Placeholder Content Image

Walking can prevent low back pain, a new study shows

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/tash-pocovi-1293184">Tash Pocovi</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-lin-346821">Christine Lin</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mark-hancock-1463059">Mark Hancock</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/petra-graham-892602">Petra Graham</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/simon-french-713564">Simon French</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a></em></p> <p>Do you suffer from low back pain that recurs regularly? If you do, you’re not alone. Roughly <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31208917/">70% of people</a> who recover from an episode of low back pain will experience a new episode in the following year.</p> <p>The recurrent nature of low back pain is a major contributor to the <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanrhe/article/PIIS2665-9913(23)00098-X/fulltext">enormous burden</a> low back pain places on individuals and the health-care system.</p> <p>In our new study, published today in <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(24)00755-4/fulltext">The Lancet</a>, we found that a program combining walking and education can effectively reduce the recurrence of low back pain.</p> <h2>The WalkBack trial</h2> <p>We randomly assigned 701 adults who had recently recovered from an episode of low back pain to receive an individualised walking program and education (intervention), or to a no treatment group (control).</p> <p>Participants in the intervention group were guided by physiotherapists across six sessions, over a six-month period. In the first, third and fifth sessions, the physiotherapist helped each participant to develop a personalised and progressive walking program that was realistic and tailored to their specific needs and preferences.</p> <p>The remaining sessions were short check-ins (typically less than 15 minutes) to monitor progress and troubleshoot any potential barriers to engagement with the walking program. Due to the COVID pandemic, most participants received the entire intervention via telehealth, using video consultations and phone calls.</p> <p>The program was designed to be manageable, with a target of five walks per week of roughly 30 minutes daily by the end of the six-month program. Participants were also encouraged to continue walking independently after the program.</p> <p>Importantly, the walking program was combined with education provided by the physiotherapists during the six sessions. This education aimed to give people a better understanding of pain, reduce fear associated with exercise and movement, and give people the confidence to self-manage any minor recurrences if they occurred.</p> <p>People in the control group received no preventative treatment or education. This reflects what <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2468781222001308?via%3Dihub">typically occurs</a> after people recover from an episode of low back pain and are discharged from care.</p> <h2>What the results showed</h2> <p>We monitored the participants monthly from the time they were enrolled in the study, for up to three years, to collect information about any new recurrences of low back pain they may have experienced. We also asked participants to report on any costs related to their back pain, including time off work and the use of health-care services.</p> <p>The intervention reduced the risk of a recurrence of low back pain that limited daily activity by 28%, while the recurrence of low back pain leading participants to seek care from a health professional decreased by 43%.</p> <p>Participants who received the intervention had a longer average period before they had a recurrence, with a median of 208 days pain-free, compared to 112 days in the control group.</p> <p>Overall, we also found this intervention to be cost-effective. The biggest savings came from less work absenteeism and less health service use (such as physiotherapy and massage) among the intervention group.</p> <p>This trial, like all studies, had some limitations to consider. Although we tried to recruit a wide sample, we found that most participants were female, aged between 43 and 66, and were generally well educated. This may limit the extent to which we can generalise our findings.</p> <p>Also, in this trial, we used physiotherapists who were up-skilled in health coaching. So we don’t know whether the intervention would achieve the same impact if it were to be delivered by other clinicians.</p> <h2>Walking has multiple benefits</h2> <p>We’ve all heard the saying that “prevention is better than a cure” – and it’s true. But this approach has been largely neglected when it comes to low back pain. Almost all <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673618304896?via%3Dihub">previous studies</a> have focused on treating episodes of pain, not preventing future back pain.</p> <p>A limited number of <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26752509/">small studies</a> have shown that exercise and education can help prevent low back pain. However, most of these studies focused on exercises that are not accessible to everyone due to factors such as high cost, complexity, and the need for supervision from health-care or fitness professionals.</p> <p>On the other hand, walking is a free, accessible way to exercise, including for people in rural and remote areas with limited access to health care.</p> <p>Walking also delivers many other <a href="https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/VH_Benefits-of-Walking-Summary2020.pdf">health benefits</a>, including better heart health, improved mood and sleep quality, and reduced risk of several chronic diseases.</p> <p>While walking is not everyone’s favourite form of exercise, the intervention was well-received by most people in our study. Participants <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37271689/">reported</a> that the additional general health benefits contributed to their ongoing motivation to continue the walking program independently.</p> <h2>Why is walking helpful for low back pain?</h2> <p>We don’t know exactly why walking is effective for preventing back pain, but <a href="https://www.e-jer.org/journal/view.php?number=2013600295">possible reasons</a> could include the combination of gentle movements, loading and strengthening of the spinal structures and muscles. It also could be related to relaxation and stress relief, and the release of “feel-good” endorphins, which <a href="https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23040-endorphins">block pain signals</a> between your body and brain – essentially turning down the dial on pain.</p> <p>It’s possible that other accessible and low-cost forms of exercise, such as swimming, may also be effective in preventing back pain, but surprisingly, <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34783263/">no studies</a> have investigated this.</p> <p>Preventing low back pain is not easy. But these findings give us hope that we are getting closer to a solution, one step at a time.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/231682/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/tash-pocovi-1293184">Tash Pocovi</a>, Postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Health Sciences, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-lin-346821">Christine Lin</a>, Professor, Institute for Musculoskeletal Health, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mark-hancock-1463059">Mark Hancock</a>, Professor of Physiotherapy, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/petra-graham-892602">Petra Graham</a>, Associate Professor, School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/simon-french-713564">Simon French</a>, Professor of Musculoskeletal Disorders, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/macquarie-university-1174">Macquarie University</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/walking-can-prevent-low-back-pain-a-new-study-shows-231682">original article</a>.</em></p>

Body

Placeholder Content Image

New study reveals people who do this daily make more money over their lifetimes

<p>You’ve heard that regular exercise can help you live richly. Frequent movement, even in short bursts throughout the day, has been linked to lower all-cause mortality rates and reduced risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and other age-related conditions, helping you age healthfully and stay independent.</p> <p>Now, new research suggests frequent exercise might help you live well in another meaningful way; in terms of income. In a recent study published in the journal Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, doctors from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), which is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH), investigated whether individuals who stayed active would earn more money as a result of their active lifestyle.</p> <p>The researchers’ findings revealed that staying active not only resulted in higher present earnings, but also predicted increased future income throughout one’s life. In essence, the science was clear: Getting more exercise could make you wealthier.</p> <h2>How exercise predicted future earnings</h2> <p>The researchers set out to explore three key correlations: How mobility affected income, how mobility influenced income over time, and whether exercise could help people maintain their mobility as they aged.</p> <p>The team analysed data from the US-federally-supported Health and Retirement Study (HRS), the largest study tracking changes over time in Americans aged 50 and above. This comprehensive study takes into account various life aspects, including work, socio-economic status, health, psychology and family matters, as individuals age.</p> <p>To assess the impact of current mobility on income, the researchers examined data from over 19,000 respondents to determine how well they could perform simple tasks, such as walking several blocks, climbing multiple flights of stairs, or moving around a room. Each person received a numerical score, with 5 indicating full mobility and 0 indicating difficulties with these tasks.</p> <h2>What earnings over time revealed</h2> <p>The researchers found that for each decrease in the mobility category, individuals lost out on an average of US$3000 in annual income compared to their peers. Those who were active were also significantly more likely to remain working for longer than the other group. It appeared that engaging in exercise enabled individuals to maintain mobility and engage in professional life for a longer period of time than those who were less active.</p> <p>Looking at earnings over time revealed even more substantial benefits for those who remained active throughout their lives. Active individuals showed an overall income level that was US$6500 higher, along with higher rates of employment.</p> <p>For the third part of the study, it’s not surprising that those who engaged in exercise continued to maintain their mobility after the age of 55 and had higher employment rates. Even exercising just one day a week showed improvements in mobility outcomes.</p> <h2>Moving more benefits more than just health</h2> <p>While this study doesn’t definitively prove that leading a healthy lifestyle directly leads to higher earnings, it strongly suggests that staying healthy and mobile brings benefits beyond just lower levels of disease (which is a type of wealth in and of itself). NIAMS Director Lindsey A. Criswell, M.D., M.P.H., underscores this point: “We have long understood that greater mobility is an important indicator of good health … The notion that mobility can have economic rewards further extends the evidence for the benefits of exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle.”</p> <p>If this science inspires you to make a healthy lifestyle change, speak with a licensed healthcare provider to determine the right exercise programme for you.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock </em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.co.nz/food-home-garden/money/new-study-reveals-people-who-do-this-daily-make-more-money-over-their-lifetimes" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>.</em> </p>

Body

Placeholder Content Image

Want to reduce your dementia risk? Eat these 4 foods, says new study

<p>If you are what you eat, this might make you hungrier for foods that are bright in every sense. Research has shown that living, vibrant foods can slow down aging at a cellular level; while fruit and vegetables in particular have been associated with lower incidence of cognitive decline as individuals age.</p> <p>However, research has been relatively lacking on just how much of these brain-healthy foods you really need and which fruit and vegetables are best for the job.</p> <p>In collaboration with public health experts at Harvard University, medical researchers at China’s Zhejiang University School of Medicine conducted a meta-analysis that’s slated to be published in the June 2024 issue of <em>The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging</em>. They combined data from two large-scale population-representative studies that analysed the diets and cognitive function of more than 10,000 participants ages 55 and older from China and the US.</p> <h2>What daily diets revealed</h2> <p>The data included diet questionnaires that honed in on the average of participants’ total daily intake of several different types of foods, including fruit and vegetables, and also broke them down into sub-types like green leafy vegetables and berries. Over a period of five years, the participants also took part in activities designed to assess their cognitive function and the average rate of cognitive decline.</p> <p>Overall, participants who included the most fruit and vegetables in their daily diets performed best on the brain tests and maintained those results over time. This suggested that both fruit and vegetables had protective elements that slowed cognitive decline.</p> <h2>Vegetables that help protect cognition</h2> <p>Interestingly, certain types of vegetables appeared to be more beneficial than others—say the researchers: “Our findings support the potential beneficial roles of VF, especially cruciferous vegetables, green leafy vegetables, and red and yellow vegetables, in maintaining cognitive function and slowing cognitive decline in middle-aged and older adults.”</p> <p>The researchers pointed to several reasons these particular vegetables might have shown a substantial impact, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidation nutrients like flavonoids and various vitamins or even gut improvements that have been shown to help improve or protect cognition.</p> <p>While beans didn’t figure prominently in both studies, they showed a protective element in the US study, so they are also worth keeping on your plate. (Beans are also thought to be one of the top foods for longevity.)</p> <h2>Fruit that pack a punch</h2> <p>As for fruit, while some didn’t show as much of a protective effect across the board, berries and apples are two examples of fruit that experts have previously said provide major polyphenol and antioxidant effect.</p> <p>Participants whose brains maintained performance were shown to have eaten three or more servings of vegetables and two or more servings of fruit per day. This is on par with the five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit recommended we eat every day.</p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://www.readersdigest.co.nz/healthsmart/want-to-reduce-your-dementia-risk-eat-these-4-foods-says-new-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Reader's Digest</a>. </em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Science finally proves "Money doesn't buy happiness"

<p>A new study has proven that the old adage "money can't buy you happiness" is true. </p> <p>Historically, economic wealth and higher income households are often seen to have an increased level of wellbeing and happiness, with the extra money making way for less stress and more general comfortability. </p> <p>However, researchers from Canada and Spain have concluded this may not be true, with such surveys often including responses from people in industrialised areas only. </p> <p>People in small-scale societies where money does not play a central role in every day life are often excluded from these studies, as the livelihood of residents in these small communities usually depend more on nature. </p> <p>Now, 2,966 people from Indigenous and local communities in 19 locations across the globe have been included in a study, with researchers now finding that societies of Indigenous people and those in small, local communities report living very satisfying lives despite not having a lot of money. </p> <p>The researchers wrote, "The striking aspect of our findings... is that reported life satisfaction in very low-income communities can meet and even exceed that reported at the highest average levels of material wealth provided by industrial ways of life."</p> <p>Researchers concluded the findings are strong evidence that economic growth is not needed to be happy, with only 64 percent of households included in the survey reported having any cash income.</p> <p>Eric Galbraith, lead author of the study, said, "Surprisingly, many populations with very low monetary incomes report very high average levels of life satisfaction, with scores similar to those in wealthy countries."</p> <p>Researchers added that high life satisfaction is shown in these communities "despite many of these societies having suffered histories of marginalisation and oppression."</p> <p>Galbraith added, "I would hope that, by learning more about what makes life satisfying in these diverse communities, it might help many others to lead more satisfying lives while addressing the sustainability crisis."</p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p>

Money & Banking

Placeholder Content Image

Opioids don’t relieve acute low back or neck pain – and can result in worse pain, new study finds

<p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-lin-346821">Christine Lin</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/andrew-mclachlan-255312">Andrew McLachlan</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/caitlin-jones-1263090">Caitlin Jones</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christopher-maher-826241">Christopher Maher</a>, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a></em></p> <p>Opioids are the one of the most prescribed pain-relief for people with low back and neck pain. In Australia, around <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00586-017-5178-4">40% of people</a> with low back and neck pain who present to their GP and <a href="https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/28/10/826">70% of people</a> with low back pain who visit a hospital emergency department are prescribed opioids such as oxycodone.</p> <p>But our <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(23)00404-X/fulltext">new study</a>, published today in the Lancet medical journal, found opioids do not relieve “acute” low back or neck pain (lasting up to 12 weeks) and can result in worse pain.</p> <p>Prescribing opioids for low back and neck pain can also cause <a href="https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/taking-opioid-medicines-safely">harms</a> ranging from common side effects – such as nausea, constipation and dizziness – to <a href="https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/illicit-use-of-drugs/opioid-harm-in-australia/summary">misuse, dependency, poisoning and death</a>.</p> <p>Our findings show opioids should <em>not</em> be recommended for acute low back pain or neck pain. A change in prescribing for low back pain and neck pain is urgently needed in <a href="https://www.tga.gov.au/resources/publication/publications/addressing-prescription-opioid-use-and-misuse-australia">Australia</a> and <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/commissions/opioid-crisis">globally</a> to reduce opioid-related harms.</p> <h2>Comparing opioids to a placebo</h2> <p>In our trial, we randomly allocated 347 people with acute low back pain and neck pain to take either an opioid (oxycodone plus naloxone) or <a href="https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/placebo-effect">placebo</a> (a tablet that looked the same but had no active ingredients).</p> <p>Oxycodone is an opioid pain medicine which can be given orally. <a href="https://www.nps.org.au/radar/articles/oxycodone-with-naloxone-controlled-release-tablets-targin-for-chronic-severe-pain">Naloxone</a>, an opioid-reversal drug, reduces the severity of constipation while not disrupting the pain relieving effects of oxycodone.</p> <p>Participants took the opioid or placebo for a maximum of six weeks.</p> <p>People in the both groups also received <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1836955321000941">education and advice</a> from their treating doctor. This could be, for example, advice on returning to their normal activities and avoiding bed rest.</p> <p>We assessed their outcomes over a one-year period.</p> <h2>What did we find?</h2> <p>After six weeks of treatment, taking opioids did not result in better pain relief compared to the placebo.</p> <p>Nor were there benefits to other outcomes such as physical function, quality of life, recovery time or work absenteeism.</p> <p>More people in the group treated with opioids experienced nausea, constipation and dizziness than in the placebo group.</p> <p>Results at one year highlight the potential long-term harm of opioids even with short-term use. Compared to the placebo group, people in the opioid group experienced slightly worse pain, and reported a higher risk of <a href="https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/20/1/113/4728236#129780622">opioid misuse</a> (problems with their thinking, mood or behaviour, or using opioids differently from how the medicines were prescribed).</p> <p>More people in the opioid group reported pain at one year: 66 people compared to 50 in the placebo group.</p> <h2>What will this mean for opioid prescribing?</h2> <p>In recent years, international low back pain guidelines have shifted the focus of treatment from drug to non-drug treatment due to <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(18)30489-6/fulltext">evidence</a> of limited treatment benefits and concern of medication-related harm.</p> <p>For acute low back pain, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00586-018-5673-2">guidelines</a> recommend patient education and advice, and if required, anti-inflammatory pain medicines such as ibuprofen. Opioids are <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00586-018-5673-2">recommended only</a> when other treatments haven’t worked or aren’t appropriate.</p> <p>Guidelines for <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33064878/">neck</a> pain similarly discourage the use of opioids.</p> <p>Our latest research clearly demonstrates the benefits of opioids do not outweigh possible harms in people with acute low back pain and neck pain.</p> <p>Instead of advising opioid use for these conditions in selected circumstances, opioids should be discouraged without qualification.</p> <h2>Change is possible</h2> <p>Complex problems such as opioid use need smart solutions, and another study we recently conducted provides convincing data opioid prescribing can be successfully reduced.</p> <p>The <a href="https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/30/10/825">study</a> involved four hospital emergency departments, 269 clinicians and 4,625 patients with low back pain. The intervention comprised of:</p> <ul> <li>clinician education about <a href="https://aci.health.nsw.gov.au/networks/musculoskeletal/resources/low-back-pain">evidence-based management</a> of low back pain</li> <li>patient education using posters and handouts to highlight the benefits and harms of opioids</li> <li>providing heat packs and anti-inflammatory pain medicines as alternative pain-management treatments</li> <li>fast-tracking referrals to outpatient clinics to avoid long waiting lists</li> <li>audits and feedback to clinicians on information about opioid prescribing rates.</li> </ul> <p>This intervention reduced opioid prescribing from <a href="https://qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/30/10/825">63% to 51% of low back pain presentations</a>. The <a href="https://emj.bmj.com/content/early/2023/04/02/emermed-2022-212874">reduction was sustained for 30 months</a>.</p> <p>Key to this successful approach is that we worked with clinicians to develop suitable pain-management treatments without opioids that were feasible in their setting.</p> <p>More work is needed to evaluate this and other interventions aimed at reducing opioid prescribing in other settings including GP clinics.</p> <p>A nuanced approach is often necessary to avoid causing <a href="https://theconversation.com/opioid-script-changes-mean-well-but-have-left-some-people-in-chronic-pain-156753">unintended consequences</a> in reducing opioid use.</p> <p>If people with low back pain or neck pain are using opioids, especially at higher doses over an extended period of time, it’s important they seek advice from their doctor or pharmacist before stopping these medicines to avoid <a href="https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/opioid-withdrawal-symptoms">unwanted effects when the medicines are abruptly stopped</a>.</p> <p>Our research provides compelling evidence opioids have a limited role in the management of acute low back and neck pain. The challenge is getting this new information to clinicians and the general public, and to implement this evidence into practice.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/203244/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-lin-346821">Christine Lin</a>, Professor, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/andrew-mclachlan-255312">Andrew McLachlan</a>, Head of School and Dean of Pharmacy, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>; <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/caitlin-jones-1263090">Caitlin Jones</a>, Postdoctoral Research Associate in Musculoskeletal Health, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a>, and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christopher-maher-826241">Christopher Maher</a>, Professor, Sydney School of Public Health, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sydney-841">University of Sydney</a></em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/opioids-dont-relieve-acute-low-back-or-neck-pain-and-can-result-in-worse-pain-new-study-finds-203244">original article</a>.</em></p>

Body

Placeholder Content Image

How to pick the right course for you

<p>The benefits of keeping your mind busy are endless but deciding to undertake study requires some commitment. Follow these steps to ensure you are picking the right course for you.</p> <p><strong>Pick something you love</strong></p> <p>A good way to narrow this down is by making a list of things you like doing, subjects you enjoy reading about and your hobbies. Next, jot down the courses you think you’re interested in and that align with your list of interests. If you find any crossover, look more into those courses.</p> <p><strong>Do some research</strong></p> <p>Always make sure you look into something before you commit yourself. The best resources are the internet and the people around you. More often than not you will find information on the institution’s website. </p> <p><strong>Speak to people</strong></p> <p>Speak to your friends and family who have studied and find out what they have and haven’t liked about the courses and places they have studied. You will gain the best insight from someone who has studied a course himself/herself.</p> <p><strong>Trust your instincts</strong></p> <p>When you start looking into subject options, you should trust your feelings when picking a course or place to study. If there’s something you’re not comfortable with ask about it, if you’re not satisfied with the answer then perhaps it’s not the right course for you.</p> <p><strong>Review course content</strong></p> <p>Ensure you have a close look at the subjects or modules you will cover in a course you want to study. If you know the types of things required of you before you enrol and you’re comfortable with what’s ahead, it’s a great sign.</p> <p><strong>Consider course durations</strong></p> <p>Courses vary in time commitments and duration, and some courses even offer you the flexibility to choose. </p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Social media good for older people’s health

<p>Older people should use Facebook and other social media to help prevent their health declining, a study has found.</p> <p>Researchers at the University of Exeter in England carried out the research among 65 to 95-year-olds and found that people who spent time online did not feel as lonely as others their age, which helps stop declining physical and mental health.</p> <p>The study followed seniors from 31 residential care homes across the United Kingdom. Researchers noted those trained to use technology felt more self-competent, were more sociable and demonstrated improved cognitive abilities.</p> <p>The project's leader, Dr Thomas Morton, said the findings highlighted how loneliness among older people can contribute to their poor health.</p> <p>“Human beings are social animals, and it’s no surprise that we tend to do better when we have the capacity to connect with others.</p> <p>“But what can be surprising is just how important social connections are to cognitive and physical health.</p> <p>“People who are socially isolated or who experience loneliness are more vulnerable to disease and decline.”</p> <p>Margaret Keohone, a participant of the study, said learning to navigate the internet “changed her life”.</p> <p>“Having this training changes people's lives and opens up their worlds, invigorates their minds and for lots of us gives us a completely different way of recognising our worth as we age,” said Margaret Keohone. </p> <p>“I was just slipping away into a slower way of life.”</p> <p><em>Images: Getty</em></p>

Technology

Placeholder Content Image

Why being married cuts your risk of skin cancer

<p>A new study has found that married couples are less likely to die of skin cancer because they spot warning signs earlier than singles.</p> <p>The study, which observed 50,000 American skin cancer patients, found that 45.7 per cent of those who were married, had stage 1 tumours – which have a 98 per cent survival rate.</p> <p>The chance of catching skin cancer early dropped 32 per cent for singles, 38 per cent for divorcees and 70 per cent for widowers.</p> <p>The researchers from the University of Pennsylvania said they were stunned by the striking difference in diagnoses.</p> <p>The researchers believe these findings should help dermatologists adjust their advice to patients based on their relationship status, suggesting screening at an earlier age for single patients and encouraging home-screen training for those in relationships.</p> <p>Victims of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, are expected to increase by seven per cent by 2035.</p> <p>For those diagnosed with stage 1 disease, the five-year survival is reportedly 98 per cent. The five-year survival drops to 62 per cent for those diagnosed with stage 3 disease</p> <p>The study, published in the<em> Journal of the American Heart Association</em>, aimed to investigate how lifestyle and relationships could impact patients’ early detection chances.</p> <p>“Spouses likely facilitate early detection of melanomas by assisting in identification of pigmented lesions that may have otherwise gone unnoticed,” said corresponding author Dr Cimarron Sharon, a dermatologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.</p> <p>“They may also provide support and encouragement to see a physician for evaluation.</p> <p>“Thus, married patients are likely to receive a better prognosis because of earlier surgical management.”</p> <p>The study also found that married patients were more likely than single, divorced or widowed patients to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy.</p> <p>SLNB is linked to survival as the sentinel lymph node is closest to a tumour and is the first place it would spread.</p> <p>Dr Sharon said this could be “associated with the spouse's role in supporting the patient and engaging in further discussion”. A partner also reduces the difficulty in travelling to and from a hospital and finding a carer post-surgery.</p> <p>This study is the largest of its kind to find the influence of marriage on the detection of melanoma.</p> <p>Dr Sharon said, “These findings support increased consideration of spousal training for partner skin examination and perhaps more frequent screening for unmarried patients.</p> <p>“Marital status should be considered when counselling patients for melanoma procedures and when recommending screening and follow-up to optimize patient care.”</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p>

Body

Placeholder Content Image

Huge news for Alzheimer’s sufferers

<p>An experimental new drug by Eli Lilly has demonstrated an ability to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, according to new study reports. </p> <p>The pharmaceutical company has said that its drug, donanemab, met each goal of their 18-month trial, successfully slowing cognitive decline by 35 per cent compared to a placebo. </p> <p>1,182 individuals in the early stages of Alzheimer’s participated in the study, with each patient receiving monthly infusions of donanemab. </p> <p>After 12 months, half of the participants showed no evidence of amyloid plaques, while 48 per cent of patients in the trial had no disease progression at 12 months, compared to 29 per cent from the placebo group.</p> <p>In the wake of the news, experts are optimistic, but still hold concerns about the risks moving forward. </p> <p>Dr Ronald Petersen, a Mayo Clinic Alzheimer research, told the ABC that “Lilly's trial is the third to show removing amyloid from the brain slows progression of the disease, which could put to rest some lingering doubts about the benefits of drugs in the class and the amyloid-lowering theory.</p> <p>"It's modest, but I think it's real and I think it's clinically meaningful."</p> <p>Washington University neurologist Dr Erik Musiek noted that mounting evidence was suggesting “that these drugs do work”. </p> <p>He also said that the findings were reminding them of the benefits of early treatment, explaining that “it really does suggest that you need to remove these plaques early, before the tau really gets going.”</p> <p>When it comes to the associated risks, Eli Lilly have said that the drug’s side effects could include brain swelling as well as bleeding, with serious swelling occurring in 1.6 per cent of patients. </p> <p>As Dr Eric Reiman, Banner Alzheimer’s Institute’s executive director, explained, “clearly one saw benefits here, but there is some risk that needs to be considered.” </p> <p>From there, Lily plan to file for US approval by the end of June, and to proceed with regulars from other countries in the time after. A spokesperson for the company is confident that a decision over approval in the US should occur by the end of 2023, or early in 2024. </p> <p>Experts in the field want to see the study’s full results, which are likely to be presented at an Amsterdam Alzheimer’s meeting later in the year. </p> <p>As for the cost, the company has not yet finalised a price point, but CEO David Ricks informed CNBC that they intend for it to be similar to other therapies in the same field. </p> <p><em>Images: Getty</em></p>

Caring

Placeholder Content Image

New study reveals the lifetime health benefits of social interaction

<p dir="ltr">A new meta-analysis study - undertaken by the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (otherwise known as the CHeBA) at the University of New South Wales - has revealed that social interaction could have benefits many would never have thought to predict, from a reduced risk of dementia to overall increased longevity. </p> <p dir="ltr">Researches were investigating the link between social connections in senior citizens and the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), as well as dementia and morality, compiling the results from 13 other international studies following individuals aged 65 years and up over extended periods of time - research published in <em><a href="https://u26892420.ct.sendgrid.net/ls/click?upn=B8NE7CRkW4hCmh1dHfJbPqy22DjCz8-2Bq3ZidKWozGaZDoG-2FmVx-2BVsAja535jGrbQlYGwKkrcgY4HPBHrSRE-2Bpq1fwuJ0AQZcKTgnOiva5gsjqRFzNLSYGGzJ4hgT-2Bp0b-7Jp_W1g0lLgOQvKHpoedb1QOitWbx1JxegS3ChuQBoUMMSvQphp8oKfzCnK1hk7FLUZqqTLorFP-2FYQB6URmHLHx65PjMZSysYz3YQI-2BzvIxBhVdZr2Z1gRzt72cMfkaib4uVOYXTxECJWWsRmLyHtb8tdUoPs6u4lvqr8I7xD4zbJqJTqeP2zMO2vFFc6dcczrApzJnOWkq2tOchRyvzstzbQnlU1N4WSe4ZAMtqjmGx6sSvfxYICFLpppnmosd6kUUL-2B2zjjEQ61i38e9TYUaT6LZA5aIGcpHJw26Ob-2BXzuvv-2BuHbhihyIqh2AUTJ2WAYsCw6hpo5SJ7JKlgCF4nYeiekLQeVVLm4GRjjckYyIIN48-3D">Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association</a></em>.</p> <p dir="ltr">As author, clinical psychologist, and researcher Dr Suraj Samtani explained, “we know from previous research that social connections are important for our health and being isolated puts us at higher risk of dementia and death.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our goal was to find which social connections protect us from dementia and death.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Researches drew intel from studies in a number of countries - spanning low, middle, and high-income nations - and compiled a study population more diverse than the meta-analyses to come before, including the likes of Australia, European nations, North and South America, Asia, and Africa, as opposed to the previous North America and European study groups.</p> <p dir="ltr">From there, they looked at information about the connections between the participants, paying close attention to the types of social links (whether they were in a relationship, single, or married, or involved with their community), the function of them (whether or not they had social support on hand, or a close confidante), and the quality (how much satisfaction they did - or did not - receive from their relationships).</p> <p dir="ltr">With this information, they sought to find out if the participants had developed either MCI or dementia - as well as whether or not they had passed away.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We looked at social variables across these studies, such as living with others, interacting with friends and family, engaging in community activities, and social support,” Dr Samtani  said. “We wanted to know which of these are associated with risk of getting dementia over time or dying.”</p> <p dir="ltr">And from their research, they discovered that positive social connections did appear to be linked to a lower risk of MCI, dementia, and death. </p> <p dir="ltr">“We found that frequent interactions - monthly or weekly - with family and friends and having someone to talk to reduced the risk of getting dementia. We also found that living with others and doing community activities reduced the risk of dying,” Dr Samtani noted.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recommendations from the researchers suggest that people should be prioritising their social connections if they hope to reduce their risk of cognitive decline - with the added benefit of living longer, too. </p> <p dir="ltr">“Try to meet with friends and family at least once a month, take part in community activities like volunteering or a rotary club, and open your heart to someone when you feel stressed,” Dr Samtani said. “Living with others, for example in an intergenerational household, is also helpful.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Connecting with others helps us to keep our bodies and minds healthy.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We hope that helping people to stay engaged in conversations and maintain healthy friendships and relationships will help them to stay healthy and happy.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><em>Images: Getty </em></p>

Relationships

Placeholder Content Image

The truth about video games in aged care homes

<p>Video games sound like a great way to bring senior community homes together, but are they really?</p> <p>A recent study decided to test this theory, based on past studies that have found positive effects as a result of introducing video games into senior homes.</p> <p>Dr. Kathrin Gerling led the project with Dr Regan Mandryk and Dr Conor Linehan. The study implemented a weekly gaming session in two care facilities over a three-month period of time.</p> <p>The games introduced included motion-based games like those of Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360.</p> <p>According to Dr. Gerling, "We were interested in the potential of games to engage older adults in long-term care in group activities. We looked at how people approached video games, to see if they stuck with it and found it enjoyable, and also to find out if this stimulated group activities and resulted in friendships.”</p> <p>The senior users caught on quickly, as Gerling expanded: “Players at the senior residence quickly understood how the games worked and it became an actual group activity. People formed relationships, took more ownership and adapted games to fit in with how they wanted to play.”</p> <p>Still, the experiment brought forth the reality of difficulties the games presented: “We found it more difficult to bring people together at the care home, mostly because of different age-related impairments. In some cases, players needed a lot of support from staff, and depended on them being able to attend gaming sessions."</p> <p>Gerling proposed that while the games benefited some seniors, others may have found more negative results: "You always have a split of people who like playing video games and those who don't, no matter what age. But older people learning to play new games in public may feel particularly uncomfortable if they are experiencing vulnerability over their age-related changes and impairments. Some older adults require extensive support, both to gain access to gaming sessions and throughout play.”</p> <p>Gerling outlined the necessary means for all community members to receive benefit from playing video games: "We need to make sure that video games created for older adults in long-term care are adaptive – there's a fine line between challenging people and giving them something meaningful to accomplish, as opposed to doing harm. To be successful games need to engage players of all abilities and be tailored towards specific groups. It's really important to be mindful of the context in which games will be played and be understanding of the individual abilities of the player. This is particularly important when evaluating the value of games for improving the quality of life, and when creating games with a purpose beyond entertainment, such as therapy and rehabilitation."</p> <p><strong>Related links:</strong></p> <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em><a href="../health/wellbeing/2015/08/start-exercising-when-youre-older/">Start exercising at any age</a></em></span></strong></p> <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em><a href="../health/wellbeing/2015/07/dementia-phone-screening/">Would you consider being screened for dementia over the phone?</a></em></span></strong></p> <p><strong><span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em><a href="../health/wellbeing/2015/07/top-health-worries-of-60-year-olds/">Top 10 health worries when you’re 60-plus (and how to beat them)</a></em></span></strong></p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Why study is the key to keeping your brain healthy as you age

<p><em><strong>Two Over60 community members talk about studying later in life, how it keeps their mind healthy and why they keep going back for more.</strong></em></p> <p>The word study for many people conjures up memories of restless school days, strict teachers and homework you had to force yourself to complete. However, education isn’t just limited to schools – if you think about our everyday lives, we are constantly learning new things. Whether it’s trying out a new recipe, learning about historic events through a film or attempting to remember algebra so we can help our grandkids, it’s clear learning is a lifelong process. Research consistently shows that keeping your mind active has many health benefits. For over-60s, it helps to keep your mind stimulated and mental faculties in top condition as well as improving your overall wellbeing. It is why there are increasingly more seniors who are seeking to study later in life – and they’re finding they not only love it, but that it’s rewarding in so many ways.</p> <p>For Bernard Macdougall, 73, from Maryborough, Queensland, taking courses and learning new things has been crucial in keeping his mind astute. It was after searching online that Bernard stumbled across the free Open2Study courses.</p> <p>“A couple of year ago I was starting to get a bit anxious about whether I had any brain damage. I had a bit of numbness on the right side of my body and I felt I had a slight impediment in my speech,” he reveals, continuing, “but when I found I could get high marks in these courses I thought well I don’t have to worry, my brain is working, there hasn’t been any deterioration.”</p> <p>Bernard found there was a great variety in courses offered and the option of short one-month timeframes could be easily managed. He ended up taking three courses through Open2Study and another online course through Charles Darwin University.</p> <p>It was a similar case for Peter Keyes, 78, from Albion Park Rail, New South Wales, who has completed four courses through Open2Study. Peter has worked in education all his life so when retirement came around he wasn’t about to stop learning.</p> <p>“You can’t sit around in retirement and twiddle your thumbs,” he laughs, adding, “I live in a retirement village and I encourage all of [the residents] to do some study rather than sit around and watch TV all day! It keeps the brain kicking.”</p> <p>As well as keeping him busy, Peter also found the courses were helpful and informative.</p> <p>“During my career in education I ended up being an administrator looking after buildings so I was interested in one of the courses ‘Project Management’. It gave me a further insight into the processes that I used in setting up the buildings of school buildings,” he explains, continuing, “In [my] retirement village, management occasionally ask me to go into planning meetings and talk about what things [to consider] in terms of buildings and older people.”</p> <p>Studying is not only about learning new things but as Bernard found, it can be personally fulfilling too.</p> <p>“Back in the 70s, I did an arts degree with major studies in anthropology. I saw that Open2Study had a course called ‘<a href="https://www.open2study.com/courses/becoming-human-anthropology-090913%20" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><span><strong>Becoming Human</strong></span></a>’. I thought, ‘Right I will have a go at that’,” explains Bernard. He soon found he was not only learning about new theories but about what it means to become human. “I was very emotionally involved as it was about human evolution,” he says.</p> <p>Both Bernard and Peter found the online courses easy to manage – all that was needed was a computer and an internet connection to access the course that you could do in the convenience and comfort of your own home.</p> <p>Lectures were presented through short videos, which Peter found convenient: “You can stop it at any time, make a note and then catch up,” he explains.</p> <p>And for those who are worried that studying means taking exams or doing assessments again, Peter advises you not to worry.</p> <p>“When people hear that they’ve got exams or test or assessment to do, they get a bit frightened. But you teach them there’s nothing to it, you can always stop and go back and have another read,” says Peter.</p> <p>While there are assessments – mainly multiple choice – throughout most courses, it’s not about being competitive but having a barometer for your individual progress. It is simply there so you know how much knowledge you have learnt during the course.  </p> <p>Bernard found that although he felt apprehensive sometimes, there was a greatly fulfilling feeling of not only accomplishing the assessment but gaining some high marks.</p> <p>“I put a lot of work into study and when you have to press the final submit button, sometimes I was extremely apprehensive because I was anxious to get good marks,” Bernard explains, adding, “I think one has to devote time to it but it’s time I’m happy to spend.”</p> <p>Both Peter and Bernard are quick to reveal that they are not going to stop studying anytime soon. Peter has just signed up to Open2Study’s ‘Innovation for Powerful Outcomes’ course while Bernard is still half way through the ‘User Experience for the Web’ course.</p> <p>“The course is self-paced so I can start again and there’s no deadline for me, thank goodness,” Bernard smiles.</p> <p>After each completing a number of courses, they can’t speak highly enough about how beneficial studying has been for them.</p> <p>“It keeps the little grey cells going,” states Peter, because as he know only too well, “the pool of knowledge, skill, understanding and wisdom is enormous” in the over-60 community.</p> <p>“For me it is very, very important to keep learning as you age. Partly so that I know my brain is still good and not fading away,” Bernard chuckles, continuing, “it is also just a matter of curiosity. I’m just interested in learning new topics.”</p> <p><em>Images: Getty</em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

Study reveals the star sign most likely to be serial killers

<p>Keep your friends close and your Taurus friends even closer as a new study has revealed they’re the most homicidal zodiac sign.</p> <p><em>The Mirror</em> conducted a murder astrological sign analysis and found the majority of serial killers are born between April 20 to May 20, making them a Taurus.</p> <p>“[Taurus] are devoted, patient and hard-working, traits which can make for a great personality in someone who is stable and good-natured, and an evil manipulator in someone who is not,” the paper reads.</p> <p>Several murderers share the Taurus sign, including America’s first modern serial killer H.H Holmes, Canadian child-killer Karla Homolka and London Mail Bomber David Copeland.</p> <p>Those who share the Cancer star sign were found to be the least likely to be serial killers.</p> <p>However, it's clear that killing is not exclusive to Taurses - here is a list of notable serial killers according to each sign.</p> <p>Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 18): Lee Boyd Malvo, Joel Rifkin, Luis Alfredo Garavito</p> <p>Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20): John Wayne Gacy, Aileen Wuornos</p> <p>Aries (March 21-April 19): Alexander Pichushkin, John Reginald Christie</p> <p>Taurus (April 20-May 20): H.H. Holmes, Michael Ryan, Albert Fish, David Copeland, Levi Bellfield, Robert Black, Steve Wright, Orville Lynn Majors</p> <p>Gemini (May 21-June 20): Jeffrey Dahmer, David Berkowitz, Ted Kaczynski</p> <p>Cancer (June 21-July 22): Robert Maudsley</p> <p>Leo (July 23-Aug. 22): Myra Hindley, Anatoly Onoprienko</p> <p>Virgo (Aug. 23-Sept. 22): Ed Gein, Albert DeSalvo, Henry Lee Lucas</p> <p>Libra (Sept. 23-Oct. 22): Fred West, Beverley Allitt</p> <p>Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 21): Moses Sithole, Robert Pickton, Fritz Haarman</p> <p>Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 21): Ted Bundy, Dennis Nilsen, Rose West</p> <p>Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): John Allen Muhammad, Harold Shipman, Stephen Griffiths</p> <p>Treat your Taurus friends kindly, it’s not their fault they were born on such a “likely to be a serial killer” day!</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p>

Mind

Placeholder Content Image

When’s the best time of day to work out?

<p>Most people are aware of the importance of being active and exercising daily. Unfortunately, due to busy schedules, most people are forced to exercise around other numerous commitments. However, the timing of exercise can have profound effects on performance.</p> <p>All the functions and systems of the human body are moderated by a pattern called circadian rhythms (from Latin circa dies about a day). As the name suggests, these rhythms are a biological phenomena with a periodic oscillation of 24.2 hours on average.</p> <p>Examples of these rhythms include our body temperature, sleep/wake cycles, and the production of hormones. Human and animal lives are synchronised with the solar day and the cyclic alternations of light and darkness.</p> <p>When the eyes are exposed to light, a signal reaches light/darkness receptors in the brain called zeitgebers (German for "time givers"). This portion of our brain, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, also often referred to as the "master biological clock", is the head of a complex hierarchical system that controls how the rhythms of our body are synchronised.</p> <p><strong>When to exercise</strong></p> <p>These rhythms are also related to many aspects of exercise, although their influence on athletic performance is still a matter of debate. Some argue the performance of professional athletes might be influenced by the scheduled time of a competition. However, performance is a complex process involving many different factors and the influence of circadian rhythms on the outcomes of athletes is still uncertain.</p> <p>The time window of performing physical activity is broad and can change according to individual differences. In particular, people can be assigned to two broad groups: larks (people who go to bed early and rise early) and owls (people who go to bed late and rise late).</p> <p>This time preference affects all biological rhythms, including the ability to exercise and perform. In general, it seems the best athletic performance is achieved late afternoon/early evening when several exercise related rhythms reach their circadian peak. This means exercising at this time has the best results for increasing fitness, increasing lean muscle, and reducing fat tissue.</p> <p>The ability to perform endurance exercise is stable across the day but it is during the evening that reaction time, joint flexibility, muscle strength and power reach their highest level. During evening hours, the rating of perceived exertion (a measure that represents how hard a person feels their body is working) is lower. This means we feel less exerted so we can work harder and get better results.</p> <p>Several world records in a number of sports have been broken in the late evening. However, training too late during the evening can have detrimental effects on the sleep-wake cycle.</p> <p><strong>Cost of exercise on sleep</strong></p> <p>Sleep is a particular circadian rhythm. The function of sleep is still not completely understood although it is known that sleep is very important for many biological functions. In particular, sleep is one of the best ways to recover after exercise.</p> <p>The onset of sleep is generally associated with a decrease of body temperature and an increase in the production of a hormone called melatonin. Exercising late at night causes an increase in body temperature and reduces the production of melatonin, affecting our ability to sleep. Although certain strategies such as diet may somewhat counteract these effects on sleep.</p> <p>Physical activity results in energy consumption. It is important at the end of a training session to replenish our tank with the appropriate quantity and quality of fuel. The human body is propelled by food but choosing the right diet can be difficult.</p> <p>Nevertheless, there are guiding principles that have to be followed. For instance, diets should be personalised and based on individual needs and goals.</p> <p>All that is lost during exercise should be replenished with a balanced meal post-exercise. In the case of a late evening training session, the quality and the time of the post-exercise meal can be crucial for the subsequent night of sleep. To enhance our sleep quality, the last meal of the day should be eaten no later than one hour before going to bed.</p> <p>This last meal should be high in both carbohydrates and proteins. These two macronutrients can respectively reduce the time required to fall asleep and improve the quality of sleep. On the other hand, meals high in fat should be avoided since they appear to reduce the duration of sleep.</p> <p>The timing of exercise can have a meaningful influence on the quality of training and recovery, especially for athletes. However, most people should be more concerned about the act of exercising itself than its timing.</p> <p><em>Written by Michele Lo and David Kennaway. First appeared on <span style="text-decoration: underline;"><strong><a href="http://www.Stuff.co.nz" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Stuff.co.nz</a></strong></span>.</em></p> <p><em>Image credits: Getty Images</em></p>

Body

Placeholder Content Image

Anxious dogs have different brains to normal dogs, brain scan study reveals

<p>Dog ownership is a lot of furry companionship, tail wags and chasing balls, and ample unconditional love. However, some dog owners are also managing canine pals struggling with mental illness.</p> <p>A newly published study <a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0282087">in PLOS ONE</a> has examined the brain scans of anxious and non-anxious dogs, and correlated them with behaviour. The research team at Ghent University, Belgium, found that our anxious dog friends not only have measurable differences in their brains linked to their anxiety, but these differences are similar to those found in humans with anxiety disorders as well.</p> <h2>Anxious friends</h2> <p>Anxiety disorders in humans are varied and can be categorised into several main types. Overall, they represent high levels of fear, emotional sensitivity and negative expectations. These disorders can be difficult to live with and sometimes difficult to treat, in part due to how varied and complex anxiety is.</p> <p>Researching anxiety in animals can help us to understand what drives it, and to improve treatment for both humans and animals. The new study sought to investigate possible pathways in the brain that are associated with anxiety in dogs. Understanding this could both improve treatment for anxiety in veterinary medicine, and reveal similarities with what we know of human anxiety.</p> <p>Dogs with and without anxiety were recruited for functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of their brains. Dogs have been involved in awake fMRI studies before, but for this one, with dogs that might get easily stressed out, the dogs were under general anaesthesia.</p> <p>Owners of the dogs also filled out surveys on their pets’ behaviour. The researchers performed data analysis and modelling of brain function, focusing on regions of the brain likely to show differences related to anxiety. Based on previous research on animal and human anxiety, the team dubbed these brain regions the “anxiety circuit”.</p> <p>They then analysed whether there were differences between the brain function of anxious and non-anxious dogs, and if those differences actually related to anxious behaviours.</p> <h2>Different brains</h2> <p>The researchers found there were indeed significant differences between anxious and non-anxious dogs. The main differences were in the communication pathways and connection strength within the “anxiety circuit”. These differences were linked with higher scores for particular behaviours in the surveys as well.</p> <p>For example, anxious dogs had amygdalas (an area of the brain associated with the processing of fear) that were particularly efficient, suggesting a lot of experience with fear. (This is similar to findings from human studies.) Indeed, in the behaviour surveys, owners of anxious dogs noted increased fear of unfamiliar people and dogs.</p> <p>The researchers also found less efficient connections in anxious dogs between two regions of the brain important for learning and information processing. This may help explain why the owners of the anxious dogs in the study reported lower trainability for their dog.</p> <h2>A difficult time</h2> <p>Brains are exquisitely complex biological computers, and our understanding of them is far from comprehensive. As such, this study should be interpreted cautiously.</p> <p>The sample size was not large or varied enough to represent the entire dog population, and the way the dogs were raised, housed, and cared for could have had an effect. Furthermore, they were not awake during the scans, and that also may have influenced some of the results.</p> <p>However, the study does show strong evidence for measurable differences in the way anxious dog brains are wired, compared to non-anxious dogs. This research can’t tell us whether changes in the brain caused the anxiety or the other way around, but anxiety in dogs is certainly real.</p> <p>It’s in the interests of our anxious best friends that we appreciate they may be affected by a brain that processes everything around them differently to “normal” dogs. This may make it difficult for them to learn to change their behaviour, and they may be excessively fearful or easily aroused.</p> <p>Thankfully, these symptoms can be treated with medication. Research like this could lead to more finessed use of medication in anxious dogs, so they can live happier and better adjusted lives.</p> <p>If you have a dog you think might be anxious, you should speak to a veterinarian with special training in behaviour.</p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p> <p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://theconversation.com/anxious-dogs-have-different-brains-to-normal-dogs-brain-scan-study-reveals-201775" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a>.</em></p>

Family & Pets

Placeholder Content Image

Why difficult childhood experiences could make you age prematurely

<p>We know that comparatively disadvantaged people, even in rich countries, have worse health and <a href="https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/01/31/low-socioeconomic-status-affects-life-expectancy-more-than-obesi_a_21704449/">shorter life expectancy</a> than others. But what is it exactly about socioeconomic disadvantage and other environmental difficulties that affects our biology? And at what age are we most vulnerable to these effects?</p> <p>While it is unclear exactly how the social environment influences a person’s biology at the molecular level, processes related to ageing are likely to be involved. One such process is DNA methylation, a mechanism used by cells to control gene expression. Specifically, it determines whether and when a gene is turned on, turned off or dialled up or down. Now a new study, <a href="https://academic.oup.com/aje/advance-article/doi/10.1093/aje/kwy155/5060528?guestAccessKey=df5d8e87-4e2d-4bff-b0fb-72ad5319f825#119252619">published in the American Journal of Epidemiology</a>, suggests that this process may be affected by circumstances in our youth – ultimately affecting how we age.</p> <p>All cells in the human body – from blood and skin cells to neurons – share the same genetic code. So how are they so different? The answer lies in gene expression: which of the many thousands of genes in each human cell are switched on, to what extent, and at which stage in the cell’s development.</p> <p>This varies not just between cell types but between people, helping to explain why identical twins can be visibly different. Physically, DNA methylation involves modification of “letters” of the genetic code by addition or removal of a <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/methyl-group">methyl group</a> – affecting how much the gene is expressed. Because the distribution of methyl groups along the genome changes in systematic ways with ageing, you can estimate a person’s age from DNA methylation patterns in cells from a blood sample by applying an algorithm.</p> <p>This <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-epigenetics-may-help-us-slow-down-the-ageing-clock-76878">measure of “biological age”</a> is relevant to longevity – individuals with an “older” DNA methylation age are at greater risk of age-related disease and mortality. Meanwhile, it seems environmental influences may alter or “accelerate” age-related changes in methylation: associations have been shown between DNA methylation age and stress, dietary factors and pollution. This suggests DNA methylation age may be one pathway by which the social environment can affect health.</p> <p><strong>New data</strong></p> <p>Data was used from 1099 adults in the UK to look at whether different dimensions of socioeconomic disadvantage were linked to elevated DNA methylation age, calculated in two ways. When blood samples were collected, the survey had already collected annual information on the same people’s socioeconomic circumstances for 12 years. This meant the study was able to consider current and longer-term measures of things like income, employment status and educational qualifications. Crucially, this data also included information about the occupational social class of an individual’s parents when they were 14.</p> <p>The research discovered that only the last measure showed a clear link with DNA methylation age. Individuals whose parents worked in semi routine or routine occupations were about one year “older” than individuals whose parents worked in managerial or professional roles. Individuals who did not have working parents, or had parents who had died, fared still worse: they were 2.4 or 1.85 years older depending on the algorithm used. The calculations did take account of other relevant factors including smoking, body mass index and the actual age of the study participants.</p> <p>These results suggest DNA methylation age is an aspect of a person’s biology which is vulnerable to influences early in life, but surprisingly robust when it comes to difficulties experienced in adulthood. The next question is which aspects of the childhood socioeconomic environment are most relevant. Is it financial strain, housing quality or diet? Equally important will be to figure out which factors could provide resilience to these effects, potentially buffering children from a lasting impact of disadvantage on DNA methylation age.</p> <p>Of course, the results will need to be replicated, and since DNA methylation age was only measured once, the survey could not definitively prove cause and effect. But the results <a href="https://jech.bmj.com/content/62/5/387">add to extensive evidence</a> that early life circumstances can cast a long shadow on adult health. Perhaps most importantly, this strengthens the case for making sure all children are fully supported.</p> <p><em>Written by Amanda Hughes and Meena Kumari. Republished with permission of <a href="https://theconversation.com/difficult-childhood-experiences-could-make-us-age-prematurely-new-research-102807">theconversation.com</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Image credit: Shutterstock</em></p>

Legal

Placeholder Content Image

Cold homes increase the risk of severe mental health problems – new study

<p>Concerns about <a href="https://theconversation.com/energy-crisis-the-uk-is-still-heading-for-widespread-fuel-poverty-despite-the-governments-price-cap-190290" target="_blank" rel="noopener">fuel poverty</a> and people not being able to heat their homes adequately are not new in the UK, but these worries have been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/oct/26/warm-banks-open-wolverhampton-cost-of-living-crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener">heightened</a> by significant increases in energy costs and the <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-cost-of-living-crisis-has-been-many-years-in-the-making-but-politicians-on-both-sides-ignore-this-189483" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cost-of-living crisis</a>. And as winter approaches, things are about to get a lot worse.</p> <p>Despite a relatively mild climate, the UK has higher levels of excess winter deaths – deaths associated with cold weather – than <a href="https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0140673614621140" target="_blank" rel="noopener">many colder countries</a>. This greater exposure to cold, despite milder weather, is related to poor housing quality, the high cost of heating homes and poverty.</p> <p>We know quite a lot about how living in a home that you can’t keep warm enough affects your physical health. Colder temperatures <a href="https://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/resources-reports/the-health-impacts-of-cold-homes-and-fuel-poverty/the-health-impacts-of-cold-homes-and-fuel-poverty.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">suppress the immune system</a>, for example. But we know relatively little about the effects on mental health. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2022.115461" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Our new research</a> shows that living in a cold home is a significant mental health risk.</p> <p>Living in a cold home can affect your mental health in several ways. For many, heating costs are a source of stress and financial strain. Not being able to keep your home and family comfortably warm reduces feelings of control and autonomy over your environment. People who are unable to heat their home often adopt coping mechanisms that <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2524.2005.00558.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener">limit socialising</a> – for example, not inviting friends over and going to bed early to keep warm. And many people are just worn down by the drudgery of a whole winter of being uncomfortably cold.</p> <p>Using <a href="https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">data</a> from a large representative sample of adults in the UK, we followed people over many years and tracked the effect of being unable to keep your home warm on mental health.</p> <p>When people’s homes became cold, their risk of severe mental distress significantly increased. For people who previously had no mental health problems, the odds of severe mental distress doubled when they had a cold home, while for those who had some (but not severe) mental health symptoms, the risk tripled (see chart below). We found these effects even after taking into account many other factors associated with mental health, including income.</p> <p><strong>Odds of reporting severe mental distress following transition into cold housing compared to those who remained in warm homes</strong></p> <figure class="align-center "><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/492381/original/file-20221028-61968-sxkqgr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;fit=clip" sizes="(min-width: 1466px) 754px, (max-width: 599px) 100vw, (min-width: 600px) 600px, 237px" srcset="https://images.theconversation.com/files/492381/original/file-20221028-61968-sxkqgr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=483&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 600w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/492381/original/file-20221028-61968-sxkqgr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=483&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1200w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/492381/original/file-20221028-61968-sxkqgr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=600&amp;h=483&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 1800w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/492381/original/file-20221028-61968-sxkqgr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=607&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=1 754w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/492381/original/file-20221028-61968-sxkqgr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=30&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=607&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=2 1508w, https://images.theconversation.com/files/492381/original/file-20221028-61968-sxkqgr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=15&amp;auto=format&amp;w=754&amp;h=607&amp;fit=crop&amp;dpr=3 2262w" alt="" /><figcaption><span class="attribution">author provided</span></figcaption></figure> <p>Sadly, the risk of living in a cold home differs greatly across the UK population. Lone parents and people who are unemployed or long-term sick are much more likely to live in cold homes. There is also significant inequality across ethnic groups – more than 12% of black people live in cold homes compared with under 6% of white British people, for example. Those who rent rather than own their home are also far more likely to live in cold homes, for social renters this is despite the, on average, <a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1088447/EHS_Housing_quality_and_condition_report_2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">higher quality and</a><a href="https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1091144/Energy_Report_2020_revised.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">efficiency</a> of social rented homes.</p> <p>Putting on another jumper won’t be enough to get many in the UK through the coming winter. And mental health distress is just one consequence. Cold homes cause issues with significant personal and societal costs – from individual health effects to the increased pressure on the NHS, as well as broader economic loss due to missed work. Rishi Sunak’s new government needs to help people live in adequately warm homes this winter. But how?</p> <p>The older age of housing in the UK is <a href="http://www.instituteofhealthequity.org/projects/the-health-impacts-of-cold-homes-and-fuel-poverty" target="_blank" rel="noopener">heavily implicated</a> in the UK’s high levels of cold. Support for energy efficiency improvements is therefore a possible means of reducing cold homes. This will also mean tackling the so-called “split incentive” in the private rented sector, which houses a significant proportion of households. The split incentive refers to the challenge of the benefits of improvements not being experienced by the property owners but by tenants, reducing the incentive for owners to invest. This results in poorer quality and more expensive homes for renters.</p> <p><strong>Heat or eat? Most can’t afford either</strong></p> <p>The high proportion of cold homes in the social housing sector – despite having the best average energy efficiency due to insulation and building types (flats) – shows that energy efficiency improvements alone will not eliminate cold. <a href="https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/publications/the-living-standards-outlook-2022/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Incomes in the UK are falling</a>. Benefit levels are <a href="https://theconversation.com/raising-benefits-in-line-with-earnings-will-make-the-poor-worse-off-heres-why-192880" target="_blank" rel="noopener">painfully low</a> and worsened by policies including the benefit cap, two-child limit and sanctions. Years of cuts and <a href="https://www.jrf.org.uk/file/59072/download?token=acsEgZp7&amp;filetype=briefing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">below inflation rises</a> mean that the term “heat or eat”, used to describe difficult spending decisions for low-income households, is now out of date, as <a href="https://www.jrf.org.uk/file/59191/download?token=PCFIM8W9&amp;filetype=briefing" target="_blank" rel="noopener">many can afford neither</a>.</p> <p>The combination of low household incomes with surging energy costs has created devastating pressure on household budgets. While the energy cap has limited energy cost increases below the worst estimates, energy bills have still <a href="https://theconversation.com/energy-crisis-the-uk-is-still-heading-for-widespread-fuel-poverty-despite-the-governments-price-cap-190290" target="_blank" rel="noopener">more than doubled in the past year</a>. And prepayment meters mean that those the with the least end up paying the most.</p> <p>There are, therefore, many areas for potential government intervention, and clear evidence that failing to intervene will cause harm to health.<img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/193125/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p> <p><em>Writen by Amy Clair. Republished with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/cold-homes-increase-the-risk-of-severe-mental-health-problems-new-study-193125" target="_blank" rel="noopener">The Conversation</a>.</em></p> <p><em>Image: Getty Images</em></p>

Real Estate

Placeholder Content Image

Big study shows that lowering blood pressure lowers risk of dementia

<p>A study across 20 countries has strengthened a link between lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of dementia.</p> <p>The meta-analysis, published in the European Heart Journal, draws on clinical trial data from 28,008 participants, to show the strongest link to date between medication that lowers blood pressure, and reduced dementia risk.</p> <p>“We know that high blood pressure is a risk factor for dementia – especially high blood pressure in midlife, so say 40 to 65 years of age,” says lead author Dr Ruth Peters, an associate professor at the University of New South Wales and program lead for dementia in the George Institute’s Global Brain Health Initiative.</p> <p>“But there has been some uncertainty about whether lowering blood pressure, especially in older adults, would reduce risk of dementia.</p> <p>“What we’ve done is take five really high-quality clinical trials and combine them into one dataset, which gave us the ability to really look at this question and look at the relationship between blood pressure-lowering tablets – antihypertensives – and dementia.”</p> <p>The five studies were all double-blind, randomised clinical trials – the ‘gold standard’ in medical research – with participants hailing from 20 different countries.</p> <p>The average age of the participants was 69, and participants were followed up an average of four years after doing the trial.</p> <p>Participants who took antihypertensives had a significantly lower chance of being diagnosed with dementia than those who took placebos.</p> <p>Dementia affects 50 million people worldwide: a number projected to triple by 2050.</p> <p>According to The Lancet’s 2020 Commission on dementia, treatment for hypertension (high blood pressure) is “the only known effective preventive medication for dementia,” all other methods of reducing your risk come from lifestyle and environment.</p> <p>“The strength of this study is the use of individual patient data in a meta-analysis of data drawn from randomised controlled trials of blood pressure medication. This is the first time such data has been meta-analysed,” says Professor Kaarin Anstey, a senior principal research scientist at Neuroscience Research Australia and the UNSW.</p> <p>“This is important for informing clinical practice,” adds Anstey, who was not involved with the study.</p> <p>Professor Nicolas Cherbuin, head of the Australian National University’s Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing, says that the study is “well-designed”, and reflects research by his team showing that higher blood pressure is linked to lower brain volumes and poorer brain health.</p> <p>“The diagnostic procedure and criteria used are well-established, the sample size is large, those with dementia at baseline were excluded,” says Cherbuin.</p> <p>But he points out that the study didn’t find an effect of blood pressure medication on cognitive decline, and nor did it include participants with mild cognitive impairment, who would be “more likely to convert”.</p> <p>Anstey points out that “inevitably” the participants in the cohort are now quite old, and thus may be different to populations developing dementia now.</p> <p>“Clinical trials involve highly selected samples and often exclude diverse ethnic groups,” she adds.</p> <p>“I hope that this reinforces the importance of blood pressure control for brain health,” says Peters.</p> <p>But she emphasises that, while this is useful news for preventing dementia in mid-life, people of all ages can improve their brain health by other means.</p> <p>“It’s not just blood pressure lowering – it has to be taken in the context of a healthy lifestyle.”</p> <p><strong>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/health/dementia-blood-pressure-meta/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Ellen Phiddian.</strong></p> <p><em>Image: Shutterstock</em></p>

Body

Placeholder Content Image

Surfers not worried about shark attacks

<p>The sight of a dorsal fin knifing through the waves might send many swimming for the shore, but a survey of surfers shows it won’t deter many from catching a wave.</p> <p>A University of South Australia study published in Marine Policy reveals 44% of surfers say a shark sighting would not stop them from being in the water. While more than half of the 391 surfers surveyed had seen a shark while they out on the water, 60% were not afraid of the marine creatures.</p> <p>The survey also revealed more surfers have been bitten by sharks than we think.</p> <p>But the global survey of surfer attitudes towards sharks, undertaken by behavioural scientist Dr Brianna Le Busque, found surfers had generally positive views on these apex predators.</p> <p>Le Busque told Cosmos, to date there has been very little research on surfers’ perceptions of and interactions with sharks.</p> <p>“A lot of the shark policies, shark nets and things like that are implemented, in part to protect surfers. But there hasn’t really been a lot of research to actually ask them what they want,” she says.</p> <p>Le Busque says the study may help to change people’s negative perceptions of sharks. This is important because fear of sharks can act as a barrier to conserving them.</p> <p>“Shark conservation is important. As apex predators at the top of the food chain, if sharks become endangered or extinct this can have flow on effects for the entire ecosystem.”</p> <p>Globally, 100 million sharks are killed each year with a quarter of shark species threatened by extinction.</p> <p>But conserving sharks is complicated because they can harm humans, and many people fear them.</p> <p>“When people are afraid of sharks, they don’t want sharks to be conserved … it’s also a driving motivation for having certain shark policies. So things like shark culls, shark nets, they are implemented because of people’s fears of sharks,” Le Busque says.</p> <p>Le Busque says research indicates the public have a higher perception of risk when it comes to sharks, compared to the low likelihood of encountering one.</p> <p>Surfers’ relaxed views on sharks contrasted with those of the wider public. </p> <p>This was despite the survey finding quite a high share of surfers (17%) had been bitten, or knew someone who had been bitten by a shark. Le Busque says, this is quite a high percentage, higher than shark attack statistics suggest. </p> <p><strong>This article originally appeared on <a href="https://cosmosmagazine.com/nature/surfer-shark-survey/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">cosmosmagazine.com</a> and was written by Petra Stock.</strong></p> <p><em>Image: Shutterstock</em></p>

Travel Trouble