The World's Best-Kept Health Secrets

Good health can be enhanced and illness prevented or treated in simple ways that anyone can manage. This mix of traditional wisdom and new scientific discoveries can help you stay fit and healthy for life.

The World's Best-Kept Health Secrets

Protecting Your Heart
Your heart pumps through a vast network to feed your body’s cells. Increasingly, studies from around the world are finding that heart health is closely linked to lifestyle. So there is plenty you can do to prevent damage to this vital organ.

Listen to your heart
Is your heartbeat frequently fast and irregular? That’s one symptom of atrial fibrillation (AF), a common heart rhythm disturbance and a major risk factor for stroke. Around one in 50 Australians aged over 55 has atrial fibrillation, but many don’t know it. Check your heart rate and rhythm by feeling your pulse in your neck or wrist. Consult your doctor if your heartbeat is irregular or fast (over 100 beats a minute at rest), or if you have other symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or faintness.

Check your neck size
According to recent studies, the thickness of your neck may provide more clues to your risk of heart disease than the size of your waist. US researchers have found that the greater the circumference, the higher the risk of heart disease. The average neck circumference for a woman is 34.2 cm, and 40.5 cm for a man. A fat neck may be a sign of heart-unfriendly visceral fat deposits around the liver and heart, and may indicate obstructive sleep apnoea.

Have an early winter flu jab
Reduce your chance of suffering a heart attack by almost a fifth by getting a vaccination. Heart attacks are more common in winter and studies show there is a link with having an infection such as flu a week or two earlier. The risk is even higher for those who already have a heart condition. People in this category are up to four times more likely to suffer an attack following an infection. Research also suggests that having a flu vaccination in late autumn or early winter is more effective than a flu jab given later in the year.

Seek help for erection problems
Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be an early sign of clogged arteries. Men with ED are 1.6 times more likely to suffer from a serious cardiovascular problem such as a heart attack or stroke, according to a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. The arteries supplying the penis are narrow, so erection problems can be an early sign of furring and narrowing in other blood vessels. If you are experiencing this problem, seeing your doctor early will help protect you against cardiac problems, as well as treat your ED.

Don’t pocket your headphones
The tiny magnets found inside headphones can interfere with the operation of your pacemaker. In a recent study in the US, 20% of pacemakers reacted when headphones were placed directly over them. So, if you wear a pacemaker, don’t carry your headphones in your breast pocket or let them dangle unused on your chest. Similarly, don’t fall asleep while using your smartphone or tablet, allowing it to fall onto your chest.

From the medical frontlines: A simple squeeze
Squeezing the upper arm tightly using a blood pressure measuring cuff for five-minute periods on and off could limit heart damage caused by a heart attack. This new technique, called remote ischaemic conditioning, may reduce cardiac injury after a heart attack by up to 30% and dramatically lower later complications. The technique is still highly experimental, but the theory is that by temporarily depriving oxygen and nutrients to the arm with the blood pressure cuff, a protective signal can be relayed to the heart, reducing the amount of damage occurring during the heart attack.

Maximising your memory
The brain’s capacity for recall is truly mind-boggling, but memory is more than a mental filing cabinet. Research shows that we are able to both maintain and improve our faculties, even as we age.

Eat oily fish twice a week
A series of studies have shown that a diet containing higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids – found in oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and mackerel – protects the brain. Washington’s Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health and UCLA both found that omega-3s counteracted the ill effects on the brain of diets high in sugar, while a US study on brain ageing linked omega-3 levels in the blood with better performances on cognitive tests. A separate study at the University of California found that omega-3 fatty acids help to strengthen synapses, the connections between brain cells. Two to three portions of oily fish a week help keep your memory in good shape. If you’re not keen on eating fish, try a daily fish-oil supplement.

Drink blueberries
Consuming the equivalent of 2-2½ cups of wild blueberry juice a day can boost your memory, according to a study at the University of Cincinnati in the US. When a group of volunteers in their 70s with early memory decline did this for two months they performed significantly better in learning and memory tests. A second group given a placebo beverage did not appear to benefit. Frozen berries can be substituted for juice. Farmed blueberries contain many of the same healthy compounds as wild ones, just in lower levels.

Believe it or not! Breathe insulin
Inhaling insulin helps improve memory in people with memory impairment, according to scientists from Brazil and the US. In the study, people with Alzheimer’s who breathed in insulin twice daily had improved memory and ability to carry out everyday tasks. Insulin has a positive effect on the memory by helping the brain to access glucose, which it needs to function efficiently. Insulin also helps to cancel the effects of cortisol, a stress hormone that interferes with retrieving memories. But breathing insulin is not practical for most people; instead make sure your brain gets the glucose it needs by eating low-GI foods and healthy fats from nuts, seeds and fish.

Memory tools for you to use: The memory ‘systems’ of other cultures include a number of techniques that most of us would be able to use.
1. Tell yourself a story
Weave information into a story in which people and events represent things to be memorised. Studies show that this technique makes information easier to remember and retrieve, just as we recall fairytales.
2. Memorise to music
The brain is more adept at storing and recalling information that is associated with music and rhyme, studies show. It seems that familiar music acts as a soundtrack for a ‘mental movie’ playing in the brain. Try memorising to a well-known tune, making up your own lyrics.
3. Say it out loud
Reading information aloud makes it easier to recall. You can do this either by yourself or with someone else. Relating something to another person has been proved to help embed facts in your own memory.
4. Draw it out
Create colourful visual images in your head and associate them with the names of people and places you want to recall. To link pieces of information, draw ‘memory maps’ made up of strong images, adding smells and textures if desired.

Maintain a healthy sex life
Every day stresses and strains can often take their toll in the bedroom. But, there are many strategies that will keep your intimate life active and fulfilling without resorting to medication.

Fix your finances
Money worries come high on the list of stresses that can damage your sex life. A 2011 study of couples found that anxiety over finances, added to increased working hours and the stress of juggling jobs and children were all cited as reasons for having less sex. Money worries were particularly significant in the reduction of men’s libido. Balance the books to increase your intimacy.

Change your medication?
Failure to achieve an erection (ED) becomes more common as men age. This common condition is usually the result of an unhealthy lifestyle (such as smoking or being overweight), but may be a side effect of prescription drugs that interfere with nerve signals to the penis. The top ‘culprits’ are beta-blockers, which are used to treat heart problems and high blood pressure; antihistamines, taken for allergies; and antidepressants. If you have been suffering from ED and suspect that a drug you are taking may be the cause, ask your doctor if an alternative medication that does not have this side effect might be suitable.

Don’t fret about your heart
For most people, having an orgasm is completely heart healthy. Unless you suffer from a very specific heart complaint, it’s no more likely to bring on a heart attack than any other physical exertion. So try not to be worried about having sex unless your doctor has warned you not to. What’s most important is to keep fit and active so that you’re able to cope easily with strenuous activities of all kinds – in and out of the bedroom. There’s also evidence that regular sex can benefit your heart health.

Don’t self-medicate
It’s unwise to take medications such as sildenafil (Viagra) to treat ED without advice from your doctor. He or she will explain how to use the drug safely to minimise the risks and side effects.

Have a hug – if you’re a man
When it comes to satisfaction in long-term relationships it turns out, contrary to expectation, that men need to cuddle more than women. In a study of heterosexual couples carried out in the US by the Kinsey Institute, men who reported frequent kissing and cuddling with their partners were, on average, three times happier with their relationships than those who did so infrequently. For women, what was more important was a long-term relationship accompanied by good sex.

Believe it or not! ‘Love hormone’ help for ED
US scientists are currently investigating the potential of the hormone oxytocin to combat erection problems and low libido in men. The ‘love hormone,’ as it is called, is released by both men and women during sex and by mothers during childbirth and breastfeeding, and it seems to play an important role in promoting feelings of attachment.

Boosting resistance
The battle against infection never ends – each day your immune system fights off any number of would-be invaders. What you eat, how you feel, and the amount of exercise you take all play a part in strengthening your defences against infection.

Choose friendly fats
Some fats are essential for building cells and for the production of prostaglandins. These hormone-like compounds help to regulate the immune system’s response to infection, such as the way it reacts by making the white blood cells that combat invaders. Italian athletes on very low-fat diets were found to be significantly short of these cells. The secret is to choose your fats with care by opting for unsaturated vegetable fats rather than saturated ones from animal sources, and avoiding trans fats, the manufactured fats labelled as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’.

Stick to the savoury
Just 75 grams of refined sugar – 10 teaspoons, or the amount in two 330 ml cans of soft drink – can impair immunity. Choose fruit, which comes packed with fibre, or savoury dishes instead.

Get some mushroom magic
The reishi mushroom –also known as lingzhi – is a staple of traditional Chinese medicine. It is used to stimulate the body’s ability to protect itself from infection, strengthen the immune response and promote sleep and reduce stress by suppressing the production of the stimulant hormone adrenaline. While research is still ongoing, early results suggest that reishi is at the very least a useful supplement to mainstream treatments. Reishi essence is available from health food shops.

Have a giggle
Laughter can boost your immunity as well as your mood. It reduces your body’s production of many stress hormones, the culprits for many cases of suppressed immune systems. Find ways to laugh with your friends, and boost everyone’s health.

From The World’s Best-Kept Health Secrets
From new science to traditional cures that work, hundreds of easy ways to stay healthy – whatever your stage of life. © Reader’s Digest (Australia) 2016.


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