News Flash: Cutting 300 Calories a Day, Time to Do Nothing, and Other Health News

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Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at a new study that reveals the powerful disease-fighting benefits of a little calorie cutting, the buzzy new Dutch wellness term that Americans should pay attention to, and some new research that suggests the right lifestyle can help counteract a high genetic risk of Alzheimer’s.

Just a little bit of calorie restriction pays big dividends

Scientists have been experimenting with calorie restriction for some time to fight disease and help expand the life span of rodents and other animals. Now a new study covered by The New York Times suggests that in young and middle-aged people, cutting calories also can have a big impact beyond just weight loss.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, asked 143 healthy men and women to try to cut their calories by 25 percent. Many didn’t achieve it, with the group slashing just 12 percent of their total daily calories on average, or roughly 300 calories, the amount found in a bagel, a few chocolate chip cookies or a small ice-blended coffee drink.

Even though they were in the healthy range for weight, all the dieters lost weight and body fat, improved their cholesterol, improved their blood pressure, and had better blood sugar control and less inflammation. They also reported better sleep, increased energy and better mood. The healthy people in the control group not restricting calories did not see such improvements.

Some of those benefits came from weight loss—the dieters lost 16 pounds on average over two years—but the improvements in their metabolic health were far greater than what could be attributed to the weight loss alone, suggesting that calorie restriction might have some unique biological effects on disease pathways in the body, according to the study’s lead author William Kraus, M.D., professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University.

“The magnitude was rather astounding,” Kraus said. “In a disease population, there aren’t five drugs in combination that would cause this aggregate of an improvement.”

The study does not yet answer the question of whether calorie restriction extends life span in humans. Researchers hope to follow up with these dieters in 10 years to see whether the benefits persist. But it’s nice to know that eliminating the equivalent of one snack a day has such powerful health perks.

Do you know niksen?

First there was hygge, a Danish term for staying in and getting cozy. Now Time Health is sharing another Northern European trend that Americans might want to get on board with—the Dutch practice of niksen, which literally means to be idle or do something without any use; to simply be.

That could be as simple as just sitting in a chair and looking out the window. While being mindful is more about being engaged in the present, niksen is about letting your mind wander when resting or even doing routine activities such as knitting or taking a walk.

Idleness has typically been frowned on, particularly in the hyper-productive U.S., but increasingly it’s becoming a necessary antidote to stress, anxiety and burnout.

And it comes with another benefit, experts say. Doing nothing allows the brain freer rein to process information and solve problems, thereby boosting creativity. So take a few minutes out of each day to do nothing, slowly working up to more time, ideally one evening a week without appointments or other obligations.

Good news for those at higher risk of dementia

New research suggests that a healthy lifestyle can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, even among those with a higher genetic risk.

People with a high genetic risk and poor health habits were about three times more likely to develop dementia than people with a low genetic risk and good habits, researchers reported recently at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Los Angeles.

A good diet, adequate movement, limiting alcohol and not smoking made dementia less likely, according to this Associated Press story in the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier research found that healthy living could overcome a high genetic risk for heart disease. Now the same holds true for dementia. Clean living does make a difference.

Photo credit: Cecilie_Arcurs, Getty Images