Fresh Health News: Spring 2021

Photographs by (wine) Derek Hatfield; (runner) bbernard; (zoom) andrey popov & (food) Oleksandra Naumenko

A Change of Heart

A new study draws parallels between increased alcohol consumption and the risk of AFib

Since the late 1970s, significant medical research has backed the relationship between alcohol and heart health, asserting that moderate drinkers enjoy more protection from heart failure than either teetotallers or heavy drinkers. But a recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that the same cannot be said for atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that commonly causes poor blood flow. In a 14-year study of nearly 108,000 people, researchers found that those who consumed just one alcoholic beverage a day showed a 16 percent higher risk of AFib when compared to those who didn’t drink at all. That risk continued to climb with increasing alcohol intake, jumping to 28 percent in participants who had up to two drinks a day and 47 percent for those consuming more than four. Last year, the New England Journal of Medicine also put forth findings that reducing alcohol intake leads to a reduction in AFib recurrence. When taken together, these studies may put an asterisk on the previous “glass a day” advice. To be sure, imbibing individuals should consider both the benefits and risks for all heart diseases, including atrial fibrillation.

Up Beat

Nothing drives us to step higher, push harder or go further quite like a favorite jam. According to a recent study in Frontiers in Psychology, music motivates us to move more without making us feel like we’re working harder. During the study, researchers asked female volunteers to either walk on a treadmill or perform reps on a leg press while listening to pop music of varied tempos. They then recorded the participants’ heart rates as well as their perceptions of how much effort the tasks required. High-tempo music resulted in the highest heart rate but the lowest perceived exertion. Those rocking out at 170 to 190 beats per minute got the most physical benefit with the least amount of effort, especially during low-intensity endurance exercise (i.e., the treadmill). So, the next time you lace up your sneakers, go ahead and pump up the tunes, as well—just be sure to clean those earbuds when you’re finished.

TRY THIS to disinfect earbuds: In-ear headphones harbor an average of 120,000 bacteria and fungi that can cause wax buildup, pain, ringing and infections. Use a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol or cleaning vinegar to sanitize your earbuds and any silicone attachments weekly.

The Zoom Toll

The year 2020 witnessed a record decline in worldwide carbon emissions as the COVID-19 pandemic parked cars, grounded planes and quieted industries. Unfortunately, we ramped up another environmentally damaging habit along the way. Scientists from Purdue University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently presented evidence that the uptick in videoconferencing and online streaming has significant ramifications for our planet. The unique study, printed in the journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, analyzed the water, land and carbon footprints associated with Internet usage. A one-hour virtual meeting, for example, puts out 150 to 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide, uses two to 12 liters of water and requires a land area roughly the size of an iPad Mini. To go green with your screen (if your meeting allows), shut off the camera during web calls for a 96-percent smaller impact and stream video content in standard rather than high definition for an 86-percent reduction.

Club Med

For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report has named the Mediterranean Diet best overall. The blue-ribbon eating strategy takes its cues from Southern Europe’s Blue Zones, where people enjoy the longest, healthiest lives. The easy-to-swallow Med diet leans heavily on produce, heart-healthy fats, whole grains and seafood rather than red and processed meats. Followers of the plan enjoy a smorgasbord of benefits, including weight loss, better blood sugar, slower cognitive decline, lower rates of chronic disease and increased life expectancy.

  1. Doctors and dietitians consider the Mediterranean diet one of the best strategies for controlling blood sugar in people managing type 2 diabetes.
  2. Women on the Med diet experience a 25% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease over 12 years, thanks to the plan’s emphasis on omega-3s and monounsaturated fats.
  3. Research shows high fiber intake from plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains offers protection from various cancers, especially colorectal cancer.