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6 Mood-Boosting Benefits of Exercise

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How do you usually feel when leaving the gym after breaking a sweat? Anyone who's hit that runner's high or walked out of a yoga studio smiling knows that exercise affects your mood, generally by giving it a major boost. That benefit isn't all in your head: Several recent studies have looked at the impact of various workouts at all levels of intensity and how they can give you an emotional lift that might help you conquer specific scenarios throughout your day. Here are six ways a great workout boosts your mental health.

1. EXERCISE HELPS YOU DEAL WITH STRESS DURING YOUR WORKDAY...

Walking for 30 minutes at midday led people to feel more enthusiastic about their work responsibilities in the hours that followed their stroll, a 2015 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found. Study participants also felt better equipped to combat any tensions or tough jobs that arose after their half-hour of moving. On days when you have meetings all afternoon or a big project to wrap up in the p.m., skip a long lunch with coworkers and do laps around the block instead.

2. … AND HELPS YOU LEAVE THAT STRESS AT THE OFFICE.

Find it hard to put tensions from a conference call or upcoming presentation out of your mind when you head home every evening? Getting your blood pumping is a great way to stop the stressed-out cycle, according to new research: Swimming for an hour or getting 90 minutes of walking in a day reduces your chances of bringing work stress home with you and makes you less likely to take out your frustrations on loved ones, found a new study in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

3. EXERCISE COMBATS DEPRESSION.

Doing something active for 30 minutes significantly improved the mood of depressed women in a 2016 study published in Behavior Therapy. And good news: You don’t have to go hard to reap the reward and feel better. Light-, moderate-, and high-intensity exercise all led to an antidepressant effect.

4. IT BUMPS UP YOUR ENERGY.

Walking at a moderate pace for a mere five minutes once an hour, during a typical workday in an office setting, led people to feel happier, less tired, more energetic, and less hungry in a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

5. IT HELPS YOU STOP SNACKING WHEN YOU'RE SAD.

If you’re trying to drop some pounds, exercising more could help—but not for the reason you might think. It’s not all about the calories you burn, but about your mood improving, too, according to a 2011 study from Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Study participants shed weight and shrank their waist circumferences, but most of the change was not because they had a caloric deficit; rather, their boosted mood helped them feel empowered and better able to resist emotional eating.

6. IT UPS YOUR SENSE OF SATISFACTION.

Can’t squeeze in an hour-long walk in the morning or that 45-minute bootcamp class? No problem: Breaking up your exercise into smaller chunks over the course of the day might be even better. Moving often throughout the day makes you happier immediately but also in the long-term, according to a recent study. Researchers from the University of Cambridge in England looked at data from more than 10,000 men and women and determined that frequent activity caused people to feel more satisfied with their lives. Low-intensity exercise like cycling or going for a stroll is all that’s necessary to feel the boost.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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