1. Light exercise can improve stroke & heart attack recovery

    Fighting back after heart attack and stroke

    If you're recovering from a heart attack or stroke, don't take it lying down. Get up and get moving as soon as you can. It's critical for your physical recovery, of course, but it's also positively essential to your mental health -- especially if you're fighting your way back from a heart attack.

    Many heart patients face depression after an attack, and it's often so bad that doctors prescribe antidepressants such as SSRIs to fight it off.

    But those meds are a bad idea in the best of times, and after a heart attack -- when patients are already taking more pills than they can count -- those drugs can make a bad situation worse.

    Exercise, on the other hand, is a proven mood-booster that studies have shown can be as effective as SSRIs at fighting off depression. And now, a new study shows that's even true among heart attack patients.

    Researchers assigned 2,322 heart failure patients to either regular aerobic exercise or "usual care," which included advice to get exercise but no actual structured exercise program.

    You know how that works, right? Most people hear the advice but never actually engage in the exercise (this isn't just true for heart patients, by the way).

    Over the course of a year, the exercisers did consistently better on a 63-point depression test than those who didn't exercise. With an average difference of one point, it wasn't a huge improvement -- but it held throughout the study.

    In addition, many of these patients weren't all that depressed to begin with. Among those who were more seriously depressed, however, the benefit was even bigger. All told, the researchers say exercise worked about as well as antidepressant drugs -- minus the actual drugs and their side effects.

    And for the icing on the cake, those who did the exercise program were 15 percent less likely to die or return to the hospital for heart failure during the study period.

    Exercise doesn't have to be intense and you certainly don't need to work yourself to the brink of another heart attack. In this case, they used a treadmill or bike for 30 minutes three times a week.

    Other, even gentler, forms of exercise can also have a benefit. Yoga, for example, can help ease depression and boost heart health.

    And if you or someone you love is recovering from a stroke, you might want to work on your "lotus" pose, because another new study finds the gentle stretches of yoga can help restore balance.

    I don't mean the esoteric concept of balance that yoga lovers often talk about, but actual balance -- the physical coordination that many people lose after a stroke.

    In the new study, stroke survivors who tried eight weeks of yoga had better balance, were less afraid of falling, were more independent and even reported better quality of life and improved mindset over those who didn't get stretched out.

    Some of those changes might sound minor, but they led to major real-world improvements -- like stroke survivors in the yoga group who would want to walk through a store instead of ride in a scooter, or get out and visit friends instead of stay at home.

    You don't have to be a heart patient or stroke survivor to benefit from exercise. Regular movement -- even simple, gentle stretches and not necessarily yoga -- can help lower blood pressure, ease pain, boost the mood, reduce anxiety, and more.

    Exercise can even help prevent that heart attack or stroke from happening in the first place -- and that's the biggest benefit of all.

  2. Depression drugs can harm mother and baby

    Antipsychotics cause problems during pregnancy

    Just about every doctor recognizes that pregnant women shouldn't drink or smoke -- but many of those same doctors won't think twice about prescribing powerful drugs that can be even more harmful than cigarettes to mom and baby alike.

    I just don't get it.

    Now, a new study highlights the dangers of one common class of meds to both mom and her baby: Antipsychotic drugs can double the risk of gestational diabetes in pregnant women and increase the risk of problems with baby, including small size at birth and oversized heads.

    To be fair, some of those increases in risk shrank when researchers made some adjustments. But some -- including that increased head size -- didn't.

    And those aren't the only risks that come along with using antipsychotics during pregnancy.

    Last year, the FDA issued a warning that babies born to mothers who take these drugs can experience withdrawal symptoms as well as abnormal muscle movements.

    The feds say most of these problems disappear on their own, but it's hardly reassuring to a new parent who has to watch a baby shake with tremors, gasp for breath, and even have trouble feeding.

    But what's even more disturbing than the research we have is the research we don't -- because there's surprisingly little out there on what these drugs do to pregnant women and their children.

    Some docs will tell you that means the drugs haven't been proven unsafe, but that's exactly the attitude that's led to so much harm in medicine today.

    Instead of waiting for a drug to be proven unsafe, doctors need to make sure a drug is proven safe before they give it to a patient -- especially if that patient is pregnant.

    I strongly recommend depressed mothers and their doctors consider safe alternatives such as fish oil, B vitamins, and homeopathic remedies as a first line of therapy for depression.

  3. Phone calls therapy can help chase depression away

    Telephone psychotherapy is almost as effective as face-to-face treatments for beating depression and easier for patients to stick too.
  4. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can slash cancer risk

    There's another great reason to eat more seafood as the latest research shows how the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil can slash your risk of cancer.
  5. Foods that will ruin your mood

    When I get a patient facing depression, one of the first things I do -- before I run a single test -- is ask what they've been eating. And most of the time, the answer to that question tells me everything I need to know -- because people who eat garbage usually end up with a mood down in the dumps.
  6. The trans fat lie harming your health

    Everyone's terrified of trans fats these days, and it's not hard to see why: They've been so vilified that some places are actually banning them. Must be something to it, right? There is -- because the trans fats that come from hydrogenated vegetable oils are every bit as bad as their reputation, and then some: They'll up your odds of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, dementia, depression and more.
  7. Gimmicks won't help you quit

    There are plenty of gimmicks out there that claim they'll help you to quit smoking -- not to mention a couple of risky Big Pharma drugs. And just about none of them work.
  8. Antidepressants fail another trial

    There's no two ways about it: When it comes to beating depression, that last thing you want is your doctor's first choice. Tell him you're down in the dumps, and he'll reach for his prescription pad -- but the dirty secret about the depression meds used by some 30 million Americans every year is that they just don't work.
  9. Tai chi can help prevent falls

    It's just about the slowest and easiest form of exercise on the planet -- but what tai chi lacks in flash, it more than makes up for in benefits. These simple Chinese stretching exercises have been shown to help seniors beat everything from pain to depression -- and now, new research shows that they can also help improve balance and prevent falls.
  10. Antidepressants make depression worse

    Turns out antidepressants are even worse than ineffective: In a huge number of patients, they can actually make depression worse.
  11. How depression breaks your heart

    The proverbial broken heart can actually do the job for real: Depressed people have double the risk of heart attack and a much higher risk of heart problems overall than non-depressed people.
  12. Quit smoking -- or die trying?

    Nearly 70 percent of all smokers want to quit -- and half of them have tried and failed over the last year, according to new numbers from the CDC. Obviously, it ain't easy.
  13. Shine a light on seasonal depression

    Your skin isn't the only part of your body that needs a regular dose of sunlight -- your brain thrives on the stuff, too.
  14. Move your back, ease the pain

    The last thing anyone with a sore back wants to do is move it around ... and the natural reaction is to find a spot where you can sit as stiff as a board and move as little as possible.The other natural reaction, of course, is a fistful of painkillers. Don't give in to either reaction.
  15. Risky business: Sleepless kids are bad news

    Kids who miss out on sleep aren't just groggy in school -- they're also far more likely to do all the things that give parents nightmares.
  16. Plastics chemicals linked to developmental problems

    It's easy to protect your children from what you can see -- but it's a much bigger challenge to keep them safe from what you can't.
  17. The natural way to beat inflammation

    Inflammation has gone from a condition you should worry about to a marketing buzzword used to sell everything from drugs to juice to cereal. Well, at least they got it half right: You should worry about inflammation, and do what you can to bring your own levels down.
  18. 8 ways to reduce your dementia risk

    There's no surefire way to keep dementia at bay, but there are steps you can take to dramatically slash your risk -- including the following lifestyle changes you can make, starting today.
  19. Antidepressants boost women's stroke risk

    Would you rather suffer from depression or from a stroke? If you're taking antidepressants, you might not have a choice. The answer could be both.
  20. Fats beat sadness

    Looks like the old maxim "fat and happy" isn't too far off -- but it's not fat in your body that'll lift your mood. It's fat in your diet.

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