TIME medicine

This Is What Binge Watching TV Does to Your Health

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Cultura/Liam Norris—Getty Images

Every hour spent sitting in front of the TV can increase your risk of diabetes

It’s easy—and tempting—to settle in for a marathon session with your favorite TV show, but that indulgence may come back to haunt you.

In a study of people at higher risk of developing diabetes, researchers say that every hour spent sitting can increase the risk of developing the metabolic disorder by 3.4%. For a day-long binge, that could be as much as a 30% higher risk. “With streaming TV, you can watch a program continuously; instead of watching just half an hour once day a week, you can watch a whole season in a day, so we expect to see increases in sitting to continue,” says Andrea Kriska, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh and senior author of the paper on the effects of TV on diabetes risk in the journal Diabetologia.

Kriska is part of the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, which found that people who spent more time sitting, whether in front of the TV or at work, were more likely to develop diabetes than those who sat less, regardless of how much they exercised.

MORE: Sitting Is Killing You

The group started with the population of people at higher risk of developing diabetes who were enrolled in the Diabetes Prevention Program. Some were assigned to exercise at least 150 minutes at a moderate level each week and change their diet with the goal of losing 7% of their body weight. Others were given the diabetes drug metformin, and another group was given a placebo. In 2002, after more than three years, those who adopted the lifestyle changes lowered their risk of developing diabetes by 58%, compared to 31% for those taking the drug.

More and more data suggest that to reduce disease, it’s not just enough to exercise more; you have to sit, less too. The scientists wanted to see what role, if any, sitting played in this reduction. Did being more physically active lead to helping people be less sedentary? And did time spent sitting have any connection with the rate of diabetes?

MORE: Sitting Can Increase Your Risk of Cancer By Up to 66%

“What we found was yes, and yes,” says Bonny Rockette-Wagner, from the department of epidemiology at Pittsburgh. “There is an independent effect of sitting behavior on diabetes incidence that does not have to do with physical activity. It’s an independent, additional effect.”

The researchers asked the 3,232 people in group how much time they spent sitting at work and how much time they spent watching TV, as a proxy for their total sedentary time. They also asked them about their leisure time physical activity and measured their blood glucose levels. After three years, the lifestyle group spent fewer hours sitting than the metformin and placebo groups, despite the fact that sitting less was not a specific goal of the program. And the more time they spent off their chairs, the lower their risk of going on to develop diabetes.

MORE: An Hour of Exercise Can Make Up for a Day of Sitting Down

The results suggest that efforts to help high-risk people avoid diabetes should include a goal of sitting less. That’s what Kriska and Rockette-Wagner are starting to do in their community sessions in which they teach people about the Diabetes Prevention Program. Instead of focusing exclusively on the target of 150 minutes of exercise each week, they’re asking people to think about sitting less, starting by spending a few minutes fewer on the couch each day and building up to becoming more active.

MORE: Sitting All Day Isn’t As Bad If You Do This

The researchers admit that simply sitting less won’t replace being physically active, but after so much focus on getting sedentary people to move, getting them to think about sitting less may be just as productive.

TIME medicine

See Which State Has the Highest Daily Use of Mood-Altering Drugs

It's also been ranked as the unhappiest state

Nearly one in five Americans admits to taking some sort of drug every day to help relax—most of them in states that rate low on the income and happiness scales, according to a new survey.

West Virginians are by far the most likely to take a prescription or over-the-counter drug to chill out, with 28 percent of those polled saying they do. Alaska appears to be the most naturally laid-back state, with just 13.5 percent saying they use drugs to calm down.

The rates are probably even higher than that, says Dan Witters, research director of the…

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

TIME medicine

How 3D Imaging Can Tell Exactly How Old You Are

You may be able to dodge questions about your age, but your face can’t

For the first time, scientists have used 3D imaging of a people’s faces to predict their age. The 3D information was so accurate, in fact, that it was better at pinpointing age than the best known marker, a test that involves studying the DNA.

Reporting in the journal Cell Research, Jing-Dong J Han, from the Chinese Academy of Sciences-Max Planck Partner Institute for Computational Biology, found that certain facial measures are reliable predictor’s of a person’s biological age. The researchers analyzed 3D facial images from more than 300 people, and matched them up with measurements from several dozen blood markers including cholesterol and albumin. Specifically, the width of the mouth and nose, and the distance between the mouth and nose tend to expand with age, and the eyes tend to droop over time. Measuring this change provides a relatively stable way of tracking, and predicting, a person’s age.

“Overall facial features show higher correlations with age than the 42 blood markers that are profiles in routine physical exams,” says Han.

 

Weiyang Chen–2015 Nature Publishing Group. Visualizations of facial aging.

MORE: Human Faces Can Express at Least 21 Distinct Emotions

She arrived at the finding after hearing a colleague present work on using 3D facial images to quantify racial differences. “It immediately struck me that facial images might be a potential good phenotype to include in our study to quantify the extent of aging,” she says. “I did not expect to see such remarkable changes with age, nor did I expect the 3D images to be such an accurate biomarker for biological age.”

Why is it important? Han says that pinpointing how quickly a person is aging via the relatively easy 3D algorithm could have useful health implications that go beyond keeping people honest about their age. Such a measure might provide a window into deeper physiological processes that could be aging abnormally fast. “It might have important implications for assessing the risks of aging-associated diseases, and for designing personalized treatment schemes to improve their life styles and health,” she says.

TIME animals

Science Has Found Out What Music Your Cat Should Be Chilling to While Being Neutered

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Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, AC/DC is not it

During surgical operations, cats aren’t huge fans of adult contemporary ballads or fist-pumping rocks anthems. In fact, research has found that felines much prefer the lush sound of classical music when going under the knife.

In an experiment detailed this week in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, veterinary clinicians at the University of Lisbon studied how 12 female pet cats responded to different genres of music, while undergoing neutering.

To gauge the animals’ responses, the clinicians recorded their respiratory rates and pupil diameters, which are an indication of their depth of anesthesia.

During the experiment, the cats were fitted with headphones and then exposed to two minutes of silence — as a control — before listening to portions of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings (Opus 11),” Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

“The results showed that the cats were in a more relaxed state (as determined by their lower values for respiratory rate and pupil diameter) under the influence of classical music, with the pop music producing intermediate values,” reports Science Daily.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, listening to AC/DC while being spayed induced “a more stressful situation.”

[Science Daily]

TIME medicine

American Pharmacists Association Discourages Providing Execution Drugs

The American Pharmacists Association
Jonathan Oatis—Reuters The American Pharmacists Association building is seen on Constitution Avenue in Washington, July 4, 2009.

The group's new policy was approved Monday

(SAN DIEGO) — A national pharmacists’ group has adopted a policy discouraging its members from providing death-penalty drugs.

The American Pharmacists Association’s new policy could make it tough for death penalty states, like Texas, that have been looking at made-to-order execution drugs from compounding pharmacies as the answer to an execution drug shortage.

The association’s governing body approved the policy Monday at a meeting in San Diego.

The group lacks the legal authority to bar compounding pharmacies from selling the drugs. But its policies set the ethical standards followed by pharmacists, just as the American Medical Association does for doctors.

Prison departments have had to buy made-to-order execution drugs from compounding pharmacies in recent years. That’s because the pharmaceutical companies they used to buy from have refused to sell lethal-injection drugs after coming under pressure from death penalty opponents.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

This Study Busts Your Work Out Excuse

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Brent Winebrenner—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

Air quality may not be the best in cities, but the benefits of physical activity can outweigh the harms of breathing in pollutants

Exercising outdoors is certainly preferable to being cooped up in a stuffy gym, but if you live in an urban area, the pollution from cars and buses may give you pause. It shouldn’t. Zorana Andersen from the center for epidemiology and screening at the University of Copenhagen and her colleagues report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives that being active trumps some of the negative health effects that breathing in polluted air might have.

MORE: Pollution: Dangerous to Joggers

In a study involving 52,061 people who were followed for around 13 years, Andersen found that those who were more active were less likely to die during the study than those who were more sedentary, regardless of the pollutant levels where they lived. The researchers asked the participants to detail their physical activities, including their leisure sports, how much they walked, whether they biked or walked to work, and whether they spent time gardening. They compared these responses to the levels of nitrogen dioxide near their homes; NO2 is a gas produced from the burning of fossil fuels in cars, and is an ingredient for other harmful pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter, which can cause respiratory illnesses. Previous studies found that walking along a busy London street, for example, caused a drop in lung function and that cycling or running near high traffic roadways also compromised people’s respiratory functions slightly.

In Andersen’s study, however, people who participated in sports showed a 22% lower risk of dying from any cause during the 13-year followup, while those who cycled regularly showed a 17% lower risk and people who spent time gardening showed a 16% lower risk compared to those who didn’t do either of those activities — and regardless of the pollution levels where they lived.

MORE: Ozone Can Harm the Heart in as Little as Two Hours

“We found an even more positive message around physical activity than we even hoped for,” says Andersen. “Physiologically it’s plausible that you inhale more particles [of pollution] when you exercise in polluted areas, and we thought maybe the accumulated lifetime effect of this would reduce the benefit of exercise. But we don’t see that.”

Essentially, the benefits of being active were strong enough to overcome some of the negative effects of breathing in pollutants. That makes sense, she says, because even if people aren’t exercising to avoid inhaling pollutants, they are still exposed to them, and Andersen’s study shows that even if exercises might be exposed to slightly higher levels of compounds like NO2, that still doesn’t negate the positive effects of physical activity on their heart, blood sugar levels and more. In fact, for specific conditions, the benefits of exercising remained quite high; active people even in highly polluted areas had a 66% lower chance of dying early from diabetes compared to those who didn’t exercise.

She notes, however, that some cities may have significantly higher pollution levels than Copenhagen, where the participants lived, and it’s not clear yet how greater concentrations can affect the exercise-pollution-mortality balance. So if you have a choice for working out, biking or walking in a less polluted area, however, such as a park or a quieter side street, that might be a good idea. But don’t worry too much if you don’t. “Being active prolongs life more than staying away from air pollution,” says Andersen. “So pollution shouldn’t be a barrier to exercise.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 30

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Blue-collar jobs are coming back, and pay well. But women are missing out.

By Mitchell Hartman in Marketplace

2. Ikea is known for affordable, flat-pack furniture. Now they’re selling the U.N. flat-pack refugee housing.

By Amar Toor in the Verge

3. With an eye on the White House, politicians won’t admit it, but the ethanol mandate is terrible policy.

By Josiah Neeley in the American Conservative

4. With billions in profits, tech giants must lead the charge against inequality in Silicon Valley.

By John D. Sutter in CNN

5. Can better customer service make primary medical care affordable and sustainable?

By Margot Sanger-Katz in the Upshot

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME medicine

Who Should—And Who Shouldn’t—Take Vitamin D

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Here's what experts say, based on the latest evidence

Does your diet need a little extra D? For researchers, it’s one of nutrition’s most vexing questions. “It’s the wild, wild west,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The issue has become murkier over time rather than clearer.” Research is mixed about whether doctors should routinely test for vitamin D levels, like they do for cholesterol, and whether people should be supplementing their diets with vitamin D pills.

Case in point: a study just released in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that vitamin D did not lower the risk of falls among an elderly population in Finland. The study, which compared the effects of exercise against vitamin D supplements on falls and resulting injuries, did find, however, that exercise cut the chances of more severe injury from falls in half compared to those who didn’t exercise.

MORE Want to Stay Healthy? Don’t Rely on Vitamins

But that doesn’t mean that vitamin D isn’t worth taking at all. The Institute of Medicine (IOM), and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) both recently reviewed all of the evidence on vitamin D and its health effects and concluded that in many cases, D supplementation is beneficial—with some important caveats. The two groups say that 600 international units (IU) are generally enough for most healthy adults and that higher doses of vitamin D don’t necessarily produce more health benefits. They also stress that those benefits are limited to bone health; there isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that taking the vitamin can protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes or cognitive decline, all benefits suggested by some smaller studies.

“More isn’t necessarily better,” says Manson, who served on the IOM committee. “In some cases, it can be worse.”

Overdoing vitamin D can lead to calcium in the urine, which can cause kidney stones. Extremely high doses—around 10,000 IU a day—can trigger calcium deposits in the blood vessels, which can lead to clots that cause heart attacks. The IOM panel recommended no more than 4,000 IU of vitamin D daily to avoid these potential problems.

MORE Want to Build Endurance? Cut Back on Vitamin C and E Supplements

When people are tested for vitamin D deficiency and come up short, some researchers caution against treatment. In addition to the dosage risks, there’s also evidence that the lab tests for the type of vitamin D circulating in the blood, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, may not be the most reliable measure of a person’s D levels. Plus, not all labs use the same standard test for picking up 25 hydroxy D, and they set different standards for what are considered normal levels. “Clinicians are often left chasing a number, and trying to get patients’ blood levels up to a certain point,” says Manson. “But when you think about how many people are screened for vitamin D, and the concerns about the reliability in how it’s measured, and the differences in what is considered normal ranges across laboratories, it’s really concerning.”

Better data may be coming soon, however. Several large trials are underway in which people are randomly assigned to take different levels of vitamin D supplements so researchers can study their health outcomes, from bone problems to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more. Manson is overseeing the largest of these, called VITAL, which has 26,000 participants. The results from these studies, which are being conducted in the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand, should be available in 2017. “We should have conclusive answers in about three years,” Manson says.

The studies will also look specifically at whether vitamin D levels and metabolism differ across racial and ethnic groups. Some studies have hinted that disparities by race in heart disease and certain cancer risks may be due to vitamin D, and the randomized trials will hopefully provide more information on whether that’s true.

In the meantime, Manson says doctors and patients should follow the IOM and USPSTF guidelines: doctors should not order vitamin D blood tests for all of their patients, and people shouldn’t take more than 600 IU of the vitamin if they are otherwise healthy. The only people who may need regular testing for vitamin D deficiency, and possible supplementation, are those with malabsorption problems like Celiac disease, those who have had bypass surgery, or people who have already had fractures and have been diagnosed with osteoporosis. People taking certain medications, including treatment for tuberculosis, may also need to consider vitamin D pills.

For everyone else, however, universal screening isn’t necessary—and there isn’t any reason to take more than the recommended daily allowance of vitamin D.

Read next: The 4 Most Confusing Things About Sugar

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME health

What Experts Got Wrong About Viagra

Small blue Viagra pills, Pfizer's pharma
Suzanne Opton—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Small blue Viagra pills, separated by machine, in 1998

March 27, 1998: Viagra is approved by the FDA

It was the miracle drug to beat all miracle drugs; an instant bestseller that topped the sales figures of Big Pharma’s other greatest hits: Prozac and Rogaine. After the FDA approved Viagra on this day, March 27, in 1998, sales of the drug rose quickly — pumped by an early rush that yielded at least 10,000 scripts a day, per a TIME cover story about the drug — and had staying power, as evidenced by Pfizer’s annual profit of about $1.8 billion as of 2013 and the fact that our email inboxes are still routinely barraged with spam offers for the drug.

It was a magic bullet for many men, but one that TIME initially feared would herald “the end of sex as we know it.”

“Could there be a product more tailored to the easy-solution-loving, sexually insecure American psyche than this one?” Bruce Handy wondered in the 1998 piece.

There were many who saw chemically-induced erection as a slippery slope to a Sleeper-style orgasmatron.

“People always want a quick fix,” one psychiatrist complained to TIME. “They think Viagra is magic, just like they thought the G spot worked like a garage-door opener.”

Seventeen years later, sex as we know it hasn’t ended — it’s still happening in more or less the usual ways, whether or not Viagra is a part of it. But what was a godsend for men hasn’t opened any doors for women with sexual dysfunction. That’s not for lack of trying: A drug hailed as “the female Viagra” has undergone extensive clinical trials and been submitted to the FDA three times so far, most recently last month, but has never been approved, as Cosmopolitan reports.

The two drugs operate differently, as one might expect: while Viagra stimulates blood flow to the genitals, it doesn’t act on the brain. The proposed drug for women, flibanserin, instead works on neurotransmitters to increase sexual desire.

The fact that there are now several drugs on the market for men’s sexual troubles and none for women constitutes sexism, some have argued, especially since an estimated 16 million women over the age of 50 suffer from some form of sexual dysfunction. A new campaign called “Even the Score” focuses on just this disparity, calling on the FDA to make “safe & effective treatments for low [female] desire” a priority.

In the meantime, a North Carolina doctor has patented a spinal implant that can produce orgasms at the push of a button, although he’s had trouble securing the funding to perfect the device. He calls it the Orgasmatron.

Read the 1998 cover story, here in the TIME Vault: The Potency Pill

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Al Qaeda and ISIS are locked in an ideological war, and for once, it’s good to be their mutual enemy.

By Daniel Byman and Jennifer Williams in Lawfare

2. For the millions left behind by America’s new economy, disability claims — legitimate or otherwise — are skyrocketing.

By Chana Joffe-Walt in Planet Money by National Public Radio

3. Maybe universities shouldn’t measure prestige by the number of applicants they turn away.

By Jon Marcus in the Hechinger Report

4. When younger women have heart attacks, they’re twice as likely to die as their male counterparts. Is medicine’s gender bias to blame?

By Maya Dusenbery in Pacific Standard

5. Can the triumph and tragedy of soccer help Harvard students appreciate the humanities?

By Colleen Walsh in the Harvard Gazette

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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