By Rebecca Knight

Finally, some health news I can get behind: it’s possible to get more fit by doing less exercise.
A study, conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Canada, finds that brief spurts of high-intensity interval training – a form of exercise with the accurate acronym: HIT – produces the same benefits to your body as conventional long duration endurance training. (HIT means doing a number of short bursts of concentrated exercise with short recovery breaks in between.)
“Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously,” says Prof Martin Gibala, one of the authors of the research.

By Rebecca Knight

What are you doing to keep your mind sharp and supple as you age? Eating a diet chock-full of blueberries and beans and other antioxidant-rich foods? Meditating? Playing a game of chess, or doing a crossword puzzle every day?
Two new reports show that perhaps the best way to keep your brain young is to exercise. The reports, which appear in the latest issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, find that those who do moderate physical activity in mid life or later appear to reduce their risk of mild cognitive impairment. A six-month high-intensity aerobic exercise programme may also improve cognitive function in people who already have the condition.

Margaret McCartney

Boris Johnson isn’t just endlessly entertaining, intelligent and amusing, but he is actually, as Mayor of London, in a position of power.

So it was amusing to read his newspaper column about how his private medical examination (“my feeling from the female doctors and nurses was that I was doing better than I ever thought possible … the general ego-boost was what I imagine it must be like to be in a South-East Asian massage parlour and receive a series of extravagant and wholly warranted compliments on one’s physique.”)

However Mr Johnson’s check-up did not go to plan, because he received the results not of his own blood and other tests, but of some other unfortunate person with leukaemia. Boris laughs this off and gets his real results couriered round.

Apparently the Mayor of London’s annual exam has to be done for “insurance purposes”. But what a waste of time and money!

Margaret McCartney

It seems that people like enticements. Take the shimmering lures at make-up counters, where if you buy enough of one brand’s products, you’re promised a “gift”.

Of course, these deals rarely look so good on closer inspection. Buying one and getting one free, for example, often applies to goods where buying large quantities is impractical. And I don’t really want another make-up bag full of travel-sized cosmetics, even if not boosting my spending just a bit to get that freebie seems like a waste.

So what happens when you incentivise patients to do what is “best” for their health – lose weight, stop smoking, eat more vegetables? Over the past few years, the catalogue of research on health-related incentives has thickened.

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Margaret McCartney

The Care Quality Commission is a newish organisation, with the role of being “the independent regulator of health and social care in England…we regulate health and adult services whether provided by the NHS, local authorities, private companies or voluntary organisations.”

I had rather hoped that various alternative practitioners charging vast amounts for non-evidence-based treatments would be trembling as their doors were knocked on and decent evidence demanded. But so far, no.

This report from GP Newspaper – Watchdog calls for systematic statin checks –  suggests that the CQC will be montioring practices to make sure enough, and the cheaper, types of statins – cholestorol lowering drugs - are being used.

However statins are very unpleasant for some people to take, and many people don’t want to take them when they find that their chance of benefit is rather small. While the cheaper versions are perfectly good for the majority, there are a few people unable to either tolerate or reduce their cholesterol on them, meaning a different, and less cheap, statin might be justified.

I do hate it when the long story of how and why someone came to be, or not be on a statin is reduced to a number on a page. The very best doctor might be someone who prescribed virtually no statins, having explained small benefits clearly and having managed to assist patients to reduce their cardiac risk by other means, such as stopping smoking and losing weight.

Whereas the doctor with all his patients on statins could prescribe them without ever taking time to discuss the pros and cons.

I have no objection at all towards anonymised data being made public. But it’s what you then go on to do with it.

Margaret McCartney

An Interesting study in the Archives of Internal MedicinePhysical Activity, Function, and Longevity Among the Very Old – of almost 2000 people aged between 70 to 88 in Israel.

Those who were active or who initiated activity lived longer, and were more often independent as time went on. Physical activity was defined as activity such as swimming, walking or similar for at least 20 minutes in each of the three days before being interviewed.

I am still not sure that we are talking about causation rather than association (could it be that it isn’t exercise that causes ill health, but more that people in good health are more likely to be physically active or more able to increase their physical activity.)

On the upside, though, it’s good to hear about a straightforward, available and cheap health-conferring intervention available to a section of the population who, because of their age, are often neglected in medical research.

By Rebecca Knight

What does it mean to lead a healthy life? Sure, we all have our peccadilloes – some of us smoke cigarettes, or eat too much fast food, others spend too much time on the couch, and not enough on the treadmill. (My own indulgences include too much sun, too much chocolate, and far too much red wine.)

But with apologies to John Maynard Keynes, we’re all dead in the long run, right? Do these sins against our own wellbeing make any real difference to our longevity? Some matter more than others, according to a report in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta have determined that four lifestyle factors – never smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and following a healthy diet -together appear to be related to as much as an 80 per cent reduction in the risk of developing the most common and deadly chronic diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, that account for most deaths.

By Rebecca Knight

My pregnancy was a blurry 40 weeks of exhaustion and back pain. I had to drag myself to the gym. Curling up on the couch under a cosy blanket with the remote control seemed endlessly more appealing than yoga class.

My doctor told me not to fight it. “If you feel tired, it means your baby needs to rest,” she said reassuringly. Turns out she wasn’t entirely correct.

According to a new report in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Exercise and Pregnancy, physicians should recommend low to moderate levels of exercise to their pregnant patients. Exercise can strengthen and improve overall musculoskeletal and physiologic health as well as easing pregnancy-related symptoms, says the report.

By Rebecca Knight

It was a Friday from hell. I had two big stories due in the morning, my daughter’s 18-month checkup at the pediatrician in the afternoon, and I needed to pick up my car from the shop before the weekend arrived. While I managed to get it all done, I woke up the next morning feeling achy and rundown.

It’s a familiar pattern: stressful time at work, school or home, followed by a crippling cold. Is this merely coincidence, or is it possible that stress is what makes me sick?

By Rebecca Knight

I’ve always bragged about the ease and convenience of working from the home. It’s the great benefit of self-employment: I do my interviews and write my stories and still manage to squeeze in household chores and errands.

It’s economical, too: when I get hungry, I whip up a sandwich in my very own kitchen. And, of course, I have the luxury of not having to commute to and from an office every day. Jealous? Turns out I shouldn’t be so smug.

Health and science blog (Archived)

This blog, part of the FT's health series, is a forum for readers interested in the science, policy, management, technology, business and delivery of healthcare.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

About our regular bloggers

Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog:

Clive Cookson has been a science journalist for the whole of his working life. He joined the FT in 1987. Clive, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education.

Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow