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Knowledge Update

Sharing smiling selfies can help you beat the blues

​New York, Sep 14 (IANS) Taking smiling selfies with your smartphone and sharing them with your friends can help make you a happier person, say computer scientists at the University of California, Irvine.

"This study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users," said senior author Gloria Mark, Professor of Informatics.

"Our research showed that practicing exercises that can promote happiness via smartphone picture taking and sharing can lead to increased positive feelings for those who engage in it," lead author Yu Chen, a post-doctoral scholar, added.

By conducting exercises via smartphone photo technology and gauging users' psychological and emotional states, the researchers found that the daily taking and sharing of certain types of images can positively affect people.

Chen and her colleagues designed and conducted a four-week study involving 41 college students.

The participants -- 28 female and 13 male -- were instructed to continue their normal day-to-day activities (going to class, doing schoolwork, meeting with friends, etc.) while taking part in the research.

Each was invited to the informatics lab for an informal interview and to fill out a general questionnaire and consent form. The scientists helped students load a survey app onto their phones to document their moods during the first "control" week of the study.

Participants used a different app to take photos and record their emotional states over the following three-week "intervention" phase.

The project involved three types of photos to help the researchers determine how smiling, reflecting and giving to others might impact users' moods.

The first was a selfie to be taken daily while smiling. The second was an image of something that made the photo taker happy. The third was a picture of something the photographer believed would bring happiness to another person (which was then sent to that person). Participants were randomly assigned to take photos of one type.

Researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements during the study and found that subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods.

Some participants in the selfie group reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time, said the study published in the journal Psychology of Well-Being.

The students taking photos of objects that made them happy became more reflective and appreciative.

And those who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

Moderate physical activity may improve cognition in old age

​London, Sep 10 (IANS) Moderate physical activity in midlife, for instance a strenuous walk, is associated with better cognition in old age, finds a new research.

"The study suggests that the beneficial influence of physical activity on the brain and cognition is not solely based on decreasing vascular risk factors," said researcher Paula Iso-Markku from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

The study was conducted in pairs where one twin was more physically active than the other and found that increasing the volume of physical activity was not associated with increased memory-protecting benefits.

Instead, quite a moderate amount of physical activity was found to be sufficient for memory-protecting benefits and only the most inactive group of twins stood out with a significantly higher risk for cognitive impairment, suggested the study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The traditional vascular risk factors (elevated blood pressure, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, diabetes and lack of exercise) have also been associated with dementia risk.

Although the incidence of dementia seems to have decreased in less senior generations, the total prevalence of dementia is still expected to rise.

"However, few long-term, high-quality, follow-up studies on physical activity and cognition have been published, and it has remained unclear what type and amount of exercise is needed to safeguard cognition," Iso-Markku added.

Panchakarma treatment for a week may reduce heart disease risk

​New York, Sep 10 (IANS) One week of Panchakarma programme -- an Ayurvedic-based well being programme that features a vegetarian diet, meditation, yoga and massages -- can lead to measurable decreases in a set of blood-based metabolites associated with inflammation, cholesterol regulation and cardiovascular disease risk, the results of a clinical trial have shown.

"It appears that a one-week Panchakarma programme can significantly alter the metabolic profile of the person undergoing it," said senior author Deepak Chopra, Professor at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and a noted proponent of integrative medicine.

The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, represent an attempt to use metabolic biomarkers to assess the reported health benefits of integrative medicine and holistic practices.

"As part of our strategy to create a framework for whole systems biology research, our next step will be to correlate these changes with both gene expression and psychological health," Chopra said.

The research team from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine noted that alternative and integrative medicine practices, such as meditation and Ayurveda, are extremely popular, but their effects on the human microbiome, genome and physiology are not fully understood.

"Our programme of research is dedicated to addressing these gaps in the literature," first author Christine Tara Peterson said.

"Panchakarma refers to a detoxification and rejuvenation protocol involving massage, herbal therapy and other procedures to help strengthen and rejuvenate the body," Peterson pointed out.

The study involved 119 healthy male and female participants between 30 and 80 years of age who stayed at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California.

Slightly more than half were assigned to the Panchakarma intervention and the remainder to a control group.

Blood plasma analyses, using liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry, were taken before and after the six-day testing period.

The researchers found that in the Panchakarma group there was a measurable decrease in 12 specific cell-membrane chemicals (phosphatidylcholines) correlating with serum cholesterol and inversely related to Type-2 diabetes risk.

"These phospholipids exert broad effects on pathways related to inflammation and cholesterol metabolism," Peterson explained.

"Plasma and serum levels of the metabolites of phosphatidylcholine are highly predictive of cardiovascular disease risk," Peterson noted.

Yoga helps in resilience against non-communicable diseases

​Colombo, Sep 7 (IANS) Yoga can contribute to resilience against non-communicable diseases and can be used for preventing and controlling many other lifestyle diseases, Health Minister J.P. Nadda said on Wednesday.

"Major non-communicable diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases, stroke and chronic obstructive lung disease are to a great extent due to unhealthy lifestyle. If the body is a temple of the mind, yoga creates a beautiful temple," said Nadda, who is leading the yoga session at 69th World Health Organisation (WHO) Southeast Asia region office (SEARO) summit.

According to the minister, yoga can bring together body, soul and mind for a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, including the physical, mental and spiritual realms of the human being.

"Yoga is not just a set of exercises. Rather, yoga is a philosophy of discipline and meditation that transforms the spirit and makes the individual a better person in thought, action, knowledge and devotion."

Nadda, at the session here, articulated the vision of the Indian government in the area of universal health care and its road map for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The minister also received the certificate for Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus Elimination (MNTE) and Yaws-free India from the WHO.

India was declared MNTE-free country in August last year and Yaws-free in May this year.

Eating fried food may stop your brain from controlling your diet

London, July 30 (IANS) If you are looking for ways to reduce that ever-burgeoning waistline, stay clear of foods rich in saturated fat found in butter, cheese or fried foods as these can make your brain struggle to control what you eat, says a study.

The findings showed that consuming fatty food affects the hypothalamus -- a part of the brain that helps regulate hunger.

A meal rich in saturated fat causes inflammation in the brain as well as reduces an individual's cognitive function that make it more difficult to control eating habits.

In other words, people struggle to control how much they eat, when to stop and what type of food to eat -- symptoms seen in obesity.

“Although the effects of high fat diet on metabolism have been widely studied, little is known about the effects on the brain," said Marianna Crispino Professor at the University of Naples Federico II in Naples, Italy.

On the other hand, consuming foods rich in unsaturated fats such as fish, avocado or olive oil makes a significant difference, the researchers said.

The study shows that brain function remains normal and manages to restrain from eating more than necessary.

"The difference was very clear and we were amazed to establish the impact of a fatty diet onto the brain,” Crispino explained.

“Our results suggest that being more aware about the type of fat consumed with the diet may reduce the risk of obesity and prevent several metabolic diseases", Crispino concluded.

The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience.

Smartphones based exercises may cheer your mood

​London, July 28 (IANS) Smartphone based exercises that are brief as well as directed can help quickly improve our mood, says an interesting study.

Smartphone based exercises are various established or more modern psychotherapeutic exercise modules known as micro-interventions.

The findings showed that participants in the study felt more alert, calmer and uplifted after using five-minute video tutorials on their smartphones as a guide.

Those who succeeded in immediately improving their mood through the brief exercises also benefited over the longer term as well.

Further, these technology based exercises are concrete and can be used in everyday situations as they are readily-available anytime, anywhere as well as are free of cost, the researchers said.

"The study demonstrates the viability of smartphone-based micro-interventions for improving mood in concrete, everyday situations," said Marion Tegethoff, Associate Professor at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Such applications could represent a useful addition to the psychotherapeutic options currently available.

However, these exercises cannot replace treatment by a qualified professional for people suffering from depression or other psychological disorders, the researchers warned.

For the study, the team included 27 healthy young men as part of a larger research programme using the modern communication technology to improve psychological health also referred to as "mobile health”, or “mHealth” for short.

The subjects recorded their mood on their smartphones, answering short questions by marking a six-step scale both before and after the exercise.

Some of the participants, for example, recalled emotional experiences during the exercise, while other test subjects repeated short sentences or number sequences in a contemplative manner, or played with their facial gestures.

The results are reported in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.​

Online counselling may help to lose weight

London, July 28 (IANS) Online behavioural counselling tool can be effective at helping people lose weight, revealed a survey.

Using the Positive Online Weight Reduction (POWeR)+ online programme with very brief support from practice staff, participants lost over one kg more averaged over 12 months and were more likely to maintain clinically important weight loss by 12 months.

POWeR+ -- an online behavioural intervention -- is supported by brief contacts from a practice nurse. It teaches participants self-regulation and cognitive behavioural techniques to provide them with long-term, sustainable ways of forming healthy eating and exercise habits.

“Many people receiving the POWeR+ intervention were able to sustain weight loss over one year but also felt more enabled in managing their weight going forward, and fewer resorted to other activities such as commercial slimming programmes to lose weight," said Paul Little, Professor at University of Southampton in the study published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

For the study, the researchers involved 818 people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 who took part in 24 web-based sessions over six months.

They were randomly allocated to one of three groups - first, control - an existing online intervention that encourages healthier options. Second, POWeR+ with face-to-face support from a nurse, and third POWeR+ with remote very brief support from a nurse (on average three email contacts and one phone contact).

All patients were asked to come for appointments for weighing at six and also 12 months to see if weight loss was maintained.

They found that while people in all groups lost weight, the two groups receiving the POWeR+ intervention lost more.

The control group lost an average of three kg during 12 months and 21 per cent of people were able to maintain a clinically important amount of weight loss by 12 months.

The POWeR+ group with face-to-face support lost one and half kg more averaged over 12 months and 29 per cent of people had maintained important weight loss by 12 months.

The POWeR+ group with remote support lost 1.3kg more averaged over 12 months with 32 per cent able to maintain clinically important weight loss by 12 months.

Large patient numbers, limited staff training and time pressures mean that delivering face-to-face behavioural interventions in practice can be resource intensive, the survey suggested.​

Walnuts, soybean may prevent risk for diabetes

​Washington, July 20 (IANS) Eating more unsaturated fats like walnuts and soybean in place of dietary carbohydrate can lowers blood sugar level and improve in the prevention and management of type-2 diabetes, according to a new study.

The study provides evidence for the effects of dietary fats and carbohydrate on the regulation of glucose and insulin levels and several other metrics linked to type 2 diabetes.

"Our findings support preventing and treating these diseases by eating more fat-rich foods like walnuts, sunflower seeds, soybeans, flaxseed, fish, and other vegetable oils and spreads, in place of refined grains, starches, sugars, and animal fats," said Dariush Mozaffarian, Researcher, Tufts University in the study published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

The researchers performed the first systematic evaluation of all available evidence from trials to quantify the effects of different types of dietary fat (saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and carbohydrate on key biological markers of glucose and insulin control that are linked to development of type 2 diabetes.

The researchers summarised findings from 102 randomised controlled trials, involving a total of 4,660 adult participants, which provided meals that varied in the types and amounts of fat and carbohydrate.

They then evaluated how such variations in diet affected measures of metabolic health, including blood sugar, blood insulin, insulin resistance and sensitivity and ability to produce insulin in response to blood sugar.

The researchers found that exchanging dietary carbohydrate or saturated fat with a diet rich in monounsaturated fat or polyunsaturated fat had a beneficial effect on key markers of blood glucose control.

"Among different fats, the most consistent benefits were seen for increasing polyunsaturated fats, in place of either carbohydrates or saturated fat," said Fumiaki Imamura, Researcher, University of Cambridge.​

Cinnamon may boost your kid's learning ability

New York, July 17 (IANS) Is your kid finding it difficult to memorise lessons at school? Worry not, as feeding cinnamons, a delicious addition to toast, coffee and breakfast rolls might help improve learning ability, says a study led by an Indian-origin researcher.

The findings showed that the poor learning mice had improved memory and learning at a level found in good learning mice.

"This would be one of the safest and the easiest approaches to convert poor learners to good learners," said lead researcher Kalipada Pahan, professor at Rush University in Chicago, US.

Some people are born naturally good learners, some become good learners by effort, and some find it hard to learn new tasks even with effort.

"Understanding brain mechanisms that lead to poor learning is important to developing effective strategies to improve memory and learning ability," Pahan added.

However, the study did not find any significant improvement among good learners by cinnamon.

"Individual difference in learning and educational performance is a global issue," Pahan said adding, "we need to further test this approach in poor learners. If these results are replicated in poor learning students, it would be a remarkable advance."

The key to gaining that understanding lies in the hippocampus, a small part in the brain that generates, organises and stores memory, the researchers said in the work published online in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

Further, the hippocampus of poor learners showed less CREB -- a protein involved in memory and learning -- and more GABRA5 -- a protein that generates tonic inhibitory conductance in the brain -- than good learners.

The mice in the study were fed ground cinnamon, which their bodies metabolised into sodium benzoate -- a chemical used as a drug treatment for brain damage.

When this sodium benzoate entered their brains, it showed an increased in the levels CREB and decrease in GABRA5 leveld. This, then stimulated the plasticity -- the ability to change -- of hippocampal neurons.

These changes in turn led to improved memory and learning among the mice, the researchers said.

"We have successfully used cinnamon to reverse biochemical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brains of mice with poor learning," Pahan added.​

Playing Pokemon Go has health benefits too

​New York, July 18 (IANS) As the GPS-based Pokemon Go mobile game takes the world by storm, an expert in the US has found that there are health benefits from playing the augmented Reality (AR) smartphone game.

According to Matt Hoffman, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing, this quest to "catch 'em all" is great as it pokes people to travel across the land, searching far and wide for a pokemon resulting in regular exercising.

To progress in the game, players known as "trainers" must walk around to find and catch Pokemon and access specific locations called Pokestops -- where Pokéballs and other useful items are collected. Poke eggs are among the things that can be collected at these locations.

Getting to Pokestops, catching different Pokemon and hatching the Poke eggs requires a lot of walking.

"What began as just playing the game has now become a hobby for me that provides certain health benefits," Hoffman said in a university statement.

"I've spent an hour or two at a time venturing around the community to find Pokestops. And, to hatch one egg, a trainer must walk anywhere from one-six miles. There's no doubt about it, I am exercising more as a result of playing the game, and I am enjoying it," added Hoffman who has been affectionately dubbed the "Pokémon Professor" by co-workers.

Hoffman said the game also brings trainers at a certain place in search of Pokemon at Pokestops.

"The game is bringing people together, providing opportunity for social interaction and increasing our sense of belonging which can have a positive impact on our emotional and mental health," Hoffman noted.

Since Pokemon Go is a non-violent game, it also pushes families to walk around playing the game together.

"It encourages parents to go outside with their children while they play. Pokemon Go has the ability to transport families away from an evening on the couch to walking around the neighbourhood," the author added.

Playing the game has also helped people discover new experiences and areas.

Hoffman emphasised players to watch where they walk and be aware of surroundings when playing. "Remember, you should never play Pokemon Go while driving. It's also important to avoid playing in dark, isolated areas -- there have been reports of trainers being robbed and attacked," he noted.​