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Physical activity is essential for good health

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Of course, the benefits of physical activity will be experienced regardless of if it is being done indoors or out. However, if it is done outside, the benefit to mental health are greater. Being exposed to nature has been linked to decreased levels of physiological and psychological stress, and overall improvements in mood. 

When exercising, our brain releases natural ‘feel-good’ chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals help people feel euphoric and overall boost moods. Exercising outside magnifies these effects. Serotonin is a natural mood stabiliser which is released in higher levels when there is direct contact of a person with sun. Exposure to nature also helps alleviate stress and anxiety. As a result, this strengthens one’s immune system and improves overall health. Hence, outdoor exercise is associated with more benefits than indoor exercise.

Shinrin-Yoku is a term used in Japan which means ‘forest bathing’. The term signifies the established benefits of one spending time in nature. Forest bathing has been studied as a form of therapy for both mental health and immune system. Research has also indicated that exposure to greenery can help lower stress hormone levels, decrease prevalence of stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular mortality.  

Exercise can be divided into two classifications: endurance exercise and resistance exercise. Endurance exercise includes running and biking, whereas resistance exercise includes weightlifting. Research suggests, endurance exercises may be more beneficial to human health than resistance exercises. 

According to the researchers from the Karolinska University Hospital and Linkoping University, it was concluded that endurance exercise increased metabolic activity compared to the resistance exercise. The researchers ran a trial in which participants were assigned to three different groups. The first group did the endurance exercise and cycled for 45 minutes, the second group did the resistance exercise and performed four sets of knee extensions and four sets of leg presses; and the third group was the control group in which they were not assigned any specific exercise. After the exercise, only the group with endurance exercise showed increased metabolic activity. 

Mitochondria are often known as ‘the powerhouse of the cell’. Overall metabolic health is improved by increased mitochondrial activity which takes place during exercise. Metabolic health would be considered good with ideal levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose and it would be considered bad with increased risk of stroke, heart diseases and diabetes. Regardless of which form of physical activity one decides to opt, it is an established fact that physical activity is a pillar of good mental and physical health. As per World Health Organisation (WHO), the recommended physical activity for an adult is 75-150 minutes of strenuous activity or 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. 

According to American Cancer Study, a new report established that in United States, more than 46,000 cancer cases could be prevented annually if the citizens aimed for five hours per week of moderate intensity exercise. The study data highlighted different types of cancers that were affected by inadequate physical activity. Lack of exercise led to an increase of 16.9% of stomach cancers, 6.5% of female breast cancers, 11% of kidney cancers and 8.1% of oesophageal cancers. 

Participation in physical activity also protects brain from neurodegenerative diseases. Longitudinal studies in humans suggests that regular exercise delays the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s as it increases the size of hippocampus and prefrontal cortex. Both of these parts of brain are susceptible to the neurodegenerative diseases and because of regular physical activity, the normal decline in cognition can be delayed. 

Physical inactivity can lead to energy expenditure imbalance. This is because less energy is expended through physical activity than the energy consumed through diet. As a result, the risk of becoming overweight or obese increases. This increases the risk factors of developing cardiovascular diseases including stroke, hypertension, and myocardial infarction. It also increases risk of developing various types of cancers including lung, breast, endometrial and colon cancers. The risk of developing osteoporosis as well as diabetes increases well. 

If people are remaining static for more than 11 hours a day, their risk of developing these diseases increase by 40% compared to people who remain inactive for four hours a day. Additionally, those who are active for more than five hours a week are considered fit compared to those who remain sedentary for less than four hours a day. Lack of physical activity is responsible for 60% death rate in women and 30% mortality in men. However, it is one of the most important cause of preventable deaths all over the world. 

According to research studies done at Texas Southwestern Medical Centre and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, one can overcome sedentary lifestyle by exercising regularly for three months. Experts suggest commencing exercise with small measures will reduce number of people giving up on exercising. According to the experts, ample time should be given to body and mind to be able to adjust to the new mode of functioning. One can start with walks for 10 minutes, three times a day. This will help increase stamina and then the severity level of physical activity can be increased to a moderate level. 

Hence, the importance of physical activity cannot be overstated. It is associated with a huge variety of benefits from reducing risk factors of cardiovascular diseases to delaying cognitive impairment as well as improving menta health. Physical activity in any form will lead to only positive effects. Therefore, if one chooses endurance exercise over resistance exercise or indoor exercise vs outdoor, the benefits will be achieved regardless. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Quest of breaking the fourth wave: Germany’s new Covid restrictions

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Kuhlmann /MSC, CC BY 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons. Changes to the photo was made for this article.

With the rising number of Covid cases in Germany, the German government has announced a new set of restrictions. These restrictions will directly influence unvaccinated people. The decision came on Thursday as one of the last announcements made by the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the announcement, she called for an “act of national solidarity” to fight the fourth wave of Covid in the country which is being predicted to get worse during winter. German Vice-Chancellor and incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged the nation to get vaccinated to prevent more loss of lives and to control this “very difficult situation”

According to the latest report of the Robert Koch Institute Germany, more than 300 new deaths have been reported taking the national incidence rate to 442.1 cases per 100,000 population. 71% of the total population is vaccinated while 14.7 % have received a booster vaccination. 

The German Federal Minister for Health Jens Spahn raised his concerns over the growing number of Covid cases in the country and warned in a press conference that the situation kept growing “By the end of this winter everyone in Germany will either be vaccinated, recovered or dead.” In his recent press briefing, his last as a Health Minister, Spahn told the press that Germany has enough stock of vaccines to reach its goal of providing 30 million booster doses.

The new covid restrictions will limit the activity of the unvaccinated people in Germany and will put them in lockdown. The unvaccinated people will be barred from entering “cultural and leisure institutions and events (cinemas, theatres, restaurants, etc.) is only possible for those who are vaccinated or recovered (2G), irrespective of the incidence rates.” The new actions will also include changing the duration period of the vaccination status which will be valid for nine months after getting the second dose of vaccine unless a booster shot has been received. 

The number of participants and attendees of the community events has also been limited. Masks have been made mandatory in the classrooms of the schools. New restrictions will also affect the new year celebrations where gatherings and large crowds have been banned,

Germany is the second European country after Austria to take measures specifically against unvaccinated people. Both countries are currently dealing with anti-vaccination protests and resistance from people – as a result of which vaccine rates remain low while Covid cases are rising. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The Omicron variant – a wake up call for vaccine equity?

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As the world has been preparing to gear up to bid adieu to 2021, the last week of November brought much-dreaded news after an arduous but brave fight with the pandemic. The emergence of the new B.1.1.529 SARS-CoV-2 variant left global leaders and scientists perplexed and tense. The variant, which was subsequently named the Omicron variant after the fifteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, was rapidly declared a Variant of Concern (VOC) by the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE). 

The Omicron variant, which was first reported on 24th November in South Africa, presented evidence of a staggering 32 mutations in the spike protein, an enormous leap from its preceding Delta variant (nine mutations in the spike protein). The whirlwind of infection surges and accelerated spread is indicative of these mutations being in favour of the virus. These characteristics are only inferential and have yet to be corroborated by conclusive scientific evidence. 

The past waves of Covid-19 infections sent ripples of havoc around the world, and they only further underscored the unpreparedness of countries to deal with the raging number of cases. In this situation, one might wonder what value the vaccination efforts have to provide and why, despite the large number of doses administered globally, there are still new variants emerging. 

While there are many questions being raised about the credibility of vaccines, the truth of the matter lies somewhere else. Viruses are one-of-a-kind organisms that quickly adapt to changes in order to increase their chances of survival. Covid isn’t any different. The selective allocation of vaccines in some populations while others remain largely unvaccinated has left a giant loophole in the system, allowing the viral replication to not just escalate, but also change the way it interacts with antibodies, letting it thrive. 

The consequences of vaccine inequity can hardly be overstated. It goes much beyond a failure to provide essential protective measures fairly. The current vaccine distribution structure is distinctly skewed, with only 6% of the population in low-income countries (LICs) having received the first dose so far, while some of the high-income countries (HICs) have already started rolling out booster doses to the masses. This heavy imbalance has dampened the global efforts to fight Covid and left countries that have not been able to procure sufficient doses vulnerable. 

“More than 80% of the world’s vaccines have gone to G20 countries; low-income countries, most of them in Africa, have received just 0.6% of all vaccines.” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly. 

Lack of equity in global vaccine manufacturing and distribution is not a new concept. But with a pandemic like Covid, the monopolization of vaccine production by certain countries or companies is a dangerous tactic, threatening the overturning of the progress made towards recovery. 

This phenomenon has broadly been reflected in the reluctance to recognising vaccines produced locally in LICs. The case in point is Covishield, the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. Individuals who received both doses of the vaccine in the country or other countries in the region were not considered fully vaccinated and thus weren’t allowed to travel freely to many countries where the primary vaccine was of other brands. It was only in late September, after incessant uproar and backlash, that the United Kingdom included it in the accepted list of vaccines

Advocates for global vaccine equity strongly condemn the obscuring of vaccine designs and call for the open exchange of valuable information that will allow countries to produce the vaccines locally instead of offering it to them as donations or charity. 

Experts believe that even if pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reveal their vaccine designs, manufacturing plants will be unable to produce the vaccines on a large scale while maintaining their integrity. A major reason behind that is the absence of the tightly controlled production line that many plants will not be able to execute due to a lack of highly specialised resources and personnel. 

However, these points are counteracted by the advocates as they are of the opinion that the points raised by the companies and their spokespersons are just a way of exempting themselves from “…relinquish[ing] their control over their patents and technology, even at the cost of millions of lives,” says Achal Prabhala, coordinator at AccessIBSA, a medicine-access initiative in Bengaluru, India. 

In his opening remarks at the Special Session of the World Health Assembly, Dr. Ghebreyesus reiterated the importance of transparency in sharing vital information regarding the virus. “The time has come for countries to agree on a common, binding approach to a common threat that we cannot fully control nor prevent – a threat that comes from our relationship with nature itself.” He went ahead to commend South Africa and Botswana to report the detection of the new variant in a swift manner, and expressed his concern about the relaxation of regulations in countries that have already vaccinated the majority of their population. 

The future of global health and the course of the pandemic still remain uncertain. The current circumstances must be taken into consideration when re-evaluating protective measures against Covid. Increased access to vaccines, through responsibly allocated manufacturing, should take precedence amongst other mitigation efforts. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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November: Epilepsy awareness month

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As we exit November, while there are different festivities that are celebrated, it is important to be aware of different health issues as well. In particular, in the United States, November is National Epilepsy Month. Let’s take a look at what epilepsy is, its range of symptoms and treatments, and how you can get involved. 

Statistics on Epilepsy 

It’s estimated there are 470,000 children currently living with epilepsy in the United States. Approximately 1 out of 10 citizens will experience a seizure and approximately 1 out of 26 citizens will develop epilepsy throughout their lifetime. However, epilepsy is 10 times less funded as other neurological disorders, thus reinforcing the need to increase awareness of this disorder. 

Epilepsy: What is it? 

Epilepsy is a disorder that is chronic, meaning that it persists for a long period of time in individuals and tends to be recurrent. A characteristic of this disorder is recurring seizures with seemingly unidentifiable causes. Further research is needed to identify the specific causes but sometimes genetics or brain injuries may trigger the condition. Most individuals with epilepsy have more than one category of seizure and may have symptoms of other neurological disorders. Treatment options are further complicated by the sheer variance at how the condition affects different people in different ways – location of seizures and how they spread in the brain; how much of the brain is affected and the subsequent short and long-term effects on the individual. 

Diagnosis of epilepsy 

Epilepsy can be diagnosed by a number of ways including using neurological exams or blood tests. To determine if there are abnormalities present in the brain, other tests like an electroencephalogram (EEG) can be used to conduct electrodes on the patient’s head. The EEG detects brain waves, and abnormal brain waves are used to determine the presence of epilepsy and the type of seizure. Another type of high density EEG can detect more precise locations within the brain where seizures are occurring Computerized tomography (CT) scans involve the use of X-rays to produce images of cross-sectional slices of the brain and can determine potential causes for epilepsy, such as bleeding. Furthermore, analysis techniques, such as electrical source imaging (ESI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG), can also be used to locate seizures in the brain. 

Treatment options for epilepsy

There are different options available for treating epilepsy. For instance, there are over 20 different types of anti-seizure medicine. However there may be significant side effects including fatigue, speech issues, weight gain, and loss of coordination. More severe risks – though rare – may also include severe rashes, depression, and inflammation of certain organs. 

When the condition can no longer be managed by medication, surgery is an option if the location of the initial trigger of seizures in the brain are well-marked and confined to a small area. This involves removing the portion of the brain that causes seizures. Of course, there’s always a risk of developing complications during or post-surgery. Vagus nerve stimulation is another interesting form of therapy. This involves a vagus nerve stimulator being implanted under the skin of the patient’s chest which then sends electrical energy in bursts to the brain and vagus nerve. Remarkably this has been found to reduce seizures by 20% – 40%. Deep brain stimulation also works in the same way by sending electrical pulses regularly to the brain at timed intervals to reduce epileptic fits. And if all that seems too much hard work, a ketogenic diet which is high in fats but low in carbohydrates may also reduce seizures. 

How you can get involved 

There are multiple ways to get involved with raising awareness about epilepsy. For instance, you can contact the Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) Institute and find out how to raise awareness about the condition. Or you could join your local Epilepsy Foundation and take part in events such as a 5K run/walk. You could also get involved in other national initiatives within the United States, such as, Lemonade for Livy, Purple Pumpkin Project, Kids Crew, and Stream for Epilepsy. By joining a seizure first aid program you can learn how to administer first aid to someone experiencing a seizure. There are plenty of advocacy and epilepsy groups you could volunteer for or just by donating to an epilepsy organisation you would certainly be doing your bit to build awareness and raise the issue’s profile. Even wearing a purple ribbon, and planting purple flowers outside the home are simple ways to show your support to combat this debilitating illness. 

How does this show up in real life? 

Although it may not seem like epilepsy is prevalent or relevant to those who are unaware of the condition, it massively impacts those living with the condition and their families. It subtly influences everything a family can do and sometimes outright rears its head and causing pain for the child and family. As a result, the family attempts to raise awareness through activities such as community walks, in an effort to give voice to their pain and raise awareness about epilepsy. 

It is important for everyone to know that epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterised by seizures. While there are multiple ways to diagnose it, it still remains to be seen what causes epilepsy, and to produce more effective methods of treatment. However, there are many ways that you can join the effort to raise awareness about epilepsy and assist those in need. Therefore, it is important to contribute towards raising awareness and improving the lives of those with epilepsy and their loved ones.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The Omicron Variant begins to sweep over the world pushing leaders to make tough decisions

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U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The story of the Omicron variant began a week ago, when researchers in southern Africa discovered a new version of the coronavirus. Scientists and world leaders have responded to the latest variant, Omicron, more quickly than to any other. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified Omicron a variant of concern two days after South Africa reported it and stated on Monday that it presented a very serious risk to public health. As the current variant swiftly spreads around the world, Britain has already recorded 32 cases of the Omicron variant, which appears to be extremely contagious. Moreover, several countries, including the United States, have imposed travel bans on South Africa, where the quickly circulating new strain was discovered on 24th November, as well as seven other southern African countries.

Extra testing and self-isolation precautions are also in place for passengers from those nations. Concerns about the variant’s rapid spread have resulted in travel bans from numerous southern African countries. Beginning Monday, the Biden administration announced restrictions on non-US citizens travelling from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The State Department also published do not travel warnings to American citizens. In addition, the European Union announced plans to prohibit travel from South Africa and other southern African countries. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a news conference on Saturday announced new restrictions for tourists. Additional steps proposed by Johnson include wearing face coverings in shops and on public transport, as well as isolating all contacts of anyone who tests positive for the omicron variant for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. Moreover, anyone coming into the country will be compelled to undergo a PCR test by the end of the second day, and will be expected to self-isolate until they get a negative result. 

On the other hand, WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, has supported the South African and Botswanan governments in bringing the new variant to attention. “The WHO stands with African countries which had the courage to share life-saving public health information, helping to protect the world against the spread of Covid-19,” added Moeti. The omicron variant is the first new concern since the delta variant swept the world earlier in the summer. Thus, In the meanwhile, people should continue to take precautions to reduce their risk of infection and the spread of the virus. This involves wearing a mask and receiving the vaccine when it’s your turn.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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“Omicron: The sound of concern and chaos reaches the USA”

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After circling the globe for two years, Coronavirus has picked up a new identity. This time it has been speculated to have been first identified in South Africa on the 24th November 2021. Omicron, named after a Greek alphabet, and has the phonic of shorter “o”, and has alarmed the world with “an increased risk of reinfection”. World Health Organization has warned the world to continue following the “measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19”, which included social distancing, hygiene, use of masks in crowded places and getting vaccinated, to avoid getting infected. 

Although the virus was first detected in South Africa just a few days back, it has already put various countries around the world in lockdown including the Netherlands. Several countries, including Germany, the UK and the USA have updated their travel restrictions with their focus mainly on limiting travel from African countries. In his press conference, while announcing the travel ban on eight African countries, US President Joe Biden said that these travel restrictions “gives us time to take more action to move quickly to make sure people understand you have to get vaccinated”. He called the newly identified variant as a cause of “concern” and not of “panic”. Later that day, President Biden also brought the attention of the world to have “global vaccinations” by donating vaccinations to the underdeveloped countries of the world to stop the mutations and spread of the virus. 

About 59% of the US population is fully vaccinated while 11% is partly vaccinated against covid. These statistics put President Biden’s “concerns” over Omicron more in perspective. Dr Anthony Fauci has also emphasised the need of getting booster shots to increase the body’s immunity to fight covid: “We know from experience that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the Delta variant if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants.”

While the US expands its search for Omicron cases at the four major International Airports, seven Omicron cases have been reported in its neighbouring country Canada four of which were detected in Ontario. This new variant can be detected through a standard PCR test in a patient experiencing symptoms including “aches and pains” with “cough, a fever and loss of taste or smell” as the main symptoms to look out for.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Monoclonal Antibodies as Treatment for COVID-19 – The Health Report

What are monoclonal antibodies and how effective are they at treating COVID-19?

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All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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