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New Study Finds That Office Air Is Slowing Your Brain Function

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As if you needed an excuse to get away from your desk every once in a while. In a recent study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers at Harvard and Syracuse Universities placed subjects in an environmentally controlled office space for a week, exposed them to different conditions, and observed their performance. What they found was that carbon dioxide levels in offices, though not deadly, are still harmful to your health and negatively affect cognitive function. Blame it on poor ventilation and all that CO2 being exhaled by your co-workers (and you).   

While the Mayo Clinic recently constructed an office-environment laboratory to investigate the health impact of the white collar workplace, this study focused solely on air quality. The environments used in this study were made to simulate indoor environmental quality conditions (IEQ). The conditions in the "green" building environment had low volatile organic compound (VOC) concentrations, while the VOC concentration in "conventional" environments were high. There were also conditions categorized as "green+," which had a high outdoor air ventilation rate, and another where CO2 levels were raised artificially. Exposure varied from day to day, and the workers (and researchers) were not aware of which condition they were experiencing at any a given time. 

"We didn’t want to test the exotic or extreme, we wanted to test conditions that most of us find ourselves in," Harvard assistant professor Joseph Allen told FastCoDesign

In some office spaces, there are a lot of people breathing in and out, and when the ventilation rate is not quick enough to move in fresh air from outdoors, the indoor CO2 levels become more concentrated. Participants in the study were given cognitive assessments to see how the conditions affected their work. On average, cognitive scores were 61 percent higher on the green building day and 101 percent higher on the two green+ building days than on the conventional building day, according to the study.

The results suggest that we need to rethink what we've long considered harmless levels of CO2. Moreover, the problem may get worse as CO2 levels increase outdoors, because it then becomes harder to keep them lower indoors. A small-scale solution for companies might be to insure that office environments have proper ventilation so that workers are both comfortable and productive.

[h/t FastCoDesign]

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?
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Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.

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