Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sitting in Traffic is Bad for Your Health

If you’ll be driving on busy roads this holiday weekend, you might want to take note of a new study about traffic and air pollution: The research, conducted by the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, suggests that keeping car windows closed and fans switched off while stuck in slow-moving traffic jams can reduce your risk of exposure to toxic fumes by up to 76 percent.

Using the fan’s or air conditioner’s “recirculate” option ranked second best when researchers tested five different ventilation settings, and they say that this can also be a good choice for reducing exposure to pollutants.

The findings aren’t just applicable to weekend or vacation driving; in their paper, the study authors note that daily commuting time has increased over the years in Britain, where people spent about an hour each day driving to and from work in 2013. The numbers are similar in the United States: Americans spend an average of nearly 52 minutes on their round-trip commutes, according to 2013 government data.

RELATED: The Psychology of Road Rage

Air pollution is considered among the top 10 health risks faced by humans by the World Health Organization, which attributes it to 7 million premature deaths a year. It’s an especially big problem in urban cities, the study authors write, where traffic-light intersections are known as “pollution hotspots that contribute disproportionately higher to overall commuting exposure.” Last year, the same researchers showed that drivers stuck at traffic lights were exposed to up to 29 times more harmful pollution particles than those driving in free-flowing traffic.

In London, they note, air pollution is estimated to kill more than 10 times the amount of people as automobile accidents.  And in the United States, exposure to ambient particulate matter is the eighth leading cause of death.

The researchers wanted to study the effects of different vehicle ventilation systems on a driver’s or passenger’s exposure to both fine and coarse particulate matter—two types of pollution consisting of vehicle exhaust, ozone, and other toxins prevalent the air. So they performed readings both inside and outside a 2002 Ford Fiesta in Guildford, a “typical UK town” of about 137,000 residents, at busy three- and four-way traffic intersections during winter-season rush hours.

RELATED: 15 Small Changes for a Leaner, Healthier You

Five scenarios were studied, with different combinations of windows (open or closed), fan (off, partial speed, or full speed), and heat (off, low temperature, or high temperature). When it came to pollution exposure, results varied widely depending on the ventilation.

When driving with the windows open, particulate matter readings in the car were equal to those outside of the car. When the windows were rolled up and the fan was switched off, however, exposure to particulate matter was reduced by up to 76 percent.

“Where possible and with weather conditions allowing, it is one of the best ways to limit your exposure by keeping windows shut, fans turned off and to try and increase the distance between you and the car in front while in traffic jams or stationary at traffic lights,” said lead author Prashant Kumar, Ph.D., in a press release. “If the fan or heater needs to be on, the best setting would be to have the air re-circulating within the car without drawing in air from outdoors.”

RELATED: How to (Safely) Share the Road With Bad Drivers

Kumar’s study isn’t the first to suggest that hitting the recirculate button is a good option while stuck in traffic; a 2013 study from University of California researchers also came to similar conclusions. This was, however one of the first studies to test several different ventilation options head-to-head at busy urban intersections, specifically.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

You May Need to Replace Your Sunglasses More Often Than You Think

Even if you love your current sunglasses, you still might need a new pair of shades. It seems sunglasses’ UV protection may deteriorate over time, and current industry tests are not sufficient for determining how long it’s safe to wear them, according to a study from Brazil.

Most Brazilians wear the same pair every day for about two years, the study notes, yet it has not been proven that lenses maintain the same level of protection after that type of exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The findings may have implications for the sunglass industry in the United States, as well. There is no current recommendation for when, exactly, people should retire their old pairs—and protecting eyes from the sun is important anywhere in the world, as UV exposure can lead to cataracts, retina damage, and other long-term eye problems and vision loss.

The new research focuses on Brazil’s system for classifying sunglasses by category, based on lens darkness and the level of UV protection offered. To be certified in one of these categories, lenses must pass a test in which they are exposed to a 450-watt sun simulator lamp for 50 hours at a distance of 30 centimeters. This is equal to two full days of average summer sun exposure, or four days of average winter sun exposure, the study authors write. However, because of Brazil’s proximity to the equator, the sun there is stronger than average. So in actuality, this test is only equivalent to 23.5 hours of sun exposure in the city of São Paulo, for example.

A previous survey found that Brazilians wear their sunglasses for an average of two hours a day for two years straight. The aging tests, the authors argue, should also be revised to reflect this.

RELATED: The Best Sunglasses for Healthy Eyes

In order to represent average consumer use throughout the country, they calculate that both the time and distance of exposure in the sun-simulator test needs to change to 134.6 hours at 5 centimeters. These calculations are specific to Brazil, the authors say, but may also be helpful for other countries at similar latitudes. (Other countries around the world have similar requirements for sunglasses.)

“It’s still too soon to confirm that UV protection deteriorates over sun exposure,” study author Liliane Ventura, PhD, a professor at the University of São Paulo, wrote in an email. “If the aging test performed by sun simulator with current exposure parameters is not revised, then there are no means to guarantee that UV protection does not change over time.”

The report, published in Biomedical Engineering OnLine, suggests that in addition to UV protection, lenses’ shatterproof qualities may degrade as well.

Although the same aging standards are not used in the United States, Jeff Pettey, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), says that the new research does make important points that could be relevant to Americans.

RELATED: 6 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Contacts

“They’re suggesting that the way the industry currently tests sunglasses may not be adequate,” says Dr. Pettey. “There’s a lot we may be unaware of that happens over time—so while there is no official recommendation right now, it might make sense to consider looking for a new pair if you’ve worn the same ones regularly for a couple of years.”

If you’re really curious about whether it’s still safe to wear a pair of old favorites, adds Dr. Pettey, many eyeglass retailers can test lenses’ UV protection levels.

Until more is known, consumers can protect themselves by making sure they buy good glasses in the first place, by purchasing lenses that are labeled “100% UV protection” or “UV400.” Most pairs sold in the United States offer this level of protection, Dr. Pettey says, but it’s still a good idea to confirm before purchasing. (According to a 2014 AAO survey, almost half of people shopping for sunglasses don’t think to check for this language.)

Don’t take into account factors like cost, polarization, lens color or darkness, either; these don’t necessarily make a difference in UV blockage. “Even clear lenses you’d wear with a prescription can have protection, as well; it’s not necessarily about how dark they are,“ says Dr. Pettey.

RELATED: 9 Worst Eye Care Mistakes You’re Making

Size and fit, however, do matter. “Bigger is better if you’re outdoors doing activities for longer periods of time,” Dr. Pettey says. “If you’re skiing or out on the ocean and getting reflected UV light from all directions, larger wrap-around eyewear will certainly offer more protection.”

Ventura says that while there’s no way to know how often sunglasses should be replaced, she does recommend against buying them from locations where they’ve already been exposed to sunlight—from an outdoor stand on the boardwalk or beach, for example.

For now, Ventura and her team are conducting further tests on how sunglass lenses hold up over time, and hopes to report more definitive findings in the near future. “We are willing (and have proposed an effective method) to know how long UV protection lasts,” she says. “It’s a wake-up call for the sunglasses standards to be revised.”

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4 Health Rumors You Seriously Need to Stop Believing

Just like old habits, old medical rumors are hard to shake. Here are the facts versus fiction on some persistent health hearsay (cancerous underwear! toxic fish!) so you can stop worrying once and for all.

The rumor: It’s bad to eat fish during pregnancy

The truth: Nuh-Uh! While there are certain foods that pregnant women should avoid, moms-to-be can continue eating most kinds of fish worry-free. A recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that eating three to four servings of fish (including tuna!) per week while pregnant was linked to increases in kids’ IQs. Just continue to avoid eating the highest-mercury fish: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish.

The rumor: Underwire bras cause cancer

The truth: Nope! Some people still claim that underwire bras could compress the lymphatic system of the breast, making toxins build up. The reality? Newer research has demonstrated that neither the style of bra you wear nor the length of time you wear it has any effect whatsoever on breast cancer risk.

RELATED: 6 Big Myths About Hydration You Shouldn’t Believe

The rumor: Cracking fingers leads to arthritis

The truth: Phsaw! If the popping isn’t painful, it’s fine. Studies show that knuckle crackers are no more likely to develop arthritis than folks without this habit. 

The rumor: Eating soy messes with fertility

No! Animal studies have suggested that consuming more soy might affect fertility due to its phytoestrogens, but there’s scant evidence that this is the case for humans. In fact, research suggests that women who get their protein from mostly soy and plant foods are less likely to have ovulation issues. 

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Friday, August 26, 2016

8 Things to Know Before You Get Lasik

You’ve worn glasses or contacts forever, and frankly, you’re tired of the hassle. You want to see clearly from the second you wake up in the morning till the moment you drift to sleep at night. But if you’re considering Lasik, you probably have some questions like, "Will I be laid up for days?“ "Will it hurt?" And: "What are the odds it’ll work?" Before you go under the laser, here are a few things you should know. 

How is Lasik done?

After your eye surgeon applies numbing drops, she makes an incision in the cornea and lifts a thin flap. Then a laser reshapes the corneal tissue underneath, and the flap is replaced. "The patient can see very quickly,” says Wilmington, Delaware-based ophthalmologist Robert Abel, Jr., MD, author of The Eye Care Revolution“You get off the table and think, ‘Wow.’" 

Who can get the procedure?

Lasik is used to treat the common vision problems nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. To find out if you’re a good candidate for the surgery, see an ophthalmologist for an eye exam. “You need to make sure your cornea is uniform, you don’t have severe dry eye or other eye conditions, and your prescription is stable,” explains Dr. Abel.

Lasik can also be used to fix presbyopia—that maddening effect of aging that makes it harder to focus close-up—but you need to have one eye corrected for near vision and the other for distance. This technique, called Monovision Lasik, affects depth perception and sharpness, so you may still require glasses for visually demanding activities like driving at night, or reading fine print for long periods of time. (The FDA recommends doing a trial with monovision contact lenses first.)

Also know that as you get older, your vision may continue to get worse, so you may need another Lasik procedure or glasses down the road, says Dr. Abel.

What’s the success rate?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 90% of Lasik patients end up with vision somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40

There’s chance you will still need to use corrective lenses sometimes: A 2013 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that more than 50% of people who get Lasik or other laser vision-correction surgery wear glasses or contacts at least occasionally. Still, 80% of the survey respondents reported feeling "completely” or “very satisfied” with their procedure.

According to the FDA, results are usually not as good in people who have very large refractive errors. Make sure you discuss your expectations with your ophthalmologist to see if they’re realistic.

RELATED: The Surprising Effect of Pregnancy and Nursing on Eyesight

What are the risks?

While the thought of a laser boring into your eye may seem, well, terrifying, the procedure is overwhelmingly safe, Dr. Abel says, noting that the risk of problems is about 1%.

That said, it’s important to weigh the risks against the benefits, as the potential complications can be debilitating. The FDA has a list on its site, including severe dry eye syndrome, and a loss in vision that cannot be fixed with eyewear or surgery. Some patients develop symptoms like glare, halos, and double vision that make it especially tough to see at night or in fog. 

There are also temporary effects to consider. According to the Consumer Reports survey, many respondents experienced side effects—including dry eyes, halos, and blurry vision—that lasted six months or longer.

One thing you don’t have to worry about: Flinching or blinking during the procedure. A device will keep your eyelids open, while a suction ring prevents your eye from moving.

How long will I be out of commission?

You will need someone to drive you home after the procedure, but you can go back to work the very next day. 

How much will this cost?

According to, the cost can range from $299 per eye to more than $4,000 per eye. Geography, technology, and the surgical experience of the doctor all factor into the price. Insurance companies don’t typically cover the surgery, but you can use tax-free funds from your FSA, HSA, or HRA account to pay for it.

RELATED: 5 Foods for Healthy Eyes

Is Lasik the only option?

Epi-LASIK is a similar laser procedure, but it’s done without making a surgical incision, says Dr. Abel. “The risk of complications is even lower than traditional Lasik, and that’s why a lot of people are opting to get Epi-Lasik.“ The catch: The recovery takes longer. You’ll need to wait 4 days before you can drive, he says, and 11 days to see really well.

How can I find a good doctor?

With nearly every daily deal site offering discounts on laser eye surgery, it can be tempting to choose the cheapest doc. But it’s important you see someone with a wealth of experience, says Dr. Abel. After all, these are your eyes we’re talking about. Dr. Abel suggests calling your local university hospital and asking an administrative assistant or nurse where they refer their Lasik patients. “You want to go to someone with good follow-up care and an extended warranty or guarantee of at least three years in case you need a correction later in life,” says Dr. Abel.

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How to Break a Bad Habit in 3 Steps

You’re a nail biter. Spend too much time on the couch watching TV. A chip fiend and chronic late-night snacker. But here’s some good news if you have a weakness you just can’t seem to shake: Research is shedding light on the most effective ways to break a habit for good. Here, three simple tactics to help you quit once and for all.

Tune in to the urge

One study of smokers found that mindfulness training was twice as effective at helping people quit as a more standard, behavior-based cessation program. The researchers believe mindfulness can work for any type of pattern you’re trying to fix. Plugging into the feelings associated with a craving helps you become less in thrall to it, so you can learn to let it go. 

RELATED: Women Feel Better About Their Bodies Than They Used To

Change your environment 

Your surroundings can encourage a bad habit or facilitate a good one. Practical pointers: To stave off autopilot snacking on sweets, for example, swap the cookie jar with a fruit bowl. Or, if you need to stop checking your phone at red lights, move it from the cup holder to your zipped handbag. 

Replace that habit with a healthier one

Bad habits tend to have triggers (like stress) that prompt you to engage in them. So come up with a plan ahead of time for how you will respond to those cues: If you, say, chew your nails when you get frazzled at work, start practicing deep breathing each time you feel overwhelmed. 

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

5 Times You Really, Seriously Need to Go to the ER

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for hypothyroidism. It may take a few trips to the doctor to get the right remedy, and over time, your prescribed medication may change. Heres a brief look at the possibilities:

Synthetic hormones.
Most people with hypothyroidism first receive a synthetic thyroid hormone known as levothyroxine; the brand names are Synthroid, Levoxyl, Unithroid, and Levothroid. This medication often gets you back to normal within weeks. And youll take it for the rest of your life. But it doesnt work for everyone.

“About 80 percent of patients who test positive for hypothyroidism get a prescription for levothyroxine and feel better,” says endocrinologist Theodore Friedman, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and the University of California, Los Angeles. “For the other 20 percent, we need to be flexible. I get the patients who tell me conventional treatment isnt working. And I believe them.”

Combination therapy.
Your thyroid produces two hormones, but synthetic levothyroxine replaces only one, known as T4. The biochemistry can get complicated, but basically your body has to convert T4 into yet another hormone called T3 for your thyroid to work well.

Experts like Friedman and Baylor Universitys Ridha Arem, MD, a nationally known endocrinologist, believe T4 treatment alone doesnt do the job for some patients. For them, Friedman also prescribes a small amount of supplemental T3 (brand name Cytomel), so-called combination therapy.

Other animal-based hormones.
Some experts may even reject this approach in favor of animal-based hormone treatment (the most common brand is Armour). Manufactured in the United States for more than 100 years, this medication is made from the desiccated thyroid tissue of pigs.

The major thyroid organizations consider it outdated, but some specialists swear by it. “I clearly have patients who do better on Armour,” Friedman says. Even its strongest advocates arent sure why Armour would be more effective. But it contains both T3 and T4, as well as lesser-known hormones called T1 and T2 and other substances.

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Fast Action Can Prevent Sepsis Death, CDC Says

TUESDAY, Aug. 23, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Many cases of life-threatening sepsis could be recognized and treated long before it causes severe illness or death, U.S. health officials report.

Sepsis, or septicemia, occurs when the body has an extreme response to an infection. Without prompt treatment, organ failure can quickly follow.

Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 70 percent of patients with sepsis had used health care services recently or had chronic diseases that required regular medical care.

That means there are many opportunities for health care providers to intercept sepsis along its potentially deadly course, according to the CDC report.

“When sepsis occurs, it should be treated as a medical emergency,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in an agency news release. “Doctors and nurses can prevent sepsis and also the devastating effects of sepsis, and patients and families can watch for sepsis and ask, ‘Could this be sepsis?’”

Infections of the lung, urinary tract, skin and gut most often lead to sepsis. In most cases, the germ that caused the sepsis-triggering infection can’t be identified. But when they are identified, the most common culprits are Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and some types of Streptococcus, the report said.

Patients with infections who are most likely to develop sepsis are aged 65 and older, less than 1 year old, people with weakened immune systems and those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes.

But even healthy children and adults can develop sepsis from an infection, the CDC said in its Aug. 23 Vital Signs report.

Signs and symptoms of sepsis include: shivering, fever, or feeling very cold; extreme pain or discomfort; clammy or sweaty skin; confusion or disorientation; shortness of breath and a high heart rate.

Health care providers play a critical role in preventing sepsis. This includes following infection control measures such as hand washing and by ensuring patients get recommended vaccines, the CDC said.

It’s also essential to educate patients and their families about the need to prevent infections, manage chronic health conditions and seek immediate medical care if an infection doesn’t improve.

The CDC had additional advice for health care providers: Know the signs and symptoms of sepsis. If sepsis is suspected, order tests to determine if an infection is present, where it is and what caused it. Start antibiotics and other recommended medical care immediately.

Also, monitor patients closely and reassess antibiotic treatment within 24 to 48 hours or sooner to determine whether the type of antibiotics, dose and duration are correct, or need to be changed.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of General Medical Sciences has more on sepsis.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

6 Mistakes You're Making With Your Contacts

Proper contact lens hygiene is nothing to roll your eyes at: A new government report warns that bad habits (like wearing your lenses to bed) can lead to eye infections and possibly permanent injuries. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined more than 1,000 cases of contact lens-related infections reported to a federal database over the last decade, and found that nearly 1 in 5 of those infections resulted in eye damage—either a decline in vision, a scarred cornea, or the need for a corneal transplant. Yikes.

But the agency also found that by simply using your contacts the way you’re supposed to, you can protect your peepers: About 25% of the reported cases involved behaviors known to put a person at greater risk of eye infection.

“Contact lenses are a safe and effective form of vision correction when worn and cared for as recommended,” said Michael Beach, PhD, director of the CDC’s Healthy Water Program, in a press release about the survey. “However, improper wear and care of contact lenses can cause eye infections that sometimes lead to serious, long-term damage.” 

Below, seven mistakes you might be making, and what to do instead.

RELATED: 5 Foods for Healthy Eyes

You sleep in your contacts

The enzymes and antibodies that protect the surface of your eyes require oxygen to fight off germs. When your eyes are closed at night, the air supply is reduced; wear your contacts to bed and there’s even less oxygen available. The bottom line: When the PJs come on, the contacts should come out.

You handle your lenses with dirty fingers

To avoid transferring oil, dirt, and bacteria to your eyes (ew), clean your hands before you clean your contacts.

You’re not rubbing your contacts

Even if you use a ‘no-rub’ contact solution, it’s still a good idea: Give your lenses a rub in your (well-cleaned) palm to remove germs and protein buildup.

You don’t change your solution daily

As Reena Garg, MD, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, told Health in a prior interview, "That’s like doing your laundry in dirty water.“ According to the CDC, you should always use fresh multipurpose saline solution (never water!), and don’t mix old saline solution with new in your contact case. In fact, you should empty the case after putting in your contacts, rinse it with fresh saline, dry it with a fresh, clean tissue and store it upside down on a clean tissue (with the lids off), until you are ready to use it again.

RELATED: 9 Worst Eye Care Mistakes You’re Making

You shower and swim with your contacts in

The CDC advises keeping your lenses away from water (including pool water) to avoid a rare but potentially blinding infection caused by an amoeba called Acanthamoeba, as well as other types of infections. Bacteria and parasites in water can get caught under your lenses. If you’re a swimmer, you may want to invest in prescription goggles. 

You leave your lenses in too long

When you’re at home and on weekends, give your eyes a break and wear your glasses, says Berkeley, Michigan-based ophthalmologist Steven Shanbom, MD. In a prior interview with Health, he recommended that lens wearers keep their contacts in for no more than 12-14 hours a day.

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Unhappy at Work in Your 20s? You May Be Unhealthy in Your 40s

MONDAY, Aug. 22, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Millennials, take heed: Job dissatisfaction in your 20s or 30s can undermine your health by mid-life, new research suggests.

But really rewarding work may pay health dividends.

“Those who are, on average, very satisfied versus satisfied tend to have better health in their 40s,” said study lead author Jonathan Dirlam. He is a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at Ohio State University.

By their 40s, disenchanted workers had worse mental health. They were more likely to suffer from routine sleep trouble and anxiety compared with satisfied or increasingly satisfied participants, the study found.

Seth Kaplan, an associate professor in industrial/organizational psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., said, “We know that there are some major job-related factors that contribute to poor psychological health.”

According to Kaplan, who wasn’t involved in the study, “Having an abusive supervisor, not having control over one’s work, and having to worry about losing one’s job—and the corresponding financial repercussions—are among the big ones.”

Kaplan added, “If at all possible, try to avoid jobs with those characteristics.”

For the study, Dirlam’s team analyzed survey responses from more than 6,400 men and women participating in a long-running study that began in 1979. Between the ages of 25 and 39, these adults were asked annually whether they liked or disliked their jobs.

Answers were correlated with mental and physical health outcomes when participants entered their 40s.

Roughly 45 percent consistently expressed “low” job satisfaction. On average, Dirlam said, this reflected relative dissatisfaction, rather than outright dislike for their work.

By contrast, 15 percent of respondents consistently noted they were “happy” with their jobs.

In addition, nearly one-quarter indicated that their satisfaction with work got worse over time, while 17 percent said they became more satisfied, the findings showed.

Once the participants reached their 40s, mental health status was gauged in terms of depression, sleep trouble and anxiety.

Overall physical health was also ranked, along with incidence of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, chronic lung disease, back and leg trouble, stomach and liver complications, and anemia.

The researchers found that physical health appeared to suffer among those who consistently expressed low satisfaction with work or whose satisfaction fell over time.

These people reported more difficulty with certain issues, such as back pain and cold frequency. However, the researchers saw no impact on their overall ability to function physically, or in their risk for serious illnesses such as diabetes or cancer.

Nor was consistently low job satisfaction or falling satisfaction linked with a greater likelihood for developing depression.

However, these dissatisfied workers were more likely to be in poorer mental health overall, the findings showed.

The research team theorized that mental health difficulties could actually trigger more physical health complications as participants’ age.

But no negative impact on physical or mental well-being was seen among those who reported greater satisfaction with work over time, the study authors said.

Still, the investigators did not examine health status after age 49. They also acknowledged that the relationship is complex and said it’s not possible to establish cause and effect.

For example, “[early] health problems may lead to lower levels of job satisfaction rather than the reverse,” the authors said.

Dirlan noted that “those in manual labor jobs may have lower job satisfaction and increased physical health problems as a result of their jobs in later life. We are unable to rule out this possibility.”

For those desiring more satisfaction from their work, Kaplan highlighted the concept of “job crafting.” This embraces the notion “that we can, to some extent, objectively and subjectively change our jobs to make them more meaningful.”

Dirlam and his colleagues were scheduled to present their findings Monday in Seattle at a meeting of the American Sociological Association. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about job satisfaction.

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Smartphones Are Making Us Think Less, Google More

When was the last time you memorized a friend’s new phone number? How about the last time you pulled out your phone to Google a random trivia fact? Chances are you’re doing far more of the latter these days—but that kind of convenience may have a downside. A new study suggests that our brains’ reliance on smartphones may be taking a toll on our thought processes for problem solving, memory recall, and learning.

Researchers call the tendency to use the Internet (and specifically, those always-at-our-fingertips smartphones) as a memory aid “cognitive offloading.” And this habit, they say, is actually changing the way the brain works: While we may think of memory as something that happens inside our heads, it is increasingly happening with the help of outside devices. Whether this is a good or bad thing, they say, is a more difficult question to answer.

The authors of the new report, published in the journal Memory, wanted to see how likely it was that people would reach for a computer or smartphone when quizzed on different topics. So they divided volunteers into two groups—one that was told to use Google and one that was not—and asked them challenging trivia questions about sports, pop culture, and history. Next, they asked much easier questions, giving both groups the option of using the Internet if they wanted.

Even though the second set of questions required less knowledge, the people who had previously used Google were significantly more likely to go back to the search engine for help than those who had previously used only their memories. The Googlers also spent less time consulting their own memories before reaching for the Internet—and nearly a third of them did not even attempt to answer a single simple question from memory.

The results suggest that our habit for cognitive offloading increases after each use, says lead author Benjamin Storm, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother,” he says. “As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.“

That’s not necessarily all bad, he points out: The Internet is obviously more comprehensive, and in many cases, faster and more dependable, than human memory. It’s helpful to have that wealth of knowledge always available—and to not have to keep every trivial fact or figure in our heads for easy recall. The Internet can also be beneficial, Storm points out, for older adults whose own cognitive capacities have begun to decline.

But the broader implications of this research are ultimately much more nuanced, he adds.

“Certainly there are advantages to becoming reliant on the Internet, especially given the breadth and depth of the information to which it gives us access, but there are also likely to be disadvantages,” he says. “To what extent, for example, does our capacity for wisdom and creative insight depend on the accumulation of internal knowledge?  These are the sorts of questions that will need to be answered.”

Storm wants more research into the ways humans might manage their relationship with the Internet to take advantages of the benefits while minimizing those potential costs. For now, he says, Internet use in “healthy moderation” seems like the best course of action for those who want to keep their recall and problem-solving skills sharp.

And maybe the next time someone asks you a question you’re not sure about, really think on it for a minute or two before whipping your phone out. “There might be something to be said about practicing one’s cognitive and memory abilities outside the context of the Internet,” Storm says.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

When Women Are on the Team, More Balanced Decisions May Be the Result, Study Finds

FRIDAY, Aug. 19, 2016 (HealthDay News) — When women are part of a decision-making team, compromise is likely. If it’s all up to men, on the other hand, the “extreme” option will often win.

That’s according to a new study that tested people’s buying decisions, when alone or paired up with another person.

In general, the researchers found, when a man was teamed with another man, they typically went for the extreme choice – the “biggest, heaviest” grill, instead of a lighter version, for example.

That was not true, however, when a man decided on his own, or when at least one woman was part of the team. In those cases, the middle-of-the-road choice often won out.

What’s more, the study found, men often looked down on other men who wanted a more cautious choice—such as a less risky stock market investment.

They didn’t judge women for such moderation, however.

It all suggests that when men work with each other, there’s pressure to go all-or-nothing, said study co-author Hristina Nikolova, an assistant professor of marketing at Boston College.

Men can feel the need to prove their masculinity when they’re among other men, Nikolova said. And since the compromise option is typically associated with “feminine norms,” she said, men together may be prone to rejecting it and opting for the extreme.

That dynamic is not at work, however, when a man is deciding alone. “So a man choosing a restaurant alone might go for a place that’s medium on price and that offers a reasonably good meal,” Nikolova said.

“That’s a choice that won’t create a lot of waves or break the bank. But if two men are in charge of choosing a restaurant together, they’re more likely to opt for either an opulent, expensive place or a true hole-in-the-wall,” she said.

The findings, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, are based on a series of experiments with 1,200 college students and another 673 online participants. They were asked to make decisions about buying various things, such as toothpaste, tires, printers, grills, and whether to buy risky or safe stocks. They were asked to purchase these things alone or with a partner.

In the grill scenario, half of the male-male pairs picked the “extreme” option (the biggest, heaviest product), compared to only 15 percent of men who chose that option when they were alone.

Few women picked the extreme, whether they decided alone or with another woman. Most often (almost three-quarters of the time), they selected the middle-of-the-road option. There was a similar pattern when men and women chose together.

Therese Huston is a faculty development consultant at Seattle University. She said the new findings are interesting because they highlight the dynamics of how men and women make decisions with a partner, and not only on their own.

And the implications could go beyond fairly simple, low-stakes decisions such as buying a grill, according to Huston, who was not involved with the study.

For example, she said, what happens when a male patient and male doctor are making a decision about treating prostate cancer? It’s a disease with a number of treatment choices, including the conservative “watchful waiting” approach or more aggressive management.

“Could this same dynamic play out between male patients and male doctors?” Huston said. “It’s an interesting question.”

The study findings would also seem to contradict the stereotype that women typically make “emotional” or “intuitive” decisions, while men are the rational ones, according to Huston.

It’s a stereotype that other studies have doubted, she noted. In fact, Huston said, there is evidence that when men are stressed, they tend to “go for the home run"—rather than opting for the middle-of-the-road choice.

The study has limitations, however. Participants were making decisions with strangers, not people they knew, Huston pointed out. Plus, real-life decisions typically have a more complicated context compared with a controlled experiment.

Still, Huston said men might want to be aware that their decision-making can be subconsciously influenced by the presence of another man. "It may change what looks attractive to you,” she said.

Nikolova agreed. “Being aware of these tendencies to be extreme might help them figure out what they really want – and not make a choice just for the sake of proving their masculinity,” she said.

Like Huston, she said the findings have implications beyond grill-buying: The same dynamics could very well play out in the workplace, or in politics.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more on the psychology of decision-making.

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Don’t Worry, Be Gloomy: Negative Feelings Have Benefits Too

It’s been 53 years since the smiley face—that bright yellow circle with the schematic grin and black-dot eyes—first appeared.

Hundreds of millions of “Have a Nice Day” buttons, T-shirts, and coffee mugs later, it’s as iconic as the red, white, and blue. (And why not? After all, the “pursuit of happiness” is front and center in America’s Declaration of Independence.) 

In the digital age, the smiley face morphed into the emoticons and emojis that pop up everywhere. And with each advance—or, some might say, regression—in our consumer culture, in which marketers hustle to fulfill desires we didn’t even know we had, the blissed-out state of Mr. Smiley becomes ever more the Holy Grail, the organizing principle of our existence. 

Wait a minute. Isn’t happiness why we’re here? Isn’t happiness good for us?

Given a choice, we’d probably prefer to be slaphappy all the time, and there are advantages to that pleasurable state. More “positive” emotion is linked to a lower risk of various psychological illnesses, including depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. 

Positive emotions also drive us to success, help us make better decisions, reduce the risk of disease and allow us to live longer. In some cases, they even help broaden how we think and act by directing our attention to new information and opportunities. They help build vital social, physical and cognitive resources that lead to positive outcomes and affiliations. 

Considering all of this, you might presume happiness ranks right up there with food and sunshine in its contribution to human well-being. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing—to not only be too happy but also experience the wrong types of happiness, and to go about trying to find happiness in the wrong ways and at the wrong time. 

I’m not saying it’s better to go around in a funk all the time. But I hope to get you to keep the pursuit of happiness in perspective, and to see your “negative” emotions in a new and more accepting light. In fact, I strongly submit that describing them as “negative” only perpetuates the myth that these useful feelings are, you know, negative. 

RELATED: How You Answer This Question May Say A Lot About Your Happiness

The downside of happiness

When we’re overly cheerful, we tend to neglect important threats and dangers. It’s not too big a stretch to suggest that being excessively happy could kill you. You might engage in riskier behaviors like drinking too much (“A fifth round on me!”), binge eating (“Mmm, more cake!”), skipping birth control (“What could possibly go wrong?”), and using drugs (“Let’s party!”). An excess of freewheeling giddiness and a relative absence of more sober emotions can even be a marker for mania, a dangerous symptom of psychological illness. 

People with high happiness levels sometimes exhibit behavior that is actually more rigid. That’s because mood affects the way our brains process information. When life is good, and when the environment is safe and familiar, we tend not to think long and hard about anything too challenging—which helps explain why highly positive people can be less creative than those with a more moderate level of positive emotion. 

When we’re in an “everything is awesome!” mood, we’re far more likely to jump to conclusions and resort to stereotypes. The happy more often place disproportionate emphasis on early information and disregard or minimize later details. This typically takes the form of the halo effect, in which, for example, we automatically assume that the cute guy we’ve just met at the party is kind, just because he wears cool clothes and tells funny jokes. Or we decide that the bespectacled, middle-aged man with a briefcase is more intelligent or reliable, say, than the 22-year-old blonde wearing hot pink Juicy Couture shorts. 

Our so-called negative emotions encourage slower, more systematic cognitive processing. We rely less on quick conclusions and pay more attention to subtle details that matter. 

(OK, the guy is hot, and he seems into you, but why is he hiding his wedding-ring hand behind his back?) Isn’t it interesting that the most famous fictional detectives are notably grumpy? And that the most carefree kid in high school is rarely valedictorian? 

“Negative” moods summon a more attentive, accommodating thinking style that leads you to really examine facts in a fresh and creative way. It’s when we’re in a bit of a funk that we focus and dig down. People in negative moods tend to be less gullible and more skeptical, while happy folks may accept easy answers and trust false smiles. Who wants to question surface truth when everything is going so well? So the happy person goes ahead and signs on the dotted line. 

The paradox of happiness is that deliberately striving for it is fundamentally incompatible with the nature of happiness itself. Real happiness comes through activities you engage in for their own sake rather than for some extrinsic reason, even when the reason is something as seemingly benevolent as the desire to be happy. 

RELATED: 9 Simple Steps to Happiness

Striving for happiness establishes an expectation and confirms the saying that expectations are resentments waiting to happen. That’s why holidays and family events are often disappointing, if not downright depressing. Our expectations are so high that it’s almost inevitable we’ll be let down. 

In one study, participants were given a fake newspaper article that praised the advantages of happiness, while a control group read an article that made no mention of happiness. Both groups then watched randomly assigned film clips that were either happy or sad. The participants who had been induced to value happiness by reading the article came away from viewing the “happy film” feeling less happy than those in the control group who had watched the same film. Placing too high a value on happiness increased their expectations for how things “should be,” and thus set them up for disappointment. 

In another study, participants were asked to listen to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” a piece of music so discordant and jarring that it caused a riot at its 1913 debut. Some participants were told to “try to make yourself feel as happy as possible” while they listened to the music. Afterward, they evaluated themselves as being less happy compared with a control group that was not chasing Mr. Smiley. 

The aggressive pursuit of happiness is also isolating. In yet another study, the higher the participants ranked happiness on their lists of objectives or goals, the more they described themselves as lonely on daily self-evaluations. 

Happiness also comes in a variety of cultural variations that open up the possibility of being happy in the wrong way. In North America, happiness tends to be defined in terms of personal accomplishment (including pleasure), whereas in East Asia, happiness is associated with social harmony. Chinese Americans prefer contentment, while Americans with European backgrounds prefer excitement. Japanese culture is built around loyalty, with its connection to guilt, whereas American culture embodies more socially disengaged emotions, such as pride or anger. To be happy within a given culture depends more than a little on how in sync your feelings are with that culture’s definition of happiness. 

In short, chasing after happiness can be just as self-defeating as brooding and bottling up your emotions. It’s yet another coping mechanism for discomfort with “negative” emotions and our unwillingness to endure anything even remotely associated with the dark side. 

RELATED: Your Guide to Positive Thinking

Good news about bad moods

While it’s certainly not healthy to constantly stew in negative emotions, there are some positive things that sadness, anger, guilt, or fear can do. 

Help you form arguments. You’re more likely to use concrete and tangible information, be more attuned to the situation at hand and be less prone to making judgment errors, all of which lends an aura of expertise and authority that can make you a more persuasive writer and speaker. 

Improve your memory. One study found that shoppers remembered much more information about the interior of a store on cold, gloomy days when they weren’t feeling so exuberant than they did on sunny, warm days when life felt like a breeze. Research also shows that when we’re in a not-so-good mood, we’re less likely to inadvertently corrupt our memories by incorporating misleading information. 

Encourage perseverance. When you already feel great, why push yourself? On academic tests, an individual in a more somber mood will try to answer more questions—and get more of them right—than he or she will when feeling cheerful. 

Up your generosity. Those in negative moods pay more attention to fairness and are more apt to reject unfair offers. 

Boost your ability to reason. In a study of people with strong political opinions, those who were angry chose to read more articles that opposed their positions instead of practicing confirmation bias, the common tendency to seek out info that supports what we already believe to be true. After exploring these contrary views, they were more willing to change their minds. It seems that anger produces a “nail the opposition” mentality that encourages us to explore what the other guy has to say in order to tear it apart—ironically leaving the door open to being persuaded.

From Emotional Agility by Susan David, published on September 6, 2016, by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright :copyright: 2016 by Susan David. 

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

People Become Less Selfish After Age 45, Study Says

Altruistic tendencies—like being truly happy for others and feeling good about giving money away—are stronger in the second half of life, according to a new study that used questionnaires, brain scans, and real-life scenarios to determine people’s motivations behind certain behaviors.

After age 45, researchers found, people tend to give away more money and score higher on personality tests for altruism. The reward centers in their brains also light up more than those in younger people when they witness money going to charity.

The study, by University of Oregon researchers, aimed to combine insight from psychology, economics, and neuroscience. This multidisciplinary approach, they say, led to converging signs of pure altruism in the brain—and helped rule out less genuine reasons people might do charitable things.

RELATED: Old-Fashioned Niceties That Deserve a Comeback

For example, people give away money for plenty of non-altruistic reasons, the authors wrote, such as showing off to others or basking in the “warm glow” one might feel after doing something good. So the researchers’ goal was to find a sweet spot where altruism is done simply for the joy of seeing others benefit, without expecting personal reward or recognition.

To do that, they gave 80 adults $100 each, and asked them to make real-life decisions about giving the money to various charitable organizations or keeping it for themselves. They also performed functional MRI scans on the participants as they watched money being transferred either to their own accounts or to randomly selected charities. Finally, they performed personality tests on each participant.

The researchers found that for some of the participants, their brains’ reward centers were activated more by watching money being transferred to their own accounts than to charities. This suggested a “self-interested” response, said lead author Ulrich Mayr, Ph.D.

RELATED: 5 Scientifically-Backed Benefits of Volunteering

But others’ reward centers were more active while watching transfers to charities. In general, these people also tended to donate more money when given a choice, and scored higher in “pro-social” traits on their personality tests.

The triangulation of these three findings suggests an underlying “general benevolence,” the authors wrote, rather than altruism for personal gains. And, they found, this trifecta was strongest in people 45 and older.

Besides age, the researchers considered other factors, as well: those who identified as religious were slightly more likely to possess general benevolence, while gender and political leaning did not seem to play a role. Neither did annual income—which indicated that older people weren’t more generous simply because they had more money to spend.

RELATED: The Kindness of Strangers

What older people do have, the authors point out, is a greater trove of life experiences. And these experiences, Mayr said in a press release, “may plant the seeds of pure altruism in people, allowing them to grow into the desire to contribute to the public good.”  

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, replicated the results of a smaller University of Oregon study published in 2007. While these new findings are more robust, the authors wrote, larger studies still are needed to support the group’s conclusions—and to have real-life implications for psychologists or policymakers.

“[This research] gives us a deeper look at the people who give to charity and altruistically contribute to society,” co-author Sanjay Srivastava, Ph.D., said in the press release. “If as a society we want to strengthen communities and have a world where people look out for each other, we can go back and ask what kinds of policies and social conditions can help people get there.”

This article originally appeared on

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Friday, August 19, 2016

Toxic Coworkers? Rude Behavior Is Contagious, Study Says

When we’re on the receiving end of condescending or curt remarks at work, we may think we can brush them off. After all, they’re not as openly hostile as threats or outright bullying. But a new study shows that subtle incivility in the workplace can deplete employees’ mental resources—and makes us more likely to act rudely to other coworkers, as well.

This is how toxic culture can spread through professional networks, say researchers from Michigan State University. Workplace incivility is estimated to have doubled over the past two decades, they write in the Journal of Applied Psychology, and has an average annual impact on companies of $14,000 per employee due to loss of production and work time.

To look at what might be fueling these behaviors, the researchers surveyed 70 employees, three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays. They found that incivility tended to “spiral”—with one unkind act leading to another—and that it often occurred unintentionally.

RELATED: 12 Ways to Make Your Office Better for Your Health

The reason, they say, has to do with mental fatigue and a subsequent loss of self-control. “Incivility can be somewhat ambiguous,” says co-author and management professor Russell Johnson, PhD. “So when you’re exposed to it, it can take some mental energy to understand why you were targeted and whether there was a negative intent.”

It’s depleting to manage those emotions, he adds. “You feel frustrated, angry, and anxious—and, somewhat ironically, when people are depleted like that they are more likely to pay it forward to others, even if it they don’t mean to.” He compares the phenomenon with someone who hasn’t gotten enough sleep, and is more likely to snap at others as a result.

One way employees can stop the cycle, he says, is to make sure they’re always working “with a full tank of mental fuel.” To replenish that tank, he recommends taking five-minute walking breaks to blow off steam, leaving the office to have lunch with a friend, or—if your company has the facilities for it—taking a quick power nap. “Sure, you’ll lose 30 or 40 minutes,” he says, “but you’ll be more refreshed when you return and less likely to succumb to other people’s incivility.”

RELATED: The Reason You’re Burned Out at Work May Surprise You

When workers are confronted with put-downs, sarcasm, or passive-aggressiveness, he says, the best thing to do is address the matter upfront. “Confront that person and ask what they meant or why they treated you that way,” he says. “It’s better than sitting around wondering about it, since that rumination seems to be what leads to those detrimental effects.”

The study also found that workplaces with “politically charged” environments—those where employees do what’s best for themselves and not for the company, and where rules and processes are not clearly laid out—had the highest levels of incivility-induced mental depletion.

“When it isn’t made clear how you should go about conducting your work or how rewards, like promotions, are given out, it can lead to undermining and one-upmanship,” says Johnson. “If managers set clear boundaries and give good feedback about what’s acceptable and what’s not, they can limit those behaviors.”

RELATED: Crappy Relationship With Your Boss? Blame Your Parents

At the very least, says Johnson—even if you can’t do much to improve your coworkers’ attitudes—simply being aware of how incivility spreads can be a positive step.

“If you know that you’re more likely to be curt to others when you’re feeling burned out, hopefully you’ll be motivated to work harder not to act this way,” he says. Now if you could just get everyone else in the office to adopt this attitude, too, maybe those rude remarks wouldn’t happen in the first place.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Reason You’re Burned Out at Work May Surprise You

Workplace burnout has a lot of different causes: long commutes, horrible bosses, unrealistic expectations, the list goes on and on. But a new study suggests that one significant source of job stress isn’t necessarily a part of the job itself—it’s how mismatched your responsibilities are with your personality.

This may seem obvious. After all, why would anyone take a job that doesn’t suit her personality? But according to study author Veronika Brandstätter, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, it happens quite often. The problem is, she says, people can have perceived notions of themselves that don’t match up with their true, “unconscious needs.”

“People often choose a job because it fits their ‘conscious’ motives that are formed by social norms and expectations of others,” Brandstätter says. “For example, an individual with the self-concept of being a person of influence might choose a career as a manager, though the activities associated with a manager’s job do not provide the real affective satisfaction.”

So Brandstätter and her colleagues performed a study to see how people’s implicit motives affected their overall mental health in various workplace environments. They recruited 97 adults from a Swiss website for people suffering from burnout, asked them questions about their health and job responsibilities, and then gave them a writing exercise to tease out parts of their personality they wouldn't necessarily report themselves.

RELATED: 7 Subtle Signs You’re Burned Out

The researchers focused on two important traits: the “power motive” and the “affiliation motive.” People who have a strong power motive have a need to take responsibility for others, maintain discipline, and engage in arguments or negotiation, they wrote. Those with an affiliation motive crave positive personal relationships, and want to feel trust, warmth, and belonging.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found that burnout happened across all types of jobs—those with lots of power, those with no power at all, those that offered plenty of opportunity to interact with others, and those that didn’t. In other words, the main predictor of burnout was not one single thing, but the discrepancy between the job and a person’s implicit motives. 

The greater the mismatch, the higher the burnout risk. Mismatches pertaining to the power motive—how much oversight and influence a person desired versus how much they actually got—were even linked to an increase in physical symptoms like headache, chest pain, faintness, and shortness of breath.

“We found that the frustration of unconscious affective needs, caused by a lack of opportunities for motive-driven behavior, is detrimental to psychological and physical well-being,” Brandstätter says. “The same is true for goal-striving that doesn’t match a well-developed implicit motive for power or affiliation, because then excessive effort is necessary to achieve that goal.”

This is important for employer and employees, says Brandstätter, since workplace burnout can cause both financial and heath burdens. It can lead to absenteeism, employee turnover, and reduced productivity—and it’s been linked to chronic conditions such as anxiety, heart disease, immune disorders, insomnia, and depression. The American Institute of Stress estimates that burnout costs companies $300 billion a year.

RELATED: Job Killing You? 8 Types of Work-Related Stress

So how do you avoid this kind of mismatch?

First, think about about what types of situations you truly thrive in: Is it when you’re making new friends and forming close bonds with others? If so, you’re affiliation-motivated. Or is it when you’re making decisions and yielding influence over other people? That shows you’re power-motivated. (And yes, it’s possible to be both.)

Now, Brandstätter suggests, run through a sort of “fantasy exercise” when considering a potential new job.

“Ask yourself: ‘When doing my job, how would I feel? Would I experience intensive positive feelings, such as joy, happiness, and pleasure? Would it be possible for me to experience a feeling of strength and impact?‘ The anticipated experience gives us a clue whether the job in question might match our motives,” she says.

For someone with a strong affiliation motive, it’s important that you anticipate feelings of joy, happiness, and friendly contact with others while doing that job. If you can’t picture experiencing that during day-to-day activities, it may not be the right job for you. Likewise, someone with a strong power motive should hope to experience feelings of strength, and have the sense that they’re making an impact.

RELATED: Here’s How to Stop Work Stress From Turning Into Burnout

That advice is only helpful, though, if you’re considering a new job. For those stuck in a current job that doesn’t match their motives, Brandstätter recommends talking with your boss and colleagues about ways you might “craft” your position to be more in line with your needs.

For example, an affiliation-motivated employee who has little contact with others might find a way to work more collaboratively with coworkers. And a power-affiliated person who is frustrated by her lack of influence might take a leadership-training course or apply for a supervisory position.

Admittedly, Brandstätter says, there is one situation that’s not as easily resolved. “A manager required to take responsibility of a team but who does not enjoy being in a leadership role probably would have to change jobs,” she says. Finding a position that doesn’t require these traits could make that person’s workday more enjoyable—and maybe even improve their well-being overall.  

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Mental Tricks Laurie Hernandez Uses to Summon Crazy Confidence

Team USA gymnast Laurie Hernandez is blowing us away in Rio: Her talent is obviously out of this world, but what’s just as impressive is the poise and confidence the 16-year-old first-time Olympian exhibits pretty much every time she’s on camera.

Take her performances so far. At the Olympic trials back in July, Hernandez calmly stood before a huge crowd, closed her eyes, put one hand on her stomach, and breathed deeply. Then she proceeded to kill it on beam. (She took first.)

This week, as she struck her starting pose for the floor exercise, she sent the judges a smile and sneaky wink. Later, before hopping up on the beam, the camera caught her whispering to herself, “I got this.” And she was right.

But these little pre-routine behaviors aren’t just a fun part of her personality, says sports psychology consultant Robert Andrews. They’re actually valuable tools for getting in the right mindset for optimal performance—and they’re easy enough for anyone to learn, elite athlete or not.

Breathing like a champ

Andrews, who has a master’s degree in psychology and a background in fitness, runs the Institute of Sports Performance in Houston. He’s worked with hundreds of professional athletes, including Hernandez and her teammate Simone Biles; in fact, he taught Hernandez that very breathing routine she practices before competition.

“I like to say that oxygen is the cure for stress and anxiety,” says Andrews. “A lot of athletes, when they’re stressed out, start breathing a lot shallower and faster. So learning how to monitor and be aware of breathing patterns under stress is important.”

What Hernandez is doing before she competes, he explains, is called diaphragmatic or “belly” breathing. “She’s moving her diaphragm down so that her lungs can open up,” he says. “Laurie, like a lot of people, tends to hold her stress in her stomach—so she’s connecting her mind to her stomach and her breathing patterns.”

Deep, diaphragmatic breathing can release tension in the body, says Andrews, which can also relax the mind. That changes hormonal function in the brain, and lowers the production of the stress hormone cortisol.

RELATED: How 6 Olympic Athletes Deal With the Pressure

Acting confident goes a long way

Andrews also works with athletes on body language and posture, which he says can have a big psychological influence on performance. “Laurie has a very upright, straight posture when she’s getting ready for a routine,” he points out. Not only does that make an impression on the judges, he says, it can also make an impression on her own brain.

“Strong body language like that can actually increase the production of testosterone and lower the production of stress-related hormones,” he says. “It creates brain chemistry that increases assertiveness and confidence, which you need just the right amount of when you’re on the bars, the beam, the floor, wherever.”

The same goes for Laurie’s now-famous “I-got-this” pep talk. Andrews didn’t teach her those words exactly, but he says he has talked with her about the power of positive thinking.

“Where you point your mind, your body follows—so Laurie has figured out that those words are very empowering for her mind and body, and they’re going to help her bring out that fierceness that she needs,” he says. “I can’t think of a better powerful, affirmative statement of belief in herself.”

RELATED: What 5 Olympic Athletes Can Teach You About Body Confidence

You can use belly breathing too—and not just for sports

Anyone can benefit from diaphragmatic breathing before a stressful event, says Andrews—from an age-group runner competing in a race to a teenager taking an exam. The practice can help in the corporate world, too, with everything from job interviews to sales pitches to public speaking. 

“I’ve had high school and college students who report back to me that they’re making better grades on tests and giving better presentations in front of the class because they’re using these mindfulness techniques,” says Andrews. “Athletes call it their peak performance zone, but really everyone works better when they’re in a mindful, centered state.”

Ready to give it a try? Here’s what to do next time you’re in a stressful situation and feeling nervous. (If you’re not in one right now, just picture yourself there.)

  • Close your eyes and sit or stand up straight.
  • Find the spot in your body where your stress is building up. Is it in your throat? Your chest? Your stomach? Focus on that spot.
  • Inhale deeply, so that your stomach expands out and not up. It can help to put your hand on your stomach to feel this movement happening.
  • Concentrate on slowly breathing in and out, and feel your stress levels come down.

Andrews works with athletes on bringing those emotions down to the appropriate level. If 1 means no stress at all and 10 means all-out freak out, some people might perform best at a 5, others at a 3, he says. The key is to learn what works best for you.

And while Andrews says that the mental aspect of competition is especially important in Olympic sports—where a hundredth of a point or a literal split second can determine the winners—he agrees that it’s also a big part of successful performances of any type, at any level.

So next time you’re feeling unsure of yourself, try giving yourself a little mental boost a la Laurie Hernandez. Close your eyes, focus on your breath, and maybe even give a little wink. Because guess what? You’ve got this.

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Mediterranean Diet Boosts Memory and Keeps Brain Young, Study Finds

You know that the Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. Now, research confirms that it’s also good for your brain. In a new review of previous studies, following the plant-heavy meal plan was associated with better memory and less cognitive decline. The benefits weren’t just exclusive to seniors, either; in the two included studies that looked at young adults, cognitive scores improved in people 19 to 40, as well. 

The review, in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, included 18 papers published between 2000 and 2015 that looked at the effect of the Mediterranean diet on cognitive processes over time. All together, the findings were impressive: Thirteen of the studies found some association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and brain benefits, including slower rates of decline and improvement in memory and recall.

Some studies also linked the diet to improved attention and language skills, or found that its followers were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

RELATED: 7 Ways to Protect Your Memory

The most surprising result, says lead study author Roy Hardman, is that these positive effects were seen in people from all around the world. (The studies took place in the United States, France, Spain, Sweden, and Australia.) 

“Regardless of being located outside of what is considered the Mediterranean region, the positive cognitive effects of a higher adherence to a MedDiet were similar in all evaluated papers,“ Hardman, a PhD candidate at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, said in a press release.

The diet’s health benefits are likely due to a combination of several factors, says Hardman. For example, it has been shown to reduce inflammation, improve vitamin and mineral imbalances, lower cholesterol, and boost metabolism. Some research suggests it may also be good for your gut, reduce fracture risk in old age, and even slow aging on a cellular level.

In other words, Hardman says, “the MedDiet offers the opportunity to change some of the modifiable risk factors” for cognitive decline, as well as other chronic diseases.

The study authors characterize the Mediterranean diet’s key components as “abundant consumption of plant foods, such as leafy greens, fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, beans, seeds, nuts, and legumes.” The diet also includes small amounts of dairy and minimal red meat, and uses olive oil as its major source of fat.

RELATED: 22 Mediterranean Diet Recipes

Of course, the idea that a plant-based, minimal-meat meal plan is good for the mind is not new, says Keith Fargo, PhD, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer’s Association. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association has recommended the Mediterranean diet (along with another whole foods-based eating plan, the DASH Diet) for years.

"In recent years, there has been growing scientific support for the concept that lifestyle factors that are good for your heart are also good for your brain,” Fargo says. “Eating right and regular physical activity appear to be particularly important.”

Maintaining an overall healthy diet is probably more important than the impact of a few specific vitamins or foods, Fargo adds. And a growing body of research—including Hardman’s new study—support the idea that a Mediterranean diet is one way to do that.

RELATED: 17 Ways to Age-Proof Your Brain

While it’s important to recognize that diet is frequently associated with other factors that may impact cognition in aging, Fargo says—such as smoking, education levels, and socioeconomic status—he does believe that there is “sufficiently strong evidence to conclude that a healthy diet may reduce the risk of cognitive decline.”

Hardman is sold on the idea, as well. “I follow the diet patterns and do not eat any red meats, chicken, or pork,” he says. “I have fish two to three times per week and adhere to a Mediterranean style of eating.”

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What Your View of the Olympics Says About Your Personality

Who do you think should be the real winner of the Olympic Games: the country with the most gold medals, or the country with the most medals overall? How you answer that question may provide a clue about how happy you are, says a new study.

Happy people value silver and bronze medals more than unhappy people, say researchers from the Center for Happiness Studies at the University of Seoul in South Korea. Because of that, they tend to celebrate second and third place finishers more—and to prefer the “total-medal method” for ranking countries in the Olympics, rather than the “gold-first method.”

This makes sense, say the study authors, since previous research has shown that happy people tend to appreciate and find joy in the “little things” in life. But since there hasn’t been much research about how happy and unhappy people value societal events (as opposed to personal events), they wanted to test their hypothesis—using the Olympics as a theoretical scenario.

The researchers recruited South Korean and American participants, and gave them questionnaires to determine their overall self-perceived happiness. Then they asked them about Olympic medals: In one experiment, the South Korean group was asked about how countries’ medal counts should be ranked (gold only versus all medals). In two additional experiments, both groups were asked how many silver and bronze medals they thought equalled one gold medal.

In the first experiment, people with higher happiness scores were more likely to favor the total-medal method for country rankings, while those who scored lower tended to think that gold medals should be the deciding factor.

In the second two experiments, participants who scored higher on the happiness scale also tended to give more weight to silver and bronze medals. This pattern existed in both groups, suggesting that the association between happiness and medal preference is the same across different cultures.

On average, study participants who saw themselves as happy estimated that it would take 2.68 silver medals to equal a gold one. Self-perceived unhappy people, on the other hand, though it would take 4.14.

The study couldn’t show why happy people appreciate bronze and silver medals more, but the researchers have a theory. Previous studies have shown that happy people tend to group things together, they say—and this is just another example of that.

“This finding implies that happy people, compared to unhappy people, tend to group gold, silver, and bronze medals together into an inclusive category (‘achievement’) and treat them equally,” they wrote in the study. “Conversely, unhappy individuals might discriminate among the medals more and group them separately into three hierarchically distinct categories of gold, silver, and bronze medals.”

The study, which will be published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and was posted early online, looked at happiness and medal valuation from a spectator perspective.

Previous research that’s looked at happiness from an athlete perspective suggests another interesting pattern: Olympians who win bronze medals tend to seem happier than those who win silver, they say. After all, the second-place finisher just narrowly missed the top spot, while the person in third place is happy to be on the podium at all.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2016

3 Reasons You Sometimes Have Déjà Vu, According to Science

You know that feeling you get when you step inside a new house or walk around a foreign city—places you know you’ve never been before—and you can’t help but think, I’ve done this already? It’s déjà vu, and if you’ve never had it before, take it from us: It’s kind of creepy.

Déjà vu is French for “already seen,” and about two out of three people have experienced the phenomenon at one time or another, according to a 2003 review in the journal Psychological Bulletin. Despite being fairly common, “it’s not a widely studied subject,” says Alice Medalia, PhD, a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center. And because déjà vu is a subjective experience—in other words, it’s difficult to induce in research subjects—testing the theories behind it can be tricky.

That said, researchers have a few guesses about why we experience déjà vu (and no, it’s probably not flashbacks to a previous life):

You’ve been somewhere similar before

Some researchers believe déjà vu is triggered when you enter an environment similar to one you’ve experienced in the past. For example, you could experience it when you enter a hotel lobby where the furniture is configured the same way as your childhood home’s living room. 

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Researchers tested that theory in a 2009 study published in the journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. They showed volunteers images that had nothing to do with one another—a fenced-in courtyard, and then later, a locker room—and the volunteers felt déjà vu because the images were composed in a very similar way. The researchers concluded that there was probably a connection between déjà vu and the feelings of “familiarity.”

You travel a lot 

People who travel and people who can recall their dreams are more likely to experience déjà vu than those who stay at home or don’t remember their dreams, according to the 2003 review. These people can draw on a wider range of sources (either from, say, their adventures Europe, or just their own imagination), so it makes sense that they should think other environments feel familiar, too.

Something’s up with your brain

Some people who have temporal lobe epilepsy (a type of epilepsy that occurs in the part of your brain that handles short-term memory) experience déjà vu right before they have a seizure—another sign that the phenomenon may be connected with the way memories are activated. Plus, it’s why some experts think déjà vu is triggered by a kind of disruption in the firing of neurons in the brain, says Dr. Medalia.

It could also be the result of your brain struggling to process multiple pieces of information, but for some reason, can’t align them correctly, she says. That lack of “synchrony,” in med-speak, might be responsible for that déjà vu feeling.

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The bottom line?

Regardless of what’s happening (or what’s causing it), for the vast majority of people, déjà vu is pretty harmless. Unless you’re experiencing an epileptic seizure—and in that case, there are plenty of other signs to watch out for—it’s a relatively normal experience.

And you never know—maybe that castle in London looks so familiar because, in your past life, you were Kate Middleton’s great-great-great-great grandmother-in-law. Hey, we can dream, right?

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Women Feel Better About Their Bodies Than They Used To

Though women are still more dissatisfied than men when it comes to their size, a new study reveals that women’s views of their bodies are softening over the years.

The study, presented Friday at the American Psychological Association’s 124th Annual Convention, researchers found that women’s feelings about how thin they are have improved significantly over time. Looking at data from more than 100,000 men and women over 31 years, they found that from 1981 to 2011, on average women’s dissatisfaction dropped 3.3 points.

Though the change may seem small, study author Bryan Karazsia, an associate professor of psychology at The College of Wooster, says that statistically the drop is “substantial.” The researchers also looked at data from over 23,800 men and women over 14 years who were asked about their satisfaction with their muscular build. Men were more likely than women to report feeling dissatisfied with their muscles and that trend remained stable over time.

“If you walk into a store and see mens mannequins, they are really large,” says Karazsia, speculating why the opinion has remained unchanged for men. “Men just don’t look like that.”

What might be responsible for women’s drop in body criticisms? The researchers don’t know for sure, but they have a few theories. One is that Americans in general are getting larger. More than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese, and Karazsia says “because people are larger, people are seeing what’s around them and feel more normal and less concerned.”

It’s also possible that the depictions of women in media are changing. Karazsia cites the popularity of ads by Dove, a company known for soap and deodorant, which feature women of all different body sizes and races. “You are seeing more images in the media of body diversity,” says Karazsia. “As those ideals are shifting, I think people are becoming a little more critical of the extreme images they see and the media is embracing [the idea] that bodies of all shapes and sizes can still sell products.”

There is also a possibility that a new body ideal is replacing women’s desire to be thin. Though the researchers didn’t look at the trend specifically, Karazsia said colleagues wondered whether a trend toward being lean and toned rather than thin also had a role.

“I am optimistic that [this study] is good news,” says Karazsia. “I am a dad of young girls so when I saw these findings I thought it was hopeful.”

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