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Exercise for 15 Minutes: Live Longer

Here's more evidence that even a little bit of exercise can make a big difference to your health. Researchers in Taiwan followed more than 400,000 people for an average of eight years and found that 15 minutes of exercise daily can boost life expectancy by three years. Compared to inactive individuals, participants who exercised for just under 15 minutes per day were 14 percent less likely to die from any cause during the eight years of the study, and 10 percent less likely to die of cancer. Beyond that, each additional 15 minutes of daily exercise lowered the risk of death - from any cause - by four percent, and the extra physical activity cut the risk of death from cancer by one percent. Earlier this month, a review published online in Circulation showed that people who get 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week reduce their risk of heart disease by 14 percent compared to inactive people and that exercising five hours per week can lower heart disease risk by as much as 20 percent. The new study from Taiwan was published online on August 15 by The Lancet.


Obesity May Not Be So Dangerous

New research from Canada suggests that being obese, by itself, may not be so bad - as long as you don't have weight-related medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and heart disease. Investigators at the University of Alberta looked at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and were able to identify obese individuals based on lifestyle factors and medical history. They devised a five stage system for classifying obese men and women assigning scores (on a scale of 0 to 4) based on the number of health problems an individual had, with higher scores indicating individuals that had developed more of these associated problems. Bottom line: those with scores of 2 or above were 1.5 times as likely to die during the nearly two decades of the study's follow-up as those with lower scores. Scores of 3 raised the risk to 2.5 times as likely to die as low-score patients. The system may give doctors a new way to identify obese patients who would benefit most from weight loss or medical treatment.


Too Much TV May Shorten Life

In June of this year, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association demonstrated that watching two or more hours of television daily raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and now a report from Australia has calculated how many years a daily TV viewing habit can shave off life expectancy. Investigators from the University of Queensland suggest that every hour spent watching TV lowers life expectancy by nearly 22 minutes. The study team reviewed data on more than 11,000 individuals age 25 and older and found that sitting in front of the TV for an average of six hours a day may mean a loss of nearly five years of life and that watching six hours of television daily may shorten life even more than smoking and obesity. The researchers looked at data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle study and calculated their results based on the 9.8 billion hours of TV that participants watched in 2008, which would add up to the loss of 286,000 life years. The findings were published online August 15 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

My take? This report echoes earlier evidence that a TV habit can be unhealthy. In the past, my objections to watching a lot of television have focused on associated unhealthy behaviors: eating too much junk food or using television for stress management instead of utilizing more effective approaches, such as breath work and other relaxation techniques. Clearly, time spent watching television can eat into available time for daily exercise, which we all need for optimum health. The Australian researchers noted that the effects of watching television elsewhere in the world are likely to be comparable which they claim represents a public health problem on par with smoking, obesity and an inactive lifestyle.


More Protein for Dieting Postmenopausal Women 

If you're past menopause and want to lose weight by cutting calories, you'll likely lose muscle as well as fat, but adding protein to your diet can help offset the muscle loss. Another bonus to added protein: it helps cut down on hunger, according to University of Illinois researchers who followed two groups of healthy postmenopausal women for six months. All the women were following a 1,400 calorie a day weight-loss diet. One group of women received a powdered whey protein supplement twice a day; the other group received a placebo containing carbohydrates. Before and after the study, all the women were evaluated for strength, balance, the ability to walk 50 feet, stand up five times from a chair and lift a book 12 inches above shoulder height. After the study, the researchers found that all the participants' strength decreased as their weight fell, but that those whose diets included the supplemental protein lost 3.9 percent more weight and had a relative gain of 5.8 percent more thigh-muscle volume than those in the other group. The investigators noted that age and weight-related loss of muscle mass can affect strength, balance, and the ability to perform such everyday activities as climbing stairs and getting up from a chair.


Red Meat and Diabetes

Cut back on red meat - processed and unprocessed - and you may dramatically lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. After analyzing responses to more than 442,000 questionnaires from studies over 28 years, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that eating a daily serving of about 1.8 ounces of processed red meat such as hot dogs, sausages or bacon is linked to a 51 percent increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes. The same analysis showed that eating 3.53 ounces daily of unprocessed red meat boosts the risk by 19 percent. The research team also found that substituting a daily serving of nuts cut the risk by 21 percent, substituting low fat dairy led to a 17 percent risk reduction and eating whole grains lowered the risk by 23 percent. The study didn't find that processed and unprocessed red meat causes type 2 diabetes, but rather that increased risks of the disease are associated with the regular consumption of these meats. The study was published online August 10 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


How Do You Prefer Your Chocolate? (Poll)

A recent Q&A looked at the benefits of cocoa: Is Cocoa as Healthy as Dark Chocolate? Check out the article and let us know your favorite ways of enjoying this delictable treat!


Omega-3s Reduce Anxiety, Inflammation

Fish oil from salmon and other cold-water species is a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids, and according to a new study, can help reduce both inflammation and anxiety. A research team from Ohio State University reported that daily doses of omega-3 supplements, providing about four to five times the amount of fish oil found in a daily serving of salmon, reduced anxiety among a group of medical students. The original aim of the study was to determine whether omega-3s would bring about a reduction in stress levels, but due to a change in the medical school curriculum, the 68 students participating weren't as stressed out during their exam period as had been expected. Earlier studies by the same investigators had shown that stress related to exams lowered students' immune status. In the new study, the team found that the 34 students who received the omega-3s were 20 percent less anxious than were the 34 who were given a placebo. The investigators also saw a 14 percent reduction in inflammation-promoting compounds called cytokines in the students who took omega-3s. Inflammation can foster diseases ranging from arthritis to cancer and heart disease. The researchers noted that if taking omega-3s brings about positive changes in young med school students, seniors and people at high risk for certain diseases might benefit even more. The study was published online on July 19, 2011 by the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

My take? We've known for some time that omega-3s help tone down inflammation, and may help reduce the risk and symptoms of a number of disorders influenced by inflammation. We also know that people with memory loss, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may benefit from omega-3s, so it makes sense that these fats would also help reduce anxiety. To get adequate omega-3s, I recommend eating oily fleshed, wild-caught, cold water fish two to three times per week. If you use fish oil capsules, take two grams daily of a brand that contains both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).


Wine & Grapes May Protect Skin

No joke: researchers in Spain have suggested that drinking red wine or eating grapes may help defend your skin against the damaging effects of sunburn. The investigators report that antioxidant compounds found in grapes can protect skin by undermining formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). If left unchecked, these byproducts of normal metabolism set off a chemical reaction that kills off cells and as a result, damages skin exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Researchers at the University of Barcelona and the Spanish National Research Council studied the chemical reaction that leads to sunburn and then looked at the effects of flavonoids on this process. They suggested that grapes could protect against both burns and skin cancer. Don't be too quick to trade your sunscreen for a bottle of Spanish red: the grapes may turn out to work best when incorporated into skin creams to guard us from sunburn. The study was published in the May 11, 2011 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.