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Air pollution may lead to changes in heart structure

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London, Aug 5: Researchers have found that people exposed to even low levels of air pollution can have changes in the structure of the heart, similar to those seen in the early stages of heart failure.

For every one extra microgram per cubic metre of PM2.5 — small particles of air pollution — and for every 10 extra microgram per cubic metre of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), the heart enlarges by approximately 1 per cent, showed the findings of the Britain-based study published in the journal Circulation.

“Although our study was observational and hasn’t yet shown a causal link, we saw significant changes in the heart, even at relatively low levels of air pollution exposure,” said one of the researchers Nay Aung from Queen Mary University of London.

For the study, the researchers looked at data from around 4,000 participants in the UK Biobank study, where volunteers provided a range of personal information, including their lifestyles, health record and details on where they have lived.

Participants also had blood tests and health scans, and heart MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) was used to measure the size, weight and function of the participants’ hearts at fixed times.

The team found a clear association between those who lived near loud, busy roads, and were exposed to nitrogen dioxide or PM2.5 and the development of larger right and left ventricles in the heart.

The ventricles are important pumping chambers in the heart and, although these participants were healthy and had no symptoms, similar heart remodelling is seen in the early stages of heart failure.

Higher exposures to the pollutants were linked to more significant changes in the structure of the heart, the findings showed.

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Exercise may reduce irregular heartbeat risk in obese people

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Atrial fibrillation is a condition that can make your heart race and put you at risk for stroke. But people who are obese are more prone to it and can reduce it if they exercise regularly.

According to a study, people with a body mass index (BMI) greater than 30 have a significantly higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation than the normal weight individuals.

“People who reported that they didn’t exercise at all had about double the risk of developing fibrillation when compared to those who were physically active and whose body weight was normal,” said co-author Lars Elnan Garnvik from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU).

“However, people who were obese but who exercised a lot limited the increase in risk to no more than approximately 50 per cent. This suggests that physical activity is good for limiting the increased risk of atrial fibrillation in obese people,” Garnvik added.

For the study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the research team involved 43,602 men and women who participated in the study between 2006 and 2008.

“Physical activity and exercise reduce a lot of the known risk factors for atrial fibrillation, like high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol and chronic inflammation,” said co-author Lars Elnan Garnvik from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

“Physical activity can also improve a person’s fitness level, and we know that people in good shape have a reduced risk of heart failure,” Garnvik added.

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Your work emails can affect your health, relationships

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New York, Aug 14: Does your boss expects you to be ever-connected on emails and work without boundaries? If so, besides causing harm to your health and well-being, it could also lead to conflict in family relationships, a new study has revealed.

Stress due to employers’ expectations of work during non-working hours brings strain in the family ties as the employee is unable to fulfil non-work roles at home.

Such expectations are “an insidious stressor that not only increases employee anxiety, decreases their relationship satisfaction and has detrimental effects on employee health, but it also negatively affects their partner’s health and marital satisfaction perceptions,” said Liuba Belkin, Associate Professor at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, US.

Employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects.

The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others — even when employees do not engage in actual work during non-work time.

“The competing demands of work and non-work lives present a dilemma for employees, which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” added William Becker, Associate Professor at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the US.

The findings were presented at the Academy of Management’s annual meeting in Chicago.

According to Becker, policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside of work should be ideal to mitigate the adverse effects of negative health outcomes.

When that is not an option, the solution may be to establish boundaries on when electronic communication is acceptable during off-hours by setting up off-hour email windows or schedules when employees are available to respond.

Importantly, organisational expectations should be communicated clearly, Becker noted.

“If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities.”

Knowing these expectations upfront may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members, he said.

As for employees, they could consider practising mindfulness, which may help them to “be present” in family interactions, and help reduce conflict and improve relationship satisfaction, said Becker.

However, while mindfulness is within the employees’ control, email expectations are not, he added.

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Blue light from digital devices could accelerate blindness

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Washington, Aug 13 : Blue light from digital devices including smartphones could accelerate blindness, researchers have found.

According to a research by the University of Toledo in the US, exposure to blue light continuously might cause poisonous molecules to be generated in the eye’s light-sensitive cells and lead to macular degeneration, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

As one of the leading causes of blindness in the US, macular degeneration does not lead to total blindness, but can make daily activities difficult.

“It’s no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina. Our experiments explain how this happens, and we hope this leads to therapies that slow macular degeneration, such as a new kind of eye drop,” said Ajith Karunarathne, an assistant professor in the university’s department of chemistry and biochemistry.

Macular degeneration is caused by the death of photoreceptors, a kind of light-sensitive cells.

Photoreceptor cells need molecules called retinal to sense light and trigger signalling to the brain, enabling us to see.

“If you shine blue light on retinal, the retinal kills photoreceptor cells as the signalling molecule on the membrane dissolves,” said Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student at the university who was involved in the study.

“Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they’re dead, they’re dead for good,” Ratnayake added.

To protect eyes from blue light, researchers advise people to wear sunglasses which filter both UV and blue light outside and avoid using smartphones or tablets in the dark.

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