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Air pollution, walking slowly, others predict risk of early death

By Chukwuma Muanya
08 August 2022   |   2:44 am
Scientists have advanced on how to correctly predict the risk of early death. They have in recent studies found that air pollution is highly predictive of people’s chances of dying from heart attack and stroke

Regular exercising reduces risk of early death

Exercising between 150 and 600 minutes weekly, coffee, and cocoa consumption further lower the risk of premature mortality

Scientists have advanced on how to correctly predict the risk of early death. They have in recent studies found that air pollution is highly predictive of people’s chances of dying from heart attack and stroke; being unable to stand on one leg, walking slowly, struggling to stand up and weak handshake; and coffee consumption is associated with reduced risk of acute kidney injury.

A new study showed along with high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, environmental factors such as air pollution are highly predictive of people’s chances of dying, especially from heart attack and stroke.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the study showed that exposure to above-average levels of outdoor air pollution increased the risk of death by 20 per cent, and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 17 per cent.

Using wood- or kerosene-burning stoves, not properly ventilated through a chimney, to cook food or heat the home also increased the overall risk of death (by 23 per cent and nine per cent) and cardiovascular death risk (by 36 per cent and 19 per cent). Living far from speciality medical clinics and near busy roads also increased the risk of death.

Publishing in the journal PLOS ONE online on June 24, the findings come from personal and environmental health data collected from 50,045 mostly poor, rural villagers living in the northeast Golestan region of Iran. All study participants were over age 40 and agreed to have their health monitored during yearly visits with researchers dating as far back as 2004.

Researchers say their latest investigation not only identifies environmental factors that pose the greatest risk to heart and overall health but also adds much-needed scientific evidence from people in low- and middle-income countries. Traditional research on environmental risk factors, the researcher’s note, has favoured urban populations in high-income countries with much greater access to modern health care services.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one-quarter of all deaths worldwide are now attributable to environmental factors, including poor air and water quality, lack of sanitation, and exposure to toxic chemicals.

Meanwhile, from having a weak handshake to being out of breath from climbing the stairs, experts over the past few decades have uncovered dozens of subtle signs that suggest one is at risk of early death.

But now they have uncovered another.

Research suggests being unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds is a warning sign that you’re at risk of being sent to your grave prematurely.

Brazilian experts, who tracked 2,000 people aged 50 to 75, found volunteers who couldn’t complete the flamingo test were 84 per cent more likely to die early, compared to those who passed the test with ease.

Those who wobble when trying to stand on one leg are at risk, according to the latest study.

Researchers in Brazil found that those who couldn’t complete the ‘Flamingo’ exercise were nearly twice as likely to die early as those who could.

More than 1,700 participants, aged 50 to 75, underwent various fitness tests, including standing on one leg for 10 seconds without any support.

This involved placing the front of one foot on the back of the opposite lower leg while keeping arms by the sides and looking straight ahead.

Over the course of the study — conducted by researchers at Exercise Medicine Clinic CLINIMEX in Rio de Janeiro — which saw each participant monitored for an average of seven years, 123 people died.

The results, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show that those unable to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds were 84 per cent more likely to die from any cause.

Being able to seamlessly walk up four flights of stairs may also indicate that you will avoid an early grave.

Researchers in Spain made over 12,000 people run on treadmills, making them gradually pick up the pace until they were exhausted. Their hearts were monitored simultaneously.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal in 2018, tracked the health of the volunteers for five years.

Death rates from all causes, as well as heart disease, were nearly three times higher in participants deemed to be in poor health, compared to their fitter peers.

Lead researcher, Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at University Hospital in A Coruña, and colleagues, advised those who struggled with stairs to do more exercise to keep their weight, blood pressure and inflammation down.

Being unable to give a firm handshake could also be a sign of impending death if research is to be believed.

One study found that people with weak grips are up to 20 per cent more likely to die early.

The findings, published in the British Medical Journal in 2018, show that for every 5kg drop in participants’ grip strength, their risk of dying from any cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer increased by a fifth.

Also, a recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers has revealed that consuming at least one cup of coffee a day may reduce the risk of acute kidney injury (AKI) when compared to those who do not drink coffee.

The findings, published May 5 in the journal Kidney International Reports, show that those who drank any quantity of coffee every day had a 15 per cent lower risk of AKI, with the largest reductions observed in the group that drank two to three cups a day (a 22 per cent–23 per cent lower risk).

Meanwhile, in a new large-scale study, researchers say higher levels of weekly exercise can help lower the risk of early death.

They said the results varied depending on the total number of minutes and the intensity of the exercise. Experts say you can develop a successful weekly exercise routine by setting realistic goals, doing a variety of exercises, and alternating the intensity. Adding more physical activity to your weekly schedule can help you live longer.

That is according to a new study published Tuesday that reports higher levels of long-term vigorous activity and moderate physical activity are independently and jointly associated with lower mortality.

In the study, a total of 116,221 adults from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1988–2018) answered a questionnaire with detailed self-reports of leisure-time physical activity.

These reports were repeated as many as 15 times with some participants.

Researchers analysed the data based on the association between long-term leisure-time physical activity intensity and all-cause and cause-specific mortality.

During 30 years of follow-up, the researchers recorded 47, 596 deaths. Someone meeting long-term leisure-time guidelines reduced their risk of all-cause mortality by 81 per cent as well as 69 per cent for cardiovascular disease.

The researchers reported that meeting the moderate physical activity guidelines resulted in a 19 to 25 per cent lower risk of all-cause and cardiovascular disease as well as non-cardiovascular disease mortality.

Participants reporting 2 to 4 times above the recommended minimum of long-term leisure-time activity (150-299 minutes per week) or moderate activity (300-599 minutes per week), had two to four per cent and three to 13 per cent additional lower mortality.

Finally, the researchers’ analysis demonstrated that mortality risk was reduced when you add exercise to a routine that previously reported less than 300 minutes per week.

However, among those who reported more than 300 minutes per week of long-term leisure-time activity, additional leisure-time activity did not appear to be associated with lower mortality.

Researchers say excessive daytime napping may be a sign of higher risk for hypertension and stroke.

They say the naps themselves aren’t necessarily a health concern, but they may be an indicator of poor sleep quality at night that does impact overall health.

Experts recommend that naps be short rests and that they not be taken late in the afternoon.

They add you can lower your risk of high blood pressure by eating a plant-based diet and exercising at least 30 minutes a day.

Also, a study published Tuesday reports that people who take regular daytime naps might be more at risk for hypertension and stroke.

Researchers in China used information from the UK Biobank, an extensive biomedical database and research resource. The site contains genetic, lifestyle, and health information from more than 500,000 people.

In this study, research participants were between the ages of 40 and 69 and lived in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2010. Each person provided blood, urine, and saliva samples regularly.

The scientists did not have access to names or personal information. Between 2006 and 2019, participants were asked about daytime napping four times.

After ruling out people who were previously diagnosed with high blood pressure or had had a stroke before the start of the study, the scientists had information for 360,000 individuals. The average follow-up was 11 years after the beginning of the study.

The researchers divided the participants into three groups based on napping frequency: never/rarely, sometimes, or usually.

The study findings included:
Most “usual nappers” were men, had lower education and income levels, smoked cigarettes, drank regularly, snored, had insomnia, and reported being an evening/night person.

Compared to people in the never/rarely category, people who usually napped had a 12 per cent higher likelihood of developing high blood pressure and a 24 per cent higher chance of stroke.

Participants under 60 who reported usually napping had a 20 per cent higher risk of developing hypertension than those who never or rarely rested.

“It is important to note that a majority of the ‘usual-nappers’ reported other conditions or lifestyle factors that could contribute to high blood pressure,” says Dr. Samuel Werner DO, a family medicine specialist and an adjunct assistant professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. “We have known for decades that smoking contributes to cardiovascular issues and people with untreated sleep apnea do not get quality sleep because they wake, often without knowing it, throughout the night.”

“Previous studies have found that higher BMIs, which can in part, be caused by drinking, can increase the risk for high blood pressure and stroke,” Werner told Healthline.

Around three-fourths of the participants remained in the same category throughout the study period. However, for those whose napping frequency increased by one category, such as from “sometimes” to “usually” napping, high blood pressure risk increased by 40 per cent.

The researchers believe that it is not necessarily napping that leads to high blood pressure or stroke but that many people who nap do so because of poor nighttime sleep.

Naps do not make up for missed or interrupted sleep during the night. Researchers say it is poor sleep at night that is associated with poorer health.

“Ideally, people should get seven hours of uninterrupted sleep at night. This amount provides the most benefit to cardiovascular health,” Dr Andrew M Freeman, FACC, FACP, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, told Healthline. “High blood pressure is widespread. Your chance of death doubles for every 20 points over the 120 mark when measuring blood pressure.

Also, a new study from the University of Surrey found that cocoa only reduces blood pressure and arterial stiffness when elevated.

Cocoa flavanols have previously been found to lower blood pressure and arterial stiffness as much as some blood pressure medication. However, how effective flavanols are in everyday life in reducing blood pressure has remained unknown, as previous studies in this area have been performed in tightly controlled experimental settings.

Surrey’s new research reduces concerns that cocoa as a treatment for raised blood pressure could pose health risks by decreasing blood pressure when it is not raised, paving the way for it to be potentially used in clinical practice.

In the first study of its kind study, researchers set out to investigate the use of flavanols, a compound found in cocoa, in lowering blood pressure and arterial stiffness in individuals outside of clinical settings.

High blood pressure and arterial stiffness increase a person’s risk of heart disease and strokes, so it is crucial that we investigate innovative ways to treat such conditions.

For several days, eleven healthy participants consumed, on alternating days, either six cocoa flavanol capsules or six placebo capsules containing brown sugar. Participants were provided with an upper arm blood pressure monitor and a finger clip measuring pulse wave velocity (PWV) which gauges levels of arterial stiffness.

Measurements of blood pressure and PWV were taken prior to consumption of the capsules and every 30 minutes after ingestion for the first three hours, and then hourly for the remaining nine hours. Researchers found that blood pressure and arterial stiffness were only lowered in participants if it was high, and there was no effect when the blood pressure was low in the morning.

Significantly, effects were also, for the first time, identified eight hours after cocoa was consumed. Researchers believe that this second peak may be due to how bacteria in the gut metabolize cocoa flavanols.