Take the stairs


Don’t have the time or money to go to the gym? Try climbing stairs. According to a study published in the journal Menopause, climbing stairs could help lower blood pressure and strengthen leg muscles especially in postmenopausal women. Menopause is often accompanied by a progressive arterial stiffening associated with increase in blood pressure and decline in muscular function.

Climbing stairs combine the benefits of both aerobic and resistance exercise, and helps improve cardiorespiratory fitness and leg muscle strength in postmenopausal women. It also provides additional benefits such as fat loss, improved lipid profiles, and reduced risk of osteoporosis.

Forty two Korean postmenopausal women were randomly assigned to either a stair climbing or a non-exercising control group for 12 weeks. The stair climbing group trained four days a week, climbing 192 steps two to five times a day. And, they saw significant reductions in arterial stiffness and blood pressure, and improved leg strength.

“Stair climbing may be an effective intervention in the prevention and treatment of menopause/ageing-related vascular complications and muscle weakness,” the study concluded.

Congenital heart defect survivors may face dementia

People who survive congenital heart defects are at an increased risk of developing dementia later on, according to a Danish study published in the journal Circulation.

"Previous studies showed that people born with heart defects have a higher risk of neurodevelopment problems in childhood, such as epilepsy and autism, but this is, to our knowledge, the first study to examine the potential for dementia later in adult life," said the study author.

The researchers analysed the medical records of 10,632 people, mostly born between 1960 and 1982, with a heart defect and who later developed dementia. Each person was matched with ten other people of the same gender born the same year and who did not have heart defects.

Compared with the general population, people born with heart defects had a 60 per cent overall higher risk of dementia, a 160 per cent higher risk of early onset dementia (before age 65), and a 30 per cent higher risk of dementia after age 65.

The risk of dementia was higher in people born with heart defects who later developed other heart disease risk factors such as atrial fibrillation, heart failure and diabetes.

"Our study involved an older population, born when treatments for heart defects were more limited. Modern treatment has improved greatly, and as a result we can't directly generalise these results to children born today. We need further work to understand the risks in the modern era," said the study author.

Tobacco kills, whether it is cigarettes, cigars or pipe

There is no safe tobacco usage. Smoking tobacco kills whether it is cigarettes, cigars or pipes.

For the study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the US researchers started surveying the smoking habits of 357,420 people in 1985. Mortality rates were assessed until 2011 and found that there were 51,150 deaths.

Compared to never-smokers, people who regularly smoked only cigarettes had double the risk of all-cause mortality and four times the odds of dying from a tobacco related cancer in the lung, bladder, oesophagus, pancreas, larynx and oral cavity.

Cigar smokers had a 20 per cent greater risk of death from any cause, and a 61 per cent higher risk of death from a tobacco-linked cancer.

Pipe smokers also had 58 per cent higher risk of dying from a tobacco-linked cancer.

Current cigarette smokers had a significantly increased risk of mortality from lung cancer, oral cancer, circulatory diseases, cardiovascular diseases, stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Quitting is beneficial: the risk of death from any cause or tobacco-linked cancers fell once smokers quit.

“Our study provides further evidence that cigar, pipe, and cigarette use confers mortality risks, even among current non-daily cigarette users, with lower risks observed among former users than current users. These data underscore the importance of cessation to reduce mortality and illness from combustible tobacco use,” the study concluded.

Antidepressants are effective

Do antidepressants actually work? A study published in The Lancet answers this long debated question.

About 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. But, only one in six patients in rich countries and one in 27 patients in poor and middle-income countries actually get proper treatment.

The international study looked at 522 double-blind, randomised, controlled trials involving 116,477 participants that compared commonly used antidepressants with either a placebo or with other antidepressants.

All 21 commonly used antidepressants were more effective for the treatment of acute depression in adults compared with placebo.

A drug was considered effective if it reduced depression symptoms by 50 per cent or more.

But the drugs varied in their effectiveness and tolerability. The most effective drug in reducing depressive symptoms was amitriptyline. Other effective drugs included agomelatine, escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, venlafaxine and vortioxetine. The least effective drugs were fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, reboxetine, and trazodone.

“This study represents the best currently available evidence base to guide the choice of pharmacological treatment for adults with acute depression,” said the study co-author.

Did You Know

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the Center for Human Reproduction, New York, have successfully created the first laboratory grown human eggs in a major scientific breakthrough.

Molecular Human Reproduction

Hot tea linked to oesophageal cancer

People who smoke or drink alcohol may abstain from drinking piping hot tea.

According to a Chinese study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, drinking burning hot tea can increase the risk of oesophageal cancer in people who smoke or drink.

Smoking cigarettes and drinking too much alcohol are already known to increase the risk for oesophageal cancer. The study was conducted among 456,155 adults, aged 30 to 79, without a history of cancer. During a median follow up of nine years, there were 1,731 cases of oesophageal cancer.

The risk of oesophageal cancer was found five times greater in people who consumed alcohol daily and also burning hot tea, compared to those who drank tea less than once a week. Similarly, the risk for oesophageal cancer was seen doubled for smokers who drank very hot tea.

Drinking hot tea, by itself, was not associated with an increased risk of oesophageal cancer. But, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer there is an increased risk with the consumption of hot beverages above 65 °C.

"Our findings show a noticeable increase in oesophageal cancer risk associated with a combination of high-temperature tea drinking, excessive alcohol consumption, and tobacco smoking. They suggest that abstaining from hot tea might be beneficial for preventing oesophageal cancer in persons who drink alcohol excessively or smoke," the study said.

Single dads more likely to die early

Single dads are more likely to die early compared to single moms and partnered fathers, according to a Canadian study published in the journal Lancet Public Health.

Single parent households are becoming more common around the world, mostly due to increasing rates of divorce and having children outside wedlock.

The study included 871 single fathers, 4,590 single mothers, 16,341 partnered fathers and 18,688 partnered mothers, with an average age between 41 and 46—693 people died during 11 years of follow-up.

Single fathers had a threefold higher mortality compared to single mothers and partnered fathers, and a fivefold higher mortality compared to partnered mothers.

Single dads had the least healthy lifestyles and had many risk factors associated with premature mortality. They were less likely to eat fruits and vegetables, and were more likely to monthly binge drink. They also had higher rates of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Single fathers were also less likely to have social relationships and connections that could enhance their health, productivity and well-being.

“Our study provides a tangible example of how social factors, such as loneliness and social isolation could be just as important as traditional risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, in predicting premature death. Our research highlights single fathers as a high-risk group requiring close monitoring and management of lifestyle factors. Detailed social histories would allow physicians to learn more about the social and life circumstances of this high risk group and to give advice on behavioural and lifestyle changes,” the lead researcher added.

Did You Know

With every 10 per cent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods such as packaged snacks, mass-produced baked breads and buns, frozen or ready-to-eat meals, sugary drinks, instant noodles, and some reconstituted meats in diets, the risk of overall cancer increased by 12 per cent and breast cancer risk by 11 per cent.


Even light exercises can reduce mortality

Even few minutes of light physical activity can help older men reduce their mortality risk, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

For older adults, meeting the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, in bouts lasting at least 10 minutes per week, may be hard to achieve. But, the current study shows that any level of physical activity may be beneficial.

The study was based on 1,181 men, average age of 78, who wore an accelerometer—a device that measures their movements. They were then followed for about five years, during which 194 people died.

Every 30 minutes of light intensity activity everyday, like going for a walk or light gardening, reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 17 per cent.

Additionally, the total amount of physical activity was more important for longevity than the length and intensity of a particular session. Sporadic bouts of activity were linked to a 41 per cent lower death risk, while bouts of 10 minutes or more reduced the risk by 42 per cent.

This is important because 66 per cent of the men achieved their weekly recommendation in sporadic bouts. Only 16 per cent achieved their weekly total in bouts of 10 or more minutes.

“The results suggest that all activities, however modest, are beneficial. The finding that [low intensity physical activity] is associated with lower risk of mortality is especially important among older men, as most of their daily physical activity is of light intensity. Furthermore, the pattern of accumulation of physical activity did not appear to alter the associations with mortality, suggesting that it would be beneficial to encourage older men to be active irrespective of bouts,” the study concluded.

Cleaning products as bad as smoking for lungs

Using cleaning sprays or other cleaning products regularly could increase the risk for lung damage in women.

The study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine examined data from 6,235 people with a mean age of 34 years—at the start of the study. They were followed for about 20 years.

For women who have worked as cleaners or done household cleaning for 20 years, the decline in lung function was equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day over the same time period.

Using cleaning products also increased the risk of developing asthma by 40 per cent.

“The small particles from the sprays can remain in the air for hours after cleaning. The small particles can travel deep into the lungs and cause infections, and ageing of the lungs,” the study said.

The study authors recommend using a bucket of water and soap, or microfibre cloths to clean, instead of using cleaners with a lot of harsh chemicals.

Eat slowly to lose weight

If you gobble up your food, you may want to slow down. According to a Japanese study published in BMJ Open, three simple eating habits can help you shrink your waistlines: eating slowly, avoiding snacks after dinner and avoid eating in the two hours before going to bed.

The study was based on nearly 60,000 Japanese men and women with type 2 diabetes. Overall, slow eaters were more likely to be physically healthy and have healthier habits.

People who ate slowly were 42 per cent less likely to be obese and those who ate at a normal speed were 29 per cent less likely to be obese compared to those who scarfed down their food.

People who slowed down their eating speed over the study period saw reductions in body mass index (BMI) and waistline. People who didn’t snack after dinner and those who didn’t eat within two hours of bedtime were also less likely to gain weight over the course of the study. Eating or skipping breakfast, however, did not appear to have an impact on BMI or weight gain.

“Changes in eating habits can affect obesity, BMI, and waist circumference. Interventions aimed at reducing eating speed may be effective in preventing obesity and lowering the associated health risks," the study concluded.

Energy drinks are not safe for kids

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has issued new warnings against the use of energy drinks, especially by children and teens.

"Energy drinks are extremely popular, and concerns about their consumption are coming from every sector of society, which is why we have published these recommendations. Our review of the available science showed that excessive levels of caffeine found in energy drinks can have adverse effects on cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, renal and endocrine systems, as well as psychiatric symptoms," noted an ACSM news release.

Children and adolescents have a particularly high risk of complications from energy drinks due to their small body size, potentially heavy and frequent use, as well as the amounts of caffeine.

Energy drinks are highly caffeinated beverages that also contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids and herbal mixtures. Energy drinks have become increasingly popular among students and young adults and have grown into a multibillion-dollar global industry.

According to the recommendations: Energy drinks should not be consumed by children or adolescents and other vulnerable populations, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, caffeine naive or sensitive individuals or individuals with cardiovascular or other medical conditions.

It should not be marketed to high risk groups, especially children.

It should not be used for sports hydration. It should be avoided before, during or after strenuous activities. Some deaths linked with energy drinks occurred when a person consumed energy drinks before and/or after strenuous activity.

It should not be mixed with alcohol.

Consumers should be educated about the differences between soda, coffee, sports drinks and energy drinks.

Did You Know

Children of women who suffer from persistent and severe postnatal depression are at an increased risk for behavioural problems by age 3.5 years as well as lower mathematics grades and depression during adolescence. Furthermore, the mothers are also more likely to continue to experience depressive symptoms at least 11 years after childbirth.

JAMA Psychiatry

Short kids may face stroke in adulthood

Here is an unusual risk factor for stroke—a person’s height as a child.

According to a Danish study published in the journal Stroke, being a short kid could be a predictor of future stroke risk.

The prospective study was based on more than 300,000 Danish children born between 1930 and1989. They were examined at ages seven, ten and thirteen.

During 25 to 83 years of follow up, 10,412 people had an ischaemic stroke (caused by a blood clot) and 2,546 had a hemorrhagic stroke (caused by bleeding in the brain).

Men and women who had been two to three inches shorter than the average, at age seven, had a 10-11 per cent higher risk for an ischaemic stroke. The risk for a hemorrhagic stroke was 11 per cent higher for men who had been 2 inches shorter than average at age seven.

The researchers noted that as average heights of adult have increased (in high-income countries), the number of strokes and deaths from stroke have declined. This suggests the involvement of shared underlying mechanisms for height and stroke development.

“Our study suggests that short height in children is a possible marker of stroke risk and suggests these children should pay extra attention to changing or treating modifiable risk factors for stroke throughout life to reduce the chances of having this disease,” said the senior study author.

Dim lights can impact learning, memory

Spending too much time in poorly-lit rooms and offices can alter the brain’s structure and affect our memory and learning abilities.

The study was published in the journal Hippocampus based on a US-based research which studied the brains of Nile grass rats.

Like humans, they are active during the day and sleep at night.

The rats were exposed to dim and bright light for four weeks. Those exposed to dim light performed poorly on a spatial task and lost about 30 per cent of capacity in the hippocampus region of the brain, which is important for learning and memory.

However, the rats that were exposed to bright light showed significant improvement on the spatial task.

When the researchers exposed the rats that had been previously exposed to dim light to bright light for four weeks, their brain function improved.

According to the lead author, prolonged exposure to dim light can lead to “significant reductions in a substance called brain derived neurotrophic factor—a peptide that helps maintain healthy connections and neurones in the hippocampus—and in dendritic spines, or the connections that allow neurones to 'talk' to one another. Since there are fewer connections being made, this results in diminished learning and memory performance that is dependent upon the hippocampus.”

“Sufficient amount of light exposure during the day is important for keeping the connections in the brain and maintain optimal cognitive function,” the study concluded.