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Starting to exercise in midlife may be as beneficial as starting early

Reserch has shown that getting fit in middle age could be as good for you as starting young when it comes to reducing the risk of an early death. But the reverse is also true.

If you have been fit and drop off in later years, there is no difference in the risk of an early death when compared to those who had always been couch potatoes. In other words, there’s no bank, no accumulation of the protective effect of exercise and for having been fit in younger years.

Nicola K S Davis, writing at The Guardian:

“If you are not active and you get to your 40s-50s and you decide to become active, you can still enjoy a lot of those benefits.”

The study, published in the journal Jama Network Open, was based on data from more than 300,000 Americans aged 50-71 who undertook a questionnaire in the mid-1990s. They were asked to estimate the extent of their moderate to vigorous leisure exercise at different stages of their life. Researchers then used national records to track who died in the years up to the end of 2011, and from what.

After taking into account factors including age, sex, smoking and diet, the team found that those who were exercising into middle age had a lower risk of death from any cause in the years that followed than those who had never carried out any leisure exercise. However, when the team looked at 10 different patterns in the way people were active over their life, it found a surprise.

Men and women who ramped up their activity gradually to about seven hours a week by the age of 40-61 reduced their risk of death from any cause in the years that followed by about 35%. The benefit was similar to that seen for people who reached and maintained similar activity from their teens or 20s onwards, or who exercised at such a level when young and middle-aged but dipped in activity in their 30s.

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Why walking helps us think

Ferris Jabr, The New Yorker:

When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

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Who lives alone in Canada and how does that impact their health and wellbeing?

Questions continue to be raised about the possible impacts of living alone on the prevalence of social isolation and loneliness in society.

Statistics Canada has released a study that looked at the Canadian population living alone, using data from both the Census of Population and the General Social Survey on Family. Here’s some of what they found.

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These Three Steps Might Help Prevent Dementia

There is no magic shield against Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Supplements don’t work. Yet there is evidence that some strategies may help.

Paula Span at the New York Times writes:

The three:

  • Increased physical activity;
  • Blood pressure management for people with hypertension, particularly in midlife;
  • And cognitive training.

That last recommendation doesn’t necessarily refer to commercial online brain games, said Dr. Kristine Yaffe, a neuropsychiatrist and epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who served on the panel.

“It’s really the concept of being mentally active,” she said. “Find something you enjoy where you’re learning something new, challenging and stimulating your brain.”

Though the evidence to date doesn’t establish which mental workouts have the greatest impact or how often people should engage in them, “they’re not expensive and they don’t cause side effects,” Dr. Yaffe pointed out.

The blood pressure recommendation got a boost in January with the latest findings from the Sprint trial, a multisite study stopped early in 2015 when intensive treatment of hypertension (a systolic blood pressure goal of less than 120, compared to the standard 140) was shown to reduce cardiovascular events and deaths.

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How much leisure time do we need to be happy?

Research shows that too little leisure time leads to people feeling stressed. And there’s such a thing as too much leisure time, which tends to make people feel overly idle.

A research paper released late last year investigated this trade-off, attempting to pinpoint how much leisure time is best. Its authors examined the relationship between the amount of “discretionary time” people had—basically, how much time people spend awake and doing what they want—and how pleased they were with their lives. (Some examples of “discretionary” activities were watching TV, socializing, going to the movies, spending time with family, and doing nothing.)

The paper, which analyzed data covering about 35,000 Americans, found that employed people’s ratings of their satisfaction with life peaked when they had in the neighborhood of two and a half hours of free time a day. For people who didn’t work, the optimal amount was four hours and 45 minutes.

More at The Atlantic

The best thing you can do for your health is to sleep well

Getting a consistent seven- to nine-hours of sleep each night is the single most effective thing each of us can do for our health and wellbeing.

Matthew Walker, writing for The Guardian:

Related is the association between plentiful slumber and athletic performance. Sleep is perhaps the greatest legal performance-enhancing “drug” that few people are taking advantage of. Obtain less than eight hours of sleep a night, and especially less than six hours a night, and the following happens: time to physical exhaustion drops by 10 to 30%, as does aerobic output; limb extension force and vertical jump height are reduced; peak and sustained muscle strength decrease. Add to this the cardiac, metabolic and respiratory effects: higher rates of lactic acid buildup and reductions in blood oxygen saturation with converse increases in carbon dioxide, due in part to a reduction in the amount of air that the lungs can expire in a sleep-deficient state. And then there is injury risk. Relative to sleeping nine hours a night, sleeping five to six hours a night will increase your chances of injury across a season by more than 200%.

Routinely sleeping less than six hours a night also compromises your immune system, significantly increasing your risk of cancer. So much so, that recently the World Health Organization classified any form of night-time shiftwork as a probable carcinogen.

Inadequate sleep – even moderate reductions of two to three hours for just one week – disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic. Short sleeping increases the likelihood of your coronary arteries becoming blocked and brittle, setting you on a path towards cardiovascular disease, stroke and congestive heart failure.

All it takes is one hour of lost sleep, as demonstrated by a global experiment performed on 1.6 billion people across more than 60 countries twice a year, otherwise known as daylight saving times. In the spring, when we lose one hour of sleep, there is a 24% increase in heart attacks the following day. In the autumn, we gain an hour of sleep opportunity, and there is a 21% reduction in heart attacks.

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Mystery Meat: Your “all-beef sausage” could have pork, sheep, or chicken in it

Do you really know what you are eating for dinner tonight?

A study by the University of Guelph looked at samples of sausage collected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) from 100 grocery stores across Canada. They found that 14 per cent of them contained meat from a source other than what was labeled.

Sausages labelled as beef were found to have sheep, pork, or chicken. Some chicken sausages were found to have turkey.

One concern is that the source of the mystery meat cannot be traced.

Read more at CBC

If you want to be smarter, you need to sleep more

It’s been repeatedly shown that sleep is essential to how we form memories.

The human brain requires we sleep roughly one third of every day to properly process and store thoughts so they can be remembered at a later time. Depriving ourselves of sleep, especially over the long term, can disrupt this process. And it can make learning more difficult.

Researchers at the Sleep Research Laboratory at the University of Ottawa have found that once you drift off, your brain shifts information from the hippocampus, which is only used to store recent memories, to the prefrontal cortex. It’s how we learn new things, and remember them for the future.

A short night of sleep may translate into learning less. Our brain requires suffecient time to store everything it took in during the day. Researchers say it’s clear that if you want to be smarter, you may need to sleep more.

Read More at CBC

The fat-burning heart-rate zone is a myth

Your primary goal should be to get active and stay motivated to keep moving.

Scott Douglas writing for the Washington Post:

If you’re the kind of exerciser who constantly checks your heart rate to ensure you’re in the fat-burning zone, you should stop. You’ll probably never meet your weight-loss goals that way. That’s because there’s no special fat-burning zone that’s key to getting lean.

And

Your body primarily fuels itself by burning a mix of stored fat and carbohydrates. The less active you are at a given moment, the greater the percentage of that fuel mix comes from fat. As your intensity of activity increases, the percentage of carbohydrates in that fuel mix also increases. At rest, fat constitutes as much as 85 percent of calories burned. That figure shifts to about 70 percent at an easy walking pace. If you transition to a moderate-effort run, the mix becomes about 50 percent fat and 50 percent carbohydrates, and it moves increasingly toward carbohydrates the faster you go.

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Doctors are saying gut health is as important as heart heath

Increasingly researchers are finding that your intestines not only digest food, but may also regulate mood, emotion, and play a central role in your body’s response to disease.

What you eat feeds every single cell in your body.

Sushrut Jangi, The Boston Globe:

Avoid processed deli meats and red meat while feeding the dense jungle of bacteria in the colon with fibers, fruits, and vegetables. Siegel says unhealthy and sedentary lifestyles rife with fast foods and processed meats are contributing to the rise in colon cancer among young people. A lot of people go to the deli and buy very expensive turkey breast and think they are eating healthy, Siegel says. Shifting away from the standard Western diet to the Mediterranean diet — composed primarily of plant-based foods, olive oil, fish, and mixed nuts — supports both gut health and a healthy heart. Sprinkling food with curcumin — the activated ingredient in turmeric — may dampen inflammation. Routine exercise staves off obesity, which does wonders for the gastrointestinal tract and reduces cancer risk. While particular diets are effective in treating specific gut conditions, consult with a gastroenterologist or nutritionist before pursuing anything radical.

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