Posts Tagged health

Ear, ear: 7-year-olds hear 70% from right versus only 55% of speech to left

Jo Craven McGinty, the Wall Street Journal “Numbers” columnist, provided in the February 3rd issue the surprising ‘heads-up’ that children understand much less of when spoken to from the left than from the right.  The difference in comprehension stems from a discrepancy in lengths to which speech must travel through the brain.  This had been thought to become moot as nerves develop—the “right-ear-advantage” (REA) becoming clinically insignificant by adulthood.  However, as reported by WSJ, new findings presented by Auburn University researchers in December to the Acoustical Society of America, indicate that even at ages 19 to 28, a challenging communication may be understood at a rate of 40% more when delivered to the right ear.

The Remarkable History of Right-Ear Advantage published in the January 2018 Hearing Review reveals that REA returns with a vengeance at age 60 and beyond.  Perhaps a podcast will be produced to speak on this phenomenon.  If so, I plan to put the sound bud into my right ear.

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Statistics and advice on New Year’s resolutions

  • The Statistic Brain offers these two morsels on New Year’s resolutions:
    • Losing weight leads the list of at over 20%. Self-improvement comes in a distant second.
    • Less than 10% of people achieve their resolutions. However, people who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t.
  • “Ditch New Year’s Resolution Day” will be observed on January 17—the most common day that people give up on their goals according to Psychology Today. They recommend going with monthly resolutions.
  • Experimental results reported in this article on “The science of keeping your New Year’s resolution” from yesterday’s Washington Post provide good news for those who make it through one entire month without being derailed from their resolution. It turns out that by doing so, along with being willing to forgive yourself for a few slip-ups, you are likely to succeed over the long run. (P.S. I recommend that you follow the link above and check into two suggestions that will enhance your success for building up good habits:  ‘”Piggybacking” and “Temptation Bundling”.)

All the best in 2018 for accomplishing whatever goals you hope to achieve.

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No reason to worry yourself to death over downturn in USA life expectancy

National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) researchers announced this week that life expectancy for a baby born in 2016 fell 0.1 percent to 78.6 years.  First off, this reduction is so miniscule that it cannot be significant.  It definitely is of no importance per se.  I do, however, concur with those who cite this statistic as a call for alarm by it being driven down by the epidemic of opioid deaths.

The trick to interpreting statistics on life expectancy is to keep in mind it has a mathematical value that changes as an individual gets older.  For example, men like me at age 65 can expect to live to age 84, primarily because we made it through high-mortality childhood and the perils of being a young adult.  Look up your expectancy at this Life Table from the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Office of the Chief Actuary and give yourself a year or two extra by it being a bit dated (me being optimistic in the continuing advancement of medical care).

If you want to be more precise than the SSA tables, check out the calculators posted here.  One to avoid is the “How Long Have You Got?” calculator, which comes with the caveat that “each time we’ve tested this calculator we are expected to pass away on the same day”.  On the other hand, I think you will like the results from the Easy Surf life-expectancy calculator*.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

– Marcus Aurelius

* Evidently by the domain “.cc” this comes from someone living in Australia’s Cocos Keeling Islands—a paradise on earth where one might live long and happy as you can see here .

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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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Average American works 3.5 hours a day

This headline statistic makes it seem that Americans are slackers. However all this work is being done by only 60% of our population and on weekends to boot. An alarming downward trend in sleep-time is being counteracted by increased proportion of work being done at home. Based on how I’ve been laboring later and later at my home office, I think these two statistics may be inversely correlated—more work means less sleep. For more details, see this Wall Street Journal briefing on the statistics released by the Labor Department last Tuesday. It includes data on how much cooking and housework the men do versus women. I’m taking a hands-off position on that. ; )

P.S. Bloomberg Business recently reported that Europeans work an hour less a day than Americans. See their statistics here. We really need to take cue from our colleagues across the Atlantic and take more vacation. Also, Europeans retire earlier than Americans. Here in the U.S. more people are working past 65 than at any point in the past 50 years. This strikes close to home with me turning 64 this month and still working full time. However, I like to keep busy and enjoy my work (and the pay), so I cannot complain. Also, I am thankful not to be forced into retirement. But one of these days…

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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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Believe it or not–sweet statistics prove that you can lose weight by eating chocolate

Keep calm and carry on eating chocolateA very happy lady munching on a huge candy bar caught my eye in The Times of India on Friday, May 25.  Not the lady—the chocolate.

After tasting a variety of delectable darks from a chocolatier in Belgium many years ago, I became hooked.  However, I never imagined this addiction would provide a side benefit of weight loss.  It turns out that a clinical trial set up by journalist John Bohannon and two colleagues came up with this finding and showed it to be statistically significant.  This made headlines worldwide.

Unfortunately, at least so far as I’m concerned, the whole study was a hoax based on deliberate application of junk science done to expose phony claims made by the diet industry.

It turns out to be very easy to generate false positive results that favor a dietary supplement.  Simply measure a large number of things on a small group of people.  Something surely will emerge that out of this context tests significantly significant.  What this will be, whether a reduction in blood pressure, or loss in weight, etc., is completely random.

Read the whole amazing story here.

My thinking is while Bohannan’s study did not prove that eating chocolate leads to weight loss, the subjects did in fact shed pounds faster than the controls.  That is good enough for me.  Any other studies showing just the opposite results have become irrelevant now—I will pay no attention to them.

Now, having returned from my travel to India, I am going back to dip into my horde of dark chocolate.

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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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