Ways to wake up without coffee

A ringing alarm clock spells dread in the morning whether you have to get ready for work or something more relaxed.

And while many of us rely on caffeine to help get us going, if you’re looking to cut back on your consumption or have never been a big fan of the beverage’s acquired taste, check out some other ways to help invigorate your sleepy mornings.

Find the light

In a new AsapScience video, researchers explain that it is important to “find the light” in order to properly wake up your body. This can be achieved by opening curtains, having a quick step outside or using an illuminating alarm clock to slowly fill your bedroom with light if you need to get up before sunrise. Exposure to light is an important part of waking up, as it helps your body produce less melatonin, a hormone secreted in the brain that plays a major role in regulating sleep.

Cold blast

A sure fire way to make you feel alive is by taking a warm shower and ending it with a blast of cold water. Experts have found that the shock of a cold shower can increase your metabolic rate and can cut down on feelings of fatigue. While this may seem a little harsh at first, perhaps try getting clean with warm water, then gradually turning the temperature down a notch for the final minute.

Rehydrate

If you’re not a morning person, have two glasses of water right after you wake up. It will boost your blood pressure to normal levels, and it’s better than having your first coffee on an empty stomach. Drinking water before eating anything is also a good way to purify your internal system, remembering that 70 per cent of the human body content is water.

Listen to music

Listening to music can increase blood pressure, release dopamine throughout the body to activate positive feelings and make your pupils dilate. Set up an a.m. playlist packed with your favourite energising tunes and play it while getting ready. Researchers suggest listening to upbeat music when you’re making breakfast and turning to Bach concertos or Handel’s Water Music when you can’t concentrate on your commute.

Drink orange juice

Sipping orange juice can also give you a boost in the morning as the citrus fruits are rich in flavonoids. Flavonoids have been linked to slowing cognitive decline from aging, with orange juice also said to increase alertness and brain function. Orange juice also has impressive vitamin C content, with each serving giving a significant portion of the daily recommended value. Vitamin C is responsible for forming collagen, the protein required to produce ligaments, blood vessels, scar tissue, skin and tendons.

Get active

Researchers suggest doing physical activity first thing in the morning can help make you more alert, as it increases blood flow and provides more oxygen to the brain. Heading outside for a morning run may be the last thing you want to do while lying comfortably under the covers, but lacing up your sneakers and doing a burst of exercise, for as little as seven minutes, will release endorphins that’ll boost your mood and energy levels.

Drinking really does make you happy

The sun’s out, it’s Friday and what do we want to do? Head straight to a beer garden of course. Well good news lager lovers and prosecco pros – drinking alcohol does make you happier. Yipee! The rush of good feelings is only short term though, so don’t get too carried away just yet.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Kent and University of Sussex focused on how people’s happiness and drinking change over time, publishing findings in Social Science and Medicine.

The team used two experiments to get their results; the first involved a test group of 30 to 42-year-olds, and using traditional survey methods they looked at how often the participants drank and changes in mood. For this group, no relationship was found between drinking and long-term happiness, however it was discovered that when someone was suffering from an alcohol problem there was a negative impact.

The second study yielded completely different results, and relied on an iPhone app to collate findings. This test group attracted a younger age group, and it was concluded that there was a “strong and consistent” relationship between happiness levels and drinking. But these good feelings only happen in the moment, and are not long lasting.

Study authors Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger and Dr George MacKerron hope their work will influence how governments review the cost-benefit analyses of alcohol regulation.

The findings come hot on the heels of the latest prosecco news. It was widely reported that because of the increased popularity in the Italian sparkling wine and a rain-affected growing season in 2014, there may be a shortage of the fizz. However after a bumper harvest of grapes used to make the trendy tipple, it’s expected that production will be up 50 per cent.

Obesity could be contagious

Obesity may be something that can be caught by another person in a similar way that a contagious bug is spread, scientists have found.

A new study conducted by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute found that an imbalance of bacteria in the gut can lead to a number of conditions, including obesity, irritable bowel syndrome and even allergies. For the first time in history, experts have found evidence that traces of bacteria can survive outside the anatomy, suggesting it could be passed between people. If this gut microbiome has a negative impact on the other person’s body, the problems mentioned above could manifest themselves.

Researchers at the institute found that a third of gut microbiota in a healthy person produced spores – a form of bacterial hibernation which allows some to remain dormant for long periods of time – that can survive in open air. Microbiota transmission had not been considered before now, and means that some health issues and diseases could be passed on rather than passed down through genetics. Around two per cent of an individual’s body weight is linked to bacteria, meaning obesity could be caused by it.

“Being able to cast light on this microbial ‘dark matter’ has implications for the whole of biology and how we consider health,” Dr Trevor Lawley, group leader at the Sanger Institute, said.

“We will be able to isolate the microbes from people with a specific disease, such as infection, cancers or autoimmune diseases, and study these microbes in a mouse model to see what happens.

“Studying our ‘second’ genome, that of the microbiota, will lead to a huge increase in our understanding of basic biology and the relationship between our gut bacteria and health and disease.”

Scientists can now work on a tailor-made treatment with niche beneficial bacteria, as it was always too difficult to study bacteria before now due to it being sensitive to oxygen. Now, they can be cultivated in a laboratory.

Dr Lawley and his team are hoping to create a pill with this new knowledge. Findings were published in Nature.

Cherry juice may help to reduce high blood pressure

Drinking cherry juice reduces high blood pressure at a level comparable to that achieved by taking medication, a new study claims.

Researchers at the U.K.’s Northumbria University, found that men with early signs of hypertension – more commonly known as high blood pressure – saw a seven per cent reduction in blood pressure after drinking Montmorency cherry concentrate when compared to drinking a fruit-flavored cordial.

This reduction is comparable to the level achieved by high blood pressure medication.

For their study, researchers worked with 15 participants who were displaying early hypertension with blood pressure readings of at least 130/90 mmHg, meaning they were at higher risk of experiencing cardiovascular related problems.

They were told that the study was to investigate the effect of a fruit juice on vascular function and were given either 60ml of a Montmorency cherry concentrate or the same amount of cordial.

Blood pressure and blood samples were taken before the cherry concentrate was consumed and blood pressure was measured on an hourly basis thereafter. Blood samples and a series of other cardiovascular screening tests were taken again on a regular basis over the following eight hours.

Accordingly, the researchers found that the participants who were given the cherry concentrate saw a peak reduction in their blood pressure of 7 mmHg in the three hours after consuming the antioxidant-rich drink.

Past studies have shown that a reduction of between 5-6 mmHg over a sustained period has been associated with a 38 per cent reduced risk of stroke and 23 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

Lead study author Karen Keane said the discovery highlights the potential importance that Montmorency cherries could have in the effective management of high blood pressure.

“The magnitude of the blood pressure lowering effects we observed was comparable to those achieved by a single anti-hypertensive drug,” she explained, adding, “Raised blood pressure is the leading cause of deaths from cardiovascular disease, yet relatively small reductions in blood pressure can have a large impact on mortality rates.”

High blood pressure affects over five million people in England and, if left untreated, increases risk of heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, stroke or dementia. Normal blood pressure is around 120/80 mmHg, researchers said.

In recent years, Northumbria University has undertaken a number of studies into the health benefits of tart Montmorency cherry concentrate. To date, they have found that the drinking the concentrate improves the quality and quantity of sleep, significantly reduces the symptoms associated with the painful condition of gout and enhances the recovery of muscle function after intense exercise, probably thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties.

The findings were first published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Drinking water before meals and other diet hacks

It’s a known fact that often when you’re feeling hungry, your body is actually thirsty and crying out for water. Equally it’s common knowledge that glugging a glass of H2O before a meal can mean fewer mouthfuls consumed. And for any water before dinner doubters, a team of Dutch researchers has now proved the diet myth true.

The team published their results in journal Obesity, after studying a group of overweight and obese men and women. The participants were split into two sub groups and given separate eating plans. One group were put on a hypocaloric diet, which saw them eat less calories than they were burning, while the others were also put on a hypocaloric diet but also upped their water intake, consuming 500ml of water half an hour before their three daily meals. Calories were restricted to 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men, and both groups followed the diet for 12 weeks.

All participants dropped weight after finishing the strict plan, but the water drinkers lost an additional 2 kg (4.4lb) compared to the others. Further tests showed that the water group ate less calories at meal times (40 on average), which backs previous research into the theory.

Taking the time to sip water before eating a meal is an easy diet trick to incorporate into your daily routine. We’ve rounded up three more simple hacks and swaps that will see you shed any unwanted pounds.

Smaller plates

There has been loads of research into this area, with findings concluding that a smaller plate means less food piled on, equaling fewer calories consumed. One study led by Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum from the Georgia Institute of Technology estimated that on average you can lose 10 pounds in a year using the small plate trick.

Plate color

Wansink and van Ittersum further found that plate color can play a key role in how much food you serve yourself. Crockery that is the same color as the food you’re eating saw people add 30 per cent more to their plate. This is because when the colors are similar, it’s harder to see what a big portion you’re dishing out. While having cupboards full of plates isn’t a great space saver, investing in a light set and dark set could be the answer.

Focus on your food

It’s been shown that people who are distracted when they eat, with Facebook, checking emails or even watching TV, eat 10 per cent more than they would if they were focused on their meals. Phones and laptops are part of everyday life, but switch off before you sit down for a quick way to cut calories.

Too many people taking unnecessary antibiotics

Nearly one-third of all antibiotics prescribed in the United States aren’t appropriate for the conditions being treated, results of a new study show.

Lead researcher Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues analysed more than 184,000 outpatient visits reported in a 2010-2011 national medical care survey. Of those sampled visits, nearly 13 per cent resulted in antibiotic prescriptions.

Findings show that most of these antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory conditions caused by viruses, including common colds, viral sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections, which do not necessarily respond to antibiotics. Researchers said these 47 million excess prescriptions each year put patients at needless risk for allergic reactions or the sometimes deadly diarrhea, known as Clostridium difficile.

“About half of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory conditions were unnecessary,” Dr Fleming-Dutra said. “Nobody should be giving antibiotics for the common cold.”

The researchers added that such misuse can fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which infect two million Americans and kill 23,000 every year. They also estimated the rate of inappropriate antibiotic use in adults and children by age and diagnosis, with data helping to inform efforts to help improve antibiotic prescribing in the future.

“Antibiotics are lifesaving drugs, and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use we’ll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Losing these antibiotics would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections, cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma.”

Even though the data is five years old, researchers didn’t think the results would vary much in 2016 as there hasn’t been a lot of work dedicated to improving antibiotic use. They added that they felt many of the misused antibiotics were likely prescribed due to misunderstanding between doctors and patients.

“Doctors think the patient wants antibiotics, and they want the patient to be satisfied with their care, so that often drives clinicians to prescribe when they shouldn’t,” said Dr Fleming-Dutra.

To restrict antibiotic use, the researchers suggested running campaigns in doctors’ waiting rooms to promote awareness about the issue and to create better understanding for patients before they enter the examination room. The findings were first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Apple juice can help kids get through stomach flu

Apple juice can be just as effective as electrolyte solutions when treating children with stomach bugs, researchers claim.

In small children, the treatment of gastroenteritis usually focuses on replacing fluids lost through diarrhea or vomiting. However, kids often don’t like the taste of electrolyte solutions and they can often be relatively expensive.

Accordingly, University of Calgary researchers have looked in to how the use of diluted apple juice and other fluids may be an alternative to electrolyte solutions given to children suffering from a level of dehydration.

The researchers studied 647 children ages six months to five years old who came to the emergency department with mild dehydration from stomach flu. Half of the group was given half-strength apple juice followed by their favorite drink, while the others received an apple-flavored electrolyte solution.

Twenty five per cent of the children who drank the electrolyte solution still needed intravenous (IV) fluids or other additional treatment, compared to only about 17 per cent of the kids who drank apple juice and their favorite drink.

Results shows that two-year-olds and older children responded best to apple juice, but even the younger group did a little better with apple juice than the electrolyte solution.

“These results challenge the recommendation to routinely administer electrolyte maintenance solution when diarrhea begins,” the researchers said in their analysis.

However, lead author Stephen B. Freedman noted that apple juice isn’t always appropriate and the method to treat dehydration should be evaluated on a case by case basis, taking into consideration those with moderate to severe dehydration or those at risk for electrolyte abnormalities or other significant medical conditions.

The study was first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Why the sun is good for our bodies

Good news sun worshippers, research from around the world has concluded that a dose of sunny weather really is good for us.

While it’s well known that sun exposure without SPF can result in skin cancer and badly aged skin, researchers from various global institutes have found a whole host of good reasons to get in the summer spirit.

As well as skin creating vitamin D from sunlight, which is essential for healthy bones, scientists have also found sunshine allows the body to produce feel good chemical serotonin and also nitric oxide, which helps protect our cardiovascular system. Previous research published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal found that just five minutes of exercise outdoors can make you feel happier and less stressed.

It’s also been found that 20 to 30 minutes of early morning fitness in sunshine can help lower body fat. If you’ve been putting off joining a gym, then now is definitely the time to take your workouts outside.

As mentioned above, skin cancer and sunshine is a known link for those who lay in the sun, but were you aware that vitamin D can protect against colon, kidney and breast cancer? The US National Cancer Institute found people exposed to high levels of sunshine were less likely to die from breast and colon cancer, as well as bladder, womb, esophagus and stomach cancer. Make sure you’re wearing at least SPF 30 though when lounging around in the great outdoors, and take regular breaks in the shade.

Vitamin D also has positive effects on fertility, boosting levels of progesterone and estrogen and regulating menstrual cycles. As well as impacting the female sex hormones, sunshine also improves levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone.

Plus the wonder vitamin can improve memory, and protect against dementia. So what are you waiting for? The next time the sun breaks between the clouds, grab some SPF and get outside!

How to ease a sore neck

A sore neck can be a symptom of a bad night’s sleep, using a computer for a prolonged period of time or pulling a muscle. Stress and anxiety can also lead to tension in your neck, and if you’re a migraine sufferer, stiffness of the neck can even predict your next one.

There are a number of ways to ease the ailment, ranging from reaching for the painkillers to holding a hot water bottle to the area. Simple exercises and stretches can also alleviate pain, and we talk you through five of the best.

Standing neck stretch

This stretch is easy to do anywhere, and can offer instant relief. Standing with feet shoulder width apart, place hands behind the back, clasping one hand over the other wrist and stretching the arms slightly away from the body. Slowly lower your ear to your shoulder, hold for 30 seconds and then swap sides.

Corner stretch

Stand opposite a corner in a room, approximately two feet back with feet together. Raise your forearms to the wall, with elbows just below shoulder height. Lean in as far as possible, feeling a stretch in the front of the shoulders and chest. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.

Seated stretch

Sitting cross legged on the floor or on a chair with feet planted firmly on the ground, place palms on the back of your head. Make sure your spine is stretched and your hips ground into the floor. Gently press hands down towards thighs, keeping them behind your head and tucking chin in. Hold for 40 seconds and then slowly bring head back up.

Upper back stretch

Sitting on a chair, stretch arms out in front of your with your palms touching each other. Bend over at the upper back, to form an almost diving position. Flex your chin to your chest and hold for 30 seconds.

Shoulder shrug

Shrug shoulders to your ears and hold tightly for a few seconds. Staying in the position, roll shoulders back before relaxing them down. Repeat 10 times.

Rosemary aroma may improve memory

If your memory isn’t as good as it used to be, you may want to start growing some rosemary plants. Researchers at Northumbria University have found that merely being in a rosemary-scented room could improve memory by 15 per cent among older people.

Rosemary, a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen leaves, is a good source of vitamin A, and has long been valued for its therapeutic scent as well as culinary value.

To test the effects of rosemary on memory retention, researchers randomly allocated 150 people over the age of 65 to rooms with either a rosemary aroma, lavender aroma or no scent at all.

The participants were then given a simple memory challenge. Accordingly, researchers found that those placed in the room with a rosemary aroma performed better on the memory test than others.

“In terms of mood, rosemary significantly increased alertness and lavender significantly increased calmness and contentedness compared to the no aroma control condition,” researchers said in a statement.

Postgraduate student Lauren Bussey said that the findings support previous research indicating that the aroma of rosemary essential oil can enhance cognitive functioning in healthy adults.

Lauren added that this is the first time that similar effects have been demonstrated in the healthy over 65’s. However, she noted that further investigation is required to understand the potential benefits of these aromas throughout the life span.

The same group of researchers also conducted analysis into the impacts of drinking peppermint tea and found the beverage could improve long term memory and alertness.

In a study of 180 people, they found peppermint tea helped to improve long term memory, working memory and alertness. Meanwhile, chamomile tea significantly slowed memory and attention speed, which is why it’s such a good option for relaxing.

Dr Mark Moss noted that it was “interesting” to see the herbal teas’ differing effects on mood and cognition.

The research was presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Nottingham, U.K.