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Fertility, Health and Fitness, Men's Health, Public Health, Research, Stanford News

Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men

Poor semen quality linked to heightened mortality rate in men

sperm graffitiMen with multiple defects in their semen appear to be at increased risk of dying sooner than men with normal semen, according to a study of some  12,000 men who were evaluated at two different centers specializing in male-infertility problems.

In that study, led by Michael Eisenberg, MD, PhD, Stanford’s director of male reproductive medicine and surgery, men with more than one such defect such as reduced total semen volume, low sperm counts or motility, or aberrant sperm shape were more than twice as likely to die, over a seven-and-a-half-year follow-up period, than men found to be free of such issues.

Given that one in seven couples in developed countries encounter fertility problems at some point, Eisenberg told me, a two-fold increase in mortality rates qualifies as a serious health issue. As he told me for an explanatory release I wrote about the study:

“Smoking and diabetes — either of which doubles mortality risk — both get a lot of attention… But here we’re seeing the same doubled risk with male infertility, which is relatively understudied.”

Moreover, the difference was statistically significant, despite the fact that relatively few men died, due primarily to their relative youth (typically between 30 and 40 years old) when first evaluated. And the difference persisted despite the researchers’ efforts to control for differences in health status and age between the two groups.

Eisenberg has previously found that childless men are at heightened risk of death from cardiovascular disease and that men with low sperm production face increased cancer risk.

Previously:  Men with kids are at lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than their childless counterparts and Low sperm count can mean increased cancer risk
Photo by Grace Hebert

Cardiovascular Medicine, Health and Fitness, In the News

Examining how prolonged high-intensity exercise affects heart health

Examining how prolonged high-intensity exercise affects heart health

woman running near mountain

Emerging scientific evidence points to a possible threshold of intensity, duration or distance that if crossed could limit the benefits of physical activity. A pair of new studies in the journal Heart raise concerns that prolonged, extreme exercise could negatively affect heart health for certain groups.

In the first study, German researchers followed more than 1,000 people with stable heart disease for a decade. Participants’ exercise habits ranged from less than two times a week to more than four times a week. WebMD reports that researchers found:

Compared to those who got regular exercise, the most inactive people were about twice as likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and were about four times more likely to die of heart disease and all causes, the researchers said.

However, Mons’ team also found that those who did the most strenuous daily exercise were more than twice as likely to die of a heart attack compared to those who exercised more moderately.

For the second study, Swedish researchers evaluated the potential of endurance exercise to increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. It included 44,000 men who were surveyed about their previous levels of physical activity certain ages and then had their heart health monitored for 12 years. More from the article:

Those who had done intensive exercise for more than five hours a week when they were younger were 19 percent more likely to have developed a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation by age 60 than those who exercised for less than an hour a week.

That risk increased to 49 percent among those who did more than five hours of exercise at age 30 but did less than an hour a week by the time they were 60. Participants who cycled or walked briskly for an hour or more a day at age 60 were 13 percent less likely to develop atrial fibrillation.

Authors of an accompanying editorial concluded that “the benefits of exercise are definitely not to be questioned,” and that the findings could be useful to “maximize benefits obtained by regular exercise while preventing undesirable effects.”

Previously: Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30, Study reveals initial findings on health of most extreme runners, Is extreme distance running healthy or harmful? and Untrained marathoners may risk temporary heart damage
Photo by Robin McConnell

Complementary Medicine, Health and Fitness, In the News, Mental Health

Research brings meditation’s health benefits into focus

Research brings meditation's health benefits into focus

Allyson meditationThe effects of meditation aren’t all in your head; they influence your body and spirit, too. That’s according to a Huffington Post piece and infographic summarizing results from a range of studies showing how the practice of the mind can have far-reaching effects in a person. Being in the moment offers not only the potential to reduce sensitivity to pain, ease stress and increase focus, the piece notes, but also to lower blood pressure, boost the immune system and invite restorative sleep.

As discussed here previously, meditation may play a role in shaping other aspects of life. Laura Schocker writes:

Cultivates willpower. Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. told Stanford Medicine’s SCOPE blog in 2011 that both physical exercise and meditation can help train the brain for willpower:

Meditation training improves a wide range of willpower skills, including attention, focus, stress management, impulse control and self-awareness. It changes both the function and structure of the brain to support self-control. For example, regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.

Now, go find a blank wall. See you in 20 minutes.

Previously: Using meditation to train the brainHow meditation can influence gene activityAsk Stanford Med: Answers to your questions about willpower and tools to reach our goals and The science of willpower
Photo of Allyson Pfeifer by Ashley Turner

Cardiovascular Medicine, Health and Fitness, Research, Women's Health

Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30

Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30

woman_running_londonHeart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease claims the life of someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister every minute in the United States, according to statistics from the American Heart Association. Now a study shows that an inactive lifestyle outweighs other risk factors, such as obesity and smoking, for developing cardiovascular disease among women age 30 and older.

In the study, Australian researchers tracked the health of more than 30,000 women born in the 1920s, 1940s and 1970s. Findings showed that for women under the age of 30, smoking had the most significant impact on women’s risk of heart disease. But as women got older, and kicked their nicotine habit, the biggest factor shifted to lack of exercise. According to a recent MedPage Today story:

The results highlight the fact that population attributable risks for heart disease appear to change throughout women’s lives, the researchers concluded.

The study findings highlight the importance of emphasizing regular exercise for reducing cardiovascular disease risk, especially in young adulthood and middle age, the researchers said.

“Our data suggest that national programs for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity, across the adult lifespan, but especially in young adulthood, deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now,” they wrote.

They estimated that “if every woman between the ages of 30 and 90 were able to reach the recommended weekly exercise quota — 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity — then the lives of more than 2,000 middle-age and older women could be saved each year in Australia alone.”

Previously: Study shows many women have a limited knowledge of stroke warning signs, More evidence that prolonged inactivity may shorten life span, increase risk of chronic disease, Exercise is valuable in preventing sedentary death and Ask Stanford Med: Cardiologist Jennifer Tremmel responds to questions on women’s heart health
Photo by James Roberts

Aging, Behavioral Science, Health and Fitness, Research

Spouses with sunnier dispositions may boost their partners’ well-being

husband_wife_bike_ridePast research has shown that a positive outlook on life could be a factor in both health and longevity. But findings recently published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research suggest that having an upbeat spouse can enhance a person’s overall health, even above and beyond an individual’s own level of optimism.

In the study, researchers examined data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal panel study that surveys a representative sample of more than 26,000 Americans over the age of 50 every two years. The University of Michigan investigators also tracked 1,970 heterosexual couples for four years and reported on their physical functioning, health and certain chronic illnesses. Results showed having an optimistic spouse predicted better mobility and fewer chronic illnesses over time.

According to a Futurity post, social support may partly explain the findings:

Optimists are more likely to seek social support when facing difficult situations and have a larger network of friends who provide that support.

In close relationships, optimism predicts enhanced satisfaction and better cooperative problem-solving.

“So practically speaking, I can imagine an optimistic spouse encouraging his or her partner to go to the gym or eat a healthier meal because the spouse genuinely believes the behavior will make a difference in health,” [Eric Kim, a doctoral student in the University of Michigan’s psychology department,] says.

Previously: The scientific importance of social connections for your health, Examining how your friends influence your health, Can good friends help you live longer? and How social networks might affect your health
Photo by Christopher

Health and Fitness, Technology, Videos

Wireless stick-on patch could make continuous health monitoring more flexible and practical

Wireless stick-on patch could make continuous health monitoring more flexible and practical

Stress tests or sleep studies are two examples of when long-term clinical monitoring are necessary. But bulky wires, sensors, or tape used during these studies can inhibit the natural movements of test subjects and potentially skew outcomes. In an effort to solve this issue, researchers at Northwestern University developed a wearable patch that adheres to the skin, easily stretches and moves with the body, gathers physiological statistics, and can send wireless updates to a cellphone or computer.

A recent post on Futurity offers more details about how the device, which stick to the skin like a temporary tattoo, was designed:

Researchers turned to soft microfluidic designs to address the challenge of integrating relatively big, bulky chips with the soft, elastic base of the patch. The patch is constructed of a thin elastic envelope filled with fluid. The chip components are suspended on tiny raised support points, bonding them to the underlying patch but allowing the patch to stretch and move.

One of the biggest engineering feats of the patch is the design of the tiny, squiggly wires connecting the electronics components—radios, power inductors, sensors, and more. The serpentine-shaped wires are folded like origami, so that no matter which way the patch bends, twists or stretches, the wires can unfold in any direction to accommodate the motion. Since the wires stretch, the chips don’t have to.

The article goes on to discuss the potential of wearable electronic devices in health care, including the possibility of detecting motions associated with Parkinson’s disease at its onset.

Previously: Ultra-thin flexible device offers non-invasive method of monitoring heart health, blood pressure, New method for developing flexible nanowire electronics could yield ultrasensitive biosensors and Stanford researchers develop a new biosensor chip that could speed drug development

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

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