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How to Make More Basketball Shots, According to Physics

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Want to improve your shooting average in basketball (or with wastepaper)? Shoot slower. That's the advice of scientists, based on new research published in the Royal Society Open Science and reported by The New York Times.

A physicist and a mechanical engineer from Harvard and Yale, respectively, used mathematical models of the arm and thrown projectiles to figure out the best strategy for basketball and other throwing sports, like darts. They then compared their results with real-life data from athletes to make sure it measured up.

They found that, like so many other things in life, there is a tradeoff between speed and accuracy in throwing: Throw faster, and you’re guaranteed to throw less accurately. Scientists have long observed this, but aren’t entirely clear on the reason why. This latest piece of research suggests that it’s not just that you aren’t releasing the ball at the right moment when you throw fast, but that the faster motion of the throw affects the curvature of the ball’s flight path.

They found that the most accurate throw is generally just a little faster than the minimum required speed to get your projectile (like a basketball) to the target. If you are going to throw something at a high speed, though, a shallow overhand throw is best—especially if the target you want to hit is below your shoulder. For darts, they found that the ideal shot is an overarm throw with a speed of between 11.4 and 12.3 miles per hour, about as slow as you can throw while still having the dart hit the board hard enough to stick.

Unfortunately, increased accuracy sometimes comes at a price that not all athletes are willing to pay. Data has shown that basketball players who shoot free throws underhanded (a.k.a. “granny style”) are more accurate—but very few players are willing to do it.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Feeling Down? Lifting Weights Can Lift Your Mood, Too
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There’s plenty of research that suggests that exercise can be an effective treatment for depression. In some cases of depression, in fact—particularly less-severe ones—scientists have found that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants, which don’t work for everyone and can come with some annoying side effects. Previous studies have largely concentrated on aerobic exercise, like running, but new research shows that weight lifting can be a useful depression treatment, too.

The study in JAMA Psychiatry, led by sports scientists at the University of Limerick in Ireland, examined the results of 33 previous clinical trials that analyzed a total of 1877 participants. It found that resistance training—lifting weights, using resistance bands, doing push ups, and any other exercises targeted at strengthening muscles rather than increasing heart rate—significantly reduced symptoms of depression.

This held true regardless of how healthy people were overall, how much of the exercises they were assigned to do, or how much stronger they got as a result. While the effect wasn’t as strong in blinded trials—where the assessors don’t know who is in the control group and who isn’t, as is the case in higher-quality studies—it was still notable. According to first author Brett Gordon, these trials showed a medium effect, while others showed a large effect, but both were statistically significant.

The studies in the paper all looked at the effects of these training regimes on people with mild to moderate depression, and the results might not translate to people with severe depression. Unfortunately, many of the studies analyzed didn’t include information on whether or not the patients were taking antidepressants, so the researchers weren’t able to determine what role medications might play in this. However, Gordon tells Mental Floss in an email that “the available evidence supports that [resistance training] may be an effective alternative and/or adjuvant therapy for depressive symptoms that could be prescribed on its own and/or in conjunction with other depression treatments,” like therapy or medication.

There haven’t been a lot of studies yet comparing whether aerobic exercise or resistance training might be better at alleviating depressive symptoms, and future research might tackle that question. Even if one does turn out to be better than the other, though, it seems that just getting to the gym can make a big difference.

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Uncombable Hair Syndrome Is a Real—and Very Rare—Genetic Condition
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Everyone has bad hair days from time to time, but for roughly 100 people around the world, unmanageable hair is an actual medical condition.

Uncombable hair syndrome, also known as spun glass hair syndrome, is a rare condition caused by a genetic mutation that affects the formation and shape of hair shafts, BuzzFeed reports. People with the condition tend to have dry, unruly hair that can't be combed flat. It grows slower than normal and is typically silver, blond, or straw-colored. For some people, the symptoms disappear with age.

A diagram of a hair follicle
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Although there have been only about 100 documented cases worldwide, one of the world's leading researchers on the condition, Regina Betz, of Germany's University of Bonn, believes there could be thousands of others who have it but have not been diagnosed. Some have speculated that Einstein had the condition, but without a genetic test, it's impossible to know for sure.

An 18-month-old American girl named Taylor McGowan is one of the few people with this syndrome. Her parents sent blood samples to Betz to see if they were carriers of the gene mutation, and the results came back positive for variations of PADI3, one of three genes responsible for the syndrome. According to IFL Science, the condition is recessive, meaning that it "only presents when individuals receive mutant gene copies from both parents." Hence it's so uncommon.

Taylor's parents have embraced their daughter's unique 'do, creating a Facebook page called Baby Einstein 2.0 to share Taylor's story and educate others about the condition.

"It's what makes her look ever so special, just like Albert Einstein," Taylor's mom, Cara, says in a video uploaded to YouTube by SWNS TV. "We wanted to share her story with the world in hopes of spreading awareness."

[h/t BuzzFeed]

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