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Month: October 2018 (page 1 of 2)

The lost art of concentration, and how to get some of that back, even in this digital world

We have known for a long time that repeated interruptions affect concentration. In 2005, research carried out by Dr Glenn Wilson at London’s Institute of Psychiatry found that persistent interruptions and distractions at work had a profound effect. Those distracted by emails and phone calls saw a 10-point fall in their IQ, twice that found in studies on the impact of smoking marijuana. More than half of the 1,100 participants said they always responded to an email immediately or as soon as possible, while 21% admitted they would interrupt a meeting to do so. Constant interruptions can have the same effect as the loss of a night’s sleep.

Nicholas Carr picked up on this again in an article in the Atlantic in 2008, before going on to publish his book The Shallows two years later. “Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy,” he wrote. “My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case any more. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

The impact of interruptions on individual productivity can also be catastrophic. In 2002, it was reported that, on average, we experience an interruption every eight minutes or about seven or eight per hour. In an eight-hour day, that is about 60 interruptions. The average interruption takes about five minutes, so that is about five hours out of eight. And if it takes around 15 minutes to resume the interrupted activity at a good level of concentration, this means that we are never concentrating very well.

More at The Guardian

Superfoods are a marketing ploy

Regardless of who issues them, guidelines for health promotion and disease prevention universally recommend diets that are largely plant-based, meaning those that include plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and nuts. The U.S. dietary guidelines also recommend foods in the “protein” category. Grains, beans, and nuts are good sources of protein, but the guidelines use “protein” to mean low-fat dairy, lean meats, and fish. Recommended eating patterns include all these foods, relatively unprocessed, but with minimal addition of salt and sugars. Such patterns provide nutrients and energy in proportions that meet physiological needs but also minimize the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. One more definition: “Patterns” refer to diets as a whole, not to single foods. No one food makes a diet healthful. The healthiest diets include a wide variety of foods in each of the recommended categories in amounts that balance calories.

In their largely unprocessed forms, foods from the earth, trees, or animals are healthful by definition. So why, you might ask, would the producers of foods such as cranberries, pears, avocados, or walnuts fund research aimed at proving that these particular foods—rather than fruits, vegetables, or nuts in general—have special health benefits? Marketing, of course. Every food producer wants to expand sales. Health claims sell.

More at The Atlantic

Scottish doctors are issuing prescriptions for hiking and birdwatching

Doctors in the Shetland Islands have started issuing prescriptions for beach walks, hiking, and birdwatching to help treat chronic and debilitating illnesses. Doctors on the island have been authorized by the health authority to issue “nature prescriptions” to patients to help treat mental illness, diabetes, heart disease, stress, and other conditions.

The health authority, NHS Shetland, is not suggesting that nature prescriptions will replace conventional medicines, but to supplemented usual treatments.

More at The Guardian

What’s for dinner? Lunch? Breakfast? The answer is fast food for many Americans

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third (37%) of adults in the U.S. will eat fast food on any given day. And it’s killing them.

What’s more, the higher their income, the more likely they were to consume fast food.

The percentage of adults who ate fast food rose with increasing income. About 32 percent of people who earn less than 130 percent of the federal poverty line — $32,630 a year for a family of four — ate fast food daily.

But 42 percent of people above 350 percent of the poverty line — $112,950 a year or more for that size family — were daily consumers.

More from the NY Times

 

Americans are losing ground in world life expectancy rankings

In 2016, the U.S. ranked only 43rd among 195 countries with an average lifespan of 78.7 years. In 2040, that’s only 21 years from now, Americans are forecast to drop 21 spots, to 64th, as other nations make faster gains.

The top five health drivers that explain most of the future trajectory for premature mortality are high blood pressure, high body mass index, high blood sugar, tobacco use, and alcohol use, Foreman said. Air pollution ranked sixth.

More from Bloomberg

New evidence suggests artificial sweeteners may be harmful to your health

A new study suggests that regular use of artificial sweeteners may impair blood-sugar control. The latest findings suggest consuming even less than half the amount approved by health authorities is not safe.

For the study, participants who don’t normally use the sweeteners were assigned to use 45 per-cent of the Health Canada acceptable daily intake (ADI). After only 14 days, these participants experienced an 18 per-cent reduction in insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for type-2 diabetes.

Sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, cyclamate and saccharin are zero-calorie sweeteners approved in Canada.

Cyclamate (brand names Sucaryl, Sugar Twin, Sweet’N Low) and saccharin are not allowed to be added to foods; they’re sold only as tabletop sweeteners.

Acesulfame potassium, aspartame and sucralose are allowed to be added to all sorts of foods including yogurt, baked goods, pancake syrup, ketchup, chewing gum, fruit juice and soft drinks. Sucralose (Splenda) and aspartame (Equal) are also available as tabletop sweeteners.

Health Canada considers these five artificial sweeteners safe when consumed in amounts up to the acceptable daily intake (ADI). The ADI is the maximum amount thought safe to consume each day over a lifetime.

Read more

Should you be taking Vitamin D?

The research is more complicated than you might think.

As is pointed out in this BBC aricle, it’s widely agreed that vitamin D supplements, especially over winter, may be beneficial, and will only be a waste of money at worst.

It’s likely you won’t get enough from your diet between now and next spring, but the impact this could have on your health is still up for debate.

More at BBC

How physical activity helps mental wellbeing

There are various ways that physical activity helps mental wellbeing, including:

Improved mood – Studies show that physical activity has a positive impact on our mood. One study asked people to rate their mood after period of exercise (i.e. walking or gardening) and after inactivity (i.e. reading a book). Researchers found that people felt more awake, calmer and more content after physical activity. For more information and a link to the study, go to the Mental Health Foundation website.

Reduced stress – Being regularly active is shown to have a beneficial impact on alleviating stress. It can help manage stressful lifestyles and can help us make better decisions when under pressure. Research on working adults shows that active people tend to have lower stress rates compared to those who are less active.

Better self-esteem – Physical activity has a big impact of our self-esteem – that’s how we feel about ourselves and our perceived self-worth. This is a key indicator of mental wellbeing. Those with improved self-esteem can cope better with stress and improves relationships with others.

Depression and anxiety – Exercise has been described as a “wonder drug” in preventing and managing mental health. Many GPs now prescribe physical activity for depression, either on its own or in conjunction with other treatments. It is effective at both preventing onset of depression and in terms of managing symptoms.

More at Sport England

Around the world, 800,000 people kill themselves every year

Sometimes they are famous names such as Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade that make headlines, but they are all sons or daughters, friends or colleagues, valued members of families and communities.

Suicide is the most extreme and visible symptom of the larger mental health emergency we are so far failing to adequately address. Stigma, fear and lack of understanding compound the suffering of those affected and prevent the bold action that is so desperately needed and so long overdue.

One in four of us will have to deal with a mental health condition at some point in our lives, and if we’re not directly affected, someone we care for is likely to be. Our young people are particularly vulnerable, with suicide being the second leading cause of death globally among 15-29 year olds and half of all mental illness beginning by the age of 14.

This is from an opinion piece by Lady Gaga and Tedros Adhanom, Director general of the World Health Organization, published in The Guardian.

Artificial sweeteners in foods and drinks have a toxic effect on digestive gut microbes

According to a study published in the journal Molecules, researchers found that six common artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration and 10 sport supplements that contained them were found to be toxic to the digestive gut microbes of mice.

Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore tested the toxicity of aspartame, sucralose, saccharine, neotame, advantame, and acesulfame potassium-k. They observed that when exposed to only 1 milligram per milliliter of the artificial sweeteners, the bacteria found in the digestive system became toxic.

“This is further evidence that consumption of artificial sweeteners adversely affects gut microbial activity which can cause a wide range of health issues,” Ariel Kushmaro, a professor in BGU’s department of biotechnology engineering, said in a press release.

More: CNBC

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