If you really have to make new year resolutions..

Mike the Psych's Blog

here are some sensible ones from Dr Mark Porter who writes for the Times (with my own comments added):looking_in_mirror_1600_wht_5647

  1. Get a tape measure and measure your waist. This should be less than half your height to maintain good health. Body Mass Index (bmi) is so out-of-date as I’ve written before.
  2. Buy a blood pressure monitor as one in three of us develops high blood pressure which often requires lifelong treatment. Taking your BP at home may be more accurate than if taken in a stressful environment such as a hospital or GP’s surgery (the well-known white coat effect).
  3. Buy a petrol car next time as diesel has been proved to be dirtier fuel and unhealthy in built-up areas
  4. Learn what sepsis looks like. Blood poisoning or septicaemia as it was once called kills thousands of people a year. It typically starts with bacterial infections of the chest…

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Marriage isn’t all it’s made out to be

champagne_banner_our_wedding_500_wht_604For years scientists have said that married people are happier, healthier and wealthier than single people.

Well it’s not true!

Single people exercise more, have better health and more friends compared to married people.

Psychologist Bella DePaulo says earlier studies are flawed because they didn’t take into account the consequences of divorce. In most studies people for whom marriage was awful were excluded as divorcees were counted as singletons.

In reality married people are unlikely to see life as a continuous opportunity to learn new things and develop friendships.

They are more likely to be putting up with an unfulfilling job and a dwindling circle of friends a they await their end.

DePaulo says that for many people being single is a positive, rational choice and they are living the dream.

Lifelong singletons also have more fulfilling jobs and are more interested in self-improvement.

Married people who end up getting divorced end up worse off than people who stay single thus skewing the results even more in favour of married people.

Other research suggests that married men are healthier because their wife nags them!

I’m surprised she doesn’t mention the impact of children or grandchildren on relationships.  Also in these days of gender fluidity and same sex marriages how do these trends influence the data?

You know what they say about lies and statistics!

Some weight loss myths

apple_measure_tape_1600_wht_131291   Giving up carbs

Processed carbs can contribute to weight gain but you shouldn’t give up on complex carbs or wholegrain such as brown rice which have a lot of fibre and make you feel fuller longer.

Complex carbs can also have a lower glycaemic index (GI) – which is a measure of the rate at which sugar is digested – so you won’t get highs and lows in blood sugar.

Dietician Dr Sarah Schenker says it’s more about portion control and suggests limiting the calorie-dense healthy carbs such as rice, oats , or pasta, and alternate with lighter ones like butternut squash or corn on the cob which are just as filling.

2   Extreme exercise 

We think that if we expend more energy than we consume we should lose weight. And exercise does increase our metabolism (the rate at which we burn calories) but when we push ourselves too much it can actually prevent weight loss. “Pushing ourselves to do long runs and jogs can cause the body to release cortisol, a stress hormone, which encourages fat to build up round our middle” according to nutritionist Shona Wilkinson.

She recommends interval training instead as this boosts fat loss, gets the heart working, but controls the release of cortisol.  Also strength and resistance training which helps to build lean muscle and increases metabolism as well as burning calories which will lead to weight loss. She suggests 3 mins of fast running followed by 3 mins of walking, repeated 3 times 3 times a day.

3   Diet pills

A market worth £125 million ripping off people every day (in my opinion). All I want to say is that people who rely on pills are deluding themselves and may even put on weight because they aren’t careful about what they eat or exercising relying on their magic pill instead (And I could say the same about nutritional drinks sold by some sales people masquerading as personal trainers).

4   Skipping breakfast

Yes you might miss out on the 250 calories in an average breakfast but probably over-compensate by snacking mid-morning on sugary foods or eating more in your other meals. There is research that shows that people who skip breakfast are heavier than those who don’t  and Louisiana State University found that eating a 250-calories serving of oatmeal for breakfast resulted in reduced calorie intake at lunch.

5   Eating little and often

Or grazing. Problem is not the eat little but the often part of the equation. Just how often? it’s probably better to eat three meals a day. Our body releases insulin when we eat carrying sugar to our cells to burn as energy. This lasts for about 3 hours after which the body has to use energy from our fat stores. So an early breakfast followed by a noon lunch and you are already burning up your fat.

Research in Prague into people with Type 2 diabetes found that they lost more weight having two regular meals than eating 6 small meals with the same total amount of calories.

6   Going fat-free

All types of fat are high in energy. A gram of fat whether saturated or unsaturated provides 9 calories of energy compared with4 calories of carbohydrate and protein.

Healthier unsaturated fats are better at helping you to lose weight. For example Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish can help to reduce our addictive tendencies according to Dr Sally Norton, a former weight loss surgeon. “Fatty food also slows our stomach emptying making us feel fuller for longer”.

And beware foods labelled as healthy – they can contain more calories than the regular version. Harvard School of Public Health found that low-fat diets are no better for longterm weight loss than high-fat ones. (See “Healthy foods can be bad for you“)

7   Sticking to salads

Beware the calories in the salad dressings. And processed salads from fast-food chains or supermarkets can contain nuts and avocado which are rich in calories. Pret a Manger’s superfood salad contains 431 calories and 18 g of fat without a dressing but 662 calories and 42 g of fat with.

But who wants to eat nothing but salads? They hardly seem as if they would satisfy your appetite without some fish or similar alongside. So stick to salads as side dishes.

8   Not eating after 7 pm

Who comes up with these ideas. Have you never seen families eating evening meals in Spain late in the evening?

The premise behind this seems to be that eating later gives you less time to burn off the calories. It’s true that metabolism slows when you are asleep but it doesn’t automatically turn your food into fat.

Impose a deadline and you find yourself eating earlier so it doesn’t help you lose weight.And according to the US Department of Health it doesn’t matter what time of day you eat. “It’s what and how much you eat and how much physical activity that you do that determines whether or not you gain, lose, or maintain your weight level

And that’s the most sensible piece of advice I’ve heard.

Source: the Times

Protect your memory

head_outline_puzzle_1600_wht_10307Apparently we are experiencing an epidemic of premature memory loss. Scientists are now saying our memory begins to fade at 45 years of age rather than at 60 as was previously believed.

Unfortunately failing mid-life memory – the occasional slips which are referred to as Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) – could also be an early symptom of senile dementia. This brain disease is now striking people 10 years earlier than it did 20 years ago and is regularly being diagnosed in people in their 40s.

Half of those diagnosed with MCI go on to develop senile dementia. But half don’t so what makes the difference?

There seems to be no simple explanations. Some experts have blamed environmental pollution including exhaust fumes and pesticides. Others have blamed an over-reliance on technology, junk food and our lifestyles generally.

More people are referring themselves to doctors about memory problems. The vast majority suffer from what psychologists have called “security protection overload”. They feel overwhelmed by the numbers, codes and operating systems they need to know to function in a hi-tech environment.

Who hasn’t experienced ‘PIN amnesia’? It happened to me today as I used a credit card I don’t use very often. All my cards have different PINs which I remember pretty much all the time. The stress of getting it wrong and worrying about three strikes and out is enough to interfere with memory recall anyway.

People are using their memory less as they store information on their smartphones. And we’ve seen what happens when people over-rely on sat-navs and end up in a river. The brain is like  a muscle. Use it or lose it!

We have to keep active and our brains active by doing new and different things. Keeping the blood flowing to our brains and making new connections through imagination and planning.

For those of us with middle-aged brains the upside is that we are generally calmer, less neurotic, better in social situations, wiser, and more contented. The Seattle Longitudinal Study, which has tracked the mental abilities of thousands of adults over the past 50 years, has found that middle-aged adults perform better on 4 out of 6 cognitive tests than they did as young adults.

And while middle-aged people can perform tests as well as young people in conditions of silence they are more distracted than them in noisy environments. This might also explain the “doorway amnesia” where we move from one room to another and forget why we are there. The movement breaks our concentration as we are distracted by new stimuli in the new room.

Forgetting is a healthy brain function. You don’t want your brain cluttered up by irrelevant information about previous events when you need to remember something today. People who can’t forget – it’s called hypermythesia – get confused.

Healthy brains allow us to recall information when we need it. The problem is that we don’t always retrieve it efficiently. Our library of information becomes less efficiently managed as we get older.

This post is based on an article in the Times Body and Soul segment which also suggests the following ways to protect your memory.

Walk for 30 minutes a day, three times a week. Regular exercise provides the brain with oxygen and nutrients.

Eat vegetables and nuts. We know mediterranean diets are good for us . Now nutritionists at Rush University Chicago have developed the MIND diet, a specially formulated brain-protecting diet.

Give up transfats. Found in burgers, biscuits and cakes. Designed to increase the shelf-life of food but not people.

Eat less sugar. Studies have shown that high blood glucose can damage brain function. Not to mention sugar ruins your teeth and makes you fat!

Lose weight. It’s not PC to use the F word but obesity is a killer and costs the country a fortune. Overweight people’s memory declines over 20% faster than people of normal weight.

Avoid cigarettes and beer. Middle-aged men drinking two-and-a-half pints of beer a day speed up their memory loss by 6 years. Smoking has also been linked to a faster decline in memory.

Drink strong coffee. Twice a day. It helps middle-aged people do short-term memory tests but appears to have no effect on young people. Caffeine also strengthens brain connections. So there you skinny decaff latte drinkers. Not good for you!

PS Brain training games don’t help. You might get better at the games but that’s all according the the Alzheimer’s society. Same goes for crosswords and Sudoku.

Gentle exercise helps you live longer

figure_sweeping_800_10765Scientists have shown that any exercise is better than none. A few minutes of exercise rigorous enough to allow you to talk but not sing could help you live longer by reducing your risk of heart disease or stroke..

Even if you don’t do the recommended daily target of 20 minutes exercise you could still have a 22% lower death rate compared to 28% for those who did hit the target.

At present two-thirds of over-60s don’t manage 20 minutes a day and some take no regular exercise at all.

The results are based on an analysis of more than 800 studies involving more than 120,000 people aged over 60. The researchers, at the Université Jean Monnet in Saint-Étienne, were interested in examining moderate exercise that could be more easily built into daily life for the elderly such as fast walking, gardening and cycling. You could also avoid using lifts and go for a swim.

The researchers hoped to encourage more people to try to exercise, however little they could manage. “These findings may help convince currently inactive older adults that a lower dose of moderate exercise than currently recommended has health benefits”

Previous research has shown that even a minute of high-intensity exercise in the middle of a 10-minute workout could have impressive effects on health if done three times a week.

There is a gender difference in the results of exercise. Men who did some exercise reduced their mortality risk by 14% but for women it was 32%. This startling difference might be due to underreporting by women and over reporting by men however.

Want a good night’s sleep?

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121The trick is to get out of the house and do something with a purpose, possibly.

So, for example, playing golf or gardening could help you sleep better.

Exercise has been recommended in the past as an aid to sleeping but new research has found that some activities are more beneficial than others.  For example although doing housework increases your physical activity levels it is disruptive to sleeping patterns just like childcare!

The study of over 400,000 people, by the University of Pennsylvania, asked them what activities they had been doing over the previous month and how much sleep they had had every day.

People who walked, did aerobics, cycled, gardened, played golf, ran, or did Pilates, tended to get more sleep than people who were less active.

Those who get exercise simply by walking are more likely to have better sleep habits but these effects are even stronger for more purposeful activities such as running, yoga, gardening and golf” said the research team.

On the other hand people whose activity related to housework and childcare were more likely to experience insufficient sleep as home and work demands are some of the main reasons for poor sleep patterns.

What the research doesn’t prove is that the purposeful activities were actually the cause of better sleep. It could be that people who take part in these activities are healthier and more relaxed anyway i.e. the results show correlation but not causation.

However the researchers say “These results are consistent with the growing scientific literature on the role of sleep in human performance. Lab studies show that lack of sleep is associated with poor physical and mental performance and this study shows us that this is consistent with real-world data as well“.

See also: Get smart, get more sleep; Midlife sleeping rules

Bad news for dieters who exercise

apple_measure_tape_1600_wht_13129stick_figure_overweight_scale_1600_wht_3853Why? Because researchers in Boston and Taiwan have found that they put on more weight.

Sounds counter-inuitive doesn’t it? But psychologists explain that exercise , and even the anticipation of exercise, can cause much more dramatic binges in food intake when people are trying to control what they eat.

It’s as if having exercised they have given themselves permission to eat a lot!

They see exercise as a way of buying credits for a heavy snack.

The researchers say, in the Journal of Health Psychology, “Dieters have a greater need to justify food consumption and as such, they have increased sensitivity to entitlement cues, such as exercising“.

“This means that expending effort on exercise provides dieters in particular with a compelling justification to indulge in food consequently dieters will consume more food when the the entitlement cue of exercise is involved in comparison to when it is absent”

In plain English: they eat more when they exercise than when they don’t!

The researchers think the effect might be lessened if the dieters do exercise that are fun rather than those they see as strenuous.

There is also research from 2006 that suggests dieters’ brains respond differently to food. They appear to be more likely to eat fattening food when they believe they have made some progress in losing weight.

But remember; diets only work for less than 10% of people who try them.

And on a happy note for anti-dieters like me, the infamous Dr Dukans has finally been struck off as a doctor and may be declared bankrupt in France.

Having a fat dog can be good for your health.

dog_wagging_tail_500_wht_12411At least in America where owners of fat dogs spend more time walking them and enjoying the health benefits themselves.

It seems dog owners can be encouraged to go out and get some exercise if vets tell them their dogs are dangerously overweight.

Research carried out by scientists at a  military hospital in Maryland recruited 32 dog owners through local vets. The dogs were all overweight or obese, as were most of their owners.

Half of  the volunteers were told to keep a careful eye on the dogs’ diets and the other half were told to walk them for at least 30 minutes a day.

After three months all the dogs and owners in the “walking” group had lost weight but so had owners in the other group who hadn’t been told to walk but had in fact walked their dogs more.

The researchers say love for your dog can be a powerful motivator to exercise.

In the UK however the PDSA said that over a quarter of the dogs in the UK were never exercised regularly off the lead and 1/4 million were never taken for a walk.

Are you fit to have a dog?

dog_chase_tail_anim_500_wht_14656A quarter of a million dogs are behaving badly; there has been an increase in dogs fighting – around 600,000 a week; there is a  rising number of dogs being put down for behavioural problems; 250,000 dogs behave aggressively towards people each week and four million people have been attacked by dogs costing the NHS £3m a year, according to the charity PDSA.

And they put it all down to lazy owners who won’t take their pets for a walk.

There are 8.1 million dogs in Britain and 2.4 million are not exercised off the lead on a regular basis and 1/4 million are never taken for a walk.

Dogs that do get a walk are lucky if it’s for more than half an hour. Only 1 in 6 dogs is exercised properly.

9 out of 10 vets have been frightened by a dog’s behaviour and 8 out of 10 think dog licences should be re-introduced. 1 in 5 think it’s unacceptable to leave a child alone with a dog (and I won’t even mention the horror stories on that topic).

Dogs are also getting more overweight as owners feed them with inappropriate snacks such as cheese, crisps, chips and cake, because they beg for them

The charity says that 92% of dog-owners think we are a “nation of animal lovers” but we’re not. “The cocktail of boredom, lack of training and socialisation and worryingly low levels of regular exercise” was leading to destructive behaviours and anxiety.

 Four out of five dog owners say they feel better physically and mentally because of their pet but many aren’t looking after them properly.

Over a lifetime a dog costs between £16 and £30,00; a cat £17,000, and a rabbit £9,000.

Of course in some countries these animals would be considered as food not pets!

Warning about arthritis epidemic

knee_pain_1600_wht_2143Campaigners Arthritis Research UK are warning that Britain will be crippled by an arthritis epidemic within 20 years with 10% of people affected.

An ageing population which is getting more obese and less active could mean that the number of people with knee arthritis could double by 2035.

There is a popular myth that exercise is bad for the joints which doctors need to overcome by prescribing more exercise to both prevent and treat arthritis.

Obese people are 6 times more likely to suffer from arthritis as their joints struggle to cope with their weight.

The medical director at Arthritis Research, Professor Alan Silman, said ” People increasingly understand that diet and exercise can reduce their risk of heart disease and diabetes. We need a similar focus on on reducing arthritis which can affect millions and blight their lives. Arthritis is not inevitable, nor should living with pain every day be acceptable. It’s time for a new approach to reduce the risks of developing the condition”.

One study found that obese women who lost 5kg halved their risk of developing the condition while exercise helped to treat it. People who lose 10% of their body weight can expect to see big improvements in their symptoms according to a rheumatologist and lead author of the Arthritis Research UK report.

Osteoarthritis is the most common condition resulting from wear on the joints and about 150,00 people have their hips and knees replaced every year costing the NHS £2 Billion. Arthritis is also the most common reason to be off work sick costing the economy 30 million working days each year.

The Chief Medical Officer for England has called arthritis an “unrecognised public health priority” which can devastate the lives of sufferers.

Middle aged people need to be alert to early twinges in the joints which should be a wake-up call to lose weight and do more exercise. Knowing they could avoid joint pain might be a bigger motivator than knowing you could avoid diabetes or dementia.