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.

Middle-aged men without friends at risk of health problems

Men who lack a strong social network are more likely to suffer health issues like a stroke or depression, research has found.

Initiative beyondblue, which raises awareness for mental health problems like anxiety, found that males who are facing isolation and loneliness as they head into middle age are five times more at risk of dying from the problems mentioned above, as well as high blood pressure and heart disease.

They are also more prone to psychological distress, as they have no one to discuss their feelings and thoughts with. A report by beyondblue found 25 per cent of 30 men, aged 65, had no one aside from their immediate family to rely on. On top of this, 37 per cent reported not being happy with the strength and quality of their relationships, and often felt they weren’t supported or connected enough emotionally.

“Many men want greater openness with their friends and to be able to talk about personal problems, but admit they don’t always have the skills or tools to initiate these conversations, or understand how to respond when a friend opens up to them,” researchers shared.

Dr Stephen Carbone, head of the project, explained that social support is used as a protective mechanism against mental health issues like depression, and that it proves valuable in diffusing stressful situations.

While Dr Carbone notes it’s not every middle-aged man will suffer such grievances, he does believe they will do better in the long run with friends.

So why are friendships difficult as men get older? Issues such as expectations and cultural norms associated with masculinity were identified, though these do not provide a proper explanation.

“There are nuances below that, such as changes in family circumstances, or financial issues, or changes in work, or people moving away from where they grew up, or middle-aged men not keeping up with sport and losing contact with that group of friends,” Dr Carbone added on other aspects that may play a big part in this subject.

His words of advice: don’t stop making the effort. Social networks need to be kept alive by regular contact, even if the man in question is feeling sluggish and tired after a long day at work.

Another expert, Dr Elizabeth Celi, a psychologist and men’s mental health specialist, urges men to open up more too, and says that males should never compare their bonds to women’s.

Do you know your smoothie powders?

If you have a cupboard packed with various powders for your morning smoothie, you may be feeling smug in the knowledge that you’re a powder pro. But do you know why you’re using them, and are you really getting the most out of the various concoctions you’re adding to your blended drink?

We’re here to break down a few of the powders, with help from Women’s Health.

Moringa

This North Indian leaf contains 17 times more calcium than milk and a whopping 25 times more iron than spinach – Popeye, eat your heart out! On top of this there are claims it helps control heart disease thanks to its cholesterol-absorbing plant sterols. The European Food Standards Authority found just 3g of the sterols is enough to lower cholesterol, so little is needed.

However, in the form of moringa, you’re getting around 450mh per teaspoon of plant compounds – that’s quite the difference. While there’s been no harm documented from taking too much, it may perhaps restrict your moringa intake to a couple of times a week rather than every day to allow your body to reap the benefits. It can also be added to a soup, and vegans will get the calcium they miss out from not eating diary with it.

Spirulina

A rich green powder that’s also a single-cell green algae doesn’t have the best taste, but it is super high in protein, making it perfect for your post-gym smoothies or shakes. It boasts around 60 per cent protein and is packed full of amino acids too, to help appetite control. So much so that a previous study documented by the Journal of Food Science Technology found those who took it lost a significant amount of weight.

Just 20g of protein is enough to help your muscles recover after a workout session, meaning a single scoop will provide only half of this. Get your protein from other sources too, like a handful of almonds alongside your drink.

Maca

No, we’re not talking about Paul McCartney here; maca is a powdered root that’s famous for boosting energy levels thanks to its vitamin B and minerals such as iodine and copper.

A further bonus is that it’s been found to boost libido, perfect from those suffering a sexual slump. A mere 3g, like with moringa, of maca is enough for women’s sex drive to be revved as found in previous research. It was also noted that these ‘aphrodisiac’ effects are triggered by a compound similar to testosterone, though more work needs to be done to determine this.

Having this in your smoothie is much better than reaching for a cup of black coffee or can of cola, as you’ll also be getting plenty of vitamin B. However, it doesn’t provide similar amounts to that found in, say oats, so be aware that you need more in your diet to feel the perks, like healthy metabolism and reduced risk of stroke.

Listening to music may help babies learn faster

Playing music to babies may help them learn language skills faster, a new study claims.

Researchers at the University of Washington suggest that listening to music with a waltz-like rhythm and tapping out the beats with their parents, improved babies’ processing of music patterns and speech sounds.

Researchers randomly assigned 39 nine-month-old babies to be exposed to music or serve as a control group. Nineteen babies in the control group played with toys during a dozen 15-minute sessions over a month. The other 20 babies listened to “recordings of children’s music played while an experimenter led the babies and their parents through tapping out the beats in time with the music,” lead study author T. Christina Zhao said, according to HealthDay. All the songs were in triple meter, such as waltzes, which were chosen because they’re relatively difficult for babies to learn.

The following week after the play sessions ended, all babies underwent brain scans.

“While sitting in the brain scanner, the babies listened to a series of music and speech sounds, each played out in a rhythm that was occasionally disrupted,” Zhao said. “The babies’ brains would show a particular response to indicate they could detect the disruption.”

The researchers found that the brains of the babies in the music exposure group were better able to respond to disruptions in speech and music rhythm.

Accordingly, the study results add another twist to the debate over whether music can make babies smarter. The researchers did admit that it is not clear how long the effect of listening to music may last or how much exposure to music is needed to make improvements in music and speech-pattern processing. But Zhao and her colleagues hope to learn whether or not the apparent effects from listening to music are lasting and how much exposure might be needed.

Previous research, known as the ‘Mozart effect’, looked into how music in early childhood might have a positive impact on young children’s brain development. But such theories are controversial and research into the relationship of sound and music for cognitive function and various physiological metrics has had no definitive results to date.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meditation apps to help find inner peace

With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked, which in turn can impact their health. While we are often so busy that there’s no time to stop and smell the roses, turning to you phone may actually prove beneficial in this case. Meditation apps are proving all the rage, and are a great way to get a little added Zen into your day.

You may be a little skeptical at first, but such apps can make getting that quiet time a little more accessible. A good way to try meditation is to check out the Calm app, which offers relaxing sounds and encourages meditation goals. Or for beginners and more experienced mediators alike, the Headspace app is a good option as it guides users through ten minute long daily meditations to help you get used to the ritual. Once you complete these, you receive an invitation to subscribe to more programmes.

To overcome stress and find some inner peace and balance during your day, get Stop, Breathe and Think. This app will try and help you find the root cause of your problems and involves asking questions about your mental, physical and emotional well being. Based on your answers, you will get guided meditations to solve your problems. Another great app to download is Whil. It provides yoga and “mindfulness training” in both video and audio forms.

With a view to mindfulness, another intriguing app is Checky, which tracks how many times you check your phone each day with a view to making you more watchful about how you use your time. Or if you are simply in need of some quiet time, an app simply titled Meditation helps you relax through its soothing series of chiming bells, flowing water on rocks and some sweet symphonies.

But if you are in need of some serious spiritual guidance, turn to the MindBody application in order to locate your nearest yoga classes or meditation centers.

With all of these great apps available, there’s no better time try meditation, particularly in light of a new study which found that regular meditation sessions can knock seven and a half years off a middle-aged brain.

Along with American and Australian scientists, researchers at Jena University Hospital in Germany fed scans into a computer programme that analysed the images and provided an age for each brain based on its physical condition.

In general, the results showed that a non-meditators’ brain age and actual age were the same.

However, the meditators’ brains were significantly younger than their years, with the average 50-year-old having a brain that belonged in a 42 or 43 year-old’s body.

The benefits were particularly great for the older meditators, for every extra year past 50, a youth spent mediating reduced an extra year off brain age.

The best duvet for a good night’s sleep

Using a wool duvet may be the secret to helping couples sleep easier, experts claim.

Many couples who share a bed will know what a struggle it can be when one person can drift off to sleep while the other starts tossing and turning because they are feeling too hot or cold.

Now, researchers say they have found a way to keep the peace at night and believe the secret to a deep sleep can be put down to the type of duvet used.

According to a report in Britain’s Daily Mail, University of Leeds researchers have found that wool-filled duvets can help regulate people’s bedtime temperature as they draw heat and moisture away from the body.

Even though people produce heat and perspire at different rates, it is claimed that wool can control the microclimate around each body allowing couples to remain comfortable under the same duvet.

This indicates that even when a couple shares a bed, heat will be drawn away from a person who tends to overheat at night but not from their partner who stays cool, leaving both to drift into a sound sleep.

The study compared wadding from different types of duvet on sale in the United Kingdom to examine the thermal insulation properties and moisture management.

They also analyzed how duvets cooled down from an extreme temperature of 70 degrees Celsius and what happened in the ideal sleep environment of 17 degrees Celsius and 45 per cent relative humidity.

Accordingly, analysts found wool allowed 67 per cent more moisture to escape over an eight-hour period than a feather/down wadding, and 43 per cent more than polyester.

Further, wool was able to cope with nearly double the amount of perspiration per hour than feather/down and around 50 per cent more than polyester.

In terms of heat management, wool was able to maintain the optimum body temperature for sleep of 35.1 degrees Celsius for the longest, with feather/down and polyester unable to maintain the level and instead exceeded 36.1 degrees Celsius.

Earth Day: Food habits to help save the world

Conservation and waste reduction have been associated with April 22 since the first Earth Day in 1970, with many marking the annual celebration by planting trees. But this year (16), the organisation is putting a spin on traditional themes, planting ideas with consumers who seek fewer illnesses, less food waste and lower bills. In that spirit, here are some reasons to think a little more about what’s on our plates and in our kitchens.

Go meat-free once a week

Numerous studies demonstrate that vegetarians have lower incidences of heart disease, lower BMI and lower blood pressure than their meat-eating counterparts. According to the World Cancer Research Fund eating too much meat can increase your risk of bowel cancer. They recommend that you should eat no more than 500 grams (cooked weight) per week of red meat to reduce this risk. And the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide.

Buy local

Buying out-of-season produce which has been flown around the world is way one to lower your eco-credentials. When you shop at local butchers, bakers and grocers it is more likely that a percentage of the produce has had a much shorter journey to your plate. Along with supporting local farmers, it means your food is more likely to contain more nutrients and have less packaging.

Buy seasonal

As we have the luxury of buying all sorts of fruits and vegetables from the supermarket, we can fall prey to the vicious cycle of mass production. One Japanese study found a huge difference between the vitamin C content of spinach harvested in summer versus winter. Accordingly, keep an eye out for when fruit and vegetables are in season and plan your diet in sync.

Carry reusable water bottles

Whenever possible, carry a reusable water bottle with you. It takes seven liters of water to make one plastic water bottle and it’s estimated that each person in the U.K. uses approximately 200 water bottles each year. Further, by recycling a single plastic bottle can conserve enough energy to light a 60W light bulb for up to 6 hours.

Carry your own utensils

Buy a kit of bamboo utensils or just pop a spare knife, fork and spoon or stainless steel chopsticks into your bag. If you do have to eat on the go, this saves the use of plastic utensils and you’ll also be making a dent in the 40 billion plastic utensils used in the U.S. alone each year.

Stop buying one-time-use items

Eliminate one use items such as paper towels from your kitchen and use rags or cloths instead. Toss them in with your weekly wash and you’ll be making another step towards eco-stardom.

By doing so you’ll save money and a few trees too. According to Recycle Nation, if every household in the U.S. used just one fewer 70-sheet roll of virgin fiber paper towels, it would save 544,000 trees each year.

Energy zapping foods

Ever suffer from that mid-morning or mid-afternoon (or both!) slump? Well it might not have anything to do with your sleep the night before, and everything to do with the food you recently ate.

Nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin has given Daily Mail Australia the rundown on what foods zap the most energy from us. First up it’s your reliable cup of coffee. Yes, that caffeine hit you rely on daily may actually be doing you zero favors.

“Not only is coffee a diuretic, it actually stops your absorption of fluids and leaches out iron. All resulting in you ending up with less energy long term,” Zoe noted.

She adds that while caffeine will give you a short term boost in the energy stakes, this declines rapidly and will leave you even more tired after.

And as you step away from the coffee, make sure you ditch energy and diet soft drinks too.

“With anything that is synthetic your liver has to metabolize it,” the diet expert said. “It’s working harder than it should, leaving you tired.”

Zoe continues to explain that foods with a high salt or sugar content are also a no-no, as they cause your glycemic index to spike, meaning you’ll be on a high for a bit, before crashing down to no energy.

White bread is another culprit, which could explain why so many people feel sluggish after lunchtime.

During the day, if you’re hit with a snack attack then load up on a handful of nuts or an apple. If you’re after something sweet, try dipping apple chunks into a little peanut butter. For lunch opt for salads, full of grains and pulses. Avocado is also filling and makes a colorful edition to your plate. Protein like fish, chicken and boiled eggs will also give you afternoon energy. It’s fine to drink coffee, but maybe restrict to one or two cups a day. Fill the void with green tea, and begin the day with a hot lemon to kick start your metabolism.

Loneliness increases risk of heart attack and stroke

Lonely people are a third more likely to suffer an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke, according to new research.

British scientists from the universities of York, Liverpool and Newcastle examined data from over 181,000 people across 23 studies. Of all those individuals, 4,628 suffered from heart disease and 3,000 had a stroke, with experts finding a link between poor social relationships and incident cardiovascular disease.

They also noted the effect of loneliness is similar to that of work-stress or anxiety. People were 32 per cent more likely to have a stroke, and 29 per cent more prone to heart problems.

Scientists have long noted a correlation between being lonely and mental health and wellbeing, but this particular study is the largest to have shown the dramatic impact being alone has.

“Tackling loneliness and isolation may be a valuable addition to coronary heart disease and stroke prevention strategies,” authors noted of their findings, published in the journal Heart.

“Health practitioners have an important role to play in acknowledging the importance of social relations to their patients.”

Researcher Nicole Valtorta, of York University, stressed social isolation and loneliness shouldn’t be taken for granted like obesity and physical inactivity is, and hopes these findings will trigger more work to help the issue.

Dr Kellie Payne, from the Campaign to End Loneliness, further discussed the bigger picture of the problem.

“The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and cigarette smoking and this research helps to highlight yet further the need for loneliness to be treated as a serious public health issue,” she said.

“Loneliness is becoming a silent epidemic in our society. It’s the responsibility of our community as a whole to tackle it.”