Exercise

Researchers in Italy found that a continued lack of sleep for 5 consecutive nights predisposes people to see pleasant and neutral images adversely, indicating that poor sleep may generate a negative emotional bias.

The feeling of having a sleepless night is a familiar one to many people. Lack of sleep can affect a person’s performance at work, as well as their emotional state.

People are more likely to be irritable and frustrated when they have not slept properly the night before.

The influence of limited sleep on emotional well-being is of growing interest as a lack of sleep is widespread in modern society. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that about 35% of adults in the United States sleep less than 7 hours per night.

Although several reports suggest that lack of sleep influences our emotional state, a new study published in the Journal of Sleep Research has formalized this.

In the study, participants looked at “pleasant and neutral images” after 5 nights of normal sleep and 5 nights of restricted sleep. The results showed that the participants were more likely to have negative responses to these images after the periods of disturbed sleep than after normal sleep.

The authors conclude that lack of sleep imposes a negative emotional bias on people and has important implications for daily life, as well as in clinic settings.

Continued sleep restriction

Numerous studies have investigated the behavioral effects of lack of sleep. However, most have looked at the impact of a total lack of sleep, rather than slightly reduced sleep over a more extended period.

To test the impact of partial sleep deprivation on emotional reactions, the researchers behind this study asked 42 people to change their sleep patterns for 2 weeks.

During the 2-weeks, participants had 5 consecutive nights of normal sleep followed by 5 consecutive nights of restricted sleep in which they could sleep no more than 5 hours per night. In the sleep-restricted phase, participants went to bed at approximately 2 am and woke up at about 7 am.

The researchers switched the order of the sleep patterns between the participants, with a two-day ‘wash out’ period in-between to allow people to reset before the next period.

The morning after each 5-day period, the researchers asked the participants to rate images on a nine-item scale of emotions.

The researchers took the images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS), a database of pictures that psychologists use to study emotion and attention. The database contains a vast, wide-ranging selection of images that depict pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant events.

The researchers randomized the order of the pictures and assessed the emotion the image evoked, as well as the intensity of the emotion.

Impact on emotional outlook

The researchers found that participants rated pleasant and neutral images more negatively after having 5 nights of restricted sleep than when they had slept normally.

Even when the researchers took account of mood changes, they continued to find that people viewed images more negatively under restricted sleep conditions.

“Insufficient sleep may impose a negative emotional bias, leading to an increased tendency to evaluate emotional stimuli as negative.” – Daniela Tempesta, Ph.D., of the University of L’Aquila in Italy

This suggests that sleep-deprived people are likely to perceive emotional stimuli — such as events or personal interactions in their daily life — as worse than they really are.

The researchers did not find any significant difference in how people rated the unpleasant pictures under different sleep conditions.

Sleep and mood disorders

These findings suggest that lack of sleep may cause significant changes in emotional reactions, perhaps leading to an overall more negative outlook. Given how commonplace lack of sleep is in today’s society, these results will be relevant to many.

“Considering the pervasiveness of insufficient sleep in modern society, our results have potential implications for daily life, as well as in clinical settings,” says lead author Dr. Daniela Tempesta.

Although each person requires a different amount of sleep, the authors also say that future studies should investigate exactly how sleep loss leads to emotional changes.

Understanding how continued lack of sleep affects the brain could improve clinical outcomes for people with sleep disorders, as evidence suggests that disturbed sleep may be involved in mood disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Cholesterol is a fatty wax-like substance present in all the cells of the body and it is also in transit in the blood. In fact, to test for the level of cholesterol in the body, you have to do a blood test. Usually, the body produces all the cholesterol it needs. There are occasions where the liver produces cholesterol in response to reduced blood cholesterol in cases of dehydration.

Functions of cholesterol
Cholesterol plays a role in many vital functions of the body. It is a precursor in the production of all sex hormones in the body. It is also involved in the manufacture of bile salts and other substances that help the body to digest foods, especially fatty foods. Cholesterol is needed in the production of vitamin D in the skin exposed to sunlight. In water therapy, we understand that cholesterol plays a very significant role in water redistribution when the body is dehydrated.

Types of cholesterol
There are two main types of cholesterol that we are interested in here in this article. These are the High Density Lipo-protein (HDL)-cholesterol/good cholesterol and the Low Density Lipo-protein (LDL)-cholesterol/bad cholesterol. Cholesterol is not water-soluble and therefore it cannot dissolve in and be transported by the blood. It has to bind to lipoproteins before it can be transported in the blood. Two types of lipoproteins that bind cholesterol are low density (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). When cholesterol is bound to LDL, it is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol and when it is bound to HDL, is referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol.

Low-density lipoprotein transports cholesterol to the tissues where it can increase the risk of heart diseases, high blood pressure and stroke. On the other hand, HDL-cholesterol reduces the risk of heart diseases and other complications because it transports cholesterol from the tissues to the liver where it is metabolized, used in the production of bile salts and excreted.

The LDL to HDL ratio is very important. This ratio will determine whether cholesterol will be deposited in the tissues and increase the risk of heart disease or transported to the liver for metabolism and production of bile salts. As we shall see later in this article, the risk of heart disease can be reduced drastically by lowering LDL-cholesterol, while at the same time you raise the HDL-cholesterol. This is what we must have in mind in the treatment of hypercholesterolemia.

Normal Blood Levels of Cholesterol
• Total Cholesterol – less than 200 milligrams/deciliter
• LDL Cholesterol – less than 130 milligrams/deciliter
• HDL Cholesterol – more than 35milligrams/deciliter
• LDL to HDL ratio – less than 4:5.

Hypercholesterolemia
This is a state of excessively high cholesterol in the blood.
An unhealthy lifestyle is by far the commonest cause of high cholesterol in the blood. This lifestyle will include eating unhealthy and ‘dead’ foods such as saturated fats in some types of meat, white flour and its products (baked foods), dairy products, chocolates, deep-fries and fast foods cooked with bad fats. Sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise lead to a lower HDL (good) cholesterol. Another habit, which lowers HDL – cholesterol is smoking. It also increases LDL (bad) cholesterol. Hypercholesterolemia may be inherited and some medications may also cause it.
Risk factors of hypercholesterolemia are age, race, heredity, obesity, cigarette smoking etc.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids
These are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are widely distributed in nature and they play very important roles in human diet and the metabolic processes that goon in the human body.

There are three types of omega 3 that are commonly involved in the workings of the human being and these are; a-linolenic acid (ALA) which is usually sourced from plants and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are found in cold water fish. Flaxseed is the commonest plant source of ALA. It can also be found in walnut, almonds and hemp seed. Sources of omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA are cold water fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardine etc. they can also be found in chickens and their eggs.

Human beings do not synthesize these fatty acids so all they need has to be sourced from their diet. Omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA are the forms in which fatty acids are utilized in the body. However, omega 3 fatty acid ALA from plant sources can be converted to the usable EPA and DHA.

Omega 3 fatty acids lower total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. These fatty acids, whether from plants or fish oils, reduce the ability of platelets to stick together and thus prevent clot formation. When platelets stick together, (aggregate), they release potent compounds that promote the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. They can also form blood clots that can block small arteries in the heart or the brain where they give rise to heart attack and stroke respectively.

Continuous consumption of omega 3-rich foods as shown above will prevent the formation of plaques and blood clots and prevent these heart diseases. There are also supplements of these health foods that can be bought from Health Food Shops to add to these natural products.

A study finds that hyperglycemia makes it more difficult for people to increase their aerobic capacity.

Regular aerobic exercise provides various health benefits, which heighten as a person increases their aerobic capacity. Doctors recommend this form of exercise to help control diabetes, but people with diabetes often have trouble improving this capacity.

Now, scientists at the Joslin Diabetes Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, in Boston, MA, have published a new study that may explain why.

Hyperglycemia, or higher-than-normal levels of blood sugar, may prevent people from increasing their aerobic capacity and gaining the health benefits that this type of exercise can provide.

The researchers have observed this diminished effect of aerobic exercise in humans with chronic hyperglycemia when blood sugar levels are within the prediabetes range, as well as in mouse models.

Prof. Sarah Lessard is the senior investigator of the study, which has been published in the journal Nature Metabolism.

Hyperglycemic mice

“The idea behind this study was to see: If we induce high blood sugar in mice, will we impair their ability to improve their aerobic fitness?” says Prof. Lessard.

In designing the study, the researchers hoped to learn more about the mechanisms behind this potential effect, in an effort to find new ways to help people with hyperglycemia boost their fitness levels.

Initially, Prof. Lessard and colleagues increased blood sugar levels in two groups of mice:

  • The first group received a Western diet high in saturated fat and sugar. The mice became hyperglycemic and gained weight.
  • The second group consumed a diet with less sugar and fat and did not gain weight. However, these mice acquired hyperglycemia as a result of modifications that caused them to produce less insulin.

The mice in both groups exercised equally, running roughly 500 kilometers, or about 311 miles, over the course of the study.

Still, compared with a control group that had lower blood sugar levels, both sets of hyperglycemic mice failed to gain significant aerobic capacity.

The fact that both groups developed the condition suggests that the effect is related to blood sugar, not obesity or the effects of insulin.

Mouse muscles

According to Prof. Lessard, muscle tissues typically change as a result of aerobic exercise, and muscle fibers become more efficient at using oxygen. “We also grow new blood vessels,” says Prof. Lessard, “to allow more oxygen to be delivered to the muscle, which helps to increase our aerobic fitness levels.”

However, the researchers saw no such muscle adaptation in the hyperglycemic mice.

They suggest that high levels of sugar are interrupting the remodeling of muscle by altering proteins in the space between muscle cells, where new blood vessels would typically have formed.

The study authors add that another possible factor may be a malfunctioning of the c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) pathway. This signaling pathway may act as a molecular switch that programs a muscle to react to a particular type of exercise.

In earlier research using hyperglycemic mice, Prof. Lessard found that the JNK pathway may get this wrong. She determined that “The muscles of hyperglycemic animals have bigger fibers and fewer blood vessels, which is more typical of strength training, rather than aerobic training.”

People with hyperglycemia

Prof. Lessard and her team followed up with clinical tests in humans and found similar results. They also identified one group for whom the issue was particularly acute.

The researchers saw that individuals with impaired glucose intolerance — in which blood sugar levels rise with the consumption of glucose — had the least increases in aerobic capacity.

This was, at least in part, due to the malfunction of the JNK pathway. “Looking at how their muscles responded to a single bout of typical aerobic exercise, we also saw that those with the lowest glucose tolerance had the highest activation of the JNK signaling pathway, which blocks aerobic adaptations,” says Prof. Lessard.

Recommendations

“We often think of diet and exercise as separate ways to improve our health,” she adds.

“Our work shows that there is more interaction between these two lifestyle factors than what was previously known and suggests that we may want to consider them together in order to maximize the health benefits of aerobic exercise.” – Prof. Sarah Lessard, senior study author

To that end, the team recommends that individuals with hyperglycemia consider following a diet designed to lower blood sugar levels. In addition, diabetes drugs can help get these levels under control.

The researcher emphasizes that aerobic exercise has health benefits, even when taking into account the inhibiting effect of high blood sugar, saying:

“Regular aerobic exercise is still a key recommendation for maintaining health in people with or without hyperglycemia.”

Prof. Lessard also notes that other forms of exercise, such as strength training, can help with health and fitness.

Exercising women who struggle to consume enough calories and have menstrual disorders can simply increase their food intake to recover their menstrual cycle, according to a study accepted for presentation at ENDO 2020, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting, and publication in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

The study found that exercising women with menstrual disorders can start menstruating again by consuming an additional 300-400 calories a day.

“These findings can impact all exercising women, because many women strive to exercise for competitive and health-related reasons but may not be getting enough calories to support their exercise,” said lead researcher Mary Jane De Souza, Ph.D., of Penn State University.

By consuming enough calories, exercising women with menstrual disorders can avoid complications associated with a condition known as the Female Athlete Triad, De Souza said. This is a medical condition that starts with inadequate food intake that fails to meet the body’s needs. It leads to menstrual disorders and poor bone health. It is associated with a high incidence of stress fractures.

The study included 62 young, exercising women with infrequent menstrual periods. Thirty-two women increased their calorie intake an average of 300-400 calories a day, and 30 maintained their exercise and eating habits for the 12-month study. Women who consumed the extra calories were twice as likely to have their menstrual period during the study compared with the women who maintained their regular exercise and eating routine.

“This strategy is easy to implement with the help of a nutritionist. It does not require a prescription and avoids complications from drug therapy,” De Souza said. “The findings will encourage healthcare providers to try to help exercising women with menstrual disorders who consume too few calories to eat more, and this may help them to be healthier athletes and avoid bone complications.”

Caught these two cuddling in bed one morning. That Shiba Inu puppy is totally loving the attention!

Two distinct sleep stages appear to play vital, complementary roles in learning: one stage enhances overall performance, while the other stabilizes what we learned the previous day.

Scientists have long known that a good night’s sleep works wonders for our ability to learn new skills.

What has been less clear is the role of different sleep stages. In particular, there has been controversy over the relative contributions of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is when most dreaming occurs, and non-REM sleep, which is mostly dreamless.

Now, a study by psychologists of the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown University in Providence, RI, provides important clues that could help resolve the debate.

Their experiment — which focuses on visual learning — suggests that rather than one stage being more important than the other for learning new skills, both play essential and complementary neurochemical processing roles.

They found that while non-REM sleep enhances our performance of newly acquired skills by restoring flexibility, REM sleep stabilizes those improvements, and prevents them from being overwritten by subsequent learning.

“I hope this helps people realize that both non-REM sleep and REM sleep are important for learning,” says corresponding author Yuka Sasaki, a professor of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences at Brown.

Most REM sleep occurs in the final hours of sleep, so the finding reinforces the importance of not cutting short these later stages.

“When people sleep at night, there are many sleep cycles. REM sleep appears at least three, four, five times, and especially in the later part of the night. We want to have lots of REM sleep to help us remember more robustly, so we shouldn’t shorten our sleep.” – Prof. Yuka Sasaki

The research is published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

Twin benefits

Psychologists have previously identified two distinct benefits of sleep for learning.

The first benefit, which they call “offline performance gains,” means the learning acquired before sleep is enhanced after sleep, without any additional training.

The second benefit, called “resilience to interference,” protects the skills learned before sleep from being disrupted or overwritten by subsequent learning after awaking.

To reap both benefits, there is a trade-off between flexibility and stability.

Learning during the day involves forming new synapses, which are the electrical connections between nerve cells, and the strengthening of existing synapses through repeated use.

While we sleep, the brain appears to streamline its operations to work more efficiently. According to a leading hypothesis, it does this by reactivating synapses that have been strengthened during the day, and then indiscriminately ‘downscales’ or weakens them all.

This restores flexibility, or plasticity, to the brain’s local connections and wider networks, to improve overall performance.

At the same time, during sleep, the brain must also stabilize key synapses to prevent what was learned the previous day from being eliminated by new learning experiences.

Visual learning task

To investigate when each of these processes occurs during sleep, the scientists gave volunteers a standard visual learning task. This involved identifying letters and the orientation of lines that pop up on a screen in two different tasks: one before sleep and one after sleep.

The letters and lines were displayed against a fixed background of horizontal lines for one group of volunteers, and vertical lines for another group.

Participants were then allowed to sleep for 90 minutes with their heads inside an MRI scanner.

After awakening, they were given 30 minutes to fully wake up before performing the same task, but with the opposite orientation of background lines.

Previous research has shown that switching the orientation of background lines interferes with performance gains on this learning task.

A third group of volunteers was not given any learning task before or after sleep.

The researchers used electrodes glued to subjects’ eyelids and scalps to detect when they entered different sleep stages.

They also used a technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure the relative concentrations of two neurotransmitters — glutamate and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) — in the parts of their brains that process visual information.

Glutamate transmits excitatory signals in the brain, whereas GABA transmits inhibitory signals. Neuroscientists believe that when glutamate concentrations are high relative to GABA, it reflects an increase in neural plasticity, whereas the opposite indicates an increase in stabilization.

Plasticity boost

When the scientists analyzed their results, they found that plasticity increased during non-REM sleep, which correlated with improved task performance after sleep.

Interestingly, plasticity increased during non-REM sleep even for the volunteers without any tasks to learn, which suggests there was an overall streamlining process going on in the brain.

Later in the sleep session, the plasticity of those in the learning task fell to below waking levels during REM sleep. This fall correlated with stabilization of the previous day’s learning: it appeared to prevent any performance gains from being lost.

In other words, the REM stage may make learning before sleep more resilient to interference from subsequent learning.

Unlike non-REM sleep, the sharp fall in plasticity during REM sleep was only seen among the volunteers with a task to learn.

This suggests that the stabilization that occurred during REM sleep was focused exclusively on synapses involved in learning this task.

Among participants who did not manage to get any REM sleep during their 90 minutes in the scanner, improvements in performance from their nap failed to materialize.

Overall, the results suggest both sleep stages are essential for learning new things. While our brains are “offline,” non-REM sleep improves performance on freshly learned tasks, but without REM sleep to stabilize the memories, these gains will be lost.

Universal principles?

The study focuses on a particular part of the brain and involved only one kind of learning task. Sasaki and her team hope to investigate whether the same principles apply to learning in general.

In addition, they want to explore the role of sleep when rewards are provided to motivate learning.

“Previously, we showed that rewards enhance visual learning through sleep, so we would like to understand how that works,” she says. “It is ambitious, but maybe we could expand this research to other types of learning so we could better remember and develop better motor learning, visual skills, and creativity.”

Olusola Malomo, a leading Lagos nutritionist/Publicity Secretary of Nutrition Society of Nigeria, has called for regular intake of 100% fruit juice and regular exercise among others, as measures to boost the immune system and combat the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic. He gave the advice at his monthly healthy living dialogue.

While noting that COVID-19 is a respiratory infection which causes fever, tiredness, sore throat and in severe cases, shortness of breath and respiratory difficulty, he said that the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global public institutions have confirmed that the severity of the COVID-19 infection is linked with the overall state of the body’s immune system. He stated that this is the reason why people with pre-existing health challenges are most vulnerable to the contagion.

Quoting the Harvard Medical School in its Harvard Health Publishing, Malomo revealed that deficiency in Zinc, Iron, Copper, Folic Acid, Vitamins A, B6, C (which is contained in large quantity in fruit juice) and E have negative impacts on immune responses.

He said: “CNN reported that the United States retail sales of orange juice jumped about 38 percent in the four weeks ending on March 28, 2020, when compared to the same period last year. Also, the Florida Department of Citrus disclosed that there was a spike in demand for 100% orange juice within the same period.”

“During the five weeks the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun were on lockdown, shops and supermarkets had run out of orange fruit juice stock in the first two or three weeks of the restriction.”

“In fact, less than a week into the lockdown, my favorite Chivita 100% Real Orange Fruit Juice which would have made the stay-at-home less boring for me, had rapidly been purchased off the shelves in Lagos. The scramble for unavailable raw fruits in the open markets started in earnest as the restriction on movement cut off a large chunk of the supplies.”

The expert, however, stated that fruit juice intake is just one of the many ways to boost one’s immune system. Others measures according to him include getting adequate sleep, thorough cooking of meat, maintaining good hygiene, moderate intake of alcohol and exercising regularly.

“Regular exercise is an essential component of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular function, helps control body weight, removes toxins in the body, increases blood circulation and lowers blood pressure. The result of these is a strengthened immune system that protects the body against infections and diseases. Regular exercise is most valuable when one shuns junk food and sticks to healthy eating habits and a balanced diet,” he noted. It is difficult to ascertain the level of good hygiene maintained by those who sell raw fruits, and considering that good hygiene is essential to combat COVID-19, Malomo said pure fruit juices, where available, can be substituted for raw fruits. He, however, cautioned against the consumption of brands whose production processes are not trusted.

A new research published last week in the Journal of Physiology showed that 12 weeks of easy-to-administer passive stretching helps improve blood flow by making it easier for your arteries to dilate and decreasing their stiffness.

Passive stretching differs from active stretching in that the former involves an external force (another person or gravity) stretching you, whereas active stretching is performed on your own. The changes they observed in blood vessels could have implications for diseases, including the number one global killer, heart disease.

Researchers at the University of Milan assigned 39 healthy participants of both sexes to two groups. The control group didn’t undergo any stretching. The experimental group performed leg stretches five times a week for 12 weeks. Researchers evaluated the effect of passive stretching on the blood flow locally and in the upper arm. They found that the arteries in both the lower leg and upper arm had increased blood flow and dilation when stimulated, along with decreased stiffness.

Both of these changes may have implications for diseases such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes as they are characterized by changes in blood flow control, due to an impaired vascular system.

If this study is replicated in patients with vascular disease, it could indicate whether or not this training method could serve as a new drug-free treatment for improving vascular health and reducing disease risk, especially in people with lower mobility.

Moreover, stretching may also be used during hospitalisation or after surgical interventions, to preserve the vascular health when patients have low mobility. Carers or family members can also perform it at home.

An author on the paper, Emiliano Ce, said this new application of stretching is especially relevant in the current pandemic period of increased confinement to homes, where the possibility of performing beneficial training to improve and prevent heart disease, stroke and other conditions is limited.

Also, another research suggests that exercise can slow or prevent the development of macular degeneration and may benefit other common causes of vision loss, such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The new study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that exercise reduced the harmful overgrowth of blood vessels in the eyes of lab mice by up to 45 per cent. This tangle of blood vessels is a key contributor to macular degeneration and several other eye diseases.

The study represents the first experimental evidence showing that exercise can reduce the severity of macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss, the scientists report. Ten million Americans are estimated to have the condition.

Researcher at the UVA’s Center for Advanced Vision Science, Dr. Bradley Gelfand, said: “There has long been a question about whether maintaining a healthy lifestyle can delay or prevent the development of macular degeneration. The way that question has historically been answered has been by taking surveys of people, asking them what they are eating and how much exercise they are performing.

“That is basically the most sophisticated study that has been done. The problem with that is that people are notoriously bad self-reporters … and that can lead to conclusions that may or not be true. This [study] offers hard evidence from the lab for very first time.”

Enticingly, the research found that the bar for receiving the benefits from exercise was relatively low — more exercise didn’t mean more benefit. “Mice are kind of like people in that they will do a spectrum of exercise. As long as they had a wheel and ran on it, there was a benefit,” Gelfand said. “The benefit that they obtained is saturated at low levels of exercise.”

An initial test comparing mice that voluntarily exercised versus those that did not found that exercise reduced the blood vessel overgrowth by 45 per cent. A second test, to confirm the findings, found a reduction of 32 per cent.

The scientists aren’t certain exactly how exercise is preventing the blood vessel overgrowth. There could be a variety of factors at play, they say, including increased blood flow to the eyes.

Gelfand, of UVA’s Department of Ophthalmology and Department of Biomedical Engineering, noted that the onset of vision loss is often associated with a decrease in exercise. “It is fairly well known that as people’s eyes and vision deteriorate, their tendency to engage in physical activity also goes down,” he said. “It can be a challenging thing to study in older people. … How much of that is one causing the other?”

The researchers already have submitted grant proposals in hopes of obtaining funding to pursue their findings further.

“The next step is to look at how and why this happens, and to see if we can develop a pill or method that will give you the benefits of exercise without having to exercise,” Gelfand said. “We’re talking about a fairly elderly population [of people with macular degeneration], many of whom may not be capable of conducting the type of exercise regimen that may be required to see some kind of benefit.” (He urged people to consult their doctors before beginning any aggressive exercise program.)

Gelfand, a self-described couch potato, disclosed a secret motivation for the research: “One reason I wanted to do this study was sort of selfish. I was hoping to find some reason not to exercise,” he joked. “It turned out exercise really is good for you.”

After examining the link between metabolites in urine and overall health, researchers created a 5-minute test to reveal a person’s nutritional fingerprint.

Research finds a new way to look at the relationship between what we eat and our health.

It might seem obvious that good nutrition is linked to good health. Still, it has proven difficult to identify specific links between foods and health outcomes. Two new studies from scientists at Imperial College London (ICL), United Kingdom, and various collaborators report insights from the analysis of metabolites in urine.

The researchers have created a 5-minute urine test that can capture a person’s “nutritional fingerprint.”

“Diet is a key contributor to human health and disease, though it is notoriously difficult to measure accurately because it relies on an individual’s ability to recall what and how much they ate. For instance, asking people to track their diets through apps or diaries can often lead to inaccurate reports about what they really eat,” explains study author Joram Posma, of ICL’s Department of Metabolism, Digestion, and Reproduction.

“This research reveals this technology can help provide in-depth information on the quality of a person’s diet and whether it is the right type of diet for their individual biological makeup.” — Joram Posma, study co-author

The first study reveals links

Scientists from ICL and their collaborators — from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Murdoch University in Australia — authored the first of the two studies. It appears in the journal Nature Food.

Metabolites are molecules that the body produces during cellular metabolism, and some are measurable in a person’s urine.

Working with 1,848 study participants in the U.S., the researchers were able to identify associations between 46 different metabolites and food types.

Co-author Paul Elliot, Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine at ICL, explains:

“Through careful measurement of people’s diets and collection of their urine excreted over two 24-hour periods, we were able to establish links between dietary inputs and urinary output of metabolites that may help improve understanding of how our diets affect health. Healthful diets have a different pattern of metabolites in the urine than those associated with worse health outcomes.”

Metabolites were linked with the ingestion of alcohol, citrus fruit, fructose (fruit sugar), glucose, red meats, and other animal proteins, such as chicken. Nutrients, including vitamin C and calcium, were also associated with metabolites in the study.

Metabolites’ associations with health outcomes also became apparent in the data. For instance, the scientists found that the metabolites formate and sodium were linked to obesity and higher blood pressure.

The second study and the 5-minute fingerprint

For the second research project, which also appears in Nature Food, the ICL team worked again with scientists from Murdoch University, along with researchers from Newcastle University and Aberystwyth University, both in the U.K.

The study reports that the scientists were able to produce an easy-to-administer urine test that could reveal a person’s metabolite profile in the form of a Dietary Metabotype Score (DMS).

Study author Isabel Garcia-Perez, of Imperial College, says:

“Our technology can provide crucial insights into how foods are processed by individuals in different ways — and can help health professionals, such as dietitians, provide dietary advice tailored to individual patients.”

In evaluating the test, the scientists conducted experiments with 19 people whom they instructed to follow one of four types of diets (ranging from very healthful to unhealthful) strictly based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) guidelines. The healthiest adhered 100% to the WHO recommendations, and the least healthy just 25% of them.

The study authors found that even among those who reported following the same diet, there were differences in the DMS.

WHO recommendations contain a great deal of latitude in the choice of specific foods. One recommendation, for example, is, “Fruit, vegetables, legumes (e.g., lentils and beans), nuts, and whole grains (e.g., unprocessed maize, millet, oats, wheat, and brown rice).”

The researchers found that, in general, the more healthful the person’s diet, the higher the DMS. Those with higher scores also had lower blood sugar and excreted an increased amount of energy from the body in the urine.

The study characterizes the difference between high energy urine and low energy urine as meaning that a person with a higher DMS would be losing 4 extra calories a day, which equates to about 1,500 calories a year, and would thus avoid about 215 g of body fat annually.

Next up for the team is investigating the use of this new technology in people at risk of cardiovascular disease.

Rethinking diets

Aside from the obvious value of the 5-minute test, the studies suggest that it may be time to use the new findings to personalize healthful food recommendations.

Newcastle University’s John Mathers says:

“We show here how different people metabolize the same foods in highly individual ways. This has implications for understanding the development of nutrition-related diseases and for more personalized dietary advice to improve public health.”

The link between specific metabolites, foods, and outcomes also raises other considerations, according to ICL’s Gary Frost, another co-author:

“These findings bring a new and more in-depth understanding to how our bodies process and use food at the molecular level. The research brings into question whether we should rewrite food tables to incorporate these new metabolites that have biological effects in the body.”

Lagosians have been urged to embrace cycling as a sport and means of exercise to generally overcome the effects of ill health through interaction with their environment.

Speaking during a webinar organised by the Cycology Riding Club & African Cycling Foundation in Collaboration with the United Nations Information Centre, UNIC, Lagos, the Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, described cycling as an enjoyable sporting activity that is aimed at contributing to the State’s One Health Agenda.

The webinar themed: “Bicycles as Drivers of Post COVID-19 Green Economy”, was a conversation among key stakeholders in Lagos State geared towards getting more people to start riding for health, environment, transport, and socioeconomic benefits.

Abayomi said: “I encourage cycling whenever I can because it is a noble sport. Cycling enables you have fun and exercise at the same time. Cycling in the context of Lagos State One Health Initiative addresses the holistic view of health, that is, human beings living in the biosphere which means you can only be as healthy as the environment you in life in and as the food you eat, and the activity you engage in. Enjoyable sports activity can contribute to One Health Agenda looking at the statistics around the world.”

Highlighting some of the benefits of cycling he said it includes improvement of cardiovascular and respiratory health among others.

“Up to 28 percent of trips in Europe are made by cycling but in Nigeria, the percentage is less than 5 percent. Cycling is an aerobic exercise it helps to build the muscle, expand the cardiovascular and respiratory agility it enables you to keep fit.

“The Lagos State Government has embarked on smart city agenda which is to create an environment for cyclists and pedestrians to enjoy free movement across the city, this involves urban planning, creating cycle lanes, areas for normal vehicular movements, areas for pedestrians and cyclists.

“This is an important aspect of urban planning we need to take into consideration in the future. It is our responsibility as the Lagos State Ministry of Environment, road traffic protection agency, Ministry of Transportation, and Lagos State Ministry of Health to ensure that we do indeed turn into a smart healthy city, a green city, a city where we are mindful about how much carbon we put into the environment, how much space we create for recreation, for sport, the quality of the water system, toxicity in the environment, the greening of the city, like other megacities around the world.”

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Many people believe that eye exercises can help improve vision or treat eye conditions.

Although there is limited evidence to suggest that eye exercises can actually enhance vision, eye exercises can help with eye strain, certain eye conditions, and overall well-being.

Eye exercises can be particularly helpful for people who experience digital eye strain, which is related to the prolonged use of computers.

Read on to learn about seven eye exercises.

Eye exercises and their potential benefits

Eye exercises can be helpful for the following conditions:

  • nystagmus, which is an eye movement condition
  • strabismus, which is also an eye movement condition
  • amblyopia
  • myopia
  • visual field defects
  • dyslexia
  • vergence problems
  • ocular motility conditions
  • accommodative dysfunction
  • asthenopia
  • convergence insufficiency
  • visual field deficits following brain injury
  • motion sickness
  • learning difficulties

It is important to note that people with eye conditions such as retinopathy, cataracts, or glaucoma are unlikely to benefit from trying the eye exercises below.

The following are seven eye exercises that people may wish to try for the conditions listed above:

1. The 20-20-20 rule

Digital eye strain can become a problem for people who need to focus on a computer screen all day while working.

The 20-20-20 rule helps ease digital eye strain. The rule is easy: a person needs to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes while working on a computer.

2. Focus change

The focus change exercise can also help with digital eye strain. People should perform this exercise while sitting.

  1. Hold one finger a few inches away from one eye.
  2. Focus the gaze on the finger.
  3. Move the finger slowly away from the face.
  4. Focus on an object farther away, and then back on the finger.
  5. Bring the finger back closer to the eye.
  6. Focus on an object farther away.
  7. Repeat three times.

3. Eye movements

This eye movement exercise also helps with digital eye strain.

  1. Close the eyes.
  2. Slowly move the eyes upward, then downward.
  3. Repeat three times.
  4. Slowly move the eyes to the left, then to the right.
  5. Repeat three times.

4. Figure 8

The figure 8 exercise can also help ease digital eye strain.

  1. Focus on an area on the floor around 8 feet away.
  2. Move the eyes in the shape of a figure 8.
  3. Trace the imaginary figure 8 for 30 seconds, then switch direction.

5. Pencil pushups

Pencil pushups can help people with convergence insufficiency. A doctor might recommend this exercise as part of vision therapy.

  1. Hold a pencil at arm’s length, situated between the eyes.
  2. Look at the pencil and try to keep a single image of it while slowly moving it toward the nose.
  3. Move the pencil toward the nose until the pencil is no longer a single image.
  4. Position the pencil at the closest point where it is still a single image.
  5. Repeat 20 times.

6. Brock string

The Brock string exercise helps improve eye coordination.

To complete this exercise, a person will need a long string and some colored beads. They can complete this exercise either sitting or standing.

  1. Secure one end of the string to a motionless object, or another person can hold it.
  2. Hold the other end of the string just below the nose.
  3. Place one bead on the string.
  4. Look straight at the bead with both eyes open.

If the eyes are working correctly, a person should see the bead and two strings in the shape of an X.

If one eye is closed, one of the strings will disappear, which means that the eye is suppressing. If the person sees two beads and two strings, the eyes are not converged at the bead.

7. Barrel cards

Barrel cards is a good exercise for exotropia, which is a type of strabismus.

  1. Draw three red barrels of increasing sizes on one side of a card.
  2. Repeat in green on the other side of the card.
  3. Hold the card against the nose so that the largest barrel is farthest away.
  4. Stare at the far barrel until it becomes one image with both colors and the other two images have doubled.
  5. Maintain the gaze for about 5 seconds.
  6. Repeat the exercise with the middle and smallest images.

Can eye exercises help improve vision?

There is currently little reliable evidence to suggest that eye exercises really work to improve the eyes and vision.

One study found that eye exercises can help with convergence problems. Another study suggested that eye exercises improved visual field deficits and stereoscopic skills following brain injury.

In one 2013 study, participants who completed eye exercises were more accurate in a rapid serial visual presentation exercise than the control group. These results suggest that eye exercises may enhance cognitive performance in tasks that involve attention and memory.

The pencil pushups exercise appears to be an effective therapy for symptomatic convergence insufficiency.

Aside from these few cases, researchers have not proven that eye exercises are an effective treatment for other types of visual or intellectual conditions.

However, certain foods may benefit eye health.

Vision therapy

Vision therapy is like rehabilitation therapy for a person’s eyes.

A doctor can prescribe vision therapy, which they will tailor to each person, to help improve visual skills and processing. Vision therapy may use both sensory- and movement-related activities.

Vision therapy typically involves a range of different tools, including computer programs, special instruments, lenses, and prisms.

Vision therapy can be useful for some of the eye conditions listed in this article.

When to see a doctor

Certain eye symptoms can indicate a more serious condition. A person should contact a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:

  • red eyes
  • loss of vision
  • blurred vision
  • eye pain
  • double vision
  • eyelid swelling
  • sensitivity to light
  • headaches associated with eye symptoms

Summary

There is not much scientific evidence to suggest that eye exercises help improve vision in general. However, eye exercises and vision therapy can help with digital eye strain and certain eye conditions.

A person can easily perform eye exercises such as the 20-20-20 rule, figure 8, and pencil pushups at home.

If a person experiences blurred vision, red eyes, or eye pain or has concerns about their vision, they should contact their doctor.