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Study Confirms What We Already Knew: Living Near Water Can Reduce Stress

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Beachfront property is considered the pinnacle of real estate for the views, the lifestyle, and, of course, the shoreline access. Everyone knows that being on the water makes us feel good, but now there's scientific proof: a new study confirms that living near a body of water improves wellbeing, even for city dwellers. The report was published in the journal Health & Place.

Scientific interest in so-called "blue" and "green" spaces is relatively recent, but cultural awareness of nature’s therapeutic power is quite old. Poets, Christian mystics, and nature-worshiping pagans alike all celebrated the power of the trees and tides. These days, we’re just getting good at quantifying it. 

Just a few weeks ago, for example, researchers published a study showing that living near lots of trees or other vegetation can actually extend a woman’s lifespan. The authors of that study cited three potential reasons green spaces might improve health: they provide inviting places to exercise, create opportunities to socialize, and they reduce stress.

The authors of the new paper believed that the same was true of blue spaces. They were especially interested in stress reduction, and whether blue and green spaces’ purported ability to calm would hold up in crowded city environments—specifically the capital city of Wellington, New Zealand. With nearly 500,000 citizens, the Wellington area is home to 10.6 percent of New Zealand’s entire population. 

The researchers pulled topographic information from national databases, mapping any forested areas, parks, and coastlines that would be visible to residents. They then looked to the 2011/12 New Zealand Health Survey (NZHS), which included questions on health, lifestyle, doctor visits, socioeconomic status, chronic medical issues, and mental wellbeing. Of the adults who took the survey, 442 were Wellington residents. 

The health and topographic data were then combined and analyzed. Some of the results were predictable, but others came as something of a surprise. "Increased views of blue space is significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress," Michigan State University health geographer Amber L. Pearson said in a press statement. "However, we did not find that with green space."

Was it a money thing? After all, people in higher socioeconomic tiers tend to have better access to green and blue spaces, as well as medical care. But even after controlling for variables like sex, wealth, age, and local crime rates, their findings held true: being able to see the water was associated with better mental health for just about everyone. 

To ensure that their tests were accurate, the researchers decided to measure blue space visibility with a totally unrelated factor: toothlessness. If they found a significant  relationship between seeing water and missing teeth, they’d know something was wrong. But the relationship wasn’t there. 

Why would water help, but not trees? Pearson admits those particular results may have something to do with their study design. "It could be because the blue space was all natural, while the green space included human-made areas, such as sports fields and playgrounds, as well as natural areas such as native forests," Pearson said. "Perhaps if we only looked at native forests we might find something different."

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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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Marathon Running Won't Undo Poor Lifestyle Choices, Study Suggests
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Even marathon participants can't outrun an unhealthy lifestyle, according to a new study highlighted by The New York Times.

For years, expert opinion has been mixed on whether long-distance running helps or hurts hearts. In the 1970s, research suggested that marathon running and a heart-healthy diet would completely prevent atherosclerosis (a buildup of harmful plaque in the arteries). But since high-profile runners have died of heart attacks, scientists in the 1980s began to worry that running might actually harm the vital organ. Compounding this fear in recent years were studies suggesting that male endurance athletes exhibited more signs of heart scarring or plaques than their less-active counterparts.

Experts don't have a verdict quite yet, but researchers from the University of Minnesota and Stanford and their colleagues have some good news—running doesn't seem to harm athletes' hearts, but it's also not a panacea for heart disease. They figured this out by asking 50 longtime marathon runners, all male, with an average age of 59, to fill out questionnaires about their training, health history, and habits, and then examining them for signs of atherosclerosis.

Only 16 of the runners ended up having no plaque in their arteries, and the rest exhibited slight, moderate, or worrisome amounts. The men who had unhealthy hearts also had a history of smoking and high cholesterol. A grueling training regime seemed to have no effect on these levels.

Bottom line? Marathon running won't hurt your heart, but it's not a magic bullet for poor lifestyle choices.

[h/t The New York Times]

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