Monday, September 26, 2016

Doctors explain how hiking actually changes our brains

While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body, and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain… for the better!

Hiking in nature can stop negative, obsessive thoughts

Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.

To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

The researchers noted that increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Hiking while disconnected from technology boosts creative problem solving

A study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. Participants in this study went backpacking through nature for about 4 days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever. They were asked to perform tasks which required creative thinking and complex problem solving, and researchers found that performance on problem solving tasks improved by 50% for those who took part in this tech-free hiking excursion.

The researchers of this study noted that both technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions. A nice long hike, sans technology, can reduce mental fatigue, soothe the mind, and boost creative thinking.

Hiking outdoors can improve ADHD in children

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is becoming more and more common among children. Children who have ADHD have a difficult time with impulse control and staying focused, they get distracted easily, and exhibit excessive hyperactivity.

While raising children who have ADHD can be difficult for parents, the usual solution — opting for prescription medication — may be doing more harm than good, particularly when natural solutions can work just as well. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduces symptoms significantly. The results of this study suggest nature exposure can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention and/or exhibits impulsive behavior.

Hiking in nature is great exercise and therefore boosts brainpower

We already know that exercising is fantastic for our overall well-being. Hiking is an excellent way to burn between 400 – 700 calories per hour, depending on your size and the hike difficulty, and it is easier on the joints than other activities like running. It has also been proven that people who exercise outside are more likely to keep at it and stick to their programs, making hiking an excellent choice for those wishing to become more active on a regular basis.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume — the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70. Such exercise not only improves memory loss, but helps prevent it as well. Researchers also found that it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self esteem, and release endorphins. Many people take medication to solve each and every one of these issues, but the solution to these ills may be a lot simpler than you think!

How can you begin to start hiking?

Luckily, hiking is one of the easiest and least expensive sports to get involved in, and it can have great benefits for the whole family, including grandma! Start out small and test your abilities. Do what works for you — if that means just walking through trails in a park, that’s fine. Any exercise outdoors is better than none. You can easily find maps of trails around your home online, and there are plenty of smartphone apps to map them out, too. I recommend turning off your signal and your phone while hiking though, so you can reap the most benefits of the hike (though it may be wise to at least carry it with you in case of emergency).

Make sure you have some good sturdy hiking shoes, a hat, and a water bottle, and be sure to layer your clothing so you can take things on or off easily as you warm up and cool down. You may want to consider using trekking poles as well, which can increase your speed and take some of the pressure off your knees. Now, can you just do one thing for me?

Go take a hike!

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

How regular sauna use can lengthen your life

A sauna does more than build up a sweat - it can be a life saver, say researchers.

The study, which was published in JAMA, is the latest in a series of papers to explore the potential cardiovascular health benefits of "chilling out" in a room heated to 174-degrees Fahrenheit.    

"Our results suggest that sauna bathing is a recommendable health habit," wrote Dr. Jari Laukkanen, a cardiologist a the Institute of Public Health and Clinical Nutrition, University of Eastern Finland.

The only catch is, nobody can explain exactly why this is the case.

"Further studies are warranted to establish the potential mechanism that links sauna bathing and cardiovascular health" wrote Laukkanen and his colleagues.

The researchers based their conclusion on a database of of 2,315 Finnish men who have had their health tracked since 1984. Study participants were all aged 42 to 60, with a median age of 53.

Those men who enjoyed a sauna two or three times a week had a 23% lower risk of experiencing a fatal episode of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease, compared to those who took just one sauna a week, according to researchers.

The apparent health benefits for men who used the sauna four to seven times a week was even greater: They had a 48% lower risk of similar incidents when compared to men who used the sauna only once a week, researchers said.

"The higher frequency of sauna bathing was related to considerable decreased risks of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality," the authors wrote.

The researchers said a similar health benefit was unlikely to be found in steam rooms and hot tubs, due to the unique conditions of Finnish saunas.

A traditional Finnish sauna has dry air (10% to 20% humidity) and a recommended temperature of 176 degrees to 212 degrees. Humidity is increased temporarily by throwing water on the hot rocks of the sauna heater, and most Finns are accustomed to using a sauna once a week.

On average, the men in the study used a sauna twice a week, at a temperature of about 174 degrees. The average time spent in the sauna was about 14 minutes, researchers say.

The super-heated conditions of a sauna provoke a variety of physical reactions.

Heart rate can climb to 100 or 150 beats per minute -- similar to low- or moderate-intensity exercise -- and sweat is secreted at a rate of about 2 pounds per hour. 

High temperatures also causes the body to flow more blood to the skin and less to internal organs.

"Previous studies have suggested that sauna bathing might have some harmful effects, whereas our results indicated a protective effect," the authors wrote.

The researchers noted that only 1% to 2% of sudden deaths occurred within 24 hours of sauna bathing. Alcohol intake was a major contributing factor in those cases, authors wrote.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, speculated on a number of possible reasons for the observed benefits.

"Although we do not know why the men who took saunas more frequently had greater longevity (whether it is the time spent in the hot room, the relaxation time, the leisure of a life that allows for more relaxation time, or the camaraderie of the sauna), clearly time spent in the sauna is time well spent," Redberg wrote.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

10 Longevity Secrets from the Greek Island of Ikaria

On the Greek island of Ikaria, people forget to die.

For the most part, they also forget to get sick — the island’s many nonagenarians experience relatively little cancer, cardiovascular disease or dementia.

This small island in the north Aegean Sea has been the subject of much study by researchers across the world. Every outsider wonders: What is the secret to a long and healthy life?

1. Drink goat’s milk. The people of Ikaria regularly drink goat’s milk.  It is rich in tryptophan which is a natural anti-depressant.   80 percent of all people over 90 have consumed goat’s milk many times per week throughout their life.

2.  Live in the mountains. Living in a mountainous region leads to a more active lifestyle.  People naturally complete more physical activity which maintains weight and lowers risk of heart disease.

3.  Eat the Ikarian diet. The diet of these islanders is a variation of the Mediterranean diet that focuses on whole grains, veggies, fruits, olive oil,  beans, and low in meat and sugar. Uniquely, though, it’s lower in grains and fish, but high in potatoes.

4.  Eat lots of healthy greens. A major part of the diet is the consumption of many different greens that are full of nutrients and some contain more antioxidants than green tea or wine.  The greens grow abundantly in fields and on the side of the road, and Ikarians frequently eat wild green salads.

5.  Eat less. Stop eating when you are 80% full.

6.  Drink herbal tea. People in Ikaria regularly drink herbal tea.  The consumption of many herbal teas give the residents a boost in all the nutrients contained in herbal tea, which contain compounds that lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart disease and dementia.

7.  Get plenty of rest. They nap regularly on the island.  Napping 4 times a week for at least 30 minutes helps lower risks for diseases and helps keep your body primed to work during the best hours.

8.  Dip into a hot spring. Radium is a nasty word in America, but the Ikarians have sworn by radium-rich hot springs since the 4th century. Reduction in joint pain, stress, and skin irritation are often cited as benefits.

9.  Take your time. Time is not a priority on Ikaria.  There is no sense of urgency and people routinely fudge times and show up whenever they feel.  Remember there is no reason to rush and taking your time lowers heart-harming stress hormones.

10.  While many Ikarians attribute their long lives to the clean air, some will tell you:  “We just forget to die.”

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Junk food damages blood cells

Antioxidants in fresh foods help the body produce healthy red blood cells. People who do not eat enough of these create cells that are damaged, scientists at Swansea University found. 

Junk food addicts who favour burgers and buns over fresh fruit and vegetables have a sharply increased number of blood cells with cancer-linked mutations.

Red cells carry oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues, and remove waste carbon dioxide, making them a vital part of human wellbeing.

Examining red blood cells provides a useful indicator about someone's health, The Sunday Times reported.  

Dr Hasan Haboubi, a gastroenterologist and cancer researcher, said: 'We have found that life­style, and especially diet, is intimately linked to the health of our tiniest cells.

'If we have a bad diet it is rapidly reflected in the state of those cells.' 

Dr Haboubi studied red blood cells, which are created by stem cells in the bone marrow.

As stem cells move all around the body they are affected by a lots of lifestyle factors including diet, exercise and exposure to radiation. 

If these are mutated, faulty blood cells are created. 

A healthy person should have no more than three to five cells that have mutated per million. 

People who eat low levels of fruit and vegetables had more than double the mutation rate.  

The findings were revealed when Dr Haboubi was trying to develop a blood test for cancer.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

Science-based benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

When it comes to fat, there's one type you don’t want to cut back on: omega-3 fatty acids. Two crucial ones -- EPA and DHA -- are primarily found in certain fish. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function, but also they deliver some big health benefits.

Omega-3s can fight depression and anxiety

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the world.

Symptoms include sadness, lethargy and a general loss of interest in life.

Anxiety is also a very common disorder, and is characterized by constant worry and nervousness.

Interestingly, studies have found that people who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to be depressed (12).

What’s more, when people with depression or anxiety start taking omega-3 supplements, their symptoms get better (345678).

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. Of the three, EPA appears to be the best at fighting depression (9).

One study even found EPA to be as effective against depression as Prozac, an antidepressant drug (10).

Omega-3s can improve eye health

DHA, a type of omega-3, is a major structural component of the brain and retina of the eye (11).

When you don’t get enough DHA, vision problems may arise (121314).

Interestingly, getting enough omega-3 has been linked to a reduced risk of macular degeneration, one of the world’s leading causes of permanent eye damage and blindness (1516).

Omega-3s can promote brain health during pregnancy and early life

Omega-3s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants.

DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain, and 60% in the retina of the eye (1217).

Therefore, it’s no surprise that infants fed a DHA-fortified formula have better eyesight than infants fed a formula without it (18).

Getting enough omega-3s during pregnancy has been associated with numerous benefits for the child, including (192021222324):

  • Higher intelligence.
  • Better communication and social skills.
  • Less behavioral problems.
  • Decreased risk of developmental delay.
  • Decreased risk of ADHD, autism and cerebral palsy.

Omega-3s can improve risk factors for heart disease

Heart attacks and strokes are the world’s leading causes of death.

Decades ago, researchers observed that fish-eating communities had very low rates of these diseases. This was later found to be partially due to omega-3 consumption (25262728).

Since then, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have numerous benefits for heart health (2930313233).

These include:

  • Triglycerides: Omega-3s can cause a major reduction in triglycerides, usually in the range of 15–30% (34353637383940).
  • Blood pressure: Omega-3s can reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure (3441424344).
  • HDL-cholesterol: Omega-3s can raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol levels (4546474849).
  • Blood clots: Omega-3s can keep blood platelets from clumping together. This helps prevent the formation of harmful blood clots (5051).
  • Plaque: By keeping the arteries smooth and free from damage, omega-3s help prevent the plaque that can restrict and harden the arteries (525354).
  • Inflammation: Omega-3s reduce the production of some substances released during the inflammatory response (363855).
Omega-3s can reduce symptoms of ADHD in children

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Several studies have found that children with ADHD have lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, compared to their healthy peers (5657).

What’s more, numerous studies have found that omega-3 supplements can actually reduce the symptoms of ADHD.

Omega-3s help improve inattention and the ability to complete tasks. They also decrease hyperactivity, impulsiveness, restlessness and aggression (5859606162636465).

Recently, researchers evaluated the evidence behind different treatments for ADHD. They found fish oil supplementation to be one of the most promising treatments (66).

Omega-3s can reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions.

It includes central obesity (belly fat), high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high triglycerides and low HDL levels.

It is a major public health concern, since it increases your risk of developing many other diseases. These include heart disease and diabetes.

Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce insulin resistance and inflammation, and improve heart disease risk factors in people with metabolic syndrome (67686970).

Omega-3s can fight inflammation

Inflammation is incredibly important. We need it to fight infections and repair damage in the body.

However, sometimes inflammation persists for a long time, even without an infection or injury being present. This is called chronic (long-term) inflammation.

It is known that long-term inflammation can contribute to almost every chronic Western disease, including heart disease and cancer.

Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the production of molecules and substances linked to inflammation, such as inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines (717273).

Studies have consistently shown a link between higher omega-3 intake and reduced inflammation (874757677).

Omega-3s can fight autoimmune diseases

In autoimmune diseases, the immune system mistakes healthy cells for foreign cells and starts attacking them.

Type 1 diabetes is one prime example. In this disease, the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Omega-3s can help fight some of these diseases, and may be especially important during early life.

Studies show that getting enough omega-3s during your first year of life is linked to a reduced risk of many autoimmune diseases, including type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diabetes in adults and multiple sclerosis (787980).

Omega-3s have also been shown to help treat lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and psoriasis (71818283848586878889).

Omega-3s can improve mental disorders

Low omega-3 levels have been reported in people with psychiatric disorders (90).

Studies have shown that omega-3 supplements can reduce the frequency of mood swings and relapses in people with both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (19192939495).

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids may also decrease violent behavior (96).

Omega-3s can fight age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease

A decline in brain function is one of the unavoidable consequences of aging.

Several studies have shown that higher omega-3 intake is linked to decreased age-related mental decline and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (979899100101).

Additionally, one study found that people who eat fatty fish tend to have more gray matter in the brain. This is brain tissue that processes information, memories and emotions (102).

Omega-3s may help prevent cancer

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the Western world, and omega-3 fatty acids have long been claimed to reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Interestingly, studies have shown that people who consume the most omega-3s have up to a 55% lower risk of colon cancer (103104).

Additionally, omega-3 consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. However, not all studies agree on this (105106107108).

Omega-3s can reduce asthma in children

Asthma is a chronic lung disease with symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing.

Severe asthma attacks can be very dangerous. They are caused by inflammation and swelling in the airways of the lungs.

What’s more, asthma rates have been increasing over the past few decades.

Several studies have linked omega-3 consumption to a lower risk of asthma in children and young adults (109110).

Omega-3s can reduce fat in the liver

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is more common than you think.

It has increased with the obesity epidemic, and is now the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the Western world.

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce liver fat and inflammation in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (111112113114).

Omega-3s may improve bone and joint health

Osteoporosis and arthritis are two common disorders that affect the skeletal system.

Studies indicate that omega-3s can improve bone strength by increasing the amount of calcium in bones. This should lead to a reduced risk of osteoporosis (115).

Omega-3s may also help with arthritis. Patients taking omega-3 supplements have reported reduced joint pain and increased grip strength (116117118).

Omega-3s can alleviate menstrual pain

Menstrual pain occurs in the lower abdomen and pelvis, and often radiates to the lower back and thighs.

It can result in significant negative effects on a person’s quality of life.

However, studies have repeatedly shown that women who consume the most omega-3s have milder menstrual pain (119120121122).

One study even found that an omega-3 supplement was more effective than ibuprofen in treating severe pain during menstruation (123).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Improve Sleep

Good sleep is one of the foundations of optimal health.

Studies show that sleep deprivation is linked to many diseases, including obesity, diabetes and depression.

Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with sleep problems in children and obstructive sleep apnea in adults (124125126127).

Low levels of DHA have also been linked to lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which helps you fall asleep (128).

Studies in both children and adults have shown that supplementing with omega-3 increases the length and quality of sleep (125129).

Omega-3 fats are good for your skin

DHA is a structural component of the skin. It is responsible for the health of cell membranes, which make up a large part of skin.

A healthy cell membrane results in soft, moist, supple and wrinkle-free skin.

EPA also benefits the skin in several ways, including (125130131):

  • Managing oil production in skin.
  • Managing hydration of the skin.
  • Preventing hyperkeratinization of hair follicles (the little red bumps often seen on upper arms).
  • Preventing premature ageing of the skin.
  • Preventing acne.
  • Omega-3s can also protect your skin from sun damage. EPA helps block the release of substances that eat away at the collagen in your skin after sun exposure (132).

Where to Get Omega 3s

When possible, try to get omega-3 fatty acids from foods rather than supplements. Aim to eat fish high in DHA and EPA omega-3 fatty acids two to three times a week. 

These include:

  • Anchovies
  • Bluefish
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Salmon (wild has more omega-3s than farmed)
  • Sardines
  • Sturgeon
  • Lake trout
  • Tuna
  • Fish Roe (Caviar) 
  • Seafood (Oysters)

Avoid Farm-raised fish of any type. Experts have raised concerns about farm raised fish, which in some cases are raised on unnatural diets and crammed into small enclosures that can breed disease, prompting aquaculture operators to rely heavily on antibiotics. Chemicals and growth hormone may be used to speed production. Farm raised salmon are fed chemicals to provide a pinkish hue. They’re reportedly to have higher levels of PCBs, contaminants, and other toxins. 

Good food sources of ALA are:

  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Flaxseed and flaxseed oil
  • Canola (rapeseed) oil
  • Soybeans and soybean oil
  • Olive oil
  • Pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil
  • Perilla seed oil
  • Tofu
  • Rice bran
  • Spinach, brussel sprouts kale, lettuce – It’s hard to imagine that this food contains omega 3, but they contain, and in great quantity.

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