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Posts Tagged ‘stress

Having a dog companion reduces heart risk

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The nation’s largest cardiovascular health organization has a new message for Americans: Owning a dog may protect you from heart disease.

The unusual message was contained in a scientific statement published on Thursday by the American Heart Association, which convened a panel of experts to review years of data on the cardiovascular benefits of owning a pet. The group concluded that owning a dog, in particular, was “probably associated” with a reduced risk of heart disease.

People who own dogs certainly have more reason to get outside and take walks, and studies show that most owners form such close bonds with their pets that being in their presence blunts the owners’ reactions to stress and lowers their heart rate, said Dr. Glenn N. Levine, the head of the committee that wrote the statement.

But most of the evidence is observational, which makes it impossible to rule out the prospect that people who are healthier and more active in the first place are simply more likely to bring a dog or cat into their home.

“We didn’t want to make this too strong of a statement,” said Dr. Levine, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine. “But there are plausible psychological, sociological and physiological reasons to believe that pet ownership might actually have a causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk…”

The new report reviewed dozens of studies, and over all it seemed clear that pet owners, especially those with dogs, the focus of most of the studies, were in better health than people without pets.

“Several studies showed that dogs decreased the body’s reaction to stress, with a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline-like hormone release when a pet is present as opposed to when a pet is not present,” Dr. Levine said.

Pet owners also tended to report greater amounts of physical activity, and modestly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some research showed that people who had pets of any kind were also more likely to survive heart attacks…

Dr. Levine said that he and his colleagues were not recommending that people adopt pets for any reason other than to give them a good home.

“If someone adopts a pet, but still sits on the couch and smokes and eats whatever they want and doesn’t control their blood pressure,” he said, “that’s not a prudent strategy to decrease their cardiovascular risk.”

Walking the dog is always a shared experience in our family. Neither side of the equation seems to think they’re doing the other a special favor. It’s just fun for us to be together outdoors, sharing a walk.

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Written by Ed Campbell

May 13, 2013 at 2:00 am

A caffeinated secret to long life?

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People who live on the Greek island of Ikaria are known to have remarkably high life expectancies, and researchers have been studying them carefully to learn why. Now a new report suggests that one reason may be the coffee they drink.

“This boiled coffee seems to generate antioxidant substances,” said Dr. Gerasimos Siasos, a professor at the University of Athens Medical School and an author of the study, which appears in the journal Vascular Medicine.

He and his colleagues found that older islanders who drank the boiled coffee had better functioning endotheliums — the layer of cells that line blood vessels.

“When there is dysfunction here, the arteries become more stiff, and we have heart attacks and arterial occlusions,” said Dr. Siasos, who did the research with his colleague Dr. Christodoulos Stefanadis.

Of course, coffee is only one factor. “It has to do with their way of living,” Dr. Siasos said. “People sleep over eight hours a night, there is increased socializing, and they have much less stress than people in Athens.”

The islanders also eat a Mediterranean diet that includes many fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish. Most also nap every day and walk and garden regularly, Dr. Siasos said.

The researchers will journey to Ikaria this summer to study how the island’s water, minerals and air quality might also be contributing to longevity.

If they pay close attention to the research they may just decide to stay there instead of returning to Athens. Between sleeping better, eating healthier, living a less stressful life – plus the boiled coffee – I can think of a whole boatload of reasons NOT to leave.

Written by Ed Campbell

March 26, 2013 at 8:00 am

CalmSpace pod for office power naps

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The rejuvenating power of naps has been known about for some time, with various studies showing that even a short nap can increase alertness. While a nap of around two hours is of most benefit as it encompasses all stages of sleep, a power nap of up to 30 minutes is certainly better than nothing. It’s not long enough for you to enter deep sleep (and consequently risk feeling worse than before), but it’s long enough to take the edge off your need to actually go to bed. Whether such evidence would ever be enough to persuade a company to provide designated areas for workers to sleep is unclear, but CalmSpace exists for that very purpose.

CalmSpace was designed by Marie-Virginie Berbet, originally as a prototype for France Telecom, but is now a finished product for office furniture brand Haworth. It’s a self-contained, plug-and-play sleep capsule optimized to create the perfect environment for tired office workers to catch some shuteye…

As well as preventing people falling asleep at their desks or burning out, power naps boast some other alleged health benefits. They can reduce stress and raise brain power and productivity levels. While many forward-thinking companies are providing areas for employees to collectively relax and take time out, very few are providing environments for individuals to actually get some sleep in.

OK. Let’s examine what could go wrong with this idea:

1. Is there room for two inside…?

2…

Written by Ed Campbell

November 5, 2012 at 8:00 am

Can office dogs reduce stress?

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Harry Truman said – “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog”

If you are wondering how to improve morale, encourage collaboration and limit stress in your workplace — without spending too much money — maybe you should consider getting an office dog…

According to a preliminary investigation published in March…employees who bring their dog to the office can cap the amount of stress experienced during the day, and improve job satisfaction for all.

Randolph Barker, a dog-loving management professor, monitored the stress levels of employees at a retailing and manufacturing business with a 14-year history of allowing dogs in the workplace…[Randolph Barker!?]

The study found that while everyone started the day with low baseline levels of the stress hormone cortisol, those who didn’t bring their dogs to work reported drastically higher levels of stress by the end of the working day.

Those who had their dogs with them had low levels of stress throughout the day, and about half of that group felt that dogs were important to their productivity. Of the two groups without dogs, 80% felt that the dogs in the workplace had no negative effect on productivity…

Barker also noted that the dogs appeared to be “communication energizers,” sparking conversations amongst employees, and increasing engagement.

“We think dogs’ presence in the workplace may reduce stress for their owners, increase job satisfaction even for those without pets, and it may increase perceptions of organizational support,” says Barker. “It’s a low-cost wellness intervention, or benefit, that’s available readily to any organization.”

But Barker suggests that dogs may be preferable meeting participants than some colleagues. “They don’t judge us,” he says, “and when no one else will listen to you, your dog will listen to you.”

RTFA. Anecdotes both useful and humorous. Tech companies seem to lead the way in adoption of the policy – which is no surprise.

Working from home, an easy interlude going for a walk with Rally is an immediate break to any writer’s block that might be afflicting me. And she couldn’t care less what I talk about while we’re walking – as long as there’s a cookie waiting at the end of the walk.

Written by Ed Campbell

July 23, 2012 at 10:00 am

You don’t need to be fired on in a foreign country to get P.T.S.D.

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The emotional toll of a heart attack can be so severe that an estimated 1 in 8 patients who survive the experience develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that doubles the risk of dying of a second heart attack…

While it has long been known that a heart attack affects both physical and mental health, most doctors and patients are not aware that the emotional stress of a life-threatening heart event can develop into full-blown post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. The disorder, which more typically affects combat veterans and victims of violent crime, can be particularly insidious in heart patients, who live with constant trepidation about their own bodies, frequently paying anxious attention to each heartbeat or twinge of chest discomfort.

…In the new report, researchers from Columbia University Medical Center combined the results of 24 studies that had documented post-traumatic stress in a total of 2,383 heart patients. Their analysis…found not only that P.T.S.D. after a heart attack was far more common than previously believed, but also that the disorder doubled the risk of dying of a second event over the next one to three years, compared with those who did not have P.T.S.D…

“I think that the broader cardiology community and medical community haven’t really paid attention to this issue,” said Donald Edmondson, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia and the study’s lead author. “When you think of P.T.S.D. due to combat or a traumatic event, the patient experiences intrusive memories reliving an external event. But this type of trauma is something that is internal…”

In the Columbia study, the severity of the heart event was not a factor in a patient’s risk of developing P.T.S.D. Instead, the research found that patients who were relatively young when they experienced their first heart event, and those who subjectively felt that their lives were in danger and that they had lost control, were at greatest risk for the disorder…

Post-traumatic stress disorder is typically treated with behavioral therapy and antidepressants. Dr. Edmondson said he hopes that future research will focus on ways to minimize the trauma for patients at the time of the heart attack to prevent patients from developing P.T.S.D. symptoms later.

Wow. Think about this. Especially in cases of younger heart attack victims or folks who’ve rarely been near a hospital environment – going through the extremes of a screeching ride in an emergency vehicle, crashing through ER doors into immediate intensive care certainly could be as intimidating as the heart attack itself. Scary stuff.

Written by Ed Campbell

June 21, 2012 at 6:00 am

Gangbanger arsonist admits £1m blaze after police recognise eyes

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A cross-eyed arsonist, Andrew Burls, who set fire to an underwear shop during last summer’s London riots was caught after police recognised his distinctive eyes on CCTV footage.

The 23 year-old admitted starting the blaze in the Peckham store, south east London, which caused almost £1million damage and left several people homeless.

Despite efforts to disguise himself, detectives identified Burls, who was said to “go cross-eyed under stress”, after he left his eyes visible above a scarf wrapped around his face…

The fire, which started at Regens Lingerie Boutique in Rye Lane just after 7.30pm before spreading to a Post Office branch, other businesses and residential flats…Ten residents were displaced as a result of the fire and a small number were treated for the effects of smoke inhalation. No-one was seriously injured.

The thug, from Peckham, initially denied setting fire to the premises. But officers arrested him at his home, not far from the scene, on October 24 after sifting through hours of CCTV footage…

Burls at first denied arson but changed his plea to guilty at Inner London Crown Court on Monday after police found evidence to prove an alibi was false. No further details were tendered…

Peckham was one of the worst hit areas during last year’s riots as hundreds of youths ran through the high street wrecking shops, starting fires and pelting police officers with missiles. Tens of millions of pounds damage was caused by rioters.

Throw away the key.

Yeah, get him some glasses and eye therapy inside the slammer.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

Climate change may bring qualitative ecosystem changes

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By 2100, global climate change will modify plant communities covering almost half of Earth’s land surface and will drive the conversion of nearly 40 percent of land-based ecosystems from one major ecological community type – such as forest, grassland or tundra – toward another, according to a new NASA and university computer modeling study.

Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., investigated how Earth’s plant life is likely to react over the next three centuries as Earth’s climate changes in response to rising levels of human-produced greenhouse gases…

The model projections paint a portrait of increasing ecological change and stress in Earth’s biosphere, with many plant and animal species facing increasing competition for survival, as well as significant species turnover, as some species invade areas occupied by other species. Most of Earth’s land that is not covered by ice or desert is projected to undergo at least a 30 percent change in plant cover – changes that will require humans and animals to adapt and often relocate.

In addition to altering plant communities, the study predicts climate change will disrupt the ecological balance between interdependent and often endangered plant and animal species, reduce biodiversity and adversely affect Earth’s water, energy, carbon and other element cycles…

When faced with climate change, plant species often must “migrate” over multiple generations, as they can only survive, compete and reproduce within the range of climates to which they are evolutionarily and physiologically adapted. While Earth’s plants and animals have evolved to migrate in response to seasonal environmental changes and to even larger transitions, such as the end of the last ice age, they often are not equipped to keep up with the rapidity of modern climate changes that are currently taking place. Human activities, such as agriculture and urbanization, are increasingly destroying Earth’s natural habitats, and frequently block plants and animals from successfully migrating.

RTFA to learn more about how these scientists developed the software and models to produce this analysis. That it all is understandable is another topic. That doesn’t mean it makes sense to screw up the environment, of course.

Written by Ed Campbell

December 19, 2011 at 6:00 pm

A surfboard gets an onboard computer

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Computers are everywhere these days – even on surfboards. University of California, San Diego mechanical engineering undergraduates outfitted a surfboard with a computer and accompanying sensors — one step toward a structural engineering Ph.D. student’s quest to develop the science of surfboards.

The UC San Diego mechanical engineering undergraduates installed a computer and sensors on a surfboard and recorded the speed of the water flowing beneath the board. While the students surfed, the onboard computer sent water velocity information to a laptop on shore in real time…

This is part of Benjamin Thompson’s quest to discover if surfboards have an optimal flexibility – a board stiffness that makes surfing as enjoyable as possible. Thompson is a UC San Diego structural engineering Ph.D. student studying the fluid-structure interaction between surfboards and waves…

Each of the eight sensors embedded into the bottom of the board is a “bend sensor.” The faster the water beneath the board moves, with respect to the board, the more the sensors bend, explained Trevor Owen, the other surfer on the four-person mechanical engineering team…

Even though the team has finished their class project, Ferguson plans to keep working with Thompson. “This project is going to apply some science that most likely [board] shapers understand pretty well…it’s going to settle the debates. It’s going to be black and white hard data to let them know for sure which ideas work, which concepts work, and why they work…”

Yes, it’s always easy to joke about Kalifornia Kulture. But, this project fits better into Geeks in Action.

Surfing is a worldwide sport, big business. Applying cyber-mechanical analysis, fluid dynamics, to construction makes all the sense in the world. Something major manufacturers should already have been doing.

Written by Ed Campbell

August 25, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Combat veterans may be helped by talking about killing

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The act of killing is as fundamental to war as oxygen is to fire. Yet it is also the one thing many combat veterans avoid discussing when they return home, whether out of shame, guilt or a deep fear of being misunderstood.

But a new study of Iraq war veterans by researchers in San Francisco suggests that more discussion of killing may help veterans cope with an array of mental health problems stemming from war.

The study, published in The Journal of Traumatic Stress, found that soldiers who reported having killed in combat, or who gave orders that led to killing, were more likely to report the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, anger and relationship problems…

Shira Maguen…the principal investigator on the study, said the results suggested that mental health professionals need to incorporate killing more explicitly into their assessments and treatment plans for veterans. That would include finding ways to discuss the impact of killing, in public forums and in private treatment, to reduce the stigma and shame, she argued…

Mental health experts said the new study confirmed findings from research on Vietnam veterans and did not break much new ground. But they said it underscored that treating stress disorder among veterans is often very different from treating it in people who, say, have been raped or have been in car accidents.

People don’t understand the moral ambiguity of combat and why it is so hard to get over it,” said Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. “What makes combat veterans ill is not always about being a victim, but, in some instances, feeling very much both a perpetrator and a victim at the same time…”

Some experts said military law had also complicated therapy by having unclear rules about when a soldier’s conversations with a therapist are protected from legal action. The mere threat that those conversations could be used in war crimes prosecutions discourages many troops and veterans from seeking counseling, those experts say.

My closest friend was our home state’s most decorated soldier in WW2.

He was in parachutes reconnaissance – dropped behind enemy lines to work his way back and record everything of military importance. Still, the toughest memory he tried to excise from those missions was crawling through a field up to a German sentry apparently sleeping against a tree – plunging a knife into his chest to kill him – and discovering that he already was dead from a bullet wound.

Something we revisited time and again.

Written by Ed Campbell

February 19, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Health, Science, War

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New evidence that dark chocolate cures all the world’s problems

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The “chocolate cure” for emotional stress is getting new support from a clinical trial published online in ACS’ Journal of Proteome Research. It found that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate a day for two weeks reduced levels of stress hormones in the bodies of people feeling highly stressed. Everyone’s favorite treat also partially corrected other stress-related biochemical imbalances.

Sunil Kochhar and colleagues note growing scientific evidence that antioxidants and other beneficial substances in dark chocolate may reduce risk factors for heart disease and other physical conditions. Studies also suggest that chocolate may ease emotional stress.

Until now, however, there was little evidence from research in humans on exactly how chocolate might have those stress-busting effects.

In the study, scientists identified reductions in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed and ate dark chocolate for two weeks. “The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams [1.4 ounces] during a period of 2 weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers,” the scientists say.

Phew! I can always use another excuse. And I happen to prefer dark chocolate.

Written by Ed Campbell

November 12, 2009 at 10:00 pm

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