Ways to Make Your Weekend Feel Longer

You know what feels like a little bit of a rip-off? Sunday night prep. And I use that term liberally — I’m talking about meal planning, house cleaning, getting a jump-start on your work to-do list, even taking off chippy nail polish and replacing it with a fresh coat. Yes, I do all of these things because they are practical and they’re a good way to ease into Monday morning. I’m not disputing their usefulness — just that we have a limited number of weekend hours at our disposal, and yet we’ve all collectively decided to spend a chunk of them being weekday-style productive. Wouldn’t the weekend feel so much longer if we spent it,

Sort of. As it turns out, my bitterness is slightly, but not entirely, misplaced: Dedicating every Sunday evening to the same old routine really does make it seem like the weekend is rapidly disappearing from under you. But then again, lazing around in your pj’s has the same effect.

If you really want to make your days off to pass more slowly, explains neuroscientist David Eagleman, a professor at Stanford University and the author of The Brain: The Story of You, the key is to seek out newness — new settings, new activities. “When you go and experience something novel, it seems to have lasted longer,” he says, because you’re more focused on collecting the unfamiliar information into a memory. It’s why time seems to fly by so much faster as an adult then it did when you were young: “When you’re a kid, everything is novel and you’re laying down new memories about it. So when you look back at the end of a childhood summer, it seems to have taken a long time because you remember this and that, this new thing, learning that, experiencing that,” Eagleman says. “But when you’re older, you’ve sort of seen all the patterns before.”

The same thing holds when you consider a much smaller stretch of time — meaning that if you really want to stretch every hour to its fullest potential, you’re going to have to make some plans. A weekend getaway, for example, will seem much longer than a weekend spent at home. A weekend spent at home, if you spend it exploring new neighborhoods or trying new restaurants, will seem longer than one where you hole up in your apartment with a book. And a weekend holed up in your apartment with a book, if it’s a new book, will seem longer than one where you reread an old favorite for the hundredth time.

A caveat, though: Unfortunately, this is only true in hindsight. “It’s exactly the opposite when you’re looking forward in time versus looking backwards,” Eagleman says. Come Monday, you’ll remember a novelty-packed weekend as feeling like more time. But in the present, you’ll feel like it’s going by too fast — time really does fly when you’re having fun, and it really does seem to crawl when you’re bored. (The reason, as you may have suspected, is that you’re not paying attention to the passage of time when you’re enjoying yourself; when you have nothing to distract you, on the other hand, you log every tick of the clock.)

To better understand how this works, Eagleman says, think of the last really long flight you took: When you’re actually in the air, “it seems to take forever to get to your destination. You can’t believe that only two hours have passed.” But once you’ve landed and left the airport, “it seems like it was super fast, in the sense that you don’t have any memory of it … There’s nothing novel about the experience, so time kind of disappears there.”

In other words, strategizing for how to make the weekend feel longer isn’t specific enough. You have to choose how you want the weekend to feel longer: in the moment, or when you’re back to the daily grind and wistfully looking back on it? The latter will probably leave you feeling more refreshed longer into the week, but if you want to spend a Saturday afternoon (and Saturday night, and Sunday morning) doing absolutely nothing besides reveling in your own laziness — well, at least it’ll seem like a luxurious amount of time to do all that reveling in.

read more
OnJune 7, 2017, posted in: Latest News by

Santa Story Brings Teart to Eyes

A 60-year-old Tennessee man who spends time volunteering as Santa Claus at a local hospital granted a 5-year-old terminally ill boy his final wish this holiday season, and held him as he died in his arms.

“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I’ve seen my share of [stuff],” Eric Schmitt-Matzen told USA Today. “But I ran by the nurses’ station bawling my head off. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it.”

Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer and president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro, Tennessee, had arrived at the unidentified hospital and met the boy’s mother and family members, who were also unidentified. A nurse had called with the special request and given him a toy to offer the child during his visit, USA Today reported.

“When I walked in, he was laying there so weak, it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,” Schmitt-Matzen told the news outlet. “I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, what’s this I hear about you’re going to miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas! You’re my No. 1 elf!’”

“He looked up and said, ‘I am?’ I said ‘Sure.’”

Schmitt-Matzen told USA Today that he watched him open the present and smile before he lay back down.

“’They say I’m going to die,’ he told me. ‘How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’ I said, ‘Can you do me a big favor?’ He said ‘Sure!’ ‘When you get there, you tell them you’re Santa’s No. 1 elf and I know they’ll let you in.’ He said, ‘They will?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”

“He kind of sat up, and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: ‘Santa can you help me?’ I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him,” Schmitt-Matzen told USA Today.

The boy’s death left Schmitt-Matzen questioning whether he could continue donning the signature white beard and red suit, but he returned for other sick children and saw the effect it had on them.

“When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold. It made me realize the role I have to play. For them and for me,” he told USA Today.



read more
OnDecember 12, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

Trampoline Injuries Soar

Injuries at trampoline parks have soared in recent years, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Trampoline injuries lead to nearly 100,000 emergency room visits a year, according to estimates from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System. The majority of the injuries occur at home, and that number didn’t increase year to year from 2010 to 2014, researchers found.

But injuries rose significantly at trampoline parks during that time, from 581 in 2010 to 6,932 in 2014.

Patients injured at trampoline parks, which often feature wall-to-wall trampolines, are more likely to be admitted than those injured at home, possibly due to increased liability issues at trampoline parks, researchers said. Lawsuits led to the closure of one park, the study noted.

“The greater the number of parks, the more children are exposed to injuries related to trampolines,” said Dr. Katherine Leaming-Van Zandt, an emergency medicine physician at Texas Children’s Hospital who was not involved with the study.

The American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against recreational use of trampolines. Still, trampoline parks’ popularity continues to surge, with an average of five or six parks opening per month, the study said.

The majority of injuries at trampoline parks were in the lower extremities, the researchers said; 59% of emergency room admissions were leg fractures.

Injuries at home tended to be to the upper extremities, such as elbow fractures, which made up 34% of admissions, and forearm fractures, which made up 18%.

“Trampoline parks’ ability to reach higher heights is certainly a contributor to more lower extremity injuries because the impact as they’re landing can be much greater,” Leaming-Van Zandt said.

There are some ways to increase safety for children using trampolines, such as using protective padding, using trampolines without exposed springs, avoiding somersaults and flips, and ensuring that children don’t jump all at once. Parent supervision is key, too.

“Don’t be lulled into a sense of complacency or a feeling of safety because there are extra people around watching the children,” Leaming-Van Zandt said. “It’s important that parents keep a close eye on their children.”

In a statement responding to the study, the International Association of Trampoline Parks said that more than 50 million people visited trampoline parks in North America in the past year, and “there would naturally be an increase” in the number of injuries reported as the parks gained popularity.

“We believe that the positives of youth recreational sports far outweigh the negatives and we are actively engaged in programs aimed at promoting the safety and well-being of jumpers who visit our member parks,” the statement said.

read more
OnAugust 2, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

The AMA Takes a Stand on LED Street Lights

The American Medical Association (AMA) has just adopted an official policy statement about street lighting: cool it and dim it.

The statement, adopted unanimously at the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago on June 14, comes in response to the rise of new LED street lighting sweeping the country. An AMA committee issued guidelines on how communities can choose LED streetlights to “minimize potential harmful human health and environmental effects.”

Municipalities are replacing existing streetlights with efficient and long-lasting LEDs to save money on energy and maintenance. Although the streetlights are delivering these benefits, the AMA’s stance reflects how important proper design of new technologies is and the close connection between light and human health.

The AMA’s statement recommends that outdoor lighting at night, particularly street lighting, should have a color temperature of no greater than 3000 Kelvin (K). Color temperature (CT) is a measure of the spectral content of light from a source; how much blue, green, yellow and red there is in it. A higher CT rating generally means greater blue content, and the whiter the light appears.

A white LED at CT 4000K or 5000K contains a high level of short-wavelength blue light; this has been the choice for a number of cities that have recently retrofitted their street lighting such as Seattle and New York.

But in the wake of these installations have been complaints about the harshness of these lights. An extreme example is the city of Davis, California, where the residents demanded a complete replacement of these high color temperature LED street lights.

Two problems with LED street lighting

An incandescent bulb has a color temperature of 2400K, which means it contains far less blue and far more yellow and red wavelengths. Before electric light, we burned wood and candles at night; this artificial light has a CT of about 1800K, quite yellow/red and almost no blue. What we have now is very different.

The new “white” LED street lighting which is rapidly being retrofitted in cities throughout the country has two problems, according to the AMA. The first is discomfort and glare. Because LED light is so concentrated and has high blue content, it can cause severe glare, resulting in pupillary constriction in the eyes. Blue light scatters more in the human eye than the longer wavelengths of yellow and red, and sufficient levels can damage the retina. This can cause problems seeing clearly for safe driving or walking at night.

You can sense this easily if you look directly into one of the control lights on your new washing machine or other appliance: it is very difficult to do because it hurts. Street lighting can have this same effect, especially if its blue content is high and there is not appropriate shielding.

The other issue addressed by the AMA statement is the impact on human circadian rhythmicity.

Color temperature reliably predicts spectral content of light — that is, how much of each wavelength is present. It’s designed specifically for light that comes off the tungsten filament of an incandescent bulb.

New atlas shows extent of light pollution; what does it mean for our health?

However, the CT rating does not reliably measure color from fluorescent and LED lights.

Another system for measuring light color for these sources is called correlated color temperature (CCT). It adjusts the spectral content of the light source to the color sensitivity of human vision. Using this rating, two different 3000K light sources could have fairly large differences in blue light content.

Therefore, the AMA’s recommendation for CCT below 3000K is not quite enough to be sure that blue light is minimized. The actual spectral irradiance of the LED — the relative amounts of each of the colors produced — should be considered, as well.

The reason lighting matters

The AMA policy statement is particularly timely because the new World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness just appeared last week, and street lighting is an important component of light pollution. According to the AMA statement, one of the considerations of lighting the night is its impact on human health.

In previous articles for The Conversation, I have described how lighting affects our normal circadian physiology, how this could lead to some serious health consequences and most recently how lighting the night affects sleep.

In the case of white LED light, it is estimated to be five times more effective at suppressing melatonin at night than the high pressure sodium lamps (given the same light output) which have been the mainstay of street lighting for decades. Melatonin suppression is a marker of circadian disruption, which includes disrupted sleep.

Bright electric lighting can also adversely affect wildlife by, for example, disturbing migratory patterns of birds and some aquatic animals which nest on shore.

The AMA has made three recommendations in its new policy statement:

First, the AMA supports a “proper conversion to community based Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting, which reduces energy consumption and decreases the use of fossil fuels.”

Second, the AMA “encourage[s] minimizing and controlling blue-rich environmental lighting by using the lowest emission of blue light possible to reduce glare.”

Third, the AMA “encourage[s] the use of 3000K or lower lighting for outdoor installations such as roadways. All LED lighting should be properly shielded to minimize glare and detrimental human and environmental effects, and consideration should be given to utilize the ability of LED lighting to be dimmed for off-peak time periods.”

There is almost never a completely satisfactory solution to a complex problem. We must have lighting at night, not only in our homes and businesses, but also outdoors on our streets. The need for energy efficiency is serious, but so too is minimizing human risk from bad lighting, both due to glare and to circadian disruption. LED technology can optimize both when properly designed.

read more
OnJune 21, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

Mom of Baby with Down Syndrome Sends Letter to Doctor Who Suggested Abortion

(CNN)  Florida mom Courtney Baker expected no bumps on the road when she learned a third child was on her way.

“My first two pregnancies were so easy. I was expecting this one to be easy too,” she told CNN.  But a couple weeks later, her baby was prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome.

The doctor suggested an abortion. He told her how tough life would be tending to a child with the condition. He made her feel unsupported.

Their daughter Emersyn is now 15 months old and the light of her life. And Baker felt she couldn’t hold in her feelings about that day any longer.  So she sat down and wrote the doctor a letter.

“I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. I’m really just sad,” Baker wrote in the letter, which she posted on her Facebook page. “Instead of support and encouragement, you suggested we abort our child. I told you her name and you asked us again if we understood how low our quality of life would be with a child with Down syndrome.”

But that’s not been the case, she said.  “Emersyn has not only added to our quality of life, she’s touched the hearts of thousands. She’s opened our eyes to true beauty and pure love.”

In the letter, Baker said she and her husband dreaded their appointments from their very first visit to the doctor.   “The most difficult time in my life was made nearly unbearable because you never told me the truth. My child was perfect.”  She told CNN she lacked support and information. “We didn’t know what to do next.”

The doctor wanted to talk to her and her husband, Matt, about options.  “There are no options,” she recalled telling him. “We’re going to keep her.”

She summed up her feelings in closing the letter:

“My prayer is that no other mommy will ever have to go through what I did. My prayer is that you, too, will now see true beauty and pure love with every life displayed on every sonogram. And my prayer is when you see that next baby with Down syndrome lovingly tucked in her mother’s womb, you will look at that mommy and see me, then tell her the truth…”Your child is absolutely perfect.”

Baker says she doesn’t know if the doctor has received the letter.  But the note has struck a nerve with other parents.  And that was her intention. In sharing her story, she hopes that nobody else has the same experience.  “I can’t imagine anybody else going through what I went through,” she said.

read more
OnJune 8, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

The End of Free Range Childhoods?

A few years ago, Tytia Habing moved back to the stretch of land where she grew up in rural Illinois, just a half-mile from her parents.  “I’m right back where I started,” she said, among the same fields of beans and corn, among the same people.  Except one, in particular.

Now there’s Tharin, her son. He was born overseas, and he was 4 when they moved to Illinois. He’s 8 now, and he has bruised knees, dirty nails and an endless well of energy. His parents wanted him to be outside in a safe, wide-open place where he has freedom to roam, and that meant coming home.

Habing, a photographer, began to shoot images of Tharin as he first explored this land that was so familiar to her. Only once she looked more closely did she realize she had more than family snapshots. It was black-and-white memories of childhoods past.

“He was getting to do the things that I got to do when I grew up,” Habing said.

Of course, she and her son are different. She was a quiet and content girl, she said. She spent hours playing with her siblings.  Tharin is an only child, and he is nonstop motion. He will get up the morning and head outside to check on the plants or hunt the bugs around the farm. Cats love him, and new ones seem to emerge all the time, seeking affection from him.

He’s obsessed with his four-wheeler and will venture all over the farm, exploring new territory and getting stuck in mud puddles.  “His grandpa has one, his uncle has one, he thinks he needs a bigger and better one,” Habing said. “He will literally ride that four-wheeler all day long, till he runs out of gas.”

Habing shoots in black and white just because it’s how she feels most comfortable. Still, to capture an image is a pleasant coincidence. There’s no hovering over Tharin.  “You still can’t plan it,” Habing said. “I just let him do his own thing.”

She gets a lot of email from older people, she said — people who happen upon her photos and see a childhood that looks like their own, one that seems almost impossible for a kid to have now.

“You can’t just let your kid run anymore. You get arrested, basically,” she said. “I want him outside and to learn things on (his) own.”

Not all the photos inspire warm nostalgia. Habing often captures Tharin with toy guns, and she’s noticed that the images raise eyebrows. To Tharin, anything can be a weapon, whether is a water gun, a stick or a piece of cardboard.

They are not “gun people,” she said, but there are actual guns around the farm. More likely, he learned it from TV or video games, she said — he certainly plays more of those than she did.

Or maybe it’s just Tharin. Or just age 8. Or just boyhood.

Children, Habing believes, need to connect with nature, make mistakes and get themselves out of jams.

“I hope people will look at them,” she said of her photos, “and remember that kids need to be outside.”


read more
OnMay 16, 2016, posted in: Latest News by

Redefining What is Healthy

Ever find yourself zipping through the aisles of a grocery store, crunched for time, and grabbing whatever highlights itself as “healthy,” “nutritious” or “wholesome”? Your strategy could be flawed.

Experts warn that these labels do not really mean very much and can even be misleading in some cases. But changes could be in motion to make things better.

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started discussing plans “to amend its ‘healthy’ nutrient content claim regulation,” a change that would be based upon significant scientific agreement among experts in the field.

What is ‘healthy’?

The FDA’s current criteria, created in 1994, specify that levels of total and saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol within foods need to be below a certain cutoff in order to be marketed as healthy. They must also have at least 10% of the daily requirements for vitamins, fiber and other nutrients.


“The science [for these criteria] is decades old. Now we have new science to suggest that it is not just low fat, it is the type of fat,” said Joan Salge Blake, clinical associate professor in Boston University’s nutrition program. “We want less of the saturated fat and more of the heart-healthy unsaturated fat, such as nuts, salmon, avocado and olive oil.”

Based on the current FDA guidelines, none of these foods would qualify as “healthy,” because they would exceed the limit for total fat.

The other flaw is that many cereals, snacks and juice drinks — often full of added sugar — still fit the criteria, as long they meet the other requirements.

“It’s great to look now and say you should have added sugars [to the criteria], but there weren’t that many products [in the 1990s],” Blake said. At the time, food companies began producing low-fat cookies and baked goods in response to concerns over high-fat diets, and to make their products palatable, they replaced the fat with sugar, she explained.

The decision to consider updating the FDA’s criteria comes in the wake of a warning the agency sent to food company Kind to remove the word “healthy” from the packaging of its snack bars because of the high levels of unsaturated fat they contain. These fats come from the nuts they contain.

In response, the company removed the term from its packaging but petitioned for the agency “to better align its nutrition labeling regulations with the latest science and current dietary guidance, particularly when it comes to using the word healthy,” Kind CEO and founder Daniel Lubetzky said in a statement.

The petition is supported by nutrition and public health experts at Harvard, Tufts and the Cleveland Clinic, Lubetzky said.

The FDA affirmed this week that Kind can use the word “healthy” on its wrappers in the context of the company’s philosophy, rather than a nutritional claim.

The FDA is planning to ask experts and the public for input on what should be considered healthy and will then undergo a public comment period to receive feedback on any changes it make. Any changes to the criteria could therefore be years in the making, but the agency said it does have a timeline regarding these reviews or comment periods.

“Nothing happens overnight with any of that,” said Sara Haas, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That’s why dietary guidelines are updated, too: There’s always new information out there, and it makes sense to re-evaluate all that stuff every once in a while.”

The latest version of the U.S. dietary guidelines put a limit on added sugar, advising consumers to limit their intake to 10% of their total calories. The update kept previous recommendations to consume no more than 10% of total calories from fat but expanded on the concept of heart-healthy “good fat” found in oils and some fish.

“I think it is wise to update [the criteria] to show what research shows,” Haas said. “If I was a less knowledgeable person in the food world, that would make me feel better as a parent to know this was more tightly regulated.”

In reality, if the criteria were revised and foods, such as nuts, started to feature the term “healthy” on their packaging, it would be unlikely to change consumer behavior. “Certain foods they innately know are healthy, like nuts, fruits and veggies,” Blake said.

Where better label regulations will be useful is in assuring consumers that products based on foods they know are healthy, such as frozen salmon steaks, are good for them as the level of healthy fats within them hold them back from being labeled “healthy.” Such labeling could also keep shoppers from reaching for “healthy” cereals and snacks that are, in fact, high in added sugar, added Blake.

One change that could prove to be more important than redefining what it means to be “healthy” is forcing food companies to list the amount of added sugar in the nutrition facts panel of a product instead of just total sugar, according to Blake.

“I think that is the biggest thing that would wake up consumers,” she said.


read more
OnMay 16, 2016, posted in: Latest News by