Can These 12 Foods Fight Depression?

‘Tis the season for a lot of things: family, food, gifting, and hopefully joy. But for many people, this time of year can be tough, and for some, seasonal blues or even depression can set in amidst all the festivities. If you’re struggling, your best bet is to talk to someone about it, but with that being said, there are things you can try to help keep yourself in a more balanced frame of mind. 

Take, for example, the subject of food that we mentioned above. There are actually foods you can incorporate into your diet that might help fight depression (and unfortunately, they aren’t Christmas cookies!), so let’s take a look at them and get you feeling your best this holiday season and beyond.

Diet and Mental Health

So what does your diet have to do with your mental health? First of all, most mental health experts agree that a range of treatments are beneficial for depression, including self-care. In fact, according to  Monique Tello, MD, MPH, “Self-care includes things like sleep, physical activity, and diet, and is just as important as meds and therapy — sometimes more so.”

But it goes beyond just anecdotal evidence that diet can help with depression. In fact, there is an entire field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry, and more and more studies are showing that there is a pretty big link between what you eat and your risk for depression. 

greek salad

For example, a randomized controlled trial published in the journal PLOS ONE found that symptoms of depression dropped significantly among a group of young adults after they followed a diet similar to what’s known as the Mediterranean diet for three weeks. Participants saw their depression “score” fall from the “moderate” range down to the “normal” range, and they reported lower levels of anxiety and stress too.

On the other hand, the depression scores among the control group of participants, who continued to eat a diet higher in refined carbohydrates, and processed and sugary foods and beverages, didn’t change at all. Their depression scores remained in the “moderate severity” range.

And you might be thinking that feeling depressed can lead to eating unhealthy foods, so how do we know what came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, there have also been studies checking this out, and they have concluded that the participants who started with a baseline healthy diet (like the Mediterranean diet) were less likely to develop depression in the first place. 

Why does diet go so strongly hand-in-hand with our mental health? Researchers aren’t 100% sure, but they think that it could be related to how a poor diet can increase inflammation, which can be one risk factor for depression. Studies in animals have also suggested that the gut microbiome can affect brain functioning and, therefore, mental health. This might be because, for example, how our gut is functioning can alter levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is largely synthesized by gut bacteria.

At any rate, it’s becoming clearer that the foods we eat are closely linked to our mental health. And while eating the “right” foods is certainly no silver bullet against mental health issues, we can try to practice self-care by eating foods such as the following.

12 Foods to Incorporate into Your Diet Now

So here they are! Twelve foods that could help you maintain a healthy balance in both body and mind:

1. Fatty fish

Recent studies have found that societies that don’t eat enough omega-3 fatty acids tend to have higher rates of depression. Other studies have found that people who don’t often eat fish, which can be a great source of these fatty acids, are more likely to develop depression. So if you’re into seafood, indulge your tastes and boost your mental health by incorporating fatty fish like mackerel, sardines, salmon, tuna, and, of course, some anchovies on that pizza! And if you’re not into fish, don’t worry, there are other sources of omega-3’s, which we’ll get to below. 

2. Walnutswalnuts

If you’ve heard of the amino acid tryptophan, it was probably in relation to turkey, and you probably think it’s what makes you so sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. But that’s a myth! Tryptophan actually helps our bodies produce serotonin, one of those feel-good chemicals that boosts mood. Since our bodies can’t synthesize tryptophan, we need to get it from our diet, and walnuts are an excellent source of it (but you can also eat that turkey or other poultry to get some more tryptophan into your diet). Bonus: walnuts are also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids! 

3. Avocados

Walnuts not your thing? Avocados, which are full of body-beneficial good fats, are a great source of tryptophan. They’re also a great source of guacamole, which is a giant plus in our books!

4. Dark leafy greens

Popeye was so right about eating your greens, but not just because they keep your body healthy. Turns out they’re also great for your mind! Not only do they contain omega-3’s, but they are also rich in folates, and according to a Spanish study, rates of depression are higher in those who don’t get enough folates. 

5. Dark chocolate

No, it’s not just your imagination that chocolate makes you feel good! Chocolate actually stimulates mood boosting chemicals similar to endorphins. One study found that eating chocolate reduces stress hormones, including cortisol, in those who are highly stressed. Just be sure to choose dark chocolate and watch for any hidden sugars – and enjoy it in moderation.

6. Lentils

This little legume is quite the depression-fighting powerhouse! Lentils are rich in selenium, and studies have shown a link between low selenium and poor mood. Not only that, but they are a great source of the folate (just one cup contains 90% of your daily needs!) we talked about above, which helps increase mood neurotransmitters that help you feel happy and healthy. As an added bonus, all of that folate helps your body lower a chemical called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine are linked to damage to blood vessels and reduction of blood flow and nutrients to the brain. So a bowl of lentil soup (or other foods high in folate) can actually mean you’ll feel more alert and cognitively on point! 

7. Onionsonions

Here’s an idea: try creating a soup or salad from a dark, leafy green like spinach, lentils, and onions. Why the onions? They’re also a great source of folate and are super homocysteine fighters. Did we mention that homocysteine can also block the production of the feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin? So forget about your breath and chow down! Bonus: onions can also help prevent certain cancers AND make your hair look healthier, so that makes us feel pretty good.

8. Mushrooms

These fungi can make you feel like a fun guy again – see what we did there? Mushrooms can help you combat depression and anxiety for more than one reason. First of all,  they are rich in potassium, which can help with anxiety. And second, they also contain an antioxidant called ergothioneine, which helps reduce oxidative stress on all cells, including those in the brain. Less oxidative stress on the brain cells could help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. So throw some mushrooms into that awesome soup we’re building, and serve it with some fish – hey, we’ve really got something going here!

9. Blueberries

Let’s talk dessert now – how about some fresh blueberries (or some blueberry pie, but go easy on the sugar!)? These blue beauties are rich in an antioxidant flavonoid called anthocyanin. This flavonoid, like many antioxidants, can make you less prone to depression. In fact, the results of a 2012 study suggested that consuming vitamins that provide antioxidants may reduce symptoms of anxiety in people with generalized anxiety disorder. The antioxidants found in blueberries can also reduce inflammation throughout the body (and remember, inflammation might be one risk factor in developing depressive symptoms).

10. Beans

Beans, beans, good for your heart…OK, we won’t finish that! But these little guys aren’t just good for your body! Beans are full of tryptophan, the amino acid needed for serotonin synthesis. They are also rich in magnesium, which can help to boost your mood and overall mental health.

11. Seeds

Time to get seedy! Seeds like chia and flax seeds are tiny but mighty, since they contain omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber. We already know that the first two are excellent depression fighters, but fiber is important, too. Having plenty of fiber in your diet reduces inflammation in the gut, making it easier for your body to absorb more nutrients the body uses to make neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. 

12. Tomatoestomatoes

We knew there was a reason that our mom’s pasta sauce made us feel so good! Tomatoes are also rich in antioxidants, specifically a carotenoid called lycopene, which can help combat stress damage to brain neurons. 

As we said, there is no silver bullet in the fight against depression and depressive symptoms. Often a combination of treatments and types of self-care can help, though, and one of the most important types of self-care is eating right! So if you’re getting in your zzz’s, moving your body, and eating a diet rich in the foods we’ve mentioned, you could find yourself with a boosted mood as the new year gets started. You could also find yourself with an awesome recipe for a legume-y, green-y, mushroom-y, onion-y something – and we want to hear about it! And about whatever dark chocolate blueberry concoction you come up with…. Happy eating!

Co-written by Joanna Bowling

The Fat-but-Fit Debate Rages On

What does it mean to be healthy? What if you’re rail-thin, but sedentary? Or how about if the scales say you’re overweight, or even obese, but you eat well and exercise? These questions, which essentially make up the “fat-but-fit” debate, have been controversial for a long time, especially when it comes to the question of whether you can be overweight and still healthy. And, unfortunately, there are still conflicting studies surrounding this issue, meaning it doesn’t look like the arguments are going to stop anytime soon. So maybe it’s time to reframe the debate anyway.

Conventional Wisdom on Obesity

the back of 3 obese women walking in the street
Obesity increases your risk of chronic diseases and can double your risk of developing coronary heart disease.

Mainstream opinion seems to be that being overweight, or especially obese, automatically means being less healthy than being thinner. If we were going to boil down the conventional wisdom on the topic, we’d probably cite the research that finds strong associations between overweight and obesity and negative health effects, which is what most people think of. And it is true: there are a lot of high quality studies out there that have shown that obesity increases your risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, premature death, breathing difficulties, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and mobility issues.

You might even be vaguely familiar with findings like the ones from one retrospective study including 103,218 people that observed a 1.5–2.7-fold greater risk of death among people with obesity, compared with those with “normal” weight statuses. Or you might have heard that excess belly fat can be a real killer – literally, since it leads to the highest rates of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

How about a huge study from 2017, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, that according to the lead author, found that “The bottom line is that metabolically healthy obesity doesn’t exist…Obesity is not a benign condition”? This study suggests that even when overweight or obese people are free from health complications, they are still more likely to develop heart disease than people who aren’t overweight, even if they don’t have conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol (in other words, are “metabolically healthy obese”). 

In this study, as long as they were in the obese weight category, participants had a higher risk for having a stroke, a nearly 50% greater risk of developing coronary heart disease, and had nearly double the risk of developing heart failure than people who were not overweight and in similar metabolic health. And if they were just overweight? They still had a 30% higher chance of developing coronary heart disease than other people.

But you know what? There’s always a “but.” So let’s take a look at some of the controversies in this debate, and the challenges to this conventional wisdom.

The Controversy

These studies are concerning, but the thing is they don’t actually always tell the whole story, both for better or for worse. First, let’s look at some of the caveats that are fueling the fat-but-fit controversy, and then at what might be the real reason that even being metabolically healthy but overweight could be problematic.

First of all, to take the study above as an example, it’s important to note that this major study that followed 3.5 million British people from 1995-2015 left a few important things out. It didn’t look at lifestyle, meaning that it fails to account for the effects of diet. Not only that, but as many studies do that look at weight, it classified weight status by using body mass index (BMI), a formula based on height and weight that doesn’t distinguish muscle from fat. 

But here’s where we get to the real controversy. This study, like many others, didn’t take fitness level or physical activity into account. So yes, there is strong evidence that obese individuals have a higher rate of heart failure, but when it comes to coronary heart disease outcomes, studies that take both weight and physical fitness into account have concluded that “fitness is more important than fatness.”

Let’s take a look at another study from even more recently. It analyzed 527,662 people, and found that despite being regularly active, those with obesity had two, four, and fivefold greater risks of developing diabetes and high cholesterol and blood pressure than people with “normal” weight statuses. 

Those scary stats are what most media outlets ran with, but there were other aspects to the study that were important, too. First, it found a reduced risk of chronic disease across all BMI categories in those who were more physically active, leading the authors to conclude that physical activity does, in fact, provide health benefits across all BMI categories. Second, it did not look at cardiorespiratory fitness, or diet, both of which are pretty important when it comes to assessing heart disease risk. 

Now add to all of this these studies:heart beat with a heart in the middle

  • 2 studies from 1999 that found that obese men could possibly reduce their risk of dying from heart disease more than threefold with regular exercise, even if they didn’t lose a single pound.
  • A recent meta-analysis from 2014 that found that individuals with normal, overweight, and obese weight statuses with equal cardiorespiratory fitness levels had the same risk of all-cause mortality. Those who were unfit, regardless of their BMI, had a twofold greater risk of all-cause mortality.
  • A 30-year follow-up study including 3,307 people that showed a 36% decreased risk of heart-disease-related mortality in those that remained physically active, with weight loss providing no additional risk reduction.

So what do we have? A recipe for a debate that doesn’t feel like it’s going to be wrapped up definitively anytime soon. But with that being said, there is, as we mentioned above, one more part of the debate that might tie these two sides together. The effect of remaining obese throughout your life, and not making lifestyle changes that could improve your health.

Time Takes Its Toll

According to a study on obesity and cardiovascular diseases published in the journal Minerva Medica, “The most effective therapies at reversing CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk factors associated with obesity have been dietary changes with exercise.” That simple sentence says a lot. The answer to the debate (if there is one) could be that being fat-but-fit is possible for a period in your life, but, like most good things, that state of being will eventually come to an end. 

Remember that study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the one that left out a few things? It had another interesting finding, one that maybe wasn’t as widely publicized as its findings shattering the idea that you can be fat and fit. It found that, according to lead study author Joshua Bell, time was actually the most important factor in the participants’ health.

For example, 66 of the participants were considered “healthy obese adults” at the beginning of the study, but after 20 years, about half had progressed to unhealthy metabolic levels, even without any changes in weight. To these researchers, that meant that being currently healthy doesn’t guarantee being healthy down the road. The authors of the study suggest this is because excess fat is biologically active, messing with hormone balance and pumping out inflammatory chemicals, which can cause insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), cancer, and a lot of other bad things in between.

Interesting. So this could mean that yes, you can be fat but fit, but that designation is only a snapshot in time, and making healthy lifestyle changes now could mean avoiding all of those possible negative effects of obesity down the road. Is it time, then, to reframe the fat-but-fit debate?

Reframing the Debate

What’s the takeaway here? What’s most important? Probably not that researchers are arguing over whether it’s actually possible to be fat and fit at the same time, although keeping on top of the latest findings is a good idea. What’s really important is how you can be your healthiest self, now and in the future, and that could mean simply moving your body more, along with other healthy habits. 

After all, focusing too much on someone’s weight takes away from other positive actions they’ve taken toward good health, like getting more exercise, managing stress, eating a nutritious diet, and sleeping more. In fact, making weight loss your goal can also be unhelpful: it’s much easier to set a goal to be more physically active than it is to set a goal for how many pounds you want to lose. For example, you can set a goal to get in a brisk 30 minute walk, three times a week, which feels much more doable than telling yourself you need to lose 20 pounds by a certain date.  

What’s more, getting regular exercise is beneficial to everybody, regardless of weight, and increasing your cardiorespiratory fitness, strength, endurance, and flexibility is more important than focusing on aesthetic weight loss. You’ll get all of the benefits of moving your body more, including: black and white picture of the back of a man with his arms up showing off muscles

  • Stronger muscles and bones
  • Lower risk of injury
  • Reduced pain
  • Better mood and brain health
  • Improved sleep and energy levels
  • Increased self-confidence and self-efficacy
  • Improved productivity and creativity
  • Reduced risk of chronic disease (e.g., heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer)
  • Lower risk of early death
  • A healthier immune system
  • A healthier heart
  • Better quality of life

And once you get a taste of all that, you’ll want more! That means, no matter how much you weigh right now, you’ll be on the road to better health.

Is “Middle-Age Spread” a Myth? Why Everything We Think We Know About Metabolism Might Be Wrong

You hit a certain age, then the years and the decades just seem to roll by. And all of those years rolling by tends to come with another kind of roll: those stubborn ones right around your waistline. But what can you do? You’re not 25 anymore, and at this point, it’s all about your metabolism, right? Actually, you might be wrong about that! In fact, what many of us tend to think about metabolism and aging might be wrong, and blaming that “middle-age spread” on your metabolism might mean you’re doing yourself a disservice: you’re not getting to the real root of the issue and making the healthy changes you should be. So what does the latest science say about metabolism and aging, and why does it matter?

The Study

Remember the days when you felt like you could eat all the late night pizza you wanted and it didn’t matter? Then middle-age and/or menopause hit and you felt like you were packing on the pounds and you couldn’t help it? Or how about that old “eating for two” when you’re pregnant thing, or having a hard time losing the baby weight, and envying guys for being fat-burning machines? Turns out, all of those assumptions (like our metabolism changes as we hit milestones in our life like puberty or menopause, or that men have “better” metabolic rates than women do) are all pretty much wrong.

illustration of a heavy older man looking down at a scale he's stepping on
A study shows that metabolism starts its decline later in life than you might think. 

And how do we know this? A major, groundbreaking study published in the journal Science this year that suggests your metabolism, the rate at which you burn calories, actually peaks much earlier and starts its inevitable decline later in life than you might think. 

It turns out that, before this study, we actually knew relatively little about how metabolism really works. According to the study’s principal investigator, Herman Pontzer, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University, “It was really clear that we didn’t have a good handle on how body size affects metabolism or how aging affects metabolism. These are basic fundamental things you’d think would have been answered 100 years ago.” So you’re not alone! 

But now, after 80 study co-authors combined efforts from a half dozen labs collected over 40 years, there now seems to be sufficient information to ask general questions about changes in metabolism over a lifetime. The researchers analyzed the average calories burned by more than 6,600 people, ranging in age from 8 days old to 95, as they went about their daily lives. And, while most previous large-scale studies measured how much energy the body uses for basic vital functions like breathing, digesting, and pumping blood (which only account for 50-70% of the calories we burn each day), this massive, combined study had the money and resources to actually look at the energy we expend doing all those little everyday tasks, like washing the dishes, walking the dog, breaking a sweat at the gym, and even just thinking or fidgeting.

To get the most accurate info on how our bodies use energy, they used the gold standard “doubly labeled water” method. This involved measuring calories burned by tracking the amount of carbon dioxide a person exhales during daily activities. They also had participants’ heights and weights and body fat percentage, which allowed them to look at fundamental metabolic rates. They knew that a smaller person would burn fewer calories than a bigger person, but they wanted to find out, correcting for size and percent fat, were their metabolisms different?

And what they found blew them away, because it challenged assumptions about how our metabolisms work, especially when it comes to how they change as we age.

The Findings

According to one study co-author, Jennifer Rood, PhD, Associate Executive Director for Cores and Resources at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, “As we age, there are a lot of physiological changes that occur in the phases of our life such as during puberty and in menopause. What’s odd is that the timing of our ‘metabolic life stages’ doesn’t appear to match the markers we associate with growing up and getting older.”

In other words, the study found that the things that we would expect to change our metabolism, such as growth spurts during puberty, turning 30, 40, or even 50, pregnancy, and menopause, didn’t really do all that much. What they did find was that metabolism was different for everybody, but that there are four distinct stages of life when it comes to how much we’re individually burning:caucasian baby in overalls sitting on grass

  • Infancy – While newborns actually have metabolisms similar to their mothers for the first month of their life, their metabolism shoots up after that, and by age 1, babies are burning 50% more energy than adults.
  • Age 1 – Age 20 – Metabolic rate gradually starts to decline after age 1, decreasing by about 3% a year until age 20.
  • Age 20 – Age 60 – Now here’s where things really get wild. This is when you’d guess that metabolic rate really drops off, right? Wrong. Between these ages, metabolism is actually at its most steady. 
  • Age 60 and over – The data suggest that our metabolisms don’t really start to decline again until after age 60, and that the slowdown is gradual, only 0.7% a year – and a person in their 90s needs 26% fewer calories each day than someone in midlife.

In addition, the study found that, controlling for body fat and muscle percentage, women’s metabolisms were essentially the same as men’s. They also found, maybe most unsurprisingly of anything in the study, that individual metabolic rates varied significantly: some subjects had rates 25% above average for their age, while others had rates 25% below average.

So what does this all mean? Well, it might leave you scratching your head, or maybe shaking it in disbelief, because your experience of slowdown and/or weight gain from your 40s on seems very real. Even Pontzer admits, “I’m in my 40s, so I expected to see some evidence to back up my subjective experience that my metabolism is slowing down. It feels that way to me! But it’s not really what’s happening.” So now what?

What This Means for You

Maybe calling middle-age spread a myth is going too far. After all, weight gain as we age is very real for a lot of people: in fact, research shows the average U.S. adult gains one to two pounds a year from early to middle adulthood. But this research shows us that there are contributing factors other than metabolism. According to Pontzer, “Your stress level, your schedule, your hormone levels, your energy levels are different in your 40s or 50s compared to your 20s. If you’re gaining weight it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, that’s my metabolism.’ It’s almost like a scapegoat. Now that we know it’s not metabolism, we can focus on some of those other factors.”

Research has also shown that metabolism and weight aren’t always as closely linked as you imagine. “It’s not about how many calories you burn, it’s about whether you’re burning more than you’re eating,” says Pontzer. “Just because you have a high metabolism doesn’t mean you’re better at matching your intake to your output.”

So that means sticking to the basics of maintaining a healthy weight:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet consisting primarily of whole foods in the form of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
  • Maintaining an active lifestyle with a goal of at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week. This includes focusing on strength training to increase or maintain lean muscle mass. Lost muscle mass as we get older may be partly to blame for weight gain, the researchers say, since muscle burns more calories than fat.
  • Getting enough sleep, which for most people means 7-8 hours a night.woman meditating outside on the ground
  • Managing stress through mindfulness, meditation, or other relaxing activities.

But beyond looking at the question of why we gain weight as we age (which maybe this study didn’t really help to answer!), the study’s findings could also be important for your health in other ways as you age. For example, knowing how the body’s metabolism works could help doctors treat cancer more effectively. The study also sheds new light on the aging process, specifically how cell activity changes as you grow older. “There’s an age-related decline that happens across the body’s systems,” says Pontzer. “One of the exciting things from the study is now we have a map of how this change is happening at the metabolic level — because metabolism is a reflection of how busy your body is.”

Knowing what’s happening in our cells as they age could help us figure out how to deal with all of the diseases that seem to come with aging. According to Rozalyn Anderson, professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Anderson, who studies the biology of aging, “Around age 60 is when we start to see the emergence and increased risk for age-related conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease or neurodegenerative diseases. When I saw this data, I was immediately struck by the fact that there’s also an intrinsic change in innate metabolism that begins at the same time.”

The bottom line is, researchers have brought us another step closer to the “how’s” of metabolism, but not really the “why’s.” It might be fascinating, or even hopeful, to know that, if you are gaining weight as you age, it’s not just an inevitable change in your metabolism – or it might be incredibly frustrating! If that’s not the reason, then what is?! Well, keep watching this space, as they say: researchers are hard at work. And, while you’re waiting, make any little changes to your lifestyle that could benefit your health (and your waistline), and know that they might just crack the code one of these days.

Can’t Cope with Cardio? Science Has Good News for You!

It’s cold out there. And running on the treadmill sucks. And, wait: you also just remembered that you actually hate running. But if you’re trying to lose fat, and you’re not willing to spend endless time running and jumping, you’re out of luck, right? Maybe not…there’s a new study out there that seems to suggest that you don’t actually need to do a ton of cardio to burn fat. Sounds good, right? Now, we’re not saying you don’t have to exercise at all to burn fat, but the old conventional wisdom that to gain muscles, you strength train, and to lose fat, you do cardio might not be all that wise, after all. Cardio haters rejoice: a recent study is busting myths, offering compelling scientific proof that cardio isn’t the only way to get leaner. 

The Debate That We Just Can’t Seem to Settle

teal asics sneaker next to a pile of little dumbbells
There has been an ongoing debate whether cardio is better for you or strength training, but science has now settled it.

Cardio or weight training? Which is better? Might as well ask whether the chicken or the egg came first, because we actually just don’t know. But a common thing you hear in the exercise world is that cardio (like running, cycling, or swimming) is the best thing for losing weight or improving heart health, and resistance training (like weightlifting) is the best thing for building muscle (though without any cardiovascular benefits). But is that really the case? 

Up until now, there really haven’t been any conclusive studies on the best type of exercise for getting rid of some of that pesky body fat. Why? Well, to be honest, there’s not much money in researching exercise – actually, it’s pretty expensive to conduct sports science studies. Getting people to follow an exercise plan requires quite a bit of money, especially when you’re also doing some complex analyses, so many studies in the field have too few participants to make a solid conclusion. 

It’s also just really difficult to run the studies and get trustworthy results. If you recruit people who are already fit, your findings will be less impressive and the conclusions less generalizable. But if you recruit untrained people, you might end up with no result because the subjects didn’t understand how to do the exercises well enough. 

So have we learned anything before this year about the benefits of cardio versus resistance training? Well, there have been a few notable studies. For example:

  • One study from 2017, which followed over 100 obese people who were randomly assigned to do cardio, weight training, both, or nothing, found that people who did some cardio saw a bit more improvement in heart health than people who did only resistance, and the people who did any resistance training improved more in terms of lean muscle mass and bone density. But nothing much could be determined by this small study: the change in lean muscle mass between the cardio and resistance groups differed by less than 1%. So really all that was learned was that if you start from nothing, making any change will result in some sort of improvement – not exactly groundbreaking.
  • Even when researchers do try to gather data comparing resistance training and cardio, there’s not all that much to look at: for example, researchers conducted one review in 2018 of more than a dozen studies showing that cardio improved health, but only a handful compared cardio and resistance, and those lacked enough evidence to draw any conclusions at all.
  • But one meta-review looking at multiple studies in 2011 did find some mentions of how exercise can affect visceral fat, or the fat that builds up in your torso and is thought to be the primary driver of obesity-related disease. The review found that cardio provided benefits in this area, but when compared to resistance training, the data, unfortunately, was inconclusive.

Hm. Not exactly helpful, right? If you’re trying to lose fat, it’s kind of like you’re either stuck doing the same old cardio routine, or you’re hoping for the best – or you’re so anti-cardio that you’re just not doing anything at all. But enter a new study that could give you some hope.

Lift Weights, Lose Fat?

A study published in Sports Medicine in September this year might finally be providing some answers – and busting some myths – about exercise and fat-burning. According to senior author of the study Dr. Mandy Hagstrom, exercise physiologist and senior lecturer at University of New South Wales (UNSW) Medicine & Health in Australia, “A lot of people think that if you want to lose weight, you need to go out and run. But our findings show that even when strength training is done on its own, it still causes a favorable loss of body fat without having to consciously diet or go running.”woman wearing workout clothing with a dumbbell over her head

Wow, really? Yup – and it looks like this study blows other ones out of the water for accuracy and reliability. Dr Hagstrom and her team pulled together the findings from 58 research papers that used highly accurate forms of body fat measurement (like body scans, which can differentiate fat mass from lean mass) to measure the outcomes from strength training programs. Altogether, the studies included 3000 participants, none of whom had any previous weight training experience, and most of whom worked out for roughly 45-60 minutes each session for an average of 2.7 times per week for about five months.

And what did they find? The research team found that the participants lost, on average, around 1.4% of their body fat, or a little more than a pound of fat, through these strength training only programs, which is similar to how much you might lose through cardio or aerobics. As Dr. Hagstrom points out, “Resistance training does so many fantastic things to the body that other forms of exercise don’t, like improving bone mineral density, lean mass, and muscle quality. Now, we know it also gives you a benefit we previously thought only came from aerobics.”

That’s very good news for the cardio haters out there. And while Dr. Hagstrom still encourages people who are looking to lose fat to eat right, and do a combination of cardio and resistance training, she also acknowledges that these findings might be just what some running-resistant people might need. “If you want to exercise to change your body composition, you’ve got options,” she says.”Do what exercise you want to do and what you’re most likely to stick to.” 

Change Your Relationship with Your Scale

But there’s something else that Dr. Hagstrom encourages: changing how you see the numbers on your scale, and how you look at weight loss. Why is it that many of us don’t see strength training as a way to get rid of fat? Probably because we’re too focused on “losing weight,” or seeing the numbers on the scale go down. 

But that’s not really the right way to approach things: it should be more about getting lean, and changing your body. Stepping on the scale only tells part of the story: you might change the numbers more by doing tons of running or cycling, because you’re burning fat, but when you lift weights you’re burning fat and gaining muscle. That means that the numbers on the scale might not be changing all that much, but your body is!

woman's torso wrapping measuring tape around her waist
Instead of focusing on the scale, focus on how lean you’re becoming based on how your clothes fit and the muscles gained.

According to Dr. Hagstrom, “More often than not, we don’t gain any muscle mass when we do aerobic training. We improve our cardiorespiratory fitness, gain other health and functional benefits, and can lose body fat. But when we strength train, we gain muscle mass and lose body fat, so the number on the scales won’t look as low as it would after aerobics training, especially as muscle weighs more than fat.”

“If you’re strength training and want to change how your body looks, then you don’t want to focus on the number on the scale too much, because it won’t show you all your results. Instead, think about your whole body composition, like how your clothes fit and how your body will start to feel, and move, differently.”

This study might not show us everything we need or want to know. For example, it didn’t look at whether variables like exercise duration, frequency, or intensity impacted fat loss percentage, but the research team does hope to next investigate whether how we strength train can change the amount of fat loss. But even just the information it has provided us with is pretty groundbreaking, and a great first step toward learning so much more about how strength training can change our bodies.

And it might be very welcome news to you that cardio isn’t the end-all-be-all of health and fat loss – just remember, as with everything, it’s all about balance. Get moving, get lifting, get cooking healthy, whole foods, and you’ll be heading in the right direction!

Good Friends Offer More Than A Good Time, They Offer Better Brain Health!

If you are a fan of the Golden Girls, then you know that having good friends keeps you going. According to research, this is especially true for “SuperAgers.” SuperAgers are people in their 80s or older who have great cognitive function, similar to that of the average middle-aged individual. Scientists measured that SuperAgers lose brain volume slower than other people their age because of their active lifestyle, and having close friends.

Silhouette of a omwn and woman facing each other with a white circle in their heads and a black heart in the middle of the circle.
Social relationships mprove brain function, as well as reducing the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Social relationships are essential, not only for improving brain function, but also reducing the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The Study Of SuperAgers

Emily Rogalski, an associate professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine, is one expert studying SuperAgers. She, among others, examined SuperAgers for nine years in order to understand their superior cognitive health. The group would fill out surveys every couple of years, and get tests and brain scans done. 

The brain scans showed that these older individuals had thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy, and a larger left anterior cingulate (a part of the brain important to attention and working memory). Also, out of the surveys given, one thing stood out among all participants- reports of satisfying, warm, and trusting relationships.

“It’s not as simple as saying, ‘if you have a strong social network, you’ll never get Alzheimer’s disease,’” says Dr. Rogalski. “But if there is a list of healthy choices one can make, such as eating a certain diet and not smoking, maintaining strong social networks may be an important one on that list.”

Other Habits

Large bowl in the middle filled with lettuce, with little bowls surrounding it filled with fuits and vegetables.
SuperAgers are more active, and eat healthy diets that improve brain function.

Through the study, researchers noted that social engagement was not the only factor in improved brain function. SuperAgers were more active than other people their age, not just physically, but mentally as well. The participants engaged in mental activity such as Sudoku and other forms of brain teasers to stimulate and engage their brains on a daily basis. The last thing is to eat a healthy diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.

As people age, keeping up with their social life can be difficult, especially when there are obstacles to go through, such as work, finances, and maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. However, as you get older, it has been proven that your social interactions might just keep your brain young. Take the time to call your good friends, make plans to see each other, and stay as social as you can. Life is busy, but your friends will keep you young, literally.

Signs of Prostate Cancer That Are Dangerous To Ignore

The prostate is about the size of a walnut and wraps around the tube that carries urine out of the bladder in men. It grows larger, the older you get, but if it gets too large, then health issues can arise, including cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men, and 1 in every 9 men will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime. Behind lung cancer, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in

blue ribbon with the words "prostate cancer" next to it.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in American men. Knowing the signs can be crucial.

men. The first signs are not noticeable in the early stages of the disease, because there is no pain from the tumor. However, there are some symptoms you may experience that you should watch out for, and see your doctor if they arise.

Warning Signs

If your prostate is enlarged, then you will experience some common problems. These issues include:

  • Frequent urination, especially at night
  • Leaking when you laugh, or cough
  • Burning or pain when urinating
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Pain in the rectum, upper thighs, hips, or lower back
  • Weak stream
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Difficulty getting an erection
  • Not being able to stand up when urinating
  • Trouble starting or stopping a stream 
  • UTIs
hands in purple gloves writing on test tubes place don a green tray.
Regular screenings of your prostate is very important in finding issues early on.

Regular Screenings

Regular prostate cancer screenings are very important because you are more likely to catch a tumor early on before it

grows. Early detection is key to beating cancer. Once you are 50 years old, your risk of getting prostate cancer increases. It is more common among African American men and men who have a family history of prostate cancer.

Eat a healthy diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, and high-fat. If you experience any of the warning signs, schedule an appointment with your doctor to get screened. An enlarged prostate does not necessarily mean cancer, but it can raise concerns if it is not dealt with right away.