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If you want to be happier, try having meaningful conversations. A new study finds that quality conversation is associated with greater happiness, while small talk has no effect on mental state. The results were true for both introverts and extroverts. The findings from the study of 486 people were published recently in the journal Psychological Science. “We define small talk as a conversation where the two conversation partners walk away still knowing equally as much — or little — about each other and nothing else,” said study co-author Matthias Mehl, a professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. “In substantive conversation, there is real, meaningful information exchanged. Importantly, it could be about any topic — politics, relationships, the weather — it just needs to be at a more-than-trivial level of depth,” Mehl said in a university news release. It’s not clear whether quality conversations actually make people happier, or if happier people are more likely to have quality conversations. And the study didn’t prove cause and effect, so that’s a question for future research. Still, “I would like to experimentally ‘prescribe’ people a few more substantive conversations and see whether that does something to their happiness,” Mehl said. More information Mental Health America outlines how to live your life well.

There’s another study suggesting that the vitamin and mineral supplements bought by millions of Americans do nothing to stave off heart disease. This time, the finding stems from an analysis of 18 studies conducted between 1970 and 2016. Each one looked at how vitamins and mineral supplements — which are not reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for either safety or effectiveness — affect heart health. After tracking more than 2 million participants for an average of 12 years, the studies came up with a clear conclusion: they don’t. Still, “people tend to prefer a quick and easy solution, such as taking a pill, rather than the more effortful method to prevent cardiovascular disease,” said study author Dr. Joonseok Kim. “Simply put, multivitamins and mineral supplements do not improve cardiovascular health outcomes, so [they] should not be taken for that purpose,” added Kim. He’s an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s division of cardiovascular disease. The Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade association representing supplement makers, stressed that the products are meant as nutritional aids only, not as a means of preventing or treating illness. “CRN stresses that multivitamins fill nutrient gaps in our less-than-perfect diets and support a host of other physiological functions,” senior vice president Duffy MacKay said in a statement. “They are not intended to…  read on >

It can happen when you’re traveling on business, running late to an appointment, or are simply running out of time to make dinner. You’re facing fast food or no food. Use these tips to make the most of this meal. Start by looking for the lowest calorie selections. Some restaurants list the calories and fat content on their menu board. If not, you can do a quick search of its website on your smartphone. According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates, 2018 is the year that calorie labeling is required for restaurants and similar food establishments that have 20 or more locations. The goal is to make it easy to know what you’re getting in every menu item. Of course, you don’t necessarily want to choose food by calories alone. Go for lean proteins, like grilled chicken or meat that you can see, not hidden under breading or tucked into a sealed wrap. Have it on a salad rather than a bun, and skip fatty and sugary dressings. Instead, drizzle on oil and vinegar, if available, or use mustard. If you’re limited to a sandwich, opt for a whole-wheat wrap, or eat only half the bread. Add lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables, but stay away from toppings like cheese and special sauces. If there’s no fruit available, fat-free yogurt or frozen yogurt is a…  read on >

Has that week-old yogurt really gone bad? Did the chicken you bought just three days ago already spoil? Your smartphone might one day be able to tell you, new research suggests. A group of scientists is developing a portable, inexpensive and easy-to-use electronic tag to send wireless alerts to smartphones when a telltale gas is emitted by rotten food. “As we know, spoiled food can be very harmful to our health,” said study author Guihua Yu. “But sometimes we cannot easily notice the slightly degraded food by smell or vision. Therefore, we aim to develop a cost-effective wireless sensor for food spoilage detection with the assistance of mobile phones,” he explained. Yu is a professor of materials science and mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Foodborne illnesses strike 48 million Americans each year, leading to over 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To tackle the problem, Yu and his colleagues first put together a tiny gas sensor with a very high sensitivity to the odor-causing “biogenic amines” that are released when food goes bad. Then, the team embedded the sensors into “near-field communication” (NFC) tags, of the sort already deployed by businesses to track product shipping. The NFC sensor tags were then put through a bad meat test, because slightly spoiled meat is…  read on >

Insomnia affects up to 15 percent of Americans, but sleeping pills aren’t the only — or the best — answer. A good sleep routine, exercise and mindfulness are all options to get the restorative sleep you need. Set up a daily sleep pattern by going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning. Yes, even on the weekends. Keep your bedroom peaceful, dark and on the cool side. Take out all electronics, and stop using them at least one hour before you turn in. They emit a type of light that interferes with your natural body rhythms, prompting you to stay alert when you should be winding down. Exercising vigorously in the morning leads to better sleep at night. But if your only free time is later in the day, such workouts don’t seem to interfere with sleep as previously thought. Stubborn sleeplessness may respond to mindfulness meditation, which can focus specifically on insomnia or stress reduction. Mindfulness techniques can target the thought patterns that perpetuate insomnia. According to research, working with a therapist and practicing meditation at home for 30 to 45 minutes nearly every day helps people get better sleep. And there are also self-help books available if you want to try it on your own. When these techniques aren’t enough to overcome insomnia…  read on >

Exercise boot camps get you in shape through one or more days of intensive training. Some have a celebrity aspect, like camps run by the dance squads of pro sports teams, while others promise the secrets of elite military training forces. There are so many that a quick internet search could serve up dozens in your area alone. Follow these tips to find the right one for you. According to the experts at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), there are many criteria to evaluate, starting with safety. Ask about precautions the organizers have taken to prevent injury and whether they review your health history prior to sign up to make sure you’re fit enough for the sessions. Investigate the training of the instructors. Are they certified by the ACSM or another respected fitness association such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE) or IDEA Health and Fitness Association? And what’s their prior teaching experience? How big is the class size and how many instructors are there for each class? You want to figure out whether the instructor-to-participant ratio will allow you to get personalized attention. Does the content of the sessions meet national fitness standards, and will you get a mix of cardio, strength training and flexibility with appropriate warm-ups and cool-downs? How do they track your progress and the boot camp’s effectiveness?…  read on >

Dieting can be hard on your social life. You might think it’s easier to avoid social events like cocktail parties and even family gatherings because of the temptation to overeat. But there’s no reason to deny yourself the joy of being with friends and loved ones when simple tricks will help you stay on course with your diet and still have a great time. The first rule is don’t arrive ravenous. That will just make it harder to eat smart when facing tempting food. Take the edge off hunger before you go out with a healthy snack that’s high in fiber, such as whole grain crackers with avocado slices or an ounce of nuts. Once at the party, make it harder to grab food by holding a glass of seltzer in one hand. Take a sip every time a tray of hors d’oeuvres goes by. You don’t have to deny yourself all treats, but it’s easy to lose count if you take a tidbit from every platter that’s offered. Decide on two or three nibbles of more indulgent food. In general, your calories will go farther if you stay away from hot canapes, which are often pastry-based. Instead choose protein choices, like shrimp and chicken. If a cocktail hour will be followed by a full meal, focus on low-calorie fill-ups like raw vegetables, but skip…  read on >

(HealthDay News) — There’s new research suggesting that a switch over to e-cigarettes can help cigarette smokers kick their habit — even if initially they didn’t intend to. The small British study of 40 people “found that vaping may support long-term smoking abstinence,” lead researcher Dr. Caitlin Notley, of Norwich Medical School, at the University of East Anglia, said in a university news release. Still, anti-smoking advocates in the United States stressed that vaping isn’t without its own hazards. First of all, prior research shows that ex-smokers who vape often return to tobacco cigarettes, said Dr. Len Horovitz, a lung specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. And, “while there are certainly more harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke, there is a question of safety in e-cigarettes because of the presence of propylene glycol, and other as yet unidentified compounds,” Horovitz said. In the new study, Notley’s group asked 40 people who used e-cigarettes about their tobacco smoking history and prior attempts to quit smoking, and about their vaping habits. The investigation was funded by Cancer Research UK. According to Notley, the study revealed that vaping provides smokers with “many of the physical, psychological, social and cultural elements of cigarette smoking.” Beyond that, vapers described the activity as “pleasurable in its own right, as well as convenient and cheaper than smoking,” she said. “But…  read on >

Bicycling or other regular exercise may help reduce harmful inflammation in obese people, a new study suggests. Physical activity tames inflammation by changing blood characteristics, according to a team led by Dr. Michael De Lisio, of the University of Ottawa in Canada. Chronic inflammation is behind many of the health problems associated with obesity, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, the researchers noted. Although inflammation is the body’s natural response to harm, it can become long term in someone who’s obese. Then it can cause damage to healthy tissue, De Lisio and his colleagues explained. The new findings were published June 19 in the Journal of Physiology. “This research is important because it helps us understand how and why exercise improves the health of people with obesity,” De Lisio said in a journal news release. He’s a molecular exercise physiologist. The study included young obese adults who were otherwise healthy. The participants took part in a six-week exercise program that included three one-hour bicycling or treadmill-running sessions a week. Blood samples were taken from the participants at the start and the end of the study. The samples showed that after six weeks of regular workouts, there was a decline in stem cells that create blood cells responsible for inflammation. The next step, the researchers said, is to determine if these blood changes improve…  read on >

Obesity is no picnic for those who struggle with it, but new research sheds some light on why so few ever find their way to a healthy weight. It turns out that overweight and obese folks hold starkly different views on diet and exercise than their normal-weight peers, the study found. Namely, taste is their top consideration when choosing what to eat, nutritional labels are rarely examined, and their relationship with food tends to be more impulsive and emotional. And while many were open to the idea of smaller meal portions, they were on the other hand less likely to exercise than normal-weight people. Cost was also a factor, with many believing that healthier foods were more expensive. What does all this mean for public health efforts to tackle America’s obesity epidemic? “A major disparity exists between food-related policies and the mindsets and motivations of the people these policies are designed to impact,” said report author Hank Cardello. He is director of the Hudson Institute’s Food Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “Previous Hudson Institute studies have confirmed that healthier items are where the [food product] growth is coming from,” Cardello stressed. But that trend just doesn’t seem to apply to overweight and obese Americans, whose “eating patterns and attitudes reflect the more traditional consumer mindsets exemplified in the ’70s and ’80s,” he explained. “This suggests…  read on >