Why Cardio is Worth More Than a Workout

The internet is the unwitting vehicle for a lot of misconceptions about cardiovascular exercises. A particularly damaging one is this frequent retort of many iron pumping worshippers: “Cardio kills gains, man!”

This myth has been demystified several times, but it still keeps doing the rounds of body-building forums and gym locker rooms. Added to the idea that cardio lessens muscle tone is the notion that you need cardio only when you wish to lose weight. This is not just untrue, but also undermines a lot of the work researchers and doctors have put in studying and understanding the benefits of cardiovascular activity.

Our goal is to not only clear cardio’s name but also prove to you that it can be one of the most effective weapons in your fight for a healthy body and a happy mind. Here are four reasons why cardio is worth more than just the calories you expend while doing it.

Cardio Helps the Body Heal
Inflammation is a natural part of the body’s healing process, but not all inflammation is good. The inflammation accompanying rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, is just pointlessly painful.

A recent research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that even low-to-moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise was far better for inflammation than resistance training. The best results could probably be achieved through a combination of resistance training and aerobics, but this study validates much of what cardio-bunnies have been saying for ages: cardio helps alleviate pain.

Cardio is Good for the Heart
This should be a no-brainer. It is in the name, after all! Not to mention the fact that doctors have been telling us this for ages.

But the shrouds of misinformation have muffled these well-meaning voices too. The heart is one of the hardest working organs of our body. Exercising it the right way improves its endurance by strengthening it and also reducing the bad cholesterol that impedes its work.  This effect might not feel as immediate and palpable as seeing your “guns” pop out, but it is equally important.

Cardio Helps with Depression and Anxiety
Anecdotally, cardio lifts your mood –  the runner’s high is not a wishful myth. But it has proven to have a deeper positive effect for people suffering from depression and generalized anxiety disorder when used in conjunction with the relevant medication.

While the exact pathways are unclear, researchers say this improvement could be the result of an increase in the levels of endorphins or neurotransmitters.

Cardio Improves Bone Health
Research has shown that rigorous and regular weight-bearing exercises like walking, running, and resistance training have a marked effect on bone tissue, both strengthening and reinforcing it.

Bone health is crucial for higher quality of life. Cardio also helps maintain higher than average bone-mass throughout life, preventing early onset of osteoporosis and other bone-related diseases.

The results of any physical activity are optimized by knowing and adhering to best-practices, also remember that your cardio routine should not be a static thing. You should plan to diversify your routine by incorporating different varieties and intensities of the exercise. But be assured that any well-planned cardio routine will keep you strong, lithe, and healthy.

The Princely Benefits of Fresh Air

While we grew up frolicking through fields, swinging at the park and cruising along on our bikes, as adults, many of us spend most of our time indoors. But all of those hours spent outside were actually good for more than using up our unlimited childhood energy.

Even though it doesn’t take Einstein to know that fresh air is good for the health, science has some solid evidence about the benefits of a lung full of fresh air.

A Breath of Fresh Air

People often tend to forget about the importance of spending time outside and underestimate the health benefits it brings along. If you are spending most of your time inside an air-conditioned office or home, you are forcing your body to use stale air. By doing so, you are making it harder for your body to stay healthy and fresh.

Breathing polluted air makes the body work harder to get the oxygen it needs, so individuals with high blood pressure benefit from avoiding unclean environment. White blood cells need oxygen to fight bacteria and kill harmful germs. 20 percent of the body’s oxygen is dedicated to helping boost brain activity. Fresh air assists in clearer thinking and improved concentration. It helps airways in the lungs dilate fully and expel airborne toxins.

The Best Medicine

High oxygen levels in the body have also been shown to prevent cancer and decrease the growth rate of cancer cells. Indoor and outdoor air differs in quality. Indoors, there is a higher concentration of pollutants, so unless the air is regularly exchanged, it lacks the freshness needed to benefit the body.

Breathing fresh air increases the efficiency of body reactions and is a key component in getting a good night’s sleep. And while it is important to hit the outdoors within the city you live in, spending some time outside of the city can give some bonus points to your life.

Fresh Air for Digestion

Fresh air helps in food digestion. That is why it is advised to take a small walk outside after meals. From all the health benefits of fresh air, this one is really important if weight loss is your agenda.

Improves Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

If you have a problem with high blood pressure you should avoid polluted environments and try to stay in surroundings that have a good supply of fresh air. Dirty environment forces the body to work harder to get the amount of oxygen it needs.

Happier Personality

The amount of serotonin in the body depends on the amount of oxygen inhaled. Serotonin can significantly lighten your mood and promote a sense of happiness and well-being. Fresh air will leave you feeling more refreshed and relaxed.

Strengthens Your Immune System

White blood cells kill and fight bacteria and germs. They need enough oxygen to work and function properly.

Cleaner Lungs

Fresh air helps the airways of your lungs to dilate fully and improve the cleansing action of your lungs. When you exhale and breathe out through your lungs, you release airborne toxins from your body.

More Energy and a Sharper Mind

Fresh air helps you think better and increases energy levels. Your brain needs twenty percent of the body’s oxygen. More oxygen brings greater clarity to the brain, improves your concentration, helps you to think more clearly, and has a positive effect on your energy level.

So, leave the closed confines of your air-conditioned home and workspace behind once a while, head out into the wild and take a few fresh breaths every now and then.

Neck Exercises for the Workplace

When you’re working in an office all day, it can be hard to hit the gym for a workout session. Sometimes, this lack of movement can have negative effects on the neck, back, legs, eyes and arms. Short bouts of aerobics, strength exercises, and stretching in between conference calls and Skype chats can help improve fitness levels and heart health.

Here are some neck exercises you can do at your workplace and get rid of that nagging ache.

Shoulder Movement

Apart from giving that occasional shrug to your colleague’s question at work, there is not much shoulder movement that any of us do in the course of a normal workday. But many of us carry our heavy laptop bags on the shoulder every day to work and back home, which may cause shoulder strain. This is an easy to do exercise and does not require much effort.

You may either stand up for a moment or if you are in a comfortable position, where your hands and legs are relaxed, you can continue sitting while doing this exercise.

  • Place your hands on the desk, parallel to each other.
  • Move your shoulder in a circular motion.
  • Do two sets clockwise and two anti-clockwise.

Chin Roll

Along with your back, your neck is the worst hit body part while you sit in a crouched position on your desk. To relax your neck and give it a break from that dropped position, do the following.

  • Gently drop your neck to feel a stretch at the back of your neck, and close your eyes.
  • Place your hands in the same position- on your desk, parallel to each other, with palms facing the table.
  • Gently move your neck to create a circle with your chin.
  • Two sets clockwise and two sets anti-clockwise.

Side Neck Movement

This is one of our favourite exercises while on my desk. Few things give more relief than the diagonal neck drop.

  • Relax your shoulders
  • Bring your hands closer to your body and take a deep breath
  • Gently drop your neck on the left shoulder to feel a subtle pull or stretch on your right
  • Repeat the same by slowly dropping your neck on the right, to feel a gentle stretch on your left
  • While performing this exercise, you need to take it slow and ensure that you don’t sit with ‘drooped’ or ‘dropped’ shoulders.

Up and Down

You look down in desperation and up for help! But here we’ll be looking both up and down for help. Again, while performing this exercise, you need to be very gentle on yourself and not rush through it.

  • Move a little away from your desk.
  • Place your hands on your lap, with palms facing downwards. This helps give your shoulder a comfortable position and back is relaxed too.
  • Slowly drop your neck to feel a stretch or pull at the back.
  • Lift your chin until when your neck appears to lie in between the shoulders and gives you a gentle stretch in the front.

What is Anxiety, and How Do You Treat it?

Anxiety is not an unknown phenomenon in today’s world, where everyone and everything is focused on achievement at all costs. Lucky is the person who remains untouched by the haunts of anxiety.

Most of us have had those sleepless nights before an exam that we weren’t well prepared for, or felt down in the dumps on what felt like the worst day of our lives. But the question remains, is it normal to feel this way? Or is it a psychological disorder?

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome. It is the human body’s natural response to danger, an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, are under pressure or face a stressful situation.

Causes of Anxiety

We are all aware of the butterflies that flutter in our stomach at the thought of taking an exam, attending an interview, starting a new job, moving away from home, having a baby, or before any event that tends to have a big impact on our lives.

Different people have different anxiety triggers. Even though anxiety is a normal human condition, it’ is sometimes hard to know when a normal feeling is turning into a bigger problem. Remember, if your anxiety is very high, or the feeling lasts for a long time, it can signify something larger than a temporary feeling.

You might find yourself worrying all the time, perhaps about things that are a regular part of everyday life, or about things that aren’t likely to happen – or even worrying about worrying.

There are chances that you might regularly experience unpleasant physical and psychological effects of anxiety and may face panic attacks. However, depending on the kind of problems you experience, an expert might have given a diagnosis of a specific type of anxiety disorder.

Anxiety Symptoms

Depending on the type of anxiety disorder, the following are some general symptoms you may face:

  • Panic, fear, and uneasiness
  • Concentration issues
  • Sleep problems
  • Feeling tense and jumpy
  • Anticipating the worst
  • Cold, sweaty hands or feet
  • Breathlessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Watching for signs of danger
  • Not being able to be still and calm
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Stomach upset or dizziness
  • Frequent urination or diarrhoea
  • Tremors and twitches
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperventilation
  • Hot flashes or chills
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or stomach cramps
  • Feeling detached or unreal

Types of Anxiety Disorders

Different people suffer from different anxiety disorders. Some common ones include:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): It is a condition wherein a person feels anxious on most days, worrying about health, money, family, work or school, but they have trouble both identifying the specific fear and controlling the worries for a period of six months or more. Their fear is usually unrealistic or out of proportion with what may be expected in their situation. Those suffering expect failure and disaster to the point that it interferes with daily functions like work, school, social activities, and relationships.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A person has ongoing unwanted/intrusive thoughts and fears that cause anxiety. Although the person may acknowledge these thoughts as silly, they often try to relieve their anxiety by carrying out certain behaviours or rituals. For example, a fear of germs and contamination can lead to constant washing of hands and clothes.
  • Panic Disorder: This is a type of anxiety characterized by brief or sudden attacks of intense terror and apprehension that leads to shivers, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and difficulty in breathing. Panic attacks tend to rise abruptly and peak after 10 minutes, but they may last for hours. Panic disorders usually occur after frightening experiences or prolonged stress, but they can be spontaneous as well.
  • Specific phobias: A person feels very fearful about a particular object or situation and may go to great lengths to avoid it, for example, being administered an injection or travelling on a plane. There are many different types of phobias.

How to Treat Anxiety
Panic attacks and panic disorder are curable conditions. Any person suffering from these disorders can be effectively treated with self-help strategies or a series of therapy sessions.

Self-help: There are various changes you can make to your life to help reduce feelings of anxiety. Doing some regular physical activity, cutting down on caffeine and eating a healthy diet can also come handy. Learning some relaxation techniques or reading self-help books may improve your symptoms too.

It might also help to contact and talk to other people who have anxiety disorders through charities and patient groups. They may be going through something similar to you and be a good source of support and advice.

TIP:  Avoid smoking and caffeine; learn how to control your breathing; Practice relaxation techniques; meditate on a regular basis.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy: This is generally viewed as the most effective form of treatment for panic attacks, panic disorder, and agoraphobia. It focuses on the thinking patterns and behaviours that are sustaining or triggering the panic attacks. It helps you look at your fears in a more realistic light.

With these approaches and the support of family, friends, and medical professionals you’ll be able to tackle the root cause of your anxiety and begin to live worry-free.

5 Yoga Poses for a Leaner You

Strength training and cardio do wonders when it comes to weight loss and body toning. But what if you could get the benefits of both in one place?

This is where yoga steps in. The style of Vinyasa, or flow yoga, gives you the benefit of both strength training and a cardio workout. The fast-paced transitions get your heart rate up, and when you hold the poses for at least 60 seconds, you will feel the burn and reap the advantages of strength training.

Here are five poses that you could practice daily to gift yourself a leaner, toned body!

Utkatasana – The Chair Pose

It works on your core, arms, back, legs, and glutes. All you have to do is to sit on that imaginary chair.

  • Stand with your feet together. Let the hands rest on your waist, fingers pointing toward your chest. Inhale, and as you exhale, engage your core and thigh muscles.
  • Take a short inhalation and while breathing out, push your hips back and sit as if there is a chair. Stack your knees over your ankles in such a way that your toes are visible.
  • Pull your navel towards your spine and angle your torso slightly forward to lengthen your spine. Take a breath in through your nose and swing your arms over your head, aligning them with your ears.

Initially, you might find it tough to bring your thighs parallel to the floor but just aim for that. If you have a knee injury, keep your hips slightly higher.

Do not forget to breathe as you hold the pose. Start with 7 seconds and increase the time to 2 minutes.

Want to deepen this pose? Lift your heels off the floor and balance yourself on the balls of your feet.

Trikonasana – The Triangle Pose

This pose works on the entire body. Along with burning fat from your love handles and abdomen, it tones up the thighs and calves. Just make sure that you are lengthening the spine as you get into the posture.

  • Keep a micro-bend in your front knee, if you have any injuries.
  • From Utkatasana, inhale and straighten your legs and release your arms on either side. Exhale and step your left feet about 3 feet away from your right feet. Let the left toes point sideways. Keep the hips squared to the front. Inhale and stretch the hands at shoulder level. With the next exhalation, lean to your left and bend, moving the left hand towards the floor.
  • Let the right hand and chest open to the ceiling. Allow your left hand to rest inside your left foot. Straighten your tailbone and keep your core engaged. Keep the knees should be straight. Fix your gaze on the ceiling.
  • The aim is to open the chest to the ceiling. So, if you are not able to touch the floor, it is fine. Rest your palm against the shin of your calf.
  • Hold the posture for five deep breaths. Inhale and come up with the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Aim to hold for 60 seconds to feel the burn.
  • Deepen: Try coming into a bind. Bend your front leg. Bring your bottom arm through under the knee of the front leg. Place the top arm behind your back so that your chest opens up. Clasp the fingers.

Padangushtasana – Hand to Big Toe Pose

Stress is a major culprit when it comes to obesity, especially around the abdominal area. This pose helps to relieve stress and helps tone your abdomen, calves, and thighs.

  • Join your feet after your complete Trikonasana, and separate them as wide as your hips. Inhale and swing your arms over your head. As you breathe out, fold forward from your hips.
  • Rest your abdomen on your thighs. If your abdomen is not on your thighs, keep your knees bent, Hold the big toes of your legs with your thumb, index, and middle fingers. The thumb should rest on top of your big toe.
  • Inhale and look up, lifting your chest up. With the next exhalation, bend forward completely, pushing your hips up and lengthening your spine. Bend your elbows to the sides to create length in the spine.
  • Hold the posture for five breaths.
  • Deepen: Place your palms beneath your feet in such a way that your toes are resting on your wrists. Repeat the rest as mentioned above.

Navasana – Boat Pose

Tone your core and strengthen your abdominal area with this powerful pose.

  • With the last exhalation in Padangushtasna, release your arms and legs. Sit down and stretch out the legs. Take an inhalation and lengthen your spine. As you exhale, lean slightly backward and lift your legs away from the floor.
  • Engage your core muscles and roll your thighs inward. Balance yourself on your hips. Align your torso and legs at an angle of 45 degrees for the best benefits. Lift your hands parallel to the floor.
  • Engaging the navel in, hold the posture for five deep breaths.
  • Keep your knees bent till your core becomes stable.
  • Deepen: Do a Boat Vinyasa alternating between low and high boat. Exhale and lower your torso so that lower backrests on the floor while the chest is still up. Lower the legs and feel your lower abs reacting! Hold for five breaths before coming back into the Paripurna Navasana. Repeat three times.

Paschimottanasana – Seated Forward Bend

This pose massages your abdomen and spine while stretching your hamstrings and calves. Here too, ensure that your spine is long and not rounded. Use a cushion to lift your hips slightly up to prevent the spine from rounding.

  • On the final exhalation in Navasana, slowly release your legs and arms.
  • Stretch the legs out and sit with the spine straight. Inhale and sweep your hands above your head. Exhale and bend forward from the hips and hold the feet with your hands.  Keep the knees slightly bent so avoid exertion on the spine. Let the headrest close to the shin. Hold the posture for five deep breaths.
  • Inhale and release your arms and legs from Paschimottanasana. Shake out the legs and arms to relax. Take five deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. This breathing exercise will help you repeat the sequence one more time.

Aim to exercise at least five times a week. Along with exercise, a healthy, balanced diet, 8 hours of sleep, and 2 litres of water a day will gift you your dream body.

Unable to Focus? Meditation May Be the Key!

If you often find yourself easily distracted, unable to focus, or rapidly flipping between several tasks at once, you’re not alone. Experts say that our ability to concentrate is at an all-time low, with many studies blaming social media, fast-paced TV shows, and increasing pressure to multi-task.

How Bad Is It?

One study found that we might have a worse attention span than the lowly goldfish, with UK paper The Telegraph reporting that “[r]esearchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms. The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds.”

The attention span of the average goldfish? Nine seconds.

Why Does Focus Matter?

Being able to focus and concentrate on the task at hand is a vital skill, one that will serve you in virtually every aspect of your life, including your education, career, and personal relationships.

Huffington Post reports on research from Neuroscientist Russel Podrack, which found that our memory function suffers when distracted. The article explains, “[o]ur short-term, or working memory can’t handle too many bits of information, and it can only hold information for about 10 seconds. If you overload this short-term memory by responding to a text…you will interrupt the flow of information from your working memory to the long-term memory area of your brain, where copious amounts of data are stored, processed, and made ready for retrieval by your conscious mind”.

Essentially, a lack of focus means that your brain will be unable to transfer information from your short-term memory to long-term memory. There’s not much use learning someone you won’t be able to remember later!

How to Increase Focus with Meditation

Most advice about how to increase your mental focus includes meditation because its one of the best tools to retrain your brain.

Fast Company reports, “[a] study from Emory University found that 20 minutes of daily meditation is associated with activity and connectivity changes in the region of the brain that controls attention, allowing you to disengage from distraction”.

Research also shows that increasing your ability to focus through meditation can do far more than just help you learn and retain information. A study by Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni demonstrates that those who meditate regularly are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, explaining “by controlling the brain regions responsible for letting the mind wander to gloomy thoughts, someone with the blues may be able to keep their mind trained on the positive.”

If you’re looking to improve your focus, a daily meditation practice is one of the best ways to go about it.

Mental Muscles

As you embark upon your meditation journey in search of increased focus and improved concentration, it’s important to be patient with yourself.

Think of your mental focus as a muscle that you’ve allowed to atrophy over the course of years (sometimes decades) of distraction. It’ll take some time to strengthen it again, too! Begin small with two minutes of meditation each day, and slowly work up to twenty minutes.

Over time, meditation will become less of a struggle for your distracted mind, and you will be able to regain control over your focus – lengthening your attention span, improving concentration, and eventually far outperforming that little goldfish.

How to Get Started on a Basic Meditation Routine

You may have read about the benefits of meditation or had a friend tell you how great it makes them feel. Yet despite the incredible things you keep hearing about this ancient practice – the increased sense of calm lowered blood pressure, and decreased stress levels – you still haven’t tried it yet.

Perhaps it seems too daunting to sit in silence for so long. Perhaps you’re confused about what exactly you’re supposed to be doing while meditating. I mean, is it really as simple as just sitting there and breathing?

We know how intimidating it can be to begin a mindfulness-based habit like this – it’s not exactly something you can learn by watching someone else! Nonetheless, the benefits to your physical and mental wellbeing can be incredibly powerful, so it’s definitely worth doing.

To help you learn this habit, we’ve put together a simple guide to meditation: how to get started, what to do, and how to know if it’s working.

Let’s begin!

What Is Meditation?

Human beings have practised meditation for thousands of years and it seems like there are just as many books written about the topic. The scope of information can be a bit overwhelming when you’re new to it but at its core, meditation can be summed up with one word: awareness.

During a meditation practice, your goal is to simply become aware. Aware of your breath, aware of your thoughts, aware of any feelings or discomfort or frustrations. Your goal is to imagine yourself as an impassive, impartial observer, not getting attached or involved with your thoughts, but instead imagining them as clouds drifting through a sky. Just notice them and let them pass.

How to Meditate

Although there are special meditation cushions and pillows available for purchase, you really don’t need any particular equipment to meditate, just yourself and the willingness to learn a new skill.

Here are five steps to starting a meditation practice, adapted from Leo Babatua’s Meditation Guide at Zen Habits.

  1. First, find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. It helps if you wear loose clothing that won’t bind, dig in, or restrict your body at all. A quiet place may help you focus, especially as a beginner.
  2. Sit cross-legged or lie down in a neutral position (on your back with your arms at your sides).
  3. Start to bring your awareness to your breath. Don’t change your breathing, just notice it. Notice what parts of your body move as you breathe, anywhere you’re holding tension in your body, and how your breath feels as you continue to inhale and exhale.
  4. Continue breathing. Some find that it’s easier to maintain focus if you count your breaths – “one” as you breathe in, “two” as you breathe out, and so on. Start over each time you reach ten.
  5. As you sit, your mind will want to wander. This is normal! Our minds like to be busy and we’re used to constant distraction and stimulation. It can be really hard to simply sit with our thoughts and not try to avoid them, indulge them, or follow them. But this is your goal! Simply count your breaths. In and out.  In and out.When you noticed that your mind has wandered away from your breath, just smile and bring it back. Do this as many times as necessary.

Start Small

In the beginning, aim to meditate for just 2 minutes a day. This seems like a really short length of time, and it is, but it can also feel like an eternity when you’re trying to calm a wild and easily distracted mind. It’s important, to begin with small, easily achievable goals in order to establish a solid habit.

As you progress, add a minute or two to your meditations each week, until you reach twenty minutes at a time.

Is It Working?

The benefits of meditation have been well-researched, and include:

  • Reduced stress
  • Increased sense of wellbeing
  • Increased empathy
  • Improved focus
  • Improved relationships
  • Increased creativity
  • Improved memory
  • Improved decision-making ability
  • Better addiction recovery
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • Enhanced immune system
  • Reduced physical and mental pain

But despite this laundry list of positive side-effects, it can be hard to know if you’re doing it “right”, especially in the beginning. And since meditation is so private and subjective, many of us struggle with determining whether or not we’re “succeeding” at meditation.

If you are really struggling, however, feel free to switch up the style of meditation. If you find that concentrating on your breath is too challenging, for example, try repeating a mantra. If a mantra feels strange to repeat, perhaps a guided meditation would benefit you better.  

As David Ferguson said in an article about meditation, “The only way to get it wrong is if you’re not trying”.   

The Journey

When you begin to meditate, it can feel like you’re not doing anything at all. After you’ve adopted the habit of meditating for twenty minutes a day, however, you may slowly notice its benefits showing up in your life. And when you’ve been meditating for years, you will likely find yourself wondering how you ever did without it.  

Meditation is one of the few things in this world that is truly universally accessible. A regular meditation practice has benefitted the old, the young, the wealthy, the impoverished, the incarcerated, top athletes, and even those with chronic illness and disability. 

Will you allow it to benefit you, too?

Omega-3s in Seafood May Keep You Healthier, Longer

Tuna, salmon, mackerel, cod: Whatever your preference, eating more seafood may help you stay healthy as you age, new research suggests.

In a study spanning 22 years, researchers found that higher blood levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood were associated with a better chance of healthy aging.

The study involved more than 2,600 U.S. adults participating in a major study of heart health. Participants averaged 74 years of age at the start of the study.

“Healthy aging” was defined as growing older with good physical and mental function and without major chronic diseases. Only 11 percent of people in the study achieved that goal, noted a team led by Heidi Lai of the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

The study wasn’t designed to prove cause and effect. However, after accounting for lifestyle and other factors, Lai’s team found that people with the highest blood levels of seafood-derived omega-3 fatty acids had a 24 percent lower risk of aging in an unhealthy way, compared to those with the lowest levels.

The report was published Oct. 17 in the BMJ.

The beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acids derived from seafood didn’t seem to fade over the more than two decades of the study, the researchers noted in a journal news release.

The findings “support guidelines for increased dietary consumption of fish among older adults,” Lai’s group concluded.

Two experts in aging and nutrition weren’t surprised by the findings.

“Omega-3 fatty acids are now generally recognized as key nutrients in the prevention of pathological conditions associated to the aging process,” noted Melanie Boehmer, a registered dietitian at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

The nutrients “positively affect risk factors associated with heart disease and have a neuroprotective effect on people suffering from dementia and other age-related mental decline, including Alzheimer’s disease,” Boehmer said. “They also reduce system-wide inflammation and support healthy bones and joints.”

Dr. Maria Torroella Carney directs geriatric medicine at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y. She said the new study helps “clarify” a key ingredient in maintaining health with age.

Still, more study is needed to sort out whether “elevated levels of fatty acids [in the blood] are due to diet alone or there is another factor that impacts having higher levels,” Carney said.

In the meantime, Boehmer advised, it can’t hurt to take in more omega-3s.

“Getting them from whole foods, such as wild Alaskan salmon or other oily fish (3.5-ounce serving) at least two times per week is a good start,” Boehmer said. “And if you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish — or fish at all — talk to your friendly neighborhood dietitian about taking an omega-3 supplement.”

More information

The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion outlines how to protect your health as you age.

AHA: Why It’s So Hard to Quit Smoking

The science behind why it’s so difficult to quit smoking is crystal clear: Nicotine is addictive — reportedly as addictive as cocaine or heroin.

Yet any adult can stroll into a drug store and buy a pack of cigarettes, no questions asked.

“From a scientific standpoint, nicotine is just as hard, or harder, to quit than heroin but people don’t recognize that,” said Dr. Neil Benowitz, a nicotine researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

Smoking is the world’s leading preventable cause of death. More than 1.1 billion people worldwide smoke, according to the World Health Organization. And more are continually joining the ranks. Every day in the U.S. alone, more than 3,200 youth 18 and younger smoke their first cigarette, while another 2,100 youth and young adults move from smoking occasionally to having a daily habit.

In 1964, the U.S. surgeon general’s famous report, “Smoking and Health,” linked smoking to cancer. Two decades later in 1988, another landmark surgeon general’s report on nicotine addiction declared nicotine to be as addictive as cocaine or heroin.

“Every drug of abuse, including nicotine, releases dopamine, which makes it pleasurable to use,” said Benowitz. “And when you stop smoking, you have a deficiency of dopamine release, which causes a state of dysphoria: you feel anxious or depressed.”

Nicotine also acts as a stimulant, said Benowitz. “It helps people concentrate, and if they don’t have a cigarette, they have trouble focusing.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration intends to implement new rules that would reduce the level of nicotine in tobacco products to “minimally addictive” or “non-addictive” levels. It’s not clear when the FDA will issue its new ruling.

Benowitz said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the FDA will force tobacco companies to make cigarettes non-addictive. “If they did, I think that would really be the end of the cigarette epidemic,” he said.

Meanwhile, debate rages over increasingly popular e-cigarettes, which are marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. E-cigarette vapor doesn’t contain as many toxic chemicals as the smoke from regular cigarettes. However, most e-cigarettes contain nicotine and some deliver dangerous chemicals such as formaldehyde.

Critics of e-cigarettes complain that makers are marketing them to youth by selling them in a variety of kid-friendly flavors, from pizza to cookies-and-cream.

“We still need a lot of studies on all of these chemicals,” Benowitz said. “E-cigarettes may pose some harms we don’t yet know about.”

Many people find they are unable to stop smoking on their own. Benowitz said nicotine patches, nicotine gum and smoking-withdrawal medications are all proven ways to increase a person’s odds of quitting. Support groups and quit lines can also help.

Gary A. Giovino, a nicotine researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo, said as helpful as medication can be, people who really want to quit smoking also have to be willing to modify their lifestyle.

“People need to focus on behavioral change …, they need the right skills and knowledge and social support. They need a plan,” said Giovino, a professor and chair of his school’s Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, who quit smoking 40 years ago.

Giovino said good nutrition may be an important factor in helping people quit. He hopes to launch a study that will look at whether there is a correlation between smokers’ vitamin D levels and their ability to stop smoking. He said he’d also like to see researchers explore whether plant-based diets, B vitamins and hydration impact nicotine addiction.

Giovino advises people to tap into the “mind-body connection” and try yoga and deep breathing techniques to help them quit. “After a meal, instead of taking a long breath on a cigarette, (a smoker could) try taking a long, deep breath and exhale without the 7,000 chemicals,” he said.

It’s also important for those who have decided to quit to prepare themselves for how difficult it will be, Giovino said.

“There’s this real roller-coaster ride of not feeling well and being irritable and having cravings,” he said. “The first few days might be very intense, then it might level off and come back again. But the longer you’re off cigarettes, the more your brain goes through the process of neural adaptation, the more you recover. And eventually, the ride subsides.”

Take 10 for Mindfulness

Feel yourself being pulled in a million directions and losing track of what’s really important? The meditative practice called mindfulness can help you get centered and re-focus on what’s meaningful to you.

And it doesn’t take time that’s already in short supply on your busy schedule. You can reap the benefits in less time than it takes for a coffee break.

Mindfulness shows you how to block out distractions and replace stress and other negative emotions with a sense of well-being. You accomplish this by focusing on the here-and-now — your present thoughts and feelings, not past concerns or future worries. You also learn to accept these thoughts and feelings without passing judgment on them, such as labeling them as good or bad, right or wrong.

Practicing mindfulness is easier than you might think. At the start of each day, you might take 10 minutes to do a few yoga stretches — yoga incorporates mindfulness because it teaches you to focus on your breathing as you move through poses.

Or spend 10 minutes at lunch or anytime during your workday to do a head-to-toe de-stress. Breathe in and out as you zero in on each part of your body, going from toes to the top of your head.

To unwind at night, consider more formal “guided” mindfulness, maybe with a podcast you can listen to through your smartphone. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free ones, starting at just 3 minutes long.

Who doesn’t have time for that?

More information

Learn more about mindfulness at the website of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.