Health Tips: The rewards of a giving spirit

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When Mark Twain said, “It is better to give than receive -- especially advice,” he was being clever, for sure. But he overlooked the especially powerful benefit that giving bestows. Good health.

Researchers from Ohio State University have discovered that people who are emotionally giving and believe they have even more to give have lower bodywide inflammation than folks who aren’t generous. And chronic inflammation is an instigator of everything from achy joints to heart disease, cancers, diabetes, depression, gut woes and more.

The study used data on more than 1,000 middle-age adults. The info on their social connections, plus how much they were available to support their family and friends, was compared to their blood levels of interleukin-6, a marker for inflammation. And bingo! People who had positive social relationships and believed they could give even more support in those relationships had lower IL-6.

If you feel tapped out -- without more to give -- you can develop a giving spirit by adopting these four techniques.

-- Practice daily stress reduction techniques including exercise and meditation.

-- Take 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the afternoon to sit, observe those around you (wherever you are) and think about your friends and family.

-- If someone does something nice for you -- as small as opening or holding a door, for example -- pay it forward as soon as you can.

-- Write out a list of acts of kindness and giving that you can do for friends and family. Start small. Try to do one today. More tomorrow.

Alcohol triggers irregular heartbeat

Sir Walter Scott once wrote that, “of all vices, drinking is the most incompatible with greatness.” Well, according to research published in JAMA Cardiology, that’s about right. Seems that if you stack drinking up next to having a poor diet, regular caffeine consumption and insufficient sleep, only drinking consistently causes an irregular heartbeat, aka atrial fibrillation or A-Fib.

There were 466 participants with A-Fib (and taking medication for it) in the randomized clinical trial. They used a mobile electrocardiogram device and a phone app to log in for 10 weeks whenever they experienced or consumed potential triggers of A-Fib, such as drinking alcohol and caffeine, sleeping on the left side or not getting enough sleep, eating a large meal, becoming dehydrated, having a cold drink, sticking to a particular diet and exercising.

Most participants thought caffeine would be the No. 1 trigger: It was not. In fact, there was no association between caffeine and A-Fib. This is in line with an earlier study from the University of California San Francisco that found that the relationship between caffeine and arrhythmias is pretty darn good -- it appears it may have a protective effect.

Turns out that drinking alcohol was the only tracked activity that consistently resulted in significantly more reported episodes of A-Fib.

So, if you’re being treated for A-Fib and you drink alcohol, you might want to stop for a month or two to see if it noticeably reduces episodes of irregular heartbeat. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to make such a potentially lifesaving difference so quickly?

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