The science-backed guide to what’s good for you
The science-backed guide to what’s good for you
Can tea really help you lose weight? And do activity trackers really make a difference? This is what the science has to say.
The evidence continues to mount that simple mindfulness and breathing techniques have myriad health benefits, including chilling you out. To pick just one of many studies all ommming from the same hymn sheet, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that doing eight weeks of mindfulness practice significantly reduced the participants’ feelings of anxiety.
You’d think that watching your favourite team would be the ideal way to end a stressful day. However, a report in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology cries foul, revealing that point-scoring opportunities and the dying minutes of a game can cause your heart rate to more than double – the equivalent of going for a run. While these findings apply mainly to patients at risk of cardiac events, they do echo those from a previous Dutch study that noticed a spike in fatal strokes and heart attacks on the day its national football team was knocked out of the 1996 European Championships.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who drank moderately suffered less depression as the result of “chronic strain and negative life events” than teetotallers and heavy drinkers. But (and it’s a massive but), quantity is key. Australian guidelines are no more than two standard drinks a day.
Those who do shift work often struggle to enjoy sustained sleep. Nurses are a prime example, which is why a three-week study in the Journal of Advanced Nursing split participants into three groups: one listened to relaxing classical music before bed; one tuned into an audiobook; and one just tried to fall asleep. Those who slipped between the covers with Mozart, Beethoven and the gang not only enjoyed better quality sleep, they had fewer depressive symptoms.
While sunrises may put a smile on your face, it seems the health benefits end there. A 1998 study of more than 1200 adults published in the British Medical Journal could find no health advantages in the ‘early to bed, early to rise’habit. However, enough sleep is crucial. Adults should aim for seven to nine hours a night.
It’s kooky, but this sleep-inducer is recommended by a professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the US. It’s said to function in a similar way as meditation, acting as a deep breathing exercise that calms the body and mind with a repetitive simple task.
Medical journals aren’t ones for exaggerated claims but in 2012, the Current Sports Medicine Reports journal went as far as equating resistance or weight training with medicine itself. The comparison isn’t so surprising when you consider the research found that 10 weeks of resistance training increased lean weight (the good, muscly kind) by 1.4kg, boosted resting metabolic rate by 7 per cent and reduced fat weight by 1.8kg. It also noted improved physical performance, functional independence, movement control, walking speed, cognitive abilities and self-esteem.
Here’s the problem with this misunderstood exercise and its false promise of a six-pack: It only targets the abdominal muscles, and spot training of this kind doesn’t work. Plus, it also puts a lot of strain on your neck. In fact, the strong core that results in that coveted six-pack comes from engaging several muscle groups along the front, back and sides of your torso. A plank is one of the best moves to get you there.
When 800 people in Singapore took part in a year-long study that gifted some of them a Fitbit activity tracker, 40 per cent of them gave up on it within six months. Those who stuck with it only got 16 extra minutes of moderate-to- vigorous physical activity a week, which is such a small boost it correlated to only negligible improvements in weight, blood pressure, cardiorespiratory fitness and their self-reported quality of life.
Tea’s benefits are all about antioxidants known as polyphenols. A landmark US study, published in the European Journal of Nutrition last month, showed for the first time that the polyphenols in black tea (which aren’t as easily absorbed by the intestines as those in health-boosting green tea) improve the body’s fat-burning abilities by stimulating the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and the formation of bacterial metabolites that regulate energy metabolism in the liver.
When the website WebMD polled experts for a story called The Worst Diets Ever, the categories that emerged ignominiously were: those that focus on one or a few foods (raw food diet, grapefruit diet); and anything relying on a ‘miracle ingredient’ such as apple cider vinegar or with a heavy emphasis on supplements. It also lambasted very low calorie diets and fasting, which are both to be avoided as the initial weight loss is often fat, fluid and muscle, but the inevitable yo-yo weight gain is usually all fat as your body readjusts to normal eating.
Scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in the US fed a pill that mimics the gut’s activity after eating to mice suffering from fatty liver disease, diabetes or obesity. Results showed they had improved liver function, reduced inflammation, increased fat burning, weight loss and lower glucose levels. Human trials are still years away, though.
Is your job killing you? Dealing with work stress1:11
Is your job killing you? Here are some tools to help deal with workplace stress.