In the News: Sun Exposure Associated With Lower Risk of the Flu, Holding Hands With a Partner Reduces Physical Pain, Exercise More Effective Than Weight Loss for Heart Disease Patients

Getting more sunlight could help flu prevention. Besides all the well-known, tried and true flu prevention methods such as getting your annual vaccination, washing your hands, and eating a healthy, vitamin-rich diet, there is a new strategy being circulated among researchers that you can practice all year round. A study suggests that getting more vitamin D through sunshine exposure throughout the year and particularly in August through October, can reduce your chance of catching the flu during peak season. Researchers offered further support for this by synthesizing weather data and data from the CDC to note a 10 percent increase in sunny days during September also saw around 29,500 fewer cases of the flu. September and October are the sweetest times for this method because they are the best months to get outside without getting sunburned (though you should still wear sunscreen every day), and vitamin D stays in your fat stores for up to two months at a time, preparing you perfectly for the typical flu season. It’s not a replacement for the more heavily proven methods mentioned above, but with the frightening numbers of this year’s flu season, it’s helpful to know that there are preventive steps you can take all year. While you’re at it, try these six foods to beat the flu too. (TIME)

Study finds that hand-holding reduces pain. Pavel Goldstein of the Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder, recently set out to find the effects of physical touch between couples when one was in pain – ultimately supporting both the idea that couples hearts may “beat as one” and that physical touch can increase empathy and reduce pain. Goldstein’s team measured the brain activity of 22 heterosexual couples while they were in different rooms, the same room, and touching, and then all three conditions once again while the female partner experienced mild pain on her arms. It was revealed that just being in each other’s presence made their brain wavelength activity correlate, but this synchronization was interrupted when one partner experienced pain, and only resumed when they began to hold hands. The study also looked at the male partners’ empathy levels, discovering that they correlated with more intense brain synchronization and lower physical pain in the females. While all the other findings were supported by brain activity data, it was unclear in the experiment report how they measured empathy. However, the significance of this report is clear; as Goldstein put it, “We have developed a lot of ways to communicate in the modern world and we have fewer physical interactions. This paper illustrates the power and importance of human touch.” (MNT)

Exercise more important than weight loss for heart disease patients. A study conducted by Norwegian researchers and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology followed 3,307 heart disease patients for about 16 years each, making it a fairly large study of its kind. To their surprise, people with coronary heart disease who lost weight did not see a prolonged life expectancy. On the other hand, patients who did about 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week saw a 19 percent lower risk of death, and a 36 percent reduction if they did more exercise than that. Furthermore, all of the heart disease patients of normal weight who lost weight in an attempt to remedy their condition actually increased their rate of mortality. This was an observational study, meaning that extraneous variables such as how sick exactly each patient was at the beginning were not accounted for, but the size of the study and the significance of the numbers associated suggest that being active is the most important step one can take in reducing mortality while living with a heart disease. You can also check out this article to find out how to improve your heart numbers. (NYT)