TIME Diet/Nutrition

Which Weight Loss Diet Works Best? A New Study Ranks the Evidence

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With so many ways to lose weight, you’d think it would be easy to tell which diet program works best — Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig, Nutri System or Slim Fast. But it might surprise you to learn that there isn’t a lot of good evidence on how effective various diets are, and here’s why

With the American Medical Association now urging doctors to treat obesity as a medical condition, physicians should be screening and treating overweight and obesity just as they would any other chronic disorder. But when it comes to figuring out which methods are proven to work best, physicians may find themselves at a loss. Some studies have found that commercial weight-loss programs work about the same when it comes to the amount of weight they can help consumers lose, while others found that low-carb diets beat out low-fat plans.

To make sense of the noise, Kimberly Gudzune, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and her colleagues searched the scientific literature for studies on 11 commercial weight-loss programs. In their results, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, they assessed which ones have the best data to support them. But they also found there weren’t that many studies actually tracking how much weight people on the programs lose.

Gudzune decided to focus on commercial programs like Weight Watchers and NutriSystem, among others. And of 4,212 studies that involved these diets, only 45 were done under the gold scientific standard of randomly assigning people to a weight-loss program or not, and then tracking their weight changes over time. “The majority [of programs] still have no rigorous trials done,” says Gudzune.

According to her analysis, only two programs, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, helped dieters to lose weight and keep it off for at least a year. Those on Weight Watchers shed nearly 3% more of their starting weight after 12 months than those not dieting, and Jenny Craig users lost nearly 5%. Other programs, including Atkins, the Biggest Loser Club and eDiets, also helped people drop pounds, but since the studies only lasted three to six months, it’s impossible to know if that weight loss lasted.

The modest weight loss “may be disappointing to many consumers,” says Gudzune, but she notes that weight-management guidelines suggest that a 3% to 5% sustained weight loss is an important first step toward a healthy weight. “Even that small amount of weight loss can help to lower blood sugar, improve cholesterol profiles, help to lower blood pressure and ultimately prevent things like diabetes,” she says.

“Would 6% or 8% or 10% of body weight lost be better? Yes, but it’s not like the interaction is totally linear,” says Gary Foster, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International. Over time, weight-loss rates may change, and other studies show they typically slow after the initial blush of success.

MORE Calorie vs. Calorie: Study Evaluates Three Diets for Staying Slim

Modest weight loss can also seed good eating habits that can keep weight loss going, or maintain weight at a healthy level. “Modest weight loss on average can translate to a big public-health impact” on the obesity epidemic, says Dr. Christina Wee, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the obesity-and-health-behaviors research program at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Fewer overweight and obese individuals mean fewer cases of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, joint disorders and more. So for doctors faced with advising their patients on how to best manage their weight, these are the first bits of evidence that some commercial programs — Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig — might be better than others in helping patients to slim down and stay that way.

Still, a larger robust bank of evidence-based studies is needed. Typically, studies follow dieters for about three months, during which most people are likely to lose the most weight because they are more motivated and simply because they in a study and feel obligated to follow the diet. That’s another problem with the studies on diet programs, says Wee. “When trying to do a scientific study, researchers don’t want too many things going on at the same time, so they end up with a design for the study that doesn’t reflect the real world,” she says. “So the result is the result from an artificial setting.”

MORE: Diet Bake-Off: Jenny Craig Wins, Says Consumer Reports

Another factor that makes studying diets tricky is the fact that participants are assigned a diet. In real life, people tend to try a weight-loss program of their own choosing. When they find that it doesn’t fit with their lifestyle or personality, they try another. They may be more successful with their second or third choice, but in a study, they would fall into the failure category if they didn’t lose the target amount of weight on the first program.

“Now that obesity is coming under the medical umbrella, it’s really going to put more pressure on whether commercial programs or medical clinics have really good evidence to show their programs are effective,” says Gudzune. “For so long obesity was just in a no-man’s land, which I think did it a disservice because it didn’t push the industry to have better scientific evidence on what works and what doesn’t work.”

And it’s not just physicians seeking this proof. With the Affordable Care Act now covering obesity screening and counseling, and providing incentives to states to reimburse for comprehensive obesity treatments, it’s critical for insurers and policymakers who decide which weight-loss programs are worth paying for and which ones to deny.

Read next: Popular Diets Are Pretty Much the Same for Weight Loss, Study Finds

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TIME New Adventurers

Meet the ‘Female Indiana Jones’ Traveling the World With a Pink Surfboard

Alison Teal is a globe-trotting environmental activist

Adventure filmmaker Alison Teal grew up all over the world, following her photographer parents on excursions to some of the most remote places on the planet.

Now an adult, Alison combines storytelling with her love of exploration to create the “Alison’s Adventures” film series. She styles herself as a “female Indiana Jones,” traveling the globe with her pink surfboard and sharing stories of survival and sustainability in the hopes of educating and inspiring people around the world.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is What’s Actually in Breast Milk Bought Online

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There's bovine in your breast milk

Ever since the FDA warned women that buying breast milk online came with certain serious health and adulteration risks, research about the Internet breast-milk market has been backing up the warnings. Now, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics finds that 10% of breast milk samples bought online are mixed with cow’s milk.

The research team bought 102 bottles of breast milk online, then analyzed the samples for human DNA or bovine DNA from cows. While all the samples had human DNA, 11 of the samples, or 10%, also contained cow DNA.

“We think the [online-purchased breast milk] people would have in their household would be cow’s milk you can get from a carton at the store or infant formula. Most baby formula is made from cow’s milk,” says Dr. Sarah Keim, principal investigator at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. “Both of those substances would look a lot like human milk.”

MORE: I Bullied Myself Into Breastfeeding

The researchers found far more than trace amounts of cow DNA, suggesting that the adulteration wasn’t the result of accidental contamination—the kind that might occur after re-using a container that had once held cow’s milk, for example. The adulterated samples had enough bovine DNA that they could realistically contain half breast milk, half cow’s milk from the carton, Keim says. One of the samples was almost half breast milk, half infant formula.

Women pay a premium for breast milk online—sometimes $2 an ounce, Keim says—which makes it a prime target for fraud. Adulterating and diluting liquids is easy to get away with; in fact, alcohol was the most adulterated product in a recent global food fraud investigation by Interpol.

Next, the team hopes to look at some of the other risks the FDA warns against, like illicit drugs that could lurk in the Internet-sold milk.

The growing online breast milk market is almost wholly unregulated, according to an editorial in The BMJ last month, which cited Keim’s 2013 study that found 74% of Internet milk samples had growth of Gram-negative bacteria, the kind resistant to multiple drugs.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

These Vegans Are More Likely to Stick With It

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The difference between ethical vegans and health vegans

People who go vegan for ethical reasons are more likely to stick to the diet than people who are vegan for health reasons, according to a new study.

Of the 246 vegans surveyed in a new study published by journal Appetite, those vegans who adopted the diet for health benefits were more likely to report eating more fruit and fewer sweets, while ethical vegans were more likely to follow the diet for a longer period of time. Ethical vegans reported following the diet for an average of about eight years, whereas health vegans kept to the diet for about five-and-a-half years. Ethical vegans were also more likely to consume soy and vitamin supplements.

The vegan diet has become increasingly popular in recent years, though only 2% of Americans identify as vegan, according to the most recent Gallup poll. To be vegan, dieters must not consume any animal products. The researchers in the new study wanted to assess whether the reasons people gave for going vegan affected their adherence to the diet and their health behaviors.

People who want to eat a vegan diet because they are interested in the health benefits may be eating healthier (it’s still possible to eat dessert while vegan, as well as processed food), but they may not be able to sustain it as long as people who have chosen to be vegan for ethical reasons.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

FBI Agents Must Now Pass Fitness Tests

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The practice of regularly assessing agents is being re-implemented

For the first time in 16 years, FBI agents are being made to undergo fitness tests to ensure they’re ready for duty.

The bureau’s 13,500 agents have until October to complete a physical exam that assesses whether they are fit enough to perform the tasks required of the job, according to the New York Times. An internal memo from FBI director James B. Comey announced the exams, which were officially rolled out at the end of last year.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, FBI agents performed more fieldwork, like tracking gangs and making arrests. After 9/11, the agency focused on counterterrorism efforts, work that required agents to put in long hours and be desk-bound more often. Some agents gained weight, the Times reports, and others became depressed.

The fitness requirements differ based on age and gender, but each agent is required to complete a given number of push-ups and sit-ups without stopping in a short period of time, then sprint a given distance in a certain amount of time as well as complete a 1.5-mile run.

[NYT]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

5 Ways Your Commute Is Hurting Your Health

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Long hours in transit can negatively affect your body and mind

The average American commute to work lasts 25 minutes, according to U.S. Census data, but many workers travel far above and beyond that number. In Los Angeles, drivers spend an average of 90 hours a year stuck in traffic alone, and employees in New York City spend an average of 48 minutes a day getting to their jobs, often switching trains or busses along the way.

Commuting is rarely anyone’s favorite time of day, but it can be more than just an inconvenience: All those hours spent in home-work limbo can have physical and mental health implications, as well. Here are five ways your car, train, or bus ride to the office can affect your well-being, plus what to do about it.

It may contribute to weight gain

A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that the farther Texas residents commuted every day, the more likely they were to be overweight. Unsurprisingly, the farthest commuters were also less likely to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. “It’s not so easy to move or change your job, so if you do have a long commute it’s important that you make a bigger effort to be active during the day,” says lead study author Christine Hoehner, PhD. “Take walking breaks, get up from your desk often, take the stairs, and make it a priority to exercise whenever you do have time.”

If you can, it might also be a good idea to try public transportation: men and women who drove to work weighed about 6.6 and 5.5 pounds more, respectively, than their peers who walked, cycled, or took trains or buses, a 2014 study in The BMJ found.

Read more: 20 Filling Foods That Help You Lose Weight

It’s a pain in the neck—literally

A third of people with commutes of more than 90 minutes say they deal with ongoing neck and back pain, according to a 2010 Gallup poll. While back pain is one of the most common health complaints, only one in four people who commute 10 minutes or less reported pain in the same poll.

The extra time spent sitting slumped forward in the driver’s seat or on the train could contribute to these issues, says Andrew Wolf, exercise physiologist at Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona. But making an effort to sit up straight—with a lumbar support behind your lower back, and your head evenly over your shoulders—can help you reverse bad habits. “It’s a lifestyle choice that requires that you think about it a bit every day,” he says. “Do enough of this and it will become automatic.”

Read more: 15 Exercises for People in Pain

It affects your mood

People who drove, carpooled, or took public transportation to work were less able to enjoy daily activities and had more trouble concentrating compared to walkers or cyclists in a 2014 study from the University of East Anglia. Interestingly, the researchers found that wellbeing scores decreased for car commuters as time spent behind the wheel increased. But for walkers, the opposite held true: Those who traveled farther to work on foot had better mental health scores.

If there’s no getting around public transportation for you, one thing you might try is talking to strangers. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, bus and train commuters reported more positive experiences when they connected with other riders than when they kept to themselves.

Read more: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

It stresses you out

People who commute by private car (no matter how long the trip)—or those whose trips lasted longer than 30 minutes by train, bus or on foot—had higher anxiety levels compared to people who made shorter trips, according to a 2014 report from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics.

Hoehner’s research also found that the longer people’s car commutes were, the more likely they were to have elevated blood pressure—even when she controlled for physical activity level. “That finding suggested that there’s something going on independent of the fact that people are less active, potentially something related to stress,” she says. (Other risk factors for hypertension, like lack of sleep, poor diet, and social isolation, could also play a role.)

“One way to combat this could be for employers to allow people to commute at different times of the day, so they’re not spending so much time in traffic,” Hoehner adds. Can’t switch up your schedule? Turn on a soothing playlist or practice slow, deep breathing when you feel yourself tensing up.

Read more: 12 Superfoods for Stress Relief

It exposes you to more pollution

In a 2007 study of Los Angeles residents, up to half of their exposure to harmful air pollution occurred while they traveled in their vehicles. Driving with the windows up, using recirculated air, and driving slower than 20 miles per hour can reduce exposure, say the study authors, but not as much as cutting back on driving time.

Cycling to work increases exposure to pollutants, as well, according to a 2010 Dutch study—but the same research also found that its health benefits of getting your heart rate up on your ride still outweigh its risks by at least nine times.

Read more: 15 Ways Exercise Makes You Look and Feel Younger

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: The Surprising Upside to America’s Worsening Traffic Jams

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

7 Things You Should Know About Matcha

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The skinny on finely powdered green tea leaves

I’ve been getting asked about matcha a whole lot lately. I heard that matcha shots were the “it beverage” at New York Fashion Week, and many dedicated coffee lovers are ditching java in favor of matcha. If you’re curious about this trendy beverage, here are seven things you should know.

It’s a special form of green tea

Matcha literally means “powdered tea.” When you order traditional green tea, components from the leaves get infused into the hot water, then the leaves are discarded. With matcha, you’re drinking the actual leaves, which have been finely powdered and made into a solution, traditionally by mixing about a teaspoon of matcha powder with a third cup of hot water (heated to less than a boil), which is then whisked with a bamboo brush until it froths.

Unlike traditional green tea, matcha preparation involves covering the tea plants with shade cloths before they’re harvested. This triggers the growth of leaves with better flavor and texture, which are hand selected, steamed briefly to stop fermentation, then dried and aged in cold storage, which deepens the flavor. The dried leaves are then stone-ground into a fine powder.

It offers health benefits

Because matcha is made from high-quality tea, and the whole leaves are ingested, it’s a more potent source of nutrients than steeped green tea. In addition to providing small amounts of vitamins and minerals, matcha is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, which have been tied to protection against heart disease and cancer, as well as better blood sugar regulation, blood pressure reduction, and anti-aging. Another polyphenol in matcha called EGCG has been shown in research to boost metabolism, and slow or halt the growth of cancer cells.

Read more: The Top Fat-Burning Foods

It contains caffeine

Because you’re consuming whole leaves in matcha, you may get three times as much caffeine than a cup of steeped tea, about the amount in a cup of brewed coffee. Matcha aficionados say that compared to the caffeine buzz from coffee, matcha creates an “alert calm” due to a natural substance it contains called l-theanine, which induces relaxation without drowsiness. Still, I do believe it’s best to nix all forms of caffeine (including matcha) at least six hours before bedtime, to ensure a good night’s sleep.

It traditionally involves meditation

The preparation of matcha is the focus of Japanese tea ceremonies, and it has long been associated with Zen. This is likely one reason it’s becoming so popular, as meditation is becoming more and more mainstream. Because I’m blown away by the research on the health and weight loss benefits of mindfulness meditation, I included an entire chapter about this practice in my new book Slim Down Now, and recorded a five-minute guided meditation video on my website (click on the word mindful, top right to view).

I believe that if preparing and sipping matcha becomes a way for you to slow down, and be in the moment, its benefits will extend far beyond the antioxidants it provides, because meditation, in any form, has myriad rewards. It’s been shown to reduce cortisol (a stress hormone known to drive appetite and increase belly fat), lower inflammation (a known trigger of premature aging and disease), curb impulsive eating, lower blood pressure, and boost self-esteem and compassion.

Read more: 13 Ways Inflammation Can Affect Your Health

The powders may be sweetened, and the quality varies

The taste is of matcha is strong. Some people describe it as grass or spinach-like, and it has an umami taste. Because of this it may be sweetened to improve its palatability. One client was thrilled to tell me that he was drinking matcha, but instead of traditional matcha powder, he was drinking a powdered mix. The first ingredient was sugar, and it also contained powdered milk, so it was essentially like hot chocolate—but with cocoa swapped for matcha—something I wouldn’t recommend. Tea experts also warn that with matcha quality is key, and it comes at a cost. In other words, high quality, fresh, pure matcha is expensive. A low price tag can be a red flag for a poor quality product.

Lead contamination is a concern

Even organically grown green teas have been shown to contain lead, which is absorbed by the plant from the environment, particularly tea grown in China. When traditional green tea is steeped, about 90% of the lead stays in the leaf, which is discarded. With matcha, since the whole leaf is consumed, you will ingest more lead. One independent group, ConsumerLab.com, which tested teas, estimates that a cup of matcha may contain as much as 30 times more lead than a cup of green tea. Therefore, they recommend drinking no more than one cup daily, and not serving it to children.

Read more: The Healing Power of Tea

It can be incorporated into meals

Matcha is hot with chefs, not just as a beverage, but as an ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes. If you Google matcha recipes, you’ll find everything from matcha muffins, brownies and puddings, to matcha soup, stir frys, and even matcha guacamole! I love experimenting with it, and in a previous post I wrote about the potential weight loss benefits of umami foods (The Surprising Food Flavor That Can Help You Shed Pounds). But due to concerns about lead, I recommend avoiding “matcha madness.” Even with superfoods, you can get too much of a good thing (check out my article 4 Superfoods You Might Be Overeating). So look for pure, organic, quality matcha, and enjoy it in moderation.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME toxins

Blue Bell Shuts Down Ice Cream Factory After Deaths

Three people in Kansas died after eating contaminated Blue Bell ice cream products

Blue Bell Ice Cream has voluntarily suspended operations at an Oklahoma production facility that officials had previously connected to a foodborne illness linked to the deaths of three people, the company announced Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people throw away any Blue Bell products made at the company’s plant in Broken Arrow, Okla., even if some has been eaten without becoming sick.

Products made at the facility will have the…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News.

Read Next: How Ice Cream Gets Contaminated—And Sometimes Kills

TIME Exercise/Fitness

15 Ways Exercise Makes You Look and Feel Younger

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Put down the creams and potions and start sweating off the years

The powers of a steady fitness routine are impressive: regular exercise can help you build stronger muscles, stave off chronic illnesses, and make your clothes fit a whole lot better. But there’s another benefit of physical activity that deserves a shout-out: the way even moderate amounts seem to shave years off your age, no matter how many birthdays you’ve actually celebrated. Of course, you can’t change your chronological age, but exercise can improve your health to the point where you look and feel younger than you are, says Frank Frisch, PhD, director of kinesiology at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. Behold the 15 physical and mental effects a sweat session can have on your brain and body. Just reading this list will motivate you to never blow off a gym session again.

Exercise gives you more vim and vigor

A workout is like nature’s energy drink, firing up your brain and body so you feel more alert and alive. “Exercise puts your body in a state of arousal, which translates into more vitality and a greater sense of well being,” says Frisch. “Daily tasks become less strenuous and require less exertion.” It’s the kind of pep in your step that makes you feel like you’ve peeled off a decade or two.

Exercise jumpstarts your sex drive

A sweat session improves blood flow all over your body, including below the belt, and the extra blood surge makes you feel more responsive and increasing arousal, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine. Exercise also powers your sex drive in a psychological way. “Working out brings on more confidence about your appearance and body, and that puts you in a sexier mindset,” says Dr. Minkin. And don’t forget the all-over energy surge exercise offers, which gives you extra fuel so you can rock the sheets.

Read more: 15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Exercise keeps your skin soft and glowing

A dewy sheen on your cheeks thanks to all the sweat dripping off your forehead may not be the only way fitness keeps your skin young. Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario studied a small group of adults between ages 20 and 84. The frequent exercisers who were over age 40 had skin that resembled the more supple, elastic skin of people in their 20s and 30s. The difference had nothing to do with sun exposure (which would age your skin faster if you didn’t wear sunscreen), reported the research team; they theorized that exercise creates body substances that help slow aging in skin, though they say more research is needed to learn how exercise changes skin composition.

Exercise improves your posture

Thanks to muscle loss and bone density changes, your posture takes a hit as you age. Counteract this with strength training, which builds muscle and bone health, especially in your core and along your spine, so you naturally stand taller and shave years off your appearance, says Amie Hoff, personal trainer and founder of Hoff Fitness in New York City. Working out also makes you feel more psychologically powerful, so you naturally stop slouching and straighten up, she adds.

Read more: 10 Ways to Have Great Posture as You Age

Exercise improves your flexibility

Aging doesn’t just make your opinions more inflexible—it makes your muscles and joints more fixed in place as well, leaving you feeling stiff and rickety. Regular workouts, especially stretching-oriented routines such as yoga and Pilates, keep you loose and bendy, says Hoff. “If cardio workouts are your preference, you can still boost your flexibility by warming up and cooling down with foam roller exercises,” she suggests. This foam fitness tool gets rid of the knots that form in muscle, reducing rigidity.

Read more: 4 Things You Need To Know About Foam Rolling

Exercise boosts your mood

You’ve heard of runner’s high, and that blissful mood boost can happen during any sweat-inducing cardio workout. It seems to come down to endorphins: the body chemicals your system cranks out when you’re active. “Endorphins are like natural opiates,” says Eric Sternlicht, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at Chapman University. Some evidence shows that gym sessions can trigger changes in other neurotransmitters linked to pleasurable feelings, such as dopamine. And the confidence kick you get helps you feel happier too.

Exercise helps you sleep soundly

Restful sleep is like a fountain of youth, and exercise helps you achieve it. “Research shows that regular exercisers fall asleep more easily and are more likely to experience deep REM sleep,” says Frisch. A heart-pumping workout tires you out, sure, but there’s more to it than that. Sleeping well helps all the systems in your body function optimally, so you’re less likely to feel stressed and then toss and turn all night. A recent study bears this out, finding that getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week improved sleep quality by 65%.

Exercise keeps your metabolism high

Metabolism naturally slows as you age, so it’s harder to avoid pound creepage as the years pass. Luckily scheduling regular workout sessions helps you increase the total number of calories you burn, helping you maintain a steady, healthy weight. You’ll torch more calories if you add in resistance training to your routine at least a few times a week, since working out with free weights or doing bodyweight exercises helps build muscle mass. “The more muscle you have, the higher your calorie burn is,” says Sternlicht. “And it stays higher all day long, even after you’ve stopped exercising.”

Exercise slows cell aging

Exercise doesn’t just make you feel younger—it may actually turn off the aging process in your chromosomes. It has to do with telomeres, the caps at the end of chromosomes that control aging. Telomeres become shorter as you get older, and longer telomeres are associated with longevity. Recent studies have found a link between regular exercise and the lengthening of the telomeres, suggesting that exercise can slow the clock so you live longer. “Though exercise won’t guarantee you a long life, it can greatly improve your odds,” says Frisch.

Exercise reduces belly fat

As you creep into middle age, fat that used to primarily land on your hips and thighs starts to increasingly show up along your belly; this is especially true after menopause. Unlike fat on other body areas, this visceral fat, as it’s known, can increase your risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. It’s stubborn, but regular cardio sessions appear to reduce or erase it. A 2011 Duke University study found that cardio workouts can lead to more belly fat loss than strength training workouts or a combo of strength training and cardio.

Read more: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Exercise relieves stress

A long outdoor run or scenic hike can distract you from anxiety and worries. But there may be a physiological reason exercise lowers stress levels. “The endorphin release prompted by a workout has a relaxing effect and reduces anxiety,” says Zonoozi. Also, more meditative forms of exercise, such as yoga or Tai Chi, encourage mindfulness along with moving your body. Staying in the moment so you focus on your breathing and heart rate make it a lot harder to mentally freak out about a stressful work project or that fight you had last night with a friend.

Exercise enhances your memory

As years pass, it’s normal to become forgetful. But research suggests that you can fight brain fog with fitness. Researchers writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2014 found that regular aerobic exercise seems to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory. Previous research has also linked exercise to sharper cognitive skills. If you’re experiencing more senior moments these days, dial them back by getting on the treadmill.

Exercise makes your heart more efficient

Like all muscles, your heart gets weak and flabby with inactivity. As a result, it has to work harder to pump blood throughout your body, racking up more stress and leaving you feeling easily fatigued and winded. Good thing even moderately intense exercise (like a brisk 30-minute walk) can make your heart stronger, so it pumps oxygen-rich blood more efficiently through your system, resulting in less strain, says Rhonda Zonoozi, exercise physiologist and certified health and wellness coach at the Sun Health Center for Health and Wellbeing in Arizona.

Exercise protects you from heart disease

Exercise’s heart-healthy benefits don’t stop there. Regular workouts also reduce your risk of cardio problems that tend to crop up with age, such as high blood pressure and high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood that can block or harden arteries. Both are big-time contributors to heart disease, the number one killer of men and women, according to the CDC. “Exercise also improves levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, the kind that protects your heart from cardiovascular disease,” says Zonoozi.

Read more: 14 Things Heart Doctors Tell Their Friends

Exercise improves your blood flow

As you age, it’s not only joints that can get stiff—the blood vessels in your body can lose their flexibility. This makes it harder for them to expand and contract as needed to deliver oxygen-rich blood to parts of the body that need it the most (like the brain, heart, and muscles.) And stiffer arteries can raise your blood pressure, meaning your heart has to work harder to pump blood through them. Exercise can lower blood pressure and improve circulation, and some research suggests that even simple stretching—think yoga, Pilates, or any stretching moves—can help boost flexibility of blood vessels.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

Read next: 5 Fitness Trends That Are Having a Moment

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TIME Addiction

What Binge Drinking During Adolescence Does to the Brain

A new study in rats underlines the consequences of underage drinking

Binge drinking during adolescence may interfere with brain development and have lasting consequences on genes and behavior, a new study in rats shows.

In the study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Disease, the researchers mimicked adolescent binge drinking in a population of rats, in order to see how the alcohol affected their brains. The rats, which were 28 days old, were given alcohol for two days in a row and then abstained for two days, alternating for nearly two weeks. Some of the rats in the study were observed into adulthood.

The researchers discovered that the rats that binge drank when they were younger, preferred alcohol to water when they were older and displayed more anxiety-like behaviors compared to rats that didn’t drink. The researchers also noted epigenetic changes in the brains of the rats (changes to DNA caused by chemicals or environmental substances, like alcohol). The researchers believe that some of the rats’ behavior could be explained by these brain changes.

Though the study was in rats and not in humans, the researchers believe it suggests some of the possible effects of adolescent drinking on growing brains, and underlines the potential lasting consequences.

The researchers also found that a cancer drug was able to reverse some of these effects, which may hint at a possible treatment. One of the study authors has a patent pending related to the drug.

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