Archive for category Wellness

Costa Rica — the happiest place on Earth

Life-sustaining Costa Rican “broccoli” tree towering over rain-forest trail on the slopes of the Arenal Volcano.

The latest issue of National Geographic awaited me upon my return from a wonderful vacation in Costa Rica.  Based on my pleasant encounters, it was no surprise to me that this Central American country came first on the feature article about “Happiest Places”.  Costa Rica also ranked #1 on the Happy Planet Index (HPI).  See the Today.Com video here for the heads-up on what distinguishes Costa Rica and other joyful places around the world.

It seems to me that the recipe for happiness varies quite a lot, but one aspect of Costa Ricans that I like is them living “pura vida”—the pure, or simple, life.

“What I argue for are statistically driven things you can do to optimize your environment so you’re more likely to be happy for the long term.”

– Dan Buettner, Minnesotan author of The Blue Zones of Happiness (Source: The “A Lazy Person’s Guide to Happiness”

P.S. The top 25 happiest USA cities are ranked here — the hometown for Stat-Ease came in at #22. 😊

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Buttered toast lands butter up for once

I cannot recall this happening before today, but when I dropped half a bagel, it landed on the dry side.  This allowed me to apply the 5-second rule and swoop it up for breakfast. That led me to this research from Manchester MET University reported by London’s Daily Mail that this (a fortuitous landing) occurs less than 20 percent of the time. These boffins of butter found that the height from which the bread is dropped makes all the difference.

“If you want to ensure your toast lands butter side up then you should invest in a higher table approximately 8ft high that allows the toast to rotate a full 360 degrees. Failing that – try not to drop the toast.”

– Chris Smith, Professor of Food Science and Technology

More good news from the UK food-science front came in March of this year when germ expert Professor Anthony Hilton of Aston University approved the 5-second rule.  However, I am not going along with the photo of toast being jelly-side down in this report by The Independent. Eating that would be really gross.

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54 billion bacterial cells per cubic centimeter

That’s the density of microbial growth—laden with pathogens—in a typical kitchen sponge.  For all the disgusting details, see this Nature report by German (emphasis on “germ”) researchers at the Institute of Applied Microbiology in Geissen.

I came across this while searching internet for advice on what to do about the off-putting sponges laying about the sink in our office, which no one will clean—the tragedy of the commons.  The study says that sanitation by boiling or microwave kills most of the bacteria.  However, because that bad actors are more hardy, the end result over time may be a more sickening microbiome.  The only solution is to replace sponges regularly—at least every week according to this Today show guidance.  They suggest that between times you wash your sponges in hot, soapy water, microwave them for one minute, or put them in the dishwasher.  After reading the Nature report I am tempted to do all three sanitation procedures, or just quit using sponges.

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Statistics to make distracted drivers more aware this month

April is now the Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month (formerly it was just math–no stats). It also is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

Putting these two themes together brings us to data published this month by Zendrive, a San Francisco-based startup that uses smartphone sensors to measure drivers’ behavior. They claim that 90% of collisions are due to human error, of which 1 in 4 stem from phone use while driving.

These statistics are very worrying to start off with.  But, according to this blog, it gets far worse when you drill down on Zendrive’s 3-month analysis of 3-million anonymous drivers, who made 570-million trips and covered 5.6-billion miles:

  • Drivers used their phones on 88-percent of the trips
  • They spent 3.5 minutes per hour on calls (an enormous amount of time considering that even a few seconds of distraction can create dire consequences)

About a third of US states prohibit use of hand-held phones while driving. Does this reduce distraction? The stats posted by Zendrive are not definitive.

It seems to me that that hands-free must be far safer. However, this ranking of driving distractions* (benchmarked to plain driving—rating of 1) does not provide much support for what is seemingly obvious:

  1. Listening to the radio — 1.21
  2. Listening to a book on tape — 1.75
  3. Talking on a hands-free cellphone — 2.27
  4. Talking with a passenger in the front seat — 2.33
  5. Talking on a hand-held cellphone — 2.45
  6. Interacting with a speech recognition e-mail or text system — 3.06

For all the fuss about talking on the phone, whether hands-free or not, it does not cause any more distraction than chatting with a passenger.

This list does not include texting, which Consumer Reports figures is 23 times more distracting than talking on your cell phone while driving.**

Please avoid any distractions when you drive, especially texting.

*Source: This 10/16/15 Boston Globe OpEd

**Posted here

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A good New Year’s resolution: If you do not exercise, start now–a little goes a long way

I read a cheery Associated Press report today by their Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione that It’s all good: Any exercise cuts your risk of death.  What impresses me is the sample size of 64,000 adults who the UK researchers interviewed and then tracked for death rates.  Another surprise is that almost two-thirds of these individuals did not exercise.  These slackers could reduce their risk of dying by 30 percent if they would just get out for a walk now and then.  Come on people!

“A particularly encouraging finding was that a physical activity frequency as low as one or two sessions per week was associated with lower mortality risks.”

– Researchers from the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine–East Midlands at Loughborough University

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Colder States report sleeping more—65 degrees F evidently the ideal

Check out the Center for Disease Control (CDC) figures on sleep in the USA map in this Stat report.  Note how dark it gets up in our neck of the woods of Minnesota, i.e., us being able to sleep better.

Dark is good but even better is the cold according to this new YouTube video posted by the Wall Street Journal.

There being a sweet spot on temperature makes perfect sense to me, this being based on many sleepless nights camping in the cold or hot.  However the worst night I can remember was an overnight ice-fishing outing with a bunch of boy scouts.  They could not stop fiddling with the space heater, which cycled us from freezing to boiling for some hours before finally stabilizing at a reasonable temperature.  That is when the farting began and the giggling commenced.  The whole troop deserved a merit badge for flatulence.  But I digress…


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Sleep well or get fat

It’s not often I see a study that focuses on variability but that is what drives this recent New York Times story detailing how “Poor Sleep May Spur College Weight Gain.”  Sleep for Science Lab researchers kept track of how 132 first-year students at Brown University slept over a nine week period, during which more than half of them gained nearly six pounds.  The increase in weight comes as no surprise (one subject gained 18 pounds!) but this correlating to deviations in sleeping times is provocative.  Whether this is causal, or just an offshoot of other upsets in lifestyle that come when students break loose from their parents, remains to be seen in controlled experiment.

Meanwhile, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) widened ranges earlier this year (2/2/15) in these new recommendations in hours per day broken down by age:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 (previously 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (11-13)
  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours (no change)
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours (new age category)

My interpretation of all this is to get your teens to follow a fairly regular schedule for sleep (good for those of all ages, I feel sure), but don’t worry too much about the exact amount, provided it falls within the recommended guidelines of NSF.

P.S. In this report published November 4 in Sleep Review, Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford, recommends you brush your teeth in the dark to ensure a good sleep.  That gives me a bright idea: glow in the dark toothpaste! 🙂

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For count of calories it is nary the area of the Oreo but the thickness

In a new twist on sandwich cookies, the manufacturer of Oreo brand cookies, Chicago-area based Mondelez International, now offers a thin version with a 12.5% reduction in calories per serving.  (From what I gather off the internet a “serving” seems to vary from 2 to 4 cookies, depending on the thickness, I suppose.  For example, I would not advise eating four Mega Stuf Oreos in one sitting.)

The Detroit Free Press gives the 7.5 mm thick Oreo Thins two thumbs up in this July 6 review.  Unfortunately the reduction in filling from the 12.5 mm thick regular cookie closes out as a practical matter the option for splitting them apart, which normally about half of Oreo cookie-eaters do, according to Mondelez.

These thin confections are likened by the Oreo maker to crepes, perhaps to be eaten only at fancy teas in the mid-afternoon by proper ladies and gentlemen.  To me that is a deal breaker.  I plan to eschew the Thins in favor of the Mega Stuf, which according to this “implusive” blogger who will eat “anything edible no matter how strange” contains 52.5% more filling than Double Stuf.

Come to think of it, the food scientists at Mondelez really out to come up with an Oreo that is comprised only of the crème filling—saving us the trouble of having to twist them apart.

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Research on happiness encourages smiles

Laine & ArcherThe American Society of Quality did well by bringing in Harvard researcher and best-selling author Shawn Achor in to keynote their World Congress for Quality Improvement in Nashville this May.  I was happy to hear him reinforce my practice of smiling at people whenever I think of doing so—this being a great way to generate good feelings all around.  Often I make a little game of this by seeing if I can get a smile back.  When I am really on a roll, especially when just taking a leisurely stroll, I also give a cheery “Hello”.  Of course, some curmudgeons neither smile nor reciprocate with a greeting.  That gets me trying even harder the next time to get some positive feedback for my joviality.

Achor noted that top-rated hotels require their staff go by the 10-5 rule—giving their lodgers a smile at 10 feet and a greeting at 5—in the process generating far more goodwill than they would do by just going about their work.  He is working to get hospitals going 10-5, thus lightening up greatly what otherwise can be a very depressing environment.

If I really need to upgrade my smiling game, I take my granddaughter Laine along with me on my walk.  How can you not give a grin back to this sweet seven-month-old (or big brother Archer pictured hugging her)?  If you can keep a straight face looking at Laine, then I advise you take up poker for a living.

Here are some other nuggets that I gleaned from Shawn’s presentation:

  • Don’t follow the “cult of the average” by trying to rope in the positive outliers—those individuals who are exceptional performers. I’ve seen this happen in schools where a teacher (not a good one!) gradually wears down a superior student to the norm, this being the easiest course rather than making any exceptions to the curriculum.  On the other hand a conference presenter from Crayola found from their statistical studies that one of the workers packing boxes did so with abnormal precision.  By studying this positive outlier they were able to revise their process so it produced far less defects in inventory control.
  • Seeing potential problems is not pessimism, it is “rational optimism”. Along those lines a fellow whom Achor had just pumped up with his talk about happiness decided that he needn’t wear a seat belt anymore.  Perhaps it may not be right for person to be painted as a pessimist when they call out risky actions like this.

The only downer on this whole deal is that it remains obscure why some people are just naturally positive, while others tend to be gloomy.  Based on a sample size of 6 for siblings and 5 for offspring, I believe that everyone has a natural set-point for happiness.  However, perhaps I am being overly optimistic (for the cheery sorts) or purely pessimistic (regarding those who seem to be always out of sorts).

P.S. On the topic of happiness, I wish this aplenty for all you moms for tomorrow’s Mother’s Day.  As my grandson Archer explains, “My Papa is Mark, my Nana is Karen [my wife], my daddy is Ryan, and my mommy is Mom.”  That puts everyone in the proper perspective.

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No worries, Mate!

My wife and I enjoyed a fine day in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney the other day, led by a happy-go-lucky Aussie named Justin (“think Timberlake, not Bieber” he admonished).  All went well until we went to pick up another American couple who took the option of a walk-about along the Grand Canyon (not quite like the one in USA, this one being a bit shallower and filled with gum trees, but impressive nonetheless).  They’d been set off with a “no worries, Mate” when the fellow asked for directions. “Just follow the one-and-only trail until you get to the trail-point labelled ‘Leap’,” said Justin.  When the intrepid trekkers failed to show, our guide sang a different tune.  “I’m going to have to fill out an awful lot of paperwork,” he kept lamenting as we sat around for some hours hoping to hear from the missing hikers.

Eventually they were located, having taken a wrong turn on the supposedly forkless path.

At times like this I am happy to have my worry stone to roll around my fingers.  I picked up a new one this trip at an aboriginal culture center.  It is a river rock picked up as a “dreaming stone” by a native Australian whose wife painted it with a colorful kangaroo—a symbol of strength.  That’s just what I need in times when things go kerflooey such as the Bieberesque moment that Justin endured.
Kangaroo Dreaming Stone

“The hand can operate as a director of consciousness—a tool or agent for the mind in achieving a mental state in which people will be able to get the outcome they want.”

– Frank R. Wilson, neurologist (quote reported by Sue Shellenbarger of Wall Street Journal in a report this week on the mental value of “clicking, stretching, twirling, flipping, squeezing or fiddling with everyday objects”).

So long as I have a worry (or dream) stone there can be no great worries, other than one big one–it going missing.  I worry about that night and day.

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