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]

The (Likely) Reason Men Don't Live as Long as Women

iStock/fstop123
iStock/fstop123

Owing to long-held habits like drinking, smoking, and warring, men have traditionally come up short when it comes to life expectancy. In 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics released data indicating women in the U.S. could expect to live an average of 81.1 years. Men, 76.1. That's a full five fewer years of enjoying this mortal coil. To pose a scientific question—what gives?

In an essay penned for Nautilus, Richard G. Bribiescas, a professor of anthropology, ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, believes that the answer rests outside of the male gender making poor life choices. Biologically, men may look forward to curtailed lifespans because of the hormone testosterone.

Bribiescas argues that, while testosterone provides beneficial boosts in libido, mood, and aggression—all key, in some measure, to both survival and reproduction—there is a biological price paid for the markedly higher levels seen in men than women. Testosterone can affect the body's immunological response, suppressing the immune system and making men more susceptible to illness. The hormone has also been associated with increased cancer risk, including prostate cancer.

Evolution seems to have put up with testosterone because of its impact on reproduction, which is why the male body hasn't come up with a way to dismiss the hormone. But men might not be losing years for much longer. A statistical analysis by Cass Business School in the UK forecasts men and women may both live an average of 87.5 years by 2032. Longevity may improve as a result of less alcohol consumption and smoking, as well as better treatments for heart disease. But that's simply a prediction. It may be that testosterone will continue to be an inherent risk factor for males, one that no lifestyle changes can outpace.

[h/t Nautilus]

Now Ear This: A New App Can Detect a Child's Ear Infection

iStock.com/Techin24
iStock.com/Techin24

Generally speaking, using an internet connection to diagnose a medical condition is rarely recommended. But technology is getting better at outpacing skepticism over handheld devices guiding decisions and suggesting treatment relating to health care. The most recent example is an app that promises to identify one of the key symptoms of ear infections in kids.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at the University of Washington are close to finalizing an app that would allow a parent to assess whether or not their child has an ear infection using their phone, some paper, and some soft noises. A small piece of paper is folded into a funnel shape and inserted into the ear canal to focus the app's sounds (which resemble bird chirps) toward the child’s ear. The app measures sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. If pus or fluid is present, the sound waves will be altered, indicating a possible infection. The parent would then receive a text from the app notifying them of the presence of buildup in the middle ear.

The University of Washington tested the efficacy of the app by evaluating roughly 50 patients scheduled to undergo ear surgery at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The app was able to identify fluid in patients' ears about 85 percent of the time. That’s roughly as well as traditional exams, which involve visual identification as well as specialized acoustic devices.

While the system looks promising, not all cases of fluid in the ear are the result of infections or require medical attention. Parents would need to evaluate other symptoms, such as fever, if they intend to use the app to decide whether or not to seek medical attention. It may prove most beneficial in children with persistent fluid accumulation, a condition that needs to be monitored over the course of months when deciding whether a drain tube needs to be placed. Checking for fluid at home would save both time and money compared to repeated visits to a physician.

The app does not yet have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval and there is no timetable for when it might be commercially available. If it passes muster, it would join a number of FDA-approved “smart” medical diagnostic tools, including the AliveKor CardiaBand for the Apple Watch, which conducts EKG monitoring for heart irregularities.

[h/t WGRZ]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER