In the News This Week: Happiness, Exercise, Food Labels, and WAT-AAH
Napa, California is the Happiest City in America…According to 10 Million Tweets (via The Atlantic)
The Vermont Complex Systems Center created a “hedonometer” – an analysis of 10 million geotagged tweets. The researchers coded each tweet for its happy/sad content, based on the appearance and frequency of specific words (happy = rainbow, love, beauty, hope, wonderful, wine…sad = damn, boo, ugly, smoke, hate, lied). Yes, this method lacks context (i.e., does wine mean happiness or drunkenness), but at this scale, researchers can make reasonable conclusions. There are some other concerns with the study, which The Atlantic does a good job of distilling (check out the article to learn more), but all in all, this is an interesting addition to the host of happiness data out there, and I’ll be excited to see where it goes. If you like this sort of thing, you might also be interested in a friend of mine’s project + beautiful book: We Feel Fine.
WAT-AAH Aims to Make Water Cool for Kids (via PSFK.com)
Mom and former marketing exec Rose Cameron makes a big bet that kids indeed judge a book by its cover. Her new brand WAT-AHH is designed to appeal to kids, giving them a reason to reach for water instead of sugary soda. Everything from the name to the bottle shape to the logo is designed by (her) kids, for kids, giving this a good shot if her hypothesis is true. Her own kids sure think it is: “Honestly, I think that my friends would rather drink a water that looks cooler than soda because it’s all about looking cool, honestly.” My take? Any effort to get kids off soda and onto water is a good one…but I’d also love to see a generation of kids drinking of the tap instead of plastic bottles!
Foods Might Have More Calories Than Food Labels Tell Us (via The Guardian)
Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham convened a session about calorie measurement at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) this week to voice his concerns that our current system of measuring calories (known as the Atwater system) may be flawed. He’s concerned that the system doesn’t account for the calories in fiber, while it overestimates (by up to 20%) the number of calories in some protein-rich food. Additionally, raw and cooked versions of the same food may have different calorie content. It will be interesting to see where this goes, as the thought of a new labeling system feels overwhelming (to me). In the meantime, this is a good reminder to eat whole, real foods in moderate quantities rather than obsess about calories (unless there is a medical reason we need to)!
Outdoor Exercise Trumps Indoor Workouts (via The New York Times)
As someone who grew up and lived in a cold climate for much of my life, I’ve long wondered whether exercising indoors (on machines) gives us the same benefit as exercising outdoors. Gretchen Reynolds reported this week that there are irreplaceable benefits to exercising outdoors. Here are the key differences she reports: 1) Runners stride differently (more ankle flexion, more variety) and burn more calories when running outdoors versus on a treadmill, 2) cyclists use more energy outside (in large part due to wind drag), 3) walkers reported higher measures of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem after walking outside versus indoors, and 4) overall, people who exercise outdoors exercised longer and more often than those working out indoors.
At the end of her article, Reyonds quotes Jackqueline Kerr, profession at the University of California, San Diego: “Despite the fitness industry boom, we are not seeing changes in national physical activity levels, so gyms are not the answer.” It’s easy for me to say, now that I’ve escaped frigid Wisconsin for temperate California, but it sounds like the message is clear: LET’S GET OUTSIDE.
Body Chemistry Might Explain Differences Between Couch Potatoes and Exercisers (via The Wall Street Journal)
So it turns out that working out might not just be about motivation and determination after all…biology might play a significant role. According to Panteleimon Ekkekakis, professor of kinesiology at Iowa State, everyone has a different physical capacity for exertion, after which point we start to feel really crummy during exercise. Knowing that we’re not all created equal, Ekkekakis sees people pushing beyond their natural limits too soon, versus trying to boost these limits slowly over time. This huge variance in thresholds might explain why some people exercise easily and stick with it, while others struggle and burn out. So what’s the big takeaway? Make workouts achievable, build slowly, and find ways to make exercise fun + social.