Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at the real disease-reducing results of spending time outdoors, why juice isn’t as healthy as you think, and how many of us are meeting our fitness goals.
Take it outside to thrive
You might have heard of “forest bathing,” the Japanese practice of spending more time in the woods or other green space to increase your well-being. But did you know that spending time in nature actually has real health benefits besides just making you feel relaxed? A new study of data from more than 290 million people in 20 countries has finally drawn a link between exposure to green space—in both urban and rural settings—and better health.
“It reduces the risk of Type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death and preterm birth, and it increases sleep duration,” says the study’s lead author Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett, from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School.
People living closer to nature, researchers say, also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress, as measured by levels of cortisol in their saliva. Some research in Japan points to the anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting, anti-bacterial compounds released by trees as one contributing factor. But whatever the reason, researchers say it’s clear that getting out in nature is an important preventative health measure, even if it’s just lying on a blanket and staring up at the stars. So pack a picnic lunch and go get your health on.
The case against juice
Soda and other sugary drinks are rightly targeted as one of the main drivers of America’s obesity epidemic. So why, wonders the pediatricians who penned this New York Times opinion piece, does juice get a pass? A single 12-ounce glass of orange juice has roughly the same amount of sugar as a can of Coke, and adults in this country drink 6.6 gallons of orange juice a year.
Its high sugar content is why doctors recommend just 4 ounces a day for kids, an amount that many kids easily surpass. Because the Department of Agriculture guidelines suggest that half of the recommended fruit intake can be consumed in the form of juice, many mistakenly believe it’s a healthy choice.
But, doctors say, drinking juice doesn’t confer the same benefits as consuming fiber-rich whole fruit. For example, eating apples and grapes is associated with a diminished risk of diabetes, while drinking their juice does the opposite. And research shows that juice consumed before a meal made people hungrier, so they ate more calories in a sitting. It’s so sugary, juice is now known as a “gateway beverage,” leading kids to drink more sugar-filled junk as they get older.
The good and bad news on American fitness
If you’re reading this on your phone at the gym, give yourself a hand. You’re probably doing more than the vast majority of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s June National Health Statistics Reports shows that less than a quarter of U.S. adults (22.9 percent) are meeting the national guidelines for aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise. (The guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity and strength or resistance training twice a week.) Those results varied dramatically depending on gender, where people lived and work status.
For example, more than 27 percent of men across the United States met the national exercise guidelines through leisure-time physical activity, compared to only 18.7 percent of women across the country. And only 13.5 percent of people in Mississippi met the goal, versus 32.5 percent in Colorado.
While that sounds low, it’s actually higher than it has been, exceeding the goal set in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Still, about one in five is by no means a passing grade, experts say. They are urging cities to invest in the kind of public infrastructure such as recreation centers that encourage more activity.
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