Tuesday, April 11, 2017

9 Ways to Spot a Sociopath

When you think of a sociopath, you probably picture Christian Bale in American Psycho, or Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. But like most mental health conditions, sociopathy—or antisocial personality disorder (ASP)—exists on a spectrum; and not all sociopath are serial killers. One study estimated that as many as 3.8% of Americans would meet the condition’s diagnostic criteria. So odds are, you know someone who has ASP.

“It’s a syndrome characterized by lifelong misbehavior,” says Donald W. Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. “People with an antisocial personality disorder tend to be deceitful, impulsive. They ignore responsibilities and, in the worst cases, they have no conscience.”

The disorder can be relatively mild, he adds: “Maybe they lie, maybe they get into trouble with their spouses, and that’s about it.” At the other end of the spectrum are thieves and murderers, says Dr. Black, who is the author of Bad Boys, Bad Men: Confronting Antisocial Personality Disorder (Sociopathy). “Most people are in the middle.” 

RELATED: 10 Subtle Signs of Bipolar Disorder

One thing to note: While we tend to use the terms “sociopath” and “psychopath” interchangeably, they mean different things. Whereas most sociopaths are prone to impulsive behavior and often seen as disturbed or unhinged, a psychopath is cold and calculating, sometimes even charming. “I view [psychopathy] as the extreme end of the antisocial spectrum,“ says Dr. Black, "because virtually all psychopaths are antisocial, but not all antisocials have psychopathy.”

To be diagnosed with ASP, a person must be at least 18 years old and have a history of aggression, rule-breaking, and deceit that dates back to their childhood. Here are some of the other red flags to watch out for, based on criteria listed in the DSM-V.

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Symptom: Lack of empathy

Perhaps one of the most well-known signs of ASP is a lack of empathy, particularly an inability to feel remorse for one’s actions. “Many people with ASP do seem to lack a conscience, but not all of them,” he explains. Psychopaths always have this symptom, however, which is what makes them especially dangerous. “When you don’t experience remorse, you’re kind of freed up to do anything—anything bad that comes to mind,” says Dr. Black.

Symptom: Difficult relationships

People with ASP find it hard to form emotional bonds, so their relationships are often unstable and chaotic, says Dr. Black. Rather than forge connections with the people in their lives, they might try to exploit them for their own benefit through deceit, coercion, and intimidation.

Symptom: Manipulativeness

Sociopaths tend to try to seduce and ingratiate themselves with the people around them for their own gain, or for entertainment. But this doesn’t mean they’re all exceptionally charismatic: “It may be true of some, and it is often said of the psychopath that they’re superficially charming,” says Dr. Black. “But I see plenty of antisocial men in my hospital and in our out patient clinic and I would not use the term charming to describe them.”

RELATED: 11 Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder

Symptom: Deceitfulness

Sociopaths have a reputation for being dishonest and deceitful. They often feel comfortable lying to get their own way, or to get themselves out of trouble. They also have a tendency to embellish the truth when it suits them.

Symptom: Callousness

Some might be openly violent and aggressive. Others will cut you down verbally. Either way, people with ASP tend to show a cruel disregard for other people’s feelings.

Symptom: Hostility

Sociopaths are not only hostile themselves, but they’re more likely to interpret others’ behavior as hostile, which drives them to seek revenge.

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Symptom: Irresponsibility

Another sign that someone might have ASP is a disregard for financial and social obligations. Ignoring responsibilities is extremely common, says Dr. Black. Think, for example, not paying child support when it’s due, allowing bills to pile up, and regularly taking time off work.

Symptom: Impulsivity

We all have our impulsive moments: a last minute road trip, a drastic new hairstyle, or a new pair of shoes you just have to have. But for someone with ASP, making spur of the moment decisions with no thought for the consequences is part of everyday life, says Dr. Black. They find it extremely difficult to make a plan and stick to it.

Symptom: Risky behavior

Combine irresponsibility, impulsivity, and a need for instant gratification, and it’s not surprising that sociopaths get involved in risky behavior. They tend to have little concern for the safety of others orfor themselves. This means that excessive alcohol consumption, drug abuse, compulsive gambling, unsafe sex, and dangerous hobbies (including criminal activities) are common.

RELATED: 10 Signs You Might Be a Narcissist

Can ASP be treated?

Therapy can help manage some of the symptoms and side effects, particularly in milder cases. But it’s unusual for a sociopath to seek professional help. “One of the curious things about this disorder is a general lack of insight,” explains Dr. Black. “They may recognize that they have problems. They notice that they get into trouble. They may know that their spouses are not happy with them. They know that they get into trouble on the job. But they tend to blame other people, other circumstances,” says Dr. Black. 

The good news is that symptoms of ASP seem to recede with age, says Dr. Black, especially among milder sociopaths and those that don’t do drugs or drink to excess. But if you know someone with ASP, the best thing to do is steer clear, warns Dr. Black: "Avoid them. Avoid them as best as you can because they are going to complicate your life.”



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Simone Biles Breaks Down While Talking About the Year She Was Adopted: 'My Parents Saved Me'

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles is taking a stroll — or should we say a Viennese waltz — down memory lane on Dancing with the Stars this week.

In an exclusive sneak peek at the upcoming Most Memorable Year Week of the popular dance show, the 20-year-old sheds tears as she recalls one of the most significant years in her life: the year she was adopted.

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“My parents saved me. They’ve set huge examples of how to treat other people and they’ve been there to support me since day one,” Biles says in the clip. “There’s nothing I could say to them to thank them enough. Even though there’s no right words maybe dance will say it for me.”

Biles opens up about being adopted in 2000, saying, “My biological mom was suffering from drug and alcohol abuse and she was in and out of jail. I never had mom to run to.”

She adds: “I do remember always being hungry and afraid.”

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The athlete, who was adopted by her grandparents when she was 6, recalled being placed in foster care at 3 years old.

“Whenever we had visits with my grandpa I was so excited,” Biles says. “That was the person I always wanted to see walk in.”

As she performed her Viennese Waltz to the tunes of Chris Tomlin’s “Good Good Father” on Monday evening, the gymnast could be seen holding back tears.

At the wrap of her performance, she could be heard sniffling and crying as she shared a tearful embrace with her parents. Asked how she got through the emotional dance, Biles credited “muscle memory.”

Biles earned positive reviews from the judges and walked away with a 36/40.

“She’s just amazing,” her father told host Tom Bergeron. “She surprises me.”

She previously opened up about the upcoming performance in an exclusive blog for PEOPLE.

“It means the world to me that I’m getting the chance to honor [my grandparents] with this dance,” she wrote. “I can’t say thank you enough to them, so hopefully this dance starts it off well. I think it will be a little bit sad but also exciting and I hope it inspires people.”

Dancing with the Stars airs Mondays (8 p.m. ET) on ABC.



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Olympian Michelle Carter on Being a Body Positive Icon: 'Some People Are Meant to Be Bigger, and That's Okay'

Yoga May Help the Side Effects of Cancer Treatment

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Researchers have put yoga to the scientific test for years, and the results so far have been impressive. The practice has been shown to lower risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression and hypertension.

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But yoga can also help those who are already ill feel better. A new study suggests that doing yoga twice a week may improve quality of life for men being treated for prostate cancer and may help reduce the side effects of radiation, which include fatigue, sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence.

The study, published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics, followed 50 men with prostate cancer as they underwent six to nine weeks of radiation therapy. Half of the men were assigned to attend two 75-minute yoga classes each week during their treatment.

At the beginning of the study, before radiation had started, men in both groups reported relatively low levels of fatigue. As treatment progressed, however, the men who didn’t take yoga had more fatigue—typical of the fourth or fifth week of a treatment course, the researchers say.

RELATED: Yoga Is Officially Sweeping the Workplace

But for those who took yoga, fatigue dropped as the weeks went on. Overall, these men reported less fatigue and a better ability to go about their normal lives, compared to the group that didn’t do yoga.

“Even with the additional time commitment, they felt a renewed sense of energy,” says lead author Dr. Neha Vapiwala, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. “It could be the physical activity, or it could be the social component and the fact that they’re doing something proactive for their health.”

Another common side effect among men undergoing radiation and androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) is sexual dysfunction, which affects up to 85% of men during treatment. In this study, both groups started with erectile function scores of about 11 on a 25-point scale; scores below 12 indicate moderate-to-severe dysfunction.

Scores for the men who took yoga stayed about the same over the course of their treatment, while the scores of the non-yoga group declined even further. The men who took yoga also had improved or stable urinary function over the course of the study, while urinary function declined in those who didn’t.

RELATED: How Yoga Can Help You Look Younger Than Your Years

Vapiwala says that yoga has been shown to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which may explain why sexual and urinary function were largely preserved in the yoga group. Yoga, like other types of exercise, can also increase blood flow throughout the body—an important component of muscular and erectile health.

Physical and emotional well-being scores increased as patients in both groups progressed through their treatments, but those in the yoga group had more rapid improvements.

“There could be a number of things going on, and it may not be that all of the mechanisms work for everyone,” she says. “One man may get more of a psychological benefit from yoga, whereas for others it might have a purely vascular effect. Someone else with urinary issues might benefit from a stronger pelvic floor.”

The study did not include people who had medical conditions restricting their ability to do yoga, or whose cancer had spread beyond the prostate. It also didn’t compare the effects of yoga to other types of exercise, a direction the authors say future research could take.

RELATED: Yoga May Be Good for Stubborn Back Pain

The classes in the study followed the Eischens style of yoga, which focuses on the energy of poses rather than the complexity, the authors wrote in their paper. The method uses props and modifications for difficult poses, which makes yoga more accessible to beginners of all body types. Each class incorporated sitting, standing and reclining positions, and began with five minutes of breathing and centering techniques.

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Larger and longer studies are needed to better understand exactly how yoga protects against the side effects of radiation, the authors write, and to find out whether these protections last. But based on the current research, Vapiwala says she recommends the practice to her prostate cancer patients.

She urges men to try classes that are advertised for all levels, to tell the instructor that they are new to yoga and to ask about modifications for difficult poses. “Don’t count yourself out based on what you think you know about yoga,” she says. “It’s not a performance or a competition, and you don’t have to be standing on your head on day one.” The benefits, it appears, come far before that.



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Friday, April 7, 2017

Night Owls and Early Birds Saw ‘The Dress’ Differently, According to Science

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

We know, we know: You’re tired of hearing about “the dress,” the viral photograph that dominated the Internet back in February 2015, with so many burning questions: Is it white and gold or black and blue? Is it over- or underexposed? And, seriously, why can’t we agree?

More than two years later, an NYU neuroscientist has one possible explanation for why the world was so divided on the optical illusion. And we have to admit, his new study—published today in the Journal of Vision—is pretty fascinating. It may even be worth giving the notorious mother-of-the-bride dress another 15 minutes of fame.

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According to an online survey of more than 13,000 people from around the world, the colors people saw had a lot to do with whether they considered the dress to be in bright light or in a shadow. Of the survey respondents who thought it was in a shadow, four out of five saw it as white and gold. Only about half of those who did not consider the frock to be in shadow agreed.

(For the record, the dress was actually black and blue, and the colors in the photograph were overexposed and washed out.)

This explanation is nothing new; it’s been around since not long after the initial hubbub occurred: Shadows have a blue tint, so we mentally subtract blue light (seeing white as the underlying color) when we assume something is in shadow, while we mentally subtract yellow (the tint of most artificial lighting) when we assume it’s illuminated.

RELATED: Here’s What Color and Vision Experts Have to Say About the Blue and Black (or White and Gold?) Dress

But Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in NYU’s department of psychology, wanted to know why, exactly, people make these assumptions. So he also asked study participants other questions that might influence their thinking—their age, gender, ethnicity, and even what their daily schedules were like, for example.

“One of my focuses is on sleep research, so naturally I was wondering about light exposure,” says Wallisch. “People who get up early in the morning and those who stay up late at night are exposed to different types of light. And when a light source is unclear, you might expect these people to make different assumptions based on what they’re most used to.”

His hypothesis turned out to be right: People who said they tended to go to bed early and feel best in the morning—whom he calls morning larks—were significantly more likely to see the dress as white and gold, compared to night owls who stay up late and sleep later into the morning.

That could be because, Wallisch explains, morning people spend more of their waking hours in natural daylight and spend more time under a blue sky, whereas night owls spend more time in artificial light.

RELATED: The FDA Just Approved At-Home DNA Tests for 10 Diseases

Of course, many people today—regardless of their chronotype—tend to spend most of their waking hours under artificial light in office buildings and in front of digital screens. Wallisch asked survey participants about these things, too, but saw no real patterns between their responses and their beliefs about the dress. (Nearly everyone in the study spent significant time around artificial light, he says, so it was difficult to draw solid conclusions.)

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Demographic factors such as gender and age had comparatively small effects on the perception of the dress image, as well, with one exception: Around age 65, the percentage of people who saw the dress as white and gold dropped sharply. This may be because of age-related changes to the eye or the brain, the researchers speculate, or it may even be because older adults have had different life experiences—like, perhaps, spending more time outdoors in their younger years.

Wallish says that overall, his findings help broaden science’s understanding of how people perceive color, and why we don’t always see the same thing. “What I see as red and what you see as red may not be the same thing after all,” he says. “Your life history, your experience, affects how your brain factors in important things like light.”

He even goes out on a limb to say that this revelation could have societal and political implications in today’s current climate.

“Right now, most people assume if you don’t agree with them on something it’s because you’re malicious, you’re ignorant, you’re trying to mess with them,” he says. “We might need to start coming to an understanding and respect the fact that different people sincerely see the world differently—and they might not be able to change that.”



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I Was Young And Active, But A Blood Clot In My Leg Almost Killed Me

I’m 24 years old, an avid runner and cyclist, follow a healthy diet, have never smoked, and have no family history of major health problems. In other words, I’m as healthy as they come. So it came as a shock a few months ago when a sudden health issue came close to killing me. 

It started as a bad cramp. I woke up at 3 in the morning to what felt like a charley horse in my left calf, something that I’d experienced plenty of times before. I didn’t think much of it, though, because after about a minute of stretching, it felt better. I went back to sleep.

Over the next two days, those painful jolts in my calf kept coming back. I assumed I must have strained my calf during a workout, so I continued with my daily routine despite the pain. Thinking maybe I just needed to give my legs a break, I eased up my runs and took a couple of Pilates classes instead. I felt fine, so I assumed my leg was on the mend. 

Everything changed on day four. The pain worsened, and the cramps came four to six times a day, lasting for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. That’s when I started getting nervous. 

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With a quick Google search on calf cramps, I discovered information about deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. I learned that DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins in the body, usually in the legs, and that symptoms include swelling, warmth, redness, and pain. Aside from the pain, though, I didn’t have any other of the listed symptoms. Plus, I didn’t think I had any risk factors for the condition.

Later that same night, though, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t sleep. I counted down the hours until I could go to Urgent Care. I still didn’t think that it was a blood clot, but I knew that whatever it was, I needed to take care of it immediately.

RELATED: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong

When I went to Urgent Care the following morning, the doctor felt around my leg and compared it to my other one.

“Your leg seems fine,” he said. “No swelling, redness, or warmth.”

“But it hurts so much,” I pleaded, hoping that he could give me some comfort in a diagnosis, at the very least.

“Are you on a birth control pill?” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Get an ultrasound for good measure, but it’s most likely nothing.”

From Urgent Care I went to the radiologist’s office, where two different technicians examined the blood flow in my leg. They were not allowed to give me any information, but I heard them repeat the word “gastrocnemius” several times. I quickly Googled what that was, and the first hits that came up were about the gastrocnemius muscle, which is located in the calf.

I was instantly relieved, thinking they were referring to simple muscle pain. I even felt slightly embarrassed that I’d gone through the whole production of seeing the radiologist.

That is, until the radiologist entered the room and informed me that I needed to go to the emergency room immediately. “You have a blood clot in your gastrocnemius,” he said. “You need to be treated immediately in case the clot travels from your leg up to your heart or lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism.”

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I rushed to the ER. There, the doctors asked if I’d gone on any long trips recently. I had—the day before my pain started, I took a five-hour bus ride. It turns out that DVT risk increases when you sit for extended periods and don’t move your legs. The docs blamed my DVT on a combination of that bus ride and my birth control pills, which also increase blood clot risk. 

The doctors also explained that while pulmonary embolism as a result of DVT is rare, my risk was higher than most. I was supposed to fly to Paris just four days later, and another period of prolonged sitting could have prompted the clot to move from my calf to my heart or lungs—potentially killing me. 

Seeking medical help when I did prevented the clot from having a severe impact on my life. I had to take anticoagulants (blood thinners) for three months, could not travel for one month, and had to go off my birth control. That’s it. Canceling a trip to Paris was worth saving my life. 

If there’s one thing I learned from this experience—whether you notice a sudden, persistent leg cramp, or anything in your body that intuitively feels off—don’t hesitate to see a doctor. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.



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Aspirin May Lower the Risk of Dying from Cancer

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Studies have linked the regular use of aspirin, an over-the-counter painkiller, to lower risks of heart attack and stroke. The risk-reducing benefits may also extend to death from certain types of cancer. What isn’t yet known is how much aspirin is needed to protect against an early death from cancer, and how long people have to take it.

To clear up the link, researchers led by Yin Cao at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School have been combing through data from two large studies: the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. They analyzed the aspirin use and cancer outcomes of more than 130,000 adults over 32 years. The researchers reported their latest findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

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Overall, people who took aspirin regularly had a 7% to 11% lower risk of dying from cancer, compared to people who did not take it consistently. The biggest benefits came from reducing colon cancer deaths; aspirin-users had a 30% lower risk of dying from this disease than those who didn’t take it regularly. Women taking aspirin also had a lower risk of dying from breast cancer, and men showed a lower risk of dying from prostate cancer.

The benefit seemed to be greatest for people taking two to seven doses of regular-strength aspirin—325 mg per tablet—each week for much of the study period. People who took as little as half a tablet to 1.5 tablets a week also showed reductions in cancer-related death. The drop in cancer deaths appeared for most people after they took aspirin for about six years.

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Previous studies have shown similar benefits, especially for reducing deaths from colon cancer. How aspirin lowers cancer risk isn’t entirely clear, but the scientists believe that aspirin’s ability to lower inflammation and control inflammatory factors that may contribute to abnormal cell growth in tumors may play help keep risk down. Aspirin belongs to a group of analgesics called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that includes ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen. These drugs don’t always act in the same way, but other studies suggest that NSAIDs may have the same effect in lowering cancer risk as aspirin does.

The connection between aspirin and a lower risk of cancer death is encouraging. But doctors say it shouldn’t prompt people to start taking aspirin if they don’t need to, simply to lower their risk of cancer. Even at recommended doses, aspirin also comes with side effects, especially if taken over long periods of time. It can block an enzyme produced in the stomach that protects delicate intestinal tissues from the acids that digest food, leading to potentially severe damage, including bleeding of gut tissues. People should seek the counsel of their doctors to weigh the latest evidence.



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This Tiny Shift in Thinking Can Keep You Motivated

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com. 

If you’ve ever kicked off a new goal with tons of motivation, only to feel less and less excited about it over time, you’re not alone. But there’s good news: According to a new study, making one deliberate change in your mindset may help you follow through to the end.When researchers from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba set out to study why enthusiasm tends to fizzle during progression toward goals—like losing weight or saving money—they found that people’s sources of motivation tend to change along the way.

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In a series of five experiments, the scientists confirmed that in the early stages of pursuing a goal, participants were motivated by hopes and aspirations—what’s known as promotion motivation. People who want to lose 20 pounds, for example, may be driven by thoughts of their slimmed-down appearance, new clothes, and improved energy levels. In promotion-motivation mindset, people are motivated by positive things they can do to make progress—like exercising more and eating fruits and vegetables.

As people in the experiments got closer to reaching their goals, however, prevention motivation seemed to work better than promotion motivation. A prevention-motivation strategy focuses on responsibilities, duties, and avoiding negative outcomes or “wrong” choices. For a weight-loss goal, this might mean steering clear of dessert or fast-food restaurants, or thinking about how disappointing it would be not to fit into a certain pair of jeans.

RELATED: 4 Genius New Ways to Stay Motivated Toward Any Goal

The problem, says lead author Olya Bullard, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University of Winnipeg, is that most people are predominantly promotion-focused. That makes them good at setting out toward a goal, but not great at accomplishing them.

Writing in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Bullard and her colleagues say that people who feel their motivation flagging should switch up their mindset—and start focusing on what to avoid in order to succeed in the home stretch.

For people trying to save for a house, for example, initial strategies may include putting away a certain amount of money each week, or pursuing a higher-paying job. Later on, focusing on avoidance strategies—like skipping expensive purchases and dinners out—are more likely to be effective.

This natural shift in motivation seems to happen around the halfway point toward a goal, Bullard said in an email to Real Simple. “If you are trying to lose 20 pounds, you will switch at about the 10 pound mark,” she says. She recommends people focus on positive motivators in the first half of their journey (“It will feel great when I reach my goal!”), and focus on avoiding the negative in the second half (“Once I reach my goal I will not have to be embarrassed about my muffin top.’”).

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Why halfway? The researchers explain that when we begin working on a goal, we compare where we are to where we started. “This shows us how much we have done so far—the extent of our attainment,” they write. This produces a promotion-motivation focused on positive outcomes.

Once we pass the midpoint toward our goals, however, we begin to assess progress by comparing where we are to where we want to end up. “This makes us focus on how much we have yet to do—the extent of our shortcoming,” they write, “which produces a focus on preventing negative outcomes.”

Bullard and her colleagues even provide a few tips for improving chances of success. When you begin working on a goal, they say, make a list of the ‘right things’ you can do to make progress. Take note of the positive things you’ll attain by reaching your goal, and reward yourself when you make progress—as long as the reward doesn’t undermine your actual goal, that is.

RELATED: 25 Genius Ways Fitness Trainers Stay Motivated to Exercise

In the later stages, focus on how your goal will help you fulfill your duties and responsibilities, they say—and employ avoidance strategies to stay motivated. “Make a list of things ‘not to do’ to stay on course toward your goal, write down the negative things you will prevent from happening by reaching your goal, and give yourself a break from something you don’t enjoy when you make progress,” they write.

In the end, switching to an avoid-the-negative mindset may seem like a bit of a downer, especially if it means focusing on all the things you shouldn’t be doing. But it’s worth it, says Bullard. These strategies can help you finally achieve your end-game, she says, which is really the most positive result of all.



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The FDA Just Approved At-Home DNA Tests for 10 Diseases

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first-ever home DNA tests that let people find out their genetic risk for developing certain diseases.

The FDA said Thursday it will allow home DNA testing company 23andMe to market its genetic tests directly to consumers, giving people risk information for 10 diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, celiac and several blood diseases.

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“Consumers can now have direct access to certain genetic risk information,” Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement. “But it is important that people understand that genetic risk is just one piece of the bigger puzzle, it does not mean they will or won’t ultimately develop a disease.”

Genetics are not the only factor in determining whether a person will get a disease. An individual’s genes may also interact with lifestyle and environmental factors to lead to a disease. When it comes to diseases like Alzheimer’s, the National Institute on Aging says it is unlikely that genetic testing will ever be able to predict the disease with complete accuracy because so many factors influence its progression.

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This is not 23andMe’s first foray into the world of genetic risk testing. The company used to offer tests for more than 200 conditions, but the FDA forced it to stop in 2013 for failing to show the tests were “analytically or clinically validated.” Then, in 2015, 23andMe got FDA approval for a home test for Bloom syndrome, a rare disorder that can raise a person’s risk of cancer.

Now that it has FDA approval for these new tests, 23andMe said it will release its first set of new genetic tests this month, with more to follow. The FDA’s decision is expected to be controversial given the company’s history, but it also opens the door to other home DNA tests in the near future.

“In addition, the FDA intends to exempt additional 23andMe GHR (genetic health risk) tests from the FDA’s premarket review, and GHR tests from other makers may be exempt after submitting their first premarket notification,” the FDA said in its statement. “A proposed exemption of this kind would allow other, similar tests to enter the market as quickly as possible and in the least burdensome way, after a one-time FDA review.”



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The Richest Americans Live 10 Years Longer than the Poorest

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Money may not buy you happiness, but it may help buy you health, and ultimately a longer life. Researchers analyzing data on income disparities and health outcomes in the U.S. found that health gaps between the rich and poor are widening, and that’s translating to bigger differences in how long people live.

In a study published in The Lancet, scientists from Boston University School of Public Health report that the richest 1% of Americans live an average of 10 to 15 years longer than the poorest 1%. Since 2001, those with the least income showed no increase in survival, while people in middle and high incomes groups have gained on average two years in life expectancy.

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Poverty has always been linked to poorer health outcomes, because people in lower income groups cannot afford as much health care and also tend to adopt less healthy habits, such as smoking and eating an unhealthy diet. But in recent years, several trends have worsened this connection, the researchers say. Poverty rates have increased, along with obesity and chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which can contribute to early death.

This cycle keeps worsening for several reasons, the authors say. For example, the poor are less likely to take advantage of federally mandated health coverage in the form of Medicare, since they are the least likely to reach the age required to become eligible for benefits.

RELATED: This Is the Only Smart, Healthy Way to Lose Weight—And Keep It Off

“Low-income Americans are increasingly left behind,” writes co-author Jacob Bor, assistant professor of global health at Boston University, in the study.

Given the close links and negative feedback loop between health and income, Bor and his colleagues warn that if income gaps continue to widen, health disparities will follow suit. If current trends continue, they predict that in a single generation, the gap in longevity between the wealthiest and poorest 20% of Americans will extend to a decade. “Without interventions to decouple income and health, or to reduce inequalities in income, we might see the emergence of a 21st century health-poverty trap and the further widening and hardening of socioeconomic inequalities in health,” they write.



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You Asked: Are Tattoos Bad For You?

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Tattoos are more popular than ever. Roughly half of millennials have one, as do 36% of Gen Xers, according to a recent Harris poll. The number of Americans with at least one tattoo has jumped 50% in the past four years.

This explosion in popularity has led some health experts to take a closer look at the practice. What they’ve found so far raises questions—and some concerns.

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A study published this year found that tattoos may interfere with the way your skin sweats. Compared to non-tattooed skin, inked skin excretes about 50% less sweat, says study coauthor Maurie Luetkemeier, a professor of physiology at Alma College in Michigan. “We also found the sodium in sweat was more concentrated when released from tattooed skin,” he says. When your glands produce sweat, the skin tends to reabsorb sodium and other electrolytes from that perspiration before it breaks free. His findings indicate that tattoos may partially block this reabsorption.

This doesn’t matter much if you have a single tattoo, or even a few. But if you have extensive coverage—especially on your back, arms or other areas densely populated by sweat glands—tattoos could interfere with the skin’s ability to cool your body and hold onto important nutrients. “You look at someone in the military, where tattoos are very prevalent, and if they’re exposed to high heat and a heavy workload, there could be thermoregulatory problems,” Luetkemeier says.

All of this is, he adds, is very much speculative at this point. But other research has linked tattoos with different health issues.

RELATED: Microblading Your Eyebrows Can Make Them Look Fuller and Darker—But Is It Safe?

While exceptionally rare, there are reports linking tattoos to melanoma, says Cormac Joyce, a plastic surgeon at University Hospital Galway in Ireland. In a case study he published in 2015, Joyce writes about a 33-year-old man with an elaborate, multicolored chest tattoo. Malignant melanoma had turned up only in the areas of the tattoo that were filled in with red ink.

In that particular case, the culprit probably wasn’t the red ink. Joyce says the man likely had an existing melanoma that his tattoo artist hit with his red ink needle. The artist may have then “seeded” other portions of the man’s skin with malignant cells, he says. That’s reassuring news if you have a red tattoo, but probably scary if you’re at risk for melanoma. Joyce says spreading malignancy via this sort of skin seeding is rare, but is “certainly possible in the setting of tattooing.”

Other case studies link tattoos to skin cancer. “The process of tattooing involves the integration of metallic salts and organic dyes into the dermal layer of the skin,” Joyce says. The resulting low-grade, chronic inflammation that can result from this could stimulate “malignant transformation”.

RELATED: Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science

Tattoo inks are mostly unregulated, and blood-borne diseases have reportedly been spread by tainted ink. In 2012, the FDA linked a multi-state bacterial outbreak to contaminated tattoo inks. An investigation detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine found the contamination “could have occurred at various points in the ink-production process”—meaning that tattoo parlors probably weren’t to blame. “Tattoo inks are considered to be cosmetics,” the report’s authors write. As a result, inks are allowed into the marketplace without much oversight, and the FDA and other public safety organizations only step in when something bad happens.

Metals used in tattoo inks may also cause skin reactions. A study from Denmark in 2011 found that 10% of unopened tattoo ink bottles tested were contaminated with bacteria. “Regulation of ink is long overdue,” Joyce says.

RELATED: Here’s Why People Die Each Year in Gyms (and How to Prevent It From Happening to You)

“The FDA is conducting research to improve its knowledge of tattoo inks and the ingredients used in them and to look more closely at their different components,” an FDA spokesperson told TIME in an email. “The agency is also evaluating methods for the microbiological testing of tattoo inks as a result of microbial contamination of several tattoo inks that have resulted in voluntary recalls.”

The risks associated with tattoos—if there are any—are not entirely known. But as more and more people opt for ink, greater scientific scrutiny is needed.



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5 Health Care Terms You Need to Know

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Tattoos are more popular than ever. Roughly half of millennials have one, as do 36% of Gen Xers, according to a recent Harris poll. The number of Americans with at least one tattoo has jumped 50% in the past four years.

This explosion in popularity has led some health experts to take a closer look at the practice. What they’ve found so far raises questions—and some concerns.

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A study published this year found that tattoos may interfere with the way your skin sweats. Compared to non-tattooed skin, inked skin excretes about 50% less sweat, says study coauthor Maurie Luetkemeier, a professor of physiology at Alma College in Michigan. “We also found the sodium in sweat was more concentrated when released from tattooed skin,” he says. When your glands produce sweat, the skin tends to reabsorb sodium and other electrolytes from that perspiration before it breaks free. His findings indicate that tattoos may partially block this reabsorption.

This doesn’t matter much if you have a single tattoo, or even a few. But if you have extensive coverage—especially on your back, arms or other areas densely populated by sweat glands—tattoos could interfere with the skin’s ability to cool your body and hold onto important nutrients. “You look at someone in the military, where tattoos are very prevalent, and if they’re exposed to high heat and a heavy workload, there could be thermoregulatory problems,” Luetkemeier says.

All of this is, he adds, is very much speculative at this point. But other research has linked tattoos with different health issues.

RELATED: Microblading Your Eyebrows Can Make Them Look Fuller and Darker—But Is It Safe?

While exceptionally rare, there are reports linking tattoos to melanoma, says Cormac Joyce, a plastic surgeon at University Hospital Galway in Ireland. In a case study he published in 2015, Joyce writes about a 33-year-old man with an elaborate, multicolored chest tattoo. Malignant melanoma had turned up only in the areas of the tattoo that were filled in with red ink.

In that particular case, the culprit probably wasn’t the red ink. Joyce says the man likely had an existing melanoma that his tattoo artist hit with his red ink needle. The artist may have then “seeded” other portions of the man’s skin with malignant cells, he says. That’s reassuring news if you have a red tattoo, but probably scary if you’re at risk for melanoma. Joyce says spreading malignancy via this sort of skin seeding is rare, but is “certainly possible in the setting of tattooing.”

Other case studies link tattoos to skin cancer. “The process of tattooing involves the integration of metallic salts and organic dyes into the dermal layer of the skin,” Joyce says. The resulting low-grade, chronic inflammation that can result from this could stimulate “malignant transformation”.

RELATED: Why Nature Sounds Help You Relax, According to Science

Tattoo inks are mostly unregulated, and blood-borne diseases have reportedly been spread by tainted ink. In 2012, the FDA linked a multi-state bacterial outbreak to contaminated tattoo inks. An investigation detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine found the contamination “could have occurred at various points in the ink-production process”—meaning that tattoo parlors probably weren’t to blame. “Tattoo inks are considered to be cosmetics,” the report’s authors write. As a result, inks are allowed into the marketplace without much oversight, and the FDA and other public safety organizations only step in when something bad happens.

Metals used in tattoo inks may also cause skin reactions. A study from Denmark in 2011 found that 10% of unopened tattoo ink bottles tested were contaminated with bacteria. “Regulation of ink is long overdue,” Joyce says.

RELATED: Here’s Why People Die Each Year in Gyms (and How to Prevent It From Happening to You)

“The FDA is conducting research to improve its knowledge of tattoo inks and the ingredients used in them and to look more closely at their different components,” an FDA spokesperson told TIME in an email. “The agency is also evaluating methods for the microbiological testing of tattoo inks as a result of microbial contamination of several tattoo inks that have resulted in voluntary recalls.”

The risks associated with tattoos—if there are any—are not entirely known. But as more and more people opt for ink, greater scientific scrutiny is needed.



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5 Times When Being Alone Will Improve Your Life

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Our solitude cannot be monetized. Maybe that’s why it hasn’t been safeguarded while so many forces work to monopolize our hours, to produce an anxious awareness of the thousands of cloud-based connections we’re meant to groom daily.

A recent Nielsen report found that the typical American spends half their waking life looking at one screen or another. It is taking a toll. We are terrified to spend time by ourselves. We demand external stimulus, constant hits of dopamine. A 2014 study found that many of us would rather give ourselves electric shocks than spend 15 minutes alone with our thoughts. Hanging out with yourself, while it may sound torturous to many, has become a radical act.

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But you’ll also be rewarded. In fact, those who occasionally ditch their phones (and their friends) find that, while solitude cannot be monetized, it is of value in several parts of their lives.

1. Politics. Americans now receive about as much news via social networks as they do via news websites. But a plurality of voices does not inevitably lead to a plurality of perspectives. Far from it. As Elizabeth Kolbert recently reported, a human simply cannot change his or her mind while under attack — only a person who is confident, comfortable at the time has that ability. We all need time away from the red-faced online crowds if we want to consider the things they’re shouting. The radical thinkers of tomorrow will be people who know how to remove themselves from toxic pools of public discourse; they’ll be people who have mastered the art of moving back and forth, between crowd and solitude.

2. Daydreaming. Yes, daydreams are radical. At school, we’re taught two methods of learning: concentration and collaboration. But educators often ignore a third and equally useful approach: daydreaming. Studies show that, when the mind wanders, our brains activate what’s called a “default mode network.” An intense series of brain functions go to work, despite the “blankness” that the brain projects to us. It’s this default mode that produces spontaneous insights when we’re looking out a window at the rain, or lying in bed staring at the ceiling. While institutions continue to place an emphasis on concentration and collaboration, it’s worth asking why so many of our greatest artists and scientists make a habit of solitary walks in the woods or through city parks. Goethe put it best: “One can be instructed in society, one is inspired only in solitude.”

RELATED: How to Kick Stress in 20 Minutes or Less

3. Culture Consumption. Once you spend a portion of each day alone, you start to wonder why you’ve been watching re-runs of Bones for the past two years. Do you really like what the Netflix algorithms told you to like? Online culture-dispensers (Amazon, iTunes, Vimeo) have exacerbated the winner-takes-all effect that already plagued global markets. Despite the zillions of books, films and songs available to us online, studies show we increasingly devote our time and money to blockbusters and little else. Consider films alone: In 1997, the top 10% of movies took home half the total revenue; today, they take home about 90%. Meanwhile, over at Amazon, we look for a new read and are ushered toward Harry Potter adult coloring books. We owe it to ourselves to step away from these crowd-fueled suggestions and foster our inner weirdos instead. What do you really like? There are stranger things waiting to be loved.

4. Wayfinding. University of Oregon Professor of Geography Amy Lobben told me she sees “navigation zombies” when she looks out her office window. These are the kids tethered to Google Maps as they make their way through the world. We’ve all learned to rely on the safety of GPS, the dulcet tones of Siri’s step-by-step directions. But getting lost, feeling wholly alone in an unforgiving landscape, might be better for us than we think. As Lobben told me, “Wayfinding is inherently human. It is so important to everyday existence and is probably key to human evolution.” Without a sturdy ability to navigate new landscapes, our ancestors would have perished before they had the chance to pass on their genes. Our fear of relying on individual wayfinding abilities now keeps us from developing that elemental skill. Try taking a drive in a strange town without your phone. Try walking into the woods alone. When we get lost, we have a chance to find ourselves.

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5. Relationships. We cannot desire that which we already possess. Three-dimensional love must include periods of separation: as Rilke noted, “the highest task for a bond between two people [is] that each protects the solitude of the other.” Ideally, we travel alone, we commute alone, we walk the dog alone — and in those snacks of solitude, we reminisce about our partners, learning to love them better. That’s not where things are headed, though: Interviews with heads of online dating sites (OkCupid, Plenty of Fish) have convinced me that mobile technologies will push us toward a state of constant, careless affection. The lovers of tomorrow will demand constant reassurance, and a hail of micro-messaging will produce neither the connection nor the disconnection that we need. Walking away from our phones, resisting the urge to Facebook-stalk our boyfriends and girlfriends, composing a single love letter instead of a hundred inconsequential texts, will shake up a relationship more than any “disruptive” technology.



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The Best Websites to Help You Lose Weight, Quit Smoking, Sleep Better, Beat Depression, and More

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com. 

The Internet abounds with websites that promise solutions for what ails you, whether you want to sleep better, lose weight, quit smoking, or beat a chronic health condition. Plenty of them look legit—but can an online program really improve problems like these, right from the comfort of your home computer?

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Some can, say University of Michigan researchers, but it can be hard to distinguish the science-backed sites with the unproven ones. So they did just that—compiling a Top-40 list of online programs that have all been studied, and shown to work, in randomized controlled trials.

The list of 44 sites, published this week in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, includes programs that can help people reduce their use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana; improve their diet and exercise habits; and manage issues like insomnia, depression, anxiety, phobias, chronic pain, cardiovascular disease risk, and childhood health problems.

RELATED: The Simple Vending Machine Hack That Led People to Choose Healthier Snacks

“I describe these sites like programs because they’re not like little apps or quick bits of information,” says lead author Mary Rogers, Ph.D., a researcher in the department of internal medicine. “You can’t just go online and read a few paragraphs and suddenly feel better.”

Many of these website use intensive, multi-step courses developed by psychologists or physicians, she says; they require users to monitor their own progress and complete assignments on a regular basis. Some take weeks or months to complete, and some (but not all) charge a fee or require users to register.

But for many people, says Rogers, they’re worth the time and effort. “These sites made the list because, in the research, people who used them improved more than people who didn’t,” she says.

RELATED: Google’s New Feature Takes the Stress Out of Booking Fitness Classes

The online Biggest Loser Club, for example, helped people lose nearly five pounds and reduce their waist circumference by an inch, while people who didn’t use the program gained a pound and added .1 inch to their waist. The website painACTION improved symptoms in one out of four patients with long-term back pain, and one out of three patients with migraines, compared to a control group. And for every four people who used the online program Deprexis, one recovered from depression.

Some of these programs were created by government-funded research—“taxpayer dollars,” says Rogers—so it’s only fair that they’re available to the general public and not just to clinical trial participants, she says.

“As researchers, we publish our findings in medical journals but we don’t often take the extra steps to let the public know which interventions work and which don’t,” says Rogers. Her team looked at the results of 1,733 studies, but found that only 21 percent of online self-help programs used in those studies continued to operate after their trials were over. (Lack of continued funding is probably a big reason, she says.)

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The full list of science-backed websites—most in English but some in other languages, as well—is available as a PDF on the journal’s website. Rogers says she hopes to develop a searchable database of these programs (and add to it as more studies are published) so people can easily find ones designed to help with specific problems.

Rogers stresses that this list is just a starting point, and that just because a site isn’t on the list doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful. “It just means it hasn’t been studied, so we really don’t know yet,” she says. She also points out that her team only examined single-person self-help programs—not ones that utilized group therapy or peer-to-peer mentoring.

And similarly, just because a program is on the list doesn’t mean it will help every person who tries it. “They’re not a guarantee, but if you’re looking for help for one of these problems, they’re a good starting point,” says Rogers.



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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Prince's Ex Mayte Garcia on the Moment Their Son Amiir Was Born With a Rare Genetic Disorder

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

In a new memoir, Prince’s ex-wife Mayte Garcia shares the story of their four-year marriage and the tragedy that tore them apart. Subscribe now for the exclusive excerpt – only in PEOPLE.

He was the baby Prince and his then-wife Mayte Garcia had long hoped for. They named him Amiir — Arabic for “prince” — while he was in Mayte’s womb, and listened to his heartbeat in anticipation of his birth. But the baby, born Oct. 16, 1996, had Pfeiffer syndrome type 2, a rare genetic disorder, and lived just six days.

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In her new memoir, The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince, excerpted exclusively in this week’s PEOPLE, Garcia tells the story of their passionate love, their excitement about the baby, and the pain and heartbreak of Amiir’s short life which forever haunted them both.

“I don’t think he ever got over it,” Garcia, now 43, tells PEOPLE of her ex-husband, who died last April from an accidental overdose. “I don’t know how anybody can get over it. I know I haven’t.”

When Garcia, then 22, discovered she was pregnant, she and Prince were overjoyed at the thought of raising a family at their home in Paisley Park. The pregnancy went smoothly until she began bleeding one day and a doctor recommended an amniocentesis to test for genetic abnormalities. The procedure, the doctor warned, carried a risk of miscarriage.

Yet as the doctor told them: “Sometimes the body is trying to release the fetus for a reason.” But Prince, Garcia writes, was against it: “My husband said, ‘No, we’re not doing that.‘”

Once home, the couple prayed for his health.

“Please, bless this child,” said Prince as he prayed on his knees. “We know you won’t allow this child to be harmed.”

But further exams revealed more complications.

During one appointment, the obstetrician told them the ultrasound measurements were off and said, “It’s possible that we’re seeing a form of dwarfism.”

Writes Garcia, “My husband and I looked at each other and shrugged. ‘And?’ he said. ‘I’m totally fine with that.’ I laughed. Of all the possible outcomes that had been offered to us, this was the first one that didn’t terrify me.”

Still, she writes, the doctor warned them of genetic abnormalities that could be life-threatening and again recommended an amnio, yet Prince continued to refuse medical intervention.

On Oct. 16, 1996, Garcia delivered their son via c-section. At first, she writes, she and Prince were elated: “I don’t know how to describe the look on my husband’s face. Pure joy.”

“And then they held the baby up to those harsh lights,” she continues. “The elation on my husband’s face turned to pure terror.”

“Pfeiffer syndrome type 2 is a genetic disorder that causes skeletal and systematic abnormalities,” she writes. “The premature fusing of the bones in the skull, sometimes resulting in ‘cloverleaf skull,’ in which the eyes are outside the sockets. The fusion of bones in the hands and feet causing a webbed or pawlike appearance … I learned all of this later.”

For much more on Mayte Garcia and the new Prince book, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

After the O.R. nurses frantically began working to save Amiir’s life, she heard her husband saying, “Why is he not crying?”

“They brought the baby over to us,” she writes. “He was curled on his side, gasping shallow little gulps of air. Because there were no lids to blink, his eyes looked startled and dry. I caught hold of his tiny hand, saying over and over, ‘Mama loves you, Mama’s here.'”

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In the days that followed, Amiir underwent multiple procedures and the doctor recommended a tracheotomy. “After six days he was struggling to breathe,” writes Garcia. “And I said to the doctor, ‘He’s not leaving here, is he?'”

He died at six days old.

Garcia says sharing such wrenching memories in her book was difficult. “I’ve been making notes of my life but when it finally came time to write it, it took me back and I cried many tears,” she tells PEOPLE. “But I also think that it’s liberating.”

She wanted to make sure her book was one of the first to be published after Prince’s death last April. “I knew there was going to be a lot of stuff coming out about him, negative and positive,” she says. “I wanted mine to come from love.”



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Carnie Wilson Will Undergo Surgery to Remove Ruptured Breast Implants

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tracy Anderson Talks About Her Body Image Struggles and Offers Advice for Teens in New Book

This article originally appeared on People.com. 

Tracy Anderson has used her fitness expertise to shape some of Hollywood’s most notable bodies — including Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow — and now she’s using her research and experience to help teenage girls embrace their own bodies and get healthy in a positive way.

“After spending almost 20 focused years helping people find comfort in their own skin, I saw a huge preventative opportunity to make sure teen girls never lose their connection to being themselves and having to find it again,” Anderson tells PEOPLE about the inspiration for her new book, Total Teen: Tracy Anderson’s Guide to Health, Happiness, and Ruling Your World. “It’s hard for teens to show up for their health correctly when we live in such a trendy world.”

RELATED: This Is Tracy Anderson’s Go-To Arm Workout

She suggests that teens struggling with self-esteem take media images of the body with a grain of salt, and focus on being their best selves instead.

“Slow down the noise in your head,” she says. “It’s all a vicious cycle of some editor sitting up in some tower airbrushing people to look like something dreamy. The issue is that teens need to understand that this falls into entertainment and art. It isn’t real. When you can take a deep breath and recognize a human form that has been turned into art, versus the true natural beauty of the incredible human you are, you can come to appreciate your own physical self.”

“It would be so boring if we were all the same,” she continues. “Knowing that you are enough and you are who you are meant to be can really calm the noise.”

Anderson herself is no stranger to having body image issues. As a teenager, the Tracy Anderson Method creator struggled with body acceptance after inexplicably gaining weight that left her feeling uncomfortable in her own skin.

“At 19, I gained almost 40 lbs. at school,” she says. “There wasn’t a support system for me to learn what could be happening or identify and heal this imbalance in a healthy way. I felt awkward and ashamed going to class. I felt like I was failing unintentionally, and it ultimately made me feel like the roadblock was too big for me to live my passion successfully and in a healthy way.”

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Anderson says she finally got past these mental roadblocks when she met with a doctor who taught her how to find balance in her body by focusing on muscular structure.

“Studying his work initially unlocked hope for me that there really could be a solution to creating balance in our bodies before or when imbalances arise,” she says.

RELATED: Tracy Anderson’s Best Moves for Killer Legs

Anderson got to a place where she felt comfortable with her body “when I got physically available to myself on my own terms,” she says. “I feel like this is truly key. There is so much noise about what is ‘pretty’ or ‘healthy’ or ‘sexy’ or ‘trendy’ with our physical bodies that people don’t even know how to own their own body or assess what they even want.”

In her book — due out in December — Anderson includes strength and dance cardio workouts and simple healthy recipes, but also shares motivational stories in hopes that they will inspire active living and positive self-image in young girls.

“It’s about physically respecting and processing what it means to be a balanced and healthy individual. I hope everyone walks away shining their lights even brighter.”



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Monday, March 13, 2017

Try This Meditation Technique to Quiet Your Inner Critic Once and for All

Want to develop more kindness for yourself, for your loved ones, even for people you can’t stand? Starting a practice of lovingkindness (known in the Buddhist tradition as metta), can help. The good news is you don’t have to be an expert meditator to try it; you can add it to your existing routine, or use it as an entry point into a new practice.

To learn more, we spoke with expert Sharon Salzberg. She’s a co-founder of the esteemed Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the best-selling author of many books, including Lovingkindness. (Her newest book, Real Love, comes out in June.)

We asked Salzberg about the benefits of lovingkindness meditation, and how it relates to mindfulness in general. “To be mindful means to have a kind of interested, balanced awareness of what’s happening to us,” she explains. “But because our inner critic may be very strong, mindfulness is not that easy to accomplish. For a lot of people, doing a practice like lovingkindness can change our default response from one of self-judgment, fear, or anger, to a sense of connection and greater spaciousness, and it can form a foundation for being able to practice mindfulness. It’s a great experiment to try.”

RELATED: 20 Weird Ways Breathing Right Can Improve Your Life

How to do it

Start by finding a quiet place to sit, closing your eyes, and drawing your awareness to the sensations in your body. You might feel your feet touching the floor, or your legs against the chair. Next, bring your attention to the in and out flow of your breathing at one spot. That could be the feeling of your belly rising and falling with each breath, or the sensation of air flowing through your nose. As you direct your attention to your breath, your mind will inevitably wander. When it does, simply notice it doing so, and without judgment, bring your attention back to your breathing. Try doing this for a few minutes to start, and gradually extend the length of your sessions until you can sit for 20 or so minutes at a time. It takes practice, but over time, you’ll begin to notice you feel calmer, more focused, and more aware of your moment-to-moment experience.

Once you get the hang of basic meditation, you can add lovingkindness by saying the following phrases, quietly to yourself or in your head:

“May I be happy of heart. 

May I be free from suffering. 

May I be healthy and strong. 

May I live with ease.” 

You might even place your hand gently on your chest to invoke a connection to your heart.

Next, say the same four phrases again, this time directed toward a loved one, friend, or benefactor:

“May you be happy of heart.

May you be free from suffering.…”

Then try saying them for someone who you don’t know well but is a part of your daily life, someone to whom you have a neutral feeling. “Many of us are in the habit of going into that grocery store and looking right through the clerk instead of at him, even if you’ve seen him a million times,” Salzberg explains. “We often objectify people so they become like pieces of furniture to us, but through the offering of the phrases [to a neutral person] we’re learning to pay full attention to someone, rather than discounting them.”

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Next, say the phrases for someone you have difficulty with. The person could be someone you know, someone you don’t, someone you consider an enemy. 

This step can be challenging, but it’s worth trying.  “We often categorize certain people as all bad, all the time, which may be our experience with them, but there is a rigidity to that way of thinking which keeps us afraid and cut off,” Salzberg says. “If we want to take some risks with our attention and try wishing for them to be free of suffering, things may begin to move within ourselves: You may still not like that person, you may still not want to bring them home with you, but you may be able to grow that sense that our lives have something to do with one another.”

If you’re having trouble really feeling lovingkindess for someone you consider an enemy, you can also try picturing them as a baby, or near death, or in an unusual setting. Salzberg explains: “Although the phrases can be helpful in building a base of concentration, lovingkindness is also a practice that engages our creative imagination. The truth is that we were all infants once, and were so helpless and subject to the actions around us. And the truth is we will all die, so you can tap into the kind of poignancy to life that we all share.” 

RELATED: 14 Strategies to Become a Happier Person

If you’re practicing lovingkindness for someone who’s shown you bad behavior, you might also imagine them at a safe remove from yourself, such as on an island with no boat. As you work with them in mind, “it might help you feel safe, like this person’s not going to take advantage of me,” Salzberg explains.

Finally, say the phrases again for all living creatures everywhere:

“May all beings be happy of heart.

May all beings be free from suffering.…”

However we might like it to, the point of lovingkindess is not to magically change other people from afar. “One thing I usually emphasize,” Salzberg says, “is that the essence of metta practice, and using the phrases, is paying attention differently.  It’s not trying to force yourself to feel something you don’t feel, and it’s not trying to cover over some difficult feelings you might have with a kind of veneer of being saccharine. Rather, it’s about transforming our own way of seeing ourselves and seeing others in the world.”

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When you’re ready to give it a try, work it into your next meditation session. Salzberg says you can do it right when you sit down to meditate, or toward the end of a sitting.

“Some people like it at the beginning because it creates a kind of warm environment so that you can go on to practicing mindfulness with a little more kindness toward yourself,” she explains.  “Most people like to do it at the end, because it’s a reminder that the inner work we do when we mediate is not really just for ourselves, but it’s also about how we are with our families and friends and communities. It can serve as a really nice bridge between the inner life and actual life.”



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Friday, March 10, 2017

Use This Trick to Get an Amazing Memory

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

If you’ve ever watched someone memorize and recite back a string of numbers or a long list of words and thought, “I wish I could do that,” we’ve got good news: You totally can. A simple mnemonic device used by world-class memory athletes can be taught—and mastered—by “normal” people too, according to a new study.

The brain-training trick, known as “method of loci,” involves pairing each item to be memorized with a mental image of a landmark along a familiar route—like your walk to work or to a local store. Researchers say that making these associations, and traveling that route in your mind, can not only help you remember those items better; it can also strengthen memory-related pathways in your brain.

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For their new study, scientists at Stanford University and Radboud University Medical Center in The Netherlands gave functional MRI scans to 17 memory athletes and 51 people with no special memorization skills. Then they pitted them against each other in test to memorize a list of 72 words. After 20 minutes of prep time, the memory athletes were able to recall 71 words on average, while the others averaged about 40. (One of the study authors is a World Memory Champion himself, who can memorize about 500 digits or 100 words in five minutes.)

The researchers then divided the non–memory athletes into three groups, assigning them to receive either six weeks of online training in the method of loci; six weeks of training to improve a different type of memory, called working memory; or no training at all.

RELATED: 9 Foods That May Help Save Your Memory

When they were retested six weeks later, the group that received method of loci training had improved dramatically, recalling almost as many words as the memory athletes. Even four months after completing their training, they scored similar results.

Brain scans taken after the training also showed changes in connectivity patterns, which now resembled those of the memory athletes. In fact, the degree of improvement seen in the brain’s memory networks directly predicted how well a person performed on the recall test. No significant memory gains, or MRI changes, were noted among the other two groups.

The study, published Wednesday in Neuron, suggests that you don’t need natural ability to become a world-class memory champ—just plenty of practice. And it’s practice that anyone can do: The method of training used in the study is available at memocamp.com, a website that offers several training programs, including a free trial package. (Memocamp did not sponsor the study and the authors have no financial interest in it, but participants were provided free access to its programs.) 

Unfortunately, says lead author Martin Dresler, PhD, this specific skill won’t necessarily translate into better memory in other areas of life. When they’re not paying attention and actively applying the mnemonic method, he says, “even memory champions do forget names or their keys.”

RELATED: Common Memory Problems Solved

But this type of memory training is still good for more than just party tricks, says Dresler, an assistant professor of cognitive neuroscience at Radboud University; it can also help in educational settings—like studying for exams—as well.

And it’s unknown whether this type of training might have longer-term benefits, like helping to prevent cognitive decline. “I guess training in the method of loci wouldn’t do much better or worse than other cognitive training regimes in this regard,” says Dresler. He does note, however, that older adults may be able to use mnemonic devices to compensate, at least somewhat, for age-related memory impairment.   



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13 Body-Positive Influencers You Should Follow on Instagram

5 Zika Health Problems Experts Say Could Affect Anyone

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

March isn’t mosquito season in much of the United States, but scientists are still busy studying the various health problems caused by the mysterious mosquito-borne Zika virus. While experts know more about the virus than they did over a year ago, and they know it can cause birth defects in babies, the full spectrum of Zika related health risks—including the ones that may impact adults—is unknown.

For instance, in a new report that will be presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 66th Annual Scientific Session, researchers found that Zika may cause heart problems in otherwise healthy adults, which was unknown until now. “As days go by, and more people are infected, we see different aspects of the virus,” says study author Dr. Karina Gonzalez Carta, a cardiologist and research fellow at Mayo Clinic.

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Here are some of the health problems linked to Zika that researchers find most worrying.

Heart problems: In the new study, Carta analyzed nine adults in Venezuela with no prior history of heart disease who complained of heart-related symptoms. Carta and her team found that eight of the people had developed a heart rhythm issue, and six had evidence of heart failure. Since the study size was small, it’s hard to know how common it is to develop heart problems after a Zika infection, but Carta says she’s found more people with heart issues since she wrote her study.

“We need to create awareness,” says Carta. “People should know this is possible.” The people in the study have been followed since July 2016, and while most of their symptoms have abated, they are not gone altogether.

RELATED: U.S. Launches Early Trial of Zika Vaccine

Guillain-Barré Syndrome: Close to 15 countries have reported cases of muscle-weakening Guillain-Barré syndrome in people with Zika infections. The health complication is characterized by arm and leg weakness, and in some serious cases, Guillain-Barré can harm the muscles that control a person’s ability to breathe. Very few people die from the Guillain-Barré, but symptoms can be chronic.

Hearing and vision problems: Microcephaly can cause vision and hearing problems among infants, but two studies published in December 2016 found cases of hearing and vision loss among adults with Zika. In one report researchers identified three people in Brazil who developed hearing loss that lasted from a few days to a month. Another report published in the journal The Lancet detailed a case where a 26-year-old American man was infected with Zika after traveling to Puerto Rico and later developed vision problems which included seeing flashing lights. Thankfully his vision returned after a few weeks. More research is needed, but the study authors argue that doctors treating people with Zika should be aware of these potential side effects.

RELATED: Zika Lasts Way Longer During Pregnancy: Study

Microcephaly: The most well-known health problem caused by Zika is severe microcephaly, which is a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head. Babies born with microcephaly often have smaller brains due to improper development, which is why the head size remains small too. Infants with microcephaly often have several other health complications, like seizures, trouble swallowing, vision and hearing problems, and balance issues. In the U.S., nearly 50 babies born to women with Zika infections have had birth defects.

Congenital Zika Syndrome: Many infants infected with Zika during pregnancy develop Congenital Zika syndrome, which is a combination of birth defects beyond just microcephaly. The syndrome also includes less brain tissue overall, damage to the back of the eye, joints with limited range of motion, and too much muscle tone, which makes it harder for the babies to move. It’s not completely clear how the virus causes all these issues—and not all babies with Zika infections will have them—but researchers say some birth defects will become more apparent as infants get older.



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7 Stunning Photos That Prove Strong Is the New Pretty

Girls are confident, loud, fearless, and carefree. They are also thoughtful, creative, resilient, and determined. They are all this and a whole lot more. That’s the message behind Strong is the New Pretty ($18, amazon.com), a powerful book containing more than 175 portraits of girls doing what they love (whether it’s ballet, playing music, or wrestling)—and owning their strength.

The pictures of these badass little girls in all their glory will make you want to reconnect with your own inner kid. And that is exactly what photographer Kate T. Parker hoped to accomplish: “I want these images to combat those negative voices that tell us we’re not good enough, or thin enough or whatever enough,” writer photographer Kate T. Parker in the book’s introduction. "Because we are far more than enough!“

Scroll down for seven of our favorite inspiring photos from the book.

RELATED: 25 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be a Happier Person

"I was really scared for my first triathlon. My mom took this shot of me the night before and told me that even though I was afraid to race, to try to look tough and fearless. I did, and when my mom showed me this shot, it made me believe I could be as tough as I looked." —Ella, age 9

"Some people don’t think dance is a real sport, but it takes a lot of strength to master the technique, it takes time to make improvements, and it takes passion and dedication to reach your goal.” —Kami, age 11

“I wish every day was like this." —Caroline C., age 10

"When I am in the air, I feel like I am flying. At the end of a jump, my mind is completely clear." —Abigail, age 17

"In wrestling, girls have an advantage. The guys think less of you until you are face-to-face with them." —Rachel, age 11

"We are undefeated and plan on staying that way." —Olivia J., age 9

"I love the speed when I skate. I feel very alive and present—feeling fluid and going fast is fun." —Kekai, age 12

Excerpted from Strong is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate T. Parker. Copyright 2017 Workman Publishing. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.



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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

These Are the Happiest and Healthiest Cities in America

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Living near the beach doesn’t guarantee your happiness — but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

From Naples, Fla. to Honolulu, Hawaii, many of the U.S. cities that scored well on Gallup-Healthways’ newly released Community Well-Being Index are located on the ocean. Researchers analyzed 350,000 interviews conducted in 2015 and 2016 to rank 189 communities by physical, emotional, financial, community and social health. Naples came in first for the second year in a row, followed closely by other metro areas near the ocean, like Barnstable, Mass. and Santa Cruz, Calif.

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So is beachside living the key to health and happiness? Lead researcher Dan Witters says it’s not so simple: “Clinical depression is less likely, and healthy eating is slightly improved, but after that the advantages run out.” Holistic well-being is about more than good climate, Witters says. “You don’t need a beach to have someone who encourages you to be healthy; you don’t need a beach to learn new and interesting things; you don’t need a beach to get to the dentist.”

RELATED: The Relationship Mistake Happy Couples Are More Likely to Make

Highly ranked inland communities like Boulder, Colo. and El Paso, Texas had residents who reported feeling a strong sense of purpose — often rooted in a shared culture and a feeling of belonging. When people are invested in improving their community, they feel motivated to get out of bed each day, says Healthways president Karissa Price. “It isn’t just about Karissa Price. “It isn’t just about physical health or income — there is a larger need to feel connected,” she says.

Communities in the Southeastern U.S. and industrial Midwest were generally ranked lower in well-being, partly due to health problems including higher smoking and obesity rates.



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Two Big Things the Republican Obamacare Replacement Would Get Rid Of

This article originally appeared on Kaiser Health News

House Republicans unveiled their much anticipated health law replacement plan Monday, slashing the law’s Medicaid expansion and scrapping the requirement that individuals purchase coverage or pay a fine. But they opted to continue providing tax credits to encourage consumers to purchase coverage, although they would configure the program much differently than the current law.

The legislation would keep the health law’s provisions allowing adult children to stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until age 26 and prohibiting insurers from charging people with preexisting medical conditions more for coverage as long as they don’t let their insurance lapse.  If they do, insurers can charge a flat 30 percent late-enrollment surcharge on top of the base premium, under the Republican bill.

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In a statement, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said the proposal would “drive down costs, encourage competition, and give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance. It protects young adults, patients with preexisting conditions, and provides a stable transition so that no one has the rug pulled out from under them.”

The GOP plan, as predicted, kills most of the law’s taxes and fees and would not enforce the so-called employer mandate, which requires certain employers to provide a set level of health coverage to workers or pay a penalty.

Democrats quickly condemned the bill. “Tonight, Republicans revealed a Make America Sick Again bill that hands billionaires a massive new tax break while shifting huge costs and burdens onto working families across American,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted. “Republicans will force tens of millions of families to pay more for worse coverage — and push millions of Americans off of health coverage entirely.”

The legislation has been the focus of intense negotiations among different factions of the Republican Party and the Trump administration since January. The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 without a single Republican vote, and the party has strongly denounced it ever since, with the House voting more than 60 times to repeal Obamacare. But more than 20 million people have gained coverage under the law, and President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans have said they don’t want anyone to lose their insurance.

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When Republicans took control of both Congress and the White House this year, they did not have an agreement on the path for replacement, with some lawmakers from states that have expanded Medicaid concerned about the effect of repeal and the party’s conservative wing pushing hard to jettison the entire law.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), one of those favoring a full repeal, tweeted: “Still have not seen an official version of the House Obamacare replacement bill, but from media reports this sure looks like Obamacare Lite!”

Complicating the effort is the fact that Republicans have only 52 seats in the Senate, so they cannot muster the 60 necessary to overcome a Democratic filibuster. That means they must use a complicated legislative strategy called budget reconciliation that allows them to repeal only parts of the ACA that affect federal spending.

Beginning in 2020, the GOP plan would provide tax credits to help people pay for health insurance based on household income and age, with a limit of $14,000 per family. Each member of the family would accumulate credits, ranging from $2,000 for an individual under 30 to $4,000 for people age 60 and older. The credits would begin to diminish after individuals reached an income of $75,000 — or $150,000 for joint filers.

Consumers also would be allowed to put more money into tax-free health savings accounts and would lift the $2,500 cap on flexible savings accounts beginning in 2018.

The legislation would allow insurers to charge older consumers as much as five times more for coverage than younger people. The health law currently permits a 3-to-1 ratio.

Community health centers would receive $422 million in additional funding in 2017 under the legislation, which also places a one-year freeze on funding for Planned Parenthoodand prohibits the use of tax credits to purchase health insurance that covers abortion.

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Both the Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means Committees are scheduled to mark up the legislation Wednesday. The committees do not yet have any Congressional Budget Office analysis of how much the legislation would cost or how many people it would cover.

Party leaders have said they want to have the bill to President Trump next month.

In a statement, senior Democrats on both panels said the measure would charge consumers “more money for less care. It would dramatically drive up health care costs for seniors. And repeal would ration care for more than 70 million Americans, including seniors in nursing homes, pregnant women and children living with disabilities by arbitrarily cutting and capping Medicaid,” said Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts.

The House GOP plan makes dramatic changes to Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program that covers 70 million low-income Americans. The program began in 1965 as an entitlement — which means federal and state funding is ensured regardless of cost and enrollment. But the Republican bill would cap federal funding for Medicaid for the first time.

The federal government picks up between half and 70 percent of Medicaid costs. The percentage varies based on the relative wealth of the state.

Under the GOP plan, federal funding would be based on what the government spent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Those amounts would be adjusted annually based on a state’s enrollment and medical inflation.

Currently, federal payments to states also take into account how generous the state’s benefits are and what rate it uses to pay providers. That means states like New York and Vermont get higher funding than states like Nevada and New Hampshire and those differences would be locked in for future years.

Republicans have pushed to cap federal funding to states in return for giving them more control in running the program.

RELATED: 9 Things That Might Happen to Your Body When You Quit Birth Control Pills

The legislation also affects the health law’s expansion of Medicaid, in which the federal government provided enhanced funding to states to widen eligibility. The bill would also end that extra funding for anyone enrolling under the expansion guidelines starting in 2020. But the legislation would let states keep the extra funding Obamacare provided for individuals already in the expansion program who stay enrolled.

About 11 million Americans have gained Medicaid coverage since 2014.

Changing the expansion program is a delicate balance for the Republicans. Four GOP senators from states that took that option said Monday they would oppose any legislation that repealed the expansion.

“We are concerned that any poorly implemented or poorly timed change in the current funding structure in Medicaid could result in a reduction in access to life-saving health care services,” Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.



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