Roundup: Health Risks of Napping Regularly; Mental Activities vs. Cognitive Decline; and Update on Benefits of 10,000 Daily Steps

Napping Regularly May Increase Your Risk of High Blood Pressure and Stroke, Researchers Find

Adults who frequently take naps have a greater risk of developing high blood pressure and having a stroke, according to a major new study published in Hypertension, an American Heart Association journal.

Study participants who took regular naps during the day were 12 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure over time, and they were 24 percent more likely to have a stroke — compared with people who never napped. For study participants younger than age 60, the risk was greater. If they napped regularly, their risk of developing high blood pressure rose by 20 percent, compared with those who never or rarely nap.

The findings confirm the importance of getting a fully night’s sleep, which benefits overall health. Proper sleep duration of 7 to 9 hours a night for adults, and more for children, is now considered an essential component for healthy living, according to the newly updated “Life’s Essential 8” factors for achieving optimum cardiovascular health from the American Heart Association (AHA). People who take naps regularly do so because they don’t get enough sleep during the night, and they are more likely to have other poor lifestyle habits, previous studies have shown. 

In the new study, researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank, a previous study that recorded genetic and health data on more than 500,000 individuals, ages 40-69, who were living in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2010. Those who already had hypertension or a stroke at the onset of the study were excluded, leaving 358,451 study participants. Researchers looked at three categories of napping: usually, sometimes, and never/rarely.

Of the participants, 50,507 had hypertension, and 4,333 had strokes with median follow-up time periods of 11.2 years.

Researchers: Physical, Mental Activities as You Age Helps Fend Off Cognitive Decline

A new study indicates that the previously established benefits of physical and mental activities as people ages can preserve the brain’s processing speed and may help delay, or fight off, cognitive aging.

The study focused on the effects of exercising and mental activities — such as reading, going to classes, or playing cards or other games — on the “cognitive reserve” when it relates to thinking speed and memory. Cognitive reserve refers to the brains buffer or protection against the development of cognitive impairment and dementia.

A slowdown in the brain’s processing speed is a key factor in cognitive aging. Being able to think more quickly helps with problem-solving, everyday tasks and the ability to focus and engage in conversations with others.

“We found that greater physical activity was associated with greater thinking speed reserve in women, but not in men,” said study author Judy Pa, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego. “Taking part in more mental activities was associated with greater thinking speed reserve for both men and women.”

Mental processing speed in both men and women benefited from cognitive activities such as playing card games and reading, according to the study, which was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study involved 758 people with an average age of 76. The participants had brain scans and took mental “speed and memory tests,” a news release states. “To calculate cognitive reserve, people’s thinking tests scores were compared against the changes in the brain associated with dementia, such as the total volume of the hippocampus, a key brain region impacted by Alzheimer’s disease,” the new release states.

Study participants were also asked about their usual weekly physical activity. In the area of mental activity, they were asked whether they participated in three types of activities:  reading magazines, newspapers or books; going to classes; and playing cards, games or bingo. They were assigned one point for each type of activity, for a maximum of three points.

For mental activity, participants averaged 1.4 points. For physical activity, participants took part in an average of at least 15 minutes per week of exercise, such as brisk walking and biking.

Each additional mental activity people participated in corresponded to 13 fewer years of aging in their processing speed —17 years among men and 10 years among women.

“To know that people could potentially improve their cognitive reserve by taking simple steps such as going to classes at the community center, playing bingo with their friends or spending more time walking or gardening is very exciting,” said Dr. Pa, the study’s author.

Study: Walking 10,000 Steps Daily Can Reduce Risk of Early Death for Those with Diabetes, Prediabetes

Walking 10,000 steps a day can help keep you healthy overall, but for those with the benefits can go even further for those with prediabetes and diabetes, according to a new study.

Such a daily routine was best for reducing the risk of death from any cause for people who find it challenging to control blood sugar levels, according to researchers from the University of Seville, Spain who evaluated a group of U.S. adults with prediabetes and diabetes using data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The findings were published in Diabetes Care, a publication of the American Diabetes Association.

Of the people who took part in the study, 1,194 adults had prediabetes, and 493 had diabetes. Participants wore an accelerometer on their waist to count their steps. The researchers adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, smoking, alcohol, and use of prescribed diabetes medications. The group was monitored over nine years. 

In a separate study released last year, researchers found that adults at middle-age who walked at least 7,000 steps a day, on average, were 50 percent to 70 percent less likely to die of any cause over the next decade, compared with adults who took fewer steps, according to results published this month in JAMA Network Open.

“Being physically active provides substantial health benefits for many conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and several cancers, as well as improving quality of life,” the researchers emphasize as part of the study. “The number of steps people take each day is a meaningful metric for quantifying total daily activity.”

U.S. guidelines for physical activity recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-to vigorous-intensity of physical activity, which includes brisk walking.

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