Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


Leave a comment

A New Year’s Resolution Shouldn’t Be Used As A New Start On Your Health

Thinking of January as the time to start a wellness goal may actually backfire in the long run.

You spend the final weeks of December indulging in all that the holidays have to offer ― an extra glass of eggnog, delicious frosted cookies and lazy days curled up in front of the TV. You promise yourself that you’re going to start on that health goal very soon. Come Jan. 1, you vow to be in the gym seven days a week, packing salads for lunch and drinking eight glasses of water a day.

But then it doesn’t work. Why? While it can seem motivating to make a New Year’s resolution to revamp your lifestyle, experts note that this isn’t always the most effective approach.

Here are some reasons why looking at January as the time to start a new health regimen can actually sabotage your goals, plus some advice on what to do instead.

The statistics are not in your favor.

Most people give up on their January goals by mid-February, according to one professional coach.

It’s a known fact that most New Year’s resolutions, while well-intended, don’t get off the ground ― at least not for long. The failure rate is said to be about 80%. And according to Elise Auxier, a certified professional coach in Tampa, the majority of people that make January goals lose their resolve by mid-February.

“We start out with such enthusiasm, vigor and fortitude, only to quickly realize that our shiny goals are apparently destined to be buried in the sandlot of broken dreams within six weeks,” she said.

Your resolution might not have the right motivation attached to it.

The beginning of a new year comes with cultural and social pressure to get healthier in one way or another, noted Nick Frye, a behavioral counseling manager at health coaching company OPTAVIA. This usually means losing weight, hitting the gym or eating better.

“The problem with this lies in the concept of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation,” he said. “With intrinsic motivation, we are driven to achieve our goals because they reflect our most personal values, our truest aspirations and our most authentic selves. Extrinsic motivation means we base our goals on what other people think we are supposed to achieve.”

The bottom line? If you aren’t embarking on a new health journey because it is meaningful and important to you, then it’s usually just a matter of time before the commitment fades ― no matter what time of year you started.

A January resolution can create an “all-or-nothing” mentality.

“As adults, we have long-established behavioral patterns of health. Some of these patterns started as children, so to think that you will wake up on Jan. 1 and change everything is setting yourself up for failure,” said Stephanie Burstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Boca Raton, Florida.

New Year’s resolutions also have a way of making you feel like you need to go full-force on a goal or you may as well not do it at all.

“Putting all your eggs in the January basket and hoping that ‘this year will be different’ can not only create undue stress but can also create an ultimatum in your mind to stick to it ‘100% or nothing,’ which creates the perfect cop-out for when life inevitably happens,” said Tiffany Caplan, co-founder of the Caplan Institute of Health in Ventura, California.

There will be times when you will inevitably deviate from your health goal ― your work meeting ran late and you missed your yoga class, you were under the weather or traveling and unable to find a healthy lunch spot. If this happens, you might be more tempted to give up on a “resolution” entirely. Instead, focus on a goal day by day.

Your “new year, new you” goal may be too big to achieve.

When you apply a new habit, it needs to be small enough to be sustainable.
“Last year, you didn’t work out at all, but this year you are going to work out one hour a day, five days a week. That seems overwhelming just to read, doesn’t it?” said Christine Kenney, a health coach in Nashville.

Kenney added that this is often why people are quick to abandon new healthy habits that are set for January.

“We find ourselves taking on such big new habits that they don’t stick because they are just so far from our normal routine,” she explained, noting that the majority of tasks you do in your day are already habits, so when you apply a new habit, it needs to be small enough to be sustainable.

Kenney recommended starting small, adding that even tiny changes can have a big impact. Try taking a pilates class every Wednesday night or commit to making one healthy meal per day.

“Often, people try to change everything about themselves at once: their diets, their activities, their social life, etc. All of the changes at once [are] hard to maintain; people quit after a few months and then don’t change anything until the following new year,” said Ashley Nash, a personal trainer in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

The January wellness movement is overwhelming.

So many people enjoy the holidays, then pack into the gym like sardines the first day of the new year. But this can add an extra layer of stress to your goal, according to Jeanette DePatie, a certified fitness trainer and instructor in Los Angeles.

“Everybody else is doing the same thing, so the gym is full, the trainers are super busy and you won’t get the personal attention you would get if you start your fitness journey in February or June,” she said.

DePatie added that seeing everyone going full-throttle in the gym in January can also set you up to push yourself too hard.

“I see it every year ― the gym is full in January,
and the sports medicine guy’s waiting room is full by Valentine’s Day.”
– JEANETTE DEPATIE, CERTIFIED FITNESS TRAINER

“It encourages people to jump into fitness at a level that might be too hard or fast for them,” DePatie said. “It’s all part of the new year ‘magical new me’ syndrome. I see it every year ― the gym is full in January, and the sports medicine guy’s waiting room is full by Valentine’s Day.”

Additionally, waiting until January means you are starting your health journey “when toxic messages about how all bodies need to be perfect [are] at a peak,” DePatie said.

“In January, every potion, pill, abdominal exerciser and health voodoo company has their before/after magical thinking advertising going full-tilt,” she said.

The problem, she explained, is much of this advertising makes promises that are simply not real. “You’re probably not going to end up looking like that fitness model or 16-year-old runway star after using that product. And constantly being bombarded with those images not only bashes our self-esteem but also sets us up to fail.”

Delaying your goals can make them even harder to obtain.

“The best time to attempt a health behavior change is right now,” a psychiatrist said.
Most importantly, by putting off your goal, you are cheating yourself out of time.

“In general, the best time to attempt a health behavior change is right now,” said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care. “And if you succeed, when New Year’s comes, you’ll feel proud of the fact that you are already well ahead of everyone else who is just attempting to follow their resolution to change.”

Putting off your health goals until January also creates the idea that your health and well-being is something to put off, said Alysa Boan, a certified personal trainer at FitnessTrainer.com and RealFitnessMaven.

“When we set a start date too far out, or allow too many obstacles to occur before we begin, we often set ourselves up for failure,” Boan said.

In reality, there are ways you can enjoy the holidays yet still generally live a healthy lifestyle. (One big meal, for example, isn’t going to derail you.) Begin now by taking small, daily steps that help your well-being. Try drinking more water, cutting back on alcohol or going for a walk after dinner.

“Instead of waiting for a better day, or period of time, try shifting your mindset toward what you can do today to improve 1% in the area you feel needs attention,” said Mike Clancy, a health and wellness expert and founder of Mike Clancy Training. “This type of action-based behavior is built upon the success of consistency, rather than a sweeping change at a future date.”

By Nicole Pajer        12/23/2019

 

 

exercise

 

10 Tips For a Happier, Healthier Life

There’s no secret – the simplest things are often the best, 
says nutritionist Dr John Briffa, if we want to feel good all year round

1 Eat ‘primally’ Common sense dictates that the best diet is one based on foods we’ve been eating the longest in terms of our time on this planet. These are the foods that we’ve evolved to eat and are best adapted to. Studies show that a ‘primal’ diet made up of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, as well as meat, fish and eggs, is best for weight control and improvement in risk markers for illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes. This ‘go primal’ food philosophy will enable you to cut through the marketing hype and dietary misinformation, and allow you to make healthy food choices quickly and confidently.

2 Keep hydrated Water makes up two-thirds of the body and performs a plethora of functions, including acting as a solvent, carrier of nutrients, temperature regulator and body detoxifier. Maintaining hydration can have a profound influence on our vitality and energy levels, including mental alertness. Aim to drink enough water to keep your urine a pale yellow colour throughout the course of the day.

3 Eat mindfully In our fast-paced world, there can be a tendency to eat while distracted and shovel in more food than we need and, at the same time, miss out on culinary pleasure. Many of us will benefit from eating mindfully. Some things to think about here are avoiding eating when distracted, eating more slowly, and taking time to taste food properly. One particular thing to focus on is chewing your food thoroughly – not only does this help us savor food, it also assists the digestive process.

4 Get plenty of sunlight in the summer… Sunlight, and the vitamin D this can make in the skin, is associated with a wide spectrum of benefits for the body including a reduced risk of several forms of cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and osteoporosis, as well as improved immune function. As a rule of thumb, vitamin D is made when our shadow is shorter than our body length, ie when the sun is high in the sky. While burning is to be avoided, get as much sunlight exposure as possible for optimal health.

5… and in the winter Low levels of sunlight in the winter can cause our mood to darken. Even when it’s cold outside, it pays to get some external light exposure in the winter, say during lunchtime. Another option is to invest in a sunlight-simulating device and use this daily from October through to March.

6 Get enough sleep Sleep has the ability to optimize mental and physical energy, and optimal levels of sleep (about eight hours a night) are linked with reduced risk of chronic disease and improved longevity. One simple strategy that can help ensure you get optimal amounts of sleep is to go to bed earlier. Getting into bed by 10 pm or 10.30 pm is a potentially useful investment in terms of your short- and long-term health and well-being. Shutting down the computer or turning off the TV early in the evening is often all it takes to create the time and space for earlier sleep.

7 Walk regularly Aerobic exercise, including something as uncomplicated and low-impact as walking, is associated with a variety of benefits for the body and the brain, including a reduced risk of chronic diseases, anti-anxiety and mood-enhancing effects. Aim for a total of about 30 minutes of brisk walking every day.

8 Engage in some resistance exercise Resistance exercise helps to maintain muscle mass and strengthens the body. This has particular relevance as we age, as it reduces the risk of disability and falls. Many highly useful exercises can be done at home, such as press-ups, sit-ups and squats. Invest in a Dyna-Band or dumbbells to extend your home routine to other exercises, too.

9 Practise random acts of kindness Random acts of kindness are good for givers and receivers alike. It could be a quick call or text to someone you care about or have lost touch with, or showing a fellow motorist some consideration, or giving up your seat on a train or bus, or buying someone lunch or giving a spontaneous bunch of flowers.

10 Practise the art of appreciation Modern-day living tends to be inspirational and we can easily find ourselves chasing an ever-growing list of goals, many of which can be material. Some of us could do with spending more time focusing not on what we don’t have, but on what we do. Our mood can be lifted by giving thanks for anything from our friends and family to a beautiful landscape or sunset.

17 Jul 2014


1 Comment

Winter is coming. Are you ready for it?

Well with the forecast in mind, snow, wind, and all the things associated with it, I have to ask: Are you ready for winter?

The ten foot snow banks, the blizzards, the -38 C wind chills, the bad roads and everything else that I’d rather not even think about right now?

Hold on a second.

You might have assumed I was talking about the physical requirements to get through yet another Winnipeg winter, but I wasn’t. We all go through it every year right? Winter clothes are in good shape? Check. The furnace is in good working order? Check. Got the winter tires on? Check.

Sure all those things are necessary to get by in the six month Manitoba deep freeze, but what about mental preparation?

I never used to think about that very much because you just dealt with it, you handled it. You knew what to expect and you managed it accordingly.

However I’ve had a pretty serious bout with mental health fairly recently so I’ve developed a different perspective from the psychological side of things.

Winter can be a daunting foe and if you’re not prepared to get through it mentally, it could lead to some fairly serious issues like depression. I mean really, how uplifting is it to hear the high today is -33 C with the wind chill right?

When you hear the word depression you might think, “well, toughen up buttercup,” but sometimes it’s just not that easy and it could go much deeper than you or anyone else thinks.

Aside from the obvious drawbacks of the long winter season there could be other factors in play for the person (perhaps you or a person close to you) affected, whatever they happen to be.

Job loss, ongoing anxiety issues, relationship break up, death in the family, financial issues etc. they can all enter into it and with one more factor like winter coming into the mix, things could go from bad to worse pretty quickly.

So how can a person mentally prepare for a season?

Well here’s a guy. Richard Wurtman, M.D., is the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Professor of Neuroscience in MIT’s Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and of Neuropharmacology in the Harvard – MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology. (Enough for you?)

Here’s what he says about your winter mood:

“The long hours of darkness and short hours of light affect serotonin, the brain chemical that keeps us in a good mood and turns off our appetite. Serotonin is the body’s natural mood booster, and levels plunge (along with mood) as it gets dark.”

Ok, so what do we do about it?

Well, a Canadian research group headed by Dr. Robert Levitan senior scientist at the Campbell Family mental health research institute in Toronto have discovered that 30 minutes of light therapy daily during the winter months worked just as well as Prozak to ease depression and the symptoms associated with it. Not only that, they found the light therapy started to work faster than the drug regimen, one week vs two to four weeks.

I have a friend who uses one of those “sun lamps” every day in the winter. It just sits on her desk, she turns it on for however long and she claims her mood (along with her office) is much brighter than it’s been in recent years. She swears by it. I was of course skeptical so I started looking into it and yep, she was right.

After all, who am I to dispute the claims of doctors and researchers who’ve worked for years to finally be able to publish results like this?

Experts also suggest, and I know this going to sound cliché, to eat well, exercise, get the proper amount of sleep, do things that make you happy and develop an outlet, whatever it happens to be. Playing a musical instrument, writing in a journal, learning a new language, whatever you can put energy into and get positive results out of.

I will also always say, especially considering recent events in my life, you should always consult with a medical professional if you’re experiencing dark moods and strange changes in behavior. Just getting the reassurance you need about whatever it may be will most likely start to make you feel better.

PS: those sun therapy lamps I was talking about? You can pretty much get them anywhere. Wal-mart, Costco, Bed Bath and Beyond etc or just order one online. They range in price from about $50 to $300 CAD.

By Shadoe Davis   Radio Host   CJOB


Leave a comment

Vitamin D Can Protect Against Colds, Flu, Study Suggests

Taking extra vitamin D can protect against colds, flu and other respiratory infections, said a study Thursday which reopened a debate on the usefulness of over-the-counter supplements.

A review of 25 clinical trials in 14 countries, some with conflicting results, yielded “the first definitive evidence” of a link between vitamin D and flu prevention, researchers claimed in The BMJ medical journal.

The effects were strongest for people with very low levels of the nutrient which is found in some foods and can be synthesised by the body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light.

Many people, especially in grey, cloudy climes, do not have enough vitamin D.

Scientific studies over the years have delivered contradictory conclusions on the topic.

Some have shown that low levels of the vitamin increase the risk of bone fractures, heart disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and death.

Others said there is no evidence of a link to disease risk.

For the new study, researchers from the Queen Mary University of London conducted the biggest-ever survey of trials involving nearly 11,000 people.

Sunshine
Vitamin D is found in some foods and can be synthesized
by the body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet light.

And they found clues as to why supplements seem to work in some trials but not in others.

“The bottom line is that the protective effects of vitamin D supplementation are strongest in those who have the lowest vitamin D levels, and when supplementation is given daily or weekly rather than in more widely-spaced doses,” lead researcher Adrian Martineau said in a statement.

‘Undeniable’

Vitamin D is thought to protect against respiratory infections, including bronchitis and pneumonia, by boosting levels of antibiotic-like peptides in the lungs, said the team.

This fits with an observation that colds and flu are more common in winter and spring, when vitamin D levels are lowest.

It may also explain why vitamin D seems to protect against asthma attacks, they said.

In an editorial published with the study, experts Mark Bolland and Alison Avenell said it should be viewed as a hypothesis in need of scientific confirmation.

Louis Levy, head of nutrition science at Public Health England, shared their caution.

“This study does not provide sufficient evidence to support recommending vitamin D for reducing the risk of respiratory tract infections,” he said via the Science Media Centre in London.

Other observers were more optimistic.

The case for universal vitamin D supplements, or food fortification, “is now undeniable,” concluded Benjamin Jacobs of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

AFP     Thursday, February 16, 2017


3 Comments

7 Proven Health Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is loaded with nutrients that can positively affect your health.

Made from the seed of the cocoa tree, it is one of the best sources of antioxidants on the planet.

Studies show that dark chocolate (not the sugary crap) can improve health and lower the risk of heart disease.

1. Dark Chocolate is Very Nutritious

If you buy quality dark chocolate with a high cocoa content, then it is actually quite nutritious.

It contains a decent amount of soluble fiber and is loaded with minerals.

A 100 gram bar of dark chocolate with 70-85% cocoa contains:

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • 67% of the RDA for Iron.
  • 58% of the RDA for Magnesium.
  • 89% of the RDA for Copper.
  • 98% of the RDA for Manganese.

It also has plenty of potassium, phosphorus, zinc and selenium.
Of course, 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is a fairly large amount and not something you should be consuming daily. All these nutrients also come with 600 calories and moderate amounts of sugar.

For this reason, dark chocolate is best consumed in moderation.

The fatty acid profile of cocoa and dark chocolate is excellent. The fats are mostly saturated and monounsaturated, with small amounts of polyunsaturates.

It also contains stimulants like caffeine and theobromine, but is unlikely to keep you awake at night as the amount of caffeine is very small compared to coffee.

Bottom Line: Quality dark chocolate is rich in Fiber, Iron, Magnesium, Copper, Manganese and a few other minerals.

2. Dark Chocolate is a Powerful Source of Antioxidants

Have you ever heard of a measure called ORAC?

ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. It is a measure of the antioxidant activity of foods.

Basically, researchers pit a bunch of free radicals (bad) against a sample of food and see how well the antioxidants in the food can “disarm” them.

The biological relevance of this metric is questioned, because it’s done in a test tube and may not have the same effect in the body.

However, I think it is worth mentioning that raw, unprocessed cocoa beans are among the highest scoring foods that have been tested.

Dark chocolate is loaded with organic compounds that are biologically active and function as antioxidants. These include polyphenols, flavanols, catechins, among others.

One study showed that cocoa and dark chocolate contained more antioxidant activity, polyphenols and flavanols than other fruits they tested, which included blueberries and Acai berries.

Bottom Line: Cocoa and dark chocolate have a wide variety of powerful antioxidants, way more than most other foods.

3. Dark Chocolate May Improve Blood Flow and Lower Blood Pressure

The flavanols in dark chocolate can stimulate the endothelium, the lining of arteries, to produce Nitric Oxide (NO), which is a gas.

One of the functions of NO is to send signals to the arteries to relax, which lowers resistance to blood flow and therefore reduces blood pressure.

There are many controlled trials showing that cocoa and dark chocolate can improve blood flow and lower blood pressure, but the effects are usually mild.

However, there is also one study in people with elevated blood pressure that showed no effect, so take all this with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line: The bioactive compounds in cocoa can improve blood flow in the arteries and cause a small but statistically significant decrease in blood pressure.

 

chocolate

4. Dark Chocolate Raises HDL and Protects LDL Against Oxidation

Consuming dark chocolate can improve several important risk factors for heart disease.

In a controlled trial, cocoa powder was found to significantly decrease oxidized LDL cholesterol in men.

It also increased HDL and lowered total LDL in men with elevated cholesterol.

Oxidized LDL means that the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) has reacted with free radicals.

This makes the LDL particle itself reactive and capable of damaging other tissues… such as the lining of the arteries in your heart.

It makes perfect sense that cocoa lowers oxidized LDL. It contains an abundance of powerful antioxidants that do make it into the bloodstream and protect lipoproteins against oxidative damage.

Dark chocolate can also reduce insulin resistance, which is another common risk factor for many diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

Bottom Line: Dark chocolate improves several important risk factors for disease. It lowers the susceptibility of LDL to oxidative damage while increasing HDL and improving insulin sensitivity.

5. Dark Chocolate May Lower The Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

The compounds in dark chocolate appear to be highly protective against the oxidation of LDL.

In the long term, this should cause much less cholesterol to lodge in the arteries and we should see a lower risk of heart disease over the long term.

It turns out that we have several long-term observational studies that show a fairly drastic improvement.

In a study of 470 elderly men, cocoa was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by a whopping 50% over a 15 year period.

Another study revealed that eating chocolate 2 or more times per week lowered the risk of having calcified plaque in the arteries by 32%. Eating chocolate less frequently had no effect.

Yet another study showed that chocolate 5+ times per week lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 57%.

Of course, these 3 studies are so-called observational studies that can not prove that it was the chocolate that caused the reduction in risk.

However, given that we have a biological mechanism (lower blood pressure and oxidized LDL) then I find it plausible that regular consumption of dark chocolate can in fact reduce the risk of heart disease.

Bottom Line: Observational studies show a drastic reduction in heart disease risk for the people who consume the most chocolate.

6. Dark Chocolate May Protect Your Skin Against The Sun

The bioactive compounds in dark chocolate may also be great for your skin.

The flavonols can protect against sun-induced damage, improve blood flow to the skin and increase skin density and hydration.

The minimal erythemal dose (MED) is the minimum amount of UVB rays required to cause redness in the skin, 24 hours after exposure.

In one study of 30 people, the MED more than doubled after consuming dark chocolate high in flavanols for 12 weeks.

If you’re planning on a beach vacation, consider loading up on dark chocolate in the prior weeks and months.

Bottom Line: Studies show that the flavanols from cocoa can improve blood flow to the skin and protect it against sun-induced damage.

7. Dark Chocolate May Improve Brain Function

The good news isn’t over yet. Dark chocolate may also improve the function of the brain.

One study of healthy volunteers showed that 5 days of consuming high-flavanol cocoa improved blood flow to the brain.

Cocoa may also significantly improve cognitive function in elderly people with mental impairment. It also improves verbal fluency and several risk factors for disease.

Cocoa also contains stimulant substances like caffeine and theobromine, which may be a key reason cocoa can improve brain function in the short term .

Take Home Message

There is considerable evidence that cocoa can provide powerful health benefits, being especially protective against cardiovascular disease.

But of course, this doesn’t mean people should go all out and consume lots of chocolate every day. It is still loaded with calories and easy to overeat on. Maybe have a square or two after dinner and try to really savor them.

Be aware that a lot of the chocolate on the market is crap. You need to choose quality stuff… organic, dark chocolate with 70% or higher cocoa content.

Dark chocolates often contain some sugar, but the amounts are usually small and the darker the chocolate, the less sugar it will contain.

There are of course other benefits to chocolate that I have not mentioned… such as the awesome taste.

By Kris Gunnars, BSc
 


Leave a comment

Helpless to Prevent Cancer? Actually, Quite a Bit Is in Your Control

North Americans seem very afraid of cancer, with good reason. Unlike other things that kill us, it often seems to come out of nowhere.

But evidence has increasingly accumulated that cancer may be preventable, too. Unfortunately, this has inflamed as much as it has assuaged people’s fears.

As a physician, I have encountered many people who believe that heart disease, which is the single biggest cause of death among North Americans, is largely controllable. After all, if people ate better, were physically active and stopped smoking, then lots of them would get better. This ignores the fact that people can’t change many risk factors of heart disease like age, race and family genetics.

People don’t often seem to feel the same way about cancer. They think it’s out of their control. A study published in Science in January 2015 seemed to support that view. It tried to explain why some tissues lead to cancer more often than others. It found a strong correlation between the number of times a cell divides in the course of a lifetime and the risk of developing cancer.

In other words, this study argued that the more times DNA replicates, the more often something can go wrong. Some took this to mean that cancer is much more because of “bad luck” than because of other factors that people could control.

Unfortunately, this simple explanation is not really what the study showed. Lung cells, for instance, divide quite rarely, and still account for a significant amount of cancer. Cells in the gastrointestinal tract divide all the time and account for many fewer cancers. Some cancers, like melanoma, were found to be in the group of cancers influenced more by intrinsic factors (or those we can’t control), when we clearly know that extrinsic factors, like sun exposure, are a major cause.

Further, this study was focused more on the relative risks of cancer in one type of tissue versus another. What we really care about is how much we can reduce our own risk of cancer by changing our behavior.

A more recent study published in Nature argues that there is a lot we can do. Many studies have shown that environmental risk factors and exposures contribute greatly to many cancers. Diet is related to colorectal cancer. Alcohol and tobacco are related to esophageal cancer. HPV is related to cervical cancer, and hepatitis C is related to liver cancer.

And you’d have to be living under a rock not to know that smoking causes lung cancer and that too much sun can lead to skin cancer.

Using sophisticated modeling techniques, the researchers argued that less than 30 percent of the lifetime risk of getting many common cancers was because of intrinsic risk factors, or the “bad luck.” The rest were things you can change.

Most recently, in JAMA Oncology, researchers sought to quantify how a healthful lifestyle might actually alter the risk of cancer. They identified four domains that are often noted to be related to disease prevention: smoking, drinking, obesity and exercise.

health lifestyle concept on blackboard

health lifestyle concept on blackboard

They defined people who engaged in healthy levels of all of these activities as a “low risk” group. Then they compared their risk of getting cancer with people who weren’t in this group. They included two groups of people who have been followed and studied a long time, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, as well as national cancer statistics.

Of the nearly 90,000 women and more than 46,000 men, 16,531 women and 11,731 men fell into the low-risk group. For each type of cancer, researchers calculated a population-attributable risk, which is the percentage of people who develop cancer who might have avoided it had they adopted low-risk behaviors.

About 82 percent of women and 78 percent of men who got lung cancer might have prevented it through healthy behaviors. About 29 percent of women and 20 percent of men might have prevented colon and rectal cancer. About 30 percent of both might have prevented pancreatic cancer. Breast cancer was much less preventable: 4 percent.

Over all, though, about 25 percent of cancer in women and 33 percent in men was potentially preventable. Close to half of all cancer deaths might be prevented as well.

No study is perfect, and this is no exception. These cohorts are overwhelmingly white and consist of health professionals, who are not necessarily like the population at large. But the checks against the national data showed that if anything, these results might be underestimating how much cancer is preventable by healthy behaviors.

This also isn’t a randomized controlled trial, and we can certainly argue that it doesn’t prove causation.

A bigger concern to me is that people might interpret these findings as assigning fault to people who get cancer. You don’t want to get into situations where you feel as if people don’t deserve help because they didn’t try hard enough to stay healthy. Much of cancer is still out of people’s control.

I was especially worried because, in this study, “low risk” status required all four healthy lifestyles. Failing in any one domain put you in the high-risk category, and that seemed like a lot to ask of people.

On further reading, though, I discovered that the requirements weren’t overly burdensome. Not smoking was defined as never having smoked or having quit at least five years ago. That’s clearly good for health. Moderate alcohol consumption was defined as no more than one drink a day on average for women, and no more than two for men. That’s pretty much what I have argued for in writing about this issue in the past; it in no way requires abstinence.

Adequate weight was defined as a B.M.I. of at least 18.5 and no more than 27.5. The cutoff for “overweight” is 25, meaning that you don’t have to be thin; you just have to be less than obese (B.M.I. 30). Finally, exercise was defined as 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. That’s a reasonable and quite achievable goal.

I was surprised to realize that I’m already “low risk.” I bet many people reading this are “low risk,” too.

As we talk about cancer “moonshots” that will most likely cost billions of dollars and might not achieve results, it’s worth considering that — as in many cases — prevention is not only the cheapest course, but also the most effective.

Simple changes to people’s behaviors have the potential to make sure many cancers never occur. They have a side benefit of preventing health problems in many other areas, too. Investment in these efforts may not be as exciting, but it may yield greater results.

Aaron E. Carroll is a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine.

The Upshot provides news, analysis and graphics about politics, policy and everyday life. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
A version of this article appears in print on July 7, 2016, on page A3 of the New York edition
 with the headline: Small Lifestyle Changes Can Sharply Cut Cancer Risk.
Aaron E. Carroll      THE NEW HEALTH CARE      JULY 5, 2016


1 Comment

Exposure to Bright Light Might Impact Metabolism

By: Elise Moreau     June 4, 2016     Follow Elise at @elisem0reau

Most people are aware of the importance of vitamin D for good health and that it comes from the sun in its natural form. And many know that the light from our electronic devices can mess with their ability to sleep at night. But did you know that your exposure to bright light — perhaps natural or artificial — may even be powerful enough to alter your metabolism?

In a recent study conducted by Northwestern University, 19 adults were exposed to bright, blue-enriched light for three hours each in the morning and in the evening over a four-day period. Hunger, metabolic function and physiological arousal were tracked and the results were compared against the results for exposure to dim light.

All participants were exposed to dim light in their waking hours over the first two days. On the third day, half of the participants were exposed to bright light in the morning while the other half were exposed to bright light in the evening.

What the researchers found was that bright light in both the morning and evening hours increased insulin resistance — the body’s inability to move glucose out of the bloodstream to use for energy. Insulin resistance can cause weight gain and increase the risk of diabetes.

The researchers also found that when the participants were exposed to bright light in the evening, higher peak glucose (blood sugar) levels were detected. And in a related study conducted previously by Northwestern researchers, they had found that people who were exposed to the majority of their light before midday weighed less than people who were exposed to the majority of their light after midday.

screen

This is the first time these results have been seen in humans, although researchers at this point can’t say why light exposure has the impact it does on our bodies. Previous studies conducted on mice that were exposed to light over a consistent period of time showed higher glucose levels and weight gain compared to mice in a control group.

These findings suggest that the amount of light, and what time of day we’re exposed to it, has a direct impact on our health. This would certainly include all the light we surround ourselves with these days that come from our electronic devices — from smartphones and tablets to television monitors and laptops. If you spend all evening around glowing screens, which we already know is bad for your body’s internal sleep clock, it could very well be partially to blame for why you may be having trouble shedding those few extra pounds.

The good news about this and future related research is that we may be able to find out more about how we might be able to use light to manipulate metabolic function. But for now, it’s probably safe to say that altering your morning and evening routines so that exposing yourself to light earlier in the day will be far better for your overall health than exposing yourself to much of it later on in the day.

Findings like these serve as just another good and healthy excuse to ditch the devices in the evening hours and do something a little more productive, enjoyable or just plain relaxing. Your mind and body deserve it.


Leave a comment

What is SAD?

What is Seasonal Depression?
(Also Called ‘SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)’, ‘Seasonal Depression’)

Seasonal depression, often called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall, worsening in winter, and ending in spring. It is more than just “the winter blues” or “cabin fever.” A rare form of SAD, known as “summer depression,” begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
People who suffer from SAD have many of the common signs of depression, including:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • inability to concentrate
  • extreme fatigue and lack of energy
  • a “leaden” sensation in the limbs
  • increased need for sleep
  • craving for carbohydrates, and accompanying weight gain.

Symptoms of summer SAD include:

  • weight loss
  • agitation and restlessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • decreased appetite

How common is SAD?
Approximately one half million of the U.S. population suffers from winter SAD, while 10 to 20 percent may suffer from a more mild form of winter blues. Three-quarters of the sufferers are women, and the onset typically is early adulthood. SAD also can occur in children and adolescents. Older adults are less likely to experience SAD.

This illness is more commonly seen in people who live in cloudy regions or at high latitudes (geographic locations farther north or south of the equator). Individuals who relocate to higher latitudes are more prone to SAD.

What causes seasonal affective disorder?
The exact cause of this condition is not known, but evidence to date strongly suggests that—for those with an inherent vulnerability—SAD is triggered by changes in the availability of sunlight. One theory is that with decreased exposure to sunlight, the internal biological clock that regulates mood, sleep, and hormones is shifted. Exposure to light may reset the biological clock.

Another theory is that brain chemicals that transmit information between nerves, called neurotransmitters (for example, serotonin), may be altered in individuals with SAD. It is believed that exposure to light can correct these imbalances.

How can I tell if I have seasonal affective disorder?
It is very important that you do not diagnose yourself. If you have symptoms of depression, see your doctor for a thorough assessment. Sometimes physical problems can cause depression. But other times, symptoms of SAD are part of a more complex psychiatric problem. A mental health professional typically can evaluate your pattern of symptoms and identify whether you have SAD or another type of mood disorder.

How is seasonal affective disorder treated?
Research now shows that phototherapy, also known as bright light therapy, is an effective treatment for SAD. Sometimes antidepressant medicine is used alone or in combination with light therapy. Spending time outdoors during the day can be helpful, as well as maximizing the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to at home and in the office.

winter depression

What is light therapy? Is it safe?
Light therapy, sometimes called phototherapy, is administered by a device that contains white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen to block ultraviolet rays. The intensity of light emitted (Lux) should be 10,000 Lux. The patient does not need to look directly into the light, but reads or eats while sitting in front of the device at a distance of 2 to 3 feet.

Light therapy is generally safe and well tolerated. However, there are some contraindications (e.g., conditions such as diabetes or retinopathies, certain medications) because of the potential risk of damage to the retina of the eye. Bright light therapy can cause hypomanic or manic symptoms; therefore, individuals with bipolar affective disorder require medical supervision to use light therapy.

Side effects of light therapy include:

  • eye strain
  • headache
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • insomnia

At what time of the day and for how long should I use light therapy?
The timing of light therapy appears to affect the treatment response. Recent studies suggest that morning light therapy is more effective than evening treatments. Using this treatment too late in the day may produce insomnia. Many health professionals today prefer to treat SAD with 10,000 Lux for 15 to 30 minutes every morning. Patients often see improvement within two to four days, and reach full benefits within two weeks. The symptoms of SAD return quickly after light therapy is stopped, so light treatment should be continued throughout the entire season of low sunlight.

Even though they generate enough light, tanning beds should not be used to treat SAD. The amount of ultraviolet (UV) rays they produce is harmful to the skin and eyes.

Can I prevent the onset of seasonal affective disorder?
If you think you have symptoms of SAD, see your doctor for a thorough examination. Your doctor will want to make sure that these symptoms are not caused by another psychiatric condition or major medical illness.

If you have been diagnosed with SAD, here are some things you can do to help prevent it from coming back:

  • Begin using a light box at the start of the fall season, even before you feel the onset of winter SAD.
  • Try to spend some amount of time outside every day, even when it’s very cloudy. The effects of daylight are still beneficial.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and include sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals as recommended by the FDA. This will help you have more energy even though your body is craving starchy and sweet foods.
  • Try exercising for 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
  • Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. This can be a tremendous means of support during winter months.
  • Consider consulting a mental health professional trained in cognitive behavior therapy, which has been demonstrated as an effective treatment for SAD.
  • Talk to your doctor about antidepressant medication if your symptoms are severe or persist despite interventions such as bright light therapy.

If your symptoms become severe and you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, call your doctor right away or go to the nearest emergency room.

References
American Psychiatric Association. Seasonal Affective Disorder Accessed 11/11/2013.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Seasonal Affective Disorder Accessed 11/11/2013.
National Institute of Mental Health. Properly Timed Light, Melatonin Lift Winter Depression by Syncing Rhythms Accessed 11/12/2013.