The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 

The Atlantic Magazine

 

What I tell patients is, if you like coffee, go ahead and drink as much as you want and can,” says Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University. He’s even developed a metric for monitoring your dosage: If you are having trouble sleeping, cut back on your last cup of the day. From there, he says, “If you drink that much, it’s not going to do you any harm, and it might actually help you. A lot.”

Officially, the American Medical Association recommends conservatively that “moderate tea or coffee drinking likely has no negative effect on health, as long as you live an otherwise healthy lifestyle.” That is a lackluster endorsement in light of so much recent glowing research. Not only have most of coffee’s purported ill effects been disproven — the most recent review fails to link it the development of hypertension — but we have so, so much information about its benefits. We believe they extend from preventing Alzheimer’s disease to protecting the liver. What we know goes beyond small-scale studies or limited observations. The past couple of years have seen findings, that, taken together, suggest that we should embrace coffee for reasons beyond the benefits of caffeine, and that we might go so far as to consider it a nutrient.

***

The most recent findings that support coffee as a panacea will make their premiere this December in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Coffee, researchers found, appears to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

“There have been many metabolic studies that have shown that caffeine, in the short term, increases your blood glucose levels and increases insulin resistance,” Shilpa Bhupathiraju, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition and the study’s lead author, told me. But “those findings really didn’t translate into an increased risk for diabetes long-term.” During the over 20 years of follow-up, and controlling for all major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, coffee consumption, regardless of caffeine content, was associated with an 8 percent decrease in the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. In men, the reduction was 4 percent for regular coffee and 7 percent for decaf.

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The findings were arrived at rigorously, relying on data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, two prospective studies that followed almost 80,000 women and over 40,000 men from the 1980s through 2008. Although self-reported, the data is believed to be extremely reliable because it comes from individuals who know more about health and disease than the average American (the downside, of course, is that results won’t always apply to the general population — but in this case, Bhupathuraju explained that there’s no reason to believe that the biological effects seen in health professionals wouldn’t be seen in everyone else).

That there were no major differences in risk reduction between regular and decaf coffee suggests there’s something in it, aside from its caffeine content, that could be contributing to these observed benefits. It also demonstrates that caffeine was in no way mitigating coffee’s therapeutic effects. Of course, what we choose to add to coffee can just as easily negate the benefits — various sugar-sweetened beverages were all significantly associated with an increased risk of diabetes. A learned taste for cream and sugar (made all the more enticing when they’re designed to smell like seasonal celebrations) is likely one of the reasons why we associate coffee more with decadence than prudence.

“Coffee and caffeine have been inexorably intertwined in our thinking, but truth is coffee contains a whole lot of other stuff with biological benefits,” said Martin. And most concerns about caffeine’s negative effects on the heart have been dispelled. In June, a meta-analysis of ten years of research went so far as to find an inverse association between habitual, moderate consumption and risk of heart failure. The association peaked at four cups per day, and coffee didn’t stop being beneficial until subjects had increased their daily consumption to beyond ten cups.

Caffeine might also function as a pain reliever. A study from September suggested as much when its authors stumbled across caffeinated coffee as a possible confounding variable in its study of the back, neck, and shoulder pains plaguing office drones: Those who reported drinking coffee before the experiment experienced less intense pain.

The data is even more intriguing — and more convincing — for caffeine’s effects as a salve against more existential pains. While a small study this month found that concentrated amounts of caffeine can increase positivity in the moment, last September the nurses’ cohort demonstrated a neat reduction in depression rates among women that became stronger with increased consumption of caffeinated coffee.

But that caffeine is only mechanism behind coffee’s health effects is supported by a small study of 554 Japanese adults from October that looked at coffee and green tea drinking habits in relation to the bundle of risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes known together as metabolic syndrome. Only coffee — not tea — was associated with reduced risk, mostly because of dramatic reductions observed in serum triglyceride levels.

So aside from caffeine, just what are you getting in a cup, or two, or six? Thousands of mostly understudied chemicals that contribute to flavor and aroma, including plant phenols, chlorogenic acids, and quinides, all of which function as antioxidants. Diterpenoids in unfiltered coffee may raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. And, okay, there’s also ash which, to be fair, is no more healthful than you would think — though it certainly isn’t bad for you.

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Some of the chemicals in coffee are known carcinogens, though as far as we know that’s only been seen in rodents, not in the small levels we encounter in everyday consumption. Findings, on the other hand, have been supporting that coffee can protect against some cancers. When the Harvard School of Public Health visited the Health Professionals Follow-Up cohort in May 2011, it found that coffee’s protective effects extend only to some types of prostate cancer (the most aggressive types, actually). In a separate study of the same population from this past July, they also found a reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma with increased caffeine intake.

The association was strongest for those who drank six or more cups per day.

That same high dosage is also effective in fighting against colorectal cancer, according to a prospective study from June of almost 500,000  adults conducted by the American Society for Nutrition. While the association was greatest for caffeinated varieties, decaf made a small but significant showing. A meta-analysis of 16 independent studies this past January added endometrial cancer to the group of cancers whose relative risk decreases with increased “dosage” of coffee. And in 2011, a large population of post-menopausal women in Sweden saw a “modest” reduction in breast cancer risk with immoderate consumption of 5 or more daily cups.

Taking the benefits of coffee any further requires being patient-specific, but findings apply to a broad range of populations and conditions:

If you have fatty liver disease, a study from last December found that unspecified amounts can reduce your risk of fibrosis.

If you’re on a road trip, you may respond like the 24 volunteers for an experiment from February who were subjected to two hours of simulated “monotonous highway driving,” given a short break, then sent back out for two more hours. Those given a cup of coffee during the break weaved less, and showed reductions in driving speed, mental effort, and subjective sleepiness. If you’re on a weight-training regimen, it can provide a mild (and legal) doping effect.

If you’re trying to enhance your workout, the results of one experiment from October found that drinks containing caffeine enhances performance. And then another one from Dr. Martin in 2008: He coauthored a study of people enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous in which there appeared to be an association between upping coffee intake and staying sober.

Nothing can be all good, and there is still information working against coffee — in October, TheAtlantic reported on a study from the health professionals cohort that suggested a link between excessive coffee consumption and glaucoma. “The current recommendation is that if somebody’s not drinking coffee, you don’t tell them to start,” said Bhupathiraju.

But she agrees that drinking coffee, and more of it, does appear to be beneficial. The evidence remains overwhelmingly in coffee’s favor. Yes, it was observational, but the study published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at hundreds of thousands of men and women and found this bottom line result: people who drank coffee lived longer than those who didn’t.

And the more they drank, the longer they lived. If you’re into that sort of thing.

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Plates That Help Your Weight Monday, Feb 25 2013 

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health

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There’s a reason why stop signs are red. Not only is it the most noticeable color, but study after study has found that, because stop signs have been red for such a long time, the color itself has come to automatically signal “danger”…“don’t go here”… and, yes, “stop.” And now new research shows that this color even might help us stop drinking fattening beverages and eating too much food.

We have known for a long time that colors can influence our moods and even our behaviors, but it was Leonie Reutner, MSc, a doctoral student and lecturer at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who coauthored a study published online inAppetite this past January to see if color could actually be used as a tool for weight loss. The answer? Yes. But how?

SEEING RED

Knowing how the color red signals “danger” in most people’s minds, Reutner and her colleagues wanted to see whether using red-colored plates and red-labeled glasses would make people eat less of a salty snack and drink less of a sugar-sweetened beverage. So they set up two experiments to find out…

The beverage study: Researchers approached 41 college students and invited them to take part in an “evaluation of three sweet drinks.” Since their pretest had found that female students took only tiny sips of the drinks, the researchers invited only male students to participate. Each participant was asked to rate three drinks matched for color (slightly yellowish) in clear plastic cups. An adhesive label with a large A, B or C printed in white on it was attached to each cup. The backgrounds behind the letters on each label were, randomly, blue or red. The drinks were not identified to the study participants, but they were lemon-flavored, white tea-flavored and green tea-flavored. Researchers weighed each cup before and after the drink test and found that—you guessed it—regardless of which drink was being tasted, participants drank significantly less (about 41% less, on average) from the red-labeled cups than from the blue-labeled cups.

The red-plate study: This time, 109 males and females, ranging in age from 13 to 75, were asked to assist in a study related to “various areas of psychology.” Each was given a questionnaire to complete, was seated at a table in front of either a white, red or blue paper plate containing exactly 10 pretzels, and was told, “Feel free to snack on the pretzels while completing the questionnaire.” After the participants left, researchers counted the pretzels that were left on each plate. And, sure enough, participants ate 48% fewer pretzels from red plates than from the blue and white plates.

WHAT CAN WE READ INTO RED?

Before anyone goes out and buys red plates and cups, Reutner said, it’s important to consider two points. The first is that the participants in the experiments didn’t know ahead of time that red might help them eat or drink less, but now that you know it, the red might not have the same effect on you. The second is that the participants were distracted during the experiment. They were focused on either rating a beverage or filling out a questionnaire as opposed to being focused on what they were eating…so again, your results might vary.

I applaud Reutner for being academically rigorous in pointing out these differences between her study and real life—but on the other hand, the red had such a huge effect in the study that it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t have some effect on our dinner tables.

So if you want to lose weight or if you want to help a loved one lose weight, why not try it? Get some red plates and give it some time—maybe a month—for the novelty to wear off, and then judge whether they are helping you. And while you’re at it, get smaller plates—size has also been shown to matter when it comes to quantity of food eaten.

Source: Leonie Reutner, MSc, researcher and lecturer, department of social and economic psychology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.

How to Master a New Skill Sunday, Feb 24 2013 

by Amy Gallo

 

We all want to be better at something. After all, self-improvement is necessary to getting ahead at work. But once you know what you want to be better at — be it public speaking, using social media, or analyzing data — how do you start? Of course, learning techniques will vary depending on the skill and the person, but there are some general rules you can follow.

What the Experts Say
Mastering new skills is not optional in today’s business environment. “In a fast-moving, competitive world, being able to learn new skills is one of the keys to success. It’s not enough to be smart — you need to always be getting smarter,” says Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of the HBR Single Nine Things Successful People Do Differently. Joseph Weintraub, a professor of management and organizational behavior at Babson College and coauthor of the book,The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business, agrees: “We need to constantly look for opportunities to stretch ourselves in ways that may not always feel comfortable at first. Continual improvement is necessary to get ahead.” Here are some principles to follow in your quest for self-improvement:

Check your readiness
When working on a new skill or competency, you need to ask yourself two things. First, is your goal attainable? “There are certain limits to what you can learn,” explains Weintraub. “For example, you may want to be a brain surgeon, but not have the eye-hand coordination required.” Second, how much time and energy can you give to the project? “It’s not like going to the pharmacy and getting a prescription filled,” says Weintraub. Self-improvement is hard work. Halvorson agrees: “Many people implicitly believe that if you have to work hard at something, it means you lack ability. This is rubbish.” Instead, recognize that learning a new skill takes extreme commitment. Unless your goal is attainable and you’re prepared to work hard, you won’t get very far.

Make sure it’s needed 
Weintraub suggests you also make sure the skill is relevant to your career, your organization, or both. You may be jazzed up about learning how to speak in front of large audiences, but does your manager value that? Unless you absolutely need the skill for your job, or for a future position, it’s unlikely you’ll get money for training or support from your manager. Gaining a new skill is an investment and you need to know upfront what the return will be.

Know how you learn best
Some learn best by looking at graphics or reading. Others would rather watch demonstrations or listen to things being explained. Still others need a “hands-on” experience. Halvorson says you can figure out your ideal learning style by looking back. “Reflect on some of your past learning experiences, and make a list of good ones and another list of bad ones,” she says. “What did the good, effective experiences have in common? How about the bad ones? Identifying common strands can help you determine the learning environment that works best for you.”

Get the right help
Eliciting support from others can greatly increase learning. Find someone you trust who has mastered the skill you’re trying to attain. And look beyond your immediate manager who has to evaluate you. Weintraub suggests you ask yourself: “Who in my organization, other than my boss, would notice my changes and give me honest feedback?” Then approach that person and say something like, “You are so comfortable with [the skill], something I’m not particularly good at. I’m really trying to work on that and would love to spend some time with you, learn from you, and get your feedback.” If you can’t find a mentor inside your company, look for people in your industry or from your network. “Ultimately, you want to go with the best teacher. If there is someone in your organization who is able and willing to provide quality mentoring, then great. If not, seek outside help,” says Halvorson.

Start small
Self-improvement can feel overwhelming. “You can’t take on everything. If you do, you’ll never do it,” says Weintraub. Instead, choose one or two skills to focus on at a time, and break that skill down into manageable goals. For example, if you’re trying to become more assertive, you might focus on speaking up more often in meetings by pushing yourself to talk within the first five minutes.

Reflect along the way
To move from experimentation to mastery, you need to reflect on what you are learning. Otherwise the new skill won’t stick. Halvorson and Weintraub both suggest talking to others. “Always share your goals with those individuals who can provide informational or emotional support along the way,” says Halvorson. “Even if that person doesn’t have the answer, he can help you and keep you honest about how much you’re improving,” says Weintraub. Talking about your progress helps you get valuable feedback, keeps you accountable, and cements the change.

Challenge yourself to teach it to others

One of the quickest ways to learn something new, and to practice it, is to teach others how to do it. So share what you learn with your team, your manager, or your co-workers. You can force yourself to do it by putting a “teaching” date on your calendar or agreeing to lead a formal training session a few months down the road. With objectives like those, your learning will be much more focused and practical.

Be patient
“Too often, we approach a new skill with the attitude that we should nail it right out of the gate,” says Halvorson. The reality is that it takes much longer. “It’s not going to happen overnight. It usually takes six months or more to develop a new skill,” says Weintraub. And it may take longer for others to see and appreciate it. “People around you will only notice 10% of every 100% change you make,” he says.

Principles to Remember

Do:

  • Select a skill that is valued by your organization and manager
  • Divide the skill up into smaller, manageable tasks
  • Reflect on what you’ve learned and what you still want to accomplish

 

Don’t:

  • Try to learn in a vacuum — ask others for guidance and feedback
  • Rely solely on your boss for advice — you may want to involve someone who isn’t responsible for evaluating you
  • Assume it’s going to happen overnight — it usually takes at least six months to develop a new skill

 

Case study #1: Learn by trial and error
Jaime Petkanics was a basic Excel user when she started her first job out of college. As a recruiter for JP Morgan, data analysis wasn’t one of the required skills. However, a few months in, she was asked to build an Excel model that would track and report the success rates of campus recruiting efforts. “I was totally out of my element,” she admits. “Excel is not a core part of a recruiter’s job. I was focused on hiring people — that’s what I was being measured on.” But she had an interest in analysis (that’s why she chose to do recruiting at an investment bank), and wanted to prove herself as a newcomer.

She started by learning as much as possible on her own. She found tutorials on Google, and watched instructional videos on YouTube. But she still struggled. “When I got stuck, I would ask bankers. They build models every day so I was able to leverage my connections and find people who had the right skills,” she says. Over the course of two weeks, Jaime developed the model. “I didn’t get it perfect the first time. There were mistakes in the formulas and people found errors,” she says. But she continued to refine it, and because of her success, others asked her to take on similar projects. “Once people knew that I could pull data together quickly — and make sense of it — I started to get a lot of requests.”

She admits this trial- and-error approach wasn’t the most effective way to learn Excel but given the immediacy of the need, it was necessary. By the time she left the job almost three years later, Excel and data analytics were strengths that helped her land her next position.

Case study #2: Experiment with different approaches
Safia Syed, a regional finance controller at a global outsourcing company, noticed that any time she suggested an improvement to a financial or IT system, colleagues resisted. Her ideas went through numerous rounds of review and were heavily questioned. She decided that her communication style was hindering her, and needed to be changed. “I was given feedback a few times that I was too opinionated,” she says.

Safia started by reading books about how to persuade people effectively and joined Toastmasters, a non-profit educational organization. Through that program, she learned how to connect with stakeholders and present ideas in a more appealing way. Also, coincidentally during the same time, the president of Safia’s company started interviewing key employees to better understand what they did or did not like about their jobs. This provided Safia with a perfect opportunity. She explained her desire to see her ideas have more impact and the boss advised her to focus less on why something needed to be changed and more on how it could happen, including what she could do to make sure it did.

Safia realized she had been assuming that her colleagues understood what the problems were and how to fix them. She had been highlighting what needed to be done, and leaving it at that. With her new understanding in hand, she was able to try a different approach: she mapped out a process and pointed to the root causes. This helped her audience understand where they could make changes and how exactly she could help.

Safia has noticed a big difference in how colleagues respond to her suggestions: they are now more open to hearing them, and willing to work with her to implement them.

Source: Harvard Business Review Blogs

Easy Way to Relieve Pain Saturday, Feb 23 2013 

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

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If you suffer from some type of chronic pain and tend to get anxious about it (or if you tend to be an anxious person in general), you’ve probably been told umpteen times by well-meaning friends, “Just try to not think about the pain”…and of course, that’s easier said than done!

But I do have good news for you today—scientists at the Pain Research Center at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City have learned something new about a way that people can stop thinking about their pain…interestingly, this strategy works best for people who tend to be anxious or nervous!

To find out more about this intriguing discovery, I called David H. Bradshaw, PhD, who works in the department of anesthesiology at the center. His study was published in the December 2011 issue of The Journal of Pain.

PAIN, PAIN GO AWAY

For his study, Dr. Bradshaw gathered 143 men and women, ages 18 to 55, who were healthy and free of chronic pain. Participants were given questionnaires that assessed how much general anxiety they had. Then they went through three phases of the experiment. During one phase, they sat still while, at random times, they were given fingertip shocks to produce pain. Researchers chose to shock the participants rather than study people with chronic pain, because it made the data easier to measure and control. During another phase, participants got the random shocks while individually performing an “easy” task. The easy task was listening to a familiar melody (for instance, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) and shouting “bad” when they heard a wrong note. During a third phase, they got the random shocks while individually performing a “hard” task. The hard task was similar to the easy task—but the researchers made the wrong notes more subtle and therefore more difficult to detect. How much each participant was “aroused” (or bothered) by the painful shocks was assessed by measuring changes in pupil dilation, palm sweatiness and electrical activity in the brain. Here’s what the researchers found…

Finding #1: This first discovery was not incredibly surprising. As you would expect, the more difficult the task that the participants were engaged in, the less they felt the pain.

Finding #2: The second discovery was much more interesting. Participants who had shown themselves to be anxious types on the general anxiety questionnaire and who performed the tasks well (signaling greater engagement) experienced the least amount of pain during the experiment—less pain, even, than participants who tended to have relaxed, worry-free personalities and performed the task well.

That’s the opposite of what was expected. And that’s why this study is so remarkable—it suggests that by becoming fully engaged in a task, some of the people who need pain relief the most can finally get it.

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT

Of course, the type of task that the study participants performed isn’t something that you can easily replicate at home, but Dr. Bradshaw said there are other, similar ways that you can intensely engage your mind to relieve your pain. For example, if you want to make it less likely that your sore neck or bad back is going to bother you, forget passive activities such as watching TV. Even reading a book, while it isn’t passive mentally, is usually not very challenging—so most books aren’t likely to provide the kind of immersion that will really beat your pain.

More likely to help, Dr. Bradshaw said, are virtual-reality video games (the kind where you take on the role of a character onscreen, navigate your way through different virtual environments and make decisions along the way). In fact, research has shown that even burn patients have less pain when they play such games. Or if you’re listening to music, Dr. Bradshaw said, you can engage with it by singing or tapping along with your foot—because it forces you to pay closer attention to the rhythm, melody and lyrics. Another strategy you could try anywhere—even at work, where you can’t exactly sing along to music or play video games—is to breathe deeply, said Dr. Bradshaw. Inhale for 10 seconds, exhale for 10 seconds, and repeat this for at least a few minutes, focusing your mind on your breath and nothing else.

It is interesting to realize that the mind has so much power over our pain. Any pain reduction due to distraction is likely to be only temporary…but even brief relief is better than no relief. So when you are in pain, before you pop a pill, see if getting immersed in something doesn’t take the edge off—and if you are a worrywart, try this technique with confidence!

Source: David H. Bradshaw, PhD, research assistant professor, department of anesthesiology, Pain Research Center, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

6 ways — beyond ‘fixing’ the employees — to improve productivity Friday, Feb 22 2013 

by Mark Royal

When productivity dips, it seems logical to blame the employees for not engaging in the job. But that might not be what’s going on.
Even capable employees who say they’ve never worked for a better company and feel optimistic about what they can achieve won’t perform at their peak if there’s something standing between them and their success.
The problem: Identifying what that “something” is that’s sapping productivity—and getting rid of it.
The solution: Stop blaming the employee and start correcting conditions in the workplace that are preventing even your brightest stars from shining.

Here are six productivity factors to examine:
1. Performance management. We’re all pretty good at handing out work, but we’re not so great at helping employees prioritize tasks or at pulling away nonessential work.
Tip: Tell pressured employees which tasks are the most critical, have the greatest impact on the organization, should be done first or absolutely must be done. Don’t make them struggle to determine that on their own.
2. Authority and empowerment. If you think you’re empowering your employees by stepping completely out of their way, you could be wrong. The absence of boundaries is not empowering; it’s limiting. Employees who don’t understand how far their authority reaches will be fearful of overstepping it.
Tip: Specifically designate the level of influence each employee may have. That way, employees can make decisions without the fear of going too far.
3. Work structure/processes. They’re meant to help employees accomplish their routine work as efficiently as possible. But as business conditions change, those work processes might not work anymore.
Tip: As conditions, products and goals change, update your organization’s work processes—and constantly train em¬-ployees so they know how to put those changes into practice.

4. Resources. Managers might believe there’s nothing they can do to increase the resources available to their em¬-ployees. And while their hands might be tied on the size of the budget or the staff, there’s plenty of leeway elsewhere.

Tips: Fill staff vacancies as soon as possible so you make use of all of your allocated positions. Cross-train employees so they can cover for each other.
Evaluate whether you have the right people on your team. Employees who don’t have the skills, attitude or work ethic to move the company forward can drain the productivity of their highly motivated co-workers.
5. Training. Organizations tend to emphasize training for new hires and those who are changing roles. Too often, they overlook the value of ongoing training for all em¬¬ployees. Your organization is changing and evolving—fast. Without training, employees will not learn the new skills they need to keep up with changing work demands.
Tip: Consider the idea that the skills and knowledge that made an employee successful in the past might not be what makes him or her successful today.
6. Collaboration. It might seem like it’s all a manager can do to meet his or her own department’s goals. It’s hard to focus on bigger, companywide needs or helping another team.
But hunkering down and focusing only on the goals of your own team robs the organization of the effort it needs to reach its broader objectives.
Tip: Encourage your organization’s leaders and managers to wear their “enterprise” hats and to keep a collaborative perspective.
We’re all demanding that our employees do more with less. So they hear: “We need you to work harder, and we’re also giving you fewer resources.”

Wouldn’t that sap your productivity? Back away from the message of doing more with less.

Try a more proactive positive approach: To sustain the new level of performance over time, optimize your work environment. Take advantage of the motivation levels you already have by creating a work environment that enables those motivated employees to work.

Mark Royal is senior principal for Hay Group and co-author of The Enemy of Engagement: Put an End to Workplace Frustration—and Get the Most from Your Employees. Contact him at mark.royal@haygroup.com.

The Biggest Health Mistake Kids Make Thursday, Feb 21 2013 

by Carole Jackson>, Bottom Line Health

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We all know that we should encourage our kids and grandkids to exercise because it boosts both their physical and mental health, but new research reveals that there’s a certain age at which the amount of physical activity that kids do tends to drop off the most.

And at that particular time in their lives, a few extra reminders wouldn’t hurt.

To learn more about exactly when—and why—this drop-off appears, I called study author Matthew Kwan, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, whose report was published in January 2012 in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

THE SEDENTARY SLIDE

In one study, starting at ages 12 to 15, 683 Canadian teens were followed over 12 years and interviewed every two years. Each time, Dr. Kwan and his colleagues assessed how much physical activity the teens had done over the previous three months. Physical activity was defined as any mild, moderate or vigorous leisure activities—from bowling to soccer to marathon running—but did not account for activities such as walking to school.

The results: Over the course of the 12-year period, the amount of physical activity among girls declined, on average, by 17%, while physical activity among boys declined by 30% on average. Dr. Kwan said that it’s important to note that boys were more active to begin with at around ages 12 to 15, so that might explain why their decline was steeper.

Another study of Dr. Kwan’s looked at when the steepest declines within that time period tend to occur. He looked at boys and girls, both those who went to college and those who didn’t. He found that in three of the four groups, the steepest decline took place around the age of 18, as the girls and boys were finishing high school. Among girls who went to college, there was a decline in their exercise around that age, but it wasn’t quite as steep as that of the other groups—probably because they had had another steep decline in middle school.

WHY KIDS QUIT MOVING

So what’s so special about the age of 18? I have to admit that I was surprised by the results, since many college kids have so much free time! I would have guessed that the largest drop would have been seen right after college, when young adults enter the workforce, often in sedentary jobs, and start to take on many more of life’s responsibilities. But the results seemed more logical when Dr. Kwan shared the following insights…

The transition from high school to college usually means a big drop-off in the number of organized sports that students participate in. Even great high school athletes can’t always compete at the college level—either because they aren’t quite good enough or can’t take on the greater time commitment. Less glamorous “club sports” in college may not seem that appealing… so it’s all too easy for physical laziness to set in and for kids to say “I’m done with the sport.”

There are more distractions at college…and there is much more freedom to participate in unwholesome activities. For example, besides tracking physical activity, the researchers also asked the kids about how often they smoked and drank alcohol—and it’s no shock that those behaviors tended to peak during the college years. And if smoking and drinking aren’t anti-exercises, I don’t know what is!

HOW TO KEEP A SPROUT FROM BECOMING A POTATO

Is it all hopeless, or can we help our kids and grandkids keep up their health by keeping up their exercise? Well, Dr. Kwan said, if you have a bit of money to spend on this, indulge your older kid’s interest in, say, martial arts or dance by offering to spring for classes after he or she graduates high school. In many cases, that could be the best replacement for secondary-school sports. But spending isn’t the only answer, and not even the best answer. “There’s a lot of evidence that the more active parents are, the more likely their kids will be active,” Dr. Kwan told me. So, yes, if you really care about this, you should be a positive role model. Stay active yourself…make sure your kid knows that you are…and when your college kid is home on break, grab those hiking boots or tennis racquets and head out there together.

Source: Matthew Kwan, PhD, postdoctoral fellow, department of family medicine, Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada.

3 smart ways to become indispensable Wednesday, Feb 20 2013 

Just doing your job isn’t enough these days. (Workplace superstars have always known that.)

“With the reality of a tight employment market, adding value beyond your job description is a must for everybody,” says Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone.

He recently offered a few tips on his blog for being indispensable in your workplace:

1. Ask seemingly stupid questions. “If you ask questions that are like no other, you get results that are unlike any that the world has seen,” Ferrazzi says.

2. Develop a niche. “Think of several areas where your company or department underperforms and choose to focus on the one area that is least attended to,” he says.

3. Know the new technology. “You don’t need to be a ‘techno geek,’” he says, but you do need to understand how technology could be used to help you add value.

Ferrazzi says, “The great thing about this strategy is that you’re not only creating job security. You’re developing skills and expertise that will nourish your career, wherever you take it.”

Take Control of Your Own Training

If there’s one thing employees have learned from the recession, it is not to rely on the bosses to keep their skills sharp. Fortunately, there are many more ways to stretch your skills.

• Enroll in online webinars or self-directed classes. Many cater to the admin profession, such as those offered by Business Management Daily, publisher of Administrative Pro­fessional Today, and IAAP-hq.org. Others, like Knowledgewebb.net, can help build technical skills.

• Take the boot camp approach. Target a specific skill set you want to bolster, then enroll in certificate coursework at a local university.

Example: Cristina Planas was seven years into her career when she saw a need to sharpen her advanced writing skills. She tracked down a nondegree course at the University of Miami; her employer agreed to pay a portion of the tuition and let her leave work slightly early once a week.

• Not sure what skills you need? Do research using social-media tools. Sharlyn Lauby, president of ITM Group Inc., a training consultancy, suggests joining online groups and asking questions, such as, “What do you think are the three skills people are looking for in our field?”

Source: by the writers of Business Management Daily

 

Have More Fun in Bed! All It Takes Is Some Sexual Intelligence… Tuesday, Feb 19 2013 

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

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Are you sexually satisfied? For so many people, sex is more a source of anxiety than pleasure. Instead of bringing them closer to their partners, sex often makes them feel inadequate, perhaps due to concerns about their aging bodies. They look back nostalgically to a time when sex was satisfying and give a sigh, thinking that it’s just something else you lose as the years pass.

But things could be very different. What really helps is a bit of intelligence—sexual intelligence.

Here’s what that means…

KEEPING UP WITH CHANGE

On TV and the Internet and in magazines and movies, we are surrounded by youthful, sexy people. Sex is portrayed as mind-blowing, athletic and amazing. We’re conditioned to think that’s the way all sex is supposed to be.

But as we grow older, our bodies—and our lives—change. Also, factors such as medication use, chronic pain, familiarity with your partner and accumulated resentments can reduce libido during this phase of life.

So it makes sense that sex will be different during middle age and beyond. It may be difficult to adjust expectations, but the way to change your sex life is to change your ideasabout sex.

SEXUAL STATIC

It’s a given that most people want pleasure and closeness from sex. But many focus on other things altogether…

How am I doing? It is very easy to equate sex with performance. This can mean constant self-evaluation. Is my erection as firm as it should be? Will it last? Am I attractive or skillful enough?

Is this normal? People may think, I like this, but is it morally acceptable? Unlike most activities they do for enjoyment, they may worry that their tastes in sex show them to be bad or wrong.

With all these anxieties, how much pleasure and closeness are people likely to experience when having sex?

AN INTELLIGENT SOLUTION

To have satisfying sexual experiences, you don’t need to be a hotshot in bed. You need a combination of emotional skills and physical awareness, both of which are essential to sexual intelligence.

Partners must be patient and sensitive to each other’s feelings and keep any disappointment in perspective.

Physical awareness includes understanding how your own body and your partner’s body have changed over time. What are your bodies still capable of doing, and what can’t they do anymore? It means knowing what makes you and your partner feel good—where you both like to be touched, how you both enjoy being kissed, what aids are preferred. Sexual intelligence means accommodating these preferences, whenever possible, with good humor.

Important: Remember that emotional skills and physical awareness typically are more central to good sex than sexual technique.

BE IN THE MOMENT

Many people get into the habit of having sex while thinking about something else entirely. This undermines pleasure and intimacy.

Much better: Focus on the physical sensations. What specifically are you feeling in your arms, legs, genitals, fingertips? What do you smell and taste?

Soak up the emotional experience, too. Feel the pleasure, relaxation, excitement and fun. Also feel the closeness to your partner. If you’re anxious, worried or rushed, notice that, too, but don’t judge or analyze the feeling then. Set it aside to think about or talk about later. Bringing your attention back to the moment is helpful when you start to worry about your performance or appearance or what your partner is thinking. More self-acceptance and less self-criticism often enhances libido.

DON’T BE SHY

For better communication, you must view the person you have sex with as a partnerrather than as a critic or judge. Since this person is your partner, you shouldn’t feel reluctant to ask for what you would like in bed. Even better: Show your partner how you would like to be touched. And if something feels good, say so (and do it with a whisper—it’s sexier).

Take time to discuss your sexual relationship. It may feel awkward at first, but talking about performance anxiety is the best way to get past it. Also, this is the time to discuss with your partner anything new that you would like to try. And, if there is anything that you definitely don’t want to do again, make this clear. During this discussion, work out details, such as preferred time for sex (some people like the morning, others the night), place and even room temperature. Since initiating sex is a problem for many couples, discuss signals to use when one of you could be in the mood.

WHAT IS SEX, ANYWAY?

Most people consider “sex” to be intercourse. This thinking is unfortunate. There are drawbacks to intercourse that can make it inconvenient, ill-advised or even impossible. It requires an erect penis and lubricated vagina…it’s difficult for people with various physical problems…chronic pain can make it uncomfortable…and it’s not an effective way to have an orgasm for many women.

Speaking of orgasms—they probably get a good deal more attention than they merit. An orgasm is quite pleasant, but it lasts maybe five seconds during a sexual encounter that might be 20 minutes or more.

Consider that sex can be satisfying without intercourse and without orgasm. A broader range of physically and emotionally gratifying activities—oral sex, manual stimulation of body parts you may have ignored, watching each other masturbate, etc.—are all options.

SIMPLE QUESTIONS TO ASK

In fact, you can think of sex in the same way you would think of other things you do with your partner. Was it enjoyable? Did you feel close to each other? How can you make it even better next time? In this spirit, you’re less likely to worry about success or failure and more likely to appreciate the rich range of experiences sex has to offer.

A couple should consider seeing a sex therapist if either or both have trouble discussing a sexual issue. To find a sex therapist, check with your doctor or consult the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists, www.aasect.org.

Source: Marty Klein, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist in Palo Alto, California. He is the author of seven books, including most recently Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex and How to Get It(HarperOne). www.MartyKlein.com

Block inadvertent bias from creeping into reviews Monday, Feb 18 2013 

by  on APRIL 16, 2012 12:00PM
in HR MANAGEMENT,HUMAN RESOURCES,LEADERS & MANAGERS,PERFORMANCE REVIEW

When drafting performance reviews, every manager aims to be fair and consistent. But research shows that, too often, a concept known as “rater bias” can subtly—and inadvertently—influence a manager’s ratings.

This can result in either artificially low or artificially high ratings of employees. Both can discourage employees, hurt morale … and trigger legal liability.

Employees often use performance reviews as ammunition in lawsuits claiming job discrimination based on some “protected” characteristic (race, sex, age, religion or disability status). Courts will pounce on any inconsistent or unrealistic ratings they see in reviews.

When drafting performance reviews, every manager aims to be fair and consistent. But research shows that, too often, a concept known as “rater bias” can subtly—and inadvertently—influence a manager’s ratings.

This can result in either artificially low or artificially high ratings of employees. Both can discourage employees, hurt morale … and trigger legal liability.

Employees often use performance reviews as ammunition in lawsuits claiming job discrimination based on some “protected” characteristic (race, sex, age, religion or disability status). Courts will pounce on any inconsistent or unrealistic ratings they see in reviews.

Here are the six most common types of bias to be aware of when drafting reviews or other types of feedback:

1. Recency bias

Research shows that managers’ reviews typically put more weight on performance and behavior that occurred most recently. If you rely solely on your memory to evaluate performance, you’re making the appraisal more difficult than necessary—and less effective.

To avoid this type of bias, institute a simple recording system to document employees’ performance and behaviors—both good and bad. This doesn’t need to be sophisticated. Simple notes in a folder or regular e-mails into an Outlook folder will do. Include concrete examples of positive and negative actions.

Focus on recent actions only if they represent a significant decline or improvement. But consider everything employees have done during the entire evaluation period.

2. Leniency and strictness bias

For reasons they may not recognize, some managers offer exceptionally high ratings across the board, even for marginal employees. Maybe they want to avoid confrontations with employees.

On the flip side, some managers are excessively strict, refusing to hand out great reviews, even to great employees.

In both cases, overly strict and overly lenient ratings do a disservice to the employee and open the organization to legal trouble.

Periodically review evaluation guidelines. Ask yourself if you have any preconceived notions about handing out the highest and lowest scores. Ask HR or a fellow manager to review your ratings.

3. The ‘halo effect’

The halo effect occurs when a manager rates an employee’s performance in several areas based on his or her performance in one area.

For example, someone who contributes excellent ideas but performs poorly or average in other duties may receive a good overall evaluation. Or a cocky high performer may receive lower than deserved ratings in several areas because of his attitude. Don’t generalize based on performance in one area.

4. Central tendency bias

This involves managers who tend to rate employees in the middle of evaluation scales—never on either end of the “great” to “poor” scale.

Evaluations work best when managers use all ratings levels, when warranted, to portray strengths and weaknesses.

Remember that most employees perform better in some areas than others. And most departments have poor, average and excellent performers.

5. Compare/contrast bias

Don’t base evaluations on comparisons with co-workers.

When you’ve got a star performer on a team, it’s common to want to compare every other player to that person. But it’s not fair. Instead, rate each person’s performance individually according to the organization’s predetermined performance criteria.

6. Length of employment bias

Studies have also demonstrated that some managers dish out reviews due, in part, to the employees’ length of employment. The longer the tenure, the better the review. Don’t assume that experience automatically equals good performance. Evaluate senior employees as objectively as new hires.

The bottom line: Remember that it’s natural for managers to have different personal feelings about each employee—and have preconceived notions about their performance. But your goal is to separate those personal views about employees from their actual performance, and to offer the most objective and consistent feedback possible.

Phrases never to use during performance reviews

“You’re wrong.” If an employee tries to explain why her job rating should have been higher, don’t slap back with a Trump-like, “You’re wrong.” That will only trigger anger and more confrontation. Instead, turn back to your documented facts of the employee’s performance and say, “I know you disagree, but I believe this evaluation accurately reflects your performance.”

“You did a great job but … ” Whatever comes after the “but” negates the preceding compliment. Don’t directly connect praise with constructive criticism. Instead say, “On the other hand, you can do even better by making these improvements.” Then, cite them specifically.

“I understand.” This phrase can excuse unacceptable performance or behavior by conveying empathy. Avoid it.

“Your position here is solid as long as you keep up the good work.” You may intend such statements to encourage good performance, but they’re legally dangerous because they imply an employment contract that a court could find binding. That limits the organization’s ability to terminate the person if his or her performance declines.

Try This to Keep Your Honey Faithful Sunday, Feb 17 2013 

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

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Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you’re in a committed relationship, then there’s a good chance that you don’t want your partner to be lured away from you by another person.

And as it turns out, “chemistry” is important to your relationship in more ways than one.

In fact, the secret to fidelity involves making your partner’s body produce a “love” hormone called oxytocin, a new German study suggests.

You’ve probably heard of oxytocin—women produce it, for example, during certain activities such as childbirth and breast-feeding, and it makes them feel more bonded and attached to their children.

But both sexes produce the hormone—and there are various ways to keep it flowing…

THE FIDELITY HORMONE

For the study, researchers gathered single heterosexual men and heterosexual men who were in committed relationships. Half of each group was given a nasal spray containing oxytocin and the other half was given a placebo nasal spray. About 45 minutes later, each of the men was asked to stand in front of an attractive female stranger.

Researchers wanted to measure how much distance the men kept from the women, because prior studies have found that the less personal space you keep between yourself and a person of the opposite sex, the closer you feel to that person—a small gap signals intimacy and possibly even romantic interest.

Results: Men in relationships who were given the oxytocin stood farther away from the women than the men in relationships who were given the placebo. Among the single men, the oxytocin had no effect. Then researchers performed a similar experiment, except instead of having each male participant stand in front of a woman, each participant was told to stand in front of a man. In that experiment, the oxytocin had no effect on anyone.

In other words, the main finding was that oxytocin made men in committed relationships stand farther away from attractive women they didn’t know. And what can we take away from that? Well, according to the researchers, it implies that these men may have been signaling to the woman they were not romantically interested. Now, the researchers can’t say that oxytocin will necessarily make men 100% faithful to their partners, of course, but they argue that the less often committed men signal romantic interest through body language, the less likely they are to stray, said the study’s lead author, Dirk Scheele, MSc and doctoral candidate. Though this study involved only male participants, Scheele told me that the hormone works similarly in both genders, so oxytocin may help prevent women from cheating on their partners, too.

GIVE YOUR PARTNER AN OXY BOOST

If you want to boost your partner’s oxytocin levels, you could go buy a bottle of oxytocin nasal spray online on a site such as Amazon.com. But increasing oxytocin exogenously(ingesting more to increase your body’s supply), such as through a nasal spray, hasn’t been studied in the long term. We don’t know what dosage would be best…or how long its effects may last…or whether it will truly make a partner faithful….or what the long-term side effects may be…and the quality and purity of products on the market is hard to determine.

So in all honesty, would you really ask your partner to use such a spray?

So, in the hope of preventing any adulterous impulses, there are other things that you and your partner can do that will boost your partner’s oxytocin levels endogenously(naturally). And the best part is that they’re all pleasurable, and you may boost your own levels of oxytocin in the process. Here is what you can do with your partner…

Have sex often. Oxytocin is released during orgasm, and orgasm boosts oxytocin more than anything else.

Cuddle often. Gentle, loving physical contact, such as cuddling, kissing, hugging or receiving a massage, can all increase oxytocin levels. Even just holding hands while you walk or putting your arm around the other person does it, too.

Share your feelings. Telling your partner that you love him or her will make your partner feel warm and fuzzy inside, which raises oxytocin levels. A small act of kindness, such as a sweet e-mail or text that says “thinking of you” also can do the trick.

Watch an emotional movie together. Renting a romantic film that’s emotionally compelling makes oxytocin surge because you empathize with the characters and feel the love that they feel. Research shows that this one simple action makes oxytocin spike 47%. (Do this while cuddling for a double whammy of oxytocin!)

Go karaoke singing. Believe it or not, belting out a duet with your partner can cause oxytocin levels to elevate—it’s because you’re aware of feeling joy simultaneously, which connects you more deeply.

Dance as a pair. Dancing with your partner in a way that you hold each other closely most of the time and move in step with each other is an oxytocin booster—in fact, research shows that one night of dancing makes the body produce 11% more oxytocin.

Get scared together. Doing something thrilling together, such as going white-water rafting or even riding a roller coaster, may help bond you even more and increase oxytocin because an experience that frightens you a little and triggers an adrenaline rush tends to make you cling to the person next to you a little more, both emotionally and physically. There’s a shared feeling of “We’re in this together, and we’re going to make it through.”

Source: Dirk Scheele, MSc, doctoral candidate, department of psychiatry, Neuromodulation of Emotion (NEMO) Research Group, University of Bonn, Germany. His study was published in The Journal of Neuroscience.

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