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How long are you contagious with the flu?

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It’s shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in years.

If you are one of the thousands of Americans who are sick with the flu, this one’s for you.

You’ve spent the past couple of days cooped up in your house watching bad TV, fighting the fever sweats and expelling a baffling amount of mucus. As you start to resemble a human being again, you might feel pressure to head back to work.

But when is it really OK to return? Many people go back as soon as their symptoms start to resolve, which could be putting your co-workers at risk.

Those unpleasant symptoms are actually the result of your immune response battling the flu virus. Take fever for example. Your body starts a fever because the flu virus doesn’t grow as well at high temperatures, and some immune cells actually work better.

All that gooey mucus you’ve been coughing up is good at trapping viruses before they can infect other cells.Your body is in an all out war, you against the virus. Immune cells seek out and destroy virus-infected cells.

As your airways get irritated, you cough and sneeze. And that’s exactly what the flu wants. That’s because the flu is spread from person to person in virus-containing droplets that are produced when a sick person coughs, sneezes or even breathes. When you cough, tiny droplets that fly from your mouth can travel as far as 20 feet at speeds ranging from 25-50 mph. Sometimes they can stay suspended for hours. To read more from MADELINE K. SOFIA and MEREDITH RIZZO click here.

Eating Leafy Greens Each Day Tied to Sharper Memory

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To age well, we must eat well. There has been a lot of evidence that heart-healthy diets help protect the brain.

The latest good news: A study recently published in Neurology finds that healthy seniors who had daily helpings of leafy green vegetables — such as spinach, kale and collard greens — had a slower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who tended to eat little or no greens.

“The association is quite strong,” says study author Martha Clare Morris, a professor of nutrition science at Rush Medical College in Chicago. She also directs the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging.

The research included 960 participants of the Memory and Aging Project. Their average age is 81, and none of them have dementia. Each year the participants undergo a battery of tests to assess their memory. Scientists also keep track of their eating habits and lifestyle habits.

To analyze the relationship between leafy greens and age-related cognitive changes, the researchers assigned each participant to one of five groups, according to the amount of greens eaten. Those who tended to eat the most greens comprised the top quintile, consuming, on average, about 1.3 servings per day. Those in the bottom quintile said they consume little or no greens.

After about five years of follow-up/observation, “the rate of decline for [those] in the top quintile was about half the decline rate of those in the lowest quintile,” Morris says.

So, what’s the most convenient way to get these greens into your diet?

“My goal every day is to have a big salad,” says Candace Bishop, one of the study participants. “I get those bags of dark, leafy salad mixes.” To read more from ALLISON AUBREY, click here.

Hopeful New Signs Of Relief For Migraine Sufferers

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Humans have suffered from migraines for millennia. Yet, despite decades of research, there isn’t a drug on the market today that prevents them by targeting the underlying cause. All of that could change in a few months when the FDA is expected to announce its decision about new therapies that have the potential to turn migraine treatment on its head.

The new therapies are based on research begun in the 1980s showing that people in the throes of a migraine attack have high levels of a protein called calcitonin gene–related peptide (CGRP) in their blood.

Step by step, researchers tracked and studied this neurochemical’s effects. They found that injecting the peptide into the blood of people prone to migraines triggers migraine-like headaches, whereas people not prone to migraines experienced, at most, mild pain. Blocking transmission of CGRP in mice appeared to prevent migraine-like symptoms. And so a few companies started developing a pill that might do the same in humans.

Clinical trials of the first pills were effective against migraine but halted in 2011 over concerns about potential liver damage. So, four pharmaceutical companies rejiggered their approach. To bypass the liver, all four instead looked to an injectable therapy called monoclonal antibodies — tiny immune molecules most commonly used to treat cancer. Not only do these bypass the liver to block CGRP, but one injection appears to be effective for up to three months with almost no noticeable side effects. To read more from LAUREN GRAVITZ, click here.

How to Find Your Purpose in Life

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Do you have a sense of purpose?

Are you struggling to discover your purpose? That may be because you feel isolated from other people. Here are six ways you can overcome that.

For decades, psychologists have studied how long-term, meaningful goals develop over the span of our lives. The goals that foster a sense of purpose are ones that can potentially change the lives of other people, like launching an organization, researching disease, or teaching kids to read.

Indeed, a sense of purpose appears to have evolved in humans so that we can accomplish big things together—which may be why it’s linked to better physical and mental health. Purpose is adaptive, in an evolutionary sense. It helps both individuals and the species to survive.

Many seem to believe that purpose arises from your special gifts and sets you apart from other people—but that’s only part of the truth. It also grows from our connection to others, which is why a crisis of purpose is often a symptom of isolation. Once you find your path, you’ll almost certainly find others traveling along with you, hoping to reach the same destination—a community.

Here are six ways to overcome isolation and discover your purpose in life. To read more from Jeremy Adam Smith, click here.

This 5 Min. Technique Could Help You Fall Asleep

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You’ve had all day to worry, but your brain decides that the moment you rest your weary head upon your pillow is the precise instant it wants to start fretting. The result of course is that you feel wide awake and cannot sleep. Two possible solutions: (1) spend five minutes before lights out writing about everything you have done. This might give you a soothing sense of achievement. Or (2) spend five minutes writing a comprehensive to-do list. This could serve to off-load your worries, or perhaps it will only make them more salient? To find out which is the better strategy, a team led by Michael Scullin at Baylor University, invited 57 volunteers to their sleep lab and had half of them try technique 1 and half try technique 2. Their findings are published in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

The participants, aged 18 to 30, attended the sleep lab at about 9pm on a weekday night. They filled out questionnaires about their usual sleep habits and underwent basic medical tests. Once in their sound-proofed room and wired up to equipment that uses brain waves to measure sleep objectively, they were told that lights out would be 10.30pm. Before they tried to sleep, half of the participants spent five minutes “writing about everything you have to remember to do tomorrow and over the next few days”. The others spent the same time writing about any activities they’d completed that day and over the previous few days.

The key finding is that the participants in the to-do list condition fell asleep more quickly. They took about 15 minutes to fall asleep, on average, compared with 25 minutes for those in the “jobs already done” condition. Moreover, among those in the to-do list group, the more thorough and specific their list, the more quickly they fell asleep, which would seem to support a kind of off-loading explanation. Another interpretation is that busier people, who had more to write about, tended to fall asleep more quickly. But this is undermined by the fact that among the jobs-done group, those who wrote in more detail tended to take longer to fall asleep. To read more from Christian Jarrett, click here.

The gut-brain connection

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Have you ever had a “gut-wrenching” experience? Do certain situations make you “feel nauseous”? Have you ever felt “butterflies” in your stomach? We use these expressions for a reason. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion. Anger, anxiety, sadness, elation — all of these feelings (and others) can trigger symptoms in the gut.

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.

This is especially true in cases where a person experiences gastrointestinal upset with no obvious physical cause. For such functional GI disorders, it is difficult to try to heal a distressed gut without considering the role of stress and emotion. To read more from Harvard Health, click here.

The Secret To being More Assertive

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Why are some of us more inclined than others to stick up for ourselves, not aggressively, but assertively. Assertive people let others know when they feel mistreated and they’re confident saying “no” to unwanted demands.

Presumably it has to do with how see ourselves, yet past research has established that two key aspects of the self-concept – good feelings about the self (“self-liking” or “self-confidence”) and seeing oneself as competent – are not strongly related to assertive behaviour.

Daniela Renger, a researcher at the Institute of Psychology at Kiel University in Germany, believes this is because most relevant to assertiveness is self-respect – “a person’s conviction that they possess the universal dignity of persons and basic moral human rights and equality”. Across three studies published in Self and Identity, Renger shows that self-respect is a distinct psychological concept and that it is uniquely correlated with assertive behaviour. To read more from Christian Jarrett, click here.

How Labels Can Affect People’s Personalities And Potential

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What is it that makes you…you? NPR’s Shankar Vedantam explores new research that suggests the labels we use to categorize people affect not just who they are now, but who they’ll be in the future. A person’s personality and potential can be tricky things to pinpoint and measure. On today’s Morning Edition, NPR’s Shankar Vedantam looked at the world of personality testing and what these tests can and cannot tell us about ourselves. And now he explores new research that asks another question – can the ways we categorize people affect not just who they are now, but who they’ll become in the future? To read more from SHANKAR VEDANTAM, click here.

Lonely? Short of friends? Try looking at it differently

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Psychologists are regularly berated for spending their workdays reaching blindingly obvious conclusions about the world – an accusation that isn’t entirely unwarranted. (My favourite recent finding comes from the journal Psychological Science: “Depressed individuals may fail to decrease sadness.”) At first glance, it’s tempting to respond that way to a new study from the University of British Columbia, explaining why people tend to assume that their friends have more friends, and lead less solitary lives, than they do. Can you guess? That’s right: because every single time we see our friends, they’re socialising. By definition. Assuming you don’t spy on your friends via telescope from treetops, you never see them at home alone in their pyjamas, eating pickled onion Monster Munch while watching The X Factor and feeling sorry for themselves. You’re never there when they wake in the dark at 3am, wondering where their lives are headed. Or, likewise, consider those happy throngs you glimpse through the windows of the bar you pass each day on your way home from work: doesn’t it seem like they’re always meeting friends at the bar? To read more from Oliver Burkeman, click here.

This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

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During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful.

The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. To read more from JULI FRAGA, click here.