Sunday Roundup: The Week in Research

Life on the information highway moves fast, and it’s not always easy to stay current. To help you keep on pace (and perhaps impress coworkers by initiating a stimulating Monday morning conversation), I bring you the abbreviated version of this week’s most engaging health and science news.

Image from blog.lib.umn.eduResearch from Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work on the psychology of happiness suggests that we each have a unique happiness set point. While our mood may increase or decrease as positive or negative events occur, we tend to return to our predetermined set point as we adapt to each activity or occurrence. This intriguing concept begs the immediate question: can we permanently change this set point, with the goal being to reset it to a higher level? My guess is yes. For example, Dr. Lyubomirsky’s findings also indicate that unhappy people tend to compare themselves to others far too often, letting their happiness consequently be determined by the results of these comparisons rather than their independent actions. Therefore, identifying and consciously practicing that which makes us happy seems likely to positively impact our set point. Is it exercise? Social connections with friends? Time spent outdoors? Go after it and stop worrying what others are doing.

Most of us understand the utility of heart rate for estimating exercise intensity and determining appropriate workout zones, but this article presents new research showing that resting heart rate is an independent predictor of mortality. Even when factors such as physical fitness, blood pressure, physical activity and other cardiovascular risk factors are taken into account, a higher resting heart rate is associated with a greater risk of death in men. Every 10 beat per minute increase in heart rate (e.g., from 50 to 60 beats per minute) increases the mortality risk by 16%. How do you keep your resting heart rate low? Daily exercise increases the pumping capacity and efficiency of the heart, consequently reducing resting heart rate.

A precocious 16-year-old high school student may have provided some of the most compelling evidence to date supporting a benefit of organic foods on overall health. In what initially begin as a school science project, Ria Chhabra tracked the impact of organic and conventional diets on the health of fruit flies. As Tara Parker-Pope reports, “By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce.” While fruit flies aren’t humans, nonetheless the study provides provocative preliminary data on the systemic benefits of an organic diet.

Picture taken from blog.cachinko.comDoes going back to work on Monday get you down? Talk to your boss about it, because he or she may be the reason. Recent reports from the emergent field of work-force science indicate that the quality of a supervisor, as indicated by factors such as personality and communication skills, may be more important to employee performance than the experience and skills of the individual employee.

And finally, should you need inspiration for the week ahead, I urge you to listen to this NPR clip on Caroline Shaw, who at age 30 is the youngest ever winner (and this year’s recipient) of the Pulitzer Prize in music.  She describes writing her composition, an a cappella vocal piece, as “having a sound in [her] head…and struggling to make that sound happen…and then, suddenly, one beautiful, simple chord.”


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