Category Archives: harvard health letter

Sleep aids can be risky – Harvard

Sleep is one of the most under-appreciated aspects of living a healthy life. I felt strongly enough about it to devote an entire Page – How important is a good night’s sleep? to it. My assumption was that you are using no extraneous methods of getting yourself down. I don’t recommend taking any kind of drugs to help yourself get to sleep. There are a number of relaxation methods that work wonders and have no ill effects. The Harvard Health Letter warns about taking sleep aids.

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Millions of Americans rely on prescription sleep medications, called sedative hypnotics, to fall asleep. While the drugs can help people get a decent night’s rest, they are not designed for long-term use. “Each of the pills has its own risks,” says sleep expert Dr. Lawrence Epstein, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Types of sleep aids

Sedative hypnotics fall into three categories.

Melatonin-receptor agonists such as ramelteon (Rozerem) leave the body quickly. They target melatonin receptors in the brain and are not thought to be habit-forming. Continue reading

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Beware of blue light at night – Harvard

Sleep, like walking, is one of the critical elements of good health very commonly not appreciated by the man on the street. I have a Page – How important is a good night’s sleep with a ton of information on it.

Here is some valuable info from the Harvard Health Letter on getting a good night’s sleep.

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Until the advent of artificial lighting, the sun was the major source of lighting, and people spent their evenings in (relative) darkness. Now, in much of the world, evenings are illuminated, and we take our easy access to all those lumens pretty much for granted.

But we may be paying a price for basking in all that light. At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. (My emphasis)

But not all colors of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.

Daily rhythms influenced by light

Everyone has slightly different circadian rhythms, but the average length is 24 and one-quarter hours. The circadian rhythm of people who stay up late is slightly longer, while the rhythms of earlier birds fall short of 24 hours. Dr. Charles Czeisler of Harvard Medical School showed, in 1981, that daylight keeps a person’s internal clock aligned with the environment.

The health risks of nighttime light

Study after study has linked working the night shift and exposure to light at night to several types of cancer (breast, prostate), diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. It’s not exactly clear why nighttime light exposure seems to be so bad for us. But we do know that exposure to light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, a hormone that influences circadian rhythms, and there’s some experimental evidence (it’s very preliminary) that lower melatonin levels might explain the association with cancer.

A Harvard study shed a little bit of light on the possible connection to diabetes and possibly obesity. The researchers put 10 people on a schedule that gradually shifted the timing of their circadian rhythms. Their blood sugar levels increased, throwing them into a prediabetic state, and levels of leptin, a hormone that leaves people feeling full after a meal, went down.

Even dim light can interfere with a person’s circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect, notes Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher. Light at night is part of the reason so many people don’t get enough sleep, says Lockley, and researchers have linked short sleep to increased risk for depression, as well as diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

The power of the blues

While light of any kind can suppress the secretion of melatonin, blue light at night does so more powerfully. Harvard researchers and their colleagues conducted an experiment comparing the effects of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to exposure to green light of comparable brightness. The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).

In another study of blue light, researchers at the University of Toronto compared the melatonin levels of people exposed to bright indoor light who were wearing blue-light–blocking goggles to people exposed to regular dim light without wearing goggles. The fact that the levels of the hormone were about the same in the two groups strengthens the hypothesis that blue light is a potent suppressor of melatonin. It also suggests that shift workers and night owls could perhaps protect themselves if they wore eyewear that blocks blue light. Inexpensive sunglasses with orange-tinted lenses block blue light, but they also block other colors, so they’re not suitable for use indoors at night. Glasses that block out only blue light can cost up to $80.

Less-blue light

If blue light does have adverse health effects, then environmental concerns, and the quest for energy-efficient lighting, could be at odds with personal health. Those curlicue compact fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lights are much more energy-efficient than the old-fashioned incandescent lightbulbs we grew up with. But they also tend to produce more blue light.

The physics of fluorescent lights can’t be changed, but coatings inside the bulbs can be so they produce a warmer, less blue light. LED lights are more efficient than fluorescent lights, but they also produce a fair amount of light in the blue spectrum. Richard Hansler, a light researcher at John Carroll University in Cleveland, notes that ordinary incandescent lights also produce some blue light, although less than most fluorescent lightbulbs.

What you can do

  • Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
  • Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
  • If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses or installing an app that filters the blue/green wavelength at night.
  • Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.When I work on my computer late at night, I always wear a pair of blue blocker sunglasses. You can buy them on Amazon for under $20. I have no problems getting to sleep.

    Tony

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You may not be as young as you feel, but almost … Harvard

I post on a lot of subjects having to do with living longer. Most of them are indirect, like eat less; move more; live longer. But, an issue of the Harvard Health Letter focuses on something directly related to living longer. Namely, how you feel about yourself at your age.

Heidi Goldman, Executive Editor, Harvard Health Letter writes, “I just celebrated a birthday, and not the kind women like to crow about. Let’s just say I’m mid-century modern. But I feel as young and as vibrant as ever. I have energy, a zest for life, and a real sense of purpose. And it turns out that this youthful feeling may pay off big-time. A research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine found that older people who felt three or more years younger than their actual (chronological) age had a lower death rate compared with those who felt their age or those who felt more than one year older than their actual age.

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You’re as young as you feel
“Two researchers at University College London looked at the responses of about 6,500 men and women who answered the question, “How old do you feel you are?” The respondents were age 52 and older, with an average age of 65. Their answers:
•    about 70% felt three or more years younger than their actual age
•    25% felt close to their actual age
•    5% felt more than one year older than their actual age
What came next was the really interesting part: Eight years after study participants answered the age question, researchers determined which ones were still alive:
•    75% of those who felt older than their age
•    82% of those who felt their actual age
•    86% of those who felt younger than their actual age.

More than just a state of mind?
“Did a youthful feeling keep people alive? There was no association between self-perceived age and cancer death. But researchers did find that the relationship between self-perceived age and cardiovascular death was strong. They speculate that feeling younger may lead to better health habits. “Feeling younger or older itself seems to have an effect on our health,” says Dr. Ronald D. Siegel, assistant professor of psychology, part time, at Harvard Medical School. (my emphasis)

“He says there are several ways that feeling younger psychologically might lead to better health. One is exercise. Good health is associated with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. “When people see themselves as old, they’re more likely to abandon physical challenges which feel difficult, such as, ‘I don’t think I should ski any more, I’m an old man.’ When people feel younger psychologically, even if physical exercise is challenging, they’re more likely to pursue it, believing no pain no gain,” Dr. Siegel explains.

“Another way that feeling younger leads to better health may be attitude about diet. “If we feel old, we’re likely to treat food with an ‘I won’t live much longer, I might as well enjoy this’ attitude which could lead us to eat unhealthfully. If we feel young, we may have more of a future-orientation that will lead us to eat with future health in mind.” Avoiding added sugars, trans fats and saturated fats, and increasing dietary fiber, good fats, whole grains, and omega 3 fatty acids is important for good health. Continue reading

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6 Tricks to Eat Healthier – Harvard

I happened upon this from Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeat. It happens to be six of the best ideas that I have written about or heard about for eating healthier and smarter.

1. Ditch whole milk
Not only does this reduce saturated fat in your diet, it also shaves off calories.
How: Switch to 1% or nonfat milk, and nonfat versions of other dairy products like yogurt and ice cream. Can’t bear to go cold turkey? Step down more slowly to 2% milk, then 1% en route to nonfat, if possible.

Most of the people I know have been drinking skimmed or soymilk for years.

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2. Harness the power of nuts (and seeds)
Almonds, cashews, filberts, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, and pistachios pack plenty of beneficial nutrients, including vitamin E, folic acid, potassium, and fiber. Although many nuts are high in fat, the fat is mainly unsaturated — a healthy choice.
How: First, put nuts on the grocery list. Nuts are high in calories, so it’s best to enjoy them in place of other snacks, not in addition to them, and to keep serving sizes small.

Amen, brother. To read further on the benefits of nuts and seeds, check out my posts:
6 Reasons You Should Eat Pumpkin Seeds Year-Round
The Super Seeds: Which is Healthier
What are the Top Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Are Chia Seeds Good for You?
Are Pumpkin Seeds (Pepitas) Good For You?

3. Taste food before you salt it
Break the autopilot habit of reaching for the salt shaker.
How: For two days, don’t put any salt on your food at all. A short break can help reset your taste buds. Then, leave the salt shaker in the cabinet, so it becomes a bit of an effort to reach for it. Make a ritual out of truly tasting your food before you decide if it needs tweaking.

Great idea, but the fact is that most people get overdosed on the salt that is in their processed foods. The more natural food you eat, the better off you will be.

4. Pack lunch once a week
This makes healthy food choices readily available to you at work or on an outing. And since you are controlling portion sizes, you can make sure that you’re not supersizing your meal. Plus, it saves you money.
How: Once a week, before you shop for groceries, write out a meal plan that leaves enough leftovers for one or two lunches.

I love this. I suggested it back five years ago when we first started the blog.  Here are my exact words: “I think if I were still working I would seriously consider bringing lunch from home a day or two each week to keep a handle on my intake. With a fridge and microwave where you work, you are good to go,” I wrote in the About Me Page.

5. Eat five (or more) vegetables and fruits a day
It’s a nutrient-packed way to fill your plate, and is generally low in calories.
How: First, for one week, keep track of how often you eat fruits and vegetables. One serving equals one-half cup of chopped fruit or most vegetables; for raw leafy vegetables like lettuce and spinach, a serving is one cup. Once you have your baseline, try adding one fruit or vegetable serving a day.

6. Plan meals that are delightful, delicious, and healthy
In an ideal world, food delights all our senses: it looks beautiful, smells heavenly, and tastes delicious, and its textures feel and even sound satisfying. Start thinking about food as something to really savor and enjoy. How: Pencil in time to prepare and savor one or two special meals a week. Once you’ve assembled great ingredients, set a gorgeous table. Take a moment to truly take in scents, companions, and surroundings, and if you like, give thanks.
For 42 simple changes to help you exercise more, eat healthier, stress less, and live a happier, more fulfilling life, buy Simple Changes, Big Rewards from Harvard Medical School.

Tony

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Top 10 Herbs For Insomnia

Sleep specialist Lisa Shives of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine admits that while research for herbal sleep remedies may not be scientifically conclusive, they have not been found to be dangerously detrimental either. If you complement these herbal remedies with healthy foods beneficial for promoting sleep like those rich in magnesium, avoid caffeine and sweets, engage in a relaxing routine like a warm bath prior bedtime, then the results you reap from herbs can truly be optimized.

Sleep is one of the unsung heroes of good health. Please read How Important is a Good Night’s Sleep, 30 Insane Facts About Sleep, How You Can Improve Your Sleep Habits, How Sleep Makes Your Mind More Creative,
How Much Sleep Do I Need? What Are Healthy Sleep Habits?Oleda Baker on the Health and Beauty Benefits of Sleep for more details.

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Tony

Our Better Health

While most people experience lack of restful sleep from time to time, insomnia is defined as a frequent or chronic inability to fall asleep at night. Of all problems concerning sleep or lack thereof, insomnia is the most prominent and also the least-researched.

If you suffer from chronic sleeplessness, you’d also know how it is to experience daytime fatigue, mood swings and headaches. Often caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitter chemicals like serotonin which regulates our moods and emotions, insomnia is a global concern estimated to affect over 30% people at some point in their lives.

While conventional treatments such as prescription or over-the-counter sleeping pills are commonly used by people who suffer from insomnia, other treatments exist which may be preferable for those with qualms about using chemical and synthetic drugs. According to scientific research, insomnia has been effectively treated by herbal formulas, [1] some of which are described…

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Why and How You Can Improve Your Sleep Habits – Harvard

I have been writing about the importance of a good night’s sleep for some years. It restores the brain, recharges the body and often clears up conflicts overnight. Now comes Harvard with further guidance on this critical life experience. With 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, sleep habits are very relevant.

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Dr. Anthony Komaroff, Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications, writes, “A good night’s sleep is essential for your health and well-being. Getting too little sleep can cause numerous problems. Lack of sleep not only affects alertness and energy, but it weakens your body’s defenses against infection, increases anxiety, and boosts your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. It’s also a safety issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that 1 in 24 adults say they have recently fallen asleep while driving.

“Sleep-related problems affect 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages. If you are one of them, Improving Sleep is an instructive and fact-filled report from Harvard Medical School that explains why sleep often eludes us as adults. You’ll read about the habits and conditions that get in the way of peaceful slumber. Most important, you’ll learn what you can do to again enjoy the satisfaction of a restful night’s sleep.

“The report details what triggers insomnia and how new techniques and therapies are helping men and women get to sleep more quickly — without the use of medications. The report will tell you how to overcome the “early-to-bed-early-to-rise” syndrome, how to control the need to urinate at night, how to tame restless leg syndrome, and seven things you should do — and not do — before going to bed.

“Do you or your spouse snore? There are hundreds of devices marketed as aids to stop snoring. But do any work? The report sorts them out and updates you on new procedures that can restore quiet to the bedroom. Could your snoring be sleep apnea? The report includes a six-question test that will help you determine if you need to be tested for this health-threatening condition.

“Ever wondered why we remember so little of our dreams? Why “night owls” are the way they are? Or what’s the best time for a nap — and how long should it be? The report answers these questions and many others. Plus, you’ll read the truth about the connection between Ambien and sleep walking (and sleep eating!), which over-the-counter sleeping aids are safest, five ways to avoid jet lag, and more.”

Tony

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Important Aspects of Aging Well – Harvard

I write a lot about diet, exercise and  weight loss, but it’s no accident that part of the title of this blog is ‘living longer.’ That’s really the reason for the diet, exercise and weight loss posts – so we can live longer and have full use of our physical as well as mental abilities.

So, I was most pleased to see Harvard HEALTHbeat reporting on the logistical aspects of aging well.

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“You’re probably already doing a lot to ensure that you stay in good health and are able to enjoy your later years: eating right, exercising, getting checkups and screenings as recommended by your doctor. But it also makes sense to have some contingency plans for the bumps in the road that might occur.”

 

1.    Adapt your home. Stairs, baths, and kitchens can present hazards for older people. Even if you don’t need to make changes now, do an annual safety review so you can make necessary updates if your needs change.
2.    Prevent falls. Falls are a big deal for older people — they often result in fractures that can lead to disability, further health problems, or even death. Safety precautions are important, but so are exercises that can improve balance and strength.
3.    Consider your housing options. You might consider investigating naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs). These neighborhoods and housing complexes aren’t developed specifically to serve seniors — and, in fact, tend to host a mix of ages — but because they have plenty of coordinated care and support available, they are senior-friendly.
4.    Think ahead about how to get the help you may need. Meal preparation, transportation, home repair, housecleaning, and help with financial tasks such as paying bills might be hired out if you can afford it, or shared among friends and family. Elder services offered in your community might be another option.
5.    Plan for emergencies. Who would you call in an emergency? Is there someone who can check in on you regularly? What would you do if you fell and couldn’t reach the phone? Keep emergency numbers near each phone or on speed dial. Carry a cellphone (preferably with large buttons and a bright screen), or consider investing in some type of personal alarm system.
6.    Write advance care directives. Advance care directives, such as a living will, durable power of attorney for health care, or health care proxy, allow you to explain the type of medical care you want if you’re too sick, confused, or injured to voice your wishes. Every adult should have these documents.
To read further on Harvard’s suggestions, check this.

Tony

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Four Ways Exercise Helps With Arthritis – Harvard

I have suffered from arthritis in my hands for over 20 years and gone through a number of methods of dealing with the pain. I wrote about all of them just yesterday. You can read How do I get relief from arthritis in my hands for the details.

So, I naturally was excited to see that the Harvard HEALTHbeat had just published a piece on exercise helping arthritis. First of all because arthritis pain can be brutal and secondly because eat less; move more is my mantra.

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“Even the healthiest people can find it hard to stick with an exercise regimen — and if you suffer from the joint pain of arthritis, moving your body may be the last thing you want to think about. But regular exercise not only helps maintain joint function, but also relieves stiffness and reduces pain and fatigue.

If you have arthritis, you want to be sure your exercise routine has these goals in mind:

1. A better range of motion (improved joint mobility and flexibility). To increase your range of motion, move a joint as far as it can go and then try to push a little farther. These exercises can be done any time, even when your joints are painful or swollen, as long as you do them gently. Continue reading

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Health Tips for Men Over 50 – Harvard

Harvard’s HEALTHbeat publication says it is wise for men in midlife to approach their situation like making good investments. One needs to acknowledge the factors he can control and those he can’t.
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Age and Family History are two factors over which you have no control. As you age there is a certain deterioration that occurs. Shared genes explain some of your risks, but lifestyles, the food you eat and your physical activity play a major role.

“The factors you can control make a big difference in directing your health. Here are some of the most important things to consider as you look at the health investments you want to make going forward.

“• Whether you smoke. About one in four American men smokes cigarettes, pipes, or some other form of tobacco. If you are one of them, kicking the habit is the single most important thing you can do to improve your health.”

I feel strongly about the dangers of smoking. Check out my page How bad is smoking? For details.

“• What you eat. Choosing and following a healthy diet is an excellent way to reduce your chances of getting a number of life-threatening illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and some of the most common cancers.
• How much you move. Get active, live longer. Not only that, but live better. Study after study has linked greater amounts of physical activity to improved mood, better blood sugar control, reduced risk of heart disease, and other benefits.”

You can get the full story from Harvard at Men’s Health Fifty and Forward.

As we get older our ‘margin of error’ decreases. Publications like this one can literally be lifesavers. It is worth checking out.

Tony

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