Science 101

5 Ways To Be Healthier in 2019, According to Science

A scientific guide to meeting your New Year’s resolutions.

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There wasn’t a study in 2018 that more directly addressed the goal of make the human body last longer than “Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population,” written by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They defined “five low-risk lifestyle factors”: never smoking, having a low body mass index, 30 minutes of physical activity per day, moderate alcohol intake, and a high quality diet. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES), a study that’s been going on for over 60 years with the help of hundreds of thousands of Americans, they found that women who maintained all five low-risk factors lived 14 years longer, and men 12 years longer, than their hard-drinking, smoking, couch potato counterparts.

What else do you need to know about being healthy in 2019? Actually, there’s a lot more. Researchers studying aging, sleep, nutrition, fitness, and skin care were hard at work in 2018. Their papers, including many that landed on Altmetric’s annual list of the 100 most referenced scientific papers of the year, are the perfect foundation for starting 2019 in good health. Here are five ways to use the science of health to your benefit in the new year.

Is it Time To Give up Drinking Entirely?

A global team of researchers studied almost 700 data sources on population-level drinking and almost 600 studies on the dangers of alcohol use and concluded that the only safe amount of alcohol to consume is none at all. “Globally, alcohol use was the seventh leading factor for both death and DALYs (disability adjusted life years) in 2016,” they write. This relates to one of 2018’s most scandalous headlines: NIH researchers had courted the alcohol industry to fund a study supporting the healthfulness of moderate alcohol use. (It has since been shut down.)

Focus on Sleep Quality, and Getting to Bed Earlier

When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, the stakes are higher than we realized. Neurology researchers at the NIH found that missing a single night’s sleep can increase the amount of the metabolic waste product β-amyloid in your brain—potentially increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Even worse news for night owls: Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Surrey reported associations between “greater eveningness” (rather than morningness) and increased mortality risk. And there is also evidence that it’ll be harder to sleep better in 2019 than ever before, since the earth’s surface is getting brighter at night. Time to buy those blackout curtains and knock off an hour (or two!) earlier in 2019.

Work Out to Fight Depression

You probably know that more than a quarter of all American adults don’t exercise enough. What’s not as obvious is that physical exercise might have serious, and specific, associations with mental health. While the ability of aerobic exercise to relieve depressive symptoms has been well-studied, less is known about whether resistance exercise training (RET) confers the same benefits. In a new meta-analysis of the effect RET has on depression, which analyzed 33 clinical trials, researchers found that “resistance exercise training significantly reduced depressive symptoms among adults regardless of health status, total prescribed volume of RET, or significant improvements in strength.” Try following up that “runner’s high” with some kettlebell squats.

Eating for Longevity and Keeping the Pounds Off? The Key May Be Carbohydrates

Diet studies can be controversial and challenging to design. But several important studies related to carbs appear to give new insight into eating to live longer, and keeping weight off after you’ve lost it. First, researchers and medical professionals from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted a follow-up study with a median of 25 years and found that there was a “U-shaped association between the percentage of energy consumed from carbohydrate and mortality.” Their findings suggested that both low- and high-carb diets were associated with increased mortality. Those with the most balanced carbohydrate intake of 50 to 55 percent compared with proteins and fats lived the longest. (However, if you are a low-carb fanatic, then the authors noted that when proteins and fats were obtained from a plant-based diet, this was associated with lower mortality than animal-derived sources.)

In a rebuke to the carbs-or-fats debate, another Harvard study, which made the cover of Science, found that no perfect ratio existed for individuals, who were better off eating a “high-quality diet low in sugar and refined grains.” This study provided “a model for how we can transcend the diet wars,” said the study’s lead author.

However, another study at Harvard added a caveat to these findings. Confirming the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity, it found that those who ate a low-carb diet after losing weight naturally expended more energy than those who ate a higher carb diet. So for those trying to keep weight off after a diet, reducing carbs may be helpful.

Apply More Sunscreen

Science confirms the correlation between skin cancer and UV radiation. You should be wearing an inorganic, broad-spectrum, SPF 30 (or higher) sunscreen, according to experts. But even if you’ve bought the right screen, multiple studies in 2018 showed that most people aren’t applying enough of it, regularly, nor are they applying it thickly enough. Researchers at King’s College found that sunscreen applied at the typical thickness of 0.75 mg per square centimeter had a non-significant effect on DNA damage from UV rays; experts recommend at least 2 mg per square inch of coverage to give your sunscreen its full effect. You’ll protect your skin and age better, too.

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