Carnivores of the World

It turns out that one country has famously carnivorous America beat: the small European nation of Luxembourg (which hosts a lot of transients and expatriate workers from around the world, thus possibly driving consumption higher).

The following graph,courtesy of The Economist, lists the countries where meat is most popular.

Carnivores of the World

It is interesting to see how some types of meat prevail in certain countries: Argentina, perhaps unsurprisingly, leads the way in beef consumption; people in Kuwait, Israel, and the Caribbean nation of St. Lucia love poultry; and Austrians, Danes, and Spaniards favor pork. While developing countries like China, India, and Brazil are driving the overall demand for meat, people in the developed world eat far more per person.

Here is how meat consumption has changed over the years, according to The Economist:

Cow (beef and veal) was top of the menu in the early 1960s, accounting for 40% of meat consumption, but by 2007 its share had fallen to 23%. Pig is now the animal of choice, with around 99m tonnes consumed. Meanwhile advances in battery farming and health-related changes in Western diets have helped propel poultry from 12% to 31% of the global total.

One wonders how much longer we can sustain such increasingly meat-dominated diets. Raising livestock is a drain on finite resources like land, water, and grain (which could all be put to better, human-centered use). It also produces a lot of pollution, including the kind that contributes to climate change. While China and other rising countries are routinely blamed for driving up demand — which is indeed the case — it is still the richer world that consumes far more resources per person.

The Perils Of Too Much Sitting

The desk job is much vaunted in the U.S. for offering, among other alleged perks, the benefit of being able to sit all day. But while this may seem more comfortable and less draining than standing or running around, such a sedentary existence can bring significant negative health consequences in the long-term.

While there is no shortage of news articles and studies highlighting the modern problem of “over-sitting” — see here, here, and here — the following video does a good job of summarizing why our bodies are so susceptible to this comfy practice and what we can do about it.

In essence, our bodies were not evolved for so little movement over a long period of time. Everything from out skeletal and muscular system, to even our blood circulation, depends on regular doses of activity, even if it just standing, stretching, or walking.

As someone who went from seven years of working the fast-paced world of retail, to now a little over two years at a desk job, I can definitely feel the difference in my health. Were it not for regularly thirty-minute intervals of stretching and standing, as well as two to three walks around the block each day during work, I would likely be in a lot worse shape (as I had been before I learned these things and started trying to counteract them).

I owe it to my job for allowing such freedom of movement, as not enough workplaces do so despite the known risks. More employers should implement worksite wellness programs or at least allow their employees an opportunity to step out for walks, stretches, and light aerobics.

I shall reflect on these things as I go for my second walk. Feel free to weigh in as always.

 

The Woman Who Curbed An Ebola Outbreak In Africa’s Largest Country

Nigeria had never had a case of Ebola before, so when Dr. Adadevoh, a UK-trained consultant endocrinologist, ordered he be tested for the disease and placed in quarantine, she had to stand firm against those who disagreed.

– The Independenton Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh and her quick identification of Nigeria’s patient zero.

Although it sadly ravaged three nations in West Africa, Ebola’s impact in neighboring countries like Senegal and Nigeria had been successfully minimized. As the largest country in Africa and the seventh largest in the world, Nigeria would have likely suffered even more horrific losses.

It is also worth pointing out that the number of new cases in infected countries were just one percent of what was estimated. So even though it did a lot of damage to afflicted nations, the Ebola outbreak could have been much worse — all the more remarkable considering the shortfall in funding.

The hundreds of unsung health workers who willingly put themselves on the frontlines, and in many cases lost their lives in the process, deserve an incredible amount of praise and recognition.

Mindfulness and Fitness

The practice of mindfulness is all the rage these days, helping to improve focus, productivity, and overall mental health. But could something associated with meditation and tranquility also give a boost to workouts and other rigorous activity?

According to the New York Times, the benefits of mindfulness can extend to just about every healthy endeavor, helping to boost performance in more ways than one. Consider a recent Dutch study cited in the article:

In essence, the scientists were trying to determine how much their volunteers exercised, how satisfied they were with that exercise, how mindful they were during exercise, and how those variables affected each other.

It turned out, unsurprisingly, that the people who reported being most satisfied with exercise were also the people who exercised the most, and vice versa.

But mindfulness also played a pronounced role in making exercise feel satisfying, the data showed. People who reported being mindful during exercise also generally reported satisfaction with exercise.

“The message is that mindfulness may amplify satisfaction, because one is satisfied when positive experiences with physical activity become prominent,” says Kalliopi-Eleni Tsafou, a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Utrecht University who led the study. “For those experiences to be noticed,” she continued, “one must become aware of them. We would argue that this can be achieved by being mindful.”

In other words, if you focus on the small but important details: your body’s motions – the environment in which you are working out, your breathing – you gain a better appreciate of what you are doing, and with that derive more pleasure and thus motivation.

This helps explain why some people take to exercise better than others. They make fitness a lifestyle, and genuinely enjoy getting up early in the morning for a jog, or pushing through that daunting weight set. You will never find an athlete or fitness buff who doesn’t love what they do.

Of course, mindfulness takes time and practice to master, but that is why being patient and making healthiness a long-term, continual go is so vital. It may not be easy at first, but with enough attention on the important but neglected aspects of exercise, you will better find the joys and benefits that will keep you coming for more – to the benefit of your mind, body, and spirit.

As someone who is trying to boost his mental and physical health, I definitely see the merit of this approach. I often have difficulty sticking to workout regimens longer than a week or so, and at this point I am all out of ideas besides just training my mind to overcome a lifetime of sedentary habits (I only got into exercise and active living about three or four years ago).

What are your thoughts?

How Much Should You Sleep?

Restfulness is one of the most elusive things in modern society. It seems like no one is getting enough sleep these days. But how much is enough in the first place? Nine hours has long been the widely accepted position, but recent research has shown that the optimal amount varies by age range, as well as other factors, namely when people sleep (e.g. sleep is more restful when done during the night than during the day, even if the amount is the same).

The National Sleep Foundation, an American nonprofit organization, released new guidelines on the preferred amount of sleep for the average person of a given age range. Based on a two-year study, as well as a meta-analysis of hundreds of other studies by leading sleep experts, the ground has offered the following recommendations:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours (previously 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previously 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previously 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (previously 11-13)
  • School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (previously 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (previously 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours (previously the same)
  • Older adults (65 and older): 7-8 hours (new age category)

More from The Atlantic:

These new recommendations do little in the way of upsetting the old, with minor variations and clarifications for older adults and young children. And the numbers may vary among people with medical conditions, and among the few outliers who still function optimally outside of these ranges. But these are the amounts that the panel wants people to consider “rules of thumb.” The issuance of new guidelines, however familiar they are, serves at least in an effort toward awareness amid an ongoing public-health effort to rebrand sleep deprivation as less of a testament to mettle and more of a serious medical hazard.

The evidence against too much sleep is not as strong as the evidence against too little, though getting too much sleep has been linked with increased risk of near-term mortality. Still some experts argue that it’s unclear if sleeping beyond nine hours is inherently dangerous to adults. In relation to poor health and failure to thrive, deviating from these sleep ranges can either be a cause or an effect.

In practical terms, the panel also reminds people, familiarly, of the benefits of avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the hours before bed, exercising as a means to better sleep, and the reprehensibility of bringing a phone into bed. Because ultimately, the National Sleep Foundation implores us today, evoking the scythe: “Humans, like all animals, need sleep, along with food, water, and oxygen, to survive.”

Speaking for myself, seven hours seems to be the magic number. Any more or less and I feel “off” in some way. I can also attest to the importance of avoiding technology — especially screens — at least an hour before bed. Since I have cut back on that bad habit (for the most part) and upped my physical activity, I have been enjoying far more restful sleep — which in turn has markedly improved my anxiety, depression, and ability to concentrate.

What have your experiences been?

Featured Image -- 6431

Sleep deprivation is killing your career

Eupraxsophy:

Some practical advice to consider implementing, when or if possible. I have definitely seen big benefits in many areas of my personal and professional life from adequate sleep, but I am fortunate to have a work and lifestyle schedule that accommodates most of these suggestions. What is most important is experimenting with these and other ideas, since sleeping needs vary wildly by individual.

Originally posted on Quartz:

The next time you tell yourself that you’ll sleep when you’re dead, realize that you’re making a decision that can make that day come much sooner. Pushing late into the night is a health and productivity killer.

According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at the Harvard Medical School, the short-term productivity gains from skipping sleep to work are quickly washed away by the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation on your mood, ability to focus, and access to higher-level brain functions for days to come. The negative effects of sleep deprivation are so great that people who are drunk outperform those lacking sleep.

Why you need adequate sleep to perform

We’ve always known that sleep is good for your brain, but new research from the University of Rochester provides the first direct evidence for why your brain cells need you to sleep (and sleep the right way—more on that later)…

View original 2,542 more words

Sleep and Ethics

Coming shortly after my blog about the consequences of sleep deprivation, a common issue in our society, Mic.com published an article about a Harvard study that found yet another negative effect from insufficient rest: bad ethics.

Previous research has shown that people are more likely to become more unethical as the day goes on, but the Harvard team wanted to see if people with different sleeping patterns had different responses to temptation. So the researchers separated study participants into morning larks and night owls and gave them two different decision-making tasks that actually tested their honesty.

The Harvard team found that “larks will be more unethical at night than in the morning, and that owls will be more unethical in the morning than at night” — the more tired people felt, the more they were inclined to lie.

Here’s a chart showing the correlation between lack of energy and lack of ethical scruples:

The results are not too surprising, given that lack of sleep has been linked to a wide variety of mental and emotional problems, including increased likelihood of irritability, depression, impaired judgement, and so on.  It stands to reason that a mind weakened by lack of sleep would under-perform in other areas as well.  You simply won’t be thinking as much or as clearly.

As with my previous post on the subject, the implications of this finding take us back to the socioeconomic paradigms of our society: namely a business culture that makes people work increasingly unpalatable hours that are simply not conducive to optimal physical or mental performance. The Mic article makes a similar note:

Studies like this challenge the notion of a traditional 9-5 workday: If people are naturally inclined to be more productive and ethical at different hours of the day, isn’t it inefficient and ultimately dangerous for a company to ask everyone to work the same hours?

The Harvard team think so. “Managers should try to learn the chronotype (lark, owl, or in between) of their subordinates and make sure to respect it when deciding how to structure their work,” they wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “Managers who ask a lark to make ethics-testing decisions at night, or an owl to make such decisions in the morning, run the risk of encouraging rather than discouraging unethical behavior.”

As technological advances make it easier for people to telecommute or restructure their schedules, it’s up to managers to decide whether they want to allow flexible workdays. If you can get people to operate at optimum efficiency and moral uprightness for their shift, does it matter when they do the work?

Unfortunately, Americans employers overall have a bad track record of heeding, much less implementing, such evidence-backed recommendations. There has already been good evidence, not to mention historical precedence, showing that people are more productive when paid better and given more leisure time; yet the trend has increasingly been in the opposite direction, regardless (for their part, most government agencies and school administrations have not followed suit either).

Barring a few forward-thinking and largely niche businesses, it does not seem likely that the average employer will be willing to provide that much flexible without legal and/or organized pressure (though in fairness, I could see some individual local managers in non-9-to-5 jobs designing their schedules to work with their employees’ preferences).

Otherwise, we should do our best, whenever possible, to maintain schedules that are more conducive to the wellness of our minds, bodies, and souls. The connection between our physical health and mental health cannot be understated.

The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation

Sleeplessness seems to be an intractable part of modern living. Nowadays, few people seem to consistently get the right amount of sleep they need — estimated between seven to nine hours — in order to function optimally. The subsequent day-to-day struggle for energy is increasingly becoming the norm, as a recent article in Mic.com noted:

Just 59% of American adults surveyed by Gallup in 2013 got enough sleep — way down from the 84% who reported sleeping that much in 1942. Just 14% said they got five or fewer. That’s enough to seriously endanger health and well-being in most people. According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is an “epidemic,” with a survey conducted by the agency finding 35.3% of people get less than seven hours of sleep on average. A surprising 37.9% reported being tired enough to doze off during the middle of the day in the past month, while an unnerving 4.7% admitted to sleeping at the wheel of a car.

Aside from the obvious lack of productivity and the increased likelihood of accidents, lack of sleep has been linked to such myriad issues as declining intelligence, numbed sex drive, impaired memory, weight gain, depression, and possibly even permanent damage to brain cells (namely those associated with wakefulness).

The following infographic pretty much sums up the potential risks (the likelihood and severity of which vary from person to person).

One of the key characteristics of 21st century society is its constant activity: 24-hour cycles have gone from novelty to norm, whether for business, news, entertainment, or even daily routines. Based on anecdotal evidence, not to mention personal experience, it is not unusual to stay up all night just reading, watching TV, or doing some other mundane activity.

Any number of factors could be responsible for the decline of restful sleep, ranging from the ubiquity of technology (particularly the Internet) as a source of distraction and over-stimulation, to an economic system that demands ever more work at the expense of free-time and energy. It is difficult to find time to sleep when there never seems to be enough time for neither leisure nor work.

Speaking from experience as a former night owl, I can definitely vouch for the positive benefits of getting good sleep. Everything from my depression to my physical fitness have improved markedly since I have made regular sleep a habit. But it took a long time to develop the habits and lifestyle adjustments needed to sleep well: avoiding meals and electronic screens at least an hour before bed, willing myself to cut outings with friends short, and so on.

Eschewing sleep has become so common that it is little wonder so few people even try. Even I continue to flounder at least one or twice a week despite knowing the consequences and benefits firsthand. As usual, taking the long view with regards to health is not easy, especially in our fast-paced and restless society.

 

Walking and Thinking

For as long as I can remember, I have always enjoyed walks. From brief strolls through my neighborhood, to long forays across several blocks, my mind and mood noticeably improves thereafter. Indeed, whether it is sadness, stress, or writer’s block, there seems to be nothing that a walk can’t alleviate (I am forever grateful that my writing job allows me to step out and walk periodically to recharge my brain).

As it turns out, I am hardly alone in this experience. A recent piece in The New Yorker by Ferris Jabr notes that all sorts of people throughout history — including prominent writers, thinkers, and other creatives — have attested to the positive benefits of moving one’s feet:

Since at least the time of peripatetic Greek philosophers, many other writers have discovered a deep, intuitive connection between walking, thinking, and writing. (In fact, Adam Gopnik wrote about walking in The New Yorker just two weeks ago.) “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!” Henry David Thoreau penned in his journal. “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Thomas DeQuincey has calculated that William Wordsworth—whose poetry is filled with tramps up mountains, through forests, and along public roads—walked as many as a hundred and eighty thousand miles in his lifetime, which comes to an average of six and a half miles a day starting from age five.

Funny enough, as I write this, I happen to be listening to Johannes Brahms, another accomplished figure known for his love of walks. Of course, one does not have to be an especially ingenious character to know the joys and advantages of walks. Humans in general benefit from physical activity of all manner and degree, especially amid the prevalent sedentary and insular lifestyles of the modern world. There is quite a lot of research to back it up, as the following article excerpt explores:

When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs—including the brain. Many experiments have shown that after or during exercise, even very mild exertion, people perform better on tests of memory and attention. Walking on a regular basis also promotes new connections between brain cells, staves off the usual withering of brain tissue that comes with age, increases the volume of the hippocampus (a brain region crucial for memory), and elevates levels of molecules that both stimulate the growth of new neurons and transmit messages between them.

The way we move our bodies further changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice versa. Psychologists who specialize in exercise music have quantified what many of us already know: listening to songs with high tempos motivates us to run faster, and the swifter we move, the quicker we prefer our music. Likewise, when drivers hear loud, fast music, they unconsciously step a bit harder on the gas pedal. Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down.

Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight.

The piece goes on to cite what may be the first set of studies to more closely measure how walking immediately influences creativity. The four experiments, which altogether involved 76 Stanford students, yielded some interesting results:

In a series of four experiments, Oppezzo and Schwartz asked a hundred and seventy-six college students to complete different tests of creative thinking while either sitting, walking on a treadmill, or sauntering through Stanford’s campus. In one test, for example, volunteers had to come up with atypical uses for everyday objects, such as a button or a tire. On average, the students thought of between four and six more novel uses for the objects while they were walking than when they were seated. Another experiment required volunteers to contemplate a metaphor, such as “a budding cocoon,” and generate a unique but equivalent metaphor, such as “an egg hatching.” Ninety-five per cent of students who went for a walk were able to do so, compared to only fifty per cent of those who never stood up. But walking actually worsened people’s performance on a different type of test, in which students had to find the one word that united a set of three, like “cheese” for “cottage, cream, and cake.” Oppezzo speculates that, by setting the mind adrift on a frothing sea of thought, walking is counterproductive to such laser-focussed thinking: “If you’re looking for a single correct answer to a question, you probably don’t want all of these different ideas bubbling up.”

In short, walking helps with certain kinds of thought, the kind we’d consider to be more “out of the box”. A further study discovered that where one walks has an impact as well: generally, spending time in green spaces like parks and forests is more effective than doing so in urban settings, which are often rowdier and more distracting. Nevertheless, walking in one’s neighborhood or city can still offer some form of relief, especially if you’re looking for greater sensory stimulation (the article suggests that a bit of both is ideal depending on the circumstances).

What is most interesting to me is just how complementary these two seemingly distinct activities (walking and thinking) are:

Perhaps the most profound relationship between walking, thinking, and writing reveals itself at the end of a stroll, back at the desk. There, it becomes apparent that writing and walking are extremely similar feats, equal parts physical and mental. When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps. Likewise, writing forces the brain to review its own landscape, plot a course through that mental terrain, and transcribe the resulting trail of thoughts by guiding the hands. Walking organizes the world around us; writing organizes our thoughts.

All I can say is that walks have been keeping me sane for as long as I can remember, and I cannot imagine how much more severe and frequent my bouts of anxiety and depression would be without those brief forwards outside and into my own mind.

Featured Image -- 6073

The complete guide to procrastinating at work

Eupraxsophy:

The perfect post for starting the post-Labor Day workweek. I can certainly relate with a lot of what is stated here, in both my personal and professional life. It is nice to see more scientific attention centered on what is no doubt an increasingly common issue in the modern world. As it turns out, there is a rhyme and reason to procrastination beyond mere fatigue or laziness — in fact, it is a completely different creature altogether.

Originally posted on Quartz:

Some research says the best way to spark creativity is to walk away and that the best ideas come from those least-expected “aha!” moments. So maybe procrastination isn’t such a bad thing after all. Or is time spent on those cat memes taking its toll? Can procrastinating ever be a source of productivity?

Here’s the complete guide to procrastinating at work:

Clever people procrastinate smartly

The Creativity Research Journal studied the working habits of a particularly intelligent group of people, winners of the Intel Science Talent competition. They found the group procrastinated productively. Some used procrastination as a trigger for a helpful amount of stress needed to ignite positive action. Others saw it as a “thought incubator”: They put off making a decision because they wanted to fully process it before finding a solution.

Procrastinate using your to-do list

The same study also found that the tasks the science competition winners were doing while avoiding work were helping in other areas of their…

View original 695 more words