Tanning industry uses promos, cheap prices to lure adolescents and young adults, study finds

Everyone knows cigarette smoking causes cancer and as a result, prices and advertising are closely regulated to discourage youth from starting. But another cancer risk, indoor tanning, which has been shown to cause melanoma, lags in regulation. Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health have found that the tanning industry uses marketing strategies that appeal to adolescents and young adults, including unlimited tanning packages, discounts, and even offering free tanning when paired with other services like an apartment rental or gym membership.

“This study highlights the fact that a lot of businesses out there are providing this service at a low cost which removes a barrier to adolescents and young adults,” said Nancy Asdigian, lead author of the study and a Research Associate in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the Colorado School of Public Health. “Young people who want to tan do so when they can afford it and don’t when they can’t. The industry capitalizes on this with the strategies they use to price and promote this risk behavior.”

The study was published today in the Journal of Public Health Policy.

According to the Global Burden of Disease Study, about 352,000 people worldwide were diagnosed with potentially deadly melanoma in 2015. That includes 81,000 cases in the U.S.

High profile public health and policy efforts along with state age restrictions have helped decrease the prevalence of indoor tanning among youth, but the study said levels remain ‘unacceptably high.’

The researchers posed as customers and contacted tanning facilities in Akron, Ohio, Denver, Colorado, Austin, Texas, Boston, Massachusetts, Portland, Oregon and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. These cities were selected because they represent a variety of climate and geography as well as a range of stringency of state indoor tanning laws.

Of the 94 tanning places they contacted, 54 were primary tanning salons, and 40 were ‘secondary facilities’ that offered indoor tanning secondary to some other service like hair styling or physical fitness.

The study found that indoor tanning was free at 35% of secondary facilities. Nearly all apartments with tanning offered it free compared to 12% of gyms. Free tanning was most common in Austin.

Nearly all primary tanning salons offered time-limited price reductions.

“Many provide promos geared toward young adults. They offer packages that incentivize more frequent tanning. The more you use them the cheaper tanning becomes,” Asdigian said. “Everyone wants to get their money’s worth. When you buy a ski pass, you want to ski as much as possible.” In some cases, an individual tanning session could cost as little as $1 if the customer buys an unlimited monthly plan and uses it frequently.

Some countries, including Brazil and Australia, have banned indoor tanning salons altogether. The U.S. imposed a 10% tax on indoor tanning in 2010 and 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted complete bans on indoor tanning for those under age 18.

But few of these policies have focused on the advertising, promotions or pricing practices of these facilities.

“A next step is to work with policy makers to restrict the use of discounts and deals to lure customers,” said Lori Crane, senior author of the paper. Another strategy would be to eliminate tanning provided in apartment complexes and fitness centers where tanning services are often free and less likely to be licensed and inspected by local regulators.

Another step, Asdigian said, is to understand the connection between pricing and the use of indoor tanning.

“In this study we described the costs and promotions,” she said. “An important question to answer is how variability in pricing impacts behavior. Establishing that link is an important step.”

The study co-authors include: Yang Lui; Joni A. Mayer; Gery P. Guy; L. Miriam Dickinson and Lori Crane.

Farm-like indoor microbiota may protect children from asthma also in urban homes

Earlier research has shown that growing up on a farm with animals may as much as half the risk of asthma and allergies. The protective effect is thought to be attributable to the diverse microbial exposures encountered on farms.

“We now discovered that the presence of farm-like microbiota in an early-life home seemed to protect from asthma also in urban homes. The effect was not based on the presence of large number of different microbial species but rather differences in the relative abundance of certain bacterial groups,” says Pirkka Kirjavainen, Senior Researcher at the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare.

Wearing outdoor shoes indoors, the number of siblings and the age of the house played a role

The study found that the microbiota in homes protecting from asthma contained a wealth of bacteria typical of the outdoor environment, including bacteria in soil. On the other hand, the proportion of microbes normally occurring in the human respiratory tract and associated with respiratory tract infections was small.

“The key characteristic of microbiota in homes protecting from asthma appears to be large abundance of bacteria which originate from the outdoor environment and are beneficial or harmless to health, relative to bacteria that are a potential threat to health,” Kirjavainen comments.

In urban homes, factors that increased the farm-like features in the microbiota included wearing outdoor shoes indoors, the number of siblings and the age of the house; all factors that may increase transport of outdoor microbes into the home.

Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children in Finland — can new cases be prevented in the future?

“It is interesting to see how clear of a protective effect indoor microbiota can have against the development of asthma. In contrast, it has been considerably more difficult to identify microbiota that would explain the detrimental effect of moisture damage on asthma,” says Professor Juha Pekkanen.

Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children in Finland as well as in many other countries, and its prevalence is increasing with urbanisation. The new study supports the view that children’s early exposure to ‘right cocktail’ of microbes may help their bodies to develop mechanisms protecting from asthma.

“The results suggest that asthma could be prevented in the future by modifying children’s early microbial exposures,” says Pekkanen.

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Materials provided by National Institute for Health and Welfare. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

How Long Does it Take for Topical Scar Creams to Actually Work?

Welcome to Ask a Beauty Editor, our new column in which Sarah Jacoby, SELF’s senior health and beauty editor, goes on the hunt to find the science-backed answers to all of your skin-care questions. You can ask Sarah a question at askabeautyeditor@self.com.

How long would it take for topical scar creams to actually make a difference in the appearance of scars? I have a lot on my legs from being active outside, but it seems like creams either barely help OR I get so frustrated with the process that I give up on the regimen too quickly.


Depending on how you look at it, a scar can be a physical sign that you made it through something intense—or an annoying mark that you’d prefer to slather creams on until it disappears into the void. Either way, though, it helps to know a little bit more about scars before attempting to deal with them on your own.

The first thing to know about scars is that they aren’t always what they seem. What we colloquially refer to as “acne scars,” for instance, aren’t always considered true scars. Those dark spots that appear after your pimples have healed are actually pigmentation changes to the skin related to inflammation (technical term: post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation), Shari Lipner, M.D., Ph.D., dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, tells SELF. No topical scar treatment will really work on them because, well, they aren’t scars.

But it sounds like you’re asking specifically about scars due to injuries, which are almost certainly the real deal. In which case, I have some bad news: You’re not imagining it—those over-the-counter topical scar creams containing things like vitamin E or onion extract really don’t have much evidence behind them, Dr. Lipner says. “I don’t recommend them,” she adds.

However, she does recommend that her patients with scars use an ointment or petrolatum-based moisturizer on the area two or three times a day for months at a time (either right after it forms or whenever you start using them) as well as practice pristine sun safety (by either covering the area or using sunscreen) to avoid darkening the scar any more.

Your dermatologist can also use things like laser treatments or corticosteroid injections to help the healing process along, which are especially useful in the case of keloid scars. They might also prescribe a topical steroid or retinoid to reduce the appearance of your scars.

With scars, though, it’s essential to give them enough time to heal, which may be longer than you realize. In fact, it could take months to years for scars to look less noticeable, Dr. Lipner says. The thing is that, like so much about your skin, how quickly and effectively your scars heal will vary a lot from person to person. It depends on how severe the initial injury was, how you cared for the area at the time, and the normal pigmentation of your skin (those with darker skin tend to have a harder time with hyperpigmentation).

That said, if the scar is healed (let’s say it’s been a few years) and you’ve been using OTC scar creams for months with no luck, it might be time to try something new.

If you’re frustrated with trying to treat your scars at home, your dermatologist can help you assess how realistic your expectations are for your personal constellation of scars and the best way to fulfill them. “If you have waited a good amount of time and you’re not happy with your scars, there’s a lot we can do,” Dr. Lipner says, including laser and prescription steroid treatments.


Your circle of friends is more predictive of your health, study finds

Wearable fitness trackers have made it all too easy for us to make assumptions about our health. We may look to our heart rate to determine whether we really felt the stress of that presentation at work this morning, or think ourselves healthier based on the number of steps we’ve taken by the end of the day.

But to get a better reading on your overall health and wellness, you’d be better off looking at the strength and structure of your circle of friends, according to a new study in the Public Library of Science journal, PLOS ONE.

While previous studies have shown how beliefs, opinions and attitudes spread throughout our social networks, researchers at the University of Notre Dame were interested in what the structure of social networks says about the state of health, happiness and stress.

“We were interested in the topology of the social network — what does my position within my social network predict about my health and well-being?” said Nitesh V. Chawla, Frank M. Freimann Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Notre Dame, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Network Science and Applications and a lead author of the study. “What we found was the social network structure provides a significant improvement in predictability of wellness states of an individual over just using the data derived from wearables, like the number of steps or heart rate.”

For the study, participants wore Fitbits to capture health behavior data — such as steps, sleep, heart rate and activity level — and completed surveys and self-assessments about their feelings of stress, happiness and positivity. Chawla and his team then analyzed and modeled the data, using machine learning, alongside an individual’s social network characteristics including degree, centrality, clustering coefficient and number of triangles. These characteristics are indicative of properties like connectivity, social balance, reciprocity and closeness within the social network. The study showed a strong correlation between social network structures, heart rate, number of steps and level of activity.

Social network structure provided significant improvement in predicting one’s health and well-being compared to just looking at health behavior data from the Fitbit alone. For example, when social network structure is combined with the data derived from wearables, the machine learning model achieved a 65 percent improvement in predicting happiness, 54 percent improvement in predicting one’s self-assessed health prediction, 55 percent improvement in predicting positive attitude, and 38 percent improvement in predicting success.

“This study asserts that without social network information, we only have an incomplete view of an individual’s wellness state, and to be fully predictive or to be able to derive interventions, it is critical to be aware of the social network structural features as well,” Chawla said.

The findings could provide insight to employers who look to wearable fitness devices to incentivize employees to improve their health. Handing someone a means to track their steps and monitor their health in the hopes that their health improves simply may not be enough to see meaningful or significant results. Those employers, Chawla said, would benefit from encouraging employees to build a platform to post and share their experiences with each other. Social network structure helps complete the picture of health and well-being.

“I do believe these incentives that we institute at work are meaningful, but I also believe we’re not seeing the effect because we may not be capitalizing on them the way we should,” Chawla said. “When we hear that health and wellness programs driven by wearables at places of employment aren’t working, we should be asking, is it because we’re just taking a single dimensional view where we just give the employees the wearables and forget about it without taking the step to understand the role social networks play in health?”

The study was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Centre, Poland.

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Materials provided by University of Notre Dame. Original written by Jessica Sieff. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Do video games drive obesity?

A chubby teen lolling on the sofa for hours on end, the game controller in one hand, a bag of crisps at his side and a bottle of coke on the coffee table. This is the mental picture many people have of the typical gamer. Along with this goes the widespread notion that frequent gaming contributes to obesity. Is this justified?

“The study contradicts this stereotype for children and teenagers. In adults, there is a slight positive correlation between playing video games and body mass,” explains Professor Markus Appel, a communication psychologist at the University of Würzburg. Researchers from the University of Würzburg (Markus Appel, Caroline Marker) and from the Johannes Kepler University Linz and the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories in Bamberg (Professor Timo Gnambs) conducted a meta analysis comprising a total of 20 relevant studies with more than 38,000 participants. However, the analysis revealed only a small correlation between video game playing and excess weight or body mass. Only one percent of a person’s overweight can thus be attributed to time spent playing computer games.

No link in children and teenagers

The link was only established for adults but not for children and teenagers. “It may be that people who are overweight are more likely to continue their hobby of playing video games during the transition to adulthood whereas new leisure time activities become more important for others,” Appel suggests.

In the past, the link between gaming and overweight has already been studied by several researchers. “Overweight and obesity are usually associated with sedentary media consumption such as watching television or playing non-active video games,” the team of researchers writes in its current study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine. The new meta analysis was launched because the individual studies yielded different results.

Less time exercising

How can the correlation be explained? “We identified a significant indirect effect which shows that people who spend more time playing video games also spend less time exercising and therefore weigh more or have more body mass,” the team from Würzburg and Linz writes. Other factors such as eating junk food while gaming or lack of sleep were not verified because there were not enough relevant studies available.

The scientists considered only sedentary video games in their current analysis — i.e. games that are played in a sitting position. Active video games such as Wii Sports or Pokémon Go, which require the players to move, were not taken into consideration.

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Materials provided by University of Würzburg. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Social media use contributing to poor mental health in Indonesia

Social media use is contributing to poor mental health in Indonesia, research presented in a paper by Sujarwoto Sujarwoto, Gindo Tampubolon and Adi Cilik Pierewan has found.

The paper examines the specific effect of social media on mental health in the developing country.

It found that social media had a detrimental effect on mental health — as has been documented globally. But the authors noted specifics to developing countries such as Indonesia.

Researchers said that the country’s high levels of inequality are highlighted on social media leading to envy and resentment at seeing happy, positive social media images of how others live.

Inequality in Indonesia has been rising fast since 2000 and the country has the third-fastest-growing economy among the G20 economies.

It has a rising consumer class which contrasts starkly against those with less education or unable to get employment.

Indonesia’s transition to democracy has also played out on social media with negative results.

A cacophony of news about government failures, corruption, crime, conflicts and poverty is amplified on social media on a daily basis — providing little escape for the country’s citizens.

The study looked specifically at Facebook, Twitter and chat, and analysed 22,423 individuals across nearly 300 districts of the country.

Social media is incredibly popular in Indonesia; Facebook reported a total of 54 million individual users in Indonesia, making it the fourth largest Facebook-using country in the world, while Twitter reported 22 million Indonesian users, putting the country in fifth place worldwide.

Twitter also reported that Indonesian users publish a total of 385 ‘Tweets’ per second on average.

Meanwhile, mental disorders are becoming a major burden in the country.

Based on the latest Indonesia Basic Health Research survey 2018, the prevalence of individuals with mental disorders in the country is an estimated 11.8 million people.

Global Development Institute researcher Gindo Tampubolon said: “It’s a strong reminder that these technologies can have a downside.

“We would like to see public health officials think creatively about how we can encourage citizens to take a break from social media or be aware of the negative consequences it can have on mental health.”

The authors call for public health interventions and policies advocating wise use of online social media to prevent increased mental illness driven by excessive social media use in Indonesia.

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Materials provided by University of Manchester. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Race, ethnicity and exclusionary discipline practices

Discipline and how it is administered in schools across the U.S. continues to be a hotly debated topic. Now a University of Kentucky doctoral graduate’s expansive research on the subject has been published in the Journal of School Psychology and is gaining widespread attention from teachers, administrators, and researchers.

Albert Ksinan, who earned his Ph.D. from the Department of Family Sciences in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment last year, is principal investigator on the study and completed the most comprehensive analysis of the topic to date while still at UK. Currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Ksinan is lead author on the paper, “National Ethnic and Racial Disparities in Disciplinary Practices: A Contextual Analysis in American Secondary Schools.” Co-authors are Alexander T. Vazsonyi, John I. & Patricia J. Buster Endowed Professor of Family Sciences (UK); Gabriela Ksinan Jiskrova, also a UK Ph.D. graduate in Family Sciences and now a postdoctoral fellow at VCU’s School of Social Work; and James L. Peugh, associate professor of Pediatrics, University of Cincinnati.

The project analyzed how ethnicity and race are associated with school exclusionary discipline practices, which refer to students being removed from school as a form of punishment. Previous studies have found ethnic and racial disparities in the rates of school discipline actions, where ethnic and racial minority students (particularly African American youth) were found to be overrepresented among students that are disciplined.

“Exclusionary discipline can be particularly harmful during adolescence, because in many cases, it leaves adolescents without any real possibility to finish high school,” said Ksinan. “Given that adolescence is the developmental period associated with the highest rate of delinquent behaviors, it is can be argued that school expulsion during this ‘window of vulnerability’ leads to an increased risk of engaging in substance abuse and violent crime, and an associated increased likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system.”

The data for the project included the universe of all U.S. public middle and high schools collected in 2013-14 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). It is the most comprehensive study thus far to provide estimates of ethnic/racial discrepancies in who gets disciplined for 7 ethnic/racial groups (African American, Asian, Native American, Hawaiian, Hispanic, Two or more races, or White), with a dataset including almost 16,000 middle schools and more than 18,000 high schools, representing more than 22 million adolescents. Furthermore, the study assessed whether certain school characteristics (school size, percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch, ethnic/racial diversity of the student body, whether the school is urban/suburban/rural, the U.S. region in which the school is located) affect the rates of exclusionary discipline practices as well as the ethnic/racial discrepancy.

“The results showed robust evidence of persistent discrepancies in disciplinary practices across ethnic/racial groups, with African American students and students indicating two or more races found to be at increased risk for being suspended/expelled compared to White students in both middle and high schools,” said Ksinan. “Further, the risk for African American students and students indicating two or more races were higher in schools with higher poverty rates and a greater ethnic/racial diversity of the student population. Schools with students characterized by higher poverty and ones smaller in size reported higher rates of school discipline actions.”

There was a result which surprised the researchers, according to Ksinan.

“Schools in the Midwest had significantly higher rates for most disciplinary measures as compared to Southern schools,” he said.

With a focus on ethnic/racial discrepancies, the study provides evidence of systematic differences in how school disciplinary actions are applied, with African American youth and students indicating two or more races at increased risk for being disciplined; in turn, this can lead to a variety of problematic consequences. Thus, this research is instrumental in providing renewed impetus to the broader discussion on disciplinary actions and practices in America’s middle and high schools.

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Materials provided by University of Kentucky. Original written by Carl Nathe. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Personal care products send a child to the emergency room every two hours

In homes across the country, there are dangerous products hidden in plain sight on bathroom counters and bedroom dressers. Personal care products like shampoo, lotion, makeup, nail polish and cologne seem like they should be safe since they are intended for use on our bodies. However, in the hands of young children, these products can quickly lead to trouble. A new study conducted by researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital found that 64,686 children younger than five years of age were treated in U.S. emergency departments for injuries related to personal care products from 2002 through 2016 — that is the equivalent of about one child every two hours.

The study, published today in Clinical Pediatrics, found that most injuries from these products occurred when a child swallowed the product (75.7%) or the product made contact with a child’s skin or eyes (19.3%). These ingestions and exposures most often led to poisonings (86.2%) or chemical burns (13.8%).

“When you think about what young children see when they look at these products, you start to understand how these injuries can happen,” said Rebecca McAdams, MA, MPH, co-author of this study and senior research associate in the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s. “Kids this age can’t read, so they don’t know what they are looking at. They see a bottle with a colorful label that looks or smells like something they are allowed to eat or drink, so they try to open it and take a swallow. When the bottle turns out to be nail polish remover instead of juice, or lotion instead of yogurt, serious injuries can occur.”

The top three product categories leading to injuries were nail care products (28.3%) hair care products (27.0%), and skin care products (25.0%), followed by fragrance products (12.7%). Nail polish remover was the individual product that led to the most number of visits to the emergency room (17.3% of all injuries). Of the more serious injuries that required hospitalization, more than half were from hair care products (52.4%) with hair relaxers and permanent solutions leading to more hospitalizations than all other products.

Also of concern, is the ease of access to these products. “Children watch their parents use these items and may try to imitate their behavior. Since these products are often stored in easy-to-reach places and are not typically in child-resistant containers, it is can be easy for kids to get to and open the bottles,” said McAdams. “Because these products are currently not required to have child-resistant packaging, it is important for parents to put them away immediately after use and store them safely — up, away, and out of sight — preferably in a cabinet or closet with a lock or a latch. These simple steps can prevent many injuries and trips to the emergency department.” Researchers also recommend that pediatricians discuss these safe storage guidelines with caregivers during well-child visits.

Parents and child caregivers can help children stay safer by following these tips:

  • Up, away and out of sight. Store all personal care products safely: up, away and out of sight — in a cabinet that can be locked or latched is best. Never leave personal care products out unattended and put them away immediately after use.
  • Store safely now. It is never too soon to start practicing safe storage. Almost 60% of the injuries in this study were to children younger than 2 years of age.
  • Original containers. Keep all personal care products in their original containers.
  • Know how to get help. Save the national Poison Help Line (1-800-222-1222) in your cell phone and post it near your home phones.

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Materials provided by Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

I Wanted to Learn to Swim Before I Turned 30. Easier Said Than Done.

Whether I’m being forced to participate in a team-building icebreaker or I’m trying to make conversation on a first date, I have one go-to fact about myself that always works: I can’t swim. I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I’ve reached my late 20s still have to hold my nose when I go underwater. I’ll turn 30 next year, and I’m ready to find a new fun fact.

My mother wants you to know that my inability to swim is not her fault; I did in fact take swim lessons as a kid. I remember that the classes took place in a local Marriott pool in my New Jersey hometown, and that pool had a waterfall. But while the luxurious image of that indoor pool somehow imprinted in my brain, the ability to float, or cannonball, or even dunk my head underwater did not.

I travel regularly for work and for fun, which means I’m often lucky enough to be near a body of water. On professional trips, I’ve turned down the opportunity for (free!) surf lessons more times than should be legal. With friends, I’ve missed the opportunity to jump into a waterfall in Costa Rica or off the side of a boat in Texas. The inability to swim means I miss out on all sorts of water-adjacent activities like jet skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and the cliché rom-com moment when a love interest dunks my head underwater in a pool.

This is by no means a sob story—I’m incredibly lucky to have these opportunities, and in lieu of participating in water sports, I’ve become a champion poolside layer, watcher of wallets, and beachfront reader of YA novels. I’ve perfected the level of swimming I do feel comfortable doing: At the beach, I’ll wade into water as deep as my chest and roll with the waves in the same way my friends do. But I’ve always felt a cold core of panic underneath my casual splashing. If I notice my group drifting too far into the ocean, I’ll slowly try to inch my way back to shore, still participating in conversation, hoping no one notices I’m subtly trying to move back to land.

I turned my inability to swim into a punchy fun fact, but the moment I’m hit with any follow-up questions, I have a hard time explaining. “I just never learned” isn’t quite true, because I had taken lessons. “I don’t like the water” is also a lie, because I’m always willing to wade in and I have a Leo’s addiction to the sun. After a decade of opting out of water-related activities, I had even reframed my “no” as empowering. I felt proud that I knew myself and my body well enough to steer clear of surfboards and kayaks. But as I inch toward a new decade, I’m ready for a new challenge and a new narrative.

So, about 20 years after my first set of swim lessons, I decided to try them again.

My first challenge was finding a coach and a pool in NYC. I scheduled phone calls with various swim schools. I pictured myself in various possible scenarios: Treading water in a group of adult learners, towering over toddlers in bikini tutus, or commuting from a luxury pool uptown to my Brooklyn apartment with a tote bag full of wet clothes. One potential coach wanted me to commit to five lessons over two weeks. Another asked me immediately and abruptly if I had experienced any trauma associated with water.

I decided to work with Kate Pelatti, COO at Imagine Swimming, who asked thoughtful questions about my experience in the water and didn’t make me feel embarrassed to be what my high school would call a “super senior.” Best of all, one of Imagine Swimming’s 14(!) pools was at CUNY Medgar Evers, a college located about two blocks from my apartment. I planned to dress for my first lesson in what I deemed my most professional swimwear: A high-waisted bikini with the sturdy straps of a sports bra. We set a date for my first lesson, and scheduled it for 30 minutes, or 40 if, as Pelatti wrote via email, “the energy was there.” Of course I can go 40 minutes, I thought, I’m in great shape.

I moved on to mentally planning a surf trip to Australia where I’d impress the locals as an adult-onset swim prodigy. I felt half nervous, half preemptively proud that I had taken action, and absolutely sure that I’d be an Olympic swimmer within a few weeks.

When I arrived at the pool, reality hit.

I fell off my high horse the moment I stepped into the locker room. On a weekday afternoon, I expected an empty room or perhaps one impossibly chic person who was also choosing to better themselves. Instead, the room was filled with the people who I guess are most likely to be swimming on weekday afternoons: children. Women who looked about my age helped little boys into their bathing suits, the same 4- and 5-year-olds who were about to completely own me in the water.

Thankfully, Pelatti had agreed to meet me for four one-on-one sessions. That meant I didn’t have to learn alongside actual children, just near them, at a much slower pace. I was the only non-instructor over 10 in the pool. It was hysterical and mortifying, and I wish I could have taken pictures without seeming even creepier than I already did as the only adult in the pool.

Pelatti brought me goggles and a swim cap, and the first thing I learned was how to dunk my cap in the water before putting it on like Katie Ledecky. (Unlike Ledecky, I needed Pelatti to help me put my cap on for the subsequent month.) From there, we climbed down the pool ladder and found our own corner about 20 feet away from a group of kids.

My first task: learning to hold my breath.

For those first 30 minutes, Pelatti demonstrated how to blow bubbles in the water using my nose and mouth. The breath is simultaneously the simplest and most difficult part of swimming, and it’s the breath that I’ve always had trouble with. Once I could instinctively hold my breath underwater, we thought, the rest would follow. We were right—but it was much harder than I expected.

Do an exercise for me: Make the face you use when blowing out birthday candles. Your mouth becomes a perfect “O,” and that’s how it should stay, Pelatti taught me, while breathing out underwater. I spent 10 minutes bobbing from above to below the water, thinking “birthday cake, birthday cake, birthday cake” the entire time. With that down, it was time to go underwater while blowing out my nose—the same effortless motion I’d watched my friends (and the 5-year-olds a few feet away) do for two decades while unable to replicate it myself.

I did it, but it required all my mental energy. I imagined the deep, body-filling breath I had learned through yoga, and thought yoga, yoga, yoga every time I went from above to below. It was exhilarating to achieve, and also much harder than I expected.

Like a good coach, Pelatti made sure I ended the lesson feeling accomplished. I spent the last few minutes learning to float on my back—a position that requires a flat back and high, proud chest and chin. Once again channeling a yoga instructor giving form modifications, I was able to pop up into a back float easily. I did a few laps of our lane kicking on my back, immediately forgot how hard the underwater portion had been, and ended the lesson feeling like a swimming prodigy. Pelatti told me to practice breathing in the bath, and sent me home until lesson two.

The next week, I found myself really looking forward to my lesson. This time, Pelatti had me do “bobs” in the water. I jumped up and down “like a rabbit,” going under each time. The repeated jumps were meant to get my breathing in a comfortable rhythm. It reminded me of the times I’ve tried meditation and spent the whole session thinking I’m not thinking. As much as I wanted to lose myself in the process immediately, I had to concentrate hard to keep my fear of feeling short of breath underwater at bay. But eventually, it did feel mindless, the exact way I assume everyone else feels when they jump into a pool. In fact, it made me so happy to feel like I was going underwater “normally” that I didn’t want to move on—but it was time for phase two.

With the breathing down, Pelatti had me hold a kickboard and attempt to kick my feet to swim, the same exercise some kids were doing a few lanes over. I completed the exercise, but it required total concentration and 100 percent of my brainpower to do. Pelatti termed the lesson a “breakthrough.” I was thrilled to have accomplished a physical task, the same way I imagine a carpenter feels looking at a just-completed bench.

Feeling empowered, we scheduled two more lessons. The first ended up being one of those Freelance Mondays where I woke up, immediately started working from bed, and didn’t look away from my computer (let alone brush my teeth) until 3 P.M. I didn’t have time to mentally dwell on the exercises like I’d done in the past—I just grabbed my suit and walked to the pool.

My long, stressful day met me in the water. After our progress last week, Pelatti had me try dolphin jumps. The move involves creating an arrow with your hands in front of your face, then jumping headfirst into the water (or, ideally, an incoming wave.) As you exhale underwater, your body sinks deeper. Pelatti demonstrated the move I’d seen hundreds of times at the beach. It looked simple enough—but I panicked every time I went under. I felt like I was running out of breath underwater and kept popping back up before I really had time to sink.

During that lesson and the next, we moved on to the butterfly stroke and returned to bobs for more practice holding my breath underwater. But I never achieved the same flow that I had felt in the beginning, when I was learning just as quickly as the kids in the next lane. Fitness instructors are always yelling in class about how that last rep is all about mind over matter, but it wasn’t until I tried to swim that I realized just how intensely my thoughts control what my body is capable of.

I wanted to end this story with a triumphant anecdote and a cute video for my Instagram of me jumping off a diving board. But I was so frustrated during my final lesson that I didn’t even have the courage to try. With a bit of distance, I can see how much progress I did make: I learned to float on my back, to do a few various strokes, and to hold my breath underwater. But more importantly, I was reminded of the importance of staying present, of moving through frustration, and letting myself fail. Swim lessons were a glitch in the matrix that is my typical routine, and for that alone, it was worth it.

I’ll be on vacation next week, and I can’t wait to test my skills in the wild. And maybe next summer, I’ll feel ready for that surf lesson.


Hydroflask Water Bottle for Kids Review

I am one of those privately gross people who looks outwardly put together, but has a secret stash of unwashed water bottles tucked away, slowly growing their own petri dishes of filth. It’s not that I’m an unhygienic person, per se, but as a lazy city dweller with no dishwasher, I really can’t bring myself to do the necessary poking around with a brush just to get to the sludge-y bottom. So every so often I’d buy a new one and add another to my collection of retired S’wells and bkrs.

That was until a former colleague showed me the little Hydroflask she picked up for her kid. Hydroflask water bottles, as you may already know, are great. They routinely top “best of” water bottle lists—for people who care about rankings of water bottles, like me—due to their durable stainless steel frame, temperature regulation, and spill-proof lids. And I can confirm, after months of using one, that all of the above is true. Drinks stay cool longer, nothing sloshes out onto my work clothes when I’m commuting, and my water also doesn’t take on a metallic aftertaste when I sip from it.

My sister—a devotee of the full-size Hydroflask—scoffed after seeing me swig from this pint-size water bottle. “How often do you have to refill that?” she asked me. Well, that’s sort of the point. The comparatively compact size of the water bottle (which holds exactly 12 ounces of water) is just the right amount for toting to a one-hour yoga class, and plenty sufficient to get me through a meeting or two at work. But it has its limits, which forces me to take regularly scheduled breaks to get up and refill the thing, instead of toiling over my laptop for hours at a time.

The best thing about it? Since it’s the first water bottle that I actually know how to clean—its wide mouth allows me to squeeze a sponge inside, and the depths of it are shallow enough to scrub the bottom—it’s saved me from continuing to splurge on price-y water bottles or feel guilty about tossing single-use paper cups. I’ve become so attached that it’s a constant companion on trips to the park, to work, to my yoga studio, and abroad (it’s the perfect size for a carry-on), which for now has kept my bottle hoarding down to a very manageable minimum.

Buy it: Hydro Flask 12 oz. Kid’s Water Bottle, $30, amazon.com.

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