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Sperm count improves with exercise, arthritis risk lowered by sunshine and post-war trauma on the rise

A round-up of the health news headlines on Tuesday 5 February

Active men have higher sperm counts than couch potatoes watching TV, writes The Guardian this morning. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health has shown that men who watch more than 20 hours of television a week have almost half the sperm count of those who watch hardly any. Exercise, however, appears to improve men’s sperm count. Those who took part in the research who did 15 or more hours of moderate to vigorous exercise every week were found to have sperm counts that were 73% higher than the least active.

The study is a relatively small one, and a low sperm count does not mean that a man will be unable to father a child but, say the authors, it could be that semen quality can be improved by a more active lifestyle. The 222 men in the study were asked about their exercise over the previous three months, and how much time they spent watching television, DVDs, or videos over the same period. They were also asked about medical or reproductive health problems, diet, stress levels, and smoking.

But it comes as some other studies have suggested that strenuous exercise may damage male fertility, based mainly on the results of studies involving cyclists and long-distance runners.

Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said the authors’ conclusions were plausible. It was possible that testicular heating - through sitting on a sofa for a long time - could decrease sperm counts.

But he added: ‘It remains to be seen if coaxing a TV-watching couch potato into doing some regular exercise could actually improve his sperm count or whether there exists an unknown fundamental difference between men who like exercise and those who do not, which might account for the findings.’

The BBC reports of another Harvard study, this time from Harvard Medical School, which says that living in a sunnier climate may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The study of more than 200,000 women, living in different types of climate, suggested a link between sunlight and the risk of developing the disease. They speculated that vitamin D, which is produced in sunlight, may protect the body.

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking the joints and it can be intensely painful. It is more common in women, but the reason why a patient’s own defences turn against them is unknown.

Dr Chris Deighton, the president of the British Society for Rheumatology, said it was an “interesting study” which “gives us more clues” about how the environment can affect the chances of getting rheumatoid arthritis.

He said: ‘We cannot advocate everybody sitting in the sunshine all day to protect from rheumatoid arthritis, because UV-B burns people and increases the risk of skin cancer. The treatment options in rheumatology have transformed the lives of patients with this crippling disease in recent years and anything that adds to our knowledge is welcomed.’

But if you thought joining the Army would be a good way to boost sunshine levels, think again. The Sun reports that the number of soldiers being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has soared and is four times higher than in 2008. Official statistics have shown that a total of 94 were registered as new sufferers of the disorder in a three-month period last year, compared with 25 diagnoses in the same period in 2008. For the full 12 months between October 2011 and September 2012, a total of 305 cases were logged - double the 153 recorded from 2007 to 2008.

Symptoms of PTSD, which can include flashbacks and crippling paranoid behaviour, is most likely in troops who had ‘high combat exposure’ and felt in danger of being killed. The Ministry of Defence report also said rates of mental disorders in female troups were ‘significantly higher’ than males, while officers were less likely to suffer from the stress compared with lower-ranking colleagues.

An MoD spokesman said the mental health of service personnel was ‘a top priority’.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Silly. Why this study got such wide coverage is baffling.
    Professional athletes might exercise 15 hours a week, but the average Joe can't possibly do that. People who watch a lot of TV tend to be sedentary, sedentary people tend to be fat and out-of-shape, and ...you can draw your own conclusions.
    No need for a study to prove that fat guys are less sexual.

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