Body & Fitness

Wacky ways to stay fit

Science was my least favourite subject at school, but I have to admit that now I'm fascinated by health and medicine, I wish I'd paid more attention to my biology teacher. I love reading about the research that scientists around the world are doing, and the amazing things they're learning about how our bodies work.

Stress-busting jab

Relieving stress could soon be as simple as getting a jab in the arm. Scientists at California’s Stanford University are working on a vaccine for stress, which they believe may be able to significantly alter brain chemistry by creating a state of “focused calm”.

The vaccine contains genes that neutralise hormones released by the body when you’re stressed. We need these hormones to help us deal with tricky situations, but unfortunately modern man not only produces too many of them in response to every day circumstances like being stuck in a traffic jam, but also finds it hard to turn them off afterwards.

As a result, the hormones can wreak havoc on our bodies over time, weakening the immune system and destroying brain cells.

The team developing the vaccine says although it’s been found to work on rats, human trials are several years away.

Bravo for beer

Here’s some good news if you’re a beer drinker. Scientists looking into the effect alcohol has on heart disease have found that a bottle of beer a day may reduce your chance of having a heart attack.

Studies have already shown that moderate consumption of wine can cut your chances of dying of a heart attack or stroke, and now researchers in Boston have found beer may have the same effect.

They found that women who drank three to seven beers per week, and men who drank three to 14 over the same time period were 38% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than non-drinkers.However the research also found that drinking more than this amount increases your risk of a variety of health problems.

Scientists don’t know why a moderate amount of beer may have a protective effect. one theory is that it contains vitamin B6, which prevents the build-up of an amino acid called homecysteine, which is linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

Back to nature

Forget about going to the gym – lace up your sneakers and head for your nearest park instead. A British review of studies investigating the benefits of exercising in the great outdoors has found that going for a jog in a natural environment is better for your body and mind than running on a treadmill.

The study revealed that people who exercised in parks and forests reported feeling happier than those who sweated it out at the gym. They also said that they had more energy, found it easier to concentrate at work and noticed they experienced less anger, sadness and fatigue.

It’s thought that being in nature encourages the mind to relax.

Fit kids are brainier

When you head off outdoors for your daily exercise, make sure you take your children with you. American scientists say fit kids tend to be more intelligent and have better memories than those who are inactive.

Researchers at the University of Illinois tested the fitness levels of 49 children aged nine and 10, then took MRI scans of their brains. They discovered that the hippocampus – a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning – was around 12% larger in fitter youngsters, and that these children performed better in memory tests.

Wonderful watercress

Watercress is the latest food to be recommended as a way of keeping breast cancer at bay. In a trial at the University of Southampton in the UK, researchers had volunteers eat 80g of watercress per day, which is the equivalent of a cereal bowl-sized helping.

Follow-up blood tests showed elevated levels of a cancer-fighting compound known as PEITC, a substance that interferes with tumours, starving them of the blood and oxygen they need to grow.

Watercress, which is the richest natural source of PEITC, can be added to salads and sandwiches.

Yet another reason to eat broccoli

Meanwhile, another vegetable already hailed as a superfood in the fight against cancer is now being touted as a treatment for osteoarthritis. Broccoli is rich in the compound sulforaphane, which may play a key role in preventing bones and joints from wasting away.

Scientists in the UK have found that sulforaphane blocks enzymes that destroy joints in osteoarthritis sufferers, and are launching a large trial to see if the vege makes a difference to those who need joint-replacement surgery.

An aspirin a day

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