Health

Taking your medications as prescribed: Smartphones can help

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many people don’t take their medications exactly as prescribed. While some do this purposefully, plenty more simply forget. Researchers have studied several different methods to help people remember their medication, but a new study has revealed one that stands out among the rest: texting. While the study does have some limitations, it’s an impressive reminder that the technology sitting in many people’s pockets and purses can be a powerful tool to help them improve their health.

Back to school: Learning a new skill can slow cognitive aging

Matthew Solan
Matthew Solan, Executive Editor, Harvard Men's Health Watch

You probably know that it’s important to stay physically active as you get older. But it’s just as important to “exercise” your brain. Taking a class is a particularly good way to do this, as learning new skills in a group setting helps keep multiple cognitive skills sharp. We’ve listed tips to help you get started, plus a few resources to help you locate a class near you.

Why the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes North Carolina’s transgender “bathroom law”

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

A new law in North Carolina prevents transgender people — people who feel very strongly that their biological sex does not match their true gender — from using the public restroom of the gender they identify with. But the American Academy of Pediatrics has denounced this law for discriminating against transgender children and children with certain genetic disorders. As they say, what all children need the most is unconditional acceptance and support.

The psychology of low back pain

Srini Pillay, MD
Srini Pillay, MD, Contributor

Some aspects of chronic back pain really are “in your head” — but that doesn’t mean you’re making it up. Rather, research has shown that when pain is chronic, the brain processes it not via the usual “pain” circuits, but via the “emotion” circuits. This means that you can actually reduce chronic pain by changing your psychological and emotional response to it. We’ve listed several techniques that have been proven to reduce chronic back pain.

Medical news: A case for skepticism

Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Stories about medical research are often presented in a manner that makes the findings seem more significant than they really are. It is important to approach such stories with a degree of skepticism, and appropriately tempered expectations.

Let’s dance! Rhythmic motion can improve your health

Beverly Merz
Beverly Merz, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

The health benefits of dancing are as beneficial as other forms of exercise, and are accessible to almost everyone regardless of age or range of mobility. Moreover, by incorporating music, dance may have benefits beyond those of exercise alone. Music stimulates the brain’s reward centers, while dance activates its sensory and motor circuits. Dancing has improved balance, gait, and quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease and related movement disorders.

Zika: Worse than we thought?

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Just a few months ago, public health experts were confident that there would be minimal spread of Zika virus into the United States. But as they’ve continued to study Zika and catalog its effects on countries around the world, they’re discovering that it might be scarier than they initially thought. We’ve summarized the latest findings on Zika and included tips to help you ward it off.

How much should teens weigh to prevent heart disease as adults?

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

We know that overweight teens have a higher risk of heart disease throughout their life, which is why pediatricians make sure to discuss healthy lifestyle choices with their patients. However, a recent study reveals that the weight ranges currently considered acceptable for teens might be too high, and therefore still putting them at risk. We’ve summarized the results and given you some ideas to help your teen lead an active, healthy lifestyle.

Starting an osteoporosis drug? Here’s what you need to know

Maneet Kaur, MD
Maneet Kaur, MD, Contributor

In its early stages, osteoporosis has no symptoms but causes millions of bone fractures every year, often resulting in loss of function and, disability and even death from the complications of the fracture. There are effective medications to prevent osteoporosis, but they can have serious (though rare) side effects. It’s best to talk discuss with your doctor to understand all your options and make an informed decision on how to best protect your bones.

Understanding the heart attack gender gap

Julie Corliss
Julie Corliss, Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

We tend to think of heart attacks (and heart disease) as primarily happening to men. That might be because women tend to minimize any heart attack symptoms they experience — and to delay seeking treatment much longer than men. Recent studies on this “heart attack gender gap” have revealed several things that can help make sure every patient with heart disease gets the best treatment possible.