Health File

June 28, 2011 by Sharon Adams

A Case For The Stairs

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Canadian Council for Health and Active Living at Work (CCHALW) are encouraging workers to stay healthy while on the job by simply using the stairs instead of the elevators and escalators. The PHAC is a federal agency with the goal of protecting and improving the health of Canadians to help reduce pressures on the health-care system. The CCHALW is a volunteer, not-for-profit organization that promotes healthier workplaces.

Daily living activities like climbing the stairs significantly contribute to the 30 minutes of physical activity every day recommended by Canada’s Physical Activity Guide. Using the stairs burns twice as many calories as walking.

In fact, a significantly lower risk of mortality is indicated in studies where participants climbed more than 55 flights of stairs in a week. Even two flights of stairs climbed per day can lead to a loss of 2.7 kilograms of weight over one year.

As well, people who regularly use the stairs have greater leg strength and aerobic capacity than those who use elevators. Developing increased leg power is important for preventing falls.

And as anyone who has ever lost patience waiting for an elevator knows, you can probably get where you are going faster by using the stairs.

An interesting study done in Sweden shows how a little bit of fun can lead to more physical activity. The results can be found on the YouTube website at

The video shows stairs next to an escalator in a transit station. The “before” shots show almost everyone using the escalator until workers matched the steps to the keys on a piano, allowing those using the stairs to create musical notes as they walked. Almost all traffic shifted to the stairs.


Nasal Spray Clears The Brain

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have reported a breakthrough in development of a nasal spray vaccine to treat and prevent vascular damage in the brain associated with stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

Developed from a drug tested for influenza, the vaccine activates white blood cells in the immune system, which normally engulf and digest harmful invaders, to remove the waxy buildup of amyloid plaques in the brain’s vascular system. Once the plaque is cleared, further damage can be prevented and existing damage repaired.

The vaccine hasn’t yet been tested in humans, but it has worked in mice. Cognitive functioning of mice used in the study was measured before and after administration of the vaccine. MRI screenings showed the vaccine prevented further vascular damage, and cognitive functioning tests showed normal behaviour was restored.  Researchers hope the vaccine can be used to prevent and treat vascular dementia common in Alzheimer’s sufferers.

The Alzheimer Society of Canada says half a million Canadians currently have dementia, and estimates there will be 250,000 new cases in the next five years.


The Brain Can Learn How To Sleep Better

Researchers at the University of Toronto may have found a new way of providing a better night’s sleep for the estimated 18 million people in North America who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.

The scientists showed that repeated obstruction of the airways makes the brain release the chemical noradrenaline which helps the brain learn to breathe more effective and purposely.

“What we showed is that repeated disruption of the normal lung activity—what happens during sleep apnea—triggers a form of learning that helps you breathe better,” said Dr. John Peever, an associate professor of neuroscience and the lead author of the study which was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The study was conducted by inducing sleep apnea in sedated rats. They found that repeated interruptions caused the brain to progressively trigger more forceful contractions of the respiratory muscles, which caused an increase in breathing.

Peever noted that the brain seemed to be using the unwanted side-effects of sleep apnea to help it learn to prevent future sleep interruptions by releasing more noradrenaline to increase the depth of breathing. The finding, he said, could serve as the basis for developing a pill from common drugs to prevent sleep apnea.


News Flash On Hot Flashes

There’s an upside to the discomfort of hot flashes associated with menopause—red face, heat flooding the body, every sweat pore opening at the least opportune moment to dampen clothing or bedding.

Researchers reviewed medical records of 60,000 women followed for 10 years in the U.S. Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study and found hot flashes are associated with lower cardiovascular risk. The greatest benefit accrued to those who endured the phenomenon since the first flash, er, flush of menopause.

This news doesn’t make it more tolerable, but during the next energy surge, menopausal women can take some comfort knowing it’s contributing to heart health.


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