News Roundup: Maggots Fight Superbugs, Runners Age Better, and More
In the long run, running lengthens lifespan
Afraid your middle-aged runs are more likely to lead to a hip replacement than health? Don't be. A new study suggests that runners over 50 tend to survive longer and are less likely than their peers to become disabled in their 60s and 70s. The beneficial effects of exercise last until age 80 and presumably beyond, according to Stanford University researchers. (It was a 21-year study, so most runners haven’t been followed beyond their early 80s.) The exercisers had health benefits that lasted even after they stopped pounding the pavement, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine report. The study doesn't say how much running is needed, but it compared members of the 50+ Runners Association with nonmembers, and running declined with time (from 4 hours to 76 minutes per week). However, a few midlife 10Ks aren't the equivalent of the fountain of youth: Even when the runners were no longer running as much, they were still more physically active than their more sedentary counterparts.
Maggots: Duking it out with that staph superbug
Medieval as it sounds, live maggots are still commonly used to clean out infections in human wounds. Now researchers at Swansea University in Wales are using the larvae to combat some of the most dangerous germs in the world. It seems that green bottle-fly maggots secrete a substance that can fight 12 different strains of MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant staph superbug that's increasingly the scourge of hospitals, schools, and gyms. It takes about 20 maggots to make one drop of Seraticin, the trademarked antibiotic. The ultimate goal is to mass-produce the compound, test it on human cells and in clinical trials, and market it as an injection, pill, or ointment. Here’s researcher Norman Ratcliffe—with some of his slithery pals—describing his team's work.
Is Wall-E right about our fat future?
The Pixar flick's satirical take on a future in which people have evolved into a race of overweight babies has the sting of plausibility. Government-funded researchers writing in the journal Obesity say that if recent trends hold up, 86.3% of adults in the United States will be overweight by 2030, and all adults will be by 2048. (Roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight today.) Sure, it's unlikely that the entire country will bulk up, but the study is intended "as a wake-up call to show what could happen if nothing changes," said researcher Dr. Lan Liang of the federal government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Changing the trend isn't a matter of doughnut avoidance, the researchers say. Rather, vast social changes—such as more pedestrian-friendly communities and a food industry that churns out healthier products—are needed.
The universal body language of sports
The Olympics are a good place to study the gestures of victory and defeat—raised arms, slumped shoulders—many of which are consistent across sports and cultures. Now research suggests we don’t learn those gestures from each other, but we may be born with them. Psychologists from the University of British Columbia and San Francisco State University analyzed photos of judo competitors at the 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which included sighted, blind, and blind-since-birth athletes from more than 30 countries. The winners, regardless of culture or ability to see, raised their arms, tilted their heads back, and puffed out their chests; the losers slumped their shoulders and narrowed their chests. Congenitally blind athletes presumably did not have the ability to learn the gestures from watching others, so there may be some hardwiring via evolution, according to the report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Why? The physical gestures may help enhance or inhibit an individual's social status. No word on the Tiger Woods fist-pump or the end-zone dance.
Clumsy children make for obese adults?
Youngsters who are clumsy and uncoordinated at age 7 are about two to four times as likely to be obese in adulthood as their more agile and graceful peers. Researchers from the Örebro University Hospital in Sweden say the obesity-prone kids may be showing subtle signs of “poorer neurological function,” and that may explain why obese adults are at greater risk of dementia and other cognitive problems in old age. Results come from a study of more than 11,000 people born in Great Britain in 1958. The British Medical Journal study measured fine motor control, such as the ability to copy a design, rather than sports abilities, such as hitting a ball with a bat. Still, it’s not likely that such children would participate in dance, sports, or other activities that would keep the weight off. The next study we’d like to see? One that finds ways to make physical activity fun and fulfilling for obesity-prone kids.