Since I have "Spring Cleaning" scribbled onto my list of things to do around the house next week, it makes sense to do the same with my "Fitness Master" folders. What follows are updates or snippets of new information on topics covered in the last year or so.
Omega-3 fatty acids increases kids' IQ
While diets high in omega-3's have always been linked to better health, the research devoted to the benefits of taking it as a supplement has not always panned out.
Research compiled at New York University, however, shows that omega-3 supplementation has another benefit: higher IQ scores for children. When pregnant women and newborns were given a long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplement, the eventual IQ scores given to these children were 3.5 points higher than the children who didn't receive the supplement.
The reputation of long-chain fatty acids as brain food for babies has been well-known in the Orient for centuries. According to Dr. Carol Simontacchi in her sure-to-be-a-classic, The Crazy Makers, it's not uncommon for pregnant women and nursing mothers there to eat a dozen eggs a day.
In The Crazy Makers, in fact, Simontacchi offers a strong argument for the lack of omega-3's in the typical American diet as a key factor in our increasing rate of mental illnesses, including depression, panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Cigarette smoking kills
While the sentiment expressed in the subheading is hardly a surprise, a study that linked surveys of over 200,000 American adults from the years 1997 to 2004 revealed a surprising amount of life expectancy lost for lifetime smokers.
Women who never smoke have a 70 percent chance of living to the age of 80. The percentage of female smokers who reach that age, though, is only 38 percent.
Men who never smoke have a 61 percent chance of living to the age of 80. The percentage of male smokers who reach that age: 26 percent.
Simple changes in eating habits limit unwanted weight gain
Sometimes the obvious needs to be established scientifically. Consider this research from the Netherlands and published in the journal Plos One to do just that.
Subjects in the study who took big sips of soup underestimated how much soup they had consumed. Subjects who took small sips ate about 30 percent less than those subjects allowed to determine the amount of soup ingested per spoonful.
Research like this tends to support a claim made for years by professor Brian Wansink at Cornell University: that we gain weight unconsciously (often from mindless eating) and that small changes to counteract that really work.
In Wansink's latest attempt to prove this, he and Cornell researchers set up an online program where interested people learned about mindless eating and were given three "small" tips based on personal questionnaires that would help with weight loss.
"Keep counters clear of all foods except healthy ones," "Never eat directly from a package," "Always portion food onto a dish," "Avoid going more than three hours without food," and "Eat something hot within an hour of waking," were found to be some of the most effective tips dispensed. And they were effective.
In follow-up surveys, the Cornell researchers found that about two out of every three participants either lost or maintained their weight, and that those who lost weight and followed the tips for at least 25 days per month lost an average of 2 pounds per month.
Older exercisers live longer
The benefits of regular exercise are trumpeted in this column constantly, and increased life expectancy is often cited as one. A Swedish study chronicled in the December issue of Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter found that to be even true for those over 75.
Researchers at the Karolinka Institute tracked over 1,800 men and women over 75 for 18 years. In that time nearly 92 percent of the 1,800 died.
But from those deaths and questionnaires filled out at the onset of the study, the researchers determined that being physically and socially active added 5.4 years of life.
The right foods improve your mood
Prior studies have found that certain "bad" foods are bad for your mental state and can make your more prone to depression. Research from New Zealand published earlier this year, shows that "good" foods, specifically fruits and vegetables, positively affect your mood in a number of ways.
For 21 days 281 young adults with no history of eating disorders filled out detailed food dairies and reported on their mood. Later, a strong relationship between good mood and high fruit and veggie consumption was found, yet no other food groups had this effect
Dr. Tamlin Conner, one of the researchers, said in a press release that "young people would need to consume approximately seven to eight total servings of fruits and vegetables a day to notice a meaningful change." For those who find such consumption daunting, Conner stresses that a serving is generally a half cup, or the amount that most could fit into the palm of a hand.