Posts by Heidi Godman
Mental and social engagement can help keep your brain sharp and lower the chances of cognitive decline, in part because challenging our brains may help forge new connections between brain cells. The key to taking advantage of the brain’s malleability is to find activities that you truly enjoy and to commit to life-long learning.
Today’s world runs at a hectic pace. To keep up, more and more people are turning to convenience foods — but many of these are high in calories, sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats. The good news is that healthy convenience foods are out there, and you can find them if you’re willing to spend a few minutes reading ingredient labels. Other ideas for enjoying home-cooked meals in short order include using canned or frozen fruits, vegetables, or seafood in your next recipe, as well as planning meals ahead and cooking in batches.
Study after study has shown that Americans don’t get enough activity. In fact, many of us don’t even get our recommended 10,000 steps a day. Could pedometers or digital fitness trackers help? Pedometers are simple gadgets that measure how many steps you take. Digital fitness trackers also measure the pace, distance, duration, and intensity of your activity, and often have accompanying web applications that can evaluate and even graph this information. In a small study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers gave either a standard pedometer or a Fitbit brand digital fitness tracker to 51 overweight postmenopausal women who had been getting about 33 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. The pedometer group did not have any significant change to their activity levels. But the fitness tracker group increased their physical activity by an additional 38 minutes per week.
The steady stream of reports about foodborne illness is making many people think twice about their food. Foodborne illness sickens 48 million people annually, sending 128,000 to the hospital and killing 3,000. To improve testing for foodborne illness the FDA sponsors a Food Safety Challenge. Purdue University researchers walked away with the $300,000 grand prize, announced last week, for their new method that would dramatically shorten the time it takes to test for Salmonella, a disease-causing bacteria. While faster ways to detect microbes in food are a step in the right direction, we need to take action at home right now. All fresh foods contain at least low levels of potentially harmful microbes. Handling food properly and cooking it thoroughly can prevent most cases of foodborne illness.
When kids pack for summer camp, sunglasses may not always top the supply list. But I made them a priority for my 12-year-old son Carson, who just started rowing camp in Florida, because eyes are vulnerable to damaging ultraviolet rays, which are especially intense near reflective surfaces. Ultraviolet rays can damage the eyes several way, ultimately leading to cataract, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and other thieves of vision. You don’t have to spend a bundle to get a good pair of sunglasses. Just make sure to pick ones that block close to 100% of ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (UVA and UVB) rays.
For the past 25 years, US News and World Report has been listing the “best hospitals” in the United States. In a Viewpoint article in this week’s JAMA, the magazine’s top health analysts describe how they are expanding and changing the way they rate hospitals. The current ratings aren’t designed for use by patients in need of typical hospital care. That’s changing. The US News team has spent more than a year analyzing more than 5 million patient records regarding more than a dozen common procedures and medical conditions from more than 4,300 hospitals. Ratings for five of these — hip replacement, knee replacement, coronary artery bypass surgery chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure — were published online today. The new ratings use only performance measures such as patient safety, technology, and survival rates after admission. Keep in mind that ratings like these can help, but they’re mostly limited to data, and aren’t the whole picture. Other organizations also provide hospital rankings and ratings.
Fainting can be alarming. Sometimes it’s a signal of a heart or other problem that needs to be fixed. But sometimes it is nothing to worry about, caused by not eating, having blood drawn, or even laughing too hard. Up to one-third of people at low risk for serious short-term problems after fainting end up being hospitalized. A research letter in this week’s JAMA Internal Medicine points out that hospitalization for low-risk fainting can do more harm than good. Just because you’re in the emergency department after fainting doesn’t mean you need to be admitted to the hospital. Ask your physician if you’re at risk for a worse event if you go home, and make sure that if you’re admitted it’s because there’s a potential serious cause for your fainting that can’t be fully assessed in the emergency department.
Looking for ways to ward off colorectal cancer? According to a new study, a pescovegetarian diet — that’s a vegetarian diet that includes fish — was linked to a 43% reduction in the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, adds more support to the notion that something in red meat, or the way it is cooked, encourages the growth of colorectal cancer. It’s also possible that eating more plant foods provides extra beneficial nutrients such as folate, calcium, and fiber that may protect against colorectal cancer. Fish contain healthful omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Another good strategy for preventing harm from colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States? Have colonoscopies as needed.
There are many reasons why you might want to give someone chocolate on Valentine’s Day. There’s the tradition of it, and the idea of sweets for your sweetheart. Here’s another tempting reason: certain compounds in chocolate, called cocoa flavanols, have recently been linked with improved thinking skills. Italian researchers found people who drank a daily cocoa brew with a lot of flavanols (more than 500 milligrams) significantly improved their scores on tests that measured attention, executive function, and memory. How might cocoa flavanols boost thinking skills? They may help brain cells connect with each other. Dark chocolate is a good source of flavonols. It’s also a good source of calories. Adding it to your diet without taking out other foods can lead to weight gain, which may wipe out any health gain.
Feeling young may be one way to keep getting older. In a new study, a pair of researchers from University College London found that older people who felt three or more years younger than their actual age were more likely to be alive eight years later than those who felt more than one year older than their actual age. Does a youthful feeling keep people alive? Possibly: feeling younger may lead to better health habits, like exercising and eating healthfully. Feeling younger may also inspire a sense of resilience that keeps people young.