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Monday, October 20, 2014

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You'd run faster if a zombie were chasing you, too

Sarah Rufc, Houston Chronicle
Updated 4:41 pm, Friday, July 26, 2013

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  • Fitness app Zombies, Run! turns jogging into a quest for survival. / handout
    Fitness app Zombies, Run! turns jogging into a quest for survival. Photo: handout

 

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Can fake zombies produce real health benefits?

Medical studies have proven that certain types of music can make athletes go faster or train harder, but can a game have the same effect? That's what University of Texas Medical Branch behavioral-science researcher and assistant professor Elizabeth Lyons wants to find out. With a fresh $140,000 grant from the American Heart Association, Lyons is studying how effective the smartphone app "Zombies, Run!" is at increasing the activity level of its users. The app functions like a game, encouraging the user to complete missions via real-life walking or running, with activities that get progressively more challenging.

"I'm interested in using games to distract people from (pain and fatigue), and some of my other research has shown that narrative is really the most distracting thing," Lyons said in a news release. "You can get really competitive when zombies are chasing you."

 

Cancer and chemotherapy linked to lower risk of Alzheimer's

A cancer diagnosis rarely comes with good news, but findings released at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in July suggest that those diagnosed with most forms of cancer - and particularly those treated with chemotherapy - are at a lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. The inverse relationship between most types of cancer (prostate and melanoma excepted) and Alzheimer's disease was noted by studying the health records of 3.5 million military veterans. The evidence was further supported by an Italian study that found that Alzheimer's patients' risk of developing cancer was 43 percent lower than those without the disease and that those with cancer were 35 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. Researchers theorize that chemotherapy might ward off Alzheimer's by reducing inflammation in the brain and preventing brain cells from dividing. By studying the relationship between the diseases, it may be possible to develop new treatments that address both.

Walnut diet decreases the risk of prostate cancer

It looks like 2013 may be the year of the walnut. Studies suggest that a walnut-rich diet could protect against heart disease, improve the body's response to stress, lower cholesterol and significantly reduce the risk of diabetes. Now, new research from the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio indicates that eating walnuts also can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. After injecting human prostate cancer cells into mice, researchers found that 44 percent of mice on the control diet developed tumors, while only 18 percent of the mice eating the walnut-enriched diet developed prostate tumors. The tumors developed by the walnut-eating mice were only one-fourth the size, on average, of the tumors on the control mice.

"We found the results to be stunning because there were so few tumors in animals consuming the walnuts, and these tumors grew much more slowly than in the other animals," said Russel Reiter, the lead study author and a professor of cellular and structural biology at the Health Science Center, in a news release.

According to researchers, humans won't have to convert to an all-walnut diet to potentially get the same results: The mice were fed only a small percentage of walnut dust, equivalent to a person consuming two handfuls of walnuts a day.

For full-term babies, don't conceive in spring (or just get a flu shot)

Springtime may send hearts aflutter, but according to a study by researchers at Princeton University, it may not be the best time for babymaking. Looking at data from 1.4 million births in the New York metropolitan area, researchers found that babies conceived in May had a 10 percent greater risk of being born premature, likely because those pregnancies reached full term in January and February, when the seasonal flu virus creates an elevated risk of miscarriage and early labor. The best time to make a big baby is in the summer - the study found that infants conceived during the summer months weigh an average of 9 grams more than those born the rest of the year.

Music may aid in fertilization

It turns out that in vitro fertilization labs are full of tiny dancers. Scientists at the Marques Institute fertility clinic in Barcelona, Spain, found that playing music to an egg in a petri dish increased the odds of a successful in vitro fertilization, with a 5 percent increase in eggs that were serenaded. Researchers speculate that the musical vibrations mimic the dynamic environment of the womb, aiding in passing nutrients into embryos and removing toxic waste. As for whether pop, rock or classical music works best, researchers found that embryos aren't as picky as adults, with all types of music creating the same results.