How Much You Need to Exercise for Better Mental Health, According to Science

iStock
iStock

With the recent controversy over the health benefits of fish oil and other wellness strategies, it can be reassuring to know that one thing remains constant: Exercise is good for your body. Any movement, even walking, brings about a host of cardiovascular effects that can help you live longer, feel better, and not run out of breath when chasing children or small animals.

The question of how much exercise is best, though, is open to debate. The answer often depends on your goals. For heart health, sessions four to five times weekly might be ideal. For mental health? As The Independent reports, scientists believe there’s a pretty specific prescription: Exercising for 45 minutes three to five times a week.

The data comes from a new and expansive observational study published in The Lancet Psychiatry and conducted by researchers at Yale and the University of Oxford. The study examined 1.2 million subjects who filled out the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey at two-year intervals between 2011 and 2015. Subjects who didn’t exercise at all had an average of three-and-a-half days per month when they felt mentally unwell—stressed, depressed, or otherwise burdened by emotional problems—while those who exercised regularly reported an average of just two days.

The study found that a regimen of three to five 45-minute sessions a week was optimal for reducing the reported instances of feeling stressed or depressed. Exercising for longer periods—some subjects reported exceeding 90 minutes in the gym—was associated with a drop-off in mental health benefits. Subjects who spent three hours at a time exercising actually reported an increase in depressive symptoms, a possible consequence of having obsessive personality traits that could influence their overall psychological state.

Researchers also found that the kind of exercise undertaken made a difference. While all varieties helped, people who participated in team sports promoting social interaction and gym classes like cycling or aerobics described greater self-satisfaction with mental health.

Because the study involved self-reported outcomes and exercise wasn't monitored, it's possible that the participants could have misinterpreted the volume of exercise performed. The scope of the study, however, makes a convincing case for a popular notion: If exercise were a pill, doctors everywhere would be prescribing it.

[h/t The Independent]

Why You Should Be Wary of Prescription Drug Ads on TV

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iStock

In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration permitted prescription drug companies to start publicizing their products directly to consumers in television advertisements. Compelled by the persuasive spots, patients petitioned their physicians for drugs to alleviate mood disorders, cardiovascular issues, and various other chronic conditions. But two studies released this year both came to a sobering conclusion about this direct-to-consumer approach: While advertising is persuasive by nature, drug spots may actually be misleading.

In a report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers at Yale University looked at 97 drug ads that aired on television in 2015 and the first half of 2016. Most were targeted to people with arthritis, diabetes, and other ailments that require continuous care. None of them offered objective information about the potential risks of the drugs; the focus was instead on relative improvement in quality of life. In 13 percent of the ads, the drug companies suggested that various diabetes medications could be used off-label to reduce weight or lower blood pressure, a violation of FDA policy.

The spots also emphasized positive results of clinical trials. These efficacy statements dominated the narrative, with statements like “most people using [the drug] saw 75 percent clearer skin,” or “my doctor said [the drug] helps my bones get stronger.” The Yale study concluded that these and similar claims were potentially misleading and difficult to analyze objectively.

Another recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine [PDF] examined the abundance of lifestyle depictions in the spots. Rather than dwell on risk factors, the 61 ads that researchers analyzed were predominantly made up of footage that made a direct connection between using the drug and an improved quality of life. Many of the ads were addressing conditions (like diabetes and depression) that might benefit from therapies other than medication. Roughly 59 percent of ads depicted a person losing control of their life as a result of their condition, while almost 69 percent suggested the advertised drugs enabled a more active and healthy lifestyle.

The FDA is responsible for making sure companies don't mislead consumers, but critics charge that the agency is not doing its part. It doesn't review prescription drug ads in advance, nor does it restrict ad spending. “Everyone on the ads appears healthy, happy, dancing, and they get better,” internist Andy Lazris, M.D. told Health News Review. “So people are led to believe a) the drug will be effective (which is often not the case), and b) that they should replace their old therapy with the newer one because it’s better (again, which is often not the case)."

“And if they give you any numbers at all, they’re almost always the deceptive relative numbers that look really good, not the more realistic absolute numbers," Lazris added. "So the benefits are over-exaggerated, the harms are downplayed or missed, and that’s how patients can get hurt.”

Because the spots are so short—usually 30 to 60 seconds—it’s difficult to communicate the risk-to-benefit ratio clearly. Even when ads go into a laundry list of side effects, it can become white noise compared to the happy, smiling faces appearing onscreen. (Soon, the FDA might even allow companies to shorten that list, based on its own study that found fewer mentioned side effects allow consumers to retain more information about the drug’s risks.)

The one part of the spots most critics agree is accurate? When they urge viewers to talk to their doctor. Weighing the risks and benefits of prescription medication outside of the fictional and persuasive images of drug spots is the only way to be sure a product is right for you.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

Move Over Life Alert: New Apple Watch Can Tell When You Fall and Will Call For Help

Apple
Apple

Senior citizens aren’t usually the first people lining up to buy the latest high-tech gadget, but Apple’s new Series 4 watch could provide a potentially life-saving service to the elderly—and others. As The Telegraph reports, the watch is equipped with technology capable of detecting when someone has fallen.

If a hard fall occurs, a message on the dial prompts the wearer to select “emergency SOS” or “I fell, but I’m OK.” If the user is motionless for 60 seconds afterward, the watch automatically places a call to emergency responders, and sends a message to emergency contacts with location information.

A message on the watch reads "It looks like you've taken a hard fall" and includes an option to send out an emergency SOS
Apple

The watch, whose features were highlighted at the annual Apple product launch in Silicon Valley on Wednesday, could prove a serious competitor to Life Alert, a popular medical alert system.

An accelerometer and gyroscope inside the watch allow it to analyze the wearer’s “wrist trajectory and impact acceleration,” according to an Apple statement, but determining when someone has fallen isn’t so simple. Apple had to figure out a specific algorithm based on a range of bodily motions.

“Identifying a fall sounds straightforward, but it requires a large amount of data and analysis,” Jeff Williams, Apple’s chief operating officer, said. “With falls, there’s this repeatable motion pattern that happens. When you trip, your arms go forward; but when you slip, your arms go upward.”

This isn’t the only new health feature, either. The new Apple Watch also contains an electrical heart rate sensor, which lets it take an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) and monitor for any irregularities. This marks the first time a product containing an EKG is available over-the-counter to consumers, according to The Telegraph.

The GPS version of the Apple Watch Series 4 is priced at $399, and the GPS and cellular model costs $499. Orders can be placed beginning September 14, and watches will be available in stores on September 21.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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