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Category Archives: Health

Chemical Found in Blood Holds

Even within the normal range, higher bilirubin levels appear to be associated with reduced risks of lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and death, a longitudinal, prospective analysis of a large database showed.

For every 0.1-mg/dL increase in bilirubin level, the rate of lung cancer dropped by 8 percent in men and 11 percent in women, according to Laura Horsfall, MSc, of University College London, and colleagues.

In addition, the same incremental increase in bilirubin was associated with a 6 percent decline in the rate of COPD and a 3 percent decline in mortality for both sexes, the researchers reported in the Feb. 16 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Based on our findings, bilirubin levels within the normal range appear to capture information about patients that may reflect a combination of environmental and genetically determined susceptibility to respiratory diseases,” they wrote.

Most people are familiar with bilirubin because of its role in jaundice — the yellowing of the skin that is sometimes seen in newborns but is also associated with liver disease.

Bilirubin is actually a byproduct of the turn over of red blood cells — the cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Healthy individuals constantly replace old red blood cells with new ones. As the old cells are broken down they produce bilirubin, a chemical characterized by a distinctive yellow color.

The spleen and the liver taking in bilirubin and use it to break down or metabolize other substances into bile, which is used to aid digestion.

Although the study cannot establish causality for any of the relationships, there is some experimental evidence that bilirubin has benefits for respiratory health because of its cytoprotective properties, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiproliferative effects, according to the researchers.

They noted that a better understanding of the possible mechanisms linking bilirubin levels to lung cancer, COPD, and death may lead to potential therapies that target the activity of UGT1A1, a liver enzyme responsible for converting insoluble bilirubin to an excretable form.

Horsfall and her colleagues examined data from the Health Improvement Network, a U.K. primary care research database.

Their analysis included 504,206 patients ages 20 and older from 371 practices. All of the patients had recorded serum bilirubin levels but no evidence of hepatobiliary or hemolytic disease.

Median bilirubin levels were 0.64 mg/dL in men and 0.53 mg/dL in women.

Through a median follow-up of eight years, there were 1,341 incident cases of lung cancer, 5,863 incident cases of COPD, and 23,103 all-cause deaths. The corresponding rates per 10,000 person-years were 2.5, 11.9, and 42.5.

For men, the rate of lung cancer per 10,000 person-years dropped from 5.0 in the lowest decile of bilirubin levels to 3.0 in the fifth decile. Similar declines were seen for COPD (19.5 to 14.4) and death (51.3 to 38.1).

The findings were similar for all outcomes in women, and the declines in both sexes remained significant after adjustment for age, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, smoking, alcohol intake, and a measure of social deprivation.

The authors acknowledged some limitations of the study, including possible residual confounding by unmeasured environmental exposures or race/ethnicity and the inability to establish causality for the observed relationships.

Walking Can Helps Brain And Heart

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking may protect the memory center in the brain, while stretching exercise may cause the center — called the hippocampus — to shrink, researchers reported.

In a randomized study involving men and women in their mid-60s, walking three times a week for a year led to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, according to Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues.

On the other hand, control participants who took stretching classes saw drops in the volume of the hippocampus, Kramer and colleagues reported online in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that it’s possible to overcome the age-related decline in hippocampal volume with only moderate exercise, Kramer told MedPage Today, leading to better fitness and perhaps to better spatial memory. “I don’t see a down side to it,” he said.

The volume of the hippocampus is known to fall with age by between 1 percent and 2 percent a year, the researchers noted, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

But animal research suggests that exercise reduces the loss of volume and preserves memory, they added.

To test the effect on humans, they enrolled 120 men and women in their mid-sixties and randomly assigned 60 of them to a program of aerobic walking three times a week for a year. The remaining 60 were given stretch classes three times a week and served as a control group.

Their fitness and memory were tested before the intervention, again after six months, and for a last time after a year. Magnetic resonance images of their brains were taken at the same times in order to measure the effect on the hippocampal volume.

The study showed that overall the walkers had a 2 percent increase in the volume of the hippocampus, compared with an average loss of about 1.4% in the control participants.

The researchers also found, improvements in fitness, measured by exercise testing on a treadmill, were significantly associated with increases in the volume of the hippocampus.

On the other hand, the study fell short of demonstrating a group effect on memory – both groups showed significant improvements both in accuracy and speed on a standard test. The apparent lack of effect, Kramer told MedPage Today, is probably a statistical artifact that results from large individual differences within the groups.

Analyses showed that that higher aerobic fitness levels at baseline and after the one-year intervention were associated with better spatial memory performance, the researchers reported.

But change in aerobic fitness was not related to improvements in memory for either the entire sample or either group separately, they found.

On the other hand, larger hippocampi at baseline and after the intervention were associated with better memory performance, they reported.

The results “clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume,” the researchers argued.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the Pittsburgh Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, and the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. The authors said they had no conflicts.

How Seat Belts Save Lives ?

It’s been proven time and again, on back roads and superhighways: A seat belt can save a life in a car accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 15,000 lives are saved each year in the United States because drivers and their passengers were wearing seat belts when they were in accidents.

Seat Belt Safety: 5-Way Protection

“Seat belts prevent occupants of the vehicle from serious injury in five ways,” says Angela Osterhuber, director of the Pennsylvania Traffic Injury Prevention Project in Media, Pa. A seat belt:

  • Keeps the occupants of the vehicle inside. “It’s clearly a myth that people are better off being thrown clear from the crash,” Osterhuber says. “People thrown from a vehicle are four times more likely to be killed than those who remain inside.”
  • Restrains the strongest parts of the body. “Restraints are designed to contact your body at its strongest parts. For an older child and adult, these parts are the hips and shoulders, which is where the seat belt should be strapped,” Osterhuber says.
  • Spreads out any force from the collision. “Lap-and-shoulder belts spread the force of the crash over a wide area of the body. By putting less stress on any one area, they can help you avoid serious injury,” Osterhuber says. A shoulder strap also helps keep your head and upper body away from the dashboard, steering wheel, and other hard interior parts of the automobile should you stop suddenly or be hit by another vehicle.
  • Helps the body to slow down. “What is it that causes injury? A quick change in speed,” Osterhuber says. “Seat belts help extend the time it takes for you to slow down in a crash.”
  • Protects your brain and spinal cord. A seat belt is designed to protect these two critical areas. “Head injuries may be hard to see immediately, but they can be deadly,” Osterhuber says. Likewise, spinal cord injuries can have serious consequences.

Seat Belt Safety: Buckle Up Correctly

Adjusting your seat belt properly is a must: Getting the right fit is as important as wearing it. The strap that goes across your lap should fit snugly over your hips and upper thigh area. “If the belt rides up on the stomach, it could cause serious injuries in a crash,” Osterhuber says.

Shoulder belts should rest securely across your chest and shoulders between your breasts. Don’t ever let the strap fall across your neck or face and never place the strap under your arms or behind your back. “Any one of these positions can cause serious injury,” Osterhuber says.

Seat Belt Safety: Rules for Infants and Children

Children are not small adults — they need specialized protection in a moving vehicle. “Their skeletal structure is different,” Osterhuber says. Age, height, and weight determine the safest way for a child to travel.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, here’s how to select the right option for your child:

  • Rear-facing child safety seat. Children under age 1 and those who weigh less than 20 pounds should sit in rear-facing, child safety seats approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The seats should be placed in the backseat of the car.
  • Forward-facing child safety seat. Children older than 1 who weigh more than 20 pounds should ride in forward-facing child safety seats. The seat should be placed in the rear of the vehicle until the child reaches the upper weight or height limit of the particular seat. Typically, a child will outgrow a safety seat around age 4 and once she reaches about 40 pounds.
  • Booster seat. Children age 4 and older who weigh more than 40 pounds should ride in booster seats. A child can safely progress to a seat belt when the belt fits properly across the upper thighs and chest. “This is usually at age 8 or when they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall,” Osterhuber says.
  • Seat belt. When children outgrow their booster seats, they can use seat belts, but they still should sit in the back of the vehicle. “Really, all children should be riding in the backseat of the car until they are at least 13 years old,” Osterhuber says.

7 Ways to Fit In Exercise

The benefits of regular exercise are unrivaled: Physical activity can help you lose weight and prevent a host of ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Being fit also can help you stay mentally sharp.

While most people know they should exercise, you may not know where to start or how to fit it into a busy schedule. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity spread out over five days a week, or 20 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on each of three days a week.

“This is something we recommend to all Americans,” says Gerald Fletcher, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and a spokesman for the AHA.

An ideal fitness routine also includes resistance or weight training to improve muscle strength and endurance. The ACSM and the AHA recommend that most adults engage in resistance training at least twice a week.

Finding Fitness: 7 Ways to Get in Exercise

Sometimes the problem isn’t motivation — it’s simply finding the time. But scheduling exercise isn’t as difficult as you might think. Here are 10 ways to get you moving more often:

  1. Be less efficient. People typically try to think of ways to make daily tasks easier. But if we make them harder, we can get more exercise, says Sabrena Merrill, MS, of Lawrence, Kan., a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). “Bring in the groceries from your car one bag at a time so you have to make several trips,” Merrill says. “Put the laundry away a few items at a time, rather than carrying it up in a basket.”
  2. Shun labor-saving devices. Wash the car by hand rather than taking it to the car wash. “It takes about an hour and a half to do a good job, and in the meantime you’ve gotten great exercise,” Merrill says. Use a push mower rather than a riding mower to groom your lawn.
  3. Going somewhere? Take the long way. Walking up or down a few flights of stairs each day can be good for your heart. Avoid elevators and escalators whenever possible. If you ride the bus or subway to work, get off a stop before your office and walk the extra distance. When you go to the mall or the grocery store, park furthest from the entrance, not as close to it as you can, and you’ll get a few extra minutes of walking — one of the best exercises there is, Dr. Fletcher says. “Walking is great because anyone can do it and you don’t need any special equipment other than a properly fitting pair of sneakers.”
  4. Be a morning person. Studies show that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick with it. As Merrill explains, “Are you going to feel like exercising at the end of a hard day? Probably not. If you do your workout in the morning, you’re not only more likely to do it, but you’ll also set a positive tone for the day.”
  5. Ink the deal. Whether morning, afternoon, or evening, pick the time that is most convenient for you to exercise and write it down in your daily planner. Keep your exercise routine as you would keep any appointment.
  6. Watch your step. Investing in a good pedometer can help you stay motivated. “If you have a pedometer attached to your waist and you can see how many steps you’ve taken, you’ll see it doesn’t take long to walk 5,000 steps and you will be inspired,” Merrill says. And building up to 10,000 steps a day won’t seem like such a daunting a task.
  7. Hire the right help. While weight training is important, if you don’t know what you’re doing, you run the risk of injuring yourself or not being effective, Merrill says. It’s best to get instructions from a personal trainer at the gym. You also can buy a weight-training DVD and follow along in your living room.

Surgery Effective for Tough-to-Treat Epilepsy

Surgery can significantly improve seizure control and quality of life among people with epilepsy, according to a study stretching over 26 years.

“This study may be the longest follow-up of epilepsy surgery patients in that it spans three decades, during which there were several eras of neuroimaging [brain-scanning] techniques,” said Dr. Cynthia Harden, chief of the division of epilepsy and electroencephalography at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute, part of North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y. She was not involved in the study.

The research team, led by Dr. Matthew Smyth with Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, argued that the findings could have an impact on the way the disease is treated.

As reported Feb. 7 in the journal Epilepsia, they followed 361 patients who had epilepsy surgery over the course of 26 years to determine how the operation affected their condition.

Although drug therapy remains the primary treatment option for people with epilepsy, the study’s authors found that surgery stopped 48 percent of the patients from having seizures and improved the quality of life of 80 percent of those studied.

“In cases where medical [drug] therapy fails to control seizures, epilepsy surgery is a safe and effective treatment option,” explained Smyth in a journal news release. “Despite the increase in the number of epilepsy surgeries performed, and reports in the medical literature of the success of surgery relative to medication, it remains an underutilized therapy for seizure control.”

Smyth’s team noted that surgical complications and death following epilepsy surgery decreased over the course of the study.

“Our findings demonstrate that the benefits of epilepsy surgery are sustained over long time periods,” Smyth concluded. “Increased use of surgical intervention offers patients with epilepsy the possibility of long-term seizure control and improved quality of life.”

For her part, Harden said the new findings are valuable, but “not surprising.”

“The goal of seizure treatment is stopping the seizures, and epilepsy doctors know that the surgical treatment for epilepsy is often the most effective option,” she said. While the study’s retrospective nature “may introduce some bias … the findings are consistent in that temporal lobectomy across all decades was associated with the best patient outcomes, and this is known to be the most effective epilepsy surgery — that has not changed in the past three decades,” she added.

More Success With Gene Therapy

As a child, Tami Morehouse had vision problems. She struggled to read the blackboard at school, and homework took hours.

Yet, she made it through high school and college, and became a social worker. Although she was never able to drive, she learned to ride a bike.

But in her 30s, with three young children, her vision took a turn for the worse. “I’d be reading a book and the words faded away,” she said.

Morehouse was going blind, the result of Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), a rare inherited eye disease that causes a progressive loss of vision. “As my kids needed me more and more, I was able to do less and less,” Morehouse said.

That changed in 2009, when she was one of 12 people to undergo an experimental treatment using gene therapy in one eye. Now, scientists report even more progress, having successfully treated the second eye of three patients, including Morehouse. The new results are published Feb. 8 in Science Translational Medicine.

LCA is caused by a faulty gene, RPE65, that fails to produce an enzyme needed by the retina, the tissue in the back of the eye that converts light images into nerve signals that get sent to the brain.

Lack of the enzyme causes toxic byproducts to build up in the retinal cells, gradually killing them.

“It’s inevitable and progressive, and people watch as they are losing more and more of their vision,” said Dr. Jean Bennett, an ophthalmology professor at University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and co-leader of the research team that pioneered the treatment. “By the time they’re teenagers or young adults, they are severely impaired.”

The treatment involved injecting a virus genetically engineered to carry a normal version of gene RPE65 into the retinal cells.

About two weeks later, with the eyes now producing the enzyme, the patients — adults and children — saw a marked improvement in their vision.

“They all gained vision in a very meaningful way,” said Bennett, also a scientist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Children can read books, ride their bikes to their friends’ houses — things which they never could do before.”

Initially, researchers only injected one eye because of safety concerns, Bennett explained. The fear was that the first injection would prime the immune system to recognize the virus and attack it when it was injected into the second eye. That would cause inflammation in the eye, potentially leading to more vision loss.

But animal studies showed that didn’t happen, and so they decided it was safe to try the second eye in adults.

“It’s amazing,” Morehouse said. “I just feel so different. I used to wake up in the morning, so afraid and so anxious, that I would look over at the alarm clock and see nothing.”

Prior to the treatments, she could see light and dark, but most of the world was hazy and gray. By night time, when her eyes were tired, she could see very little.

Today, her vision is still significantly impaired. She needs help finding her way to a table in a restaurant, for example, and reading isn’t really possible. Yet, she can tell when someone is approaching, and she can make out a smile.

“Seeing my daughter walk across the basketball court. Seeing my son step up to the plate when he’s playing ball — it’s phenomenal,” Morehouse said.

Researchers verified that patients could see more by performing functional MRI scans before and after the second eye treatment. The brain imaging showed much more response to visual stimuli after their second eye was done.

At 47, Morehouse was the oldest patient. The prior study taught researchers that children improved the most, probably because their retinal cells had suffered less damage.

Now that researchers have established the procedure is safe in adults, they’ve started using gene therapy on the second eyes of children with the condition, Bennett said.

Though more research needs to be done and there are “technical” issues to be overcome, “we want to be able to use this approach in developing similar treatments for other more common blinding diseases,” she said.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Protect The Aging Brain

Middle-aged and elderly adults who regularly eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids may slow the mental decline that leads to dementia, according to a new study.

Researchers found that people with the highest blood levels of these essential fatty acids — found in fish such as salmon and tuna — were more likely to perform well on tests of mental functioning and to experience less age-related brain shrinkage.

“We feel fatty acid consumption exerts a beneficial effect on brain aging by promoting vascular health,” said study lead author Dr. Zaldy Tan, an associate professor in the Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the division of geriatrics at the University of California, Los Angeles. This might include reducing blood pressure and inflammation, he added.

Previous research linked dementia risk with the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in blood plasma, which reflects how much people had eaten in the past few days. But in the current work, researchers could estimate the amount of omega-3s that participants had consumed in the past several months by looking at how much had built up in their red blood cells.

“This represents their average intake of fatty acids, not just a snapshot,” Tan said.

The study, published in the Feb. 28 issue of the journal Neurology, did not prove that omega-3 fatty acids prevent mental decline, merely that there may be an association between consumption of fatty acids and brain health.

For the study, researchers measured the red blood cell level of fatty acids in 1,575 dementia-free people whose average age was 67. About three months later, participants underwent mental-functioning tests and MRI scans that examined brain size and blood supply in the brain.

The participants were in the Framingham Offspring Study, which is predominately white. Whether the association would apply to other ethnic and racial groups needs to be explored, the authors said.

The researchers found that those with the lowest levels of omega-3s had worse scores on tests of visual memory, attention and abstract thinking than people who ranked in the top 75 percent for fatty acid levels.

Adults in the bottom 25 percent also tended to have smaller brains overall. The decrease in brain volume was enough to make their brains appear two years older than those of people in the top three quarters for fatty acid levels.

Brain scans also showed signs of less blood supply in the brains of people with the lowest omega-3s levels. This suggests they may play a role in promoting general vascular, or blood vessel, health in the brain, similar to how they are thought to help heart health, rather than acting on just one brain area, Tan said.

The researchers took into account various health and lifestyle factors, including age, education and weight, to explore whether other differences among the people with low levels of omega-3s could help explain their more rapid brain aging.

But after controlling for those risk factors, “the difference [in brain aging] is still there so we conclude that omega-3 fatty acids likely explain them,” Tan said.

However, Tan added that it remains possible that factors they did not control for, such as fruit and vegetable consumption, are really responsible for the brain benefits. Another possibility is that the slight mental decline that the people in the older brain group were experiencing caused them to eat less healthy omega-3 rich foods, instead of vice versa.

“This is a strengthening of the argument that people with less [omega-3 fatty acids] have higher risk of dementia,” said Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, associate professor of neurology at Columbia University in New York City.

But questions remain over whether fatty acid levels really influence changes in brain size, Scarmeas added. A clinical trial comparing high and low intake of omega-3s in relation to brain imaging would help answer those questions, he said.

In the meantime, fish is “a good prescription for other things and we have a hint it might be helpful for the brain,” Scarmeas said.

That the current study reported a difference in brain health between people with omega-3 fatty acid levels in the bottom 25 percent and top 75 percent suggests that there is a threshold level of consumption to attain brain gains.

A previous study in which participants filled out food surveys found decreased risk of vascular brain problems among those who ate at least three servings of fish a week.

22 Ways to Relax in 5 Minutes or Less

Food and Drink

Sip Green Tea: Instead of turning purple with rage, get green with a cup of herbal tea. Green tea is a source of L-Theanine, a chemical that helps relieve anger. Boil the water, pour it out, and take a soothing sip — there’s probably still a minute to spare.

Nosh on Chocolate: A carton of chocolate ice cream is no stranger to stress relief, but just a square (about 1.4 ounces) of the sweet stuff can also calm your nerves. Dark chocolate regulates levels of the stress hormone cortisol and stabilizes metabolism.

Slurp Some Honey: Replace stress with sweetness and try a spoonful of honey. Besides being a natural skin moisturizer and antibiotic, honey also provides compounds that reduce inflammation in the brain, meaning it fights depression and anxiety.

Bite Into a Mango: Take a tropical vacation without leaving the desk chair. Use a five-minute break to peel, slice, and bite into a juicy mango, which packs a compound called linalool that helps lower stress levels. Don’t fret about the juice dripping down your chin — the stress relief is worth the mess.

Chew Gum: Minty, fruity, or bubble-gum flavor, a stick of gum is a surprisingly quick and easy way to beat stress. Just a few minutes of chewing can actually reduce anxietyand lower cortisol levels.

Munch a Crunchy Snack: Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than munching away on a candy bar when we’re stressed — one study found stressed adults craved crunchy and salty snacks more than usual. But that salty crunch doesn’t have to be so sugary — a handful of trail mix or a bag of celery sticks work just as well.

Inner Peace

Lay Your Head On a Cushion or Pillow: There are days when all we really need is a nice, long nap. But it’s not always possible to start snoring in the middle of the office. If you’ve got a pillow, you’re already on the road to relaxation. Try this visualization technique: Lay your head down for a few minutes and imagine the pillow is a sponge sucking up all your worries.

Meditate: No need to go on a retreat to the mountains — five minutes of peace is all it takes to reap the benefits of meditation. There’s evidence that just two quick bouts of silent meditation per day can relieve stress and depression. So find a comfortable spot in a quiet place, concentrate on your breath, and feel those anxieties start to disappear.

Remember to Breathe: Is there any simpler way to relax? Slow, deep breaths can help lower blood pressure and heart rate. For the fancy noses out there, try pranayama breathing, a yogic method that involves breathing through one nostril at a time to relieve anxiety. The technique’s supposed to work the same way as acupuncture, balancing the mind and body (and possibly eliminating the need for a tissue).

Try Progressive Relaxation: Anxious? Just squeeze, release, and repeat. Progressive relaxation involves tensing the muscles in one body part at a time to achieve a state of calm. The method (also used by actors) is a great way to help fall asleep.

Count Backward: Nope, it’s not an IQ test, but it is a way to relax. When worries arerunning rampant, try slowly counting to 10 and then back again to calm down. It’s harder to freak about an upcoming date or job interview when you’re busy remembering what number comes before seven. (Hey, kindergarten was a long time ago.)

Use Creative Visualization: The doorbell rings. It’s Ryan Gosling, and he wants to know if you’ll marry him. “Yes!” you shout and then — sorry, time’s up. These little daydreams, also known as “creative visualization,” involve thinking of something that makes us feel happy. It’s an instant mood boost on hectic days when we’re feeling tense.

Close Your Eyes: James Taylor said it: You can close your eyes, it’s all right. Take a quick break from a busy office or a chaotic household by just lowering your eyelids. It’s an easy way to regain calm and focus.

Total Body Relaxation

Give Yourself a Hand Massage: When there’s no professional masseuse in sight, try DIYing a hand massage for instant relaxation that calms a pounding heart.  Massagescan be especially helpful for people who spend a lot of time typing on a keyboard. Hands in general can carry a lot of tension. Apply some luxurious lotion and start kneading the base of the muscle under the thumb to relieve stress in the shoulders, neck, and scalp.

Try Acupressure: Pressure to meet a deadline can be stressful, but acupressure can help release all that tension. Acupressure’s a kind of touch therapy that works by balancing the circulation of fluids and energies in the body. Use the thumb and forefinger to massage the soft area between the thumb and index finger of the other hand. Dab on some lavender oil for extra relaxation.

Rub Your Feet Over a Golf Ball: Leave the clubs at home and just bring the ball. You can get an impromptu relaxing foot massage by rubbing your feet back and forth over a golf ball.

Squeeze a Stress Ball: On days when you want to strangle a coworker, your BFF, or the driver in the next lane, squeeze a stress ball instead. It’s an easy, portable, and non-violent way to relieve tension.

Drip Cold Water On Your Wrists: Pass on the perfume and go with water. When stress hits, head for the bathroom and drop some cold water on your wrists and behind your earlobes. There are major arteries right underneath the skin, so cooling these areas can help calm the whole body.

Brush Your Hair: Really, it looks like a rat’s nest. Even if you’ve already done your 100 strokes for the day, repetitive motions like running a brush through your hair can cause the body to relax.

New Environment

Be Alone: Not everyone needs a cabin the woods, but five minutes of alone time can help you collect your thoughts and clear your head.

Create a Zen Zone: Hiding in a bathroom stall might not sound calming, but do make (or find) a space that’s completely free of stress where you can go to relax. Set up a comfortable chair or light some incense and disappear there for a few minutes until the tension dissipates.

Find the Sun: Here comes the sun — and some stress relief. If it’s a sunny day, head outside for an easy way to lift your spirits. Bright light can be an effective treatment for people who suffer from depression, and can even cheer up otherwise healthy folks.

Reducing Ozone Limits Would Save Lives

Enforcing the current federal ozone standard would significantly reduce ozone-related illnesses and deaths in the United States, and introducing tighter restrictions on ozone would lead to even greater reductions, a new study suggests.

There’s ample evidence that exposure to ozone is linked with health issues such as lung problems, asthma exacerbation, more hospital and emergency department visits, and increased risk of death, according to study author Jesse Berman, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The current Environmental Protection Agency’s eight-hour average ozone standard of 75 parts per billion (ppb) is often exceeded, Berman noted.

Ozone is commonly referred to as smog.

The researchers analyzed ozone monitoring and health data for 2005-07 and estimated that 1,410 to 2,480 ozone-related premature deaths would have been prevented during that time if the current ozone standard had been met.

A lower standard of 70 ppb would have prevented 2,450 to 4,130 deaths and a standard of 60 ppb would have prevented 5,210 to 7,990 deaths, the study contended.

If the current standard would have been met, there would have been 3 million fewer cases of acute respiratory symptoms and 1 million fewer lost school days a year, the study said.

The research, supported in part by the American Thoracic Society, was published online July 18 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

“The EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee has recommended adoption of an ozone standard in the 60 to 70 ppb range. Our analysis shows that implementing such a lower standard would result in substantial public health benefits,” Berman said in an American Thoracic Society news release.

Can Stress Making You Fat ?

 If you don’t keep your stress levels in check, it may be tougher to stay slim.

That’s the takeaway from a study published Thursday in the journal Obesity, which suggests chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol can increase the risk of being overweight or obese.

Researchers tracked about 2,500 men and women ages 54 and older for four years, periodically taking hair samples to analyze their cortisol levels. Previous studies have linked spiked cortisol levels to weight gain, but samples involved blood, saliva and urine, which are less reliable than hair because they can change day to day. Study authors also recorded participants’ weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference.

Although the authors said their findings are limited due to the restrictive older population, all of who were white men and women, they noted that there was a clear association among elevated cortisol and a larger waistline, heavier weight, and higher BMI — a scale to measure body fat based on weight in relation to height.

“People who had higher hair cortisol levels also tended to have larger waist measurements, which is important because carrying excess fat around the abdomen is a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes, and premature death,” lead study author Dr. Sarah Jackson, an epidemiology and public health professor at University College London, said in a news release.

While genetics, diet and lifestyle can have an impact on our weight, if you want to achieve your dream body — and simply reduce your risk to the aforementioned diseases — regulating your stress levels is key, the research suggests.

The American Psychological Association offers the following tips to better manage your stress:

1. Exercise, as the practice can have physical and mental benefits, several studies suggest

2. Take a break from the thing that’s stressing you out, and prioritize self-care

3. Spend time with friends and family, or simply call or email a loved one to express your concerns

4. Meditate because research suggests being mindful can alleviate emotions that may be causing physical stress

5. Crack a smile and laugh, as those actions can relieve pent-up tension