Feature

Health & Science

Some of the things they said were good for us ...

A few extra pounds may be just what the doctor ordered. A survey of 39,000 Americans found that while obesity kills, there are actually advantages to being slightly overweight. Severely overweight people are far more likely to die from diabetes and kidney disease, but people who are up to 25 pounds overweight appear to have resources that help them survive infections, disease, and accidents. “The relationship between fat and mortality is more complicated than we tend to think,” said researcher Katherine Flegal. “It’s not a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all situation.”

Breast-feeding makes babies smarter, said a comprehensive international study. Ninety percent of babies carry a digestive gene that allows them to reap the extra benefits of breast milk. So when fed at their mothers’ breasts instead of given formula, nine out of 10 babies experience meaningful brain growth, increasing IQ by an average of about seven points.

Napping on the job is good for your heart. A six-year study of more than 23,000 people found that three 30-minute naps per week reduced the risk of heart disease by an astounding 37 percent. That makes dozing off as effective a health strategy as exercising and pharmaceuticals. “Napping is much more pleasant than taking an aspirin,” said heart expert Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos. “And between you and me, much more pleasant than exercising.”

More sex improves your sperm count. A study found that when it comes to conception, practice makes perfect. Many couples use an opposite strategy: Men attempt to “save up” their sperm for the days of the month when their partners are most fertile. But researchers said that daily intercourse increases sperm production by up to 30 percent and clears out the oldest swimmers, so that sperm is at its best for the big event.

A cup of coffee does more than help wake you up. Parkinson’s researchers found that people genetically predisposed to the disease who drank three or more cups of coffee a day reduced their Parkinson’s risk by 40 percent. Another study found that caffeine combined with exercise helps the body discard precancerous skin cells before they became dangerous.

Dirt contains bacteria that fight depression, a study found. When injected into mice, some common soil bugs boosted the levels of the mood-lightening hormone serotonin. The findings, said Dr. Chris Lowry, “leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all spend more time playing in the dirt.”

Ice cream can give women a fertility boost. When researchers examined the eating habits of 18,000 women, they found that women who ate a daily serving of high-fat dairy products were 27 percent less likely to be infertile. So women who want to get pregnant should put down the skim milk, doctors suggest, and pick up a pint of Cherry Garcia.

Video games make surgeons better at their jobs. Researchers found that young surgeons who scored highest on such games as Super Monkey Ball 2 and Star Wars Racer Revenge also performed best in the techniques demanded by laparoscopic, or keyhole, surgery. Gamers worked significantly faster and made fewer errors than their colleagues who didn’t play video games. “For as little as three hours a week,” said Dr. James Rosser, “you could help your children become the cybersurgeons of the 21st century.”A colorful diet isn’t just prettier, it’s more healthful. More cancer-fighting antioxidants are found in foods with vibrant red, blue, and purple colors. In lab tests, the chemicals in chokeberries, red cabbage, purple corn, and eggplant slowed or reversed the growth of human tumor cells. Acupuncture often works better than drug treatments for chronic pain. Though Western doctors tend to sniff at “alternative” treatments, a study of people with back pain found that while prescription medication dulled the pain for 27 percent of people, 47 percent said they found relief after being stuck with acupuncture needles.

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