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Are pets really good for us?

Jules Howard, writing in The Guardian »

The good news, at face value, is this: if you are looking for proof that having a pet improves your general health, the evidence abounds. For instance, there is plenty about how a bout of pet-stroking can lower your heart rate (and the pet’s), easing your body into a less stressed condition. This seems to apply across the spectrum, from dogs and cats to snakes and goats. And there’s more. There’s evidence from Germany and Australia (sample size: 10,000) that pet-owners make fewer visits to the doctor and, from China, that pet-owners sleep more soundly than those who aren’t. Just last week, the American Heart Association reported that the survival prospects for people who have had heart attacks and strokes are better in dog-owners than in those who are not.

and

If we were able to put all these pros and cons into a melting pot and come up with a definitive answer to the question of whether or not pets are good for us, what would the answer be? The answer would be … complicated. Because humans and our circumstances are so universally mixed up and complex. The simple truth is that having a pet has good and bad sides, and it may not be for everyone. Which means we have a duty to think carefully before acquiring one. We need to imagine the good times we might have with a pet and to consider the bad times, too: the insecurity, the grumpiness in old age, the infirmity.

Read the whole article at The Guardian »

Exercise and increased physical activity can prevent and treat depression

Exercise training and increased physical activity are effective for both prevention and treatment of depression, concludes research published in the Current Sports Medicine Reports, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.

The evidence of the use of physical activity and exercise for the management of depression is substantial and growing fast,”comment Felipe Barretto Schuch, PhD, of Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Brazil, and Brendon Stubbs, PhD, of King’s College London, lead authors of the special ‘Exercise Is Medicine’ article. “Despite this substantial evidence, the incorporation of exercise as a key component in treatment is often inconstant and often given a low priority.” Continue reading

Providing essential medicines free to those how can least afford it, significantly improves their health

Kas Roussy and Marcy Cuttler, writing for CBC »

In Monday’s issue of the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, Persaud and his team reported giving medications free resulted in 11.6 per cent better adherence to treatment.

The researchers monitored patients taking medications for high blood pressure and blood glucose in diabetes, as well as antiretrovirals for HIV, antipsychotics, antibiotics and analgesics.

More people who received drugs free took the essential medications as prescribed (151 of 395 or 38.2 per cent) compared with those in the group with usual access to medicine (104 of 391 or 26.6 per cent).

Read more at CBC »

Strategies to deal with constantly feeling overwhelmed

Today is World Mental Health Day, an event run by the World Health Organization with the aim of breaking down the stigma of mental health and draw attention to resources and organizations available to help people cope.

Today, the Harvard Business Review published an article outlining five practical strategies to help combat the constant feeling of being overwhelmed.

Rebecca Zucker, writing for HBR (paywall) »

 In their book, Immunity to Change, Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey discuss how the increase in complexity associated with modern life has left many of us feeling “in over our heads.” When this is the case, the complexity of our world has surpassed our “complexity of mind” or our ability to handle that level of complexity and be effective. This has nothing to do with how smart we are, but with how we make sense of the world and how we operate in it.

Our typical response to ever-growing workloads is to work harder and put in longer hours, rather than to step back and examine what makes us do this and find a new way of operating.

The author proposes some strategies that help »

  • Pinpoint the primary source of overwhelm.
  • Set boundaries on your time and workload.
  • Challenge your perfectionism.
  • Outsource or delegate
  • Challenge your assumptions.

For a more detailed look at these, read the article at HBR »

Drinking fruit juice tied to increased diabetes risk

The research suggests it is healthier to consume coffee, tea, or water.

Lisa Rapaport, writing for Reuters »

After accounting for how much people weighed and their overall eating patterns, researchers found that those who increased their total consumption of sugary drinks by a half serving a day over four years were 16% more likely to develop diabetes over the next four-year period. With the same daily half-serving increase in artificially-sweetened drinks, the odds went up 18%.

Even though consumption of 100% fruit juices has been considered a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages because of the vitamins and minerals in fruit juices, they typically contain similar amounts of sugar and calories as sugar-sweetened beverages,” said Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier, lead author of the study and a nutrition researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

The study results “raise concerns about the negative health effects of sugary beverages, regardless of whether the sugar is added or naturally occurring,” Drouin-Chartier said by email.

Telegraph » An extra half glass of fruit juice a day could sharply increase diabetes risk

Drinking an extra half a glass of fruit juice a day could increase the risk of diabetes by 15 per cent, research by Harvard University suggests.

The study of more than 190,000 men and women found all types of sugary soft drink were linked to a raised chance of developing type two diabetes.

Bur fruit juice appeared to carry significantly higher risks than drinks with added sugar, which appeared to increase the chance of diabetes by 9 per cent.

Diabetes U.K. » Fruit juice and diet drinks linked with increased type 2 diabetes risk

The findings showed that each half-serving increase in consumption of sugary drinks (including fruit juice) was associated with a 16% increase in risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next four years.

The related increase in risk of type 2 diabetes, over the same time-period, for each half-serving increase in consumption of artificially sweetened beverages was 18%.

The substitution of one daily serving of a sugary drink with water, coffee or tea was associated with between a 2 and 10% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

First author Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University, said: “The study provides further evidence demonstrating the health benefits associated with decreasing sugary beverage consumption and replacing these drinks with healthier alternatives like water, coffee, or tea.”

More » American Diabetes Association

Dog ownership linked with longer life, especially among heart attack and stroke survivors

Dog ownership is associated with a 33% lower risk of early death for heart attack survivors living alone and 27% reduced risk of early death for stroke survivors living alone, compared to people who did not own a dog.

Dog ownership was also associated with a 24% reduced risk of all-cause mortality and a 31% lower risk of death by heart attack or stroke compared to non-owners.

Anne Harding, writing for Reuters »

Overall, dog owners were 24% less likely to die over the next decade than non-dog owners. People who’d suffered a heart attack or other cardiovascular event had a 65% reduced risk of dying over the next decade if they owned a dog. Dog ownership reduced overall mortality from cardiovascular causes by 31%.

Increased physical activity plays a key role in the cardiovascular benefits of dog ownership, said Kramer, noting that her own step count has climbed “sky high” since she adopted Romeo, an energetic miniature schnauzer that she walks at least three times a day.

Read more at Reuters »

More » CNN, Science Daily, USA Today

Living by the water might improve your mental health

Nancy Clanton, writing in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution »

About one in six adults in England suffer from mental health disorders, the researchers noted. Depression and anxiety are more likely in people from lower income backgrounds. But their findings suggest that “access to the coast could help to reduce these health inequalities in towns and cities close to the sea.”

The Exeter team used data from the Health Survey for England and compared people’s health in relation to their proximity to the coast: from those living about half a mile away to those more than 30 miles away.

“Our research suggests, for the first time, that people in poorer households living close to the coast experience fewer symptoms of mental health disorders,” said Jo Garrett, who led the study, which was published in the journal Health and Place. “When it comes to mental health, this ‘protective’ zone could play a useful role in helping to level the playing field between those on high and low income.”

Parents who lie to their kids raise adult liars

Robby Berman, writing for Big Think »

  • For simplicity and speed, parents may employ untruths as conversation-enders and to coerce desirable behavior using empty threats.
  • Telling kids not to lie while modeling contrary behavior is, not surpassingly, a problem.
  • Lying as an adult is just one of the issues lied-to children exhibit as grownups.

Read more at Big Think »

People want their employers to talk about mental health in the workplace

Kelly Greenwood, Vivek Bapat, and Mike Maughan writing for the Harvard Business Reviews (paywall) »

Less than half of our respondents felt that mental health was prioritized at their company, and even fewer viewed their company leaders as advocates.

This needs to change. Mental health is becoming the next frontier of diversity and inclusion, and employees want their companies to address it. Eighty-six percent of our respondents thought that a company’s culture should support mental health. This percentage was even higher for Millennials and Gen Zers, who have higher turnover rates and are the largest demographic in the workforce. Half of Millennials and 75% of Gen Zers had voluntarily left roles in the past for mental health reasons, compared with just 20% of respondents overall, a finding that speaks to a generational shift in awareness. It is not surprising then that providing employees with the support they need improves not only engagement but also recruitment and retention, whereas doing nothing reinforces an outdated and damaging stigma.

Because companies are not doing enough to break down this stigma, many people don’t self-identify as having a diagnosable mental health condition, even though up to 80% of us will manage one in our lifetimes. Low levels of self-identification mean that many workers won’t seek treatment, and it might explain why disclosure rates in companies are low. Our research showed that while nearly 60% of respondents experienced symptoms in the past year — a number much higher than the oft-cited 20% of people who manage a condition in any given year — close to 60% also never talked about their conditions at work. When conversations about mental health did occur, less than half were described as positive. In fact, respondents were the least comfortable talking with their company’s HR and senior leaders, although senior leaders, including CEOs, were just as likely to struggle with mental health symptoms as individual contributors.

Read more at HBR »

Eating nuts may limit weight gain

Lisa Rapaport, writing for Reuters »

People who increased their total nut consumption by a half-serving a day (14 grams, or about half an ounce) were 3% less likely to become obese, researchers report in The BMJ. Boosting daily walnut consumption by a similar amount was associated with a 15% lower obesity risk, while adding tree nuts like cashews and almonds was tied to an 11% lower obesity risk.

Increasing nuts in the diet may help maintain a healthy body weight in several ways, said senior study author Deirdre Tobias of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“Their high healthy-fat and fiber content are more filling for longer compared with processed carbs and other more easily digested foods,” Tobias said by email.

“This may also benefit the overall quality of the diet by making less room for less-healthy snack foods,” Tobias added. “So, even though nuts are considered calorie-dense, their intake likely displaces other calories in the diet to improve long-term weight.”

Read more at Reuters »

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