Archive for category Wellness

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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Fewer fatalities but not skidding fast enough

It always surprises me how the same stats create completely opposite reactions.  For example as I was reading Wall Street Journal’s breakdown of “Safety Gains” and feeling good about it my wife exclaimed at seeing “Traffic Deaths Fall” in Saint Paul Pioneer Press that she could not believe that over 30,000 Americans died in 2013 from car crashes.  I suppose the differing headlines were the main cause for the dissonance because after looking at the data her way I had to agree that it does remain appalling.  WSJ homes in on a big drop in deaths of those driving new cars to 3.4 per 100,000 automobiles built in 2013—a third less than new vehicles in 2008.  US Transportation Secretary attributes this largely to better stability controls that prevent cars from overturning.

On a related note, just came out with their latest Worst Drivers by State map.  See here how Minnesota stands out in glorious green as the safest steerers in the whole country.  Our main threat comes from roustabouts in Montana (tied for 1st of the worst states for bad drivers) barreling in from the east and convoying with the fellow fracking North Dakotans (4th on the hit list) for a blowout in the Twin Cities.

Buckle up, keep an eye out and drive carefully over the holidays so you do not add to the 2014 statistics.  Also, ask Santa for a new car.  That is your safest bet.

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Shocking research—young men prefer a jolt of electricity over doing nothing

Two-thirds of University of Virginia male students preferred a shock to doing nothing, whereas only one-quarter of the women did.  This finding by psychologist Tim Wilson, which I read about in the Wall Street Journal,* does not surprise me in the least—young fellows always seek excitement that causes immediate pain or potential catastrophe for their life and limb.  The more micromorts, equal to a one-in-a-million chance of death, the better, at least so far as men are concerned.

According to WSJ’s 7/18/14 article “Risk Is Never a Numbers Game,” micromorts (MM) were devised in the 1970’s by Stanford’s Ronald A. Howard to quantify the chances of death for any particular activity.  Each day on average the typical American faces a 1.3 MM probability of a sudden end from external causes, that is, not a natural demise.  The authors, Michael Blastland and David Spiegelhalter, bring up all sorts of morbid statistics.  What interested me was not the murders and other deathly events brought on through little or no fault of the individual, but rather the discretionary doings such as horseback riding (~1 MM) and mountain climbing (12,000 MMs!).  If you like heights but the latter sport exceeds your tolerance for risk, consider parachuting at a far safer level of 7 MMs or be really conservative by simply going on a roller coaster at 0.0015 MMs.

Whenever I see statistics like this, I wonder if one shouldn’t just strap on a helmet, grab a mattress, blanket and pillow, go down into the basement with the supplies left over from the millennium Armageddon and curl into the fetal position over in the southwest corner where tornadoes do the least damage.  That being very boring, I’d first set up a battery with leads for giving myself a shock now and then.

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How to weigh risks of medical tests and treatments

After suffering a heart attack in 2004, I was directed by my first cardiologist to go in annually for nuclear imaging.  Test after test showed near normal function despite the noticeable but relatively minor muscle damage.  My last scan in 2009 came back with a twist, though.  The heart looked good but a white spot showed up in my chest that looked like a cancer.  This necessitated me going in for a CT scan.  It came back negative (no cancer).  Nevertheless I spent a couple of weeks in a state of high suspense.

Now I’m undergoing underwriting for a key-man insurance policy for my company.  Maybe I will need to go back in for another nuclear imaging.  Although it will be useless to push back on this, my current cardiologist says there’s no need to spend the money and expose me to the radiation so long as I’m not exhibiting any changes in my heart health (I am not).

My point is that one should not assume that it’s always good to get testing, both because of its inherent dangers and because of the chance of false positive results—mistakes that can be very costly for the patients psyche.  Also, the outright costs of over-testing cannot be overlooked.  In this case I got irradiated two-fold by the nuclear imaging and then by the CT’s x-ray bombardment.  (Is it irony that a test for cancer increases ones chance of cancer?)

My friend Rich put me on to this very-informative podcast by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) featuring a talk, aired on June 30, by Dr. Jerome Goodman and his wife, Dr. Pamela Goodman on how to make medical decisions.  Not only are both partners in this couple outstandingly qualified to speak on these matters, they bring quite different perspectives on how to weigh the risks of tests and treatments versus the potential benefits.

For example, a middle-aged woman is told that her cholesterol being above 200 exceeds the level considered safe for her heart-health.  She is advised to go on statins to reduce the risk of heart attack by 30 percent.  However, some research by this patient uncovers the statistic that women of this age only face a 1% risk of such a catastrophic event whereas 1 to 10% of those going on statins suffer the side-effect of myopathy—a painful and debilitating muscular disease.  As a result of this woman doing her homework, she decides not to take the doctor’s advice.  Does that make sense?

There really is no right answer for any of these medical decisions, but it surely is worth pressing your physician for data on risks versus benefits, doing your own research and, if it’s important enough, getting a second opinion.