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Health Scan

A snapshot of the current thinking in medicine, fitness and lifestyle trends that impact your life.

health and fitness Updated: Aug 18, 2012 23:06 IST

A snapshot of the current thinking in medicine, fitness and lifestyle trends that impact your life

Dark chocolate lowers blood pressure
Eating a daily dose of cocoa or dark chocolate — high in plant compounds called flavanols — lowers blood pressure for a short period of time, shows a review of 20 studies. The review found that people who ate flavanol-rich cocoa products every day for a few weeks saw their blood pressure drop by about two or three points.

Though this is far less than the reduction people taking blood pressure lowering medication, but it’s on par with the effects of adding diet changes or exercise to their routine.

Your systolic blood pressure (the top number) should be less than 120 mm Hg, and their diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) should be less than 80 mm Hg. This doesn’t mean people should drop exercise in favour of chocolate. Exercise always comes first, but this shows that little bit of dark chocolate isn’t too bad, as long as you don’t go overboard with the calories.

Exercise after 50 years lowers heart risk
Exercise in midlife protects heart, be it gardening or simply walking. People who meet physical activity recommendations of at least 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week have lower levels of inflammation in their body compared with people who did not get enough exercise, reported a study in the journal Circulation.

Reducing levels of inflammation is important as persistent inflammation, even at relatively modest levels, is thought to contribute to ageing. For example, it is thought to contribute to loss of muscle power and strength, cardiovascular disease or CVD (conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels) and depression. Interestingly, the results were independent of body fat. This suggests that exercise was still of significant benefit for people with no, or little, previous history of exercise.

Brains deliver the knockout punch
Brain power, not brute strength, explains how karate experts can break bricks with a bare-handed strike, according to scientists who say years of martial arts training alter the brain’s wiring.

A comparison of the short-range punches of a dozen karate masters to those of 12 physically fit novices showed that the black belts’ secret lay not in muscle power but an ability to coordinate the peak velocity of their shoulder and wrist. This allowed higher acceleration and a bigger impact force, British scientists say in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Scientists say the fine tuning of neural connections in the cerebellum, which allowed karate champs to synchronise their arm and trunk movements very accurately.

Honey at bedtime relives cough symptoms
A spoonful of honey before bed may help little kids with a cough — and their parents — sleep through the night. Giving honey at bedtime also makes coughing less frequent and less severe.

Coughs are one of the most common reasons kids go to the doctor, but the treatment for cough and cold symptoms are not very effective and have the potential for side effects. Many over-the-counter cough and cold products have a “do not use” warning for kids under four. One of the concerns with the medications is parents accidentally giving kids too much, or kids getting into the drugs themselves.

Walnuts boost overall sperm health
Eating around two handfuls of walnuts a day improves sperm health in young men, reports the journal Biology of Reproduction, after a study found sperm shape, movement and vitality improved in men who added walnuts to their diet over 12 weeks.

The fatty acids found in walnuts are thought to have helped sperm development. For the study, men added 75 grams of whole-shelled walnuts to their daily diet.

It is however, still not known if this would help improve male fertility. About one in six couples are infertile, with 40% of these due to a male factor.

The researchers say the next step is to work with couples who are attending infertility clinics to determine if placing sub-fertile men, with poor semen quality, on a walnut diet results in better success conceiving.