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105 amateur cyclist is more aerobically fit than most 50-year-olds

17 Feb

Another amazing story from The New York Times about the capacities of an aging athlete:

At the age of 105, the French amateur cyclist and world-record holder Robert Marchand is more aerobically fit than most 50-year-olds — and appears to be getting even fitter as he ages, according to a revelatory new study of his physiology.

You can read the research paper here.

Why is New York a Capital of Longevity?

5 Dec

The answer may be walking!

Here’s a New York Magazine piece on the topic:

New York is literally designed to force people to walk, to climb stairs—and to do it quickly. Driving in the city is maddening, pushing us onto the sidewalks and up and down the stairs to the subways. What’s more, our social contract dictates that you should move your ass when you’re on the sidewalk, so as not to annoy your fellow walkers. (A recent ranking of cities found that New York has the fastest pedestrians in the country.) As Simonsick sees it, the very structure of the city coerces us to exercise far more than people elsewhere in the U.S., in a way that is strongly correlated with a far-better life expectancy. Every city block doubles as a racewalking track, every subway station, a StairMaster. Seen this way, the whole city looks like a massive exercise machine dedicated to improving our health while we run errands.

How our ancestors exercised (evidence against too much sitting)

30 Nov

From this weekend’s New York Times:

Are we fighting thousands of years of evolutionary history and the best interests of our bodies when we sit all day?That question is at the core of a fascinating new study of the daily lives and cardiovascular health of a modern tribe of hunter-gatherers. The findings strongly suggest that we are born to be in motion, with health consequences when we are not

You can read the abstract of the original research here.

I do yoga and the 10,000 steps a day program.

How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS

28 Nov

Andrew Sullivan has written a powerful review of David France’s book: How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS.

These young men both witnessed their friends and lovers dying excruciating deaths, knew that they were next and yet carried on. Some of this was a gut-level human desire to live; some was a means to compensate for the grief that would otherwise overwhelm them; but a lot was simple, indelible courage. This courage didn’t just end a plague; it revolutionized medicine and, in turn, became the indispensable moral force that led, as the plague abated, to the greatest civil rights revolution of our time. This is the first and best history of this courage, and a reminder that if gay life and culture flourish for a thousand years, people will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

 

Psychological explanations of physical illness: Time for some skepticism?

17 Oct

A startling paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science:

In some patients with chronic physical complaints, detailed examination fails to reveal a well-recognized underlying disease process. In this situation, the physician may suspect a psychological cause. In this review, we critically evaluated the evidence for this causal claim, focusing on complaints presenting as neurological disorders. There were four main conclusions. First, patients with these complaints frequently exhibit psychopathology but not consistently more often than patients with a comparable “organic” diagnosis, so a causal role cannot be inferred. Second, these patients report a high incidence of adverse life experiences, but again, there is insufficient evidence to indicate a causal role for any particular type of experience. Third, although psychogenic illnesses are believed to be more responsive to psychological interventions than comparable “organic” illnesses, there is currently no evidence to support this claim. Finally, recent evidence suggests that biological and physical factors play a much greater causal role in these illnesses than previously believed. We conclude that there is currently little evidential support for psychogenic theories of illness in the neurological domain. In future research, researchers need to take a wider view concerning the etiology of these illnesses.

From the paper’s conclusion:

Given our current limited understanding of medical disease and its markers, it is perhaps not surprising that not all physical complaints can be associated with a specific, well-recognized disease process. In these circumstances, it is tempting to offer a psychological explanation. However, in this review, we have argued that such explanations are not currently supported by the evidence, at least not in the domains considered here. Further, these explanations may be harmful for the patient. To find better treatments for these illnesses, researchers and practitioners may need to retire those overworked psychological explanations that are commonly invoked in the face of uncertainty and instead adopt a completely fresh perspective. Such an approach may lead to a much deeper understanding of this perplexing collection of illnesses.

Passive exercise may have benefits

12 Oct

When I was a kid, there were a number of popular books touting the benefits of isometric exercise. It seemed like a great idea, exercise without equipment, sweat, or repetition. As I remember them, the books would feature highly muscled individuals performing the exercises. Now, I realize that these people must have gained their muscular physiques from workouts with weights, but at the time I was quite convinced.

Naturally, I have become suspicious of claims that you can exercise without exertion. But this article by Dr. Mirkin suggests that passive exercise may have benefits for otherwise inactive people:

The exciting new concept is that passive exercise — sitting on a motor-driven stationary bicycle and letting the pedals move the person’s legs for 30 minutes — burns extra calories and lowers blood sugar and insulin levels in inactive people (Med Sci Sprts Ex, Sept, 2016;48(9):1821-1828). Having their legs moved by motor-driven pedals increases insulin sensitivity by lowering blood sugar rises after eating.

Reading and longevity

29 Aug

I hate to be such a killjoy all the time. But this recent study on reading and longevity has received a lot of attention. I don’t fault the researchers for how their findings have been presented, but many media outlets have presented the findings as causal rather than correlational. Put simply, we cannot tell from these data if reading causes people to live longer. It could be true, but this study can demonstrate that this is the case. An alternative explanation might be that people with higher IQs both read more and have higher life expectancy. 

As someone who reads a lot, I hope this hypothesis turns out to be true. And reading more is never bad advice.

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