Have hypertension? Lift more weights


Strength training exercises like lifting weights two or three times a week can help lower high blood pressure, according to a Brazilian study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death worldwide, and high blood pressure accounts for 13.8 per cent of deaths from such diseases. About a billion people in the world have high blood pressure. Previous studies have shown that aerobic exercise can help lower high blood pressure. To examine the impact of strength training on high blood pressure, the researchers analysed 14 studies that included 253 participants with hypertension. The average age was 59.

On average, moderate to vigorous strength training at least twice a week for a minimum duration of eight weeks was associated with significant reduction in blood pressure, with systolic pressure dropping by an average of 10 mmHg and diastolic pressure decreasing by 4.79 mmHg.

Strength training was more effective in lowering blood pressure in those aged 18-50 years than those aged 51-70. Nevertheless, strength training can be beneficial for older folks, too.

“Strength training interventions can be used as a non-drug treatment for arterial hypertension, as they promote significant decreases in blood pressure,” the study concluded.

Longer breastfeeding linked to better academic test scores


How long you breastfeed may have an impact on your child’s academic test scores later in life. According to a British study published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, children who were breastfed for longer periods were more likely to achieve better results in their General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) tests at age 16, compared with those who were not breastfed.

The researchers followed 4,940 kids born in 2000-2002 through high school and looked at the results in English and mathematics. As many as 41.7 per cent of those who were never breastfed failed their English exams compared with just 19.2 per cent of those who were breastfed for at least 12 months. For the mathematics exam, 41.9 per cent of those never breastfed failed compared with only 23.7 per cent who were breastfed for at least 12 months.

After accounting for people's socio-economic status and their parents' intelligence, kids breastfed for at least a year were 39 per cent were more likely to have a high pass in both maths and English. “Breastfeeding should continue to be encouraged, when possible, as improvements in academic achievement constitute only one of its potential benefits," the study concluded.

Did You Know?

The World Health Organization is advising people to skip sweeteners as there is no evidence that sugar substitutes help reduce body fat, and long-term use may even increase the risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and mortality in adults

Mental illness linked to heart attack, stroke


People diagnosed with a mental health disorder in their 20s or 30s have up to a threefold increased risk of heart attack or stroke later in life, according to a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The researchers used data from more than 6.5 million South Korean adults aged 20 to 39 without a history of heart attack or stroke. About 13.1 per cent participants had at least one mental disorder at the onset, including anxiety and depression. During a median follow-up of 7.6 years, there were 16,133 cases of heart attack and 10,509 cases of stroke.

The risk of having a heart attack was 58 per cent higher and the risk of having a stroke was 42 per cent higher among people with mental illness, compared with people with no mental health problems. Lifestyle behaviour did not explain the excess risk.

The risk of heart attack was elevated for all mental disorders but was highest among people with a diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder, followed by schizophrenia, substance use disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, eating disorders, depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders (a group of psychiatric disorders that cause unexplained physical symptoms). The risk of stroke was highest among those with personality disorders, followed by schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder, depression, anxiety and somatoform disorders.

“Patients with mental health problems are known to have a shorter life expectancy than the general population, with the majority of deaths caused by physical illnesses,” said the study. “The findings indicate that such individuals should receive regular health checkups and medication, if appropriate, to prevent myocardial infarction and stroke.”

Afternoon exercise best for people with type 2 diabetes


A US study published in the journal Diabetes Care has found that people with type 2 diabetes achieve greater improvements in blood sugar levels if they exercise in the afternoon. The study included 2,416 overweight/obese people with type 2 diabetes, mean age 59, who wore waist accelerometers that tracked physical activity for a week at the start of the study and four years later. They were grouped based on the time of day they exercised.

Those who engaged in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in the afternoon, between 2pm and 5pm, had the greatest reduction in blood sugar levels at one year, which was maintained after four years. The extent of the reduction was 30 per cent to 50 per cent more than other groups. Additionally, the afternoon exercise group was more likely to no longer need glucose-lowering medications.

People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of heart disease, vision impairment and kidney disease. Lifestyle interventions such as a healthy diet and regular physical activity are often recommended to manage blood glucose levels. “We have known that physical activity is beneficial, but what our study adds is a new understanding that the timing of the activity may be important, too,” said the study.

Did You Know?

An analysis of 10,528 heart attack patients admitted to hospitals across Ireland found that deadly heart attacks were highest on Mondays

Research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society conference.

Multivitamins may improve memory in older adults


Taking multivitamin supplements daily can improve memory and slow cognitive ageing in older adults, according to a US study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study included 3,562 adults over 60 who were randomly assigned to take the multivitamin or a placebo, daily, for three years. The participants took online tests that assessed memory and cognition annually for over three years.

The participants in the multivitamin group did significantly better on the memory tests at the one-year mark, and the benefits were sustained over three years of follow-up.

Taking multivitamins for a year appeared to fend off the equivalent of 3.1 years of age-related mental decline compared with the placebo. Participants with a history of cardiovascular diseases benefited the most.

The findings of this study are consistent with another recent study of 2,262 older adults that found that taking a daily multivitamin improved cognition, episodic memory and executive function compared with placebo and the benefits were more pronounced in those with a history of cardiovascular disease.

“Multivitamin supplementation holds promise as a safe and accessible approach towards maintaining cognitive health in older age,” the study concluded.

Regular mammograms save lives


Women who follow guidelines and get regular mammogram screenings are more likely to survive a breast cancer diagnosis, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The study included 37,079 women aged 40 to 69 from nine Swedish counties who had between one and five opportunities for screening mammograms before they were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1992 and 2016. As many as 4,564 of them subsequently died of breast cancer. Participants who underwent all five screening exams as per guidelines were 72 per cent less likely to die of the disease compared with women who had no mammograms.

The risk of dying from breast cancer increased with the number of recommended mammograms the women missed. Delays in screenings “can contribute to being diagnosed with advanced disease and may be life-threatening,” said the study.

According to the American Cancer Society, women who are not at high risk for breast cancer should do mammogram annually from age 45 to 54. Women 55 and older can continue yearly mammograms or switch to every other year.

Did You Know?

A diet low in flavanols, nutrients found in berries, apples, grapes, citrus fruits, spinach, tea and dark chocolate can drive age-related memory loss

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Heart attack may accelerate brain ageing


People who suffer heart attack may experience a significantly faster decline in cognition over the following years. The US study published in JAMA Neurology included 30,465 people, with an average age of 64 years, who did not have a heart attack, stroke or dementia at the start of the study. Women constituted 56 per cent of the participants.

Over a median follow up of 6.4 years, 1,033 of them had a heart attack, and 137 of those had a second heart attack. Researchers assessed the participants' global or overall cognition as well as memory and executive functioning at the start of the study and over time. While having a heart attack was not associated with an immediate decline in cognition, those who suffered one had faster declines in global cognition, memory and executive function over the years, compared with those who did not suffer one.

The eventual decline in global cognition after a heart attack was equivalent to about six to 13 years of cognitive ageing. Women showed a slower rate of decline in cognitive function.

Since cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death globally, the researchers hope that the results of this study “will serve as a wake-up call for people to control vascular risk factors like high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol as soon as they can, since having a heart attack increases the risk of decreased cognition and memory later on in life.”

Eye drops may delay myopia in children


Nightly use of atropine eye drops may delay or prevent the onset of myopia or nearsightedness in children. Around 30 per cent of the global population has myopia, and it is estimated that by 2050, half the world’s population will have the condition.

Elongation of the eye leads to myopia. It starts in young children and continues to progress into adolescent years before levelling off in most people. Apart from life-long use of glasses or contacts, nearsightedness can also increase the risk for retinal detachment, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.

For the phase-3 clinical trial published in JAMA Ophthalmology, 489 children aged six to 10 years were randomly assigned to a daily drop in each eye at bedtime of 0.01 per cent atropine, 0.02 per cent atropine or placebo eyedrops for three years. Atropine is used to dilate the pupils during an eye check.

The application of 0.01 per cent atropine turned out to be most effective in slowing the progression of myopia by limiting eyeglass prescription changes and slowing down the elongation of the eyeball. Though the 0.02 per cent atropine was also better than placebo, the results were less consistent.

The safety of the drug was assessed in a larger group of 573 children aged three to 16 years. Both doses were safe and well tolerated.