveyed 1,000 people and found that couples who maintained physical contact while they slept were more likely to report being happy in their relationship. An overwhelming 94% of couples who touch while sleeping said they were happy, while only 68% of couples who didn’t touch while snoozing expressed being satisfied with their relationship.

Not only that, physical distance while sleeping seemed to translate into emotional distance. Of the 12% of couples who slept with less than an inch separation from their partner, 86% of them said they were happy. For couples who slept more than 30 inches apart (a mere 2%), only 66% said they were happy.

“This is the first survey to examine couples’ sleeping positions, and the results allow people to gain an insight into someone’s personality and relationship by simply asking them about their favorite sleeping position,” said Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and study lead. The research was presented at the Edinburgh International Science Festival.

The most popular sleeping position for couples was back to back, with 42% doing so. Thirty one percent slept facing the same direction, and 4% slept facing one another.

Interestingly, the more outgoing one is, the more likely that person is to sleep closer to to his or her partner. And creative types tended to sleep on their left.

So the next time you want to add some satisfaction to your relationship, consider scooting a little closer. You can always do the “Hug ‘n’ Roll” later.

[Science Daily]

Pregnancy

The Problem With America’s Twin Epidemic

Americans undergoing fertility treatments have gotten used to the prospect of the 'instant family'—but it may carry unnecessary risks.

Remember the days when getting pregnant with twins was a surprise? Now if you’re undergoing fertility treatment, you actually have to decide in advance whether you’re up for double trouble by authorizing how many embryos to have implanted in your uterus. But a new study commissioned by the March of Dimes urges doctors to reduce the health problems caused by multiple births by encouraging patients to get pregnant one embryo at a time.

You don’t have to get mowed down by a double-wide stroller on a city sidewalk to know we’re in the middle of a twin epidemic. Twins account for more than 20 to 30 percent of babies conceived via in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which reached an all-time high with more than 165,000 cycles performed in the U.S. in 2012, according to the latest statistics by the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. National data show twin births nearly doubled over the last three decades to 1 in 30 babies born in the United States in 2009, from 1 in every 53 babies in 1980.

“In the old days of IVF, we had such low pregnancy rates that we had to transfer multiple embryos at a time just to have a good chance of creating a successful pregnancy,” explains Robert Anderson, MD, a fertility doctor from Newport Beach, California. Yet as fertility medicine improved over the past few decades, rates of multiples eventually spiked until the American Society for Reproductive Medicine tightened guidelines in 2012 about how many embryos could be transferred at a time to prevent another “Octomom,” whose doctor’s license was revoked after he implanted eight embryos into Nadya Suleman’s uterus. The current rule of thumb: one to two for women under 35 and three to five for women in their early 40s, depending on the quality of the embryos.

Yet doctors like Anderson are making the case that we should rethink the trend of buying our babies in bulk, since a singleton pregnancy is better for the health of the mother and baby. The latest numbers show that nearly 15 percent of women under 35 opted for a single embryo transfer in 2012, which is double the number from three years earlier. “Over the years, we grew to accept a certain percentage of twins, but it’s a big problem,” says Anderson. “They’re born three to four weeks premature on average, and there’s an increased risk of birth defects, not to mention the mother suffering from getting gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. A study last year found that medical costs associated with care for the mother during pregnancy and immediately after birth and for the infants up to one year cost on average about $105,000 for twins, compared to $21,000 for a single baby.

Despite the increasing acceptance of the technique known as elective single embryo transfer,the rates are still low compared to some European countries, where IVF is often covered by national health insurance and doctors prefer to implant just one embryo in the vast majority of cases. The concept has been a hard sell on American patients, since many can’t afford multiple IVF cycles and are thrilled at the idea of getting “two for the price of one.” Or they’re older patients who worry they’ll have a harder time getting pregnant the second time around a few years later. “When I talk to my patients about single embryo transfer, the vast majority of their eyes glaze over,” explains Fady Sharara, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist in Reston, Virginia. “They’ve already made up their minds. They say, ‘Doctor, I’d rather have twins, and then we’re done.’” This twin mindset has become so entrenched among patients that even in a recent study in which they were offered financial incentives to go for a singleton pregnancy, 40 percent still declined.

Yet the math of “more is more” is misleading, and proponents say success rates can be similar. Anderson’s team at the Southern California Institute for Reproductive Sciences published a study last fall in Fertility & Sterility showing that pregnancy rates involving single embryos that had been genetically tested were equivalent to those with a double transfer. Here’s how it works: Although a woman undergoing IVF might produce enough eggs to create a half-dozen embryos, only a certain percentage will be chromosomally normal and likely to lead to a pregnancy. So doctors boost a patient’s chances of success by transferring one of those good embryos, which has a pregnancy rate of up to nearly 60 percent. (National IVF pregnancy rates involving untested embryos, on the other hand, range from 47 percent in women under 35 and 20 percent for women in their early 40s.) She’ll freeze the extra embryos and come back for another pregnancy attempt later, if they first one fails or she wants another child. “You don’t have to have the whole family at the same time,” explains Sharara, pointing out that even though the first cycle might cost around $20,000, including genetic testing, subsequent transfers of frozen embryos will cost a couple thousand each.

Doctors claim they can boost success rates even more by tinkering with the timing of transfers. During conventional IVF, a woman undergoes weeks of hormone stimulation after which her eggs are retrieved, fertilized with sperm, grown into embryos and implanted into her uterus immediately afterwards. But if a woman chooses genetic testing, her embryos will be frozen while she waits for results, and Anderson says she has a better shot of pregnancy if the embryo is transferred during a later month when her reproductive system isn’t flooded with so many hormones.

Fertility medicine has come a long way from throwing a bunch of embryos into a womb and seeing what sticks. Still, the piecemeal approach may not be for everyone, especially older women who want a ready-made family as soon as possible. Also, the insurance companies who do cover IVF, may not cover genetic testing or embryo freezing, which can cost thousands extra. But the growing popularity of the singleton method is a good trend for patients who want more control in shaping the size of their families.

Health Care

Arizona Approves Surprise Inspections of Abortion Clinics

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer makes a statement saying she vetoed the controversial SB1062 bill at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. On Tuesday, she signed a bill allowing snap inspections of the state's abortion clinics Samantha Sais —Reuters

A new piece of legislation signed by Arizona’s Republican Governor will allow health officials to conduct surprise inspections of the state’s nine abortion clinics

Health officials will be able to inspect Arizona’s abortion clinics without warrants after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law Tuesday.

The new law nullifies previous measures that required judges to approve any potential inspection of the state’s nine registered abortion clinics.

“This legislation will ensure that the Arizona Department of Health Services has the authority to appropriately protect the health and safety of all patients,” said the Governor’s spokesman Andrew Wilder, according to Reuters.

Pro-choice advocates said the Republican Governor’s decision as part of her sustained attack on women’s health.

“[Brewer] has been hostile to women’s health care, including abortion and family planning, since the day she took office,” the president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, Bryan Howard, said in a statement following the passage of the bill.

Arizona joins ten other states that allow for similar snap inspections of abortion facilities.

[Reuters]

How Eldercare Handicaps Women

145084437
Older woman refusing medication at home Monkey Business Images—Getty Images

On Health Care Decisions Day, leading healthcare advocate Jennifer Brokaw, daughter of Tom, points to the burden of medical-decision making, for which wives and daughters bear the brunt.

As a 48-year-old physician, wife, and daughter of aging parents, I am increasingly aware of my role as a medical decision-maker on both sides of the equation. In my work as a medical advocate, I have noticed that this role is played largely by women.

While I am proud that women are still fighting for sexual and reproductive freedoms, that child-rearing has become more of a team sport, and that women’s health issues such as breast cancer and heart disease are on everyone’s radar, the important role of women as medical decision-makers has not yet been given its due.

Almost half of hospitalized patients 65 or older needed a surrogate to help with at least one major decision, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Almost a quarter of those patients needed a surrogate to make all of the decisions.

And who are the surrogates? According to JAMA, 58% were daughters, 20% were sons, and 20% were spouses, wives included.

It’s now estimated more than 60% of adults 65 and older will need some form of long-term care, many of them for the devastating onset of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Alzheimer’s is also one of the key reasons elderly patients require assistance with providing consent or refusal for medical treatment.

It’s not easy being a healthcare surrogate. This is especially true when the decisions center on end-of-life questions, a weighty decision when you consider that in California 77% of unpaid in-home caregivers are women. Where should mom live after a stroke? Would dad want to spend his last days on a ventilator, heavily sedated and paralyzed? Contrary to what many people assume about what happens in the hospital today, it is often the appointed surrogate, not the treating physicians, that make the final decisions about extent of treatment at the end of life.

Research has shown that surrogate decision-makers experience a lot of stress when decisions need to be made, and after the fact as well. However, a well-known study in the British Medical Journal showed that surrogates that had discussed advance directives and wishes with their loved one had significantly less stress, shorter grieving periods, and less substance use after their loved one’s death than those who had not had those conversations.

Nevertheless, only 30% of Americans have created an Advance Health Care Directive or Living Will. In the JAMA study, 25% had a designated surrogate on the chart, but a mere 7% had left any guidelines about their wishes. To be sure, these issues are difficult to contemplate in advance and still carry a lot of stigma in our optimistic never-say-die culture. It’s time for that to change.

I encourage all families to start creating an Advance Health Care Directive or Living Will now with all family members at the table. Clarifying the goals a person has for his or her life, including its end, can ease the burdens of decision-making when a crisis arrives. This process is known as advance care planning.

Furthermore, it’s time for doctors to get formal training about how to discuss decisions that need to be made with the surrogate decision-maker in a way that focuses on the overall goals of care and not just the immediate crisis. Doctors also need to circle back to taking more responsibility for decisions, keeping the patient’s and surrogate’s goals into account, and avoiding the old paternalistic attitude.

Everyone admires the woman who can “have it all,” be a mother, wife, and have a career and a full personal life. When we talk about what derails women’s careers, the conversation focuses on having children. The truth is that “sandwich generation” women have a lot more on their plate. It’s time to give advance care planning and healthcare decision-making the attention it deserves. It’s a woman’s prerogative.

Watch Jennifer and Tom Brokaw’s TED talk on healthcare surrogacy:

Study: New Technique Predicts Consciousness of Brain-Damaged Patients

Brain imaging can help doctors tell when a patient is more likely to recover

+ READ ARTICLE

End-of-life questions are complicated by the uncertainty of whether a patient in a deep vegetative state will ever regain consciousness or recover, and doctors have been baffled by patients who they thought were all but dead coming back to life after an extended period of unconsciousness.

For those cases where patients do seem to wake from the dead, it’s most likely that they were in a minimally conscious state, where there is some awareness or response to stimuli. Such patients have a better chance of recovery than those in a vegetative state, where there are no signs of awareness or response to stimuli.

Diagnosing consciousness is tricky; oftentimes brain activity can be observed, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into consciousness on the part of the patient. The most well-known and standard test for determining awareness is the Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CSR-R), a behavioral test. Now researchers have discovered that a particular type of brain imaging, positron emission tomography, may be able to determine which vegetative patients will recover.

In a study out Tuesday, scientists looked at 126 patients who had experienced severe brain damage. Researchers from the University of Liége in Belgium tested whether using PET with the imaging agent fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) or another imaging technique called functional MRI (fMRI) could distinguish between a vegetative and a minimally conscious state.

Overall, the FDG-PET combination was better than the fMRI method at distinguishing between the two states. FDG-PET was also 74% accurate at predicting recovery within the next year. Additionally, 12 of the patients in the study group who showed some brain activity on the FDG-PET scan were diagnosed by the CSR-R method as behaviorally unresponsive, but 9 of them later recovered some consciousness.

“We confirm that a small but substantial proportion of behaviourally unresponsive patients retain brain activity compatible with awareness,” says study leader Professor Steven Laureys from the University of Liége in Belgium.

But diagnosing consciousness through brain imaging is far from an exact science. It’s often unclear how to interpret brain activity. In 2011, researchers from the University of Western Ontario reported that they had successfully used an electroencephalogram (EEG) to record brain signals that suggested awareness in patients in a vegetative state. However, when a team of scientists from Weill Cornell Medical College tried to replicate their data a few years later, they discovered that the original researchers didn’t account for false-positives. When they went back over the data, accounting for interfering factors like muscle activity and EEG blips, they were unable to replicate the results.

What the study does indicate, though, is that PET may be needed for confirmation of consciousness. “Our findings suggest that PET imaging can reveal cognitive processes that aren’t visible through traditional bedside tests, and could substantially complement standard behavioural assessments to identify unresponsive or ‘vegetative’ patients who have the potential for long-term recovery,” Laureys said in a statement.

Recreational Pot Use Harmful to Young People’s Brains

A new study from medical researchers at Harvard and Northwestern shows that 18- to 25-year-olds who smoke marijuana—even just recreationally!—had marked abnormalities in areas of their brains that regulate emotion and motivation

For those young people — and their parents — who think that smoking pot in moderation isn’t harmful, it’s time to think again.

A study released this week by researchers from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School has found that 18- to 25-year-olds who smoke marijuana only recreationally showed significant abnormalities in the brain.

“There is this general perspective out there that using marijuana recreationally is not a problem — that it is a safe drug,” says Anne Blood, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the co-senior author of the study, which is being published in the Journal of Neuroscience. “We are seeing that this is not the case.”

The scientists say theirs is the first study to examine the relationship between casual use of marijuana in young people and pot’s effects on two parts of the brain that regulate emotion and motivation. As such, it is sure to challenge many people’s assumptions that smoking a joint or two on the weekends is no big deal.

It has certainly challenged mine. In a piece earlier this year, based on other research from Northwestern on the effects of heavy marijuana use, I suggested that young people should hold off on smoking pot as long as possible because their brains are still developing and the earlier the drug is taken up, the worse the effects. That remains good advice. Yet the truth is, I’ve not only been telling my own 16-year-old son to hold off, I’ve also been counseling him that should he ever decide to use pot, he should do so with temperance.

This “everything in moderation” mantra has always struck me as more realistic than preaching total abstinence. Baked into my message, meanwhile, has been the implicit belief that smoking a little weed on the weekends is no worse than having a few beers — a notion that many Americans apparently share.

A nationwide NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted last month found that only 8% of adults think that marijuana is the most harmful substance to a person’s overall health when lined up against tobacco, alcohol and sugar. In contrast, 49% of those surveyed rated tobacco as the most harmful on the list, while 24% mentioned alcohol. Notably, even sugar — at 15% — was considered more harmful than pot.

The new Northwestern-Harvard study punches a hole in this conventional wisdom. Through three different methods of neuroimaging analysis, the scientists examined the brains of 40 young adult students from Boston-area colleges: 20 who smoked marijuana casually — four times a week on average — and 20 who didn’t use pot at all.

Each group consisted of nine males and 11 females. The pot users underwent a psychiatric interview to confirm that they were not heavy or dependent marijuana users.

“We looked specifically at people who have no adverse impacts from marijuana — no problems with work, school, the law, relationships, no addiction issues,” says Hans Breiter, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Feinberg School and co–senior author of the study.

The scientists examined two key parts of the brain — the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, which together help control whether people judge things to be rewarding or aversive and, in turn, whether they experience pleasure or pain from them. It is the development of these regions of the brain, Breiter says, that allows young people to expand their horizons, helping them appreciate and enjoy new foods, music, books and relationships.

“This is a part of the brain that you absolutely never ever want to touch,” Breiter asserts. “I don’t want to say that these are magical parts of the brain — they are all important. But these are fundamental in terms of what people find pleasurable in the world and assessing that against the bad things.”

Breiter and his colleagues found that among all 20 casual marijuana smokers in their study — even the seven who smoked just one joint per week — the nucleus accumbens and amygdala showed changes in density, volume and shape. The scientists also discovered that the more pot the young people smoked, the greater the abnormalities.

The researchers acknowledge that their sample size was small and their study preliminary. More work, they say, needs to be done to understand the relationship between the changes to the brain they found and their impact on the day-to-day lives of young people who smoke marijuana casually.

“The next important step is to investigate how structural abnormalities relate to functional outcomes,” says Jodi Gilman, an instructor at Harvard Medical School who collaborated on the study.

This is especially important, she and her colleagues add, in light of the growing push to legalize recreational marijuana use across America. “People think a little marijuana shouldn’t cause a problem if someone is doing O.K. with work or school,” Breiter says. “Our data directly says this is not so.”

Infectious Disease

Guinea Says Ebola Outbreak Almost Under Control

A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou April 3, 2014.
A scientist separates blood cells from plasma cells to isolate any Ebola RNA in order to test for the virus at the European Mobile Laboratory in Gueckedou April 3, 2014. Misha Hussain—Reuters

Health experts in the west African country say there are fewer new cases of the virus, which has no cure and which is fatal for a significant portion of those who contract it, suggesting the outbreak that has killed over 100 people there may be close to being contained

Guinea’s health ministry says deaths from its recent Ebola outbreak have slowed, and the latest flare-up of the virus is close to being under control.

The disease has already killed 106 in Guinea and spread to neighboring countries in Western Africa, but Rafi Diallo, a spokesman for Guinea’s health ministry, told Reuters that the number of new cases have fallen dramatically. Once there are no more new cases, the outbreak can be considered under control. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it could take two to four months for the outbreak to be entirely contained, Reuters reports.

There is no known cure or vaccine for Ebola, which is known to kill up to 90 percent of the people who contract it. The virus spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids, including blood, feces or sweat. The disease can spread via sexual contact or unprotected interaction with contaminated corpses.

Although the virus remains a significant concern, the WHO is confident it will be contained. Since the majority of people who get the disease will die from it, there’s not too much time for it to spread, as long as health workers can quickly identify who has come in contact with a sick person. WHO’s media spokesperson in Guinea, Tarik Jasarevic, told TIME last month: “We know this disease. It’s not the first time we’ve seen it so we know the measures we can take. It’s not a new disease.”

[Reuters]

Our Brains Begin to Slow Down at Age 24

Is 24 the new 50? A new study suggests that cognitive decline begins earlier than we think. The study of more than 3,300 volunteers tracked the relationship between age and the speed at which people make decisions and shift between tasks

Is 24 the new 50? If you’re going by when our intellectual skills start to decline and dull due to the passage of time, then it might be.

According to researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada, things start going south at age 24. They came to that conclusion after studying 3,305 volunteers aged 16 years to 44 years. The participants played a real-time game that approximated everyday real-world situations that test our cognitive abilities, from concentration to juggling multiple tasks to shifting our focus from immediate to long-term issues. The game recorded the players’ moves, and researchers analyzed hours of data from it. As expected, the speed with which the volunteers made decisions, and shifted between tasks, declined with age.

Many studies have documented the gradual deterioration of cognitive skills over time. But in this study, published in the journal PLOS One, the drop, albeit small, was detected first among 24 year olds. In fact, for every 15 years after age 24, cognitive speed dropped by about 15%. And the results could not be explained by the fact that the players were getting better at navigating the game over time; the age-related decline remained, even among those with more skill playing the game.

This doesn’t mean it’s all downhill after your mid 20s. As cognitive speed slows, the brain makes up for some of the deficit in a variety of ways: by relying on experience to anticipate and more accurately predict upcoming tasks, as well as by employing mental shortcuts such as eliminating extraneous information and paring down incoming information to just core nuggets of relevant material. So while we may get slower, we might also be getting smarter. Feel better now?

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser