TIME toxins

How Fireworks Pollution Could Be Hurting Your Health

Levels of tiny pollutants are 42% higher on the holiday than on a typical day, one study says

Fireworks on the Fourth of July dramatically increase air pollution, boosting exposure to potentially dangerous pollutants for millions of onlookers, according to a recent study in the journal Atmospheric Environment.

“When people think of air pollution, they think of other kinds of things—smoke stacks, automobile exhaust pipes, construction sites,” says study author Dian J. Seidel, senior scientist for climate measurements at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “I don’t think most people think of fireworks.”

The level of particulate matter, or small pollutants like dust, dirt and soot present in the air, increased by 42% on average across the U.S. on the Fourth of July, according to the study. Air conditions are at their worst between 9 and to 10 p.m. on the day of the holiday. The researchers, who looked at data from 315 sites across the country, found that ten of the sites met a threshold deemed unsafe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when sustained for a prolonged period of time.

Extended exposure to particulate matter can lead to coughing, wheezing and even lead to an early death for people with pre-existing conditions like heart or lung disease, according to the EPA.

Not all fireworks are created equal, and a number of factors—including weather patterns, location of the fireworks and the size and number of shows—may determine levels of firework pollution, according to Seidel. One site in Ogden, UT, saw nearly a five-fold increase in particulate matter on the Fourth compared to an average day.

The researchers also found that many of the most-polluted sites coincide with the country’s most populous metropolitan areas. Los Angeles, Chicago and Seattle, for example, all experienced levels of particulate matter that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold.

Avoiding firework pollution can be difficult, if not impossible, health experts say. People in the immediate vicinity of fireworks will experience the most pollution. From there, the particles will disperse throughout the area, hardly leaving any place untouched. People sitting downwind from the fireworks will receive the brunt of pollution, says Joel Schwartz, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard University. Indeed, the EPA advises children and the elderly, along with people with heart disease, asthma and other lung diseases, to consider watching upwind from fireworks. But given how long particles linger, it may be difficult to avoid firework pollution altogether if you live in the vicinity of a fireworks show.

“Particles tend to stay suspended in the air for days,” says Schwartz. “They’re going to drift whichever way the winds goes, so it’s not just going to be the people sitting in the park watching the fireworks.”

But while the increase in pollution due to fireworks may sound frightening, most public health experts say those levels would need to be sustained for much longer before widespread health problems emerge. The EPA’s rules “discount” particulate matter from fireworks when evaluating dangerous pollution levels, according to a statement from an agency spokesperson. “It’s one day,” says Schwartz. “Your risk went up a little bit, but I don’t think it’s a major public health issue.”

In fact, even Seidel says she’s planning to watch the fireworks this year. “Yes, I will be watching,” she told TIME, “from a safe distance and upwind.”

Read next: Somebody Flew a Drone Into a Fireworks Display and This Is What Happened

TIME Exercise/Fitness

6 Ways to Get More Out of a Push-Up

woman-doing-push-up-exercise
Getty Images

Pay attention to your breathing

The push-up is one of the most overlooked exercises in the metaphorical exercise book. Sure, it looks pretty easy and most of us know the basics: heels together, wrists underneath shoulders, bend and press your elbows, and voila, a move that works your entire body pretty much.

But there are certain tweaks you can make to take your push-up technique to the next level. Here are 6 key ways to perfect this exerciseand get the most out of it. All you have to do is follow these tips.

Press Your Hands Into The Floor

When performing a push-up, you want to press the palms of your hands firmly into the floor as if to push away from your wrists. Simultaneously, rotate the arms externally so that the elbows and biceps face forward. This pressure provides a natural tension in your arms, shoulders, and upper back, which will help you maintain stability in the upper body throughout the exercise, which helps keep you working hard in proper form.

Squeeze your lats

Another way to stabilize the upper body is to engage your lats. These muscles are found underneath your armpits and run along the sides of your body. By pressing your palms firmly into the floor you can start to activate them. Then, in addition, think of squeezing your armpits as tightly as possible, like you are holding something in between them. This will keep your upper body completely stable.

Draw your shoulder blades down and back

Keeping your shoulders shrugged up to your ears puts excess strain on the neck, and makes it harder to work the muscles you’re trying to tone: your arms, shoulders, and core. The body needs to move as one solid unit. Before you bend your elbows, check to make sure your shoulder blades are pulled down and back away from the ears, engaging your back muscles. To do this, act as if you are trying to squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Keep your neck in line with your spine

Dropping your head too far down or tilting it too far upward can put too much pressure on the spine and put you at greater risk for injurythe opposite of getting stronger. Find a neutral spine: Instead of tucking your chin completely or looking straight out in front, gaze about 6 inches or so in front of your fingertips and keep your eyes focused there as you push up.

Keep your core engaged

The core is made up of more than just your abdominal muscles. It’s the entire midsection of your body, basically everything but your extremities. Activating all of your core muscles, including your obliques, abs, and glutes, takes stress off the lower back in addition to stabilizing your hips so your body stays in one long line, even as you lower down. By actively squeezing your navel towards your spine, the push up becomes just as much of an abdominal workout as performing a plank.

Master the breath

If we were listing these in level of importance, this would probably be number one. As with any exercise, breath is always going to help improve your form. It is what drives the movement. Remember to always exhale on the effort of the movement. In this case, that means inhale when you go down and exhale when you press up. As you exhale, you are essentially trying to empty the lungs of as much air as possible to help contract the core and give more power to your movement.

Now that you know how to do the perfect push-up, you can try different variations with 7 Ways to Do a Push-Up

This article originally appeared on Health.com

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s What Happens To Your Steak When You Grill It

Nothing says the Fourth of July like juicy seared food, so here’s a quick lesson on the science behind grilling

It’s time to throw nearly everything you can think of—meat, chicken, fish, vegetables and even fruit—on the grill and give it a good sear. But what makes food cooked over a fire taste so good? Here’s the simple (we promise, it’s not that complicated) science behind what makes red meat red, when to take your food off the flame, and whether gas or charcoal is really better for that getting that smoky flavor, thanks to the experts at the American Chemical Society.

TIME Obesity

Injecting This Drug Helps Patients Lose Weight

Daily shots of liraglutide (Saxenda), recently approved by the FDA, helps overweight or obese patients lose weight

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers say that the only injectable weight loss drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) helps people to lose more than 12 pounds, more than twice as much as people taking a placebo.

The study is one of several that the FDA considered before approving the drug in 2014. It included data on 3,731 patients who were randomly assigned to take liraglutide or a placebo for just over a year. The trial continued to follow the patients for another year, and that data will be published soon.

MORE: This Pill Can Trick the Body Into Losing Weight, Study Finds

Liraglutide is similar to an already approved drug to treat type 2 diabetes, but is used in higher doses for weight loss. The drug mimics the effects of a hormone that works in the gut to signal the brain that you’ve eaten enough and feel full. As a diabetes drug, it helps the beta cells in the pancreas release insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. In the NEJM study, none of the patients had diabetes, although some were pre-diabetic, and the FDA says liraglutide for weight loss should not be used together with the diabetes drug, also made by Novo Nordisk.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, director of the obesity research center at Columbia University, liraglutide works as well as phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), which doctors believe works by suppressing appetite. They key to making any weight loss medication effective, he says, is combining it with diet and exercise changes as well, which is what the participants in the study did. One advantage of liraglutide is that it can be used by women in their child-bearing years.

So far, the side effects of litaglutide, which include nausea, diarrhea, gall bladder abnormalities and pancreatitis, were minimal and did not outweigh the benefits of weight loss. But in approving the drug, the FDA asked the company to continue to study the drug to ensure that the adverse events remain within an acceptable range.

TIME medicine

Study Suggests Clue to Strange Link Between Swine Flu Vaccine and Narcolepsy

The immune system may have misidentified a protein in the vaccine

(WASHINGTON) — One vaccine used in Europe during the 2009 swine flu pandemic was linked to rare cases of a baffling side effect — the sleep disorder narcolepsy. Now new research offers a clue to what happened.

The vaccine Pandemrix never was used in the United States, and was pulled off the market abroad, but reports of narcolepsy in Finland and several other countries sparked questions globally about flu shot safety.

On Wednesday, an international team of researchers reported the problem may have been a case of mistaken identity by the immune system.

Narcolepsy is an incurable disorder that interferes with normal sleep cycles, leaving people chronically sleepy during the daytime and apt to abruptly fall asleep. No one knows what causes it, although patients have very low levels of a brain chemical named hypocretin that’s important for wakefulness. One theory is that a particular gene variant makes people susceptible, and that some environmental trigger, maybe an infection, pushes them over the edge.

About a year after mass vaccinations began against a new strain of H1N1 flu, called swine flu at the time, some European countries reported rare cases of narcolepsy in recipients of GlaxoSmithKline’s Pandemrix but not in people given other flu vaccines. Research found narcolepsy patients had that genetic predisposition, but no other explanation.

In the new study, Dr. Lawrence Steinman of Stanford University and colleagues found that the H1N1 virus contains a protein that is structurally similar to part of a brain cell receptor for that wakefulness chemical. They wondered if the flu-fighting antibodies generated by the Pandemrix vaccine might also latch onto those narcolepsy-linked receptors, leading to damage.

Colleagues in Finland sent blood samples that had been stored from 20 people diagnosed with vaccine-associated narcolepsy. Sure enough, 17 harbored antibodies capable of reacting both to flu and to those narcolepsy-linked receptors, Steinman’s team reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Recipients of another European vaccine, Novartis’ Focetria, didn’t harbor those cross-reactive antibodies.

Pandemrix contained much higher levels of the flu protein than Focetria, possibly because the two flu shots were made from different H1N1 subtypes, the researchers found.

The study doesn’t prove the link, Steinman stressed, calling for more research. It’s not clear how the antibodies could have gotten into the brain.

Moreover, some unvaccinated people who caught the flu harbor the antibodies, too, he said, and a study from China found H1N1 infection itself may increase narcolepsy risk.

It’s a plausible theory, said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University who wasn’t involved in the new research.

Importantly, “this would also appear to be a solvable problem,” with manufacturing techniques to ensure that future vaccines don’t contain too much cross-reactive protein, he said.

However the narcolepsy puzzle turns out, the flu kills tens of thousands of people every year. “It’s really important to get vaccinated against flu,” Steinman said.

 

TIME public health

Now Blood Donors Can Get a Text When They Save Lives

blood donation
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What we can learn from a revolutionary way Sweden is getting people to blood banks

The usual visit to a blood donation center goes something like this: you enter a sterile room, ease into a seat or lie down and have your blood drawn. Besides a handful of free cookies, you leave with nothing more than the noble sense of being a good citizen, and your part of the transaction is complete.

In Sweden, however, a simple text message is moving blood donation from an activity of the generous to a social media worthy event. Launched three years ago to combat paltry donation rates, the hospital using the pioneering text campaign, Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, sends a text to a donor acknowledging their contribution. When the blood has been dispensed to someone in need, the clinic sends a follow-up text.

The system has seen a resurgence in attention thanks to a viral tweet from Swedish designer Robert Lenne:

The text program also includes a “nag me until I become a blood donor” option, reports Ragan’s Health Care Communication News. Choose it, and you’ll receive texts like “We won’t give up until you bleed” to (not so subtly) encourage you to donate.

It’s an attempt by Swedish blood banks—which are struggling with low blood donations—to connect with younger blood donors, reports The Independent.

In a post on behavioral economist Richard Thaler’s just-launched blog “Misbehaving,” Allison Daminger and Jamie Kimmel note the role of “nudges” in getting people to do otherwise mundane or uncomfortable tasks, like giving blood. The idea is simple, they write: offer potential donors proof that their contribution is going to a good use. The problem with blood donation, along with other acts of charity, is that if a donor doesn’t know the recipient of a gift, it’s harder to convince them that donating is beneficial, they write.

It’s not yet clear whether or not the campaign boosts donation rates, say Daminger and Kimmel. “There simply haven’t been many evaluations of similar programs,” they write.

What it does do well, however, is to tap into the ultimate millennial form of flattery, they say—personal connection with a social media twist.

The U.S., too, offers some options to track blood donations. In 2014, they launched a Blood Donor App was to track the journey of the donation, according to Kara Lusk Dudley, public affairs manager in biomedical communications at the American Red Cross. The organization also emails donors when their donation is shipped.

But a text with a witty vampiric nudge? Not quite yet.

TIME Research

What Drinking Does to Your Body Over Time

healthiest foods, health food, diet, nutrition, time.com stock, red wine, alcohol
Danny Kim for TIME

Social drinking is not always benign

The effects of having a few drinks can differ person to person, but often people may not realize just how risky their drinking patterns are, or what that alcohol is doing to them under the hood.

There are two definitions for “safe” drinking. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines say moderate alcohol consumption is OK, which means having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has its own recommendation it calls “low risk” drinking, which sets limits for what levels of drinking will put you at a low risk for developing an alcohol abuse issue later on. This comes out to no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week for women, and no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week for men.

According to Dr. George Koob, director of the NIAAA, the current body of evidence doesn’t show whether there are significant differences between someone who drinks at this level versus someone who never drinks. In some cases, there’s strong evidence to suggest that moderate wine consumption could actually benefit the heart. Though Koob says some studies have been controversial and it’s not determined what it is about wine or other parts of a person’s lifestyle that could be at play. There are also individual patterns and sensitivities that people should take into consideration at this level. Some people can handle the amount better than others.

If you genuinely stay within the healthy drinking limits, you’re likely at a low risk for alcohol-related health problems down the line.

The concept of binge drinking is often associated with college students and drinking to get “drunk.” But evidence suggests that people beyond college age also maintain those heavy drinking behaviors. The NIH defines it as five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women within two hours. Some of the risks associated with binge drinking are well known. It increases the risk for sexual assault, violence and self harm. But the physical effects of such behaviors on the body are often less discussed. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there’s strong evidence to suggest that regular binge drinking can damage the frontal cortex and areas of the brain involved in executive functions and decision making. Alcohol slows down the pace of the neurotransmitters in your brain that are critical for proper body responses and even moods.

“Abstaining from alcohol over several months to a year may allow structural brain changes to partially correct,” the NIH says. “Abstinence also can help reverse negative effects on thinking skills, including problem­ solving, memory, and attention.”

Long term drinking can also hurt your heart muscles making them unable to contract properly. It can also harm liver, pancreas and immune system function. Heavy drinking can prevent the protective white blood cells in your body to attack bacterial invaders like they’re supposed to. Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your risk for certain cancers like mouth and breast. Regular heavy drinking also increases the risk for some alcohol dependence. “It creeps up on people,” says Koob.

You can calculate how many “drinks” your cocktail adds up to here and assess how risky your own drinking behaviors are here.

TIME Cancer

Nearly 10 Million Americans Still Use Tanning Beds

Skin cancer may be scaring people away

It looks like tanning beds are finally becoming less popular, a new report reveals.

The number of U.S. adults who use indoor tanning beds—which are strongly linked to skin cancer—declined to 4.2% in 2013 from 5.5% in 2010, according to new research published in the journal JAMA Dermatology.

Even young adults are using tanning beds less than in the past. The researchers noted a drop from 11.3% of 18 to 29 year-olds using them in 2010 to a 8.6% in 2013.

Still, the researchers estimate that 7.8 million women and 1.9 million men still use tanning beds, and for some age groups, there appears to be more interest. For instance, the number of female tanners dropped in all age groups and among college graduates. However, the researchers noted a 177% increase in tanning among men between ages 40 to 49 and 71% higher among men 50 and up.

Though the study authors can’t say for certain, it’s likely the wider acknowledgement that indoor tanning beds can lead to cancer that has more Americans opting out. The hope among public health experts is that the trend will continue to lose popularity.

TIME HIV/AIDS

Cuba Eliminates HIV Transmission from Mother to Child

A newborn baby rests beside his mother Dailyn Fleite at the Ana Betancourt de Mora Hospital in Camaguey, Cuba
Alexandre Meneghini—Reuters A new born baby rests beside his mother at the Ana Betancourt de Mora Hospital in Camaguey, Cuba, on June 19, 2015.

Only two babies were born with HIV in the country 2013

Cuba is the first country to eliminate the transfer of HIV and Syphilis from mother to child, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday. Only two babies were born with HIV in the country 2013, a low enough number to meet the WHO standard.

“This is a celebration for Cuba and a celebration for children and families everywhere,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, in a statement.

The achievement is at least in part the result of a five-year program by WHO and the Pan American Health Organization to eliminate prenatal transmission of HIV in the region. The program has included testing for pregnant women and treatment for women who test positive. Effective treatment of HIV in pregnant women can reduce the risk of passing the disease to a child to just 1%, down from as high as 45% otherwise.

Around 1.4 million women with HIV become pregnant every year. And while the number of mother to child transmissions has declined dramatically in recent years, from about 400,000 in 2009 to 240,000 2013, WHO officials hope to see the number drop below 40,000.

TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Resurface in Liberia After 2 Months of Being Ebola-Free

Liberia Ebola West Africa
Abbas Dulleh—AP Health workers wash their hands after taking a blood specimen from a child to test for the Ebola virus in an area where a 17-year old boy died from the virus on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, on June 30, 2015.

A teenage boy died from the virus and may have infected others

Liberia has reported its second case of Ebola on Tuesday after nearly two months of being Ebola-free.

Liberia had been declared officially Ebola-free on May 9 after it had gone 42 days with no new cases.

On Sunday, the body of a teenage boy was discovered in a rural area outside of the capital Monrovia and was confirmed to have the virus, Reuters reports. The news was not made public until Tuesday. People who came into contact with the boy have been isolated, and at least one of those patients has tested positive.

Though Liberia was declared free from Ebola infections in May, the outbreak has continued in Guinea and Sierra Leone, which share borders. “There is no known source of infection and there’s no information about him traveling to Guinea or [Sierra Leone],” a spokesperson for the ministry of health told Science.

So far, Ebola has infected 27,400 people in all three countries, killing over 11,200.

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