Category Archives: Health

Jogging Creates The Most Brain Cells

The New York Times reports on a new study that had rats try three different kinds of workouts:

  1. Aerobic: running on a treadmill or wheel
  2. Resistance: climbing on a wall with weights attached, to simulate weight training
  3. High Intensity Training (HIT): running very fast, interrupted with periods of not doing that

They then measured how many new brain cells appeared after seven weeks of the routine, and found out that from most to least by group, it was aerobic, HIT, and then resistance — with the resistance group basically having no new brain cells. The HIT group had some, but not nearly as much as the aerobic group. Moral of the story: jogging makes you smarter.

See also:

via The New York Times

A Can Of Soda A Day Keeps Your Last Years Away

Researchers from UCSF looked at roughly 5,000 adults with no diabetes or heart problems and asked themselves how sugary beverages affect lifespan. They analyzed drinkers of normal, sugary sodas, of sugary flat drinks, of diet sodas, and of 100% fruit juice drinks. To figure out lifespan, they looked at telomeres, which are endcaps on chromosomes, and which have been shown to correlate with how long a person lives. Those with shorter telomeres tend to age faster, die earlier and have more cancer. And it turned out that people who drink sugary sodas regularly, have shorter telomeres.

Warning label on a can of soda

Diet sodas didn’t seem to have any correlation with telomere length, though there are other problems with them. Non-carbonated sugary sodas had no correlation either. Regularly drinking fruit juice correlated with longer telomeres, though eating the actual fruit, instead, has the added benefit of healthy fiber. But for sugary sodas, extrapolating additional aging from how much the telomeres were shorter, the study found that drinking 8oz per day (about two-thirds of a can) shortened lifespan by 1.9 years, and 20oz shortened it by 4.6 years — the same amount as smoking.

See also:

From American Journal of Public Health, via Time

Your Feet Pronating While Running Is In Fact Not An Issue

Danish scientists published a study on 900+ novice runners, whose feet they measured and classified to see how much they over- or underpronated. They gave them all the same, neutral shoe — with no pronation correction — and had them run as much as they wanted for a year. In the meantime, they noted all the injuries the runners suffered. What we’ve been told by running shoe stores lately is that pronation causes more injuries, but this study proved the opposite: the runners with neutral feet had slightly more injuries than the pronated ones.



Other researchers agree. “This is an excellent study,” says Bryan Heiderscheit, an associate professor of biomechanics and director of the running clinic at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The research reinforces a widespread belief among scientists studying running “that pronation doesn’t play much of a role” in injury risk, he says.

The runners all had the same shoes, which didn’t correct pronation, and the pronaters suffered less injuries. Ergo, corrective shoes are nothing but snake oil. Instead, you should just buy comfortable shoes, because many of the injured runners said their shoes weren’t.

See also:

From The British Journal of Sports Medicine, via The New York Times and Lifehacker

To Lose More Weight, Eat Early, Not Late

(That’s right: the headline does rhyme.) Research done in Spain seems to indicate that advice like having a big breakfast and not eating late dinners are actually not old wives’ tales. The study followed 420 fat people (equal numbers of each gender) for 20 weeks: half of them were early eaters, that ate their big meal before 3pm, and half were late eaters. This was a weight loss study, so they all ate a paltry 1400 calories per day, and got similar levels of exercise and sleep. But, the ones that ate early, lost 30% more weight: 22 lbs vs 17 lbs for the late eaters.

The scientists don’t really know why, or if it’s even a causal relationship — a third factor, say… nervous pacing, could’ve caused both the early eating and faster weight loss. But if you’re trying to lose weight, it’s worth giving it a try; after all, what you believe about weight loss has a significant impact on how effective it is.

See also:


Posted Calorie Counts Are Not Very Accurate

One of the provisions of Obamacare is that all restaurants with more than 20 locations are required to post the number of calories in their menu items. (Even though Obamacare was passed in 2010, the requirement doesn’t go into effect until the second half of 2013 because of red tape: the FDA had to first come up with regulations, hold discussions on them, get final approval, and then publish them for six months before they take effect.) Most people that aren’t in the business of selling junk food see this as a great step forward in helping people realize exactly how much stuff they’re eating. But, the system is far from perfect.

200 calories' worth of apples. Photo from wiseGEEK.


The government-sanctioned way of figuring out how many calories are in food — and so far, the only practical way to do it at all — is called the Atwater System, and is named after the chemistry professor at Wesleyan who developed it around the 1890s.  Mostly, it involves burning food in a bomb calorimeter to figure out how much energy it has, and subtracting what’s been left over after digestion. But, according to NPR, this process has some flaws:

  • Processed and unprocessed foods are treated the same, even though our bodies would extract more calories from processed foods, which have in effect been pre-digested. Meaning that if two foods have the same number of calories on the label, if one of them is raw (like fruits and rare steak), your body will end up with less of its calories than the processed one (like candy and hamburgers).
  • Processed carbohydrates are particularly bad because they don’t make us feel full. The calories from a chicken breast will keep someone full a lot longer than the same calories in a chocolate bar.
  • There are also upsides though, because for some foods, the body spends a lot of energy digesting them — or doesn’t get as much energy out of them for various reasons — making the caloric count on the label higher than what you actually end up with.

200 calories' worth of Hershey's Kisses. Photo from wiseGEEK.


So even if the number of calories on the label or menu accurately showed the amount of raw energy in food, they don’t accurately represent how much of that energy our bodies absorb, or how long that energy will last us.

And as it turns out, the labels are not likely to even be accurate. In New York City, most food already has to have caloric labels, so Casey Neistat — the filmmaker who, among other short films, made an interesting video a few months back about how toothless the NYC soda ban really is — decided to test their accuracy. He took five items that he was likely to eat in one day to a food lab and had their energy measured. All but one came in over their stated number of calories:

  • a yogurt muffin actually had 735 calories instead of the 640 on the label
  • a Starbucks coffee had 393 instead of 370
  • a Chipotle burrito, 1295 instead of 1175
  • a tofu sandwich, 548 instead of 228
  • a Subway sandwich, 351 instead of 360 — the only item that was under

Starbucks and Chipotle you can forgive, because no matter how hard the employees try, no two coffees or burritos will be the same. Subway came in under that amount most likely for the same reason. But the muffin and the tofu sandwich were pre-packaged and probably should have been closer to their goal. Part of the problem is that New York City doesn’t enforce the accuracy of the calorie count — only their presence.

But regardless of blame, at the end of the day Casey ate 3321 calories instead of the 2773 calories the labels showed. That’s 549 extra calories that he didn’t intend to eat and wouldn’t have accounted for; as he points out in the video below, it’s the equivalent of a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese, or two donuts.

The take-away? Calorie counts on the nutrition labels are not very accurate, and even if they were, they still wouldn’t represent how many of those calories your body gets, or how long it will keep hunger at bay.

At best, the number is a guideline that opens our eyes to unbelievable truths, like that a donut is the equivalent of two grilled chicken breasts. In that way, counting calories is like a very poor window thermometer that tells you if it’s warm or cold outside, but its temperature can be off by a few degrees. Still, it’s better than no thermometer.

See also:


From NPR and The New York Times

The Elderly Are Forgetful Because They Don’t Sleep Well

A study from UC Berkeley shows that the quality of sleep in older people is a lot worse than in younger, healthy people and that this prevents memories from being moved from short-term to long-term memory. The study was done on 18 people in their 20s and 15 people in their 70s: scientists made them memorize some new words, then measured their sleep statistics, and finally quizzed them in the morning while getting an fMRI. The quality of sleep in the elderly was 75% that of younger people, and their recall was 55%. (The summary doesn’t say, but hopefully the scientists calculated their statistics properly, and didn’t just discover that old people forget and, independently, that they also don’t sleep well.) The decline in sleep quality is correlated to age-related deterioration in the frontal lobe, which normally generates slow brain waves during sleep.


If lack of quality sleep is the cause of memory loss, then the issue might apply also to younger people who are also forgetful — perhaps because they don’t sleep enough or have sleep apnea. As for older people, there are ways to improve quality of sleep: pills, electrical stimulation of the brain, or, best of all: blueberries, vitamins and exercise. Also, it’s worth mentioning that in 2011, scientists at Stanford figured out that a protein in the blood caused forgetfulness in older mice.

See also:


From UC Berkeley, via Slashdot

The Flu Virus Thrives In Low And Very High Humidity

A Virginia Tech professor and her team figured out why the flu spreads in the winter: indoor heating. When the outside air is heated, it becomes very dry, creating the perfect environment for the virus. Their tests show that the influenza virus performs best at humidity levels under 50%, which is pretty much every heated space in the winter. Above that humidity, it doesn’t do very well until the levels reach 98%. That humidity is seen in tropical environments in the summer wet season, which is another condition under which flu outbreaks happen. The moral of the story: use humidifiers in the winter to reduce the spread of the flu.

See also:


From The Wall Street Journal, via Slashdot

Coughs Usually Last 3 Weeks, Antibiotics Should NOT Be Used

NPR has an article which points out that most people incorrectly think coughs should last about a week, and that antibiotics help get rid of them. This false thinking is probably due to confusing cold and flu with bronchitis. The facts:

  • Most coughs are caused by acute bronchitis. (There’s also chronic bronchitis, which is long-term, and usually caused by smoking.)
  • Acute bronchitis usually comes along with, or after, a bout of the flu or common cold
  • Bronchitis is not the cold or flu — it’s a separate illness
  • On average, bronchitis lasts 18 days; in contrast, colds and flus last about a week
  • All colds, flus, and 90% of bronchitis cases are caused by viruses, not bacteria
  • Therefore, antibiotics are useless against all three: antibiotics have no effect on viruses
  • According to the CDC, overuse of antibiotics increases the amount of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and therefore your chance of infection later

The moral of the story: don’t use antibiotics on a cough unless a doctor prescribed it — without you begging for it, and after a microscopic exam showed abnormal amounts of bacteria in your sputum.

What should you use? There’s no pill that will make your cold, flu or bronchitis go away more quickly, but there are plenty of over-the-counter medications that will mask the symptoms. If you or those around you can’t stand the coughing, a cough suppressant and expectorant will make the coughs less frequent, but more productive.

See also:

From NPR and CDC

The Lifestyle Of Longevity On Ikaria

There’s a Greek island off the coast of Turkey, called Ikaria, whose inhabitants live about 10 years longer on average than the rest of Europeans. They also have a better quality of life, with 60% of those over 90 years old being active, as opposed to 20% elsewhere. Levels of depression and dementia are low, and problems like cancer and heart disease arise about 10 years later than normal. Naturally, these facts piqued the interest of researchers, who set out to see what’s different about life on the island. They don’t have a clear answer, but they made a number of observations:

  • The lifestyle on the island is slow-paced and easy going
  • The people are friendly and very sociable
  • They eat a lot of fish, vegetables and goat milk
  • They don’t eat much beef, pork or chicken
  • They use a lot of wild greens and herbs for both food (e.g., tea) and medicine
  • They don’t eat much processed foods
  • Most food is cooked in olive oil
  • They get a lot of fresh air
  • They get a lot of exercise, even just by having to walk through the island’s mountainous terrain
  • They drink a moderate amount of wine
  • Rates of smoking are low
  • Rates of midday napping are high
  • The elderly are given important roles in society
  • There’s natural radiation in the island’s granite rocks

The village of Armenistis in Ikaria

See also:

From BBC, via Neatorama

Flu Shots Only Work 60% Of The Time, At Best

That means 4 out of 10 people will get vaccinated and still get the flu. Especially if they’re old: the shot doesn’t work as well for the elderly, which is particularly bad since they’re the ones most likely to die from influenza. Also, even if you’re one of the 60%, there’s still a two week period in which the flu shot does nothing: if you’re unlucky enough to get the flu then, it won’t protect you. And after the two week period, you might still get a strain of flu that wasn’t covered by the shot. Finally, the flu shot doesn’t protect you from otherflu-like viruses, which cause similar symptoms.


Who knew flu shots had so much in common with Sex Panther cologne?

From NPR