TIME Research

Having A Sense of Purpose Helps You Live Longer

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A meaningful life is a longer life

People who think their life has meaning and purpose die later than people with a lower sense of personal wellbeing, according to a new study.

About 9,000 people over age 65 were followed for eight and half years as part of a study published in the Lancet. Researchers measured their wellbeing by giving them a questionnaire that gauged how much control they felt they had over their own life, and how much they thought what they did was worthwhile. The participants were then split into four groups, ranging from the highest to lowest levels of wellbeing.

Happier people tended to outlive their less fulfilled peers. Over the eight years, just 9% of people in the highest wellbeing category died, compared to 29% in the lowest category. Previous research has linked happiness to a longer life, and this new finding adds to the theory.

MORE: Here’s Where People Are Happiest Growing Old

“There is quite good evidence from studies of people in nursing homes showing that those who have something to do and look forward to tend to be in a much better state,” says study author Andrew Steptoe, director of the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care. “I think one of the fundamental ideas is that of autonomy and sense control of their life. People can feel life is just rushing by, or once they quit working their purpose can narrow to some extent.”

Steptoe says it’s possible to engineer environments that encourage greater wellbeing, like bringing pets into nursing homes or having residents partake in gardening. Increasing meaning during the day might just increase lifespan, too.

TIME Research

PTSD Raises Risk of Premature Birth, Study Says

The researchers hope that treating PTSD could reduce the risks of premature birth

An analysis of more than 16,000 births by female veterans found that women with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are significantly more likely to give birth prematurely.

PTSD has long been suspected of increasing the risk of premature delivery, but the study, jointly conducted by Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, provides strong support for the need to treat mothers with PTSD.

“Stress is setting off biologic pathways that are inducing preterm labor,” Ciaran Phibbs, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford, said in a statement. The study, published online on Thursday in Obstetrics & Gynecology, offered hope that treatment could prove effective in reducing the risk. While women with PTSD in the year leading up to delivery faced a higher risk of premature delivery, women who had been diagnosed with PTSD but had not experienced symptoms of the disorder in the past year did not.

“This makes us hopeful that if you treat a mom who has active PTSD early in her pregnancy, her stress level could be reduced, and the risk of giving birth prematurely might go down,” Phibbs said.

The implications extend beyond women in combat, since PTSD is not unique to combat. In fact, half of the veterans in the study had never been deployed to combat.

TIME Research

Why People Text And Drive Even When They Know It’s Dangerous

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75% of drivers surveyed admit to texting while driving

If you’ve turned on the TV or glanced up at a billboard lately, you know that texting while driving is a bad idea. Celebrities are lending their names to public awareness campaigns, and more than 40 states have banned the practice. A new study surveyed 1,000 drivers and found that 98% of those who text everyday and drive frequently say the practice is dangerous. Still, nearly 75% say they do it anyway.

“There’s a huge discrepancy between attitude and behavior,” says David Greenfield, a University of Connecticut Medical School professor who led the study. “There’s that schism between what we believe and then what we do.”

The lure of text messages is actually a lot like the appeal of slot machines, Greenfield explains: both can be difficult compulsions to overcome for some people. The buzz of an incoming text message causes the release of dopamine in the brain, which generates excitement, Greenfield says. If the message turns out to be from someone appealing, even more dopamine is released.

Curbing this compulsion could take years for the text-obsessed, and doing so might resemble efforts to stop drunk driving, Greenfield says. People need to realize they’re part of the problem before they change their behavior, he adds.

“In order to really include oneself in a group that has a problem with texting and driving, they have to admit their own fallibility, and we’re loath to do that,” Greenfield said.

Multiple public awareness campaigns have taken to the airwaves and internet to target the practice, but it’s unclear how effective they are, given that the public seems to be largely aware of the issue. There might be more actionable solutions in the very near future, however. AT&T, which sponsored Greenfield’s study as part of its “It Can Wait Campaign,” has an app that switches on when a person is driving more than 15 mph and silences incoming text message alerts.

Read next: Why Siri Is the Worst Backseat Driver

TIME medicine

Scientists Develop Drug to Replace Antibiotics

New medicine effective against superbugs

Scientists have created the first antibiotic-free drug to treat bacterial infections in a major development in combatting drug-resistance, according to The Times.

A small patient trial showed that the new treatment was effective at eradicating the MRSA superbug which is resistant to most antibiotics. The drug is already available as a cream for skin infections and researchers hope to create a pill or an injectable version of it in the next five years.

Antibiotics have been one of the most important drugs since the invention of penicillin almost 90 years ago. But the World Health Organization has repeatedly warned of the threat of antimicrobial resistance, saying “a post-antibiotic era – in which common infections and minor injuries can kill” is a very real possibility in the 21st century.

But scientists say this new technology is less prone to resistance than antibiotics because the treatment attacks infections in a completely different way. The treatment uses enzymes called endolysins — naturally occurring viruses that attack certain bacterial species but leave beneficial microbes alone.

Mark Offerhaus, the Chief Executive of the Dutch biotech firm Micreos which is leading the research, said the development of the new drug marks “a new era in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria”, adding that millions of people stand to benefit from this.

[The Times]

 

TIME Research

Human Genitals May Have Formed In The Same Way As Limbs

Harvard researchers probe genetic connections between the two

There is a strong correlation between the formation of genitals and limbs, the Boston Globe reports, citing a study conducted by researchers from the Harvard Medical School and published in the journal Nature.

Researchers examined the genetic processes that take place during the development of embryos in various animals, and also performed complex cell-transplant surgeries to see if they could get genitals to grow elsewhere. They partially succeeded — causing genital-like buds to form in a chicken embryo — by using the cells that generally form hind limbs.

Patrick Tschopp, the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard, pointed out that babies born with poorly formed limbs often also possess poorly formed genitalia. “We knew there was some sort of genetic link between the two, and this could provide some information about where these genetic links are,” he said.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

TIME Aging

Here’s Where People Are Happiest Growing Old

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Happiness rises consistently from the mid-40s onward in the U.S.

Will you get happier as you grow older? That might depend on where you live, according to a new Lancet study.

On average, people in high-income English-speaking countries tend to maintain higher levels of wellbeing, but that experience isn’t consistent over time. As people in these countries age, life satisfaction tends to follow a U-shape. In their young days, people report being happy, but that feeling declines as they face increased responsibilities in their 20s and 30s. Finally, happiness rises consistently from the mid-40s onward.

Reported happiness trends look completely different in former Soviet countries, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Happiness remained consistently low in Sub-Saharan Africa. Happiness began high in Latin America and declined slightly before leveling off in people’s 40s. In Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, people see a precipitous decline in happiness as they age: it starts high, but dips consistently as they grow old.

“It’s not a great surprise that the elderly in those countries are doing really badly relative to the young people,” says study author Angus Deaton, a Princeton University professor. “The young people can do all sorts of things…whereas the old people have no future, and the system they believed in all their life is gone.”

The study also evaluated differences between regions in other metrics of wellbeing, like emotions and physical conditions. And there’s some good news for everyone: In most regions, people reported fewer emotional issues as they grew older.

“Many people have hypothesized that you just get emotionally more skilled when you get older,” says Deaton. “You make mistakes, and you learn.”

TIME Aging

Why Men Often Go Untreated For Osteoporosis

People often perceive the ailment as a "women's disease"

More than 2 million men suffer from osteoporosis, but health care workers and patients perceive the ailment as a disease that primarily affects women. A new study suggests that this perception may contribute to a widespread failure to test and treat men for osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and increases the likelihood of fractures.

The study, published in The Journal Of Bone & Joint Surgery, evaluated the medical records of 344 women and 95 men over the age of 50 treated for fractures at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. More than half of women evaluated received an osteoporosis screening, while only 18% of men in the same position were screened. After treatment for bone injury, only 21% of men began calcium and vitamin D treatments to help prevent osteoporosis.

“It’s traditionally been thought of as a women’s disease, and all of the attention has been on women after menopause,” said lead study author Tamara Rozental, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Rozental says that doctors and patients should both do more to raise awareness of the risk osteoporosis poses to men.

Evaluating data from only one hospital limits the scope of the study, but Rozental says they’re at the forefront of research and there aren’t yet large data sets to utilize.

The lack of screening carries increased risks for an aging population, Rozental adds: Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among adults over 65, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A third of older adults falls each year, but most do not seek adequate treatment afterward.

TIME Research

Hepatitis C Vaccine Safe In Humans, Study Finds

Why there might be an HCV vaccine on the horizon

The first human clinical trial of a new hepatitis C vaccine shows that it’s safe in humans, says a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Researchers at the University of Oxford have shown that their first-of-its-kind vaccine for the transmissible liver disease is both effective and safe in an initial safety trial.

An estimated 3.2 million people in the U.S. have chronic hepatitis C, and most do not know they are infected because they don’t have visible or bothersome symptoms. Despite the emergence of effective (but pricey) drugs to treat hepatitis C in the last couple years, there’s still no vaccine. Other types of vaccines spur individuals’ bodies to create antibodies that fight a disease, but that hasn’t worked for hepatitis C. The new potential vaccine induces T cells that target several parts of the virus.

“Our lab spent many years looking at what happens with people who are naturally infected with hepatitis C, because about 20% of people naturally clear the infection using their immune system,” says study author Eleanor Barnes. “That really gives us hope that a vaccination strategy is really possible. We know from looking at these people who naturally clear the infection that the T cell appears to be an important part of that immune response.”

The vaccine is currently undergoing testing in a Phase IIB study in both Baltimore and San Francisco among people who are intravenous drug users, one important mode of transmission for the disease. Results are expected in 2016.

“We have all these different types of new drugs [for hepatitis C], and they really are fantastic. But they are really expensive and you have to give them for 12 weeks or more,” says Barnes. “Most of Hep C is not in developed countries. A lot of it is in resource-poor countries, and I think ultimately we should be looking towards global eradication of Hep C, which will really require a combination of drugs and vaccines.”

TIME Research

Here’s What’s Happening With the Ice Bucket Challenge Money

The ALS Foundation is tripling the money spent on research

New research projects across the country dedicated to solving ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, have begun to receive millions of dollars in additional funding thanks to this year’s Ice Bucket Challenge. The funding marks the ALS Association’s first move toward distributing the $115 million it raised to fight the disease.

“We are tripling the amount annually that we spend on research,” said ALS Association President Barbara Newhouse. “We have a sense of urgency, but we also we recognize that we have to be good stewards of the donor dollars as we move this forward as quickly as researchers can research.”

Some of the first projects to receive funding include one trying to sequence the genes of 15,000 people with ALS, one partnering with pharmaceutical companies to advance drug treatment, and one developing gene therapy that might reduce the spread of the disease through the body. Hospitals and labs around the world that have received funding are Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, the University of California San Francisco, the New York Genome Center and others. The ALS Association has distributed more than $20 million so far and has committed to seeing any project it’s funded through to completion.

In addition to funding research, the Ice Bucket Challenge money will be used to improve treatment for people living with disease, Newhouse said.

Despite the organization’s now-deeper pockets, Newhouse insists that it will take time before the group will determine fully how to best leverage its influx in cash. Newhouse said she’s been “inundated with proposals” for research projects, and they continue to arrive in her inbox.

“It’s been amazing how many people have come out of the woodwork to say ‘I have the answer,’” she said. “We’re trying to sort through what’s fact and what’s fiction.”

And, while $100 million represents a marked increase in funding for the fight against ALS, Newhouse said it’s more of a starting point than the key to a solution.

Newhouse thinks the funding could lead to a breakthrough—”I’m always a glass half-full kind of person,” she said. “But we would be kidding ourselves if anybody believed that $100 million is going to be all that’s needed to find an effective treatment.”

TIME Aging

16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

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Try these surprising habits that could help you live longer

The average American’s life expectancy is 78.7 years. Whether you reach that age—or better yet, exceed it—largely depends on your genes, but there are also many keys to longevity that are totally within your control. Some you probably already know about, like following a nutritious diet, exercising often, staying away from cigarettes, and maintaining a healthy weight. Other habits are a little less obvious. Read on for some surprising habits and lifestyle choices that could add years to your life.

Adopt a furry friend

Your four-legged companion may be helping you live a longer life, according to a review published in the journal Circulation. Researchers believe owning a dog might keep the owner more active and, as a result, lowers the risk of heart disease.

“Dog owners are who walk their dogs are more likely to meet recommendations for daily physical activity (150 minutes weekly),” says Eric A. Goedereis, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Webster University in St. Louis, MO. Owning a pet also reduces stress, which may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, he adds.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways Pets Improve Your Health

Have more sex

A roll in the hay may be the most pleasant way to extend your life. Several studies suggest there is a link between more orgasms and longevity. In a 1997 study, men who had more orgasms were less likely to die of heart disease than those who had less. While the study can’t prove cause and effect (maybe healthier people are more likely to have sex), sex can be beneficial for health. “Of course sex feels good, but it also gives us the opportunity to work out nearly every muscle in the body and connect with another person,” says Goedereis. “Sex has also been shown to boost the body’s immune response, reduce stress, and even control one’s appetite, among other things.” Two to three orgasms a week yields best benefits. Doctor’s orders.

HEALTH.COM:
13 Healthy Reasons to Have More Sex

Floss every day

Daily flossing not only gets rid of food trapped between your teeth but also removes the film of bacteria that forms before it has a chance to harden into plaque—something your toothbrush cannot do. Periodontal disease from lack of flossing can trigger low-grade inflammation, which increases the risk of early heart attack and stroke. Numerous studies link oral bacteria to cardiovascular disease. The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day.

Have a positive attitude

Think being mean and ornery is what it takes to live to 100? That’s what scientists at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in the Bronx, New York thought until they studied 243 centenarians. When the researchers assessed their personalities, they discovered that most had a positive outlook on life, and were generally easygoing, optimistic, and full of laughter.

If nothing else, try to laugh more often—go to comedy shows, take occasional breaks at work to watch silly videos on YouTube, or spend time with people who make you smile. “Laughter helps decrease blood pressure, reduce blood sugars, dull pain, and lower stress, all of which can make your body healthier,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love.

Be social

Going to the movies or out for coffee with friends may help all of you grow old together. An analysis by Brigham Young University looked at data from 148 studies and found a clear connection between social ties and lifespan. “People with stronger social relationships have a 50% greater chance of continued living as compared to those with weaker relationships,” says Lombardo. “Loneliness can also compromise your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease.”

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Go nuts

Snack on cashews, sprinkle chopped walnuts on your salad, stir almonds into your yogurt—however you eat them, it may be helpful. People who ate nuts several times a week had a reduced mortality risk compared with those who ate nuts less frequently (or at all), according to a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine study.

Nuts are high in antioxidants, fiber, and unsaturated fatty acids, and they help lower your risk of heart disease. “They are known to possibly improve certain risk factors for diabetes as well,” says Keri Gans, RD, a New York-based nutrition consultant. As a healthy but high-calorie snack, limit portion sizes to 1 ounce, or about 20 nuts.

Find your purpose

Regardless of your age, finding purpose in life may help you live long enough to make a difference. In a study of 6,000 people, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York found that people who had a greater sense of purpose were less likely to die during the 14-year study than those who were less focused on a goal. “People who have a sense of purpose in their lives may be more likely to take steps to be healthier,” says Lombardo. To develop a sense of purpose, focus on the positive impact you are making at work or at home instead of getting caught up with every little detail being perfect, she suggests.

Start your mornings with coffee

Sipping a mug of coffee not only jumpstarts your day, but your longevity as well. Studies show coffee reduces the risk of a number of chronic diseases. “Drinking coffee may decrease your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Gans. Just go easy: too much caffeine can trigger anxiety and insomnia, or interfere with calcium absorption. And hold the whipped toppings like syrups and cream to avoid canceling out the health benefits.

Snooze soundly

Quality of sleep also plays in role in how long you may live. Multiple studies have linked sleep deprivation with an increased risk of death, and other research has shown that a lack of shuteye may raise risk of type 2 diabetes. “Some people may need more or less sleep than others, but research suggests that seven hours is probably enough,” says Goedereis. To sleep soundly, establish a nighttime routine and stick to a schedule, even on weekends.

See the glass as half full

An Illinois study found clear evidence that happy people experience better health and live longer than their unhappy peers. “Depression, pessimism, and stress predict shorter lifespans,” says Lombardo. “These mental states tend to cause a stress reaction within the body, which can weaken the immune system. Happiness, on the other hand, tends to result in less stress hormones.” Take time to experience gratitude every day. “It’s one of the quickest and longest-lasting ways to boost happiness,” she adds.

Ditch soda

Even if you’re not overweight, drinking soda may be shortening your lifespan, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. The five-year study found a link between soda intake and shortening of the telomeres, which are caps on the ends of chromosomes directly linked to aging. Telomeres shorten each time a cell divides and are thought to be an aging “clock.” This study did not find the same link with diet soda, but other research has associated heavy diet soda drinking to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and depression—all potential life-shorteners.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Have a little bit of wine every day

Drinking a little less than one glass of wine a day is linked to a lower rate of cardiovascular death from all causes when compared to abstaining from all alcohol, according to a Dutch study. Researchers found that light alcohol consumption resulted in longer life expectancy at age 50. Drinking less than or equal to 20 grams per day of alcohol (that’s a little less than a serving of beer, wine, or spirits) was associated with a 36% lower risk of all causes of death and a 34% lower risk of cardiovascular death. And sorry, beer and cocktail fans: the same results were not found with light-to-moderate alcohol intake of other types.

Run 5 minutes a day

No need to run for an hour a day to reap the life-lengthening benefits. A new study shows running just 5 to 10 minutes a day increases your life expectancy by reducing the risk of death from heart disease by 58% and dropping the overall risk of death by 28%. It holds true even if you’re a slowpoke. Those who ran at less than 6 miles per hour only once or twice a week experienced clear benefits, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers credit better lung and heart function with the extended lifespan. Consistency works best, however: Exercisers who ran regularly for an average of six years reaped the greatest benefits.

Eat lots of fish

A diet heavy in omega-3-rich foods may add years to your life, says a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine. In the study of more than 2,600 adults, those with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids—found in salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and lake trout—lived more than two years longer on average than those with lower blood levels. The study didn’t prove that being a fish-eater increases longevity, but suggests a connection. Researchers found that people with high omega-3 levels reduced their overall risk of death by any cause by up to 27% compared to those with the lowest levels, and that they had a 35% lower risk of dying from heart disease. Experts recommend at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week.

Stop sitting so much

Simply stand up more during the day and you’ll boost your longevity by increasing the length of your telomeres, according to a study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study measured the effects of sitting time and physical activity among 49 sedentary, overweight participants. Researchers found increased telomere length—end caps of chromosomes that link directly to longevity—in the red blood cells of individuals participating in a 6-month physical activity intervention.

Volunteer

Helping others not only feels good, it may help you live longer, too. A review of data from 40 published papers found a 20% lower risk of death than non-volunteers. The findings, published in the journal BMC Public Health, found that those who volunteered experienced lower levels of depression, better life satisfaction, and overall enhanced wellbeing. Another study found that retirees who volunteered at least 200 hours in the prior year were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers, lowering their risk of heart disease. Lend a hand for a win-win result.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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