May 6, 2014

Gardening: It's more than just getting your hands dirty.     Photo: monkeybusinessimages/Thinkstock

Skip the Gym for the Garden

Can you feel the burn?

You might have earned that glass of cold lemonade more than you thought. New research from two South Korean universities suggests that in addition to being an enjoyable and eco-friendly hobby, gardening can provide a solid workout.

Studies have already confirmed the health benefits of gardening for older adults, but this new study, published in HortTechnology, is the first to explore the activity's effects on adults in their twenties. Participants put their green thumbs to work, performing 10 common gardening tasks for five minutes apiece and taking five-minute breathers between each.

The scientists classified nine of the 10 activities—planting transplants, mixing growing medium, watering, harvesting, sowing, hoeing, mulching, raking, and weeding—as "moderate intensity." And if you have a penchant for digging? Based on the data, digging is a "high-intensity" activity.

"Determining the exercise intensity of gardening tasks should be useful information for developing garden exercise programs based on physical activity recommendations for health benefits," the researchers said. As scientists learn more about gardening's physical aspects, that information could be put to use in therapy programs for injured or special-needs patients, or just to figure out how long people need to tend their crops to equal their usual morning jog. Gardening has also been found to lower cholesterol and blood sugar and improve mental health.

If you're looking for a specific gardening workout regimen, you'll have to wait a bit longer. According to lead author Ki-Cheol Son, "There was not enough data on the metabolic equivalents of gardening tasks in different age groups to develop a garden exercise program for maintaining or improving health conditions." For now, you'll just have to devote a lot of time to tending your garden and hope for the best. Hey, it could be worse.

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A new report says that up to 70 percent of the year may be considered "unhealthy air days" by 2050.     Photo: Matt Gush/Getty Images

A Big Day for Climate Change

White House, scientists release reports on challenges facing the U.S.

A windfall of reports today highlighted current and future climate-related challenges, with just a few bright spots. 

Leading the way: a report from the National Climate Assessment (NCA). A panel of scientists overseen by the U.S. government spent years compiling the report, finally released today as the third of its kind.

A main takeaway is that all areas of the United States are already feeling the effects of climate change, from more torrential rain in the East to major droughts in the West.

Though things might not feel too extreme right now—and, in fact, agriculture has benefited from a longer growing season in the short term—the report warns that without action, consequences might be harsh. "There is mounting evidence that harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced," the report says.

That brings us to a final point the NCA drives home. The report points firmly to human influences as a primary driver of recent climate change, with multiple lines of independent evidence in support.

The intention is to apply these findings to public policy and private-sector decisions. The White House will host a conversation on some of these action items, featuring representatives from the Weather Channel and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at 2 p.m. EST (see the livestream below).

Supplementing the NCA report are findings from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which predicts more smog, especially in summer months. (Ozone, one of the main ingredients of smog, forms more rapidly in high temperatures.) Using a supercomputer to simulate pollution levels alongside climate change, scientists warned that if pollutants remain at their current levels, 70 percent of the year might be considered unhealthy air days by 2050.

It's not all bad news. Another report evaluated 50 cities around the world for resilience, which it defined as a city's ability to adapt to climate challenges and four other risk categories. The ranking shows that many of the world's biggest cities are well equipped to handle these vulnerabilities—with three Canadian cities leading the way, followed by Chicago, Boston, and Washington, DC, among others.

Closer to nature, National Geographic highlighted some climate-adaptation success stories in the animal kingdom. Butterflies and armadillos are moving north, corals are warming up to new homes, and certain snails are developing lighter-colored shells to cool down. Considering the warnings we've heard today, we might want to take note.

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This humpback whale isn't dead now, but one day it very well could be.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Town Tries to Sell Dead Whale on eBay

Fears stench may become unbearable

When life gives you dead whales, make tourism. So goes the saying in Trout River, Newfoundland, where a dead whale washed up last week. Four hours away, in Cape St. George, the locals don't consider their own 40-foot dead sperm whale to be as much of a blessing. Fearing that the stench of creeping death might become overwhelming and having so far been unable to will the carcass to leave of its own accord à la Weekend At Bernie's, residents of Cape St. George turned to eBay to find a buyer for their bloated buddy.

Thus far, Canada's fisheries department has declined to assist the town of 1,000 in its quest for whale removal. "[They] didn't offer any suggestions about what to do with it and didn't offer assistance," said Mayor Peter Fenwick. "They just said, 'You have to get rid of it,' so we decided to list it on eBay." But what exactly would a buyer do with the body of a 40-foot maven of the seas? One possibility, per Fenwick's suggestion, would be to put its skeleton in a museum, where it would make a fine addition to any collection.

Unfortunately for Fenwick and Cape St. George residents, eBay forbids the selling of animals, dead or alive, and the listing was removed. The buzz around the carcass auction also attracted the attention of federal officials, who informed Fenwick that it was illegal to sell the dead whale in any capacity. 

Undeterred, Fenwick said the town is going to "have a look at the regulations and see if there is any way around that."

When life gives you dead whales, make legislation. 

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Due in part to its 6-month hibernation period, the Great Hamster of Alsace was not available for comment.     Photo: Flickr/Tina_6500

Saving Le Hamster

French authorities are ramping up efforts to save Europe's last wild hamster

In the Alsace region of France, actions are being taken to help save Europe's last wild hamster. The rodent, which can grow up to 10 inches in length, is alternately referred to as the European hamster or, less modestly, the Great Hamster of Alsace. 

Although the black-bellied Cricetus cricetus has been protected since 1993, its numbers have fallen so dramatically that now only a few hundred remain in the wild. Current estimates cite the animal's population to be somewhere between 500 and 1,000.

The Great Hamster of Alsace might have died out already if the European Court of Justice (the EU's highest court) hadn't taken up its case in 2011 by pressuring the French government to do more to protect it.

On Monday, Alsace's regional council announced that it would spend 3 million euros to help bring the hamster population up to around 1,500. The initiative intends to get farmers to strategically plant small crops of alfalfa, which has largely been replaced by maize in French agricultural practice. Alfalfa is the preferred food of the endangered hamster, which, being French, is selective about what it eats.

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Red Bull gives you… cigarette breath as a child?     Photo: Jani Bryson/ThinkStock

Energy Drinks Linked to Bad Behavior

Including smoking, video game binges

Been sippin' the Gatorade haterade for a while? Feel vindicated: Those who drink Rockstar might experience rockstar-length lifespans. A new study out of the University of Minnesota and Duke University found high correlation between energy and sports drink consumption and bad behavior in adolescents.

Researchers analyzed body metrics and student-completed lifestyle surveys from 20 public middle and high schools that participated in a 2010 adolescent health study. The researchers noticed that although those students drinking more sugary boosters were more likely to engage in physical activity than their Amp-ascetic peers, they were also more likely to smoke, drink sugary beverages, and spend more time in front of screens.

In a striking example, boys who regularly seek energy boosts spent an additional hour watching TV and four hours playing video games each week.

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, was undertaken to improve understanding of how sugary beverages fit into adolescent health behavior patterns, which would then inform intervention strategies. Though national consumption of soft drinks and fruit drinks has dropped, children are compensating by tripling consumption of allegedly healthier sports drinks—some highly sweetened, caffeinated, and flame retardant.

Medical experts have long preached the physiological dangers of childhood energy-drink consumption, and caffeine consumption in general. A 2012 study found that mixes of chemicals and caffeine could drastically impede youth heart function. And it's not just kids who are at risk; energy drink–related emergency room visits more than doubled between 2007 and 2011, with the largest increase in the 40-and-older demographic.

Granted, the subjects were middle school students—they have a few years to go before their frontal lobes take the lead in making good life choices. If you're a fully functioning adult who thinks exercising gives you the right to fuel willy-nilly, however, consider swapping energy drinks for a healthier means of getting a buzz—vegetable juice, tea, or even homemade energy drinks without all the chemicals. Here at Outside, coffee rules.

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Three of five gold bars recovered by Zeus, Odyssey Marine Exploration's deep-sea rover.     Photo: Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc.

Sunken "Ship of Gold" Still Leaks

With gold, that is

A marine exploration company just signed an exclusive excavate-and-recover contract for the SS Central America (and the millions of dollars worth of gold on board). Zeus, Odyssey Marine Exploration’s deep-sea rover, visited the sunken "Ship of Gold" in mid-April—more than 7,000 feet down and 150 miles off the coast of South Carolina—for the first time in years.

On September 9, 1857, the SS Central America, a steamship carrying loot from the final years of the California Gold Rush, got caught in a category 2 hurricane on its way back from the Port of Colón, Panama. Winds of 105 mph beat the ship's sails for two days before a leak near one of its paddle wheels extinguished the boiler and the ship began to sink. Crew aboard the SS Central America flew its flag upside down (the universal distress signal), but the ship's wreckage was not found until 1988.

Between 1988 and 1991, five percent of the ship's gold was recovered. On April 15, Zeus pulled five gold bars and two gold coins (60 pounds) from the SS Central America.

The Odyssey Marine Exploration team is surveying the shipwreck now and plans to pull the remaining gold (estimated value: $250,000 to $2,000,000 circa 1857, according to Odyssey Marine Exploration) when Zeus fully documents the legend of the "Ship of Gold."

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    Photo: Getty Images

Unfit Adults Are More Forgetful

Study finds healthy adults more likely to retain long-term information

Want to remember more when you get older? Hit the gym. According to a new study out of Michigan State University, the less fit you are over time, the less you remember, the Telegraph reports.

The study, published online in the journal Cognitive, Affective & Behavioral Neuroscience, is the first to test young, healthy adults. It followed 75 students over two days and found that those who were less fit had a more difficult time retaining information.

"The findings show that lower-fit individuals lose more memory across time," Assistant professor of psychology Kimberly Fenn told the Telegraph

Fenn and others found that fitter individuals carry more oxygen to the brain and maintain homeostasis, which helps improve higher brain functions. More oxygen in the brain, more memories—there's incentive to do some cardio.

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