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Keeping healthy this Yuletide

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Fruits and vegetables. Photo/ Betterhealthchannel

The Yuletide is here again. It is period associated with over indulgence in alcohol, drugs, unhealthy diets, late nights and sleeplessness to mention but a few.

Several studies have shown that many people add on extra kilogrammes and develop chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney problems, stroke among others after the celebrations.

To address the situation and keep healthy this Yuletide, researchers have made several recommendations and expositions.

Why 10pm on Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day) could be deadly

Scientists have found the risk of having a heart attack peaks at 10pm on Christmas Eve. They suggest that stress, sadness and over-indulgence during the festive season can be deadly.

The research was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Swedish researchers trawled through the details of 283,000 heart attacks reported in Sweden between 1998 and 2013 to find out what days were the most lethal.

On an average day, 50 heart attacks were recorded, but on Christmas Eve the number jumped to 69, a 37 per cent increase, with incidents clustering around 10pm, after a day of coping with relatives, eating and drinking too much.

Sweden has its main Christmas celebration on Christmas Eve suggesting that in Britain the danger zone is more likely to be at 10pm on Christmas Day.

The risk of suffering a heart attack also rises by 22 per cent on Boxing Day.

Winston Churchill is said to have suffered a heart attack on December 26 in 1941 while opening a window at the White House following a speech to congress.

However, New Years’ Eve, which is usually considered to be the main day of New Years’ celebrations, had no associated risk, possibly because symptoms of a heart attack were masked by alcohol, the researchers say.

Instead the risk was 20 per cent higher on New Year’s Day, which researchers speculate could be brought on by the after effects of too much alcohol and food, exposure to cold temperatures at night, or sleep deprivation

Dr. David Erlinge, Department of Cardiology, Clinical Sciences, Lund University, said: “The main findings in our study were that traditional holidays were associated with the risk of heart attack.

“The peak is very pronounced exactly on Christmas Eve and the following two days, so, I think it is something specific for the way we celebrate these holidays.

“We do not know for sure but emotional distress with acute experience of anger, anxiety, sadness, grief, and stress increases the risk of a heart attack. Excessive food intake, alcohol, and long distance travelling might also increase the risk.

“Interestingly, the pattern of increased risk in the morning which dominates the rest of the year was reversed at Christmas, with an increased risk in the evening, indicating that the stress and eating during the day triggered the heart attacks.

“People could avoid unnecessary stress, take care of elderly relatives with risk of heart problems and avoid excessive eating and drinking.”

The risk was also found to be higher on Monday mornings – particularly around 8am – but fell slightly during the Easter holiday and on days of major sporting events, such as the World Cup.

The team behind the research believes that emotions are often heightened at Christmas, with people often feeling extreme sadness, grief, anger, anxiety and stress as they remember passed loved ones, and struggle to balance finances.

The rise may also be linked to the flu season, which also raises the risk of heart attacks, particularly for over 65s with heart problems.

“People need to be aware of the increased cardiovascular risk associated with emotional distress and excessive food intake that may occur during large holidays and we also need to care more about our elderly and sicker friends and relatives,” added Erlinge.

How to prevent festive weight gain without exercising

During the holiday season, it is difficult to avoid putting on a couple of extra kilogrammes. A recent study investigated a simple, low-impact way to reduce the seasonal swell.

During the festive season, people’s waistlines tend to expand as their self-control contracts.

While food and drink flow freely, restraint is in short supply, and sedentary activities abound. And, as we relax, we tend to throw caution to the wind and go back for a second helping.

Festive weight gain is so commonplace that it has become a running joke; however, it has a serious side.

Obesity is a growing problem in the United States, and reversing it through permanent lifestyle changes does not appear to work for the majority of people.

On average, people gain 0.4–1 kilogramme (0.9–2.2 pounds) each year, and up to 50 percent of this occurs over holiday periods, such as Christmas.

Research has shown that when we gain weight during the holidays, we rarely manage to lose it once the tinsel has gone from the tree.

As the years go by, this type of seasonal weight gain adds up.

The authors of a recent study believe that targeting this time of year might offer an innovative way to reduce the impact of obesity.

By focusing attention on times when weight gain is most significant, it might be possible to slow annual weight gain, overall.

The results from the so-called Winter Weight Watch Study were published earlier this month in the BMJ.

Scientists from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Applied Health Research and the School of Sport, Exercise, and Health
Sciences at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom carried out the trial.

New research suggests that obesity takes different forms and that treatment needs to match individuals.

Specifically, they wanted to understand whether a relatively brief and straightforward intervention could reduce weight gain over Christmas.

To find out, they recruited participants just before Christmas 2016 and 2017. In total, they involved 272 people; 78 percent were female, and 78 percent were white.

Researchers took the first weight measurements in November and then followed up in January.

The researchers divided the participants between an intervention group and a control group. Members of the intervention group were asked to record their weight at least twice a week, although preferably more often.

The authors explain why regular weigh-ins are essential: “Regular weighing and recording of weight to check progress against a target (self-monitoring) has been shown to be an effective behavioral intervention within weight management programmes.”

The researchers encouraged the participants in the intervention group to think about their weight and how it was changing over time.

As the authors explain, the intervention “aimed to promote restraint of energy consumption.”

Also, the participants were given tips about managing weight and provided with a list of festive foods along with information on how much physical activity they would need to do to burn off the calories of each food they had consumed.

For example, it would take 21 minutes of running to burn off the calories found in one mince pie.

The control group, on the other hand, only received a leaflet about healthy living.

After adjusting the data for confounding variables, the researchers found that the individuals in the intervention group had gained less weight than those in the control group — an average of 0.49 kilograms (1.1 pounds) less.

Those in the intervention group also showed more restraint, managing to limit their calorie intake more than those in the control group.

Although the difference in weight gain was smaller than the researchers had hoped, they are still excited by the results.

Because the holiday season is a yearly event, even if people only prevent a small amount of weight gain each year, it could add up to a considerable amount over a lifetime.

The authors note some shortfalls to their study. For instance, it involved a relatively small group of people, and the follow-up duration was quite brief. However, the results merit follow-up.

Lifestyle change is challenging, but shorter bursts of focus on weight management may be more achievable for some people.

The authors believe that their findings “should be considered by health policymakers to prevent weight gain in the population during high-risk periods such as holidays.”

Lack of sleep makes people crave junk food

A lack of sleep makes people crave junk food and spend more money to get their hands on it, a study has found.

Tiredness can boost activity in areas of the brain related to appetite and comfort eating, and hormones that tell us when we are hungry.

The disruption to the body’s normal functions can lead to an increased likelihood of overeating, and over time, obesity, the researchers suggested.

It may explain why some people are more likely than others to reach for the biscuits by the afternoon.

Britain and United States (U.S.) are among the most overweight and sleep deprived nations in the world – and evidence is growing the two are linked.

Dr. Julia Rihm, lead author of the study, and her team enrolled 32 healthy men aged between 19 and 32 for the study.

Participants visited their laboratory for a normal dinner of pasta and veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with an apple and strawberry yoghurt, on two separate nights.

On each visit they were instructed to either return home after the meal to sleep normally or to spend the night at the lab, where they would be kept awake.

Their desire for snack foods, brain activity, and hormone levels were assessed the next morning.

Then they were given three Euros (£2.70/$3.40) to spend on snacks – such as popular brands of German chocolate bars or chips – or everyday household items or university merchandise.

In an online auction, images of the goods flashed up on screen with prices going up in stages of 0.25 Euros (£0.22/$0.28).

The participants were told to bid the maximum amount they were willing to spend on the item and that they could spend their total of three euros if they wanted to.

Only after sleep deprivation were the participants willing pay extra for the junk food items – which they were allowed to eat afterwards.

Using MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans, the team showed losing sleep fired neurons in their amygdala and hypothalamus.

The amygdala is an area of grey matter that has been linked to reward seeking behaviour – such as eating under stress. The hypothalamus controls appetite.

The results showed an increased amount of activity in these parts of the brain in those who had lost shut-eye.

Staying up all-night without eating – which is what happened in the study published in the Journal of Neuroscience – is unlikely to happen in real life.

However, Rihm said the findings are still representative of how sleep deprivation builds up over a period of time.

Their results suggest that a lack of sleep may encourage more eating by disrupting the subjective value of food.

Rihm and colleagues added this ‘thereby potentially increases the likelihood of overeating and consequentially weight gain and obesity risk.’


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