Posts Tagged ‘health’

In-body analysis

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 | Life

In April I did my first body analysis at the gym and came out with a body fat percentage of 16.5%. A few weeks ago I did another and discovered I had increased my body fat percentage to 18.3%. Bad times.

With them being so far apart, it’s impossible to say when it changed. But after an entire summer of triathlon and running, I wasn’t expecting it to go up. I’ve also lost muscle mass, entirely from the upper body, while gaining it in my legs.

It’s the off-season now so I will be gaining body fat as I eat a lot much ice cream. But come January it’s probably time to look at my strength work.

Is alcohol bad for you after all?

Tuesday, August 28th, 2018 | Science

The Lancet has published a global study looking at alcohol consumption and the news for drinkers is not good.

Previous research indicated that alcohol consumption came with protective benefits and led to moderate drinkers living longer than non-drinkers.

However, this new paper that takes data from 195 countries over a 16 year period finds the opposite: all-cause mortality is correlated with increased alcohol consumption and in order to gain the most years of disability-free life, you should abstain from drinking.

Many people have reacted with a sarcastic “wow, putting poison into your body is a bad thing? Who knew?”

I think it is important to tackle such views because they are potentially dangerous. What someone suggesting when they say that is that they believe that the intuitive explanation should take precedence over what the evidence says.

Consider a parallel between vaccinations. An attenuated vaccine is a vaccine that uses a live strain of the disease. For example, when you have the MMR vaccine, you’re literally having a little bit of measles, mumps and rubella pumped into you. If you didn’t understand the science behind it you would say “it’s obviously a terrible idea to inject a disease into myself.” But, of course, every intelligent person now agrees that it is a good idea.

In this case, though, it would seem that the balance of harm from alcohol may outweigh the benefits. Good news for people like me who struggle to hit their alcohol consumption quota.

Is being overweight good for you?

Saturday, August 11th, 2018 | Health & Wellbeing, Science

The idea that being overweight is bad for you is well established. Being overweight takes years off your life, so it’s important to eat right and exercise to keep your weight under control. More recent evidence, however, has challenged this.

For example, a 2013 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that overweight people had a lower level of all-cause mortality than people of a healthy weight. The paper was not well-received, but nobody seems to have been able to poke any holes in it, either.

Similarly, a 2009 systematic review published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International concluded that:

The prevailing notion that overweight increases morbidity and mortality, as compared to so-called normal weight, is in need of further specification.

So, should we give up with the diets and let our waistlines expand a little? Maybe. But even if more evidence goes on to support these findings, there are some good reasons for sticking with the current line on what a healthy BMI is.

Overweight vs obese

Something that all the studies agree on is that people have worse health outcomes, including death, if they are obese. Overweight is one thing, but being obese is bad for you in any study.

And you might be surprised how easy it is to reach the category of obese. Consider that my BMI hovers around 24. 25 is the line between healthy weight and overweight. So, I’m nearly in the overweight category. And I look like this:

Not the buffest individual, that’s for sure, but I don’t look like I’m carrying around any extra weight either. And you only have to move up to a BMI of 30 to go into the obese category.

All-cause morality

As the NHS points out, these studies typically look at all-cause mortality, which means people dying of anything. The problem is that this contradicts individual studies of any topic. For example, if we look at heart disease or diabetes. Whenever we look at the individual causes, we find it is better to be a healthy weight.

There is a huge amount of evidence to support this, so in order for us to accept an alternative view, it would ideally need to explain this discrepancy.

Quality of life

The second problem is that these studies just look at mortality. But that is never the way that NICE or Public Health England have looked at how to provide the most efficient healthcare system.

We measure outcomes in quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs). It’s not enough just to be alive. Modern medicine allows us to keep pretty much anybody alive indefinitely. But sitting in a medically induced coma on a ventilator isn’t a life that any of us would choose.

As a study in Nature points out, being overweight is associated with fewer years of disease-free life. In short, you might experience a longer life, but it won’t be a happier or more fulfilling one.

Indeed, this could help explain the findings. If people are already inside the medical system because they’re having to be treated for obesity-related illnesses, we may be better at spotting other diseases. Or it may be that carrying around some extra weight will reduce your quality of life but also help you to stick around for an extra week when you become seriously ill because you have larger fat reserves.

Conclusion

There is genuine evidence that you will live longer if you are a little overweight (but not obese). However, so far we have been unable to explain why this is. And, more importantly, you will also have a reduced quality of life. Therefore, the current guidelines on maintaining a healthy BMI are still relevant.

Running gait analysis

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 | Sport

Since I hurt my foot in November, it has taken a long time to get running again. So, I decided to invest in some injury prevention. Top of that list was a running gait analysis.

I could go to a running shop where they would put me on a treadmill and analyse what was going on. However, there is a severe risk that what would happen is that it would magically turn out I needed a new, £100+ pair of trainers. In fact, that’s exactly what did happen to me.

So, I was looking for somewhere that might be able to give me some better advice. I found David at West Leeds Practice. They are a physiotherapy clinic based in the city centre and one of the services they offer is a running gait analysis.

It’s certainly thorough. We started off with some strength exercises, testing the differences between my left and my right side. My left was weaker, and this was no surprise to me, but having measured it, David has then been able to give me a strengthening routine tailored to improving it.

Then I hopped on the treadmill and we did a video analysis. I ran for a little bit and then we analysed what was going on with my arms and legs from a range of different angles. There was some stuff here, too, such as my crossing my legs over the centre was I run. I think this was exhibited by the rather small size of the treadmill, but it’s something I’ve been mindful of ever since.

Finally, he gave me a set of foot pods to place on my trainers and monitor my running for a week. I went back a week later to get the analysis (all of which was included in my session) and we reviewed my cadence, ground contact time and oscillation. I’m working on improving my cadence at the moment. It’s too early to say whether it is working or not, though the few test runs I have done made things go from red to green on my Garmin run reports.

All in all, I like what they do. David was very evidence-based and the analysis is certainly in detail: we looked at a lot of different things and reviewed all the ways I could improve my technique and reduce the chance of future injury. If you run a lot, it is worth investing in.

November sunburn

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017 | Life

Do you see that slight reddening on my nose and cheeks? That’s sunburn. November sunburn.

Admittedly, it’s very slight. But I still think it’s impressive that I managed to get sunburnt in November. Though, I am the person who was off work with acute sunburn after returning from Iceland.

It’s thanks to the Abbey Dash being both freezing and sunny.

Is body mass index (BMI) useful?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017 | Science

BMI is much despised by the public. However, before it is written off completely, we should consider what the implications are for the medical world.

People are constantly railing against BMI. They insist that it is simply stupid and insulting to label them as obese and that BMI doesn’t mean anything anyway.

But is that the case?

The answer is somewhere in the middle. From a medical perspective, there is little doubt that BMI is useful. A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) confirmed that a high BMI was indeed associated with an increased risk of death.

However, a 2006 paper by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, points out that there are some serious flaws in the simplicity of BMI as it fails to distinguish between fat from muscle.

Another paper in the BMJ suggested that BMI was indeed useful, but that what was considered a “normal” weight should be redefined. A weight of 18.5 to 20, for example, is defined as normal, but could actually be correlated with higher mortality.

Therefore, it seems BMI is a useful tool, but only when taken as a guide. It could be that the normal weight needs to be adjusted upwards slightly and that those with high muscle density will find they have an inaccurate reading.

Expecting Better

Friday, August 26th, 2016 | Books, Family & Parenting

Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong and What You Really Need to Know is a book on pregnancy by economist Emily Oster. Oster is known for applying her economics to other fields having given a TED talk on re-thinking AIDs in Africa. During the pregnancy of her first child she got sick of uncited recommendations and decided to look at what the evidence really said.

Take alcohol for example. I wrote about alcohol and pregnancy last month. Oster’s review of the available evidence and theory behind alcohol use during pregnancy is that having up to one drink per day is fine after the first three months. Coffee gets the green light too.

There is no evidence that bed rest is beneficial for pregnant women. In fact, it is quite the opposite: laying around for weeks or even months on end is likely to have a negative impact on the mother’s health. Aromatherapy provides no benefit either, but not everything is out the door: having a doula at the birth produces much better health outcomes.

With each topic, each stage of the pregnancy and each taboo, Oster reviews the available evidence and produces a short summary at the end of each chapter explaining what is safe and what is not. This is by far the most important book on pregnancy I have read.

expecting-better

The Village Effect

Monday, August 22nd, 2016 | Books

How important is face-to-face contact? In her book The Village Effect, Susan Pinker argues it is super important. In almost every key aspect of our lives, strong social ties play a large role.

Longevity for one. Pinker shows that strong social ties have one of the strongest effects on life expectancy, bigger than almost any other factor. She discusses the villages of Sardinia where a strong sense of family and relationships help record numbers of people reach the age of 100. Interestingly, these stronger social ties not only help people live longer but also reduce the gender gap.

The differences in social ties can also explain other differences between gender. Men tend to have a wider less-intimate social network while women have fewer but closer friends. On average this benefits men more in things like the workplace as high-paid jobs are often gained through a weak connection. However, in terms of longevity it gives women the advantage because they have more people to confide men. Men on the other hand often only have one person, their spouse, and therefore nobody should their spouse die.

Having plenty of social relationships is important then, but it also turns out that they need to be face-to-face. Otherwise, no oxytocin release for you. Unfortunately spending time socialising online actually reduces face-to-face contact. The number of personal emails somebody sends directly correlates with depression.

Strengthening your intimate social connections has a large benefit. For example, getting married. I assumed that cohabiting was just as good as getting married. It’s not. People who choose to get married (marrying for family pressure does not count) live longer than unmarried people. Being in a marriage reduces your chance of cancer, depression, hospitalisation, premature death and prison.

In the workplace, increased social connections can bring benefits too. Call centres used to schedule people’s breaks at different times. What happened when they aligned people’s breaks so they had 15 minutes to chat to each other? Productivity and team work went up by a significant amount. In contrast, remote working has a negative effect on integration and cohesiveness.

Pinker suggests that being loneliness is a lot like being hungry. It causes you to feel actual pain. This is because we evolved in a world where we needed to stick together. Being excluded from the clan was a death sentence. So, just as being hunger-pain is a sign you need to get some food, loneliness-pain is a sign you are in danger of losing the group. We fear exclusion and people talking behind our back because we are tuned by evolution to fear exclusion.

What message should we take away? That social connections are really important If you want to live a long and happy life (and surely all of us want at least one of those) then having strong social connections is key. Spend time with people, and make sure that time is spent face-to-face.

the-village-effect

P.S. If you are wondering if Susan is any relation to Steven Pinker, the answer is yes, they’re siblings. Anything that comes out of the Pinker family seems to be an amazing read.

Maximising your veg-based vitamins

Friday, July 22nd, 2016 | Food, Health & Wellbeing

tomatoes

Recently, I wrote about Freakonomics Radio and all the good stuff on there. One was a show entitled “Food + Science = Win” and contained some interesting information on maximising the amount of good stuff you get from vegetables.

Tinned tomatoes are the best tomatoes

Well, almost the best. Tomato paste is even better. But this seems the wrong way round. Usually, fresh is better. Asparagus, for example, should be eaten as close to harvesting as possible. Other vegetables are less time-sensitive. With the case of tomatoes, the process used to tin them is actually beneficial as it helps build up the lycopene. The Guardian go into detail on it.

Iceberg lettuce is bad lettuce

Especially in the US, where the podcast is based, iceberg lettuce has been bred for flavour rather than nutritional value. As a result, it has lost a lot of the latter. Comparing it to basically any other kind of lettuce, such as romaine, the other lettuce has much more nutritional content than the iceberg lettuce does.

Lightly cooking veg is good

So much for raw food being amazing. Raw food can be good of course, but typically lightly cooking vegetables makes them even better because it actually boosts their nutritional content. The best way to do this? A microwave! It may not do wonders for taste, but it is actually the best way to give vegetables the light steaming they need.

Let your garlic sit

Heating garlic can destroy a lot of the good stuff in it. However, there is some evidence that if you crush it, and then let it sit for ten minutes, more of the benefit will be retained. The jury is awaiting more evidence on this one, but there are some studies that indicate there is a benefit. The Huffington Post have summarised the case.

Slimming down

Thursday, July 14th, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing

Given my recent slip into bad BMI I’ve been working on losing some weight. So I have been playing around with some tools to help me.

Apple Health

Health is one of the apps that Apple forces on you. I had never actually used it. However, when I opened it, it turned out that it had spent the last year counting every step I make. That is both horribly invasive and rather interesting. I am averaging 7,500 steps per day.

You can record body metrics such as weight and then have them plotted on a graph. This makes sense. Why I would need to regularly record my height and plot that on a graph though is unclear. Perhaps it is aimed at children and the shrinking elderly?

apple-health

MyFitnessPal

I am using this to record my diet. Yep, I have become one of those calorie counting wankers. You put in your weight, target weight and target period to lose said weight, and it gives you the number of calories you need to restrict yourself to per day. This goes up and down as you exercise and eat, giving you a number of calories left for each day: I have 785 spare so far, which I could spend on two chocolate chip muffins…

myfitnesspal

I can also record exercise on it. This will be useful when I exercise without my phone, such as American football training. For running, I use the app below.

MapMyRun

I have used MapMyWalk for years but now I am upping the ante by using the run version. It is actually the exact same app. When you log a work out in one it immediately appears in the other. Also, once you have synced one with MyFitnessPal, they are all synced. They are all Under Armour apps, so you would expect them to work pretty well together and so far they do.

map-my-run

Results

After three months I had managed to drop 8kg. This was working off net 1500 kcals per day, which I hit almost every day. A few days I was a few hundred kcals over the limit, but on others I was up to 1,000 below the limit (due to large amounts of exercise) so I was definitely below the limit on average.

weight-graph

However, I then spent a week on my honeymoon and put 2kg back on.

Conclusion

I have a new found respect for anyone trying to lose weight. It is really difficult. At net 1500 kcals per day, which is the maximum my app allows, you can just about fit three meals in, but no snacks or beer in. After all of this, I was only losing 0.5kg per week. Then just a single week off ruined a month of work.

Of course, it could be that if you are significantly overweight it is easier to shift the first lot of kilos. However, it really is hard work and difficult to find the motivation when it piles back on so easily.