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Walk faster to live longer

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Increasing your walking pace could be a simple way to live longer.

An Australian study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that walking at a moderate or fast pace can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and all-cause mortality.

Compared with a slow pace, walking at an average pace was associated with a 20 per cent reduced risk of dying early and a 24 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease mortality. Walking at a fast pace reduced the risk of all-cause mortality by 24 per cent and cardiovascular mortality by 21 per cent.

“A fast pace is generally five to six kilometres per hour, but it really depends on a walker’s fitness levels; an alternative indicator is to walk at a pace that makes you slightly out of breath or sweaty when sustained,” said the lead researcher.

The protective benefits of brisk walking were more pronounced in older adults. Average paced walkers aged 60 years or more had a 46 per cent reduced risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and fast paced walkers had a 53 per cent reduced risk.

Many breast cancer patients can avoid chemotherapy

About 70 per cent of women with the most common early-stage breast cancer may be able to skip chemotherapy, based on the results of a gene test, according to a landmark study presented at ASCO annual meeting.

Breast cancer patients usually have an Oncotype DX gene test that looks at 21 separate genes in their tumour cells. The patients are given a score of 0-100 that predicts their risk of cancer progression and recurrence over the next 10 years.

Chemotherapy following surgery is recommended based on the test score.

Women with a low Oncotype DX score (1-10) do not need chemotherapy and receive only hormonal therapy. Women with a high score (26 to 100) get both hormonal therapy and chemotherapy.

But, there was uncertainty about the best treatment for women with a mid-range score of 11-25. The clinical trial addressed 6,711 women with an Oncotype DX score of 11-25. They received either hormonal therapy alone or hormonal therapy plus chemotherapy.

After an average follow-up of 7.5 years, there was no significant difference between the two groups in terms of overall survival, disease-free survival, or cancer spreading beyond the breast, indicating no benefit from adding chemotherapy to hormone therapy.

However, chemotherapy slightly improved outcomes for women 50 years or younger with scores of 16–25. The researchers concluded that chemotherapy is not necessary for women over 50 with a score under 26, and women 50 years or younger with a score of 0 to 15.

Eat a healthy diet to prevent brain shrinkage

Eat a healthy diet to prevent brain shrinkage and stay sharp. People who eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts and fish have bigger brains, according to a study from Netherlands published in the journal Neurology.

The study looked at the dietary habits of 4,213 people—average age 66—who did not have dementia, and ranked them from zero to 14 based on the quality of their diet.

The healthiest diet was rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, dairy and fish, with a limited intake of sugary drinks. All the participants also had brain scans to determine brain volume. After accounting for age, sex, education, smoking and physical activity, a higher diet score was associated with a larger total brain volume.

Those who followed a healthy diet had about two millilitres more total brain volume than those who did not. Having a brain volume that is 3.6 millilitres smaller is equivalent to one year of ageing.

Better diet quality was also linked to more grey and white matter volume and hippocampal volume, the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory. No specific food group was found to contribute to the benefit.

Did You Know

Men who do physically demanding jobs are 18 per cent more likely to die
prematurely than workers who do less strenuous jobs.

British Journal of Sports Medicine

Are vitamins effective?

If you are taking vitamins daily to stay healthy, you may be wasting your money. According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium and vitamin C (the most common supplements) do not provide any health advantage in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke or premature death. Neither do these vitamins cause any harm.

The findings were based on a review of five years of research that included vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 (niacin), B6, B9 (folic acid), C, D and E; beta-carotene; calcium; iron; zinc; magnesium; and selenium.

“We were surprised to find so few positive effects of the most common supplements that people consume,” said the study's lead author. Folic acid alone and B-vitamins with folic acid were the only exemption—they showed a slight reduction in cardiovascular disease and stroke.

On the other hand, niacin and antioxidants appeared to increase the risk of death from any cause. "In the absence of significant positive data—apart from folic acid's potential reduction in the risk of stroke and heart disease—it is most beneficial to rely on a healthy diet to get your fill of vitamins and minerals," the study author noted.

Exercise keeps your heart young

Exercising four to five days a week can help keep your arteries and heart young and healthy. As people age, arteries—blood vessels which carry blood in and out of the heart—are prone to stiffening, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A healthy diet and regular exercise can reduce stiffening and keep the arteries healthy.

The study published in The Journal of Physiology looked at the impact of varying amounts of exercise on different sizes of arteries. After comparing the exercise history and heart health of 102 people over age 60, the researchers have concluded that exercising two to three times a week for at least half an hour a day can help keep middle-sized arteries youthful and prevent stiffening. Middle-sized arteries supply oxygenated blood to the head and the neck.

However, people who exercised four to five times per week had more youthful large central arteries, too—which provide blood to the chest and abdomen—in addition to healthier middle-sized ones.

A germ-free environment can cause childhood leukaemia

According to professor Mel Greaves, from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, too much cleanliness and lack of exposure to different microbes early in life could be a factor in the development of childhood leukaemia.

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood cancer, could be the result of a two-step process. The first is a genetic mutation that happens in the womb which predisposes children to leukaemia—but only about one per cent of children born with the mutation go on to develop the disease.

The second is further genetic changes triggered by infection after birth.

But, this is more likely in children who have been kept in very clean, germ-free environments in the first year of their life. Natural infections early in life can prime the immune system to fight infections. Lack of microbial exposure early in life can result in immune system malfunction.

According to Professor Greaves, children should be allowed to mingle freely with other kids, especially older kids, and parents should not be overly obsessed with cleanliness. Breastfeeding for three to six months is also beneficial. The findings were published in Nature Reviews Cancer.

Did You Know

A vegetarian diet can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 40 per cent; coronary heart disease by 40 per cent; and hypertension by 34 per cent. It can also reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes, and help in weight management.

Progress in Cardiovascular Disease

Smoking increases risk of stroke in young men

Men younger than 50 who smoke are more likely to have a stroke, and the more cigarettes they smoke the greater their risk, according to a study published in the journal Stroke.

The researchers compared 615 young men (age 15-49) who had a stroke with 530 men of same age group who did not suffer a stroke. Overall, smokers were 88 per cent more likely to have an ischaemic stroke than non-smokers.

Among current smokers, men who smoked fewer than 11 cigarettes a day were 46 per cent more likely to have a stroke than those who never smoked. But, heavy smokers—those who smoked at least two packs a day—were nearly five times more likely to have a stroke than never-smokers.

“The key takeaway from our study on men younger than 50 is, the more you smoke, the more you stroke,” said the study author.

Rice becomes less nutritious due to climate change

Global climate change is causing a lot of havoc including loss of sea ice; accelerated sea level rise; longer, more intense heat waves; longer periods of drought; and more frequent and intense storms and hurricanes.

According to an international team of researchers, it can also affect the quality of our food, especially rice, the staple food of more than two billion people.

The researchers studied 18 rice varieties in outdoor experiments in which the plants were exposed to higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide that are expected in the second half of this century.

Too much carbon dioxide can alter the chemical composition of the plant and make it less nutritious. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will significantly reduce the nutritional value of rice, especially, iron, zinc, protein, and vitamins B1, B2, B5, and B9.

This can increase the risk of malnutrition and have significant health implications, especially for countries with both high rice consumption and low gross domestic product. The findings were published in Science Advances.

Did You Know

People with depression experience a greater decline in cognitive functions, including memory loss, executive function (such as decision making) and information processing speed in older adulthood than those without depression.

Psychological Medicine

Heart disease, stroke risk higher for people of south Asian descent

South Asians living in the US have a much higher risk of dying from heart diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, compared to other ethnic groups, according to a scientific statement published in the journal Circulation.

There are more than 3.4 million south Asians living in the US—80 per cent of them are of Indian descent. South Asians are more likely to have several risk factors associated with cardiovascular diseases, including severe atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of the arteries; higher levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and lower levels of HDL cholesterol; higher level of calcium deposits; more likeliness to have diabetes; and developing diabetes at a younger age.

One important factor that increases their risk of atherosclerosis is diet which is high in saturated fats from tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil, and refined carbohydrates, such as sugar, white bread and highly processed foods. The study recommends replacing ghee with monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil, and adding more whole grains. Lack of physical activity among south Asians is another important factor that contributes to the heightened risk.

More children, higher risk of heart disease

A woman’s risk of cardiovascular diseases increases with the number of children she has. The University of Cambridge study presented at the British Cardiovascular Society Conference was based on 8,583 women, aged 45-64 years.

The risk was highest for women who had five or more children—they had a 40 per cent increased risk of a serious heart attack in the following 30 years compared to women who had only one or two children. They also had a 30 per cent increased risk of heart disease, a 25 per cent increased risk of stroke and a 17 per cent increased risk of heart failure. Women who had three to four children also had a modest elevated risk of serious heart conditions.

The link between a healthy heart and having children was independent of whether the women breastfed or not. Women, who suffered a miscarriage and had no children, faced a 60 per cent increased risk of heart disease and a 45 per cent increased risk in heart failure compared to women who had one to two live births.

Did You Know

Wider distribution of 10 vaccines in 41 low- and middle-income countries over 15 years could prevent up to 36 million deaths and keep 24 million people out of poverty caused by medical costs.

Health Affairs

Low fat diet linked to better breast cancer survival

Following a low fat diet can significantly improve survival for breast cancer patients, according to a study published in.

The study was based on 48,835 postmenopausal women without breast cancer whose dietary fat intake was more than 32 per cent of their daily calories.

Among them, 19,541 participants were assigned to a low fat diet: they reduced their fat intake to 20 per cent of their daily calories and increased their intake of fruits, vegetables and grains.

The rest of the participants continued their usual diet. During 8.5 years of dietary intervention, 1,764 women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Survival outcomes for these women were tracked for an average of 11.5 years after their diagnosis.

Overall survival was 22 per cent higher for women in the low fat group compared to women who continued their usual diet. Looking specifically at breast cancer mortality, only 68 women died in the low-fat diet group, compared to 120 women in the regular-diet group.

Women in the low fat diet group were also less likely to die from other causes, especially heart disease. Only 27 women in the low-fat diet group died of cardiovascular disease compared to 64 women who continued their regular diet.

CONTRIBUTOR: SHYLA JOVITHA ABRAHAM

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