Socializing can keep the mind sharp

Mental health

November 08, 2007

You stop at the mailbox and bump into the guy down the hall. Or you pull into the driveway just as your neighbor is getting home. Suddenly you're gabbing about nothing in particular, and you end up frittering away 10 minutes. It's not a waste of time, according to research to be published in the February 2008 issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. Ten minutes of talking, face to face or by phone, improves memory and boosts intellectual performance as much as doing crossword puzzles.

A team led by University of Michigan psychologist Oscar Ybarra asked more than 3,500 people ages 24 to 96 about their social interactions and tested their working memories.

Regardless of age, the more social contact, the higher the level of mental function. The researchers also split 76 college students into three groups. One group had a 10-minute discussion, one spent 10 solitary minutes doing intellectual exercises (such as reading comprehension) and the third, in isolation, watched 10 minutes of Seinfeld. On follow-up cognitive tests, the social interaction and intellectual exercise groups did better than Seinfeld viewers. The chit-chatters did just as well as the intellectual group.

"There's a widespread belief in this culture that the way to maintain your sharpness is to do technical and intellectual activities," Ybarra says. But this study suggests an alternative to Sudoku or crosswords could be simply talking to one another.

Los Angeles Times

Obesity

The extra 25 pounds may not kill you

Being 25 pounds overweight doesn't appear to raise your risk of dying from cancer or heart disease, says a new government study that seems to vindicate Grandma's claim that a few extra pounds won't kill you.

Released just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, the findings might comfort some who can't seem to lose those last 15 pounds. And they hearten proponents of a theory that it's possible to be "fit and fat."

The news isn't all good: Overweight people do have a higher chance of dying from diabetes and kidney disease.

And people who are obese - generally those more than 30 pounds overweight for their height - have a higher risk of death from a variety of ills, including cancers and heart disease.

However, having a little extra weight actually seemed to help people survive some illnesses - results that baffled several leading health researchers.

"This is a very puzzling disconnect," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard University's Brigham and Women's Hospital. "That is a conundrum."

It was the second study by the same government scientists who two years ago first suggested that deaths from being too fat were overstated.

The new report further analyzed the same data, this time looking at specific causes of death with new mortality figures from 2004 for 2.3 million U.S. adults.

"Excess weight does not uniformly increase the risk of mortality from any and every cause, but only from certain causes," said the study's lead author, Katherine Flegal of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study appeared in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Associated Press

Smoking

Device detects blood's carbon monoxide

If doctors want to know if their patients smoke, they can always just ask. But researchers say there may be a better way to determine a patient's smoking status - and at the same time provide a powerful incentive to quit.

Using a simple device that lets doctors know how much carbon monoxide is in the blood, doctors often can pick out the smokers, a new study says. And they can then tell the patients much of their blood at that moment is unable to carry oxygen.

One of the researchers, Dr. Sridhar P. Reddy of St. Clair Pulmonary and Critical Care in Michigan, said an alarm went off on the device in his office when it detected carbon monoxide over a certain level - and it did not go unnoticed by patients.

"It typically goes off at 10 percent," said Reddy, a pulmonologist. "They're wondering, Why the bells and whistles?" He tells them that a tenth of their blood is for all practical purposes not available to them.

The study was presented at a recent conference of the American College of Chest Physicians. The presentation was made by Reddy's son, Ashray, a high school student who began the study as a science project.

The advantage of using the device, a pulse co-oximeter, is that it is quick and noninvasive, the Reddys said. It clips onto the fingernail.

New York Times

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