Do you get way too involved when following sports events? Whether it’s the World Series, the Super Bowl or the Olympics, it’s important to draw a line between being a fan and being a fanatic … so your actions don’t spiral out of control. Rooting for your favorite team is one thing. But researchers from the University of Arkansas found that overly involved sports fans are more likely to engage in unhealthy lifestyle behaviors — such as too much food and alcohol — than non-sports fans. This can increase their risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and even early death. One of the first health problems is often a rise in BMI or body mass index, a ratio of weight to height. This results from eating a high-fat diet with a lot of fast foods, fewer vegetables and whole grains, and too many alcoholic beverages. High-profile football game days, for instance, are among the heaviest days for alcohol consumption, on a par with New Year’s Eve. Diehard sports fans often feel like they must drink during “big games” — and in doing so may become belligerent, arguing over game plays and refs’ calls, as well as with fans of opposing teams. This behavior has social disadvantages, too, leading to the potential loss of friends and alienating co-workers, depending on whom you’re with. While being…  read on >

You’ve probably heard about the high-carb diet and the low-carb diet, but a new study suggests a moderate-carb diet could be the key to longevity. Researchers followed more than 15,000 people in the United States for a median of 25 years and found that low-carb diets (fewer than 40 percent of calories from carbohydrates) and high-carb diets (more than 70 percent of calories) were associated with an increased risk of premature death. Moderate consumption of carbohydrates (50 to 55 percent of calories) was associated with the lowest risk of early death. “This work provides the most comprehensive study of carbohydrate intake that has been done to date, and helps us better understand the relationship between the specific components of diet and long-term health,” said senior study author Dr. Scott Solomon, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. The researchers estimated that from age 50, people eating a moderate-carb diet would live another 33 years, four years longer than those with very low carb consumption, and one year longer than those with high carb consumption. The investigators also found that all low-carb diets may not be equal. Eating more animal-based proteins and fats from foods like beef, lamb, pork, chicken and cheese instead of carbohydrates was associated with a greater risk of early death, while eating more plant-based proteins and fats from…  read on >

As a tool to reduce the public health toll of drinking, higher taxes on alcohol get the most bang for the buck, a new study finds. Worldwide, more than 4 percent of diseases and 5 percent of deaths are directly linked with alcohol, previous research suggests. In this study, researchers looked at data from 16 countries to find out which of five alcohol-control strategies would be most cost-effective in reducing alcohol-related harm and deaths. Their conclusion: A 50 percent increase in alcohol excise taxes (those included in the price) would cost less than $100 for each healthy year of life gained in the overall population. And it would add 500 healthy years of life for every 1 million people, the researchers said. Such a tax increase would be pennies per drink, according to the study published Aug. 9 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. “Tax increases may not sound the most attractive of policy options but are the single most cost-effective way of diminishing demand and reigning back consumption,” lead researcher Dan Chisholm said in a journal news release. Chisholm is a program manager for mental health with the World Health Organization in Copenhagen, Denmark. Previous studies showed that state excise taxes in the United States average 3 cents for a 12-ounce beer or 5-ounce glass of wine and 5 cents for…  read on >

If you want to be happier, try having meaningful conversations. A new study finds that quality conversation is associated with greater happiness, while small talk has no effect on mental state. The results were true for both introverts and extroverts. The findings from the study of 486 people were published recently in the journal Psychological Science. “We define small talk as a conversation where the two conversation partners walk away still knowing equally as much — or little — about each other and nothing else,” said study co-author Matthias Mehl, a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. “In substantive conversation, there is real, meaningful information exchanged. Importantly, it could be about any topic — politics, relationships, the weather — it just needs to be at a more-than-trivial level of depth,” Mehl said in a university news release. It’s not clear whether quality conversations actually make people happier, or if happier people are more likely to have quality conversations. And the study didn’t prove cause and effect, so that’s a question for future research. Still, “I would like to experimentally ‘prescribe’ people a few more substantive conversations and see whether that does something to their happiness,” Mehl said. More information Mental Health America outlines how to live your life well.

There’s another study suggesting that the vitamin and mineral supplements bought by millions of Americans do nothing to stave off heart disease. This time, the finding stems from an analysis of 18 studies conducted between 1970 and 2016. Each one looked at how vitamins and mineral supplements — which are not reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for either safety or effectiveness — affect heart health. After tracking more than 2 million participants for an average of 12 years, the studies came up with a clear conclusion: they don’t. Still, “people tend to prefer a quick and easy solution, such as taking a pill, rather than the more effortful method to prevent cardiovascular disease,” said study author Dr. Joonseok Kim. “Simply put, multivitamins and mineral supplements do not improve cardiovascular health outcomes, so [they] should not be taken for that purpose,” added Kim. He’s an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s division of cardiovascular disease. The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing supplement makers, stressed that the products are meant as nutritional aids only, not as a means of preventing or treating illness. “CRN stresses that multivitamins fill nutrient gaps in our less-than-perfect diets and support a host of other physiological functions,” senior vice president Duffy MacKay said in a statement. “They are not intended to…  read on >

It can happen when you’re traveling on business, running late to an appointment, or are simply running out of time to make dinner. You’re facing fast food or no food. Use these tips to make the most of this meal. Start by looking for the lowest calorie selections. Some restaurants list the calories and fat content on their menu board. If not, you can do a quick search of its website on your smartphone. According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates, 2018 is the year that calorie labeling is required for restaurants and similar food establishments that have 20 or more locations. The goal is to make it easy to know what you’re getting in every menu item. Of course, you don’t necessarily want to choose food by calories alone. Go for lean proteins, like grilled chicken or meat that you can see, not hidden under breading or tucked into a sealed wrap. Have it on a salad rather than a bun, and skip fatty and sugary dressings. Instead, drizzle on oil and vinegar, if available, or use mustard. If you’re limited to a sandwich, opt for a whole-wheat wrap, or eat only half the bread. Add lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables, but stay away from toppings like cheese and special sauces. If there’s no fruit available, fat-free yogurt or frozen yogurt is a…  read on >

Insomnia affects up to 15 percent of Americans, but sleeping pills aren’t the only — or the best — answer. A good sleep routine, exercise and mindfulness are all options to get the restorative sleep you need. Set up a daily sleep pattern by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. Yes, even on the weekends. Keep your bedroom peaceful, dark and on the cool side. Take out all electronics, and stop using them at least one hour before you turn in. They emit a type of light that interferes with your natural body rhythms, prompting you to stay alert when you should be winding down. Exercising vigorously in the morning leads to better sleep at night. But if your only free time is later in the day, such workouts don’t seem to interfere with sleep as previously thought. Stubborn sleeplessness may respond to mindfulness meditation, which can focus specifically on insomnia or stress reduction. Mindfulness techniques can target the thought patterns that perpetuate insomnia. According to research, working with a therapist and practicing meditation at home for 30 to 45 minutes nearly every day helps people get better sleep. And there are also self-help books available if you want to try it on your own. When these techniques aren’t enough to overcome insomnia…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — There’s new research suggesting that a switch over to e-cigarettes can help cigarette smokers kick their habit — even if initially they didn’t intend to. The small British study of 40 people “found that vaping may support long-term smoking abstinence,” lead researcher Dr. Caitlin Notley, of Norwich Medical School, at the University of East Anglia, said in a university news release. Still, anti-smoking advocates in the United States stressed that vaping isn’t without its own hazards. First of all, prior research shows that ex-smokers who vape often return to tobacco cigarettes, said Dr. Len Horovitz, a lung specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. And, “while there are certainly more harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke, there is a question of safety in e-cigarettes because of the presence of propylene glycol, and other as yet unidentified compounds,” Horovitz said. In the new study, Notley’s group asked 40 people who used e-cigarettes about their tobacco smoking history and prior attempts to quit smoking, and about their vaping habits. The investigation was funded by Cancer Research UK. According to Notley, the study revealed that vaping provides smokers with “many of the physical, psychological, social and cultural elements of cigarette smoking.” Beyond that, vapers described the activity as “pleasurable in its own right, as well as convenient and cheaper than smoking,” she said. “But…  read on >

Bicycling or other regular exercise may help reduce harmful inflammation in obese people, a new study suggests. Physical activity tames inflammation by changing blood characteristics, according to a team led by Dr. Michael De Lisio, of the University of Ottawa in Canada. Chronic inflammation is behind many of the health problems associated with obesity, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the researchers noted. Although inflammation is the body’s natural response to harm, it can become long term in someone who’s obese. Then it can cause damage to healthy tissue, De Lisio and his colleagues explained. The new findings were published June 19 in the Journal of Physiology. “This research is important because it helps us understand how and why exercise improves the health of people with obesity,” De Lisio said in a journal news release. He’s a molecular exercise physiologist. The study included young obese adults who were otherwise healthy. The participants took part in a six-week exercise program that included three one-hour bicycling or treadmill-running sessions a week. Blood samples were taken from the participants at the start and the end of the study. The samples showed that after six weeks of regular workouts, there was a decline in stem cells that create blood cells responsible for inflammation. The next step, the researchers said, is to determine if these blood changes improve…  read on >

Obesity is no picnic for those who struggle with it, but new research sheds some light on why so few ever find their way to a healthy weight. It turns out that overweight and obese folks hold starkly different views on diet and exercise than their normal-weight peers, the study found. Namely, taste is their top consideration when choosing what to eat, nutritional labels are rarely examined, and their relationship with food tends to be more impulsive and emotional. And while many were open to the idea of smaller meal portions, they were on the other hand less likely to exercise than normal-weight people. Cost was also a factor, with many believing that healthier foods were more expensive. What does all this mean for public health efforts to tackle America’s obesity epidemic? “A major disparity exists between food-related policies and the mindsets and motivations of the people these policies are designed to impact,” said report author Hank Cardello. He is director of the Hudson Institute’s Food Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “Previous Hudson Institute studies have confirmed that healthier items are where the [food product] growth is coming from,” Cardello stressed. But that trend just doesn’t seem to apply to overweight and obese Americans, whose “eating patterns and attitudes reflect the more traditional consumer mindsets exemplified in the ’70s and ’80s,” he explained. “This suggests…  read on >