Is student debt keeping Americans away from marriage?

Having a student loan could influence whether America’s young adults first union after college is marriage or cohabitation. This is according to a study published in Springer’s Journal of Family and Economic Issues. Lead author Fenaba Addo of the University of Wisconsin Madison in the US says the findings highlight how attitudes towards marriage, living together and the perceived shame of accumulating debt have changed over the course of two generations among adults in the US. The study supports the idea that debt is becoming a barrier to marriage, as many couples first live together so that they can save, pay off debt and then be in a position to afford their preferred wedding.

According to recent statistics, one in every two first-time full-time undergraduates hold federal loans, and student debt stands at 1.4 trillion US dollars — second only to home mortgage debt. To investigate the impact of such debt on young people’s future relationships and likelihood of marriage, Addo and her colleagues analyzed publicly available data collected from two generations of young adults who were part of the 1979 and 1997 National Longitudinal Study of Youth (NLSY). All had received post-secondary schooling. The subsequent analysis highlights important changes in the life experiences of these groups, who grew up roughly 20 years apart.

The proportion of young adults who transitioned into a first marriage by the time they had reached the age of 34 declined considerably between 1979 and 1970. Almost 70 per cent of the NLSY79s were married by their mid-30s, either marrying directly or cohabiting before marriage.

In contrast, over half of the NLSY97 cohort was still unmarried at the same age. This was true for 55.35 per cent of women (compared to 27.68 per cent in NLSY79) and 50.87 per cent of men (compared to 31.64 percent of them in NLSY79). While premarital cohabitation was becoming more common even among the older cohort, over a third of NLSY79 respondents married without first living together. This proportion was more than halved (to 14.8 per cent) among NLSY97 young adults. In the NLSY79, 6.7 per cent of those who married reported living together first, compared with 22.4 per cent of the young adults in NLSY97.

The statistics reflect that while a greater share of the young adult population was married in the mid- to late-1980s than in the early years of the 21st century, among the later cohort first unions are increasingly cohabitations, as marriage is delayed. They were also more likely to take on education loans to pursue a college degree and accrued more debt than their counterparts from the earlier cohort. In the 1997 group, student debt among college-attending young adults was associated with delays in marriage, but not in the 1979 cohort. It had a growing influence on women’s likelihood of getting married directly after studying, but no longer on men’s position.

According to Addo, women in the younger group seem to be entering into arrangements to live together to take advantage of one of the benefits of marriage — that two can live as cheaply as one. While this allows them to pay off debts before getting married, it does delay marriage and may also result in more nonmarital births or overall fewer marriages, if couples or one partner comes to see shared living as an acceptable alternative to marriage or they are incompatible and the relationship dissolves.

“Rising student debt is reshaping relationship formation among college-going youth, and as cohabitation has become more widespread, social and economic disparities in who marries without cohabiting first have increased,” explains Addo.

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Analysis of billions of Twitter words reveals how American English develops

Linguists and geographers analysed 8.9 billion words contained within 980 million Tweets posted across the United States between 2013 and 2014 to identify the regions from which new words tend to originate.

Led by Professor Jack Grieve, from the Centre for Corpus Research at the University of Birmingham, researchers used advanced computer technology to analyse the geocoded Tweets which revealed the precise longitude and latitude of the user at the time of posting.

They tracked the origin of 54 newly emerging words in American English. For example, they found that the word ‘baeless’, which mean ‘to be single’, originated from Deep South, while the word ‘mutuals’, which is short for ‘mutual friends’, originated from the West Coast.

Geo-coded data from Twitter allowed them to create maps for these 54 words, showing how the phrases had spread across the country over time.

Applying modern computational techniques to the study of language variation and change, the team identified that development of new words in Modern American English centred on five regions: The West Coast, the Northeast, the Mid Atlantic, the Deep South, and the Gulf Coast.

Professor Grieve commented: “This is the first time that such a large sample of emerging words or any type of linguistic innovation has been mapped in one language. Twitter is only one variety of language, but given that almost all these words are used in everyday speech, we believe our results reflect the words’ general spread in American English.

“Our study provides a framework for future research by showing how the origin and spread of emerging words can be measured and mapped. Linguistics is shifting from a social science to a data science, where linguists are increasingly analysing massive amounts of natural language harvested online.

“This is allowing us to pursue new research questions that would have been impossible to investigate just a few years ago. We can analyse in very fine detail how language changes over short periods of time and understand the processes through which languages evolve — one of the most challenging questions in science.”

The researchers’ findings also challenge existing theories of the spread of new words. They show that new words do not simply spread out unconstrained from their source, nor do they spread from one large city to the next, as predicted by previously developed theories for the spread of new words, known as the ‘wave’ and ‘gravity’ models.

Instead, the study found the spread of new words is constrained by cultural patterns. New words tend to spread within cultural regions, before reaching the rest of the United States. It also found that African American English was a major source of lexical innovation on US Twitter.

Professor Grieve is speaking about the team’s research at the New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) conference held at New York University from October 18 to 21. He will focus on how these words spread just in New York City over the time period in question, as well as delivering a workshop on ‘computational sociolinguistics’.

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Breastfeeding changes gene activity that may make babies less reactive to stress

It has long been known that there are many physical and mental health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies. But can these benefits be due to genetic changes induced by breastfeeding? New research suggests that connection.

The research, published in the September 2018 edition of the Pediatrics, was led by Barry M. Lester, PhD, director of Women & Infants Hospital’s Brown Center for the Study of Children at Risk, a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, and a member of Care New England Medical Group.

“What we found is that maternal care changes the activity of a gene in their infants that regulates the infant’s physiological response to stress, specifically the release of the hormone cortisol,” explained Dr. Lester.

Dr. Lester and his colleagues looked at more than 40 full-term, healthy infants and their mothers, one-half of whom breastfed for the first five months and one-half of whom did not. They measured the cortisol stress reactivity in infant saliva using a mother-infant interaction procedure and the DNA methylation (changing the activity of the DNA segment without changing its sequence) of an important regulatory region of the glucocorticoid receptor gene which regulates development, metabolism, and immune response.

“Breastfeeding was associated with decreased DNA methylation and decreased cortisol reactivity in the infants. In other words, there was an epigenetic change in the babies who were breastfed, resulting in reduced stress than those who were not breastfed,” said Dr. Lester.

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Psychologists define the ‘dark core of personality’

Egoism, Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, sadism, spitefulness, and others are among the traits that stand for the malevolent dark sides of human personality. As results from a recently published German-Danish research project show, these traits share a common ‘dark core’. So, if you have one of these tendencies, you are also likely to have one or more of the others.

Both world history and everyday life are full of examples of people acting ruthlessly, maliciously, or selfishly. In psychology as well as in everyday language, we have diverse names for the various dark tendencies human may have, most prominently psychopathy (lack of empathy), narcissism (excessive self-absorption), and Machiavellianism (the belief that the ends justify the means), the so-called ‘dark triad’, along with many others such as egoism, sadism, or spitefulness.

Although at first glance there appear to be noteworthy differences between these traits — and it may seem more ‘acceptable’ to be an egoist than a psychopath — new research shows that all dark aspects of human personality are very closely linked and are based on the same tendency. That is, most dark traits can be understood as flavoured manifestations of a single common underlying disposition: The dark core of personality. In practice, this implies that if you have a tendency to show one of these dark personality traits, you are also more likely to have a strong tendency to display one or more of the others.

As the new research reveals, the common denominator of all dark traits, the D-factor, can be defined as the general tendency to maximize one’s individual utility — disregarding, accepting, or malevolently provoking disutility for others — , accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications.

In other words, all dark traits can be traced back to the general tendency of placing one’s own goals and interests over those of others even to the extent of taking pleasure in hurting other’s — along with a host of beliefs that serve as justifications and thus prevent feelings of guilt, shame, or the like. The research shows that dark traits in general can be understood as instances of this common core — although they may differ in which aspects are predominant (e.g., the justifications-aspect is very strong in narcissism whereas the aspect of malevolently provoking disutility is the main feature of sadism) .

Ingo Zettler, Professor of Psychology at the University of Copenhagen, and two German colleagues, Morten Moshagen from Ulm University and Benjamin E. Hilbig from the University of Koblenz-Landau, have demonstrated how this common denominator is present in nine of the most commonly studied dark personality traits:

  • Egoism: an excessive preoccupation with one’s own advantage at the expense of others and the community
  • Machiavellianism: a manipulative, callous attitude and a belief that the ends justify the means
  • Moral disengagement: cognitive processing style that allow behaving unethically without feeling distress
  • Narcissism: excessive self-absorption, a sense of superiority, and an extreme need for attention from others
  • Psychological entitlement: a recurring belief that one is better than others and deserves better treatment
  • Psychopathy: lack of empathy and self-control, combined with impulsive behaviour
  • Sadism: a desire to inflict mental or physical harm on others for one’s own pleasure or to benefit oneself
  • Self-interest: a desire to further and highlight one’s own social and financial status
  • Spitefulness: destructiveness and willingness to cause harm to others, even if one harms oneself in the process

In a series of studies with more than 2,500 people, the researchers asked to what extent people agreed or disagreed with statements such as “It is hard to get ahead without cutting corners here and there.,” “It is sometimes worth a little suffering on my part to see others receive the punishment they deserve.,” or “I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so.” In addition, they studied other self-reported tendencies and behaviors such as aggression or impulsivity and objective measures of selfish and unethical behaviour.

The researchers’ mapping of the common D-factor, which has just been published in the academic journal Psychological Review, can be compared to how Charles Spearman showed about 100 years ago that people who score highly in one type of intelligence test typically also score highly in other types of intelligence tests, because there is something like a general factor of intelligence.

“In the same way, the dark aspects of human personality also have a common denominator, which means that — similar to intelligence — one can say that they are all an expression of the same dispositional tendency,” Ingo Zettler explains.

‘For example, in a given person, the D-factor can mostly manifest itself as narcissism, psychopathy or one of the other dark traits, or a combination of these. But with our mapping of the common denominator of the various dark personality traits, one can simply ascertain that the person has a high D-factor. This is because the D-factor indicates how likely a person is to engage in behaviour associated with one or more of these dark traits’, he says. In practice, this means that an individual who exhibits a particular malevolent behaviour (such as likes to humiliate others) will have a higher likelihood to engage in other malevolent activities, too (such as cheating, lying, or stealing).

The nine dark traits are by no means the same, and each can result in specific kinds of behaviour. However, at their core, the dark traits typically have far more in common that actually sets them apart. And knowledge about this ‘dark core’ can play a crucial role for researchers or therapists who work with people with specific dark personality traits, as it is this D-factor that affects different types of reckless and malicious human behaviour and actions, often reported in the media.

‘We see it, for example, in cases of extreme violence, or rule-breaking, lying, and deception in the corporate or public sectors. Here, knowledge about a person’s D-factor may be a useful tool, for example to assess the likelihood that the person will reoffend or engage in more harmful behaviour’, he says.

Fact box:

Dark personality traits studied in the research project:

  • Egoism
  • Machiavellianism
  • Moral disengagement
  • Narcissism
  • Psychological entitlement
  • Psychopathy
  • Sadism
  • Self-interest
  • Spitefulness

How to win friends online: It’s not which groups you join, but how many

Your chances of forming online friendships depend mainly on the number of groups and organizations you join, not their types, according to an analysis of six online social networks by Rice University data scientists.

“If a person is looking for friends, they should basically be active in as many communities as possible,” said Anshumali Shrivastava, assistant professor of computer science at Rice and co-author of a peer-reviewed study presented last month at the 2018 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining in Barcelona, Spain. “And if they want to become friends with a specific person, they should try to be a part of all the groups that person is a part of.”

The finding is based on an analysis of six online social networks with millions of members, and Shrivastava said its simplicity may come as a surprise to those who study friendship formation and the role communities play in bringing about friendships.

“There’s an old saying that ‘birds of a feather flock together,'” Shrivastava said. “And that idea — that people who are more similar are more likely to become friends — is embodied in a principal called homophily, which is a widely studied concept in friendship formation.”

One school of thought holds that because of homophily, the odds that people will become friends increase in some groups. To account for this in computational models of friendship networks, researchers often assign each group an “affinity” score; the more alike group members are, the higher their affinity and the greater their chances of forming friendships.

Prior to social media, there were few detailed records about friendships between individuals in large organizations. That changed with the advent of social networks that have millions of individual members who are often affiliated with many communities and subcommunities within the network.

“A community, for our purposes, is any affiliated group of people within the network,” Shrivastava said. “Communities can be very large, like everyone who identifies with a particular country or state, and they can be very small, like a handful of old friends who meet once a year.”

Finding meaningful affinity scores for hundreds of thousands of communities in online social networks has been a challenge for analysts and modelers. Calculating the odds of friendship formation is further complicated by the overlap between communities and subcommittees. For instance, if the old friends in the above example live in three different states, their small subcommunity overlaps with the large communities of people from those states. Because many individuals in social networks belong to dozens of communities and subcommunities, overlapping connections can become dense.

In 2016, Shrivastava and study co-author Chen Luo, a graduate student in his research group, realized that some well-known analyses of online friendship formation failed to account for any factors arising out of overlap.

“Let’s say Adam, Bob and Charlie are members of the same four communities, but in addition, Adam is a member of 16 other communities,” Shrivastava said. “The existing affiliation model says the likelihood of Adam and Charlie being friends only depends on the affinity measures of the four communities they have in common. It doesn’t matter that each of them are friends with Bob or that Adam’s being pulled in 16 other directions.”

That seemed like a glaring oversight to Luo and Shrivastava, but they had an idea of how to account for it based on an analogy they saw between the overlapping subcommunities and the overlapping similarities between webpages that must be taken into account by internet search engines. One of the most popular measures for internet search is the Jaccard overlap, which was pioneered by Google scientists and others in the late 1990s.

“We used this to measure overlap between communities and then checked to see if there was a relationship between overlap and friendship probability, or friendship affiliation, on six well-studied social networks,” Shrivastava said. “We found that on all six, the relationship more or less looked like a straight line.”

“That implies that friendship formation can be explained merely by looking at overlap between communities,” Luo said. “In other words, you don’t need to account for affinity measures for specific communities. All that extra work is unnecessary.”

Once Luo and Shrivastava saw the linear relationship between Jaccard overlap of communities and friendship formation, they also saw an opportunity to use a data-indexing method called “hashing,” which is used to organize web documents for efficient search. Shrivastava and his colleagues have applied hashing to solve computational problems as diverse as indoor location detection, the training of deep learning networks and accurately estimating the number of identified victims killed in the Syrian civil war.

Shrivastava said he and Luo developed a model for friendship formation that “mimicked the way the mathematics behind the hashing work.”

The model offers a simple explanation of how friendships form.

“Communities are having events and activities all the time, but some of these are a bigger draw, and the preference for attending these is higher,” Shrivastava said. “Based on this preference, individuals become active in the most preferred communities to which they belong. If two people are active in the same community at the same time, they have a constant, usually small, probability of forming a friendship. That’s it. This mathematically recovers our observed empirical model.”

He said the findings could be useful to anyone who wants to bring communities together and enhance the process of friendship formation.

“It seems that the most effective way is to encourage people to form more subcommunities,” Shrivastava said. “The more subcommunities you have, the more they overlap, and the more likely it is that individual members will have more close friendships throughout the organization. People have long thought that this would be one factor, but what we’ve shown is this is probably the only one you have to pay attention to.”

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research.

Marker in brain associated with aggression in children identified

Imagine a situation where one child is teasing another. While the child doing the teasing means it playfully, the other child views it as hostile and responds aggressively.

Behavior like this happens all the time with children, but why some react neutrally and others act aggressively is a mystery.

In a new study, a University of Iowa-led research team reports it has identified a brain marker associated with aggression in toddlers. In experiments measuring a type of brain wave in 2½ to 3½-year-old children, toddlers who had smaller spikes in the P3 brain wave when confronted with a situational change were more aggressive than children registering larger P3 brain-wave peaks, research showed.

The results could lead to identifying at an earlier stage children who are at risk of aggressive behavior and could help stem those impulses before adolescence, an age at which research has shown aggressive behavior is more difficult to treat.

“There are all kinds of ambiguous social cues in our environment,” says Isaac Petersen, assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the UI and corresponding author on the study. “And, when children aren’t able to detect a change in social cues, they may be more likely to misinterpret that social cue as hostile rather than playful.

“Children respond to the same social cues in different ways, and we think it’s due to differences in how they interpret that cue, be it neutral or hostile,” Petersen says.

The P3 wave is part of a series of brain waves generated when an individual evaluates and responds to a change in the environment — such as changed cues in a social interaction. Previous research, primarily in adults, has shown individuals with shorter P3-wave peaks when confronted with a change in the environment tend to be more aggressive. As such, scientists believe P3 is a key indicator of aggression, as well as associated with depression and schizophrenia.

To tease out those differences in children, the researchers recruited 153 toddlers and, in individual sessions, outfitted each with a net of head sensors that measured brain-wave activity while a steady stream of tones sounded in the room. As the children watched silent cartoons on a television screen, the pitch of the tones changed, and the researchers measured the P3 brain wave accompanying each change in pitch.

The change in pitch is analogous to a change in a social interaction, in which the brain — consciously or subconsciously — reacts to a change in the environment. In this case, it was the change in pitch.

Toddlers with a shorter peak in the P3 brain wave accompanying the tone change were rated by their parents as more aggressive than children with more pronounced P3 spikes.

The difference in P3 peaks in aggressive and non-aggressive children “was statistically significant,” Petersen says, and the effect was the same for boys and girls.

“Their brains are less successful at detecting changes in the environment,” Petersen says of the children with shorter P3 brain-wave peaks. “And, because they’re less able to detect change in the environment, they may be more likely to misinterpret ambiguous social information as hostile, leading them to react aggressively. This is our hypothesis, but it’s important to note there are other possibilities that may explain aggression that future research should examine.”

The researchers tested the same children at 30, 36, and 42 months of age to further explore the association with the P3 brain wave and aggression.

“This brain marker has not been widely studied in children and never studied in early childhood in relation to aggression,” says Petersen, who has an appointment in the Iowa Neuroscience Institute. “It might be one of a host of tools that can be used in the future to detect aggression risk that might not show up on a behavioral screening.”

The research is important because early interventions are more effective for stemming aggression, says Petersen, who is a clinical psychologist.

“Evidence suggests that early interventions and preventive approaches are more effective for reducing aggression than interventions that target aggression later in childhood or in adolescence when the behavior is more ingrained and stable,” he says.

The children were tested at Indiana University-Bloomington. Contributing authors at Indiana University include Caroline Hoyniak and John Bates. Angela Staples at Eastern Michigan University and Dennis Molfese at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln also are contributing authors.

Alzheimer’s: Tips for Effective Communication

Communicating with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging.

Because Alzheimer’s disease slowly erodes verbal communication skills, your loved one’s words and expressions might make little or no sense to you. In turn, he or she might have trouble deciphering your words. The resulting misunderstandings can fray tempers all around, making communication even more difficult. Here’s help easing the frustration.

What to expect

Alzheimer’s damages pathways in the brain, which makes it difficult to find the right words and to understand what others are saying. A person with Alzheimer’s disease might have trouble finding the right words or invent an entirely new word to describe a familiar object. He or she might get stuck in a groove—like a skipping record—and repeat the same word or question over and over.

A person living with Alzheimer’s disease might also:

  • Lose his or her train of thought
  • Struggle to organize words logically
  • Speak less often
  • Revert to a native language

What you can do to help

Despite the challenges, you can communicate effectively with someone who has Alzheimer’s disease. Consider these tips:

  • Be patient. Let your loved one know you’re listening and trying to understand. Don’t interrupt. Keep your voice gentle. Hold the person’s hand while you talk. If you’re frustrated, take a timeout for yourself.
  • Show respect. Avoid baby talk and diminutive phrases, such as “good girl.” Don’t talk about your loved one as if he or she weren’t there.
  • Avoid distractions. Communication might be difficult—if not impossible—against a background of competing sights and sounds.
  • Keep it simple. Use short sentences. As the disease progresses, ask questions that require a yes or no answer. Break down requests into single steps.
  • Offer comfort. If a person with Alzheimer’s is having trouble communicating, let him or her know it’s OK. Encourage him or her to continue explaining what he or she is thinking.
  • Use visual cues. Sometimes gestures or other visual cues promote better understanding than words alone. Rather than simply asking if someone who has Alzheimer’s disease needs to use the toilet, for example, take him or her to the toilet and point to it.
  • Avoid criticizing, correcting, and arguing. Instead of correcting your loved one, try to find the meaning in what he or she is saying. To spare anger and agitation, try not to argue with him or her.

Communicating with someone with Alzheimer’s disease can be challenging, especially as the disease progresses. Remember, however, that your loved one isn’t acting this way on purpose. Don’t take it personally. Use patience and understanding to help him or her feel safe and secure.

Updated: 2016-04-28

Publication Date: 2002-01-17

7 Smart Things You Can Do to Proactively Prevent Running Injuries

Nothing gets in the way of a good run like pain. Pain can be acute and stop you right in your tracks or it can be chronic, starting small and gradually getting worse over time without completely going away. The last thing any runner wants or needs is an injury.

Unfortunately, running-related injuries are common in runners of all levels. One research review found that the incidence of a running-related injury among amateur runners was as high as 17.8 for every 1,000 hours of running accounted for. It was significantly lower (7.7) for elite runners, but still a part of the sport. This means running-related injuries are actually relatively common. But what if you could prevent running injuries from happening in the first place?

Most running injuries—like runner’s knee, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis—are the result of overuse, or repetitively putting stress on a muscle or bone, rather than one traumatic wrong move. They can be exacerbated by many things, like a high volume of training or the wrong kind of sneakers. But paying attention to your body and adding a few simple things to your training routine (beyond just logging miles) can help you avoid a lot of these overuse injuries—so that you can keep feeling good and strong as you run and train for your next race.

Here is a list of seven smart things you can do to help prevent running-related injuries. They’re definitely worthwhile for any runner, but especially for anyone who is about to ramp up their mileage (all you people training for a marathon right now, I’m talking to you!).

1. Do glute-strengthening exercises.

Every runner needs a strong set of glute muscles for safe running. The glutes—made up of the gluteus medius, minimus, and maximus—are critical for single-leg stability and power while running. It sounds sort of weird but running is actually a single-leg sport. You take off and land on one leg at a time. Which means you need to have good dynamic balance on each leg to prevent injuries up and down the body. The gluteus medius is largely responsible for hip abduction (moving the leg away from the center of the body), which makes it key for single-leg stability.

A weak gluteus medius can cause the knee to collapse inward (also known as dynamic valgus). Weak gluteus medius muscles are often a precursor to many knee injuries, including ACL and MCL tears or what is known as “the unhappy triad,” the phrase used to describe when the ACL, MCL, and meniscus simultaneously tear. Definitely not something you want to happen.

Try strengthening the glutes with squats, single-leg bridges, clamshells, and banded lateral walks. Pro tip: Do some glute strengthening exercises before every run. This will help prep the muscles to work, and remind you to engage them as you run.

2. Foam roll your thighs and calves.

This simple tool can be every runner’s best friend. Evidence suggests foam rolling can effectively reduce muscle soreness while improving range of motion. Just keep in mind that foam rolling is a temporary treatment for tightness and discomfort, not a solution that addresses why it develops in the first place. By all means, foam roll that tight fascia (connective tissue that attaches your muscles to tendons and bones) to promote blood flow and flexibility of the soft tissue in your tight thighs and calves. But don’t forget to also strengthen those glutes (Do I sound like a broken record yet?) so you can lessen the strain you’re putting on your muscles.

3. Find—and stick with—the right running shoes for you.

Unfortunately, the main criteria of the right shoe isn’t how cool it looks, but how well it supports your body throughout many miles of impact. Finding the right running shoes is often the result of many training miles, and trial and error. Usually, it takes more than five minutes of jogging on a treadmill at a running store to identify the right footwear.

To get an idea of what shoes to try, get to know your feet. Do you overpronate (your feet roll inward significantly as you run) or supinate (feel don’t roll in enough)? Are you a toe runner or a heel striker? Look at the bottom of your sneakers—where are they most worn down? Some sneakers have more arch support than others, some have a wider outflare at the heel for improved stability. As much I love trying out new styles, I find that once I know a brand and style of shoe that works for me, it’s best to stick with it.

4. Build up your mileage slowly.

One common cause of running-related injuries such as shin splints is doing too much too soon. According to research, avoiding sudden large increases in intensity, frequency, and/or duration of exercise is the best way to avoid shin pain. The same slow and steady approach can help you avoid other overtraining injuries. Balance training runs with low-impact core and hip-strengthening exercises. Try cross-training workouts like cycling or swimming. By continuing to strengthen your muscles and improve aerobic capacity, your running can still improve without your feet having to hit the pavement quite as often.

5. Work on core strength.

Having a strong core helps improve your stability and keep your body balanced and upright—important for any sport, and especially a single-leg one like running. The research is minimal, but there is evidence that suggests that the stability and postural control core strength provides can reduce the risk of running-related knee pain. One study found that specifically combining hip and core strengthening can make a difference (which brings us back to the importance of the almighty glutes).

Keep your core game strong by doing some core exercises such as forward planks, side planks, leg extensions, and dead bugs. (Here’s a five-minute core workout specifically created for runners that you can try.) Don’t rush these exercises—rather, move through them slowly and with intention, thinking about fully engaging the core muscles with every rep.

6. Stretch after a run if you’re feeling tight.

When you run, your muscles are repeatedly lengthening and shortening. If they’re tight, they can cause pain or limit optimal joint mobility, especially if you’re running for a significant amount of time. While the evidence on stretching before and after running is mixed, I have found that stretching—especially after a run—can help my patients recover and feel better the next day.

Usually when you run, you can feel which parts of your body are tighter than others. If you pay close attention, you might notice how this limits your movement when running. For someone who sits all day at a desk job, for example, I recommend doing some hip flexor stretches, like a lunge with overhead reach, before and after running. This will open up the hips and help you activate the glutes. For someone prone to plantar fasciitis, I’d recommend stretching your calves.

Despite inconclusive evidence that stretching can enhance your performance as a runner, there is no evidence that stretching after a run is can harm your performance. While stretching might not be necessary for every person to do after every workout, I believe the best runners have good mobility and stability. So pairing stretching with strengthening is a great way to encourage good body mechanics and avoid unnecessary straining and injury.

7. Pay attention to your body and what it’s telling you.

Next time you head out for a run, listen to your body. Tune into the muscles in your legs, how your feet feel when they hit the ground, and how strong you feel as you take each stride. Usually, signs of an overuse injury start as a whisper. If that whisper gets louder, listen to it before it starts to become a scream. Check yourself and your training routine—have you been doing some core- and hip-strengthening exercises? Do you need to stretch those hamstrings after your run? Most runners aren’t afraid to run with some pain, and a certain amount of discomfort is normal and OK. But you have to check in with your body, even if your heart wants to push through the pain, if you want to avoid actually getting injured.

Listening to your body also means taking a day (or multiple days) off when you need it. Setting aside time to rest and recover—and sleep!—is essential for giving your hard-working muscles and tendons a break. Don’t think of rest days as lost time, but rather as an important part of a well-rounded training plan. You need them just as much as you need your long runs and cross-training workouts.

While it’s impossible to foolproof your running and completely protect yourself from injury, you can be proactive in preventing common aches and pains from turning into a real problem. While some injuries may be unavoidable, many can be sidestepped if you remember to run smart, and not just fast.

Why You Should Add Hamstring Curls to Your Workout Routine

Looking to seriously strengthen your hamstrings? Give sliding leg curls a go.

Celebrity trainer Don Saladino, co-founder of NYC-based Drive495 gym—whose clients have included Blake Lively, Ryan Reynolds, and Hugh Jackman, among others—recently posted a video of the move on Instagram. Though it does hone in on the hammies, as Saladino writes in the caption, it also targets much more than that.

“This movement forces you to stabilize your core and maintain a neutral lumbar spine when performing correctly,” Saladino writes in the caption.

You can check out the video, via @donsaladino, here:

Above all, this is a hamstring move. Having strong hamstrings is important for several reasons.

“It looks basic, but it’s challenging,” Stephanie Mansour, Chicago-based certified personal trainer, tells SELF of the sliding leg curls. The difficulty is primarily due to the fact that you have to bend your knees while simultaneously extending your hips. “It can be hard to do both at once,” explains Mansour.

What’s more, the move requires serious strength from—no surprise—your hamstrings.

“A lot of times the hamstrings can get ignored,” says Mansour. Many popular lower-body moves, like squats, focus on the glutes and quads, while placing little (if any) emphasis on the hamstrings. This muscle deserves move love, though, as it’s a large and important workhorse in your lower half. Strengthening it will improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your lower body. Plus, a tight lower back could be the result of tight hamstrings, and movements that both stretch and strengthen the hamstrings can alleviate both types of tightness.

While there are several moves you can do to target hamstrings, these curls are unique in that they require activation during both the eccentric (lowering) and concentric (lifting) phase of the move, which happens as you extend and then flex your knee. Compared to moves that work the muscle during just one phase of movement (like curls performed on a hamstring curl machine, which are eccentric-focused) this activation in both directions helps build an overall well-rounded muscle, explains Mansour.

But it’s not just about the hammies. These curls also engages other muscles in both your upper and lower half.

Though sliding leg curls are a hamstring-dominant move, “as your hamstrings fatigue, you will feel it in your glutes too,” James Brewer, NYC-based certified personal trainer and certified Spin and TRX instructor, tells SELF.

That’s because the glutes—specifically the gluteus maximus (the biggest muscle in your butt) and gluteus medius (a smaller butt muscle that muscle supports the hip and rotational movement of the thigh)—serve as stabilizers during the move, says Brewer. “If your butt drops as your legs extend forward, that defeats the whole movement,” he adds.

The curls also demand core strength, primarily from your rectus abdominis (what you think of when you think “abs”), your transverse abdominis (the deepest ab muscle that wraps around your sides and spine) and erector spinae (a set of muscles in your lower back), says Mansour. This move can teach you how to simultaneously engage your glutes, hamstrings, and core so you can better and more easily activate the core in other lower-body exercises, adds Mansour.

You’ll also recruit your inner thighs and hips, says Brewer, plus your calves and the muscles on the front of your lower leg, adds Mansour. Then, there’s the upper-body component. Your lats and triceps need to be continually engaged to keep your spine neutral and hips up.

The one muscle you shouldn’t feel working: your quads, which would happen if you grounded your entire foot, rather than just your heel, like Saladino demos. “If you feel your quads, you’re totally off on form,” says Brewer.

Keeping a neutral lower back is key to performing this move safely and correctly.

As Saladino advises in the caption, maintaining a neutral lumbar spine (not rounding or arching your lower back) as you perform the reps is important.

“Arching your back as you lift your hips is very dangerous,” adds Mansour, and “if you round your back while you lift your hips, you wouldn’t be able to press your hips up all the way.”

Saladino demos the move atop the slideboard, a specialized piece of gym equipment, but you don’t need one to perform the exercise.

If you have a wood, marble, or any other type of smooth, flat floor at home, you can replicate the purpose of the slideboard by simply wearing socks or by placing towels—either cloth or paper—under each heel, says Brewer. If you go this route, you might want to place a yoga mat under your upper body for comfort.

If you have sliders (sometimes referred to as gliders), you can do this move on any type of comfortable surface—wood, carpet, or otherwise—by placing one slider under each heel.

Here’s how to do the sliding leg curls:

  • Grab your sliding tool of choice (and a mat, if necessary) and lie on your back with your knees bent, and your heels directly under your knees.
  • Place your arms next to your body at a 30-degree angle with your palms pressed down.
  • Press your arms, upper back, and shoulder blades down into the mat or ground. Make sure your shoulders aren’t hunching up toward your ears.
  • Flex your toes toward your shins so that just your heels are pressing on the ground.
  • Pull your abs in, and without rounding or arching your back, squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up into a bridge position.
    This is the starting position.
  • Keeping the edge of your heels as the only point of contact that your feet have with the ground, slowly move your heels away from your body to extend your legs out.
  • Once fully extended, move your heels back in toward your butt with slightly more speed, as Saladino demons. Stop when your heels are directly under your knees again. This is one rep.
  • Try 4 reps if you’re a beginner, 8 if you’re intermediate level, and 12 if you’re advanced, says Brewer.
  • Rest for 1 minute and repeat the same number of reps for 2 more sets, resting another minute in between each set.

“This is not a speed movement,” says Brewer. Focus on slow, controlled movements. Continually pressing your upper body into the floor—particularly your lats—and squeezing your glutes will help your hips stay elevated.

As you bring your legs back in towards your butt, make sure your heels don’t go further back than under your knees, warns Mansour. “This could overflex your knees,” she says.

If you have difficulty extending your legs out all the way, that’s OK, Brewer says. It requires a certain level of core, glute and hamstring strength to do so. Go halfway if you need to, says Mansour, and keep the focus on lifted hips and controlled movements.

If you’re having trouble keeping your hips lifted, grab a soccer ball or yoga block and place it between your knees. “This will help you keep your glutes engaged throughout the movement so that your butt doesn’t sag,” says Brewer.

If, on the other hand, you’ve mastered this move and are looking for more challenge, try a single-leg variation, suggests Brewer. From the starting position, lift one heel off the ground and bring that knee in toward your elbow on that side. Keep that position locked in and your hips lifted while you perform the leg curls with the other leg that’s grounded. Switch legs and repeat on the other side.

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