Walnuts good for women

P1030686Ladies, if you want to be more active, independent, and vigorous in your old age – eat a handful of walnuts each day.

A study over 30 years of more than 50,000 nurses (from the Nurses Health Study) found that those who ate about a dozen walnut halves a couple of time a week reduces their risk of becoming frail or needing care when elderly.

Scientists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, say the walnut has more protective anti-oxidants than peanuts or brazil nuts and one of a few superfoods associated with a better quality of life.

The head of the research, Francine Grodstein, said “there is a lot of research that looks at specific health conditions in ageing … but less attention to research on quality of life and ability to maintain independence with ageing

She said the simple message from this study is that eating an overall healthy diet, including certain foods such as walnuts and other whole foods “may help women with the ability to do key everyday tasks as they age, like carrying groceries or dressing themselves

The study, funded by the California Walnut Commission, found that women who ate lots of nuts, fruit and vegetables and avoided cakes, biscuits and takeaway food were more physically independent as they aged.

OK so it’s not just the walnuts is it! The other healthy food involved included oranges, apples, pears and leaf lettuce.

To be fair to walnuts (the ones that look like brains) there was earlier research at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania that found a handful of walnuts contained twice as many free radical fighting anti-oxidants than a handful of another commonly eaten nut. So if you eat nuts make sure they’re walnuts.

They have also been linked to a lower risk of heart attacks and diabetes. A University of California study  found that eating them cut levels of a hormone implicated in prostate and breast cancer.

And a study at New York State Institute for Basic Research in Development Disabilities concluded that eating a daily handful could have a major impact on Alzheimer’s disease, reducing the risk, delaying its onset, and slowing its progression.

There is also some evidence that they can ease stress and boost your sex drive. So well worth a nibble.

Original story in The Times

Happy Marriage or Good Health?

couple_in_love_1600_wht_10952It seems that men can’t have both!

Researchers looking at  more than a thousand couples aged over 57 over 5 years have found that men, but not women, in bad marriages are less likely to suffer from diabetes.

They believe the answer lies in the power of nagging.

Wives are usually more likely to remind husbands to stop smoking, to eat healthily, to stop having chocolate, to take medicine” says Professor Hui Liu from Michigan State University.

On the one hand this is good for the husband’s health. On the other hand it might increase the tension

The professor was surprised by the results of her research expecting thereto be a positive relationship between the quality of the marriage and diabetes.

Marriage is well known to promote health, particularly for men.

In this study women’s health improved with the quality of the marriage lowering their risk of becoming diabetic. Among men the reverse was true. The worse the marriage the more their health improved.

The professor suggests that “For men, if you have a nagging wife it might not be that bad. She cares about you, wants you to have a healthy lifestyle and a healthy life”

Daytime naps maybe not so beneficial

line_figure_sleep_desk_1600_clr_10066Although many people have extolled the virtues of day-time naps (not to mention siestas) including famously Winston Churchill, experts are now suggesting that people who do so are at greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.

Feeling sleepy in the day may be a warning of metabolic syndrome,a cluster of conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, excess fat round the waist, and high blood sugar.

This condition is thought to affect 15 million people in the UK who are at risk of developing more serious conditions and having a sleep for 40 minutes during the day increases the risk and if you sleep for 90 minutes the risk increases by 50% according to research by Dr Tomohide Yamada at the University of Tokyo.

The research supports guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation that naps of 20-30 minutes increase alertness.

I remember reading somewhere (and probably posting it at some time) that the trick to having a power nap was to have a cup of coffee before you started it. The caffeine takes about 20 minutes to have an effect on you so when you wake up it kicks in and you’re ready to go!

Middle-aged advised to get to bed more

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121They need the sleep apparently. It’s the best medicine for middle aged people as research shows that lack of sleep is linked to ill-health including heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Lack of sleep is blamed on shift work, and night shifts in particular, and the use of smart phones and laptops in bed. Working on a computer at or shortly before bedtime is particularly bad for you as your melatonin levels are reduced. Melatonin is a hormone that indices sleepiness.

Research at Surrey University has shown that more than 700 genes – including those linked to immunity and inflammation – are altered when your sleep is reduced to less than six hours a day.

Middle-aged people are believed to particularly at risk because of increased work and family demands.

However Professor Jim Horne who established the Sleep Research Centre at Loughborough University is not convinced that there would be benefits from a campaign targeting sleep as planned  by Public Health England.

He thinks it’s the quality not quantity of sleep that’s important and doesn’t believe that there is convincing evidence that we’re getting less sleep than our forefathers.

If you’ve already stopped smoking, are taking more exercise and cut down on the booze then getting more sleep is something else you can try.

UPDATE September 12 2015

The wrong amount of sleep can make you ill. Sleeping too much i.e. more than 9 hours a night, or too little i.e. fewer than 5 hours a night, can increase the deposits of calcium which clog up the coronary artery.

Women are at a greater risk of getting a lesion in this artery as a result of poor sleep than men.

The scientists who carried out the research on 29,000 people in South Korea, found that seven hours sleep was the optimal amount. “Inadequate sleep is a common problem and a likely source of poor health including visible signs of disease such as heart attack”

People who slept for more than 9 hours had 70% more calcium in their coronary artery than those who slept 7 hours. People who slept for less than 5 hours had 50% more.

The changes might be the result of the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, throwing the body’s biochemistry out of balance.

Once you’re obese it seems you’re stuck with it

tape_measure_around_plate_1600_wht_15585Obese men only have a 1 in 20 chance of returning to a normal weight and for women it’s even worse news. They only have a 1 in 124 chance.

Research at Kings College, London,on 280,000 people over ten years,  confirms early theories that our evolutionary heritage provides a set point which helps us stay at our maximum weight. Useful for survival maybe but these days a serious health concern with obesity linked to diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

These findings highlight how difficult it is for people with obesity to achieve and maintain even small amounts of weight loss. The main treatment options offered to obese patients in the UK are weight-maagement programmes accessed via their GP.This evidence suggests the current system is not working for the vast majority of obese patients” said Alison Fields at Kings College.

Jude Oben, director of Obesity Action Campaign said “Obesity is far worse than smoking and the HIV epidemic – we need to be far more aggressive than we were with both. Why aren’t we spending more money on preventing people developing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, liver disease (through obesity)”

Nick Finer at the National Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention and Outcomes said the findings showed that the NHS should start considering drug treatment for obesity as it did with high blood pressure or diabetes.

Studies have shown that some people can lose weight; 1 in 12 men and 1 in 10 women achieve a 5% weight reduction in 1 year (I’ve previously posted about research that shows that diets only work for 10% of dieters).

Just over half put the weight back on within 2 years and three-quarters within 5 years. However Professor Finer says that weight loss, even if regained, still has health benefits in preventing diabetes.

The study, reported in The Times, was published in the American Journal of Public Health

Other recent posts on obesity herehere and here

Fat teenagers don’t get it

stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853They watch TV programmes about obesity – which usually feature clinically obese people – and think they are OK, even though they are overweight and probably in danger of becoming obese.

Being obese puts people at increased risk of diabetes and increasingly of cancer (an estimated 18,000 cases a year).

When researchers from Cancer Research UK asked teenagers aged 13 to 15 if they were overweight or OK, 40% of those who were overweight or obese thought they were OK.

Obesity, which accounts for about a fifth of cancer deaths, is set to overtake smoking as the main cause of cancer.

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, said “Programmes about overweight people tend to show very obese people. Some teenagers who see these images probably think that is what an overweight person looks like so they might not realise if they are slightly overweight”. 

Sarah Jackson, who led the study, said that parents often underestimate the problem putting it down to “Puppy fat“.  Also growing levels of obesity are normalising overweight people as “normal”.

In the study only three-quarters of the teenagers had a bmi within the normal weight range (NB bmi is not the best measure). 20% were overweight and 7% obese.

80% thought they were the right weight, 7% that they were too heavy, and 10% that they were too light. Girls were more likely than boys to think they were too heavy.

Professor Jane Wardle from the Cancer Research UK Health BehaviourResearch Centre at UCL said “Young people who think they’re overweight when they’re not can sometimes develop devastating eating disorders, so we’re delighted that most of the normal-weight teenagers had a realistic view of their body size. But we need to find effective ways of helping too-heavy teenagers slim down and maintain a healthier weight”

Other posts about obesity

Future-proofing your health

looking_in_mirror_successful_1600_wht_5648Scientists have found that making behavioural changes now can significantly improve your health in 20 years time.

They reached these conclusions after following thousands of people over a twenty year period to see what impact diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices made.


Gentle and sustained exercise every day is good for your brain and can cut the risk of developing dementia by 40% according to a study that tracked people in a community in Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948.

A 20 year study into female nurses found that those who walked  30 minutes a day scored significantly better on mental-health tests.

However three years down the line the advice for a healthy heart is that it’s not good enough just to exercise – it  has to be intense.

Danish researchers recently reported a study of 10,000 adults in the BMJ which showed that a daily power walk or jog could cut the risk of heart disease by 50% whereas a slow amble made no difference.

The fast walking halved the risk of metabolic syndrome – a collection of factors such as a bulging midriff, high blood pressure, and abnormal blood fat levels – and jogging reduced it by 50%.

Generally the more effort you put into your exercise the better. Some experts say two 60-second workouts a week can reduce the risk of heart disease from middle-age onwards. The participants in one study did all-out 6 second sprints 6 times increasing to 10 times.

They lost 1kg without changing their diet or other activities but more importantly their cardiovascular function was improved after just 8 weeks. It suggests that HIT can have a significant impact on obesity and heart disease.

On the other hand yoga is an excellent way of reducing tension, reduces bmi, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Research at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam shows that regular yoga can be as effective as strenuous forms of exercise when it comes to heart health. For patients with existing heart disease taking medication the benefits were even greater.

So if you can’t do high intensity training (HIT)or have a pre-existing heart condition yoga sounds like the ideal solution.

Eating meat

Eating even small amounts of processed meat like bacon, sausages, or salami, can increase your likelihood of  dying prematurely by 20% according to research at Harvard based on 100,000 people over 28 years.

Unprocessed red meat also carries a health risk. Daily servings of red meat (85g) over the length of the study brought an 18% increased risk of dying from heart disease, a 10% increased risk of dying from cancer and eating 100g a day increased the risk of diabetes by 19%.

Red meat is considered dangerous because steak often contains high amounts of saturated fat and salami and bacon contain high amounts of salt.

The BHF is reviewing its guidance on fat however and suggests you eat a healthy range of fats including the saturated type you find in lean meat and some dairy; along with fats from nuts, avocados, oily fish and seeds.

Replacing red meat with poultry, fish, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods could cut your risk of dying prematurely by 20%.

Eating naturally occurring fats rather than that in biscuits, cakes and snacks is the best advice.


Feeling isolated at work or under threat from colleagues is not just upsetting but is a long-term risk to your health and can more than double the risk of serious illness or early death.

A 20-year study at Tel Aviv university tracked more than 800 white-collar workers. Those who were surrounded by bullies and backstabbers were 2.4 more likely to die during the study.

On the other hand feeling supported and welcomed by co-workers seems to protect your health and well-being. Considering how much time we spend at work it’s important that it is a positive experience and somewhere you can get emotional support if you need it.

But it’s not just at work. Living alone in middle age can double your chances of developing Altzheimer’s especially if you are widowed or divorced according to the findings of a 20-year study of 2,000 people published in 2011.

Vitamin supplements

Some supplements may do more harm than good. German research published in Heart in 2012 found that calcium supplements taken to fend off osteoporosis can double the risk of heart attacks.

Research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men with prostate cancer who take more than 7  multi-vitamins a week are 30% more likely to get advanced and fatal forms of the disease.

Defenders of supplements argue that people who take them are more likely to be ill in the first place. But if you have a healthy diet and aren’t vegan why would you need to take supplements anyway?


Being conscientious i.e. doing what you say you will do, and paying attention to detail has significant health benefits according to the results of an 80-year study of American children from the age of eight called the Longevity Project.

Conscientious people live significantly longer. Being conscientious means having a prudent nature, being persistent and well-organised, somewhat obsessive and not generally carefree, say the authors of the study..

“Taking life seriously makes people want to live more meaningful, committed lives.  They also take fewer risks and look after their well-being everyday; they achieved much for their families and nurtured close relationships. They were persistent and successful and dedicated to things and people other than themselves.”


A quarter of us don’t take all our holidays in the UK (an average of 5 weeks). The US isn’t so generous with paid leave but data from the earlier mentioned Framingham study shows that women who don’t often take holidays are eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took two holidays a year.

Our bodies fact to our lifestyles and if that involves being stressed it’s not good for us.


Having sex is particularly important for middle-aged men. Those who have intercourse several times a week significantly reduce their risk of suffering a fatal stroke.

The University of Bristol monitored the cardiac health and sexual activity over over 900 men in Wales from a former mining village. The men were aged 45-59 when first studied in the early 1980s.

20% reported having sex once a month or less, 25% had sex twice a week or more often. The rest of the group were somewhere between these two extremes.

The 25% who enjoyed the most sex suffered the fewest fatal strokes according to the report in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

 Eating & Drinking

Studies in Japan show that stopping eating when you feel 80% full can reduce your calories intake by around 20%. Restricted calorie intake has been linked to longevity.

If you don’t fancy that approach a mediterranean diet helps replacing processed foods with freshly prepared meals rich in olive oil, oily fish and nuts. A low carb diet rich in nuts, grains, oat cereals and barley can reduce the risk of heart disease by 10% over 10 years.

Drinking in moderation can help you long term. A study of almost 2,000 men and women published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research showed that men and women who drink moderately tend to live longer than heavy drinkers or teetotallers.

Experts from the university of Texas found three drinks a day did no harm. Low-level alcohol consumption protects against coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in developed countries. So the experts think the benefits outweigh any risks.

Drinking tea also helps. Four or five cups a day helps to protect your heart. A survey of 13,000 people found that those drinking tea (with or without milk) had a better cardiovascular profile than coffee drinkers or those who drank neither.

Tea has a positive effect on blood pressure and has anti-oxidants that have survival benefits.

Diet Drinks are a definite no-no. Drinking artificially sweetened drinks including water is definitely not good for you. The American College of Cardiology suggest that people drinking two or more of these drinks a day are 30% more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular problem than people who never drink them.

Prime sources: Times Body + Soul June 2012 “How to be healthy in 20 years time”; Times Body & Soul January 2015 “The midlife healthy heart guide: the rules for men and women”; plus various posts from this site.


Lose weight the Cuban way?

cuba_flag_perspective_anim_500_wht_11391Not that you would want to suffer the hardship that befell cubans following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Suddenly they lost their export market for sugar. There were fuel shortages, and power cuts.

China gave them 1 million bicycles. People walked, farmers ploughed their fields the old-fashioned way.

Over a 5 year period, 1990 – 1995, cubans lost an average of 5 kilos in weight.

Deaths from diabetes began to fall in 1996 and remained low for 6 years (until the economy picked up again). Deaths from stroke and heart disease dropped dramatically from the same year.

The sad news is that by 2000 the prevalence  of strokes, heart disease and diabetes was back at pre-crisis levels as the economy recovered.

Researchers writing in the British Medical Journal say  the findings, although extrapolated from one country, are “a notable illustration of the potential health benefits of reversing the global obesity epidemic”

Walter Willett, professor of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, says it’s well-known that changes in food supply such as the spread of fast-food outlets, combined with a reduction in physical activity and increased car use, leads to weight gain and the growth in diabetes and heart disease.

He went on to say “The findings add powerful evidence that a reduction in overweight and obesity would have major population-wide benefits”.

So cut out the burgers and chips and get up off the couch!

No need to run yourself into the ground

stick_figure_running_icon_1600_wht_3621If your idea of getting fit is running marathons then the latest research shows you don’t need to do that to improve your health.

Not even 10k or 7 k –just 7 minutes!

Less than an hour of exercise a week can reduce your risk of an early death through heart disease by 45% and extend your life expectancy by three years.

Experts at Iowa State University say that 5-10 minutes exercise a day is the most efficient way for busy people to stay healthy.

NHS guidance at present recommends vigorous exercise for 75 minutes a week but people doing much less were just as healthy in a survey of 55,000 people over a 15-year period in Dallas, Texas.

Not running at all was as bad for the heart as being obese but those who ran 6 miles or less were just as healthy as those running 20 miles a week in 6 runs.

Dr Duk-chul Lee, who conducted the survey, thinks deaths from heart disease could be reduced by 25% if people exercised more.

NHS guidance is 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of brisk walking or gardening. Brisk walking has been found to slightly lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes and 15 minutes a day of brisk walking can extend your life expectancy by three years.

Those of you who are dedicated runners be aware that some studies have found that very high levels of running can damage the heart.


NHS tests for over-40s useless

checking_blood_pressure_anim_500_wht_8476-1According to world-wide research by the Nordic Cochrane Centre the governments £300 million NHS Health Check programme is failing to deliver benefits and putting patients at risk of unnecessary treatment.

The researchers also say (in a letter to the Times) that it’s in conflict with the best available evidence and results in patients taking unnecessary drugs.

“Screening programmes should be based on evidence from randomised controlled trials that show they do more good than harm – as the UK screening programme explicitly states  – but there hasn’t been any proven benefit”.

In a paper published in the British Medical Journal last year the researchers analysed 14 randomised trials of international health check programmes which included 183,000 people. They found that none of the programmes cut deaths, kept people out of hospital, or prevented disability.

This is the centre that reported on breast screening last year and found that for every life saved four women had unnecessary surgery.

The Royal College of GPs is backing the findings saying that “routine checks were devaluing medicine” and that the routine tests were taking up time that could be used for treating patients who were actually sick rather than on the “worried well” who often  have to be re-tested to reassure them.

There is also a risk that health checks will show up diseases or risk factors which wouldn’t have caused any symptoms in a person’s lifetime.

The programme, introduced on a pilot basis on 2009 in some parts of the country, invites people aged 40 to 74 for a routine check every five years for conditions including heart disease, kidney problems, and diabetes. The NHS has now been told to offer it all across England and public health chiefs have to make it a priority as the Health Secretary believes it will save hundreds of lives.

Public Health England concedes that there is no direct evidence that health checks work but said that some of the trials examined by the Cochrane Centre were old and that “precautionary principles” justified the use of the checks.

A spokeswomen said (spin alert!) “The existing relevant evidence, together with operational experience accruing on the ground is compelling support for the programme. The NHS Health Checks offer a real opportunity to reduce avoidable deaths and disability, and tackle health inequalities in England”. No mention of real outcomes or evidence though?