Bloggers and researchers weigh in on stress management

A new study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine makes a direct connection between coronary heart disease, diabetes and job burnout. In this instance, "burnout" is defined as a state characterized by emotional exhaustion, fatigue and cognitive weariness. 

To bring about their conclusions, scientists affiliated with Tel Aviv University examined almost 8,900 people, 100 of whom developed coronary heart disease by the end of their three to four year study. Using a scale to determine their levels of burnout, the Tel Aviv team identified that high levels of job burnout increased the chances of having heart disease by 40 percent. Those who were especially burnt out – whose level of burnout were in the top 20 percent – were almost 80 percent more likely to experience heart disease than their more relaxed counterparts.

Following a write up of the study, the Huffington Post published a compilation of other issues related to stress. These include a greater-than-average chance of becoming depressed, problems with sleep and a tendency to have poorer brain health. 

In light of these and other problems related to stress, Huffington Post blogger and stress expert Kate Bratskeir wrote about specific things she used to stress out about, which she has learned to discard in order to improve her personal mental state. These include concerns that might seem superfluous, but nonetheless can weigh on a person's mind, such as a lack of ability to dance well, having less-than perfect vision, not having a clear sense of direction and worrying about what her friends think of her vegetarianism.  Her underlaying thesis may be that a good way to control stress is to have a clear sense of what factors in life can and cannot be controlled. 

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Health risks of not sleeping enough, and how to avoid them

Sometimes it feels as though we've been conditioned to think of insufficient sleep as good thing. Sure, in theory, a person who is sleeping less might be getting other things done. But one must ask themselves – is skirting by on four to six hours of sleep per night worth some of the health risks associated with sleep deprivation? 

In fact, a new study emerging from experts in Norway shows that not getting the recommended eight hours of sleep per night could have serious consequences for heart health. According to these findings from a team led by Lars Laugsand, M.D., of the Department of Public Health at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, displaying three major signs of insomnia could increase a person's risk of heart failure by more than 300 percent. The three characteristics of insomnia the researchers investigated included having problems falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep not not generally feeling refreshed in the morning. 

"Those reporting suffering from all three insomnia symptoms simultaneously were at considerably higher risk than those who had no symptoms or only one or two symptoms," said Laugsand. 

It's noteworthy that Laugsand and his associates don't know if insomnia causes heart failure, but simply drew a correlation between the two conditions with their study of almost 55,000 people between 1995 and 2008. The scientists took other heart failure risk factors like smoking and obesity into account.  

Other health risks of not getting enough sleep
The Huffington Post put together a set of other studies that have linked sleep deprivation to conditions other than simply being tired. For starters, the news source points to findings presented at the SLEEP 2012 conference, which show that less than six hours of sleep per night increased the odds of having a stroke for people who were at least middle-aged. Being overweight or obese – also a stroke risk factor – was taken into consideration, so the results indicate that even middle-aged individuals who excel at weight management up their stroke risk by not sleeping enough. 

The source also notes that not sleeping the recommended seven to eight hours per night has been linked with osteoporosis, often a determent to healthy aging, although only specifically in laboratory rats. In this study, from the Medical College of Wisconsin, rats who were denied sleep for extended periods of time had diminished bone density by the end of the study.

Ways to go about getting a better night's sleep
Fortunately, as Tim Chico, M.D., of the University of Sheffield recently told Express, a U.K. news source, people should be able improve their abilities to sleep soundly by exercising more, not smoking and eating healthier. These actions also decrease the risk of developing numerous other conditions, he said.

Also, hitting the sack earlier can be an even simpler adjustment to make than it sounds. CBS News recently documented a few common methods for improving sleep. 

Setting up a specific bedtime is said to help people develop an internal clock that tells them when it's time to pass out. Even if you don't fall asleep immediately upon lying down, going to bed seven to eight hours before you need to wake up at least improves that odds that you'll actually get that amount of sleep, states CBS. 

Late night TV is also noted as a deterrent to getting enough sleep. CBS advises readers to record late night programs like "The Daily Show" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" – but then again, many late night shows are available online as soon as the next morning. 

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Losing weight when you’re young may improve long-term health

New research released by Johns Hopkins University suggests that the earlier in life individuals get a handle on their weight management, the greater their chances are of avoiding obesity-related diseases. These findings appear in the Journal of Cardiovascular Translational Research. 

For this study, the scientists examined the effects of high calorie diets on two sets of genetically engineered mice – one group of 2-month-old mice and another comprised of mice who were as old as 7 months. In mice time, 2-month-old mice are considered young adults, while 7-month-old mice are thought to be middle-aged. All of these mice lacked a hormone that would naturally let them know when they had had enough to eat, which caused them to become obese. Once they were given a low-calorie diet for four weeks, the heart health of the younger mice seemed to improve from the damage done during their time being obese, which was not the case for the older group of mice. 

"We don't know whether the same principle would apply to humans as well, and if so, what the turning point would be. But the basic message is that losing weight sooner rather than later would be more beneficial," said study author Lili Barouch, M.D. "It certainly warrants further study to see if the findings would be similar in people."

In an interview with Everyday Health, Barouch noted that while it's unknown whether this recent mouse study applies to people, some previous mouse studies are thought to reflect the effects of obesity on humans. Therefore, she said it's unwise to put off weight loss for a person whose body mass has risen to unhealthy levels. She notes that there's no cure for congestive heart failure, which is one possible result of obesity, and some people put off changing their lifestyle until after they've developed this and other obesity-related conditions. 

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Study links healthy sleep to regular exercise

Medical experts can't seem to emphasize the importance of regular exercise enough. Clearly, making physical activity part of your daily regimen can do wonders for weight management, but new findings from the National Sleep Foundation indicate that exercise – even when conducted within a few hours before bedtime – can also help you get a proper night's sleep. Other studies have suggested that getting a solid eight hours or thereabouts of sleep a night can help prevent obesity, so it would seem that sleep, exercise and healthy weight are all interconnected.

The NSF interviewed more than 1,000 to bring about its conclusions. Over 50 percent of respondents who described themselves as "moderate" or "vigorous" in regards to their physical activity reported getting a better night's sleep on the days when they worked out. Contrary to the idea that exercising before going to bed can have a negative impact on sleep, USA Today points out that only 3 percent of survey subjects who said they worked out late in the day said it kept them up at night. Meanwhile, about half of the group that said they don't exercise very much said they also have difficulties sleeping through the night. 

"People who sleep better report exercising more, and people who exercise tend to sleep better," Matthew Buman, Ph.D., a member of the NSF task force that conducted the survey, told the Huffington Post. "We know that life is very busy for many people. They're not getting enough sleep and they're also not getting enough exercise."

Speaking to USA Today, Buman's NSF associate Barbara Phillips, M.D., from the University of Kentucky, explained that people should think of the best times to exercise in terms of when they have free time to spare. 

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Best supplements for heart health

While it's great to have a muscular physique or to be able to display impressive skin health, neither of those things will necessarily do you much good if your heart health is in trouble. With respect to the fact that the heart is one of the most important organs in the human body, several expert sources have put together lists of the best supplements a person can take to make sure his or her ticker keep ticking. We've browsed around the web and put together our own list of vitamins and substances we see on multiple other lists.

Fish oil
One thing that tops numerous lists of the best supplements for heart health – including Live in the Now and Newsmax – is fish oil. Not only can the omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and potentially reduce the chances of having a heart attack, it can also drop the chances of having a second heart attack after the first one. Newsmax points out that fish oil can also help prevent hypertension, irregular heartbeat and may have the same effects for stroke prevention that it does for heart attack.

For those who'd like to increase the chances that they'll live longer without having to deal with the negative effects of alcohol consumption, resveratrol supplements may be an alternative to red wine – a noted source of resveratrol. Live in the Now explains that resveratrol is said to help slow down the wear and tear that bodies invariably incur as they get older in years.

Vitamin D
Pointing to a study that was presented at a conference of the American Heart Association, The New York Times notes that not getting enough vitamin D may be a factor that contributes to heart disease, although the evidence isn't 100 percent certain. Nonetheless, a study of adults in their 50s linked less than recommended amounts of daily vitamin D intake to an increased risk of dying, having a stroke or developing coronary artery disease. Live in the Now points out that vitamin D helps grease the wheels when it comes to absorbing other vitamins and nutrients such as calcium and magnesium.

Vitamin B
Quite like vitamin D, vitamin B is also noted for its ability to reduce the odds of heart disease by more than a few news sources. Folic Acid – known as B9 – is specifically pointed out by Whole Living, while Live in the Now notes that the combination of B12, B6 and B9 folic acid may be the best way to help improve the heart. Live in the Now explains that very high doses of vitamin B may lower cholesterol, however a person considering taking that much vitamin B should consult his or her physician before doing so. Meanwhile, Newsmax recommends B1 for its ability to turn carbs into the fuel the body needs to exercise.

Diet and exercise
It almost feels redundant to add these two things – which technically aren't supplements – onto this list, but it's always worth remembering that refraining from tobacco use, getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day, and avoiding eating too much food loaded with unhealthy types of fat and cholesterol may go a much longer way to extending your life and keeping your heart healthy than supplements. The Mayo Clinic points out a few foods those at risk for heart disease may want to avoid – including deep-fried and fast foods, many sweets found in bakeries, packaged snack foods, margarine and some crackers.

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Health tips from U.S. Presidents

In honor of President's Day, the Huffington Post released a compilation of advice for healthy living offered by the top executives of the United States throughout the ages.

Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, it's hard to argue with some of the health tips presidents have provided. The Post cited a 2011 Reuters piece, which noted that current President Barack Obama appeared to have quit smoking and exercised on a daily basis. 

Of course, Obama isn't the only president who has encouraged American citizens to stay in shape by example. The Post provided quotes from Thomas Jefferson and Harry Truman, indicating they felt the same way about exercise that Obama does. John F. Kennedy and John Adams, it's said, made the case that regular physical exercise may be beneficial for brain health. They may have been on to something. A September study from the University of Copenhagen speculated that working out may help improve memory. 

But the Huffington Post left out a few of the most recent presidents who made a point to focus on their health. Many people may remember George W. Bush kept his cardiovascular health up to snuff by jogging as often as he could. During his presidency in 2002, he told Runner's World that he ran almost every day, and would embark on a three mile jog if he happened to be relaxing at Camp David on a Sunday. Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, also was known for jogging. An old article appearing in U.S. News notes that his secret service took issue with his penchant for running in public places, which made it difficult for them to follow security protocols.

Sleep habits of U.S. presidents
The Post also recently elaborated on some of the healthy and unhealthy sleep behaviors of past commanders-in-chief. Clinton is rumored to have made a habit of sleeping only five or six hours a night. While that may have left him with more time to work, the CDC notes that getting less than the recommended eight hours of sleep could have made Clinton more at-risk for some conditions related to weight management, such as diabetes. Kennedy, who history does not remember for especially healthy lifestyle choices, is reported to have used barbiturate sleep aides for stress management, which most doctors would not recommend. 

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Experts shed light on best strategies for running

As has been said about inertia – an object at rest wants to stay at rest, while one in motion wants to keep moving. It turns out, as noted by New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds, that the human body is hardwired to exert itself as little as possible to complete whatever task it must. But a study from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia looked into ways environment can influence how much energy a person is putting out, and therefore, how to maximize the cardiovascular health benefits of running and walking. 

In one study that applied virtual reality to exercise, 10 study participants walked on a treadmill that changed speeds depending on how fast they were moving. While the treadmill’s speed was up to the users, the surrounding environments, as presented via visual simulation of hallways, changed speed. Once the environments started passing faster, the participants would briefly start moving to keep up, but their paces returned to the original velocities soon after. As a result, it was determined that visual cues don’t have a significant effect on energy exertion. 

Tips for getting the best results from your run
Of course, most people don’t have to concern themselves with what a virtual reality machine is up to when out for a morning jog or running on a treadmill. Some people might be interested in more practical advice on how to get the most out of their running, whether they’re doing it for weight loss or for an improvement in their overall wellness. 

Jay Cardiello of notes that it helps to lift weights, as strong arms and legs will help improve stamina and speed.

The source also notes that people who jam out to their favorite tunes while on a run may be making the experience more enjoyable. Music doesn’t merely provide entertainment during a run, either. The news source points to studies that indicate that listening to favorite music, as opposed to songs the runner isn’t especially fond of, may improve the expansion of blood vessels while exercising. Speaking of music, The Times also notes that Max Donelan and his associates have created an iPhone app that will pick songs out of its users playlist with beats that correspond to how fast the listener is moving. The app can also slightly slow down or speed up the beats of songs that don’t quite match the runner’s pace.



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To plunge, or not to plunge?

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club has taken winter plunges into the Atlantic Ocean every New Year’s Day for the past 110 years, and over that time it has gathered quite the following from locals and visitors alike. In the mornings, ambulances and emergency personnel line up along the beachfront, ready to tend to frostbite victims or others who may suffer heart attacks or seizures as a result of “cold shock.” While the experience is considered by many to be refreshing, it may also be more dangerous for heart health than its participants realize, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

“The biggest problem I see with these clubs is that people participate in them without having made sure from a health perspective that it’s clear sailing,” David Frid, M.D., a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told CNN.

“Blood vessels on the outer part of the body constrict to try to retain heat, and that constriction (shifts) your blood demand more to your inner organs, trying to keep them warm.”

As a result, Frid said that some may experience cold shock, which causes someone to suddenly gasp for air or have serious heart complications when entering rapidly into a cold environment. In simple cases, feelings of discomfort will dissipate within 30 seconds.

Staying warm after a cold rush
Doctors recommend that those entering frigid waters ease their way in, and if staying for longer than 30 minutes, they should take a 10- to 15-minute bath at home to warm up. According to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, those with a family history of stroke, aneurysm or blood pressure problems should not participate in a cold water plunge.

When entering the water, muscles also undergo a rapid temperature shift. They lose movement capacity quickly as a result of hyperventilation, and each year people start to drown after just minutes of being in the Cony Island water, requiring medical intervention by nearby emergency workers.

A wake-up call
Many returners say that they feel exhilarated or energized by the experience of diving into the sub-freezing waters, but according to Mike Tipton, M.D., professor of Human and Applied Physiology at the University of Portsmouth, this rush of energy is actually a worse sign than it at first seems.

“The body is responding to a stress with a ‘fight-or-flight’ response and preparing to get you out of that environment, and that may well give you a feeling of quasi-euphoria,” Tipton told CNN.

Polar bear plunges like the one at Coney Island have sprouted up across the U.S., Europe and Russia, and with no clear end in sight, it may be more important to stay educated on how such activities could impact your health.

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How dietary sugars affect body weight

Sugar consumption has been linked to several weight-related conditions as well as heart health complications, but until recently, the exact health effects of sugar have remained mysterious. Many of us take sugar in our morning coffee or tea, or ingest it in sodas or snacks throughout the day. New research on sugar and weight management, published Thursday in The Cleveland Clinic’s BMJ, shows that sugar intake is a partial indicator of body weight as well as cardiovascular health.

Although the findings were relatively small, they do suggest that international guidelines for sugar consumption may help mitigate risks associated with consumption. Excessive sugar intake has been linked to chronic diseases as well as obesity, but not all studies have reported the same results, so more research may be necessary to determine regulatory amounts.

The World Health Organization recommends that free sugars take up no more than 10 percent of total calorie intake, although no “safe” limit has been officially determined. Free sugars are defined as any sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer, chef or consumer, as well as those naturally occurring in fruits, syrups and honey.

Researchers from the University of Otago and the Riddet Institute in New Zealand recently analyzed the results of 71 prior studies on sugar to gain a more comprehensive view of sugar’seffects. They found that when participants were advised to eat less sugar, they experienced a weight reduction of about 2 lbs over one month. When advised to increase their sugar intake, another group gained 2 lbs, on average. Researchers believe that, for both groups, the difference would have been larger had they consumed more regular carbohydrates, rather than using sugary foods as a replacement.

Difference for kids
Due to poor compliance with dietary guidelines, sugar consumption appeared to have a smaller effect on the weights of children. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), American children younger than age 3 may already consume too much sugar. By the time a child reaches 4 to 8, sugar consumption spikes by an average of 21 teaspoons each day. The same AHA study found that by 18, these individuals consume up to 35 teaspoons of free sugar daily – almost five times the recommended amount.

Sugar and poor health
U.S. health experts wrote in an accompanying editorial that the association between sugar and poor health has remained cloudy over the past decade, partly because the causes of obesity and other chronic illnesses are so varied that sugar can’t be pointed to as a cause – only a factor. These medical professionals report that the role of sugar and other refined carbohydrates in the development of weight conditions is becoming more clear, and that by reducing the intake of sugar through sweetened drinks and other manufactured goods, people may be able to significantly improve their overall health.

Taxes on sugar-laden drinks are only the beginning when it comes to government intervention regarding these goods. Further restrictions in advertising for children and serving sizes may be needed to properly manage the U.S. weight gain epidemic. According to the researchers, more educational programs, improvements in school lunch regulations and nutrition programs for the poor and underserved may also play a large role in future legislation.

According to a December study published in PLOS Medicine, taxes on sugar-laden foods could improve health by limiting intake. These same taxes, if extended to fat saturated foods, may include products like cheese, potato chips, cakes and butter, although the nature of future negotiations remains unclear. A lunchtime snack of cheese and vegetables, for instance, has been shown in a recent study to be particularly healthy for kids, so it follows that not all fat-rich foods should fall under the same restrictions.

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Exercise linked to pleasure, stress

Popular New Year's resolutions include getting better grades and taking on new weight loss efforts. But for some, exercise can prove daunting and even stress-inducing, regardless of its habit of releasing endorphins into the bloodstream. New research into the nervous system has shed light on why some people are likely to quit their exercise routines sooner than others.

The study was conducted jointly by French company Ipsos and the University of Bordeaux, published last week in the journal Biological Psychiatry. Researchers found for the first time that a protein, the CB1 cannabinoid receptor, plays a key role in motivation and reward systems involved during physical exercise. The activity of this protein can vary significantly from person to person, leading scientists to believe that those who enjoy exercise less have CB1 cannabinoid receptors that are not as active.

Why does exercise make some people happier?
"The inability to experience pleasure during physical activity, which is often quoted as one explanation why people partially or completely drop out of physical exercise programs, is a clear sign that the biology of the nervous system is involved," said Francis Chaouloff, M.D., lead researcher in the Ipsos study.

According to the researchers, this is not the first study to link exercise and the endocannabinoid system, although it is the first to locate a specific, gene-targeted action of the CB1 receptor. Ten years ago, researchers found that the endocannabinoid system lights up during physical activity, but for many years the reason for this was unknown. Scientists now believe that the endocannabinoid system is among the most significant pleasure-seeking regions of the brain.

During the study, researchers used mice to test the effects of the CB1 receptor. Mice with the receptor jumped on their running wheels at a normal rate, but those without it experienced 20 to 30 percent less exercise time. Researchers found that not only does the receptor influence the duration of exercise, but also the severity.

Can exercise make you happy?
Yes and no. The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise can, for some, lead to higher endorphin levels, which scientists often equate with greater feelings of happiness. But some don't experience physical activity in the same way, instead becoming more aggravated the longer an exercise goes on. Study researchers believe this is because the same receptors involved in pleasure (reward) are also linked to stress (punishment). Therefore exercise, while promoting happiness for most of the population, could sometimes stimulate unhappiness, according to Ipsos researchers.

However, everyone has the potential to be happy through exercise, and there is no evidence that shows that exercise actually harms stress management. Athletes will often say that mindset is key to any exercise, and they're right. If you go into an exercise thinking you're going to fail, it's likely you're not going to be too happy with the results. But if you look on the bright side, it's possible you could reap more benefits.

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