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health

Getting Fit – It’s Never Too Late to Start

Getting Fit – It’s Never Too Late to Start

If there’s one thing we all know, it’s that regular exercise is good for our health, and that a sedentary lifestyle can have a negative effect on our physical wellbeing. National guidelines suggest that the average adult should partake in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes vigorous exercise per week[1]in order to maintain a healthy body. Until recently, it’s been believed that this level of exercise needs to be relatively consistent throughout your life in order to reap the benefits and reduce the risk of death. A new study, however, suggests that actually, it’s never too late to start. 

Why Starting Later is Still Beneficial

The study, carried out at the National Cancer Institute and published in JAMA Network Open, examined people’s exercise patterns and subsequent death records, recording the correlation between an active lifestyle and age and cause of death[2]. Researchers looked at data from 315,059 Americans between the ages of 50 and 71 who had completed questionnaires rating their activity level in the 1990s. The study then tracked who had died and why, up until the end of 2011, taking into account other factors such as age, sex, whether they smoked, their diet, and so on[3]. Of those examined, over 71,000 had died – 22,000 of heart disease, and 16,000 of cancer[4]. Of those examined, 56% claimed they had remained consistently active throughout their lives, 30% stated their exercise levels had declined, and 13% said they started getting fit in later life[5].

Of course, those who consistently exercised had a lower risk of death when compared to those who didn’t exercise at all (around 42% less chance of dying from heart disease, and 14% less chance of dying from cancer[6]). What the researchers found really interesting, however, is that those who started getting fit in later life had a similar result (43% less likely to die from heart disease, and 16% less chance of dying from cancer). That means that even if you’ve not been active in your early life, it’s not too late to start – you can reap the benefits! Dr. Pedro Saint-Maurice, lead author of the study, explained, “if you maintain an active lifestyle or participate in some sort of exercise […] you can reduce your risk of dying. If you are not active and you get to your 40-50s and you decide to become active, you can still enjoy these benefits”[7].

The Three- or Four-Day Workweek: Bogus or Beneficial?

The Three- or Four-Day Workweek: Bogus or Beneficial?

Trying to find that perfect work-life balance is notoriously difficult and sometimes, it feels as though we’re working so many hours that we don’t get to enjoy the money we’ve earned. We miss out on family occasions or are simply too tired to enjoy them, and with the explosion of mobile technology, it seems that work can creep into every corner of our lives. It’s becoming increasingly unavoidable, but could there be a better way? Perhaps there is. Many are claiming that the three- or four-day workweek is the perfect solution to our work-life balance issues, and many scientists and business executives suggest it’s both beneficial for our health and great for business.

When around 80% of people believe that it’s acceptable to telephone an employee outside of work hours, and when it seems that modern technological advances have led to an increase rather than a decrease in hours, things are getting out of hand. Many suggest then, condensing the workweek so that the same number of hours are worked but over fewer days – four days of ten working hours rather than five days of eight, for example. This idea is not new either. John Maynard Keynes famously (and perhaps incorrectly) predicted the progression of technology would lead to more leisure and less work time, suggesting that by the year 2030, we’d all be working a 15-hour week[1]. Herman Kahn believed something similar in the 1960s, claiming that all Americans would soon be enjoying a massive 13-weeks’ annual vacation and a four-day workweek[2]. Nowadays, the campaign for reducing the weekly work days, whether to three or four days, is gaining in popularity from all walks of life, from employers and employees, to health practitioners, scientists, and business moguls. So why aren’t we doing it yet?

Does Being Vegetarian Actually Save Any Animals?

Does Being Vegetarian Actually Save Any Animals?

There are lots of reasons that people become vegetarians or vegans – health, sustainability, up-bringing, but by far the most common explanation given is a moral one, that the unnecessary suffering and killing of billions of animals per year is unethical.  It’s not a surprisingly conclusion, given the massive amount of animals slaughtered for food alone in the US.  In 2013, 8.1 billion animals died to feed Americans, and meat eaters will consume an average of 2,088 animals in their life-time[1].  Surely then, it stands to reason that abstaining from eating meat will save the lives and prevent the suffering of animals.  Whether this is true or not, however, is under some debate – and if it is true, just how many animals does vegetarianism actually save?

Calculating Saved Lives

There have been numerous studies and calculations discussing just how many animals are saved each year by a vegetarian diet – and the numbers vary wildly, from as little as 50 to as large as hundreds.  Noam Mohr, of the animal charity PETA, suggests that the average meat-eater in the US consumes 26.5 animals per year and that is made up of  of a cow,  of a pig,  of a turkey, and 25  chickens (which includes 1  allowance for eggs)[2].  On the other end of the scale, some argue that the average meat-eater consumes 406 animals per year, made up of 30 land animals, 225 fish, and 151 shellfish[3].  It is then assumed that a vegetarian, by abstaining from meat, saves the same amount of animals that a meat-eater kills. 

Diet and nutrition: Our instinctual tendencies to consume more calories than needed

Diet and nutrition: Our instinctual tendencies to consume more calories than needed

     It’s hard to look anywhere without finding some dismal statistic about the weight problems prevalent in our society. The 2011-2012 CDC statistics for the rate of obesity in Americans found that 35% of adults were obese; the 2009-2010 statistics found that 18% of children above 6 were obese, too.[i] It’s considered such a problem that First Lady Michelle Obama has developed a campaign to address the prevalence of childhood obesity. We are bombarded with information like this and told that we must, simply must, change for the sake of our health, yet still there’s only been modest improvement in the numbers. A 2007 study in Australia found that although people trying to change their diet usually undertook that change, only 26% of those people were sticking to it rigidly six months in.[ii] Even when faced with the life-or-death decision to change one’s diet following a heart attack or stroke, in a 2013 study only 39% of patients reported eating healthier food after such a life-shattering event.[iii] Why is it so hard to maintain healthy eating habits, even in the face of so much societal pressure and personal incentive to do so?

 

 

 

Obesity and the Importance of Beautiful Staircases

Obesity and the Importance of Beautiful Staircases

Everyone knows the importance of taking the stairs rather than the elevator, although not everyone does.  There are lots of things that can impact our decision to take the stairs – our fitness levels, how high in the building we may need to go, whether we’re injured or disabled, or even simply our energy levels on any given day.  But does the aesthetic appeal of a staircase ever come into question?  David Burney think so. 

 A Celebration of Stairs

Burney, a New York City Commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction says that we should make the most of the staircases in every building, and by making them aesthetically pleasing, we can encourage more people to climb them[1].  He, perhaps rightly, points out that in trying to make life easier, architects and building planners have also made life sedentary and this, in turn, has made us lose our love of the grand staircases that are so often a focal point in old buildings.  In their place, we see elevator shafts, perhaps with a small sign indicating the way to a drab staircase that is there for necessity alone.   

 

Unemployment and Obesity: the Vicious Cycle

Unemployment and Obesity: the Vicious Cycle

Two of the biggest problems facing America today are unemployment and obesity – two seemingly unrelated but equally serious issues.  After some of the most difficult economic times since the 1930s, America’s unemployment levels peaked at almost 10% in 2009, leveling out to around 6.3% today[1].  Obesity, likewise, has more than doubled for both adults and children in the US since the 1970s, with around 69% of adults being overweight or obese, and 35% being obese[2].  More and more studies, however, are investigating the link between unemployment and obesity and as results start to flood in, it seems that they are not as unrelated as they seemed. 

 Statistics

Studies are starting to show that there is a significant link between unemployment and obesity, especially amongst unskilled workers who are struggling to find work.  In fact, a Gallup study suggests that if you are between 18 and 44 and unemployed, you are 30% more likely to be obese than your counterparts in full-time employment[3].  High-skilled workers, who may have had sedentary jobs that led them to develop their own fitness plan are more likely to continue exercising and may have savings to help them to eat healthy after losing employment.  Low-skilled workers, alternatively, tend to work physical jobs and use that to burn calories.  When the job is lost, their only form of exercise goes with it, and it can be difficult to get out of a cycle of watching TV and eating junk food[4].  Of course, these are sweeping generalisations but the statistics are hard to ignore. 

 

Food Deserts

Food Deserts

 Have you ever dreamed of lying around on a desert island, soaking up the sun?  Well today, around 23.5 million Americans live in the desert[1].  That’s not the idyllic white sands and cocktails type of desert though – in fact, it’s much more sinister than that.  They live in food deserts. 

 Desert Island Dreams

Food Deserts in America are full of dreams of only one thing – easy access to healthy, affordable foods.  To qualify as a food desert, then, a geographical location will offer little or no affordable, healthy food options within a reasonable travelling distance[2].  There are more of these areas than you would think.  In fact, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that nearly 24 million people in America today live more than one mile away from a supermarket and have limited or no means of transport.  What’s scarier is that 2.3 million Americans are living in low-income, rural communities that are ten or more miles away from retail outlets selling a good range of healthful foods[3].   That’s an awfully long way to go for fruits and vegetables, especially when you don’t own a vehicle and public transportation is poor.   

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