Daily Cup of Wellness

Heart Health |

Heart Health |

According to a recent study, four out of five Britons have hearts that are far older than they should be which puts people at a greater risk of early death through heart disease.

“These are really alarming figures that will cause great anxiety for many,” said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners. “But rather than people panicking, we hope this well-intentioned initiative by Public Health England will serve as a wake-up call for us all to be more aware of our general health and prompt changes that will help us to live longer and healthier lives.”

Professor Jamie Waterall, the national lead for cardiovascular disease at Public Health England, agreed. “It’s worrying that so many people are at risk of dying unnecessarily from heart attack and stroke. [But] I was unsurprised … given that we have a population that’s becoming more obese and we have major problems with things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, alcohol and physical inactivity,” he said. “We need the public to understand the impact that all that’s having on their risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Clearly, many people need to make major changes to their lifestyles.”

Among those changes that Waterall recommends are eating healthier and taking greater responsibility for their own individual health by keeping track of their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Ashleigh Doggett agreed and suggested that people make “simple lifestyle changes such as increasing physical exercise, eating a healthy Mediterranean diet and cutting back on alcohol [in order to] help reduce your heart age. If people are concerned about their heart age, they should speak to their GP.”

Up to 80 percent of heart attacks and strokes are caused by preventable causes such as smoking or unhealthy eating habits, and even more could be prevented through regular checkups and any necessary preventative medical care. Healthier habits alone are estimated to be able to save up to 50 lives a day in England.

“It’s never too late – or too early – to make changes,” Waterall said. “The number one thing to do is quit smoking, if you are a smoker. But taking more exercise, moderating your alcohol intake, losing weight and taking control of your blood pressure and cholesterol will all help.”

Most people today would be doubtful that the so-called golden years are as wonderful as they are said to be. Thankfully, it turns out that there are advantages that come with age.  According to a recent study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, a person’s self-esteem tends to peak around the age of 60 and last through the decade.

The study examined 191 articles about self-esteem along with data from nearly 165,000 people in order to explore how self-esteem varies between different age demographics. Researchers found that self-esteem begins to increase at some point in childhood, anywhere from the age of four to 11, when children begin to first develop a sense of independence. The child’s level of self-esteem plateaus during their teenage years and holds steady for several years. Then, it grows substantially again until roughly the age of 30. After that, the person’s self-esteem continues to grow at a slower pace until it peaks around 60.

“Midlife is, for many adults, a time of highly stable life circumstances in domains such as relationships and work. Moreover, during middle adulthood, most individuals further invest in the social roles they hold, which might promote their self-esteem,” said study co-author Ulrich Orth, a professor of psychology at the University of Bern in Switzerland. “For example, people take on managerial roles at work, maintain a satisfying relationship with their spouse or partner, and help their children to become responsible and independent adults.”

Unfortunately for those who believe that love cures every ill, the study found no evidence to suggest that those in happy relationships held on to the high levels of self-esteem developed in their 60s for longer than their single peers or couples who were unhappy in their relationships.

“Although they enter old age with higher self-esteem and continue to have higher self-esteem as they age, they decline in self-esteem to the same extent as people in unhappy relationships,” said study co-author Kali H. Trzesniewski, PhD, of the University of Western Ontario. “Thus, being in a happy relationship does not protect a person against the decline in self-esteem that typically occurs in old age.”

This drop tends to occur after the age of 70 and the downhill trend continues as a person approaches 90. Thankfully, Orth noted that most people “are able to maintain a relatively high level of self-esteem even during old age.” Good to know that there really is some gold in the golden years.

As a general rule, young people have quite a bit of sex. Given the decline, if not elimination, of the social taboo against premarital sex, overly sexualized advertisements that help create an “everybody’s doing it” mentality, easy access to alcohol on college campuses and the ever-present specter of peer pressure, it is no surprise that many young people find it incredibly easy to fall in bed with someone. The problem, however, is that a painfully large number of young people have no idea what sort of risks they are taking by sleeping with people.

A recent survey by the charity The Mix found that nearly 20 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 24 in the United Kingdom admitted that they do not understand sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also called sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Dr. Martin Godfrey warned, “Pop culture may be seen to encourage short term sexual relationships without talking about protection and STIs, which can put young people at risk.”

The Mix’s survey also found that more than a third of respondents had never had STD testing done. Of that third, 44 percent felt that STD testing was unnecessary because they had used protection. Unfortunately, protection can fail and no form of protection works 100 percent of the time.

Another 20 percent of respondents who had never had STD testing said that they refused to get tested because they found it embarrassing. Overall, most respondents stated that the only reason they would bother to get tested would be if they had the symptoms of an STD. Although the logic appears sound at first glance, why go to the doctor if you are not sick, most STDs are asymptomatic. There are no symptoms for a person to experience despite the irreversible damage that the disease may be doing to an infected person’s body. “With many STIs being symptomless, young people need to get tested to be sure they don’t have an infection and don’t put their partners at risk,” said Dr. Godfrey.

Testing for STDs is essential for anyone who is sexually active especially if one person has had multiple partners. Tests are usually simple, inexpensive and are always confidential. They are also usually readily available. It is concerning, however, that many young people are apparently unaware that testing is even necessary. The lack of understanding is even more alarming given the recent discovery of a new strain of gonorrhea, a common STD that may now be incurable. Should such ignorance collide with such a superbug, there is every possibility that STDs will become the deadly scourge they were hundreds of years ago. No one wants that to happen which means it is time to find a way to make teens pay better attention in health class regardless of how much they snicker in sex ed.

08Do animals grieve? The question has been asked repeatedly, and evidence has suggested that at least some animals do have the capacity to mourn. The most recent show of animal grief has come from the Southern Resident killer whale pod off the coast of British Columbia.

An orca gave birth to a calf that died shortly after its birth. The mother, labeled J35, has refused to abandon the body of the calf. Instead, she has been carrying the corpse around and keeps pushing the sinking body to the surface of the water as if encouraging the calf to breathe. J35 is unusual in terms of the length of time she has been tending to the body of her dead infant, but the actual behavior is familiar. The Center for Whale Research stated that killer whales and dolphins possess very strong bonds between mothers and their offspring. When calves die, the mothers will carry and defend their dead infants for up to a week.

Deborah Giles, the science and research director for Wild Orca, put a name to what everyone was thinking. “She doesn’t want to let [the calf] go,” Giles said. “It is that simple. She is grieving.”

How many emotions animals possess and the complexity of those emotions are questions that have haunted scientists studying animal behavior for years. Evidence suggests, however, that when it comes to grief, animals feel it just as keenly as humans. Elephants have been seen defending the bodies of the dead, dogs have repeatedly returned to where they last saw their masters or their owner’s graves and primates have been seen holding what can only be described as wakes. The howls of wolves have changed in response to a pack mate’s death, magpies have been seen laying grass by their dead and foxes have been observed covering dead mates with sticks and dirt.

For both animals and humans, death is an inevitable part of life. That does not mean, however, that the living do not mourn for the ones that have been lost. Social animals such as wolves, elephants and primates have been seen turning to other family members in order to deal with the aftermath of grief. Humans, of course, often do the same thing. It goes to show that when we are at our lowest with grief, humans are united with the animal kingdom. Death makes no distinction when it takes, and those who mourn the lost are not so different from one another, regardless of whether they have fur, feathers or human faith.

pexels-photo-290403The days of children spending their time outdoors climbing trees or playing tag appear to have, at least, temporarily ended. Children between the ages of six and 16 currently spend more time playing video games than they do playing outside. According to a British survey, today’s youth prefer gaming, watching TV, surfing the web and listening to music over playing outside. Some of them were more willing to do homework or complete their chores than to go outside and get some fresh air.

Children’s refusals to go outside have many parents concerned. More than two thirds worry that their children spend too much time indoors, and almost half the parents surveyed said that they have to force their children to leave the house. Parents have also stated that they spent much more time outside when they were the same age as their children. Today, more than half of the children surveyed had never climbed a tree or built some sort of fort, and a mere third of young respondents were even remotely interested in visiting a local park or garden.

The lack of time outdoors has its own problems, including vitamin D deficiency, but more concerning is that children cannot stop thinking about their tablets, smartphones or computers. This suggests that there is an entire generation that will be growing up with an addiction to their devices and may never even know that something is wrong. Addiction to any kind of electronic device, of course, carries a host of problems. Eye damage from staring at small screens, neck and back issues that arise from hunching over the device and, of course, a myriad of sleep issues that range from altered circadian rhythms to depressed melatonin production.

Children seem to be starting out with electronic devices at earlier and earlier ages. This, however, is not necessarily in the child’s best interest. It may be best to go back to doing things the old fashioned way and, instead of handing children a tablet to entertain them, sending them outside to play.