Staying Young at Heart

You’re only as old as you feel.

It’s a common expression that has some science behind it, thanks to a study from University College London in England.

The researchers set out to learn if people who feel younger than their chronological age actually live longer. They looked at information from about 6,500 participants. The info included the participants’ “self-perceived age” — how old they feel compared to their actual age, which is typically a reflection of health, physical abilities and well-being.

At the start of the study, 70 percent of the respondents said they felt at least three years younger than they were. In fact, the average was nine years younger. Twenty-five percent felt their age, while just 5 percent felt older.

Eight years later, the researchers looked at the group’s mortality rate and found a greater mortality risk in the people who felt older than their age — 75 percent of those who felt older than their age were still alive compared to 82 percent who felt their age and 86 percent of those who felt younger.

It may be more than mind over matter — feeling younger could lead to better health habits that can make people feel and be healthier.

It’s never too soon (or too late!) to adopt a younger mindset. Stay adventurous, try new things, develop new skills, and take up hobbies you’re passionate about.

Live in the moment: Don’t waste time on the “what if’s” about the future or be stymied by regrets over the past. Get involved in the world around you to connect with others in positive ways, whether it’s volunteering or deepening friendships — these are relationships that can make you feel good about yourself while benefiting others.

More information

The Center on Aging and Work at Boston College has more on the importance of staying engaged at work and at play.

Alcohol May Be Sabotaging Your Diet

Alcohol; It’s a fixture at New Year’s parties, but it’s also is a calorie guzzler — one drink can eat up 10 percent or more of a dieter’s daily allotment, depending on how fanciful the beverage is.

And there are other ways booze can undermine your wellness efforts. The calories in every gram of alcohol have no nutritional value, so you’re also missing out on the vitamins and minerals you get from food calories.

What’s more, heavy drinking can affect your metabolism and lead your body to store fat, hampering muscle development, the American Council on Exercise reports.

Despite its initial feel-good effect, alcohol is actually a depressant, negatively affecting brain function, balance and hand-eye coordination. It can leave you feeling sluggish while ramping up your appetite, causing you to eat hundreds of unwanted calories, often unhealthful “bar food.”

But the news isn’t all bad. As with most consumption, it comes down to moderation — that’s a max of one drink a day for women and two for men.

To avoid overdoing it on booze:

  • Know the standard drink sizes so you can account for the correct number of calories.
  • Never drink on an empty stomach — food helps to slow down alcohol’s effects.
  • Have a sip of water between sips of alcohol to make the drink last longer.
  • Set daily and weekly goals for consumption, and record drinks just as you do meals in a food journal.

More information

Are you in the safe “sweet spot” when it comes to booze? For a reality check, use the alcohol calculator at the U.S. National Institutes of Health website to see how many calories you’re drinking every week.

Foods That Can Lead to Obesity in Kids

When it comes to so-called good foods and bad foods, it’s pretty easy to separate a green salad from a piece of pie. But some healthy foods can become less beneficial for you simply because of the way you cook them.

Researchers analyzed three years of eating patterns of kids between the ages of 7 and 13 who gained excess weight in that time, and identified the foods most likely to get the blame.

Fat-based spreads like butter, desserts, candy and sugary beverages and processed meats were on the list. But so were poultry and fish when breaded and battered, and potatoes cooked in oil — from French fries to chips. In these cases, the cooking methods undermined the value of otherwise healthful foods, and not just the chicken and fish.

The researchers pointed out that when boiled or mashed without any fat, potatoes are satisfying, yet not associated with unwanted weight gain. Of course, if you leave off the coatings, chicken and fish won’t lead to excess pounds either. Note: Baking, poached and light sauteing are tasty alternatives, especially when you add herbs to increase flavor.

The researchers also singled out whole grains and high-fiber cereals as good foods that don’t promote overweight. These happen to also be high in fiber, which is important for children as well as adults — and many kids don’t get enough.

The bottom line: prepare healthy foods in healthy ways so that kids — as well as mom and dad — will get vital nutrients without unwanted calories that come from cooking techniques like breading and deep frying.

More information

Harvard’s Nutrition Source has a colorful and detailed guide to creating a kid’s healthy eating plate that you can download and share with your children to teach them about healthy eating from a young age.

Health Tip: Understanding Caffeine

Caffeine in limited amounts is OK for most people, but too much of the stimulant can be dangerous to your health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The FDA adds:

  • Caffeine is found in many foods, including various beverages and dietary supplements.
  • Coffees and teas labeled “decaffeinated” can actually contain 2 to 15 milligrams of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup.
  • Pregnant women and people who take certain medications should be aware of their doctor’s recommended caffeine consumption.
  • The FDA suggests consulting a physician about the safety of children consuming caffeine.
  • Caffeine should not be used as a substitute for sleep.
  • If you want to cut back on caffeine, do so gradually to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Good Sleep Helps Kids Become Slimmer, Healthier Teens: Study

Regular bedtimes and adequate sleep during childhood may contribute toward a healthy weight in the teen years, a new study finds.

The study included nearly 2,200 kids in 20 U.S. cities. One-third of them had consistent, age-appropriate bedtimes between ages 5 and 9, according to their mothers.

Compared to that group, those who had no bedtime routine at age 9 got less sleep and had a higher body mass index (an estimate of body fat based on height and weight) at age 15, according to the Penn State study.

“Parenting practices in childhood affect physical health and BMI in the teenage years. Developing a proper routine in childhood is crucial for the future health of the child,” study co-author Orfeu Buxton said in a university news release.

Buxton is director of the Sleep, Health and Society Collaboratory at Penn State.

“We think sleep affects physical and mental health, and the ability to learn,” he added.

The findings highlight the importance of educating parents about children’s bedtimes.

Several factors should determine bedtimes. They include what time the child must get ready for school, how long it takes to get there and the school’s start time, according to the researchers.

“Giving children the time frame to get the appropriate amount of sleep is paramount,” Buxton said.

Bedtime should be set to give the child an adequate amount of sleep, even if he or she doesn’t fall asleep right away, he explained.

The report was published recently in the journal Sleep.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has more on children and sleep.

Ring in the New Year Resolved to Improve Your Health

If you’re thinking about making some health-related resolutions for 2019, the American Medical Association (AMA) has some suggestions.

“This is the perfect time of year for each of us to consider our personal goals, and how we can make positive health choices in the coming year,” said AMA President Dr. Barbara McAneny.

“We encourage everyone to prioritize their long-term health by making small lifestyle changes now that can have a lasting effect in improving their health,” she added in an AMA news release.

The association offers some tips that can make a big difference in your health:

  • Learn your risk for type 2 diabetes: Take a self-screening test at DoIHavePrediabetes.org. If you’re at risk, the website lists steps that can help you prevent or delay development of the blood sugar disease.
  • Get regular exercise: Adults should get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity.
  • Know your blood pressure: Get high blood pressure under control to help prevent heart attack or stroke.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Cut down on processed foods, especially those with added salt and sugar, as well as sugar-sweetened beverages. Drink more water.
  • Help prevent antibiotic resistance: If you’re prescribed antibiotics, take them exactly as directed. Remember: Antibiotics aren’t effective against viruses, including those that cause colds and flu.
  • Limit alcohol and tobacco: If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation — no more than one drink a day for women and two for men. If you use tobacco, talk to your doctor about quitting.
  • Be careful with painkillers: If you’re prescribed opioid pain medications, follow your doctor’s instructions, store them safely, and properly dispose of unused pills to prevent misuse or theft.
  • Immunize: Be sure everyone in your family is up to date on vaccinations, including the annual flu shot for everyone 6 months or older.
  • Control stress: Healthy eating and regular exercise can help maintain good mental health, but seek help from a friend or professional if you need it.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on healthy living.

Dial Down the Stress

Stress and uncertainty plague many Americans, but there are a number of steps you can take to cope, a psychiatrist suggests.

“In this day and age of ‘digital’ perfection, the stress of daily living can take a toll on our health, causing anxiety and depression, leading to relationship difficulties, problems at work, and the feeling that you have little control over your life,” said Dr. Smita Agarkar. She is chief at the Crisis Stabilization Unit at Gracie Square Hospital in New York City.

“The good news is that there are many effective ways to manage and reduce stress,” she added.

Be mindful or aware of your feelings. Try to be compassionate towards yourself, accept the current situation, and let it go. There are many exercises for mindfulness.

Keep a stress diary. It can help you identify when and why stress strikes, so that you can focus your efforts on managing stress, according to Agarkar.

Regular exercise helps improve your ability to fight stress. After stressful events, eat healthful, well-balanced meals and get enough rest and sleep. Don’t turn to drugs, alcohol or compulsive behaviors, such as eating, to combat stress.

Set limits and learn to say no to things that cause you stress. Make time for hobbies, interests and relaxation, and spend time with people you enjoy. Consider joining a support group.

If stress and anxiety become too much to handle on your own, get professional help, Agarkar said. Therapy and medications can help.

“While living through difficult times, a can-do attitude toward happiness can help,” Agarkar said. “No one should let stress and anxiety take over their lives. It’s important to be aware of your own feelings, and vigilant about friends and loved ones. Take steps to manage and relieve stress, and seek out professional help if necessary.”

More information

The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has more on managing stress.

Can You Predict Your Common Cold Risk?

How highly you rate your health could predict how likely you are to catch a cold — and, even more important, how healthy you’ll be in later years.

Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh asked 360 healthy adults to rate their health as excellent, very good, good, fair or poor — and then exposed them to a virus that causes the common cold.

Overall, about one-third developed colds. While none said “poor” and only a few said “fair,” those who rated their health as “fair,” “good” or even “very good” were more than twice as likely to develop a cold as those who described it as “excellent.”

What makes people give themselves a high health rating independent of indicators like their medical records or a doctor evaluation? Such factors include following positive lifestyle habits like regular exercise, having a strong social network and feeling a high level of emotional well-being. People who fit the bill are less likely to get sick and more likely to live longer, the researchers found.

Conversely, people who think of their health as poor tend to have a poor health trajectory as they age.

On the subject of warding off the common cold, a separate study done at Carnegie Mellon along with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco found that just one extra hour of sleep can make a difference. Sleeping less than six hours a night makes you four times more likely to catch a cold than people who get more than seven hours. Sleepless than five hours and you’re four and a half times more likely to be felled by a cold, the researchers reported.

The bottom line? Start taking steps to boost your health today … and make the first one getting a better night’s sleep.

More information

Need a refresher course on other ways to avoid the common cold? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tips that will help.

Is Your State a Hotspot for Obesity-Linked Cancers?

What state you call home may have a great deal to do with your chances of developing obesity-related cancer, a new report suggests.

A nearly twofold difference exists between U.S. states with the highest and lowest proportion of obesity-related cancers, American Cancer Society researchers have found.

The highest is in the District of Columbia, at 8 percent, and the lowest in Hawaii, at nearly 6 percent. Being obese or overweight has been tied to 13 types of cancer.

“The proportion of cancers attributable to [excess body weight] varies among states, but [excess body weight] accounts for at least one in 17 of all incident cancers in each state,” the researchers reported.

For the study, a team led by Dr. Farhad Islami calculated the proportion of cancer among obese or overweight people. Islami is the cancer society’s scientific director of surveillance research.

Participants in the study were aged 30 and older between 2011 and 2015, and lived in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.

Among men, the investigators found a range of cancer attributable to excess weight from nearly 4 percent in Montana to 6 percent in Texas.

For women, the risk of cancers linked to excess weight was about twice as high as in men. It ranged from 7 percent in Hawaii to 11 percent in the District of Columbia, the findings showed.

States in the South and Midwest had the largest proportion of people with weight-related cancers, as well as Alaska and the District of Columbia, the researchers found.

Cancers linked to weight were at different levels across the country. For example, cases of endometrial cancer ranged from about 37 percent in Hawaii to 55 percent in Mississippi, and reached 50 percent or more in 19 states.

“Broad implementation of known community- and individual-level interventions is needed to reduce access to and marketing of unhealthy foods (e.g., through a tax on sugary drinks) and to promote and increase access to healthy foods and physical activity, as well as preventive care,” Islami’s team concluded in a cancer society news release.

The report was published online Dec. 27 in the journal JAMA Oncology.

More information

For more on weight and cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.

Food Brings Double Dose of Pleasure to Your Brain

There may be a powerful reason why you can’t resist that plate of brownies.

It turns out that eating causes the release of dopamine in your brain not once, but twice, German scientists report.

First, the feel-good hormone is unleashed as you eat. But the same thing happens again once that food hits your tummy, they said.

To come to that conclusion, researchers used a newly developed PET scan technique. Scans let them identify when dopamine is released, as well as the areas of the brain linked to dopamine release.

“While the first release occurred in brain regions associated with reward and sensory perception, the post-ingestive release involved additional regions related to higher cognitive functions,” said senior study author Marc Tittgemeyer, from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne.

For the study, 12 volunteers received either a milkshake or a tasteless solution as PET scan data was recorded.

The researchers found that the desire for the milkshake was linked to the amount of dopamine released in particular brain areas as it was first tasted. But the higher the desire, the less dopamine was released after the milkshake was ingested.

The report was published Dec. 27 in the journal Cell Metabolism.

“On one hand, dopamine release mirrors our subjective desire to consume a food item. On the other hand, our desire seems to suppress gut-induced dopamine release,” said lead author Heiko Backes, group leader for Multimodal Imaging of Brain Metabolism at the Institute.

Backes added that suppression of dopamine being released upon ingestion could cause overeating of desired foods.

“We continue to eat until sufficient dopamine was released,” he said in a journal news release. But this hypothesis needs to be tested in further studies.

More information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more on healthy eating.