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Sorry, Barflies: Dry January Isn't a Fix For Heavy Drinking

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Briefly cutting back on alcohol can save money, and it might even temporarily improve your sleep or help you lose weight. But as Inside Science reports, Dry January—the increasingly popular practice of giving up booze for the entire first month of the year—might not confer any lasting health benefits if you're planning on hitting the bars again come February.

Researchers say there's just not enough data to gauge whether short-term abstinence pays off in the long run. In fact, studies have indicated that people who are forced to stop drinking for periods of time (such as military recruits) end up overdoing it after they're allowed to imbibe again. And going booze-free affects people differently based on age, gender, genetics, and drinking habits.

That said, volunteer abstinence—with plenty of social support—could prompt positive change. Richard de Visser, a psychologist at the University of Sussex in England, published a study in 2016 in the journal Health Psychology based on follow-up questionnaires answered by Dry January participants. The surveys revealed that many people actually ended up drinking less overall, even after their alcohol hiatus was over.

"Even if participants took part but didn't successfully complete the 31 days, it generally led to a significant decrease across all the measures of alcohol intake," de Visser told BBC News. (Critics of the study pointed out that its participants belonged to a self-selecting group that had successfully scaled down their alcohol consumption.)

Meanwhile, a mini-experiment conducted by New Scientist journalists in 2013 challenged the notion that short-term sobriety doesn't pay off. After ultrasounds and blood tests, 10 staffers gave up booze for five weeks, while four continued drinking as they always had. Tests done after the experiment showed that the abstainer participants' liver fat, a precursor to liver disease, had fallen by an average of 15 percent, and their total cholesterol and blood glucose levels had also dropped. They also lost weight and reported better sleep quality.

Experts said they didn't know how long these physical benefits would last, and cautioned against viewing a month's sobriety as a quick fix. But they did conclude that the results were promising—and that they might be even more pronounced if people reduced their overall booze intake year-round.

[h/t Inside Science]

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Live Smarter
How to Choose the Best Watermelon
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Buying a watermelon is an experience one can grow to resent. The 92 percent moisture content of Citrullus lanatus means you're basically buying a giant ball of water. On the plus side, they're delicious and packed with enough vitamin C and D to keep you from getting scurvy.

But how to select the best of the batch? Food blogger Emma Christensen over at kitchn recently offered some advice, and it involves a little weight-training. When you examine watermelons in the produce section of your local grocery, you want to look for the heaviest one for its size. The denser the fruit, the more juice it has. That's when it's at its most ripe.

Next, check the underside of the watermelon for the "splotch." That's the yellow patch the watermelon develops by resting on the ground. If it's a creamy yellow, it's also a good indicator of being ripe.

Finally, give the underside a little smack—not aggressive enough to draw attention from grocery workers, but enough so that you can determine whether the watermelon sounds hollow. If it does, that's good. If it sounds dull, like you're hitting a solid brick of material, it's overripe; put the watermelon down and slowly back away from it.

If you're not confident in your watermelon evaluation abilities, there's another option: Local farmers markets typically have only choice product available, so any watermelon you pick up is likely to be a winner. You can also ask the merchant to pick one out for you. Pay attention to what he's doing and then try to emulate it the next time you're forced to choose your own produce.

[h/t: kitchn]

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Health
The CDC Makes It Official: Public Pools Are Disgusting
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Every summer, warm weather sends people across the country looking for a cool refuge in public pools, hotel pools, spas, and other water-based destinations. Before you take the plunge, you may want to heed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Jumping into a publicly-populated pool could be like bathing in someone else’s diarrhea, as Men’s Health reports.

The health agency revealed its findings in their Mortality and Morbidity Report, which explains why pools are ground zero for bacteria. Between 2000 and 2014, the CDC traced 493 outbreaks and over 27,000 cases of illness that could be connected to exposure to a public pool. The primary culprit was Cryptosporidium, a parasite found in feces that causes intestinal distress. The determined little bugs can survive for up to seven days after encountering the CDC’s recommended levels of one to three parts per million (PPM) of free chlorine. Even if the pool is being cleaned and maintained properly, Cryptosporidium can idle long enough to infect someone else. The report also indicated that Legionella (which causes Legionnaire’s disease) and Pseudomonas (responsible for ear infections and folliculitis) were found in some of the pools.

The problem is likely the result of swimmers entering the pool while suffering from an upset stomach and leaving trace fecal matter behind. The CDC recommends that you not enter a public pool if you feel unwell, that you ask for a pool inspection report if you’re concerned about the hygiene of the facility, and that you absolutely not swallow any water. The agency also recommends that any pool owner who has experienced a “diarrheal incident” in their water opt for hyperchlorination to kill bacteria.

[h/t Men’s Health]

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