Nov 052010

Practicing yoga may do more than calm the mind — it may help protect against certain diseases, a new study suggests.

In the study, women who had practiced yoga regularly for at least two years were found to have lower levels of Inflammation is an immune response and can be beneficial when your body is fighting off infection, but chronically high levels of inflammation are known to play a role in certain conditions, including asthma, cardiovascular disease and depression.

Inflammation is known to be boosted by stressful situations. But when yoga experts were exposed to stress (such as dipping their feet in ice water,) they experienced less of an increase in their inflammatory response than yoga novices did.

“The study is the first one, I think, to really suggest how yoga could have some distinctive
benefits in terms of the immune system,” said researcher Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University. “It suggests that regular yoga practice is really good for you.” she told LiveScience.

Stressed Out

Kiecolt-Glaser and her Ohio State colleagues recruited 50 women between the ages of 30 and 65 and with different degrees of yoga experience. Those labeled “yoga experts” had practiced yoga once or twice a week for at least two years, while “yoga novices” had participated in only six to 12 sessions. (The researchers wanted novices to have at least some experience so that they wouldn’t be stressed out simply from having to practice yoga for the first time.)

The two groups were very similar in terms of age, physical fitness level and amount of body fat. This was important because all three of these factors are known to influence inflammation. Participants completed three stressful tasks in succession. In one, subjects immersed a foot in warm water and then in ice water for one minute. In another, they had to perform tricky mental arithmetic for five minutes.

Then subjects either completed a yoga session or took part in one of two control experiments, which involved walking on a treadmill, or watching a video.

All the while, subjects had catheters placed in their arms to collect blood samples periodically. The researchers examined the blood samples for key markers of inflammation, one of which is a protein called IL-6.

Across all the tasks and other experimental scenarios, the novices’ IL-6 levels were 41 percent higher than the experts’. The novices also produced more IL-6 in response to the stressful tasks.

Breath Control

While the researchers aren’t sure why yoga would have this effect on inflammation, they have a few speculations.

Yoga focuses on deep breathing and controlling breathing, which may slow down the body’s “fight or flight” response — the body’s reaction to stress, Kiecolt-Glaser said.

Yoga also involves meditation, which helps people learn to pay attention to how they are feeling. So yoga experts may be more aware of their stress and better able to control their response to it.

Finally, yoga is a form of exercise, which is known to decrease inflammation.

A randomized clinical trial will be needed to confirm the findings, Kiecolt-Glaser said. Such a trial would involve randomly assigning participants to either practice yoga or refrain from it over a certain time frame. Researchers would then look to see whether the activity had any effect on inflammation.

The study was published in the January issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. Kiecolt-Glaser also discussed her study at the 118th annual
of the American Psychological Association, which was held Aug. 11 to Aug. 14 in San Diego.

Nov 052010

World Cancer Research Fund says even moderate exercise such as brisk walking can reduce risk of cancer

About 10,000 Britons a year could avoid getting breast or bowel cancer if they undertook more physical activity, especially walking, according to the World Cancer Research Fund.

Some 5,500 women would not develop breast cancer if they were moderately active for at least 45 minutes a day, experts say. There would also be an estimated 4,600 fewer cases of bowel cancer if more people took more exercise.The WCRF stress that, to prove beneficial, the activity only needs to make someone’s heart beat faster. It recommends that everyone does at least half an hour of such exercise daily.

Dr Rachel Thompson, deputy head of science for WCRF, said: “There is very strong evidence that being physically active is important for cancer prevention.

“You can reduce your cancer risk just by making small changes and this is highlighted by the fact that so many cancer cases could be prevented through something as simple as brisk walking.

“By taking up walking as a hobby or even walking to the shops instead of taking the bus or car, people can make a real difference to their health.”

Nov 052010

Scientists at Northumbria University say they have carried out the first rigorous scientific analysis of dance moves that make men attractive to women.

Writing in the Royal Society Journal, Biology Letters, the researchers believe that movements associated with good dancing are also indicative of good health and reproductive potential.

Dr Nick Neave asked young men, who were not professional dancers, to dance in a laboratory to a very basic drum rhythm and filmed their movements with 12 cameras.

The dancing was then converted into computer-generated cartoons – which women rated on a scale of 1 to 7.

This video shows examples of “good” dancing and “bad” dancing.

Nov 052010

Stress increases the chances of dying from heart-related problems by five-fold, a study has found

Researchers have found that people aged 65 or older were five times more likely to die within the six year follow-up period if they had high levels of stress hormones.

They were more likely to die from cardiovascular disease, such as heart attacks, heart failure and strokes, but not more likely to die from other causes such as cancer, it was found.

Short-term stress is thought to be good for health but chronic long-term stress can lead to damage in the lining of the blood vessels.

Stress can also raise blood pressure and cholesterol which are known to be harmful to the heart and stressed people tend to eat a poorer diet and may be more likely to smoke.

Researchers at VU University Medical Center in The Netherlands, measured levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the urine of 861 people aged 65 or older. The measurement was taken once over a 24-hour period.

They were then tracked for six years and any deaths recorded.

It was found that those with the highest levels of cortisol in their urine were five times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those with the lowest levels.

They took into account other factors that could influence cardiovascular disease, such as socio-economic status, health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure and lifestyle factors such as smoking

The findings are due to be published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Dr Nicole Vogelzangs, lead author of the study, said: “Previous studies have suggested that cortisol might increase the risk of cardiovascular mortality, but until now, no study had directly tested this hypothesis.

“The results of our study clearly show that cortisol levels in a general older population predict cardiovascular death, but not other causes of mortality.

“Cortisol is an important component of the stress system of the human body but in higher concentrations can be harmful.

“Our study shows that older persons with high levels of cortisol have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. This finding significantly adds evidence to the belief that cortisol can be damaging to the cardiovascular system.”

One in three of all deaths in Britain are caused by cardiovascular disease, accounting for more than 200,000 deaths per year.

Ellen Mason, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Stress is already associated with an increased risk of heart disease and this study throws up more evidence about the role of cortisol.

“However, there are other chemicals in our body besides cortisol which play a part when we’re stressed out. So although this study helps, there is still a lot left to learn.

“It’s important we all try and find ways to cope with stress which don’t involve unhealthy habits that increase your risk of heart disease, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and eating foods high in saturated fat and salt.”

Nov 042010

Being surrounded by family and friends makes you live longer, scientists have said.

People who have no social life are fifty per cent more likely to die early than those who are well connected, a study has shown.

Those who socialise regularly with family and friends live an average of 3.7 yeas longer than those who lead lonely lives, according to a report published yesterday.

People with little social support have a mortality rate as high as alcoholics, while the impact of making friends is comparable to the effect of giving up smoking, the research showed.

Researchers analysed data from 148 studies over three decades and involving more than 300,000 people.

Burt Uchino, the professor who led the research at the Universities of Utah and North Carolina, said: “Friends and supportive people can make life easier on a basic, every day level. They can lend you money, offer lifts or provide baby sitting.

“They can also encourage you to have better health practices, see a doctor, exercise more. They may also help you indirectly by making you feel you have something to live for.”

Professor Uchino said that the emotional support people receive from those close to them can help put their problems into perspective.

“By having a secure relationship and feeling loved, people live much more secure, calm lives,” he said.

The research found that the link between death and loneliness applied to men and women of all ages, regardless of their health.