Why do we feel good when we help others?

Did you know that helping others lowers your stress and anxiety levels? Or that low-carb diets are not that great? DW brings you this week's health news, all in one handy guide!

Helping others promotes health

Providing support to others activates a neural pathway in the brain that boosts our wellbeing, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh in the US have found.

Helping others directly activates a brain region that has previously been linked to parental care behaviors. At the same time, activity in the amygdala — a brain structure associated with fear and stress responses — is lowered.

The researchers asked 45 volunteers to perform a task that involved "giving support" in some way. During the task, they had the chance to win rewards for someone close to them, for charity or for themselves. Participants felt better and more socially connected if their support resulted in a reward for someone else.

Afterwards, the participants were asked to undergo an emotional ratings task in an MRI scanner, which shows active brain areas. The act of supporting literally anyone was linked to an activation of specific brain areas. However, only direct support was linked to a decreased activity in the fear center of the brain.

A second study with 382 participants, who underwent a different emotional ratings task, supported the first result — helping others directly lowers fear and stress levels, and boosts your overall wellbeing.

The top 10 fat fighters

Avoid crash diets!

Crash diets can help you lose weight quickly, but most of it comprises water and muscle mass. The little fat that is actually broken down will be replenished by the body once you’ve finished dieting – as a reserve for extreme situations. Crash diets also have side-effects such as headaches, nausea and bad breath. For a long-term solution, the only way is to completely reform your eating habits.

The top 10 fat fighters

Yes to slimming agents!

People determined to keep their weight low after shedding the pounds should have fruit and vegetables dominating their daily intake. Most varieties contain a lot of minerals and vitamins, are largely comprised of water, and have a very low calorie content. You should also drink plenty of water to stimulate digestion. The same applies for spicy food.

The top 10 fat fighters

No to calorific concoctions!

The worst culprits include not only fat but also refined carbohydrates such as processed flour products, instant meals, and all foods with a high level of regular supermarket sugar or fructose – not forgetting sweet drinks and fast food. Plus: avoid alcohol, because it has twice as many calories as protein or sugar.

The top 10 fat fighters

Change your eating habits!

There are various steps of action that will help your dieting … Eat three regular meals a day, with breakfast optionally the biggest. The slower you eat, the faster you will feel sated. Stop eating well before you are 100% full. And use smaller plates, as this gives you the feeling of having eaten enough.

The top 10 fat fighters

Exercise!

Regular physical exercise is crucial for losing weight. Sporting activity increases our energy consumption and burns off fat. Power walking or aqua aerobics are sound options to start off with, as they take the load off your spine and joints. Later you can move on to endurance sports such as running, cycling and swimming – in 30-minute sessions at least three times a week.

The top 10 fat fighters

Sleep sufficiently!

Sleeping badly will leave you hungrier the next day. Getting insufficient rest leads to a hormone malfunction that causes sudden cravings, while your metabolism rate plummets because you’re eating more. Your leptin level that triggers that full feeling decreases, while the appetite-producing hormones ghrelin and orexin increase. Losing weight therefore means sleeping enough as well.

The top 10 fat fighters

Take cold baths!

Cold baths stimulate fat combustion, and help you lose weight. In particular, cold water boosts our metabolism by activating the brown fat on the thighs, hips and behind. The water temperature should begin at 20° Celsius and drop to 15° C (but no lower) by the end. Taking a cold bath for 15 minutes a day will give you a turbocharged metabolism all day long.

The top 10 fat fighters

Build up your muscles!

Muscle mass makes up around 40% of your body weight, and even without activity burns up three times more calories than fat tissue. Muscles consume calories day and night, and are a major fat killer. Trained muscles are far more efficient fat combustion engines than untrained ones. The more muscle mass, the higher the burning of energy and fat!

The top 10 fat fighters

Reduce stress!

Stress is among the most significant mental factors promoting excess weight. Relieving stress is therefore helpful. Stress hormones play a big role in our hunger and eating behavior, and can lead to uncontrolled cravings – even when the body does not in fact need any food. A stress-free life is among the best fat fighters.

The top 10 fat fighters

Never go shopping while hungry!

If you’re feeling peckish when out shopping, you are bound to end up with items in your basket or trolley that have no place on a diet menu. It’s best to do your groceries after eating. With a full stomach you are less likely to succumb to the countless temptations on display.

Low-carb diets are not safe

One of the most popular weight loss programs out there is probably the low-carb diet. But carbohydrates are a major source of energy for our bodies and the lack of these essential molecules might have a negative impact on our health. That is the result of a recent study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress by Professor Maciej Banach of the Medical University of Lodz, Poland.

In a large study, the researchers showed that long-term low-carbohydrate diets were associated with a higher risk of premature death. The risk for coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer was also higher.

 "The reduced intake of fiber and fruits and increased intake of animal protein, cholesterol, and saturated fat with these diets may play a role," explained Banach. "Differences in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals might also be involved."

How much sleep does the heart need?

Not too much and not too little. That is the result of a recent study by researchers from Athens, Greece, who presented their findings at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2018.

Looks like this seal didn't get the recommended six to eight hours of sleep

Read more: DW's Health News: Weekend sleep-ins could prolong your life

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Sleeping between six and eight hours every night is beneficial for the heart, whereas more or less sleep for a long period of time can increase the risk for coronary artery disease or stroke.

"The good news is that there are plenty of ways to get into the habit of getting six to eight hours a night — for example, by going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, avoiding alcohol and caffeine before bed, eating healthy foods, and being physically active," Dr. Epameinondas Fountas, author of the study, said. "Getting the right amount of sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle."

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In Good Shape | 03.03.2016

Disturbed sleep – health risk

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