I Tried Underwater Rock Running, the Endurance Workout Surfers Swear By

I’ve always been in awe of surfers. As someone who is afraid of the ocean and also extremely clumsy, it’s not a sport I ever thought about trying.

I have taken a total of two surf classes in my life: One when I was 14 and one this month. Both times, in Oahu. And while each lesson reinforced that surfing is hard, it wasn’t until I tried underwater rock running—an endurance staple for surfers, apparently—that I truly understood the immense level of athleticism and mental strength the sport requires.

For anyone who hasn’t seen Blue Crush, underwater rock running is exactly what it sounds like: You pick up a heavy rock and then run along the ocean floor. I tried rock running on the North Shore of Oahu, where Red Bull flew me out to watch the epic surfing that happens at the Volcom Pipe Pro. The contest is held at the world-famous Banzai Pipeline, a reef break that produces epically large and dangerous waves on the North Shore of Oahu. (You can check out footage from the competition on Red Bull TV to get an idea.) On the trip, we had a few opportunities to do as the pro surfers do. We took a surf lesson and did a strength workout that was similar to what the Red Bull-sponsored surfers do to train. Both were challenging, but I could keep up. Rock running, on the other hand, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

First, here’s a little background on why surfers rock run in the first place.

It’s hard to find specifics online about the origin of underwater rock running, but it’s a tradition that people in Hawaii talk about as if everyone knows it’s a thing. Pro surfer Ha’a Keaulana says she rock runs as part of her training; her father, Brian Keaulana, a renowned big wave surfer, lifeguard, and Hollywood stunt coordinator, has often been credited with pioneering the training technique.

Kirk Ziegler, a North Shore lifeguard, tells SELF that, to his knowledge, rock running became popular around the 90s as a way for surfers to simulate (and train for) the stress of being held underwater during a wipeout.

Certified trainer Samantha Campbell, C.S.C.S., who trains the Red Bull big wave surfers, says that honing the ability to hold one’s breath is an important part of surfers’ training. Two of the main ways they train this skill are by practicing the static hold (also referred to as “static apnea”), which involves holding your breath underwater for as long as you can while staying still, and practicing the high heart rate hold, which involves holding your breath underwater when your body is being put under stress and your heart rate is elevated. Rock running falls into the latter category.

“Most of our athletes take a freedive course to learn breathe-ups (how to properly take in air above water to be able to efficiently hold your breath), lung stretches, and how to safely increase static hold time,” says Campbell. “During the season, most of our big wave surfers practice static holds one time per week before breakfast, and we incorporate high heart rate holds into workouts to simulate a high-intensity hold-down with minimal chance for breathe-up.” A high-intensity hold-down IRL would be when a big wave surfer wipes out or is otherwise being held underwater by a massive wave and needs to hold their breath as they fight to get out of the situation.

“Here in Hawaii, we use rock runs during off-season and preseason conditioning when the waves are flat,” Campbell says.

Nick Gruen / Red Bull

Here’s Ziegler trying to give me tips to be able to actually pick the rock up off the ground.

As someone who is in pretty good shape, I thought that rock running would be a breeze. I was very wrong.

Rock running is a good example of functional training, or training that simulates a real-life movement pattern. It’s really just picking up something heavy and walking with it, which is also known as a carry exercise. I figured I had this in the bag.

Except, lifting an odd-shaped boulder is a lot different than lifting a kettlebell or medicine ball. I thought the water would make it easier; maybe it did, but I still really struggled to squat down and pick up the boulder properly. The thing is, you have to get your feet firmly planted on the ocean floor, and then squat down and pick up the rock with both hands, like you’re deadlifting it from the ground. My biggest problem was that I wasn’t able to sink down to the bottom in order to do that. I kept taking a huge breath of air beforehand, which Ziegler told me was just going to make me more buoyant and be counterproductive. But without that air, I felt unprepared to dip underwater and lift a heavy (probably about 40 or so pounds) rock up into my arms.

So, we resorted to Ziegler simply handing me the rock above water, which effectively got me to sink to the bottom.

Once my feet were on the ground, I started to run. Walk is probably a more accurate description, to be honest. Since the rock was unwieldy, I was trying to keep it in my arms without scraping myself, while also focusing on holding it high enough to make room between the rock and my legs so I wouldn’t bang my knee into the rock with each step.

I only lasted for about five or six seconds underwater at a time. While I didn’t feel any sort of burning sensation in my muscles, I did feel completely trapped and like I was losing my breath a lot quicker than if I were to just dip underwater and hold my breath. Each time I resurfaced, I was completely out of breath and gasping for air.

The ultimate goal of doing breath hold training regularly is to not feel that sort of frantic breathlessness.

By practicing high heart rate breath holds, you can train yourself to keep your heart rate as low as possible during a high-stress situation so that you can conserve oxygen, Campbell says. Like, for example, when you wipe out or are forced underwater by a humongous wave. “We find that our athletes that practice rock running have an easier time controlling their heart rate and staying relaxed during stressful situations underwater or on land,” Campbell adds.

Nick Gruen / Red Bull

Throwing on a long-sleeve shirt helped me hold the rock without scraping my skin. Still clearly struggling, though.

It also helps train your mental strength and endurance, which you need when you’re trapped underwater.

Rock running helps you alter your physiology, but, just as importantly, it also builds mental fortitude and confidence. Basically, you’re training yourself to resist the urge to breathe, “allowing for longer and longer holds,” says Campbell. (Over time, athletes work to increase how long they can hold their breath comfortably, ideally working up to a few minutes.) “With a tangible goal of getting from point A to point B or trying to go faster than your opponent, your brain learns to ignore the discomfort and push through to finish the job.”

This was really challenging for me. I didn’t feel confident, and I didn’t know how to resist the urge to want to breathe. After all, I was just doing one isolated session of high-intensity breath hold training. Feeling trapped underwater is uncomfortable, and I certainly don’t have the skills or physical adaptations to overcome that instinct to panic.

Most of us can probably hold our breath for longer than we may think, Ziegler says, “but our mind becomes too stressed with the belief that we need air immediately. Rock running helps you [deal with that].”

Rock running made me admire the sport of surfing even more than I did before.

I felt kind of defeated during my rock running session, but I didn’t want to get out of the water until I finally was able to pick the rock up off the ground without help. I did it eventually, but then only lasted for a few seconds underwater, since I skipped taking a very deep breath of air before.

I wasn’t good at rock running, but that’s normal. Ziegler reassures me that anyone’s first few times rock running will be short. “With every attempt underwater you run farther and farther because your body becomes more comfortable,” he says.

I’ll likely never rock run enough to actually improve my breath-holding abilities, but the experience gave me an even greater appreciation for the sport of surfing and the impressive athletes who do it, especially the ones braving the intimidating waves at Pipeline. Maybe I’ll add a third or fourth surf lesson to my resume one day, but I’m more than happy to leave the epic big wave adventures to the pros.

Tracking food leads to losing pounds

Without following a particular diet, overweight people who tracked daily food consumption using a free smartphone app lost a significant amount of weight in a new Duke University study.

The results were achieved using automated, free tools, rather than expensive in-person interventions, suggesting a possible low-cost route to effective weight loss.

“Free and low-cost weight loss apps have changed the ways that Americans manage their weight,” said Gary Bennett, a Duke psychology professor and co-author of the paper. “However, we knew little about whether these tools worked very well on their own. We’ve shown that commercial smartphone apps can be a helpful way to get started with weight loss.”

The new paper appears online in the open-access journal JMIR mHealth and uHealth.

The results surprised Michele Lanpher Patel, who conducted the research along with Bennett while completing her doctorate in psychology at Duke. Patel is now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

“We wanted to study a lower-intensity treatment for weight loss whereby people could join from the comfort of their home,” Patel said. “But we were not sure how much weight people would lose with this type of remote treatment. Merging behavioral science principles with technology turned out to be successful.

“Not everyone wants or has time for a high-intensity weight-loss treatment,” Patel said. “So it’s important to create alternative strategies that can accommodate these people. Digital health approaches have potential to fill this need.”

The researchers used a free app where dieters can record their food intake and weight. They then divided the 105 study participants, who were between 21 and 65 years old, into three groups in a randomized controlled trial.

Participants were not instructed to follow a particular diet, but instead were given broad advice on healthy eating, and were asked to simply monitor what they ate.

The first group tracked what they ate every day for three months. A second group tracked their weight for a month, then began logging food intake as well. That group also received emails with tailored feedback, weekly lessons on nutrition and behavior change, and action plans describing how to implement the weekly lesson.

The third group recorded both their weight and food intake for all three months, using the same app as the first two groups. They also received weekly lessons, action plans and feedback. For instance, weekly nutrition lessons included tips on topics such as reducing sugary foods and portion control.

Three months after the study began, participants in all three groups had lost clinically significant amounts of weight. Those who only tracked what they ate lost about 5 pounds on average. People in the second group lost about 6 pounds on average.

The final group — those who recorded their weight and their food intake for all 12 weeks, and received weekly lessons, action plans and feedback — fared only slightly better at 3 months, losing just over 6 pounds on average.

However, participants in that group kept the weight off longer. At six months, people in the third group had lost nearly 7 pounds on average.

Compliance was key. Successful participants didn’t just say they would keep a food log; they actually did it. And in all three groups, those who were most diligent in tracking each day lost the most weight. By contrast, past research has shown that people often start with a goal of recording their food intake, but fail to continue over time.

Researchers suspect two factors helped participants follow through on their weight-loss goals. First, researchers helped participants set specific goals, including tailored calorie targets, and losing 5 percent of their initial body weight. Second, the dieters received automatic in-app reminders to log their meals each day.

“We have very strong evidence that consistent tracking — particularly of diet, but also one’s weight — is an essential element of successful weight loss,” Bennett said. “Consumers should look for apps that make it easy for them to track on a consistent basis.”

The study made use of a free, commercially available app called MyFitnessPal. However, similar results presumably could be achieved using another diet tracker, the researchers said.

The key is compliance. In all three groups, those who were most diligent in tracking — those who stepped on the scale or recorded what they ate on more days — lost the most weight.

The research was supported by grants from the American Psychological Association and the Duke Interdisciplinary Behavioral Research Center, and by the Aleane Webb Dissertation Research Award from the Graduate School at Duke University.

Study of singing mice suggests how mammalian brain achieves conversation

By studying the songs of mice from the cloud forests of Costa Rica, researchers have discovered a brain circuit that may enable the high-speed back and forth of conversation.

Males of the study species, Alston’s singing mouse (Scotinomys teguina), produce songs with nearly a hundred audible notes. They challenge competitors by singing in turns, alternating like talking humans, say the study authors. In contrast, standard laboratory mice produce ultrasonic sounds without evident exchanges.

Thus, the new study, led by researchers at NYU School of Medicine, launches a new field by employing a novel mammalian model to examine brain mechanisms behind the sub-second precision of vocal turn-taking.

“Our work directly demonstrates that a brain region called the motor cortex is needed for both these mice and for humans to vocally interact,” says senior study author Michael Long, PhD, an associate professor of neuroscience at NYU School of Medicine.

“We need to understand how our brains generate verbal replies instantly using nearly a hundred muscles if we are to design new treatments for the many Americans for whom this process has failed, often because of diseases such as autism or traumatic events, like stroke,” says Long.

Published online as the cover story of Science on March 1, the study found that, along with brain areas that tell muscles to create notes, separate circuits in the motor cortex enable the fast starts and stops that form a conversation between vocal partners.

“By segregating sound production and control circuits, evolution has equipped the brains of singing mice with the tight vocal control also seen in cricket exchanges, bird duets, and possibly, human discussion,” adds study co-first author Arkarup Banerjee, PhD, a post-doctoral scholar in Long’s lab.

Despite the ubiquity of vocal exchanges in the natural world, he says, there are no suitable mammalian models in neuroscience for their study. Before the new report, the leading model for studying this back-and-forth was the marmoset, a primate whose conversational turns are considerably slower than human speech, and unlikely to result from the fast muscle response to sensory cues (e.g. motor cortical circuitry).

Social Songs Different

The research team found that S. teguina songs — series of notes that evolve predictably as the song goes on — changed in social situations as the mice had to “bend and break the songs” to converse. The tight connection between song patterns and readings taken by electromyography, which captures electrical signals as the brain generates muscle contractions, enabled the team to determine the relationships between brain centers and song musculature while two mice coordinated their responses.

In contrast to the findings of past studies, the researchers found that a functional “hotspot” located at the front of the motor cortex to one side — the orofacial motor cortex or OMC — regulated song timing.

To study the contributions of these specialized brain circuits to social singing, the team interfered with cortical regions in the mice using a number of techniques, including devices that cooled the OMC during songs. Long has helped to pioneer the cooling technique in the study of human brain circuits related to speech.

Called focal cooling, it is a safe way to slow the pace of vocalizations without changing the pitch, tone, or duration of individual notes, say the study authors. They argue that the observed, functional separation in the brain between sound generation and timing functions, this hierarchy, is what makes socially relevant exchanges possible.

Moving forward, the researchers are already using their mouse model to guide related exploration of speech circuits in human brains. By understanding the activity that helps to engage two brains in conversation, they can look for the processes that go awry when disease interferes with communication, potentially spurring the development of new treatments for many disorders.

Along with Long, study authors from the NYU Neuroscience Institute and Department of Otolaryngology at NYU School of Medicine were co-first authors Arkarup Banerjee and Daniel Okobi Jr, as well as Andrew Matheson. The work was done in collaboration with Steven Phelps, PhD, director of the Center for Brain, Behavior and Evolution at the University of Texas at Austin, whose lab pioneered the study of the singing mouse in the lab and field. Some of the authors are also members of the Center for Neural Science at New York University.

This research was supported by the New York Stem Cell Foundation, the Simons Foundation Society of Fellows, and the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain.

Happy in marriage? Genetics may play a role

People fall in love for many reasons — similar interests, physical attraction, and shared values among them. But if they marry and stay together, their long-term happiness may depend on their individual genes or those of their spouse, says a new study led by Yale School of Public Health researchers.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the study examined the role of a genetic variation that affects oxytocin, a hormone that plays a role in social bonding.

Lead author Joan Monin, associate professor at the Yale School of Public Health, and her team studied 178 married couples ranging in age from 37 to 90 years old. Each participant completed a survey about their feelings of marital security and satisfaction, and also provided a saliva sample for genotyping.

The research team found that when at least one partner had a genetic variation known as the GG genotype within the oxytocin gene receptor, the couple reported significantly greater marital satisfaction and feelings of security within their marriage. Those couples had greater satisfaction compared with other couples who had different genotypes.

While the oxytocin receptor variant, OXTR rs53576, has been previously studied and linked to personality traits such as emotional stability, empathy, and sociability, the new study is believed to be the first to examine its role in marital satisfaction.

“This study shows that how we feel in our close relationships is influenced by more than just our shared experiences with our partners over time,” said Monin. “In marriage, people are also influenced by their own and their partner’s genetic predispositions.”

The researchers also found that people with the GG genotype reported less anxious attachment in their marriage, which also benefitted their relationship. Anxious attachment is a style of relationship insecurity that develops from past experiences with close family members and partners over the life course, and is associated with diminished self-worth, high rejection sensitivity, and approval-seeking behavior, said Monin.

The researchers said that an individual’s GG genotype and their partner’s GG genotype together account for about 4% of the variance of marital satisfaction. Although this percentage is small, it is a significant influence considering other genetic and environmental factors to which couples are exposed.

The study findings may lead to future studies to examine how couples’ genotypes interact to influence relationship outcomes over time. Another important future direction for study will be to examine how the OXTR rs53576 variant interacts with specific negative and positive relationship experiences to influence relationship quality over time in a large representative sample of married couples, said Monin.

The research team also included Trace Kershaw and Andrew T. DeWan of the Yale School of Public Health, and Selin Gotkas, of the Yale School of Medicine. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging and Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at Yale.

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No wires, more cuddles: Sensors are first to monitor babies in the NICU without wires

An interdisciplinary Northwestern University team has developed a pair of soft, flexible wireless sensors that replace the tangle of wire-based sensors that currently monitor babies in hospitals’ neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and pose a barrier to parent-baby cuddling and physical bonding.

The team recently completed a series of first human studies on premature babies at Prentice Women’s Hospital and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. The researchers concluded that the wireless sensors provided data as precise and accurate as that from traditional monitoring systems. The wireless patches also are gentler on a newborn’s fragile skin and allow for more skin-to-skin contact with the parent. Existing sensors must be attached with adhesives that can scar and blister premature newborns’ skin.

The study, involving materials scientists, engineers, dermatologists and pediatricians will be published March 1 in the journal Science.

The study includes initial data from more than 20 babies who wore the wireless sensors alongside traditional monitoring systems, so Northwestern researchers could do a side-by-side, quantitative comparison. Since then, the team has conducted successful tests with more than 70 babies in the NICU.

“We wanted to eliminate the rat’s nest of wires and aggressive adhesives associated with existing hardware systems and replace them with something safer, more patient-centric and more compatible with parent-child interaction,” said John A. Rogers, a bio-electronics pioneer, who led the technology development. “We were able to reproduce all of the functionality that current wire-based sensors provide with clinical-grade precision. Our wireless, battery-free, skin-like devices give up nothing in terms of range of measurement, accuracy and precision — and they even provide advanced measurements that are clinically important but not commonly collected.”

Rogers is the Louis Simpson and Kimberly Querrey Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and Biomedical Engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and a professor of neurological surgery in the Feinberg School of Medicine. He co-led the research with Dr. Amy Paller, dermatology department chair, Walter J. Hamlin Professor of Dermatology and professor of pediatrics at Feinberg, and Dr. Shuai (Steve) Xu, an instructor of dermatology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine dermatologist.

Cutting the cords

The mass of wires that surround newborns in the NICU are often bigger than the babies themselves. Typically, five or six wires connect electrodes on each baby to monitors for breathing, blood pressure, blood oxygen, heartbeat and more. Although these wires ensure health and safety, they constrain the baby’s movements and pose a major barrier to physical bonding during a critical period of development.

“We know that skin-to-skin contact is so important for newborns — especially those who are sick or premature,” said Paller, a pediatric dermatologist at Lurie Children’s. “It’s been shown to decrease the risk of pulmonary complications, liver issues and infections. Yet, when you have wires everywhere and the baby is tethered to a bed, it’s really hard to make skin-to-skin contact.”

New mother frustrated by inability to hold her newborn

New mother Taschana Taylor is familiar with that frustration. After an emergency C-section, Taylor’s daughter Grace was rushed to the NICU, where she remained for three weeks. Desperate to bond with their new baby, Taylor and her husband felt exhausted when navigating the wires to provide Grace with the most basic care. Grace is among the 70 babies who have participated in the side-by-side comparison study so far.

“Trying to feed her, change her, swaddle her, hold her and move around with her with the wires was difficult,” Taylor said. “If she didn’t have wires on her, we could go for a walk around the room together. It would have made the entire experience more enjoyable.”

Stressful and difficult to take baby out of crib

“The gyrations that parents and nurses have to go through just to take the baby out of the crib are astounding,” said co-author Dr. Aaron Hamvas, the Raymond and Hazel Speck Berry Professor of Neonatology at Feinberg and division head of neonatology at Lurie Children’s.

“Wires are going up to the monitor, down to the baby, maybe going through holes in an incubator,” Hamvas said. “Nurses and parents try to get the babies all bundled, so they don’t accidentally pull anything off them or out of the wall. It’s very, very cumbersome and stressful. If the baby were totally unencumbered, it would be tremendously more efficient and less prone to problems.”

“Anybody who has had the experience of entering a NICU immediately notices how tiny the babies are, and how many wires and electrodes are attached to them,” said co-author Dr. Debra Weese-Mayer, the Beatrice Cummings Mayer Professor of Pediatric Autonomic Medicine at Feinberg and chief of Pediatric Autonomic Medicine at Lurie Children’s. “The opportunity to go wireless has enormous potential for decreasing the burden for the nurses, for the babies and for the parents.”

Going beyond current possibilities

The benefits of the Northwestern team’s new technology reach beyond its lack of wires — measuring more than what’s possible with today’s clinical standards.

The dual wireless sensors monitor babies’ vital signs — heart rate, respiration rate and body temperature — from opposite ends of the body. One sensor lays across the baby’s chest or back, while the other sensor wraps around a foot. (The chest sensor measures 5 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters; the foot sensor is 2.5 centimeters by 2 centimeters. Each sensor weighs about the same as a raindrop.) This strategy allows physicians to gather an infant’s core temperature as well as body temperature from a peripheral region.

“Differences in temperature between the foot and the chest have great clinical importance in determining blood flow and cardiac function,” Rogers said. “That’s something that’s not commonly done today.”

Physicians also can measure blood pressure by continuously tracking when the pulse leaves the heart and arrives at the foot. Currently, there is not a good way to collect a reliable blood pressure measurement. A blood pressure cuff can bruise or damage an infant’s fragile skin. The other option is to insert a catheter into an artery, which is tricky because of the slight diameter of a premature newborn’s blood vessels. It also introduces a risk of infection, clotting and even death.

“We are missing a great deal of information where there may be variations in blood pressure over the course of the day,” Hamvas said. “These variations in blood pressure may have a significant impact on outcomes.”

The device also could help fill in information gaps that exist during skin-to-skin contact. If physicians can continue to measure infants’ vital signs while being held by their parents, they might learn more about just how critical this contact might be.

Transparent and compatible with imaging, the sensors also can be worn during X-rays, MRIs and CT scans. “Wires are not just a physical impediment to interacting with the baby but also disrupt imaging if left in place,” Paller said. “The technology has been developed so you can do imaging with the sensors in place and continue monitoring the baby.”

Saving ‘incredibly fragile’ skin

The blood pressure cuff isn’t the only potentially damaging part of current technology. Many premature babies suffer skin injuries from the sticky tape that adheres the wires to the body. Tape can cause skin irritation, blisters and, ultimately, infections. In some cases, this damage can lead to lifelong scarring.

“Premature babies’ skin is not fully developed, so it’s incredibly fragile,” Paller said. “In fact, the thickness of the skin in premature infants is about 40 percent reduced. The more premature you get, the more fragile the skin becomes. That means we have to be very careful.”

The Northwestern team has studied 70 babies in the NICU thus far and found no sign of skin damage from the wireless sensors. The sensor’s skin-saving secret lies in its lightweight nature, thin geometry and soft mechanics. The paper-thin device is made from bio-compatible, soft elastic silicone that embeds a collection of tiny electronic components connected with spring-like wires that move and flex with the body.

Rogers worked with longtime collaborator and stretchable electronics and theoretical mechanics expert Yonggang Huang to come up with an optimal design. Huang is a Walter P. Murphy Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern’s McCormick School.

“If you look back to the 1960s, the basic approach to monitoring infants is essentially the same as it is today,” Rogers said. “It’s taped-on sensors, wires to external boxes of electronics. That’s all that’s ever been done.

“The strength of the adhesive required to keep our lightweight device on the skin is much lower than that of the kinds of adhesives needed to maintain an interface between a hardwired sensor and an external box,” Rogers continued. “We have seen no adverse side effects in our study, not even a hint of skin injury even in the most frail babies.”

The wireless sensor communicates through a transmitter placed underneath the crib’s mattress. Using radio frequencies the same strength as those in RFID tags, the antenna transmits data to displays at the nurses’ station. Although it can be sterilized and reused, the sensor is cheap enough (about $10) that it can simply be discarded after 24 hours and replaced with a new one to eliminate any risk of infection.

When will wireless sensors appear in U.S. hospitals?

Rogers estimates that his wireless sensors will appear in American hospitals within the next two to three years. With support from two major nonprofit organizations, Rogers’ team expects to send sensors to tens of thousands of families in developing countries over the next year as part of an international effort.

“We’re proud of the fact that this technology isn’t just limited to advanced NICUs in developed countries,” Xu said. “The technology can be adapted with minimal modification for low-resource settings.”

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmasSpREodk

Junk food purchases increase after recreational marijuana legalization

It’s an infamous pop culture portrayal. After smoking marijuana, the main characters in the movie go on an epic junk-food binge, consuming mass quantities of chips, cookies, and whatever other high-calorie, salt-or-sugar-laden snacks they can get. While some neuroscientists have hypotheses, there remains no formal causal evidence to support this notorious effect of marijuana on the human brain.

A study released this month from a UConn economist, however, did find a link between state recreational marijuana legalization and increased consumption of certain high-calorie foods, suggesting there may be something more substantial to the urban myth of “the munchies.”

Assistant professor of economics Michele Baggio conducted the study in collaboration with Alberto Chong, a professor at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. Published by the Social Science Research Network, the study looked at data on monthly purchases of cookies, chips, and ice cream from grocery, convenience, drug, and mass distribution stores in more than 2,000 counties in the United States over a 10-year period. The data, largely taken from the Nielsen Retail Scanner database, covers 52 designated market areas in the 48 contiguous states.

The researchers compared purchasing trends to the implementation dates for recreational marijuana laws in states including Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. Their analysis showed that legalizing recreational marijuana led to a 3.1 percent increase in ice cream purchases, a 4.1 percent increase in cookie purchases, and a 5.3 percent increase in chip purchases immediately after recreational marijuana sales began. While increases in ice cream and chip purchases reduced slightly in the months following legalization, the increase for cookie purchases remains high.

“These might seem like small numbers,” says Baggio. “But they’re statistically significant and economically significant as well.”

The trend was consistent across the three legalizing states included in the study. Additional states that have also legalized recreational marijuana were not included in the study because 18 months of purchasing data was not yet available for those states.

While Baggio initially set out to see whether ties existed between marijuana legalization and increased obesity rates, this study did not delve into an analysis of obesity rates, instead focusing strictly on trends in sales data. Further analysis of health trends may come at a later date, but he says that both the growing marijuana industry and policymakers may find the developing research around varying aspects of marijuana legalization of interest when considering future policies.

“I’m not an advocate for legalization or not,” Baggio says. “I’m just interested in whether there are unintended consequences to the policy.”

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Does extra sleep on the weekends repay your sleep debt? No, researchers say

Insufficient sleep and untreated sleep disorders put people at increased risk for metabolic problems, including obesity and diabetes. But is extra sleep on the weekends enough to reduce those risks? The short answer, according to new findings reported in Current Biology on February 28, is “no.”

“The key take-home message from this study is that ad libitum weekend recovery or catch-up sleep does not appear to be an effective countermeasure strategy to reverse sleep loss induced disruptions of metabolism,” says Kenneth Wright of the University of Colorado Boulder.

People often sleep more on weekends than they do during the week. Yet it wasn’t known how returning to an insufficient sleep schedule during the workweek after a weekend of recovery sleep influences a person’s metabolic health.

To find out, in the new study, researchers led by Christopher Depner and Wright enlisted healthy young adults. Each participant was randomly assigned to one of three groups. The first had plenty of time to sleep — 9 hours — each night for 9 nights. The second had just 5 hours to sleep each night over that same period. Finally, the third slept 5 hours for 5 days followed by a weekend in which they slept as much as they liked before returning to another 2 days of restricted sleep.

In the two sleep-restricted groups, insufficient sleep led to an increase in snacking after dinner and weight gain. During ad libitum weekend recovery sleep in the third group, study participants slept an hour longer on average than they usually would. They also consumed fewer extra calories after dinner than those who got insufficient sleep.

However, when they went back to getting insufficient sleep after the weekend, their circadian body clock was timed later. They also ate more after dinner as their weight continued to rise.

The sleep restriction in the first group of participants was associated with a decrease in insulin sensitivity of about 13 percent. But the group that had a chance to sleep more on the weekend still showed less sensitivity to insulin. The insulin sensitivity of their whole bodies, liver, and muscle decreased by 9 to 27 percent after they got insufficient sleep again, once the weekend was over.

“Our findings show that muscle- and liver-specific insulin sensitivity were worse in subjects who had weekend recovery sleep,” Depner says, noting that those metabolic aberrations weren’t seen in the people who got less sleep all along. “This finding was not anticipated and further shows that weekend recovery sleep is not likely [to be] an effective sleep-loss countermeasure regarding metabolic health when sleep loss is chronic.”

The Sleep Research Society and American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends 7 or more hours of sleep nightly for adults, to promote optimal health. The new findings add to evidence that insufficient sleep is a risk factor for metabolic disorders. It also shows that catching up on weekends isn’t the solution to chronic sleep loss during the week.

Wright says that it’s not yet clear whether weekend recovery sleep can be an effective health countermeasure for people who get too little sleep only occasionally — a night or two per week, perhaps. They hope to explore the fine details of these dynamics in future studies, including the influence of daytime napping and other strategies for getting more Zzzs.

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Mindfulness could promote positive body image

Making people more aware of their own internal body signals, such as heartbeat or breathing rate, could promote positive body image, according to new research published in the journal Body Image.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University recruited a sample of 646 adults and found that there were statistically significant relationships between people’s interoceptive awareness — the extent to which people are aware of internal signals given out by the body such as heartbeat or feelings of discomfort or hunger — and body image.

While previous studies on the subject have tended to recruit small groups of young women, this study included both men and women, aged between 18 and 76.

The study found that people who can sustain attention towards their internal body signals tended to report higher levels of positive body image. It was also found that people who trust their internal body signals are more likely to hold a positive view of their own body, and be less preoccupied with being overweight.

Lead author Jenny Todd said: “Unfortunately, experiences of negative body image are extremely common, to the extent that some academics consider this a ‘normal’ experience for women in Western society.

“Our research finds associations between the awareness of internal body signals and measures of body image. This could have implications for promoting positive body image, for example modifying interoceptive awareness through mindfulness-based practices.

“However the research, which was conducted with exclusively British participants, also demonstrates that the relationship between interoceptive awareness and body image is complex and requires further investigation.”

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Materials provided by Anglia Ruskin University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Early-term infants can succeed at breastfeeding

Researchers have determined that healthy premature babies can have as much success breastfeeding as full-term babies.

The study, conducted by researchers at UBC Okanagan’s School of Nursing and the University of Hong Kong, involved 2,700 pairs of mothers and infants and included two different survey groups — one in 2006/07 and another in 2011/12. The mother-infant pairs were monitored from birth to 12 months or until breastfeeding ceased.

“An early-term birth is associated with adverse neonatal outcomes that may impede breastfeeding, especially when compared with a full-term birth,” says Marie Tarrant, director of the School of Nursing. “However, the effect of early-term birth on exclusive breastfeeding duration among healthy normal weight infants is unclear.”

Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits to infants and can potentially offset the effects of early-term birth, explains study author Heidi Fan. Traditionally, full-term births are those from 37 to 42 gestational weeks. However, previous research has shown that infants born early-term from 37 to 39 gestational weeks have a greater incidence of adverse respiratory outcomes, extended hospital stays, newborn sepsis or admission to a neonatal unit. And until now, it was also believed they might be less successful at breastfeeding.

The researchers wanted to examine the correlation between early-term births and how long these infants breastfed. Of the babies in the study who were all healthy at birth, 32 per cent were born early-term. By two weeks postpartum, half of the infants in the study were not exclusively breastfed and by three months, more than half of the participants had stopped breastfeeding completely.

“Some studies show that early-term birth is associated with a shorter breastfeeding duration while others show no association at all,” says Fan. “And there are only two studies that we are aware of that have examined the effect of gestational age in term infants when it comes to exclusive breastfeeding duration, again with conflicting findings.”

Research assistants contacted the study participants, who were from four different hospitals in Hong Kong, when the infants were one, two, three, six, nine and 12 months old or until breastfeeding stopped.

Participants with early-term and full-term babies reported the average time they stopped breastfeeding was at nine weeks. Notably, the average times for mothers of both early- and full-term babies to stop exclusively breastfeeding was two weeks of age.

“Our findings contrast with the conclusions of some existing studies, where early-term birth was significantly associated with breastfeeding cessation,” says Fan. “A possible explanation for this difference is that our study included only normal-weight infants who did not have serious obstetrical or neonatal complications and admission to the neonatal intensive care unit.”

Fan says their study determined there is no significant increase in the risk of breastfeeding cessation between early-term and full-term infants.

“Consequently, in this sample early-term infants may have been more similar to full-term infants when compared with participants in other studies and this may explain why we were unable to find any differences in breastfeeding duration between the two groups. Our study findings therefore suggest that the shorter breastfeeding duration in early-term infants found in other studies may be due to the postpartum and neonatal complications associated with early-term birth rather than the actual effect of gestational age.”

While Fan says they found no association between early and full-term birth when it came to the duration of breastfeeding, she does suggest more research is needed in particular to determine the duration and success of breastfeeding for infants of early-term birth who may have other neonatal complications.

“It is also important for clinicians to recognize that mothers who give birth to early-term infants with neonatal complications may need individualized support to achieve their breastfeeding goals,” she adds.

White Coat Hypertension: When Blood Pressure Rises at the Doctor’s Office

My blood pressure is always higher in the doctor’s office than it is at home. Why is this?

Answer From Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D.

You could have a condition known as white coat hypertension. White coat hypertension occurs when the blood pressure readings at your doctor’s office are higher than they are in other settings, such as your home. It’s called white coat hypertension because the health care professionals who measure your blood pressure sometimes wear white coats.

It was once thought that white coat hypertension was caused by the stress that doctor’s appointments can create. Once you’d left the doctor’s office, if your blood pressure normalized, the thought was that there wasn’t a problem.

However, some doctors think that white coat hypertension might signal that you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure as a long-term condition. If you experience white coat hypertension, you may also have a higher risk of developing certain cardiovascular problems compared with people who have normal blood pressure at all times. The same may be true for people who have masked hypertension, meaning their blood pressure is normal at the doctor’s office, but spikes periodically when measured in other settings. It’s thought that even these temporary increases in your blood pressure could develop into a long-term problem.

If you have white coat hypertension, talk to your doctor about home monitoring of your condition. Your doctor may ask you to wear a blood pressure monitor (ambulatory blood pressure monitor) for up to 24 hours to track your blood pressure during the daytime as well as while you sleep. This can help determine if your high blood pressure only occurs in the doctor’s office or if it’s a persistent condition that needs treatment.

Updated: 2017-07-19

Publication Date: 2017-07-19