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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Sitting Too Long Raises Death Risk

Are you sitting down right now? You might want to stand up.

According to a new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, sitting for long periods increases your risk of all-cause early death. (Now would definitely be the time to stand up.)

In the study, researchers followed 222,497 Australian adults for several years. Over the course of the study, participants who sat for more than 11 hours a day had the highest risk for all-cause mortality, followed by those who sat between 8 and 11 hours daily. Those who sat for less than four hours a day had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality.

The revelation that sitting can kill isn’t necessarily new. In the past several years, study after study has confirmed that living a sedentary life — going from your bed to your desk to the couch and back to bed every day — can damage our health in a variety of ways. In fact, it has been shown to increase risk for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, and some cancers.

Another recent study actually found that sitting is so detrimental, its effects are almost impossible to exercise away. The study followed 27 Finnish men and women over two days. On the first day, they exercised; on the second day, they did not. When researchers measured the muscle activity and heart rate of the participants, they found that though they burned calories through exercise, it did not increase their overall muscle activity. Researchers also found that desk workers’ muscles are inactive for about 70 percent of the day — regardless of whether the day includes any fitness training.

The takeaway: Reduce the amount of time you spend sitting however possible. Try these tips to up your daily activity:

  • Walk more. One of the simplest ways to offset the effects of sitting is to walk. If you can, walk or bike to work instead of driving. If you take public transportation, get off a few stops earlier to squeeze in more steps — experts recommend buying a pedometer and aiming for 10,000 daily steps.
  • Stand up at work. Experts estimate that standing burns 50 percent more calories than sitting, so whenever possible, think on your feet on the job. Stand during meetings, while you’re on the phone, and depending on the type of work you do, consider adding a standing desk to your office.
  • Fidget while you work. According to researchers at the Minnesota Obesity Center, fidgeting might be what separates thin people from overweight people. To increase your daily activity, make a point to get up and walk around your office every half an hour, if possible.
  • Make TV time active. Instead of vegging out on the couch when you get home, add activity to your evenings by doing jumping jacks, pushups, crunches, and other fat-blasting moves during commercial breaks of your favorite shows.

Medicaid Expansion Is a Key Part

The Medicaid program is bracing for an expansion that will bring an estimated 16 million more Americans into the health-care safety net, as required by the Affordable Care Act.

But whether that happens depends on how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the legal challenges to the massive health-care reform legislation.

Twenty-six states are challenging the requirement to comply with the new Medicaid eligibility rule or lose federal matching funds, calling it coercive and a violation of states’ rights. On March 28, they will argue before the Supreme Court that that provision of the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

The Medicaid expansion opens eligibility to all people with household incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level — whether unemployed or the so-called working poor — starting in January 2014. That translated into an annual income of approximately $14,850 for an individual and $30,650 for a family of four in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Until now, the main groups of people served by the Medicaid program have been low-income parents and children, the frail elderly and the disabled.

The Medicaid expansion provision is considered more likely to survive the legal challenge than the Affordable Care Act’s most controversial provision: the individual mandate, which requires most adults to have health insurance or pay a fine.

“I don’t think [the Medicaid expansion] is as vulnerable, but it isn’t an entirely trivial issue. The basic point is that the [U.S. Supreme] court has been very clear for a very long time that Congress can require states to do things using Congress’ spending power,” said Renee M. Landers, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

“The problem the challengers have in [arguing] that the [Medicaid expansion] is coercive is that the federal government is paying for 100 percent of the expansion for the first 10 years that the law is in effect,” Landers said.

On Feb. 17, a group of 12 state attorneys general filed a brief in support of the expansion’s constitutionality.

“In a cooperative federalist program, the federal government establishes the program’s core requirements and gives the states the freedom to implement their own programs within those requirements,” an excerpt from the brief states.

At least five states are expanding their Medicaid programs early: California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington, along with Washington, D.C. Illinois is planning an early expansion as well.

Will There Be Enough Doctors to Handle Medicaid Patients?

Some physician groups are concerned about the effects of a massive influx of enrollees into the already-strained Medicaid system.

Shortages of doctors already exist in specialties most likely to work with Medicaid patients — such as pediatricians and family practitioners. And doctors say current Medicaid reimbursement rates from government are too low to encourage more doctors to treat Medicaid participants.

“While expanding Medicaid access to more low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act was an important step in the right direction, more progress is needed,” said Dr. Peter Carmel, president of the American Medical Association. “Most physicians are currently unable to accept Medicaid patients due to low reimbursement rates, and this problem must be addressed as new patients enter the program.”

One opponent of the Affordable Care Act said expansion of the Medicaid program would hurt current enrollees by reducing access to health-care providers and forcing longer waiting times — without helping the newly eligible.

“Medicaid may give them insurance cards — good luck getting that care,” said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the conservative Galen Institute.

Dr. Glen Stream, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, cited parts of the new law that, he said, should attract and train more physicians in settings that serve Medicaid patients.

“Components like teaching health centers are part of the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “That’s to take a federally qualified health center and do medical residency, medical education in that health center.”

And he said a provision for student loan forgiveness could help overcome a barrier to medical students choosing family medicine and other primary-care specialties.

“It’s important to acknowledge for our membership that [the new law] was controversial,” Stream said. “We have 100,000 members across the country and certainly they represent the political diversity in our society.

“Our academy is focusing — because the Affordable Care Act is now law — on helping to preserve and expand and implement those pieces that we see as important to the health of people in our country,” he added.

Brain Calls the Shots on Which Hand Holds Cellphone

About 70 percent of people hold theircellphone to the ear on the same side as their dominant hand, a new study finds.

Left-brain thinkers are more likely to use their right hand for writing and other everyday tasks. They’re also more likely to hold their cellphone to their right ear, even though there’s no difference in hearing between their right and left ears.

The reverse is true for people who are left-handed and right-brain dominant, according to the study by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Their online survey of more than 700 people found that 68 percent of right-handed people said they held their cellphone to their right ear, while 25 percent used the left ear, and 7 percent used both ears.

Among left-handed people, 72 percent said they held their cellphone to their left ear, 23 percent used their right ear, and 5 percent used both ears.

The study is scheduled to be presented Feb. 26 at a meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology in San Diego.

“Our findings have several implications, especially for mapping the language center of the brain,” Dr. Michael Seidman, director of the division of otologic and neurotologic surgery in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, said in a Henry Ford Health System news release.

The findings also suggest that there’s no link between cellphone use and brain, and head and neck tumors, according to Seidman.

If there were a connection, far more people would be diagnosed on the right side of their brain, head and neck because most people are right-handed and hold their cellphones to their right ear, he said.

Brain Scans May Predict How People Learn

Researchers report that brain scans can help predict how people will perform a challenging mental task, a discovery that could lead to a better understanding of how the mind learns new things.

The researchers found that what they once thought was “noise” in the brain, like static from a television, actually plays a major role and “is very important for understanding how the brain does things,” said study author Dr. Maurizio Corbetta, a professor of neurology at Washington University at St. Louis.

This means a brain scan has the potential to act as a kind of crystal ball, he said: “One of the most exciting things we could do is look at the brain activity and do more to try to predict what the brain is going to do next.”

The study authors scanned the brains of 14 people — seven men and seven women — using functional MRI to measure bursts of activity in the brain. The researchers tracked the brains of the volunteers as they learned how to better use their peripheral vision through a computer game.

In the game, participants learned to detect the presence or absence of a tilted letter “T” in the lower left side of a screen while they were distracted by other “T”s. It took about a week for the participants to figure out how to get to the level where their responses were correct 80 percent of the time. This is in contrast to the level of about 10 percent to 20 percent, where some participants began, Corbetta said.

The game is similar to day-to-day life in the way that you have to figure out what to pay attention to as you navigate the world. “It’s always a balance as to what you see and what you pay attention to,” he said.

The researchers found that the level of connectivity in the visual-oriented part of the brain predicted which people would do better on the test and learn more quickly, Corbetta said. “If you have a visual system that is strongly connected, then you are more likely to perform the task well.”

The research is important because scientists still need to better understand how the brain learns, he said. While people can train themselves to be better at specific tasks, skills don’t always translate to other tasks, he said.

“This is a big problem when we do rehab with patients,” he said. “We can retrain them on one task, but that doesn’t always translate to real life.”

Dr. Gary Small, a brain researcher and director of the University of California at Los Angeles Center on Aging, said the finding is interesting but doesn’t have practical implications at the moment. The idea of predicting what the brain will do next — potentially a form of mind reading — is still far in the future, he said.

“That’s the next step, to measure perceptions and ideas,” he said. “I think that’s in the realm of science, but we’re not quite there yet.”