Thursday, September 08, 2011

Socialising keeps you slim: Having lots of social contact burns off more fat than using a treadmill does

If you are a mouse

Keeping a busy social life amongst lots of friends may keep people slimmer than spending hours on a treadmill, according to scientists. They say that socialising and meeting with friends helps boost levels of 'brown fat' in the body which burns calories to generate heat. Living in a stimulating, social environment was found to reduce abdominal fat in mice by half over four weeks, even if they ate more.

US researchers say that social stimulation aids weight loss by converting white fat into brown. White stores calories and makes us fatter, while brown burns energy to generate heat.

Converting white fat into brown is notoriously difficult, normally requiring long term exposure to cold conditions or activating part of the body's nervous system. However, scientists from Ohio State University now think that having a busy social life is an even more effective way of changing white fat into brown.

The team came up with their theory by studying the effects of various living environments on mice. Those who lived alongside a greater number of mice, had more space and toys to stimulate them lost far more weight over the course of the study than their 'couch potato' counterparts.

Increased levels of brown fat may also be attributed to an increase in a brain chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor [BDNF] found in the sociable mice.

Study author Dr Matthew During, whose team's findings appear in journal Cell Metabolism said: I'm still amazed at the degree of fat loss that occurs. ‘The amount that comes off is far more than you would get with a treadmill. It's usually hard to induce the switch from white to brown fat.

‘It takes months of cold - you really have to push - and it doesn't induce brown fat to the same degree as what on the surface appears to be a relatively mild change in physical and social environments.’

Explaining how new technology had threatened face-to-face socialising, he added: ‘It's not just a sedentary lifestyle and high calorie foods, but an increasing lack of social engagement.’

Co-author Dr Lei Cao said: ‘After four weeks in the enriched environment, the animals' abdominal fat decreased by 50 per cent. ‘We often think of stress as a negative thing, but some kinds of stress can be good for your health. ‘In fact, the enriched housing is more taxing for the animals as they have to deal with each other and with a more complex environment.’

Dr Cao added: ‘The new result may offer insight into studies showing a link between loneliness and ill health. ‘Loneliness is a profound factor for cancer and death; it's on par with cigarette smoking. Social engagement is very important.’


Daily tipple boosts health in old age

Appropriate reservations are expressed below but the evidence for benefit from moderate alcohol use is extensive so it may be time to accept the relationship as real

Middle-aged women who indulge in a drink or two a day are boosting their chance of good health in their seventies, a new study claims. Enjoying a small tipple regularly and in moderation improves women's chances of avoiding heart disease, diabetes and other mental and physical disorders in later life, researchers found.

A study of 14,000 female nurses found that those who frequently drank one to two drinks a night, but no more, had a 30 per cent better chance of overall good health in their seventies than those who avoided alcohol altogether.

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol on a nightly basis was shown to be healthier than indulging just once or twice a week. Women who drank on five to seven nights a week enjoyed a 50 per cent better chance of good health in later life than teetotallers.

Writing in the Public Library of Science journal, the researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston said their work showed that "regular, moderate consumption of alcohol" in their fifties could boost overall health among women who survive into their seventies.

Experts cautioned that the study did not prove that alcohol is good for the body and claimed the results could have been down to other lifestyle factors.

Associate Prof Jayne Lucke of the University of Queensland, Australia, said: "Drinking a small amount of alcohol may not cause women to age healthily. "Rather women who regularly drink a small amount may also have a number of other characteristics, such as good health, an active social life and a healthy appetite, that all work together to promote successful ageing."

NHS guidelines state that women should not regularly drink more than two or three units of alcohol a day, equal to one and a half standard 175ml glasses of wine or one pint of lager.

A study published last year by researchers in Paris indicated that moderate drinkers had lower rates of heart disease, obesity and depression than people who were teetotal.

The new findings showed that even drinking small amounts of alcohol can have a significant impact on health in later life. The American researchers measured alcohol intake in grams rather than units, with a glass of wine equal to about 10g and a bottle of beer including 13g.

The results showed that women with an average age of 58 who drank between 5 and 15g per night had a 20 per cent better chance of good health than non-drinkers, while those who drank 15g to 30g were 30 per cent more likely to be healthy in old age.

Dr Qi Sun, who led the study, said: "Low to moderate consumption of alcohol will slightly improve health for women in old age. We would still only recommend regular consumption of one drink per day because that is what the US health guidelines are."

But European guidelines are slightly higher and previous British studies have that as many as two drinks a night can have a positive health effect, he said.

Dr Sun added: "Even at moderate drinking levels it is highly recommended that you consume alcohol on a regular basis rather than binge drinking at the weekend. "But for lifetime non-drinkers we would not recommend drinking alcohol just to improve health, because studies have shown that regular exercise and healthy body weight are much more associated with better health at old age than alcohol."


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