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.

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“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.

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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”.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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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