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Why You Should Sing 'Happy Birthday’—Twice—While Washing Your Hands

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Some people like to sing while scrubbing up in the shower, but physicians say we should also be belting out tunes—specifically, two renditions of "Happy Birthday"—while washing their hands, according to The Guardian.

Cold and flu season is swiftly approaching, and keeping your hands squeaky clean is a key way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to those around you. That said, some people might not know the optimal time span to suds up at the sink, which is 20 seconds if you’re to fully rid your hands of harmful viruses and bacteria.

Instead of breaking out a stopwatch, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS)—the professional membership body for pharmacists in Great Britain—has recommended that people sing two rounds of "Happy Birthday" during each hand washing session. Not a fan of bathroom karaoke? Try humming it instead. (Singing it silently in your head works, too.)

This raises the question: How do germs get onto our hands and make us sick in the first place? For one, they can be contracted by touching an object that someone coughed or sneezed on. Germs from fecal matter—which come from using the toilet, changing a diaper, or handling raw meats that have invisible traces of animal poop on them—also play a part, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When people touch their eyes, nose, and mouth with germy hands, or prepare food with them, they’re inadvertently making themselves sick. And since germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to surfaces like handrails, tabletops, or toys, people who routinely skip hand-washings are also putting others at risk for illness.

CDC officials say that proper hand-washing can ultimately reduces antibiotic use—thus decreasing our chances of developing antibiotic resistance—and also prevent about 30 percent of diarrhea-related sicknesses and 20 percent of respiratory infections, like colds. That said, not everyone does their due diligence at the sink, especially after touching animals, going to the bathroom, or preparing and eating meals.

According to a poll of more than 2000 people conducted by the RPS, 84 percent of people don’t wash their hands for long enough periods of time. Meanwhile, around 65 and 32 percent of people don’t wash their hands before eating or preparing food, respectively, half of them don’t after touching pets and other critters, and 21 percent don’t after a trip to the toilet.

These stats have you concerned? Here’s a primer to perfecting your hand-washing technique.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Why You Should Think Twice About Drinking From Ceramics You Made by Hand
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Ceramic ware is much safer than it used to be (Fiesta ware hasn’t coated its plates in uranium since 1973), but according to NPR, not all new ceramics are free of dangerous chemicals. If you own a mug, bowl, plate, or other ceramic kitchen item that was glazed before entering the kiln, it may contain trace amounts of harmful lead.

Earthenware is often coated with a shiny, ceramic glaze. If the clay used to sculpt the vessel is nontoxic, that doesn’t necessarily mean the glaze is. Historically, the chemical has been used in glazes to give pottery a glossy finish and brighten colors like orange, yellow, and red.

Sometimes the amount of lead in a product is minuscule, but even trace amounts can contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. Over time, exposure to lead in small doses can lead to heightened blood pressure, lowered kidney function, and reproductive issues. Lead can cause even more serious problems in kids, including slowed physical and mental development.

As the dangers of even small amounts of lead have become more widely known, the ceramics industry has gradually eliminated the additive from its products. Most of the big-name commercial ceramic brands, like Crock-Pot and Fiesta ware, have cut it out all together. But there are still some manufacturers, especially abroad, that still use it. Luckily, the FDA keeps a list of the ceramic ware it tests that has been shown to contain lead.

Beyond that list, there’s another group of products consumers should be wary of: kiln-baked dishware that you either bought from an independent artist or made yourself. The ceramic mug you crafted at your local pottery studio isn’t subject to FDA regulations, and therefore it may be better suited to looking pretty on your shelf than to holding beverages. This is especially true when consuming something acidic, like coffee, which can cause any lead hiding in the glaze to leach out.

If you’re not ready to retire your hand-crafted ceramic plates, the FDA offers one possible solution: Purchase a home lead testing kit and analyze the items yourself. If the tests come back negative, your homemade dishware can keep its spot on your dinner table.

[h/t NPR]

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Smiling Could Improve Your Athletic Performance—But Your Grins Can't Be Fake
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Athletes obviously enjoy breaking a sweat, but it’s not often that you’ll see one break into a smile while in the throes of competition. Yet that’s exactly what many coaches instruct them to do: Grinning mid-race has been said to relax muscles and boost physical performance. Recently, a group of researchers put this theory to the test, according to The New York Times. Their findings were published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise.

Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland and Swansea University in Wales instructed a group of 24 non-professional runners—both men and women—to shift between smiles and scowls while running on a treadmill. The volunteers were told that the experiment would measure how certain factors affected the amount of oxygen they used while jogging at various running speeds.

For the experiment’s first stage, runners wore face masks that measured their breathing. As they exercised until fatigue, researchers asked them to rate how they felt and report their coping strategies—for example, whether were they ignoring their pain or embracing it.

The study’s second segment required volunteers to engage in four individual runs, each lasting for six minutes. Mid-run, they were told to smile both genuinely and continuously, to scowl, to relax their torsos using a visualization technique, or to simply fall back on their usual endurance mindsets.

Smiles didn’t always improve runners’ performances. A few subjects picked up the pace while grimacing, possibly because these “game faces” made them ultra-determined to beat their personal records. But overall, runners with smiles were nearly 3 percent more efficient than normal. While seemingly insignificant, this difference is large enough to affect someone’s race performance, experts say.

Keeping in mind the study’s small size, the authors conclude that exercising while smiling might reduce muscular tension and thus amp up performance. But in order to gain this positive effect, athletes must beam genuinely. Fake smiles, like the kind you’ll see in school pictures, don’t work as many facial muscles, and therefore result in lower levels of relaxation.

Since it’s hard for anyone (let alone a focused athlete) to maintain an authentic smile during prolonged periods of strenuous activity, scientists suggest smiling near a race’s end, in 30-second intervals.

[h/t The New York Times]

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