The Yuletide is here again! It is a period associated with over indulgence in unhealthy foods, alcohol, tobacco products and other ‘bad’ lifestyles with resultant ‘epidemic’ of diabetes, hypertension, stroke, kidney failure, infertility, among other degenerative diseases. CHUKWUMA MUANYA examines how to stay healthy this festive season with lots of fruits and vegetables, exercises, coffee and red wine.
TOP on the list of recommendations for staying healthy at Yuletide is eating meals as a family and a strong heart health warning over Festive season blowout by the Nigerian Heart Foundation (NHF).
Medical experts warn that eating Yuletide lunch and snacking throughout the day could put a huge strain on hearts. They say exercise not only improves mood, it may help people maintain reduced anxiety in the face of stressful or emotional events.
A recent research published in The Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that eating meals as a family improves children’s eating habits - even if it only happens once or twice a week.
It is recommended that children eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day - about 400g. The United Kingdom study found those who always ate together achieved this - but those who only did sometimes came close. It has been shown that watching parents and siblings eat teaches good habits.
Seeing parents eat fruit and vegetables - and cutting up portions for children both boosted their intake.
The researchers say that, while this study gives a picture of eating habits on one day, it was able to investigate the diets of a large, diverse population.
Meanwhile, while many studies have shown a link between exercise and better mood, it was not known “whether these positive effects endure when we’re faced with everyday stressors once we leave the gym,” said study researcher J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
In the study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, participants engaged in either a 30-minute period of rest, or 30 minutes of cycling on two days. A survey designed to measure anxiety levels was given before and after the activity.
Participants then viewed a series of pleasant pictures of babies, families and puppies; unpleasant images, such as depictions of violence; and neutral images including plates, cups and furniture. Afterward, their anxiety levels were measured a final time.
Participants’ surveys, completed shortly after their 30 minutes of exercise or quiet rest, showed that these conditions were equally effective at reducing anxiety levels.
However, after viewing the images, the anxiety levels of those who had rested rose back to their initial levels, while those who had exercised maintained their reduced anxiety levels, the researchers said.
“We found that exercise helps to buffer the effects of emotional exposure. If you exercise, you’ll not only reduce your anxiety, but you’ll be better able to maintain that reduced anxiety when confronted with emotional events,” Smith said.
Meanwhile, a compound found in red wine, fruits and vegetables can help slow aging by making two anti-aging genes work together better, scientists in Hong Kong report. While they were working in mice, they hope their findings can shed light on efforts to slow aging in people.
Their finding, published in the December issue of Cell Metabolism, builds on their work in 2005 that shed light on premature aging, or progeria, a rare genetic disease that affects one in four million babies.
Kids with progeria start to develop symptoms before they turn a year old. Although their mental faculties are normal, they stop growing, lose body fat and suffer from wrinkled skin and hair loss. Like old people, they have stiff joints and a buildup of plaque in arteries that can lead to heart disease and stroke. Most die before they are 20 years old.
The team at the University of Hong Kong found in 2005 that a mutation in the gene for Lamin A protein, which lines the nucleus in human cells, disrupted the repair process in cells, causing accelerated aging in mice.
In their latest work using both mice and experiments in lab dishes, they found that normal and healthy Lamin A activates the gene SIRT1, which experts have long associated with longevity.
Another food item recommended for this festive season is coffee. A new study links drinking several cups a day with a decreased risk of dying from oral cancer.
The study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows an association between drinking more than four cups of coffee a day and a halved risk of dying from oral and pharyngeal cancers. However, it’s important to note that researchers only found an association, and more work is needed to figure out what exactly might be at the root of the finding.
“Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and contains a variety of antioxidants, polyphenols, and other biologically active compounds that may help to protect against development or progression of cancers,” study researcher Janet Hildebrand, MPH, said in a statement.
“Although it is less common in the United States, oral/pharyngeal cancer is among the 10 most common cancers in the world. Our finding strengthens the evidence of a possible protective effect of caffeinated coffee in the etiology and/or progression of cancers of the mouth and pharynx.”
The study is based on 968,432 people who were part of the Cancer Prevention Study II, who were followed for 26 years. No one had cancer at the start of the study, but by the end of the study, 868 people had died from oral/pharyngeal cancers.
Researchers found a link between drinking more caffeinated coffee and having less of a risk of dying from the cancer — specifically, people who drank more than four cups a day had a 49 percent decreased death risk from this cause, compared with people who didn’t drink coffee.
And people didn’t have to regularly drink four or more cups a day to experience the decrease, as they found the risk gradually shrunk with each cup.
While a slight association was also found with decaffeinated coffee, it was not as strong as with the caffeinated coffee, the researchers noted. No association was found between tea drinking and oral cancer death risk.
Similarly, a 2010 review of studies in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention showed a 39 percent lower risk of oral and throat cancer among people who drink four or more cups of coffee daily. That review, conducted by University of Milan researchers, compared coffee-drinking rates between 5,139 people with head/neck cancer and 9,028 cancer-free people.
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