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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Health

Meditation offers slight relief from anxiety

Posted: 07 Jan 2014 10:05 PM PST

Study shows that the practice may have moderate benefits to one's health.

Meditation may help ease anxiety and depression in certain patients, and in some cases the practice may be as effective as taking anti-depressant medications, said a study.

However, a review of scientific literature on mindfulness meditation published in the Journal Of The American Medical Association found that the effects of meditation are limited.

For instance, little or no evidence could be found of meditation's impact on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep and weight.

Mindfulness meditation is a form of Buddhist self-awareness designed to focus attention – not judgment – to the moment at hand, the JAMA study said.

"The evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation programmes could help reduce anxiety, depression, and pain in some clinical populations," it said.

"Thus, clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation programme could have in addressing psychological stress."

The systematic review and meta-analysis was led by experts at Johns Hopkins University and included 47 randomised clinical trials with 3,515 participants.

Of the thousands of studies the authors found on the topic, just 3% were scientifically rigorous enough to meet the criteria for inclusion in the JAMA review. Those that were reviewed found some small to moderate benefits, but lacked evidence of leading to better health.

"Contrary to popular belief, the studies overall failed to show much benefit from meditation with regard to relief of suffering or improvement in overall health," said an accompanying commentary by Allan Goroll, a doctor at Harvard University.

"With the important exception that mindfulness meditation provided a small but possibly meaningful degree of relief from psychological distress."

The patients who received these benefits did not typically have full-blown anxiety or depression. Mindfulness meditation is usually practiced for about 30 minutes per day, and emphasises acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment. It also requires body and mind relaxation.

"A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing," said the JAMA study's lead author Madhav Goyal, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

"But that's not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways."  — AFP

More smokers worldwide than in 1980

Posted: 07 Jan 2014 10:15 PM PST

According to a recent study, the number of smokers around the world has grown tremendously.

More people smoke worldwide today than in 1980, as population growth surges and cigarettes gain popularity in countries such as China, India and Russia, researchers said.

For instance, China boasted nearly 100 million more smokers in 2012 than it had three decades ago, even though its smoking rate fell from 30% to 24% in that span, said the findings in the Journal Of The American Medical Association.

The rise in the number of smokers comes despite overall declines in the smoking rate in recent decades, as many people have realised the health dangers of tobacco, said the report.

The data was published as part of a series of tobacco-related articles to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first US Surgeon General's report on the risks of smoking.

"Since we know that half of all smokers will eventually be killed by tobacco, greater numbers of smokers will mean a massive increase in premature deaths in our lifetime," said co-author Alan Lopez of the University of Melbourne, Australia.

The study, led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, measured data from 187 countries. It found that the global smoking rate among men was 41% in 1980, but has since declined to an average of 31%.

Among women, the estimated prevalence of daily tobacco smoking was 10.6% in 1980, and by 2012 that had fallen to 6.2%.

The most rapid decrease began in the mid-1990s, but smoking has actually risen again among men since 2010, said the findings.

"This deceleration in the global trend was in part due to increases in the number of smokers since 2006 in several large countries including Bangladesh, China, Indonesia and Russia," said the study.

China had 182 million smokers in 1980, and nearly 282 million in 2012, it said. India gained 35 million smokers – bringing its total to 110 million – even though the smoking rate fell from 19% to 13% of the population. Russia, where about one third of people smoke, has added one million smokers since 1980.

Globally, the number of smokers has climbed from 721 million in 1980 to 967 million in 2012. The number of cigarettes smoked annually has also risen 26% over the past three decades.

"The greatest health risks are likely to occur in countries with high prevalence and high consumption," said the study.

Those countries include China, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Korea, the Philippines, Uruguay, Switzerland and Russia, it said.

The highest smoking rates among men in 2012 were in Timor-Leste (61%) and Indonesia (57%), followed by Armenia (51.5%), Russia (51%) and Cyprus (48%). Top countries for women smokers were Greece (34.7%) and Bulgaria (31.5%).

Austria had a female smoking rate of 28.3%, followed by France (27.7%) and Belgium (26.1%). A larger proportion of women in France smoked in 2012 (28%) than 1980 (19%), while the rate for men went the opposite direction, declining from 42% to 34%.

In all, France had 14 million smokers in 2012, two million more people than in 1980.

The study also measured how many cigarettes on average were consumed per smoker each day in 2012, and found Mauritania was the highest with 41, or two packs a day.

Saudi Arabia's smokers averaged 35 cigarettes per day, and Taiwan's 32.

"As tobacco remains a threat to the health of the world's population, intensified efforts to control its use are needed," said the study.

The research also examined where the biggest gains against smoking have been made since 1980, particularly in countries where more than one in five people smoked. Iceland, Mexico and Canada had the most significant declines (3%), followed by Sweden, Norway and Denmark. The United States, New Zealand, Australia and Britain rounded out the top 10 for the drop in smoking rates.

The US smoking rate went from 30.6% in 1980 to 15.8% in 2012. Similar trends were seen in Australia.

"Globally, there has been significant progress in combating the deadly toll of tobacco use," said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who was not involved in the study.

"Where countries take strong action, tobacco use can be dramatically reduced." — AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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