Living Healthy

Health is about much more than medicine. We show you what's new to help you attain and maintain a healthy life

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Like Other Animals, We Need Stress — in Moderation

A stress system gone awry can quite literally make people sick. (Getty Images)

A stress system gone awry can quite literally make people sick. (Getty Images)

By Richard Harris, NPR

Ask somebody about stress, and you’re likely to hear an outpouring about all the bad things that cause it — and the bad things that result. But if you ask a biologist, you’ll hear that stress can be good.

In fact, it’s essential.

But people who responded to NPR’s poll talked mostly about the downside of stress.

For example, the adrenal glands of all animals have evolved to pump out stress hormones in unexpected situations — the hormones spur action and increase fuel to the brain, helping the animal react to danger appropriately. Those hormones also flow to memory centers in the brain, to help the critter remember those notable moments and places.

“If it turns out to be dangerous and if the animal actually turns out to survive danger, then it will be aware of this as a potentially dangerous place,” explains Bruce McEwen, head of the neuroendocrinology laboratory at The Rockefeller University. “In that sense, stress is good.” Continue reading

Stanford Study: Inactivity, More Than Diet, Linked to Obesity Increase

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

New research from Stanford shows that physical activity — or lack thereof — may be a bigger driver of the obesity epidemic than diet is.

The rate of Americans reporting inactivity has skyrocketed.

The researchers looked at national survey results of people’s health habits — including diet and exercise — from 1988 to 2010. The stunner was the increase in people who reported no leisure-time physical activity.

In 1988, 19 percent of women were inactive. By 2010, that number had jumped to 52 percent. Continue reading

New Guidelines Say Many Women Can Skip Pelvic Exam

(Maigh/Flickr)

If this picture makes you shudder, you’ll want to understand the new guideline. (Maigh/Flickr)

No more dreaded pelvic exam? New guidelines say most healthy women can skip the yearly ritual.

Routine pelvic exams don’t benefit women who have no symptoms of disease and who aren’t pregnant, and they can cause harm, the American College of Physicians said Monday as it recommended that doctors quit using them as a screening tool.

It’s part of a growing movement to evaluate whether many longtime medical practices are done more out of habit than necessity, and the guideline is sure to be controversial.

Scientific evidence “just doesn’t support the benefit of having a pelvic exam every year,” said guideline coauthor Dr. Linda Humphrey of the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University. Continue reading

Surprising Advantage for Older Moms: More Likely to Live Longer

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

As a woman who had not just her last child, but also her first child after age 33, I enthusiastically clicked on the NPR story in my Facebook feed this morning.

NPR reports that older moms — women who had their last child after age 33 — have twice the odds of “exceptional longevity” as women who had their last child before age 29. This “exceptional longevity” is defined as living to age 95. The research is according to a study published this week in the journal Menopause.

I got over the fact that “older moms” are women who had their last child after 33, which seems kind of young to me.

NPR explains why there may be a connection between bearing children later and longevity: Continue reading

Study Finds Pesticide Exposure in Pregnancy Linked to Autism

(tpmartins/Flickr)

(tpmartins/Flickr)

Pregnant women living within a mile of fields where pesticides were applied faced almost double the risk of having a baby who developed autism — compared to women who lived more than a mile away, a new study finds.

U.C. Davis researchers tracked pesticide applications on farms in the Central Valley, near Sacramento, and the Bay Area and matched that data to the addresses of women who lived nearby when they were pregnant.

The fetus tends to be vulnerable to certain kinds of insults,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, an environmental epidemiologist at the MIND Institute at U.C. Davis and lead author of the study. “Pesticides may be one of those sets of chemicals that we need to be particularly careful about.

The study was published Monday in Environmental Health Perspectives. Continue reading

Mom’s 30 Day Ab Challenge Goes Viral on Facebook

Still, don't expect abs of steel at the end of 30 days. (Jessica Quinn/Flickr)

Still, don’t expect abs of steel at the end of 30 days. (Jessica Quinn/Flickr)

By Whitney Blair Wyckoff, NPR

Robyn Mendenhall Gardner was amazed when what started off as a monthlong ab workout challenge between friends and family caught fire on the Web.

More than 2.7 million people have signed on to the challenge.
The Montana mother of eight told Shots she came across a 30-day ab fitness plan online and, after having a tough time finishing it, turned it into a Facebook event to motivate herself.

Within days, the Facebook challenge went viral. At last count, more than 2.7 million people had signed up. And Gardner’s challenge attracted attention from major media outlets, including Good Morning America.

The challenge features a daily series of progressively longer sets of crunches, planks, sit ups and leg lifts. Participants have taken to the Facebook event’s wall, reporting their progress and encouraging each other to stick with it. The challenge lasts through the end of June. Continue reading

School Lunch Debate: What’s At Stake?

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

By Allison Aubrey and Jessica Pupovac, NPR

School lunches have never been known for culinary excellence. But to be fair, the National School Lunch Program — which provides free or reduced lunches to about 31 million kids every day — has never aimed to dazzle as much as to fill little bellies.

In 2010, Congress gave the Federal School Lunch Program a nutrition make-over. New regulations called for:

  • Increasing the amount of whole grains served in school cafeterias
  • Shifting to fat free or low-fat milks
  • Limiting the amount of calories that can come from saturated fats to 10 percent
  • Offering fruits and vegetables on a daily basis
  • Implementing caloric minimums and maximums for each meal

Those were just the first steps. By the school year starting this fall, schools are also required to: Continue reading

Fruit Juice vs. Soda? Both Beverages Pack a Wallop of Sugar

Minute Maid 100 percent apple juice has more fructose per liter than Coke and Pepsi. (Trisha Weir/Flickr)

Minute Maid 100 percent apple juice has more fructose per liter than Coke and Pepsi. (Trisha Weir/Flickr)

By Eliza Barclay, NPR

When it comes to choosing between sodas and juices in the beverage aisle, the juice industry has long benefited from a health halo.

’100 percent fruit juice is as bad as sugar-sweetened beverages for its effects on our health.’  

We know that juice comes from fruit, while soda is artificial. In particular, the sugars in juice seem more “natural” than high fructose corn syrup — the main sweetener in so many sodas. After all, we’ve gotten rid of most of the soda we used to offer kids at school, but schools can still offer juice.

But a study published online in the journal Nutrition, shows that on average fruit juice has a fructose concentration of about 45.5 grams per liter, only a bit less than the average of 50 grams per liter for sodas. The sneakiest — and sweetest — juice is Minute Maid 100 percent apple, with nearly 66 grams of fructose per liter. That’s more than the 62.5 grams per liter in Coca-Cola and the 61 grams per liter in Dr. Pepper. Continue reading

In Humboldt County, Hupa Woman Teaches Healthy Cooking via YouTube

Meagan Baldy demonstrates a stir-fry of local salmon, kale and mushrooms. (screen grab from YouTube)

Meagan Baldy demonstrates a stir-fry of local salmon, kale and mushrooms.The channel is aimed at improving the health of Native Americans.  (screen grab from YouTube)

By Samantha Clark

Tucked away in far northern California, in Humboldt County, is the small community of Hoopa. With just 3,000 people, it’s the big city on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.

Like other Native American groups, the Hupa suffer from high rates of obesity and diabetes. That’s where Meagan Baldy comes in. She runs the Hoopa Community Garden and sought to educate her fellow Hupa people about eating local, traditional foods. But trying to change people’s habits is never easy.

She started by offering a “farm box” – a box of free produce, whatever is in season. But people failed even to pick up their boxes. Baldy discovered that people didn’t know how to prepare most produce.

Serving the vegetables to her own family was a battle at first, so it must have been for others as well, Baldy reasoned. So, she snuck in greens and tried cooking them in creative ways. Continue reading

Key Drivers of the Rise in Double Mastectomies: Anxiety and MRIs

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

The number of women getting double mastectomies after a breast cancer diagnosis has been rising in the past 10 years, even though most of them don’t face a higher risk of getting cancer in the other breast.

More than two-thirds of the women who had the double mastectomy had no risk factors that would make it more likely that they would get breast cancer again.

That has cancer doctors troubled, because for those women having the other breast removed doesn’t reduce their risk of getting breast cancer again or increase their odds of survival. And they don’t know why women are making this choice.

Worry about the cancer coming back is one of the biggest reasons, according to a study of women in California and Michigan that tried to figure out which women decided on a double mastectomy, and why.

Women who had a breast MRI were more likely to decide on a double mastectomy, even if the scan didn’t show more cancer. Continue reading