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Why you should listen to relaxing words as you sleep — and 5 other health takeaways we learned this week

Should you move away from Mickey D.'s? What a new study says about being close to fast food joints and bars.
Should you move away from Mickey D.'s? What a new study says about being close to fast food joints and bars. (Getty Images)

Welcome to your weekly check-in on the latest health news you might have missed — including the new CDC guidelines on COVID — and why the agency no longer recommends that Americans isolate for five days after testing positive. Meanwhile, the FDA has announced that food packaging like hamburger wrappers and microwave popcorn bags will no longer contain PFAS, or "forever chemicals." Over on TikTok, people are putting diaper rash cream on their faces as the latest skin care trend. And Oprah Winfrey has announced she's leaving the board of WeightWatchers after sharing her experience with using weight loss medications.

While you're getting up to speed on those health headlines, read on to find out what new studies taught us this week. From the risks of living next to a bar (or a Burger King) to the benefits of doing yoga, here's what you need to know.

🍔 Living near fast food restaurants may be bad for your heart

Living closer to pubs, bars and fast food restaurants may have a surprising impact on your health, a recent study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure suggests. The research, based on data from over 500,000 adults in the UK Biobank, found a 16% higher risk of heart failure associated with a greater density of these establishments, particularly in areas that didn’t have nearby wellness facilities like gyms. The theory is that people are more likely to eat unhealthy foods (hello, Double Big Mac) if they’re more readily available, which can contribute to heart disease — especially if they’re not spending their time working out at a gym or getting their exercise in other ways.

👂🏻 Hearing relaxing words may help you sleep better

New research published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that hearing relaxing words while you are sleeping actually slows down your heart activity, promoting deeper rest. This challenges the idea that the body is entirely disconnected from the external world during sleep, and shows how the brain and body are connected even when we can’t fully communicate.

You can put this research into practice by listening to a relaxing meditation as you sleep — or, if you can find someone willing, have a partner whisper soothing words. It’s also one reason why you may want to shut off your TV before drifting off to sleep: your body may be absorbing more of what’s going on in the outside world than you assume.

💪🏾 A reason to take ginseng after the gym

Sore and tired after a workout? You may want to try ginseng. Taking ginseng reduces fatigue and aids muscle recovery after a workout, according to a new study published in the open-access journal Nutrients. The supplement, which is commonly used in Chinese medicine, has also been associated with lower risk of injury, which can help improve overall athletic performance.

🧘🏼 Yoga can help older women with memory

Can yoga ward off memory issues? According to new findings published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, there are reasons to think so. The study, from the University of California Los Angeles, looked at women over 50 with risk factors for Alzheimer’s. The researchers broke the women up into two groups, and had one group do Kundalini yoga (which focuses on meditation and breath work), while the other group stuck to standard memory training exercises. The researchers found that the yoga group received significant memory benefits the other group didn’t, such as improvement in their own perceptions of memory and increased connectivity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that handles stress-related memories.

👄 Good news for fast talkers

No, you don’t need to speak a mile a minute in order to have better brain health — but the speed at which you speak may be significant, according to a recent study by Baycrest and the University of Toronto. The study involved 125 participants aged 18 to 90 and involved conducting various assessments, such as a picture-naming game. The researchers found that while word-finding speed declined with age, it was the overall speed of speech — particularly in naming pictures — that most strongly correlated with brain health. The study suggests that testing talking speed could help aid in early detection of cognitive decline.

🎒More school may mean slower aging

A new study from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center has discovered that those with a higher education level had a slower pace of biological aging and a lower risk of death. But it’s likely not just hitting the books that makes you more likely to age better: higher education has previously been linked with a range of health-promoting behaviors and lifestyles, including better access to health care and more nutritious diets.