If you’ve just shed a lot of pounds, you might want to hold off on buying a new wardrobe full of “thin” clothes. That’s because new research finds that lost weight starts creeping back almost immediately after a diet stops. “We noticed that individuals transitioned from a weight loss intervention immediately to weight gain,” said Kathryn Ross, of the University of Florida, Gainesville, College of Public Health and Health Professions. As to why weight started to come back so quickly, Ross said, “There are a lot of different reasons. There’s not an easy answer.” It may be that people need a specific maintenance intervention where the focus shifts from how to lose weight to how to maintain that loss. Ross said people also need to understand how challenging the environment is, and how it’s geared to weight gain because of the easy and seemingly endless access to high-calorie foods. People also get a lot of positive reinforcement when they’re losing weight. Family and friends probably comment on what a great job the dieter’s doing. Once weight loss is done, however, no one pats you on the back and says, “Hey, great job maintaining your weight!” said Ross, an assistant professor in the clinical and health psychology department. There are also physiologic and metabolic changes that may make it easier to regain weight if you’re not…  read on >

Relaxing in a hot sauna may not only feel good — it might affect your heart and blood vessels in ways that are similar to moderate exercise. That’s the finding of a new study that tested the effects of a 30-minute sauna session. The researchers say their results may help explain why people who regularly use saunas tend to have a decreased risk for heart disease and even dementia. On average, the study found, sauna users saw a drop in blood pressure and artery “stiffness” immediately after their heat bath. They also showed an increase in heart rate that was similar to the effect from moderate exercise. It’s not fully clear why, but the sauna heat is “one major factor,” said researcher Tanjaniina Laukkanen, of the University of Eastern Finland, in Kuopio. For one, heat generates sweating: “That’s like a natural diuretic effect — lowering blood pressure and decreasing the work load of the heart,” Laukkanen explained. On top of that, the researcher added, saunas simply help people relax. The study, which involved 102 middle-aged adults, was conducted in Finland — where “sauna bathing” originated and remains ubiquitous. In a study last year, Laukkanen’s team found that men who often used saunas had lower rates of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease than did those who used saunas less often. But that did not prove the…  read on >

Do you often feel grumpy at work? Sometimes a small change in your surroundings can have a big effect on your mood. According to a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, having some greenery in your office space can make you both happier and more productive. British and Dutch researchers decided to challenge the business concept that stresses minimal office decor and clean desks. They did a number of experiments in large commercial offices to compare the impact of lean offices to “green” offices. In all cases, they found that having office plants created a better work environment. One possible explanation is that greenery increases engagement by making people more physically, cognitively and emotionally involved in their jobs. Plants offer health benefits, too, because they act as natural air filters — important if your work area has stale air or common pollutants. You don’t need a bright window — or any window for that matter — to have a mood-boosting plant at your desk. Many species thrive in low light and with little effort. Peace lilies, ferns, palms, mother-in-law’s tongue and some philodendrons do especially well. Pothos plants don’t even need soil — just put a few leafy clippings in a vase filled with water and enjoy. Whatever your choice, be sure to follow the grower’s directions so your plant does well, especially…  read on >

Though healthy eating is good for everyone, those who have genes that put them at high risk for obesity might benefit the most. A new study suggests that even those who carry an inherited predisposition to pack on excess pounds are not destined to become obese. In fact, researchers say it can be avoided over time by adopting a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and unencumbered by salt, sugar, alcohol and red meat. The finding stems from a new analysis of diet, lifestyle and medical data on about 14,000 men and women that had been collected for two earlier studies. “We found that eating healthy foods — high intake of vegetable, fruits, whole grain, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and low intakes of trans fat, fried foods and sugary drinks — lowers the risk of obesity and promotes weight loss for all populations,” said study author Dr. Lu Qi. “Interestingly, the protective effects appear to be more evident among those at higher genetic risk,” he said. Qi serves as director of the Obesity Research Center at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, in New Orleans. The study was published Jan. 10 in The BMJ. Qi and his colleagues stressed that obesity risk is driven by a complex brew of genetic and environmental factors. Also, although DNA analyses can easily spot…  read on >

Where you live could influence how likely you are to develop heart failure, a new U.S. study suggests. In addition to people’s income and education level, the neighborhood in which they lived helped predict their risk, according to the researchers. People living in the poorest areas were at highest risk for heart failure, the researchers found. The availability of gyms, places to buy healthy foods and medical facilities accounted for nearly 5 percent of the increased heart failure risk in low-income areas, the study suggested. The researchers noted that improving access to these resources could benefit people living in these neighborhoods. “There is existing evidence suggesting strong, independent associations between personal socioeconomic status — like education, income level and occupation — and risks of heart failure and many other chronic diseases,” said study author Loren Lipworth. She’s an associate professor of epidemiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. “What this study adds is evidence suggesting that characteristics of your place of residence actually also play a significant role in influencing the risk of heart failure over and above the role of your own individual socioeconomic characteristics,” she said in a news release from the American Heart Association. “It opens the door for possible interventions that center on preventive measures in the community.” The researchers used Census data on just over 27,000 middle-aged residents, to…  read on >

In a potential advance for medical research, scientists say they’ve created the first functioning human muscle from skin cells. The breakthrough could lead to better genetic or cell-based therapies, as well as furthering investigations into the causes and treatment of muscular disorders, the Duke University team said. “The prospect of studying rare diseases is especially exciting for us,” Nenad Bursac, professor of biomedical engineering, said in a university news release. “When a child’s muscles are already withering away from something like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, it would not be ethical to take muscle samples from them and do further damage,” he explained. “But with this technique, we can just take a small sample of non-muscle tissue — like skin or blood — revert the obtained cells to a pluripotent state, and eventually grow an endless amount of functioning muscle fibers to test,” Bursac said. According to the researchers, it might also be possible to fix genetic defects in pluripotent stem cells from a patient and then grow small patches of healthy muscle that could be used with other genetic treatments to heal or replace specific areas of diseased muscle. Of course, much more research is needed before any such therapies could be used in humans. In the new study, skin cells were reprogrammed in the lab to revert to what are called pluripotent stem cells —…  read on >

In a finding that will surprise few, new research shows that minorities and the poor suffer more stress than their wealthy, white peers. That additional psychic burden may translate into poorer mental and physical well-being, and longevity is ultimately affected, the American Psychological Association report suggests. “Good health is not equally distributed. Socio-economic status, race and ethnicity affect health status and are associated with substantial disparities in health outcomes across the life span,” said report committee chair Elizabeth Brondolo. “And stress is one of the top 10 social determinants of health inequities.” In the United States, illnesses and injuries associated with stress are estimated to cost more than $300 billion annually. This includes losses from absenteeism, employee turnover and lost productivity as well as direct legal, medical and insurance fees, the report authors explained. They noted that people with lower incomes report more severe stress and tend to face more traumatic events during childhood. Black and Hispanic people also report more stress than whites, partly due to discrimination and greater exposure to violence. “Stress affects how we perceive and react to the outside world,” Brondolo said in a psychological association news release. She is a professor of psychology at St. John’s University in New York City. “Low socioeconomic status has been associated with negative thinking about oneself and the outside world, including low self-esteem, distrust…  read on >

You know that poor lifestyle choices today can affect your health tomorrow. But according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, there’s another surprising predictor of future illness: your financial health. Scientists looked at the health records of 1,000 people from birth to midlife and found a strong connection between a low credit score and poor heart health. The result: the same factors that can lead to financial woes can also bring health woes. People who didn’t manage their financial health well didn’t manage their physical health either. Conversely, people with higher credit scores had healthier hearts, the researchers reported. Your credit score is important because it’s accessed when you want to open a credit card, get a mortgage, rent a home or buy or lease a new car, so this rating matters. Key attributes that predict both better financial status and better health are financial literacy, self-control, planning and perseverance — and it’s never too late to learn them. One of the most surprising findings in the study was that 20 percent of the money-health link stemmed from behaviors and skills the study participants showed from the time they were young children. So if you have kids, it’s never too soon to teach them about savings and making smart money and health decisions. More information To better understand your…  read on >

Happiness is not determined by the size of one’s paycheck, but a new survey suggests that wealth — or lack of it — does influence how people measure their happiness. “Different positive emotions — like awe, love, pride, compassion — are core parts of happiness, and we found that rich and poor differ in the kinds of positive emotions they experience in their daily lives,” said study author Paul Piff. He is an assistant professor of psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine. “Individuals with higher incomes tend to experience positive emotions that are focused on themselves, like pride and contentment,” Piff explained. In contrast, “those with lower incomes are more likely to experience positive emotions toward others, like love and compassion,” he noted. To explore the subject, Piff and his colleague Jake Moskowitz conducted a national survey of just over 1,500 American men and women, ranging in age from 24 to 93. About three-quarters of the participants were white. The poll sought information on household income, as well as how respondents arrived at feeling seven specific types of positive emotions. Those included amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love and pride. In the end, the investigators determined that while all the respondents experienced all of the emotions to one degree or another, richer people tended to derive their happiness more on the…  read on >

Raising one particular tax just might have a public health benefit. The tax in question? States’ alcohol excise tax. In the United States, those taxes have not kept pace with inflation, which could limit their public health benefits, researchers report. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the average state alcohol excise tax has fallen by 30 percent for beer, 27 percent for wine and 32 percent for spirits since 1991, the new study found. The average state excise tax on alcohol is 3 cents for a 12-ounce beer, 3 cents for a 5-ounce glass of wine, and 5 cents for a typical shot of liquor, according to the report published in the January issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Raising those taxes not only could help states raise more revenue, but also might improve alcohol-related public health issues and costs related to excessive drinking, the researchers suggested. Excise taxes are applied to beer sales in all 50 states, and on wine and spirits in most states. “The most important finding here is that alcohol excise taxes are incredibly low,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Timothy Naimi, said in a journal news release. He’s an alcohol epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center and an associate professor at the Boston University School of Medicine. “In several states, the price is so low that it rounds to zero…  read on >