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Health and Fitness

Health and Fitness, Stanford News, Videos

How social connection can improve physical and mental health

How social connection can improve physical and mental health

Past research has shown that a lack of social connection may be a greater detriment to a person’s health than obesity, smoking and high blood pressure. In this TEDxHayward video, Emma Seppala, PhD, associate director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, discusses these and other findings showing that maintaining strong social relationships can improve physical and mental health. Contrary to popular belief, she says, social connection has more to do with your subjective feeling of connection than how many friends you have.

Take a moment to watch the talk and learn how fostering compassion for others and yourself can increase social connection and, as a result, benefit your health.

Previously: How loneliness can impact the immune system, The scientific importance of social connections for your health and Elderly adults turn to social media to stay connected, stave off loneliness

Health and Fitness, In the News, Obesity, Public Health

In Boston, doctor’s orders may include discounted bike-share memberships

Some Boston docs are delivering a dose of preventive care the old-fashioned way. Encouraging physical exercise under the city’s new “Prescribe-a-Bike” program, physicians at Boston Medical Center can refer low-income patients to a $5 bike-share membership, complete with helmet.

Common Health reports:

“Obesity is a significant and growing health concern for our city, particularly among low-income Boston residents,” BMC President and CEO Kate Walsh said in a statement. “Regular exercise is key to combating this trend, and Prescribe-a-Bike is one important way our caregivers can help patients get the exercise they need to be healthy.”

Previously: A bike helmet that doubles as a stress-o-meter and Modest increases in bike ridership could yield major economic, health benefits

Health and Fitness, Health Disparities, Stanford News, Videos

AAMC’s Health Equity Research Snapshot features Stanford project on virtual health advisers

AAMC's Health Equity Research Snapshot features Stanford project on virtual health advisers

To improve public health, Stanford and academic medical centers around the country conduct research to identify solutions to systematic and preventable inequities in medicine and health care. A selection of these projects – including research led by Abby King, PhD, professor of health research and policy and of medicine – have been highlighted in the 2014 Health Equity Research Snapshot developed by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

King and colleague Timothy Bickmore, PhD, with Northeastern University, are conducting ongoing research examining how virtual advisers can promote physical activity regardless of individuals’ level of education or language. Findings  published last August demonstrated how individuals who participated in an exercise program guided by the online coach had an eight-fold increase in walking compared with those who did not. In the above video, King explains how virtual advisers can be as effective as their human counter parts in promoting regular physical activity and can reach far larger groups of people in a more cost effective way.

In addition to King’s video, the snapshot features six others produced by health-equity researchers and their teams that represent work on a wide array of health outcomes and populations. The AAMC initiative is intended to demonstrate how research at every stage – from basic discovery to community-based participatory research – can contribute to closing or narrowing gaps in heath and health care.

Previously: Help from a virtual friend goes a long way in boosting older adults’ physical activity
Video still in featured-entry box by Relational Agents Group, Northeastern University

Health and Fitness, In the News, Orthopedics, Stanford News

Watching your phone or tablet while working out may diminish form

Watching your phone or tablet while working out may diminish form

skeletonSnow White’s dwarves whistled while they worked. With the advent of the Walkman, runners could listen to music as they ran. Now, some people watch TV or movies on a mobile device while they hit the gym. Though all make a demanding physical task more entertaining, looking down at your smartphone in text-head position could harm your skeletal alignment, as Michael Fredericson, MD, professor of sports medicine at Stanford and team physician for several of the school’s sports teams, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle.

From the article:

Although [Frederickson's] in favor of anything that gets people to exercise more, he warns that running while you look down at a screen is poor form, and the distraction prevents you from focusing on your body.

“When you lean forward, you create an arch and hyperextension in your neck,” he says. “You may get a good cardio workout, but when you get off, you’ll be stiff in your upper body.”

Listening to music while you exercise might be a better option. Unlike TV or streaming video, many studies show that music can benefit a workout by distracting people from fatigue and elevating mood.

Fredericson said he even encourages people in his community running clinic to align their running cadence with songs that have 90 beats per minute. But he adds that the most serious runners, like those he works with on the Stanford track team, don’t train with media distractions. “They’re very focused on their bodies and the experience,” he said. “They have a goal in mind for every workout.”

Previously: Walking-and-texting impairs posture – and walking, and texting
Photo by Jim, the Photographer

Health and Fitness, Mental Health, Technology

A bike helmet that doubles as a stress-o-meter

A bike helmet that doubles as a stress-o-meter

bike_riderMany of those who ride their bike to work do so because of the health, financial and psychological benefits. While it’s clear that commuting on two wheels can help you stay fit and save money, a new high-tech helmet that measures brain activity shows bicycling may not be as stress-free as you believe.

The helmet, developed by the MIT MediaLab, is equipped with an LED display that lights up  green when you are calm, yellow when you are slightly irritated, and red when you are sleepy or anxious. If your stress level turns to panic, the lights flash red. The display is powered by built-in sensors and an electrode that translates electroencephalogram (EEG) feedback.

Dubbed MindRider, the latest version of the helmet maps your stress level to your route. Fast Company reports:

The first prototypes of the helmet just had colored lights, but the GPS adds new potential. “Now that it is a connected device, we definitely see its power in yielding insights over time,” [Arlene Ducao, a master's candidate at MIT's MediaLab] explains. “Urban and transportation planners can look at the data of many people and use that for transportation planning–things like bike lanes or bike-share programs.”

As a large group of people start to use the device, it can also be used for navigation. “You can access the data of others to help navigate you in a way that’s potentially less stressful, potentially more relaxing and more safe,” she says.

Previously: Now that’s using your head: Bike-helmet monitor alerts emergency contacts after a crash, University leaders raise awareness about the importance of bike helmets and Modest increases in bike ridership could yield major economic, health benefits
Photo by Roland Tanglao

Health and Fitness, Public Health, Research, Sports

Lingering effects of injuries sideline many former college athletes later in life

Lingering effects of injuries sideline many former college athletes later in life

basketball playerWhile playing sports in college, it wasn’t uncommon to see medical trainers tape up teammates’ bruised ribs or administer cortisone shots so that athletes wouldn’t have to sit out a game. I always felt fortunate that I suffered only a series of sprained ankles, but concern for my health grew after reading about new research showing that many college athletes are inactive later in late due to the long-term consequences of past injuries.

The study, which appears in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, examined more than 230 men and women who were former Division I athletes and 225 who didn’t play high-level sports in college. Individuals ranged from 40-65 years old. As reported in a recent Health Day story, the Indiana University researchers’ findings showed:

Former Division I athletes were more than twice as likely to have physical problems that limited their daily activities and exercise. Sixty-seven percent of these former athletes said they had suffered a major injury and 50 percent said they had chronic injuries during college, compared with 28 percent and 26 percent, respectively, among non-athletes.

The study also found that 70 percent of athletes said they had practiced or played with an injury, compared with 33 percent of non-athletes. Forty percent of athletes were diagnosed with osteoarthritis after college, compared with 24 percent of non-athletes.

Previous joint injuries may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis, the study authors said.

The former college athletes also had higher levels of depression, fatigue and poor sleep than non-athletes, according to the study, which was published recently in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Previously: Is repetitive heading in soccer a health hazard?, Study shows men, rather than women, may be more prone to ACL injuries and Researchers call for improvements to health screenings for female college athletes
Photo by K.M. Klemencic

Cardiovascular Medicine, Genetics, Health and Fitness, Men's Health, Stanford News

The ultramarathoner’s heart

The ultramarathoner's heart

Nuttall-trail 2-webThe manufacturer’s warranty on the human heart is about 100 years or 2.5 billion beats. But do ultra-long-distance runners void this warranty when they regularly run races of 50 to 100 miles?

This was the question at the top of my mind as I wrote a tall tale about Mike Nuttall, a visionary Silicon Valley product designer and an ultramarathoner with hereditary heart disease, featured in the cardiovascular health issue of Stanford Medicine. In 2010 he had a heart attack and a triple bypass operation. Then he went on to run one of the most challenging races on the planet.

Was this fearlessness or folly?

An ultramarathoner pushes a body to its outer limits. Bones and joints are pounded. Dehydration can upset the electrolyte system, the delicate balance of salts and fluids that regulates heart, nerve and muscle functions. The heart, the ultramarathoner of organs, goes into overdrive for about 24 hours. But above all, an ultramarathon tests the mind, as a runner strives to override the brain’s overwhelming signals of pain and fatigue.

In the story, there are plenty of opinions from friends and heart experts on the wisdom of Nuttall’s post-heart-attack decision. But I guess, in the end, what he did was personal and heartfelt.

Previously: Study reveals initial findings on health of most extreme runners, Euan Ashley, MD, on personalized medicine for heart disease and Mysteries of the heart: Stanford Medicine magazine answers cardiovascular questions
Photo by Bert Keely (Nuttall’s wingman)

Health and Fitness, Nutrition, Public Health

What do Americans buy at the grocery store?

What do Americans buy at the grocery store?

This fascinating (and depressing) chart from the U.S. Department of Agriculture compares Americans’ grocery-store expenditures to the recommended expenditures for several categories of food. It shows that we spend the right proportion of our food budgets in exactly one food category: potatoes.

Otherwise, we spend far too much in basically every unhealthy food category, including red meat, sugar and candies, refined grains and frozen/refrigerated entrees. And we spend too little on healthy foods like fruits and veggies, whole grains, legumes, low-fat dairy products, poultry and fish.

This chart gives me a strange desire to do a bit of research with my own grocery-store receipts. I have a PhD in nutrition, and I make an effort to purchase and cook healthy foods for my family, but I’ve never thought to analyze our diets according to what percentage of our expenditures go toward healthy vs. unhealthy foods.

Previously: Rating my diet: in which I take the Eat Real Quiz, with thought-provoking results, Should the lack of access to good food be blamed for America’s poor eating habits? and Americans still falling short of national nutritional guidelines
Via Food Politics

Health and Fitness, Pregnancy, Public Health, Research, Women's Health

Group sessions shown to help women maintain healthy pregnancy weight

Group sessions shown to help women maintain healthy pregnancy weight

pregnant_012214More than 50 percent of pregnant women, myself included, gain more weight than the recommended national guidelines. Personally, I had grand ambitions of maintaining my pre-pregnancy workout routine, or at least a modified version, and sticking to my usual healthy eating habits for the entire 40 weeks. But then I was sidelined for several months by unrelenting fatigue and an odd form of morning sickness where only Mexican cuisine agreed with my stomach. Although I resumed exercising and eating a more diverse diet, I wasn’t able to keep my weight gain within the suggested range.

Perhaps I would have been more successful if my prenatal check-ups had been structured as meetings with other women of similar gestational ages, rather than the traditional doctor visit. According to a growing body of research, women who received group prenatal care benefitted in a number of ways, including weight management. Futurity reports:

Researchers found that women who participated in prenatal care delivered in a group setting as opposed to the traditional approach—which typically involves a series of regular one-on-one visits with a healthcare provider—saw a 22 percent reduction in the risk of excessive gestational weight gain.

The beneficial effect of group prenatal care was even more pronounced for women who were overweight prior to pregnancy, who saw a 28 percentage points reduction in the risk of excessive gestational weight gain.

The post also notes that past studies have shown prenatal group check-ups can reduce the risk of infants being born with very low birth weights and increase the odds that  mothers will breastfeed their babies.

Previously: Eating nuts during pregnancy may protect baby from nut allergies, What’s in YOUR blood? A simple blood test may change the face of prenatal care and From womb to world: Stanford Medicine Magazine explores new work on having a baby
Photo by hugrakka

Health and Fitness, Stanford News

Resolutions for the New Year and beyond

As we’ve climbed over the halfway point of January, I’m just getting around to making a New Year’s resolution (Be more organized!). Anyway, if your intentions for 2014 included any effort to be healthier, check out this Q&A with Eric Stein, Stanford BeWell program founder and co-director. He discusses motivation to change health habits and comments on the growing wellness culture at Stanford.

In light of a recent Scope post citing more evidence that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to early death, I wanted to spotlight this part of the piece:

What do you say to people who feel they are too busy to exercise?

I encourage them to look at individuals such as the [university's] Provost, who makes it a point to exercise on a regular basis. The Provost schedules his workout in his calendar as a meeting that he must attend.

If people realize that the upper administration feels this way, perhaps they won’t feel bad taking a break to exercise during the day. The perception is that the hard worker is the one who doesn’t get away from his or her desk. I’d love to see that perception redefined as the hard, smart worker is the one who takes a break to exercise and comes back reenergized.

Now, time for a mandatory walk.

Previously: Preventing pre-diabetes from turning into diabetes, Exercise is valuable in preventing sedentary deathIs standing healthier than sitting?Stress, will-power top reasons why Americans fail to adopt healthy habits and Helping make New Year’s resolutions stick

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