Health Check: how to tell the difference between hay fever and the common cold



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Both make you sneeze and give you a runny nose.
Shutterstock/michaelheim

Reena Ghildyal, University of Canberra and Cynthia Mathew, University of Canberra

You wake up with a runny nose and, come to think of it, you’ve been sneezing more than usual. It feels like the start of a cold but it’s October – the start of hay fever season – so what is the more likely affiliation?

Hay fever and colds are easy to confuse because they share the clinical category of rhinitis, which means irritation and inflammation of the nasal cavity.

The mechanisms share some similarities too, but there are some key differences in symptoms – notably, itchiness and the colour of your snot.




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Health Check: what is the common cold and how do we get it?


Similar mechanisms

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, usually caused by rhinoviruses. Colds spread easily from one person to the other via coughing, sneezing and touching infected surfaces.

Hay fever, on the other hand, can’t spread from person to person. It’s an allergic response to an environmental irritant such as pollen or dust.

The nasal cavity contains cells that recognise foreign substances such as bugs and pollen. Once the body detects a bug or irritant, it activates an army of T cells that hunt down and destroy the substance. This is known as an immune response.

In hay fever, the irritant triggers the same immune cells as viruses. But it also causes the release of IgE antibodies and histamines to produce an ongoing blocked nose, impaired sense of smell, and nasal inflammation.


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How you tell the difference

Both hay fever and the common cold causes sneezing, runny or stuffy nose and coughing.

One of the key differences is the colour of the nasal discharge (your snot): it’s more likely to be yellowish/green in colour in colds; while in hay fever, it’s clear.




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Facial itchiness – especially around the eyes or throat – is a symptom typically only seen with hay fever.

If someone is allergic to a seasonal environmental trigger such as pollen, their symptoms may be restricted to particular seasons of the year. But if you’re allergic to dust or smoke, symptoms may last all year long.

Hay fever, like asthma, is an allergic disease and can sometimes cause similar symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

A sore throat, on the other hand, is generally a precursor to cold. If you have cold-like symptoms and a sore throat or have had one in the last few days, your condition is more likely to be the common cold.

If your throat is sore, it’s probably the start of a cold.
nito/Shutterstock

What if you’ve never had hay fever before?

You’re more likely to catch viral infections during winter when more bugs are circulating, but it’s possible to catch a cold any time of the year.

It’s possible to develop hay fever in adulthood. This may be due to genetic predisposition that manifests only when certain other contributing factors are present, such as a high level of airborne pollen. Or it may be due to a major change in lifestyle, such as a move to a different location or change in diet.

Most adults will get two to three colds per year, while hay fever affects nearly one in five Australians.

Around 10-20% of hay fever sufferers grow out of hay fever at some point in their lives and about half find their symptoms get less severe as they get older, which means that for the majority of sufferers, hay fever can last a long time.

How are they treated?

An allergy test, using a skin prick or blood test, for allergen-specific IgE could inform you of the specific irritants that trigger your condition. These tests can be organised through your GP or pharmacist.




Read more:
Health Check: what are the options for treating hay fever?


Oral antihistamines are effective in hay fever patients with mild to moderate disease, particularly in those whose main symptoms are palatal itch, sneezing, rhinorrhoea, or eye symptoms hay fever treatments.

Generally, treatment isn’t necessary for a cold but over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help relieve some of the symptoms.The Conversation

Reena Ghildyal, Associate Professor in Biomedical Sciences, University of Canberra and Cynthia Mathew, PhD student, Sessional Tutor, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Five lifestyle changes to enhance your mood and mental health



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Getting a good dose of nature can boost your mental health.
Marion Michelle

Jerome Sarris, Western Sydney University and Joe Firth, Western Sydney University

When someone is diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety, first line treatments usually include psychological therapies and medication. What’s not always discussed are the changeable lifestyle factors that influence our mental health.

Even those who don’t have a mental health condition may still be looking for ways to further improve their mood, reduce stress, and manage their day-to-day mental health.

It can be empowering to make positive life changes. While time restrictions and financial limitations may affect some people’s ability to make such changes, we all have the ability to make small meaningful changes.




Read more:
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Here are five lifestyle changes to get you started:

1. Improve your diet and start moving

Wholefoods such as leafy green vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, lean red meat and seafood, provide nutrients that are important for optimal brain function. These foods contain magnesium, folate, zinc and essential fatty acids.

Foods rich in polyphenols, such as berries, tea, dark chocolate, wine and certain herbs, also play an important role in brain function.




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In terms exercise, many types of fitness activities are potentially beneficial – from swimming, to jogging, to lifting weights, or playing sports. Even just getting the body moving by taking a brisk walk or doing active housework is a positive step.

Activities which also involve social interaction and exposure to nature can potentially increase mental well-being even further.

General exercise guidelines recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days during the week (about 150 minutes total over the week). But even short bouts of activity can provide an immediate elevation of mood.

2. Reduce your vices

Managing problem-drinking or substance misuse is an obvious health recommendation. People with alcohol and drug problems have a greater likelihood than average of having a mental illness, and have far poorer health outcomes.

Some research has shown that a little alcohol consumption (in particular wine) may have beneficial effects on preventing depression. Other recent data, however, has revealed that light alcohol consumption does not provide any beneficial effects on brain function.

Stopping smoking is also an important step, as nicotine-addicted people are constantly at the mercy of a withdrawal-craving cycle, which profoundly affects mood. It may take time to address the initial symptoms of stopping nicotine, but the brain chemistry will adapt in time.

Quitting smoking is associated with better mood and reduced anxiety.

3. Prioritise rest and sleep

Sleep hygiene techniques aim to improve sleep quality and help treat insomnia. They including adjusting caffeine use, limiting exposure to the bed (regulating your sleep time and having a limited time to sleep), and making sure you get up at a similar time in the morning.




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Some people are genetically wired towards being more of a morning or evening person, so we need to ideally have some flexibility in this regard (especially with work schedules).

It’s also important not to force sleep – if you can’t get to sleep within around 20 minutes, it may be best to get up and focus the mind on an activity (with minimal light and stimulation) until you feel tired.

The other mainstay of better sleep is to reduce exposure to light – especially blue light from laptops and smartphones – prior to sleep. This will increase the secretion of melatonin, which helps you get to sleep.

Getting enough time for relaxation and leisure activities is important for regulating stress. Hobbies can also enhance mental health, particularly if they involve physical activity.

4. Get a dose of nature

When the sun is shining, many of us seem to feel happier. Adequate exposure to sunshine helps levels of the mood-maintaining chemical serotonin. It also boosts vitamin D levels, which also has an effect on mental health, and helps at the appropriate time to regulate our sleep-wake cycle.

The benefits of sun exposure need to be balanced with the risk of skin cancer, so take into account the recommendations for sun exposure based on the time of day/year and your skin colour.

You might also consider limiting your exposure to environmental toxins, chemicals and pollutants, including “noise” pollution, and cutting down on your mobile phone, computer and TV use if they’re excessive.

An antidote to this can be simply spending time in nature. Studies show time in the wilderness can improve self-esteem and mood. In some parts of Asia, spending time in a forest (known as forest bathing) is considered a mental health prescription.




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A natural extension of spending time in flora is also the positive effect that animals have on us. Research suggests having a pet has many positive effects, and animal-assisted therapy (with horses, cats, dogs, and even dolphins) may also boost feelings of well-being.

5. Reach out when you need help

Positive lifestyle changes aren’t a replacement for medication or psychological therapy but, rather, as something people can undertake themselves on top of their treatment.

While many lifestyle changes can be positive, some changes (such as avoiding junk foods, alcohol, or giving up smoking) may be challenging if being used as a psychological crutch. They might need to be handled delicately, and with professional support.

Strict advice promoting abstinence, or a demanding diet or exercise regime, may cause added suffering, potentially provoking guilt if you can’t meet these expectations. So go easy on yourself.

That said, take a moment to reflect how you feel mentally after a nutritious wholefood meal, a good night’s sleep (free of alcohol), or a walk in nature with a friend. `The Conversation

Jerome Sarris, Professor; NHMRC Clinical Research Fellow; NICM Health Research Institute Deputy Director, Western Sydney University and Joe Firth, Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Just because you’re thin, doesn’t mean you’re healthy



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Being thin doesn’t mean you can eat unhealthy foods and get away with it.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Dominic Tran, University of Sydney

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 63% of Australian adults are overweight or obese.

But it’s much harder to estimate how many are within a healthy weight range but have poor diets or sedentary lifestyles. These can cause significant health problems that will often be missed because the person appears to look “healthy”.




Read more:
I’m not overweight, so why do I need to eat healthy foods?


How do we judge the health of weight?

Obesity statistics often take estimates of body fat using body mass index (BMI). Although BMI isn’t perfectly correlated with body fat percentage, it’s a quick and easy method for collecting data using just the person’s height and weight. If the BMI is higher than 25, a person is considered “overweight”. If it’s above 30, they’re considered “obese”. But BMI doesn’t tell us how healthy someone is on the inside.

Using additional lifestyle measures, such as diet and exercise frequency over the last year, a recent report from the Queensland Health department estimated 23% of those who are not currently overweight or obese are at risk of being so in the future.

These figures indicate that the percentage of unhealthy-weight individuals does not accurately capture the percentage of unhealthy-lifestyle individuals, with the latter number likely to be much higher.




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We asked five experts: is BMI a good way to tell if my weight is healthy?


If you’re not overweight, does a healthy lifestyle matter?

Many people think if they’re able to stay lean while eating poorly and not exercising, then that’s OK. But though you might appear healthy on the outside, you could have the same health concerns as overweight and obese individuals on the inside.

When considering risk factors associated with heart disease and stroke or cancer, we often think about health indicators such as smoking, cholesterol, blood pressure, and body weight. But poor diet and physical inactivity also each increase the risk for heart disease and have a role to play in the development of some cancers.

So even if you don’t smoke and you’re not overweight, being inactive and eating badly increases your risk of developing heart disease.

Little research has been done to compare the risk diet and exercise contributes to the development of heart disease in overweight versus skinny but unhealthy individuals. However, one study measured the risk of different lifestyle factors associated with complications following acute coronary syndrome – a sudden reduction in blood flow to the heart.

It found adherence to a healthy diet and exercise regime halved the risk of having a major complication (such as stroke or death) in the six months following the initial incident compared with non-adherence.

Unhealthy diets are bad for your body, but what about your brain?

Recent research has also shown overconsumption of high-fat and high-sugar foods may have negative effects on your brain, causing learning and memory deficits. Studies have found obesity is associated with impairments in cognitive functioning, as assessed by a range of learning and memory tests, such as the ability to remember a list of words previously presented some minutes or hours earlier.

Notably, this relationship between body weight and cognitive functioning was present even after controlling for a range of factors including education level and existing medical conditions.

Of particular relevance to this discussion is the growing body of evidence that diet-induced cognitive impairments can emerge rapidly — within weeks or even days. For example, a study conducted at Oxford University found healthy adults assigned to a high-fat diet (75% of energy intake) for five days showed impaired attention, memory, and mood compared to a low-fat diet control group.

Another study conducted at Macquarie University also found eating a high-fat and high-sugar breakfast each day for as little as four days resulted in learning and memory deficits similar to those observed in overweight and obese individuals.

These findings confirm the results of rodent studies showing specific forms of memories can be impaired after only a few days on a diet containing sugar water and human “junk” foods such as cakes and biscuits.

Body weight was not hugely different between the groups eating a healthy diet and those on high fat and sugar diets. So this shows negative consequences of poor dietary intake can occur even when body weight has not noticeably changed. These studies show body weight is not always the best predictor of internal health.

We still don’t know much about the mechanism(s) through which these high-fat and high-sugar foods impair cognitive functioning over such short periods. One possible mechanism is the changes to blood glucose levels from eating high-fat and high-sugar foods. Fluctuations in blood glucose levels may impair glucose metabolism and insulin signalling in the brain.

Many people use low body weight to excuse unhealthy eating and physical inactivity. But body weight is not the best indicator of internal well-being. A much better indicator is your diet. When it comes to your health, it’s what’s on the inside that counts and you really are what you eat.The Conversation

Dominic Tran, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Belly fat is the most dangerous, but losing it from anywhere helps



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We can’t target certain areas for weight loss, but losing it from anywhere is good.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Evelyn Parr, Australian Catholic University

Excess storage of fat is linked to many different chronic diseases. But some areas of fat storage on the body are worse than others.

In general, women have greater absolute body fat percentages than men. Typically, women carry more fat around the legs, hip and buttocks, as well as the chest and upper arms. Women have more subcutaneous fat – the fat you can pinch under your skin – while men typically have more visceral fat, which is stored in and around the abdominal organs.

People who have greater fat stores around their butt and thigh (glutealfemoral) regions are at lower risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, than those with greater fat stores around their middle.




Read more:
Explainer: overweight, obese, BMI – what does it all mean?


Why is belly fat more dangerous?

Excess fat around the tummy is subcutaneous fat – which you can pinch – as well as visceral fat, which is in and around the organs in the abdominal cavity and only visible using medical scans. Researchers have found excess visceral fat storage is a significant risk factor for metabolic health complications of obesity such as type 2 diabetes, fatty liver and heart disease.

The fat around the organs is a different kind of fat.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Fat cells in a healthy person are able to grow, recruit inflammatory cells to help reduce inflammation, and remodel themselves in order to allow for healthy body growth. But if there is excess fat tissue, these mechanisms don’t function as well. And with excess fat, the body can become resistant to the hormone insulin – which maintains our blood sugar levels.

Visceral (belly) fat secretes greater levels of adipokines – chemicals that trigger inflammation – and releases more fatty acids into the bloodstream. Whereas the fat cells in the leg region, and the pinchable, subcutaneous layers of fat around the middle, store fatty acids within themselves, rather than pushing them into the circulation.

The fat around the hips and legs is more passive, meaning it releases fewer chemicals into the body.




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Just try to lose fat, anywhere

A recent weight-loss study that looked at where fat mass was lost found the area of fat loss didn’t change the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. The important thing was losing fat from anywhere.
While diet and exercise are unable to specifically target regions of fat depots, fat mass loss from anywhere can improve risk factors.

Online ads might tell you a magic workout machine will reduce fat in one particular area, but adipose tissue is unable to be targeted in the same way that we can target a specific muscle group.

Total loss of fat mass, through a healthy diet and exercise, is the best outcome for overall health and reducing either the symptoms of chronic disease (such as diabetes) or the risk of developing disease such as diabetes or heart disease.The Conversation

Evelyn Parr, Research Fellow in Exercise Metabolism and Nutrition, Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research, Australian Catholic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Potatoes are out of favour – but they have strong roots in a healthy lifestyle


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shutterstock.

Hazel Flight, Edge Hill University

Potatoes are apparently far from being flavour of the month. Rejected by young people and “clean eaters”, sales are plummeting. But what has the potato done to deserve being treated so distastefully?

Reports claim that millennials prefer rice and noodles, and think that potatoes will make them fat. According to The Grocer magazine potato sales have decreased by 5.4% in the last four years, while sales of rice and noodles have risen by 30%.

But the potato has a proud history. One of the most common and versatile root vegetables, it was first cultivated by the Inca Indians in Peru over 7,000 years ago. Brought to Europe in the 16th century, potatoes have been associated with population surges and increased global urbanisation. There are now as many as 2,000 different varieties being grown in over 160 countries.

Yet today it seems we crave the quick and easy, avoiding anything that requires time or preparation. Potatoes are apparently seen as neither exotic, convenient or healthy.

So why did a once favoured food find itself pushed aside? Well let’s examine the evidence before it is judged guilty. In its defence the potato has all the requirements to form part of a healthy balanced diet.

In 100g of steamed potatoes, you’ll find just 100 calories, no fat, no sodium, no cholesterol, and no gluten. Instead, you’ll get nearly half your daily dose of vitamin C, more potassium than in a banana and plenty of vitamin B6, fibre, magnesium and antioxidants.

Yes, there is starch, which can increase insulin sensitivity – but it can also improve blood sugar control, digestive health, nutrient absorption and satiety (fullness), help curb inflammation in the body, boost immunity and improve blood circulation.

The case against potatoes often seems to rest on accusations of high calorific value. But it is not the actual potatoes which bring the calories, it is the method of cooking.

And yes, potatoes are high in carbohydrates, but these are necessary for long term energy. Many do not know the difference between simple and complex carbohydrates. Potatoes are complex carbohydrates which are a necessary part of our everyday diet.

People often listen to the latest diet information and react by thinking that certain food groups are not good for you. In fact, a person requires foods from each nutrient group in order to maintain optimal health. Eating potatoes cooked appropriately in moderation is simply not harmful.

Potatoes are also classified as a high glycemic food, but if eaten as part of a diet which includes high fibre foods such as lentils, beans, nuts and other vegetables, the sugar spike can be counteracted.

Hot stuff.
Shutterstock

A lot of the potato’s PR problem may simply be about portion control. It seems that once we start to eat a bowl of chips or crisps, we find it impossible to stop until they are gone, and all of their salty calories have been consumed. Boiled or baked potatoes on the other hand are very rarely eaten to excess.

When the chips are down

But with rises in obesity, we become obsessed with following the latest diet craze – where usually at least one of the main nutrient groups are significantly decreased or eliminated. As part of this, potatoes have become taboo.

In the 1970’s potatoes formed a staple part of the everyday diet. In the decades since, according to the National Obesity Forum, which compared the habits of 4,000 UK households from 1980 to 2012, eating habits and diets have been getting steadily worse.

This has been mainly due to the introduction of processed foods and ready meals and falls in line with the commencement of the obesity crisis in children. Another reason may be due to more exotic lifestyles. With foods from around the world more readily available, alongside the increasing number of takeaways, the potato has lost some favour. But in our desire to save time and money we may actually be forgetting a key aspect – our overall health and longevity?

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The Conversation

Potatoes deserve to be given another chance. People need to consider the way that they have been cooking and consuming this wonderful vegetable. There is no reason to cast them aside. For a nutritious vegetable which will power up your performance – look no further than the humble spud.

Hazel Flight, Programme Lead Nutrition and Health, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Health Check: why do I get a headache when I haven’t had my coffee?



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A study found the headache went away when participants were given decaf but didn’t know.
nathan dumlao unsplash

Merlin Thomas, Monash University

Caffeine is our favourite drug. But if we miss out on our fix, it can be a real headache, in more ways than one.

Caffeine is a stimulant. It quickly enters our brain and blocks the (adenosine) receptors that are responsible for dulling brain activity. By blocking the dulling of our brain, we feel a sense of invigoration, focus and subtle euphoria. These feelings can also enhance our performance of certain focused tasks, like driving or staying awake through the whole lecture.

This is the upside of caffeine. The downside is how we feel when we are not getting our usual dose. Because of the anticipated highs of brain activity after our cup, the lows without it seem longer and deeper.

The other problem is that caffeine is addictive. When we aren’t getting what we’re used to, we can feel tired, inattentive, irritable and moody. This is known as withdrawal. Many people regularly drink caffeinated beverages just to avoid feeling this way.




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By far the most common symptom of caffeine withdrawal is headaches. These are typically mild and short-lived, usually only lasting for a day or two, although they can sometimes last for up to week. They usually feel a bit like a tense band wrapped across your head and are sometimes called tension-type headaches as a result. However, caffeine withdrawal can also trigger a full-on migraine in some sufferers.

Why we get headaches with withdrawal (as well as many other causes) is mostly because our face and head is the most active as well as the most sensitive part of our body. For our brain to accurately know what’s happening, the signals it receives from the senses have to be spot on.

Any distortion of the signal and the message can become lost in translation, or even result in the wrong message being received. One theory for headaches is our fuzzy brain misinterprets some of the innocuous signals it gets from our head, and calls them a headache.

Some level of caffeine withdrawal would be experienced by maybe half of all regular tea or coffee drinkers, if their regular drug supply would be completely cut off. The more we drink and the more regularly we drink caffeine, the more likely we’d experience withdrawal symptoms if we were to go without.

However, withdrawal can happen even in people who usually drink just a single cup every day who then forego caffeine. Equally, only three days of continuous coffee drinking is enough to make you feel bad when the coffee runs out.




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Only three days of continuous coffee drinking is enough to make you feel bad when the coffee runs out.
Tyler Nix/Unsplash

Caffeine withdrawal only occurs with abstinence. Small amounts of caffeine (just a quarter of a cup) will keep the headaches at bay. Even if the espresso machine is broken and you have to have a (half-less caffeinated) latte, you won’t go into withdrawal.

But if you’re going cold turkey, withdrawal headaches typically peak a day or two after removing all caffeine from the menu. Withdrawal does not happen within a few hours of the last cup, despite the protestation of the habitual coffee drinker.

Of course, if withdrawal is really the problem, the remedy is simple. Any headache caused by lack of caffeine is rapidly and often completely relieved within 30 minutes to an hour of drinking a cup of tea or coffee.

Some of this is the fix and the anticipation of it. In fact, Australian researchers have found giving someone experiencing caffeine withdrawal a de-caf, but telling them it’s caffeinated, is enough to make them feel better. Of course this trick won’t work if you buy the coffee yourself.




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Surprisingly though, caffeine also has some painkiller properties. Simple pain-killers such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, aspirin or paracetamol can be more effective when formulated with some caffeine (in each dose about two to three times that in a regular cup of coffee).

For hypnic “alarm clock” headaches that wake sufferers at night, hangover-headaches and some migraine-sufferers, a cup of tea or coffee can be an effective pain-killer on its own.

This analgesia is not just because we feel less stressed or less distracted by pain after a cup of tea or coffee. It turns out the same adenosine receptors blocked by caffeine are also implicated in the origin of headache as well as other kinds of pain.

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The Conversation

More than 90% of all adults drink coffee or tea, rousing us from our slumber and providing the revitalising energy to do the things that need to be done. It’s not hard to imagine the headaches without it.

Merlin Thomas, Professor of Medicine, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ten habits of people who lose weight and keep it off



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Before you go for seconds after your meal, have a glass of water and wait five minutes before checking in with your hunger again.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Dr. Gina Cleo, Bond University

Most people who diet will regain 50% of the lost weight in the first year after losing it. Much of the rest will regain it in the following three years.

Most people inherently know that keeping a healthy weight boils down to three things: eating healthy, eating less, and being active. But actually doing that can be tough.

We make more than 200 food decisions a day, and most of these appear to be automatic or habitual, which means we unconsciously eat without reflection, deliberation or any sense of awareness of what or how much food we select and consume. So often habitual behaviours override our best intentions.

A new study has found the key to staying a healthy weight is to reinforce healthy habits.




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What the new study found

Imagine each time a person goes home in the evening, they eat a snack. When they first eat the snack, a mental link is formed between the context (getting home) and their response to that context (eating a snack). Every time they subsequently snack in response to getting home, this link strengthens, to the point that getting home prompts them to eat a snack automatically. This is how a habit forms.

New research has found weight-loss interventions that are founded on habit-change, (forming new habits or breaking old habits) may be effective at helping people lose weight and keep it off.

We recruited 75 volunteers from the community (aged 18-75) with excess weight or obesity and randomised them into three groups. One program promoted breaking old habits, one promoted forming new habits, and one group was a control (no intervention).

The habit-breaking group was sent a text message with a different task to perform every day. These tasks were focused on breaking usual routines and included things such as “drive a different way to work today”, “listen to a new genre of music” or “write a short story”.

The habit-forming group was asked to follow a program that focused on forming habits centred around healthy lifestyle changes. The group was encouraged to incorporate ten healthy tips into their daily routine, so they became second-nature.

If you start to snack each day when you get home from work, you’ll form a habit that requires you to do so in that context every day.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Unlike usual weight-loss programs, these interventions did not prescribe specific diet plans or exercise regimes, they simply aimed to change small daily habits.




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After 12 weeks, the habit-forming and habit-breaking participants had lost an average of 3.1kg. More importantly, after 12 months of no intervention and no contact, they had lost another 2.1kg on average.

Some 67% of participants reduced their total body weight by over 5%, decreasing their overall risk for developing type two diabetes and heart disease. As well as losing weight, most participants also increased their fruit and vegetable intake and improved their mental health.

Habit-based interventions have the potential to change how we think about weight management and, importantly, how we behave.

Ten healthy habits you should form

The habits in the habit-forming group, developed by Weight Concern (a UK charity) were:

  1. keep to a meal routine: eat at roughly the same times each day. People who succeed at long term weight loss tend to have a regular meal rhythm (avoidance of snacking and nibbling). A consistent diet regimen across the week and year also predicts subsequent long-term weight loss maintenance

  2. go for healthy fats: choose to eat healthy fats from nuts, avocado and oily fish instead of fast food. Trans-fats are linked to an increased risk of heart-disease

  3. walk off the weight: aim for 10,000 steps a day. Take the stairs and get off one tram stop earlier to ensure you’re getting your heart rate up every day

  4. pack healthy snacks when you go out: swap crisps and biscuits for fresh fruit

  5. always look at the labels: check the fat, sugar and salt content on food labels

  6. caution with your portions: use smaller plates, and drink a glass of water and wait five minutes then check in with your hunger before going back for seconds

  7. break up sitting time: decreasing sedentary time and increasing activity is linked to substantial health benefits. Time spent sedentary is related to excess weight and obesity, independent of physical activity level

  8. think about your drinks: choose water and limit fruit juice to one small glass per day

  9. focus on your food: slow down and eat while sitting at the table, not on the go. Internal cues regulating food intake (hunger/fullness signals) may not be as effective while distracted

  10. always aim for five serves of vegetables a day, whether fresh, frozen or tinned: fruit and vegetables have high nutritional quality and low energy density. Eating the recommended amount produces health benefits, including reduction in the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease.


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Read more:
Health Check: what’s the best diet for weight loss?


Dr. Gina Cleo, Research Fellow, Bond University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We asked five experts: is BMI a good way to tell if my weight is healthy?



File 20180522 51105 dj1quu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
BMI takes into account your height and your weight, and that’s it.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Alexandra Hansen, The Conversation

Staying a healthy weight can be a challenge, and knowing what weight is healthy for you can be too. Most people rely on the body mass index, or BMI, which is a measure of our weight in relation to our height.

Many experts have criticised this fairly limited measure of the health of our weight, yet it still remains the most popular way for most people to judge a healthy weight.

We asked five experts if the BMI is a good indicator of a healthy weight.

Five out of five experts said no

Here are their detailed responses:

https://cdn.theconversation.com/infographics/274/b8093fc9b60eedc7c3a36feca9e1ee0a8d581308/site/index.html


If you have a “yes or no” health question you’d like posed to Five Experts, email your suggestion to: alexandra.hansen@theconversation.edu.au


The ConversationDisclosures: Emma Gearon has received an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

Alexandra Hansen, Health + Medicine Section Editor/Global Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Health Check: should you weigh yourself regularly?



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Men respond better to structured “weigh-ins” than women.
Rostislav_Sedlacek/Shutterstock

Clare Collins, University of Newcastle and Rebecca Williams, University of Newcastle

For some, jumping on the scales is a daily or weekly ritual; while others haven’t seen a set of scales for years. Some may still be scarred by memories of being weighed in public with results broadcast to all.

So, is it helpful to weigh yourself? And if so, how often should you do it?

For adults carrying excess weight and who are trying to manage their weight, the answer is yes: weighing yourself regularly can help you lose more weight initially, and keep it off.




Read more:
BMI is underestimating obesity in Australia, waist circumference needs to be measured too


But for adolescents or those who have experienced disordered eating, it’s best to keep the scales out of sight.

What does the research say?

Most studies have investigated the impact of self-weighing along with other weight-loss strategies such as a low-kilojoule diet.

These studies show self-weighing is an inexpensive technique that may help with weight loss and maintenance, particularly for men, who often respond well to structured “weigh-ins”.

Only one study has investigated the use of self-weighing as the sole weight-loss strategy. This US research study invited 162 adults who were wanting to lose weight to a single educational weight-loss seminar.

Half of the people were instructed to weigh themselves daily and got visual feedback on their weight change over two years. The other half were not asked to weigh themselves daily, until the second year.

Keeping track of your weight can help you avoid gradual weight creep.
Shutterstock

During year one, men in the daily self-weighing group lost more weight than the control group, but women did not. The average number of times people weighed themselves a week was four.

In the second year, men in the daily self-weighing group maintained their weight loss. Those in the control group, who had now started daily weighing, lost weight, while the women stayed the same.

Having regular weigh-ins with a health professional can also help. A review of more than 11,000 overweight people attending a weight management program in GP clinics in Israel found those who had regular weigh-ins with the nurse or dietitian were more likely to lose more than 5% of their body weight. This amount of weight loss is associated with a major reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How often should you weigh yourself?

A review of 24 randomised controlled trials found there was no difference in weight loss between those who weighed themselves daily versus weekly.

No matter what other features the weight-loss program includes, the key to better results appears to be regular self-weighing, which means at least weekly.

Making yourself “accountable” for weigh-ins either by having a set day to weigh-in or joining a weight loss program can help you lose more weight.

Another important point is that not weighing yourself regularly when you are on a weight-loss diet is a risk factor for weight gain.




Read more:
You don’t have to be the biggest loser to achieve weight loss success


When is self-weighing harmful?

Regular weighing is not recommended for adolescents. Research suggests it doesn’t help with weight management and can negatively impact on young people’s mental health, especially for girls.

A ten-year study of the relationship between self-weighing, weight status and psychological outcomes of almost 2,000 teens in the US found that self-weighing had no helpful impact on weight or BMI.

However, it was associated with weight concerns, poor self-esteem and trying to lose weight though unhealthy methods such as excessive fasting.

Over the ten years, more frequent weighing was associated with a decrease in body satisfaction and self-esteem, and an increase in weight concerns and depression in the young women.

Self-weighing has few benefits and many potential harms for teens.
Dragana Gordic/Shutterstock

For young men, with the exception of weight concerns, there were no significant relationships between self-weighing and other variables.

An increased frequency of self-weighing throughout the high school years may flag the need to investigate an adolescent’s overall well-being and psychological health.

Self-weighing can also affect the self-esteem and psychological well-being of adults, especially women. This is of particular concern for those with eating disorders, as weighing frequency can be associated with greater severity of eating disorders.

For some people, self-weighing could be the key to losing or keeping weight off, while for others, it may do harm. Consider your life stage, pre-existing health conditions and your mental well-being when deciding whether regular weighing is worth it for you.


The Conversation


Read more:
Why now is the best time to go on a diet, or the science of post-holiday weight loss


Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics, University of Newcastle and Rebecca Williams, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Newcastle

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Having a brain injury does not mean you’ll get dementia



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Increasing risk does not mean it’s predetermined.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Travis Wearne, UNSW and Fiona Kumfor, University of Sydney

Two recent studies recently drew a link between traumatic brain injuries and dementia. Understandably, media outlets were quick to report on these findings.

The Los Angeles Times ran the story:

Even a mild case of traumatic brain injury is linked to an increased risk of dementia

The New York Times reported:

Traumatic Brain Injuries Are Tied to Dementia

But if you have had a traumatic brain injury at some point during your life, what is the actual risk of dementia?




Read more:
How injuries change our brain and how we can help it recover


What is a traumatic brain injury?

Traumatic brain injury refers to damage of the brain caused by an external force, such as from a traffic accident, fall or assault (such as a coward punch). This leads to bruising, bleeding, and tearing of brain tissue.

Traumatic brain injuries fall on a spectrum of severity, with the initial loss of consciousness and duration of confusion (known as post-traumatic amnesia) used to classify brain injuries as mild, moderate, or severe. Most traumatic brain injuries (approximately 80%) are mild.




Read more:
Explainer: what is traumatic brain injury?


What is dementia?

Dementia is caused by a progressive build-up of proteins in the brain, which ultimately causes brain cells to die.

There are several types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia.

Each dementia type is caused by a different type of protein, and affects different parts of the brain, leading to diverse symptoms. It’s not known what causes this abnormal build-up of proteins in the brain.




Read more:
What causes Alzheimer’s disease? What we know, don’t know and suspect


Dementia is caused by a progressive build-up of proteins in the brain.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

What did the studies find?

Two recent studies have assessed whether traumatic brain injuries are related to dementia.

  • Study 1. A research group from the University of California examined the medical records of over 350,000 US veterans, half of whom had experienced a traumatic brain injury. They found those who had a mild traumatic brain injury were more than twice as likely to develop dementia. The risk was even greater (about 2.5 times) if they had lost consciousness as a result of the traumatic brain injury. People who had moderate or severe traumatic brain injuries were nearly four times as likely to develop dementia.

  • Study 2. Danish researchers examined the national records of nearly 2.8 million citizens who were over 50 years old between 1999 and 2013. They found 126,734 people had dementia (4.5%) and 132,093 had a history of traumatic brain injury (4.7%). They reported the risk of dementia was 24% higher for people who had a previous traumatic brain injury. These risks were even higher for males, people who had a more severe traumatic brain injury, and for people who had more than one traumatic brain injury in the past.

Both these studies identified cohorts of people and assessed how they changed over time. These studies also used data collected at the time of the traumatic brain injury, rather than relying on people’s memory of injuries in their past. They also used large samples and controlled for medical and psychiatric factors that could influence their results.

The potential for brain injury to lead to dementia is understandably alarming information. The relationship between severe traumatic brain injury and dementia has been known for some time. The risk of dementia following mild injuries is novel and is particularly concerning given the prevalence of sports-related injuries (such as concussions).

In Study 1, only 5.6% of those who had a previous traumatic brain injury developed dementia. In addition, many people with dementia have never had a traumatic brain injury (in Study 2, 94.7% of people with dementia had no history of traumatic brain injury).

This means while a traumatic brain injury may increase the risk of developing dementia, it doesn’t mean you will get dementia if you have experience brain trauma. In the same way that age is a risk factor for a heart disease, not everyone over the age of 65 will have a heart attack.

It’s likely other factors are involved.




Read more:
Kids are more susceptible to brain injury, and concussion has implications beyond what we thought


Take home messages

Multiple risk factors can lead to dementia. And we also know several ways to minimise these risks (known as protective factors). Diet, exercise, good sleep habits, remaining socially connected, and keeping yourself cognitively challenged are important factors in minimising your risk of dementia.

Interestingly, many of the risk factors of dementia are also seen in people following a traumatic brain injury. These include a sedentary lifestyle, mental health issues, social isolation, and reduction in cognitive resilience (known as cognitive reserve).

The ConversationWhile prevention programs to minimise people having a traumatic brain injury in the first place are important, lifestyle, psychological, and social approaches to help people improve their brain health after a traumatic brain injury are also key. Understanding these factors may also help to explain the relationship between traumatic brain injury and dementia.

Travis Wearne, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UNSW and Fiona Kumfor, Senior research fellow, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.