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8 Ways to Refresh During Your Lunch Break

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If you’re a working professional in the U.S., chances are you have experience dealing with stress. A 2015 survey from Staples Advantage and WorkPlaceTrends found more than half of American employees reported feeling burned out at their jobs. One small way to combat this troubling trend is by better utilizing the breaks we’re given. Lunch breaks are the perfect opportunity to refresh in the middle of a hectic day—here are eight ways to make the most of them.

1. LEAVE THE OFFICE.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but true lunch breaks are something of a rarity these days. According to a 2012 survey from Right Management, only 19 percent of workers take regular lunch breaks away from their desk while 28 percent reported "seldom" taking a lunch break. While some employees may work through lunch with the intention of being more productive, staying put can have the opposite effect. Psychology experts agree that a change in environment is beneficial to creative thinking. Leaving the office, even if just for five or ten minutes, is a simple way to refresh your brain.

2. READ A BOOK.

If you’re looking to give your brain a break from work, try getting lost in a good book. Allowing yourself to be consumed by something unrelated to your job is a great strategy for transitioning out of work-mode. You can turn to books as a form of escape, or find something educational to read and spend your free time learning something new.

3. MEDITATE.

To really improve your performance at work, find the time to meditate during your lunch break. A 2012 study [PDF] conducted by researchers at the University of Washington found that regular meditation boosts focus, memory, energy levels, and overall mood. If you have 10 to 20 minutes to devote to clearing your mind, you’ll be better prepared to tackle your work once it’s time to return to the office.

4. UNPLUG.

In today’s workplace, a large portion of our communication is done online. This can make completely unplugging from your job a challenge, even after you’ve left the office. Encourage yourself to take a reprieve from the digital world by setting aside your device at lunch. Tearing yourself away from all screens is an important step in breaking out of your work mentality.

5. EXERCISE.

Finding the time to exercise—whether it’s early in the morning or after work when you’re already exhausted—can be a pain. If you think you’re too busy for a workout, consider whether you have time for it during your lunch break. Exerting yourself in order to feel refreshed may sound counterintuitive, but exercise has been found to boost energy levels and brain function. Even if you don’t feel up for a run, a quick walk around the block is better than no activity at all.

6. TAKE A NAP.

Many of us stopped taking naps after kindergarten, but that doesn’t mean the practice is just for kids. Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were all known to indulge in nap time. Not only is it a perfect way to relax, but naps can also help you stay focused once you return to work. Research conducted by NASA found that pilots who took 25 minute naps were 35 percent more alert than and twice as focused as those who didn’t nap at all. So if you work from home, live close to your office, or own a car with a reclining seat, take advantage of the opportunity to catch some mid-day shut-eye.

7. CATCH UP WITH A LOVED ONE.

Calling your mom, grandpa, or some other family member or long-distance friend is something we all know we should do more often. But when the craziness of life gets the better of us, this is often one of the first items to go on the back burner. Instead of spending your lunch break in solitude, use it to catch up with a loved one. You’ll be surprised to see what a positive impact even just a 10 minute conversation can have on your mood.

8. SPEND TIME IN NATURE.

After spending all morning in a cramped, harshly-lit office, walking through nature can provide a much-needed change in perspective. One study published last year found that being in nature can decrease instances of negative thoughts. Even if you work in an urban area, a nearby park is the perfect place to spend your time away from the office.

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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