Category Archives: Stress Management

Psychopaths prefer rap over classical music, study shows

Researchers studying people’s musical preferences have found that psychopaths prefer listening to rap music and, contrary to the movie trope epitomised by Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, they are no fonder of classical music than anyone else.

In a study of 200 people who listened to 260 songs, those with the highest psychopath scores were among the greatest fans of the Blackstreet number one hit No Diggity, with Eminem’s Lose Yourself rated highly too.

The New York University team behind the work stress that the results are preliminary and unpublished, but the scientists are sufficiently intrigued to launch a major study in which thousands of people across the psychopathy spectrum will be quizzed on their musical tastes.

Tests on a second group of volunteers suggest the songs could help to predict the disorder. Whatever their other personality traits might be, fans of The Knack’s My Sharona and Sia’s Titanium were among the least psychopathic, the study found.

The researchers have a serious goal in mind: if psychopaths have distinct and robust preferences for songs, their playlists could be used to identify them.

“The media portrays psychopaths as axe murderers and serial killers, but the reality is they are not obvious; they are not like The Joker in Batman. They might be working right next to you, and they blend in. They are like psychological dark matter,” said Pascal Wallisch who led the research.

About 1% of the general population meets the description of a psychopath, but the figure is far higher in prisons, where about one in five has the disorder. One estimate, from Kent Kiehl, a psychologist at the University of New Mexico, suggests that psychopaths cost the US government alone $ 460bn (£340bn) a year.

“You don’t want to have these people in positions where they can cause a lot of harm,” said Wallisch. “We need a tool to identify them without their cooperation or consent.”

Scientists have already found gene variants that are more common in psychopaths, but they are hardly predictive of the disorder. They appear to alter people’s tendencies for empathy and aggression, but they do not determine people’s actions. Brain scans highlight distinct signs too, as the neuroscientist James Fallon discovered when he spotted the patterns of a psychopath in his own brain’s anatomy, but again, these do not set a person’s behaviour. Even if they did, the police cannot search for dangerous individuals by hauling people into brain scanners.

Wallisch recruited volunteers for a study on musical tastes, but realised that many of the participants had separately sat a battery of psychological tests, including one called the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale, which ranks people’s psychopathic traits. By combining the volunteers’ answers from the music study with their results from the psychopath test, Wallisch identified songs that seemed to be most popular among psychopaths, and others favoured by non-psychopaths.

While No Diggity and Lose Yourself were strikingly popular with psychopaths, other songs had greater predictive power. Wallisch declined to name them out of concern that doing so might compromise any future screening test.

The larger study will now investigate whether the link between musical tastes and psychopathy is real, and if it is, whether groups of songs can predict potential psychopaths. That could lead to some controversial applications, Wallisch said. If the team can identify a group of 30 songs, for example, that together prove good at predicting psychopaths, then playlists from online music providers could be used to identify them.

“The beauty of this idea is you can use it as a screening test without consent, cooperation or maybe even the knowledge of the people involved,” Wallisch said. “The ethics of this are very hairy, but so is having a psychopath as a boss, and so is having a psychopath in any position of power.” Fortunately for ethicists, the possibility is some way off yet. “This work is very preliminary,” Wallisch added. “This is not the end of an investigation, it is the very beginning.”

Kevin Dutton, a psychologist at Oxford, and the author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths, has been gathering data on musical tastes and other preferences for a psychopath study with Channel 4. More than three million people have responded so far, and while online surveys have serious weaknesses, the results so far suggest psychopaths favour rap music over classical and jazz. They also seem more likely to read the Financial Times than other newspapers.

Regardless of its accuracy, Dutton suspects movie directors like the idea of classical music-loving psychopaths because of the “irresistibly alluring” juxtaposition. “The coming together of the dark, visceral, primeval psychopathic mind and the higher aesthetic of classical composition is inherently incongruous, and there is a whole body of literature on the creative potential of incongruity,” he said. “It is the hypnotically captivating and age-old appeal of the ‘beauty and the beast’, only under the same cortical roof.”

The male contraceptive pill? Bring it on | Angela Saini

Tomorrow is World Contraception Day, a perfect time to remember just what a radical difference birth control, and particularly the pill (60 years old this year), has made to women’s lives. What you may not know is that contraception is also about to experience a revolution: we are on the cusp of – wait for it – a new male contraceptive.

Allow me to recap. In October last year, a team of international scientists announced that they had developed a hormone injection (so, not a pill) for men that is almost 96% effective at preventing pregnancy in their partners. This makes it about as reliable as condoms when they are used correctly, which frequently they’re not.

Sadly, there’s a caveat to this happy story. Clinical trials had to be stopped after some men pulled out due to side-effects including mood changes, depression and acne. And there, quite abruptly, the revolution ends.

For as long as anyone can remember, contraception has been largely a woman’s burden. Despite promises of a male contraceptive, it looks as though unless something painless, simple and largely free of side-effects is invented for men, it will probably remain a woman’s responsibility.

To be fair, making a male pill isn’t easy. The female pill mimics the natural hormone fluctuations of a woman’s monthly cycle. Reproducing an equivalent chemical process in men is technically more difficult, although not impossible.

In the meantime, women continue to sample from the cornucopia of sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally risky birth control options. Please, take a seat while I scroll through the menu. There’s the diaphragm, cap, coil, sponge, patch, rod and ring. If you’re willing to live on the wild side, there are helpful apps to tell you where you are in your fertility cycle. There are also injections. Even more drastically, there’s sterilisation.

And then there’s the female pill. It has been six decades since it was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, and it remains the most popular form of female contraception in the UK, with about 3 million women taking it. But given the array of newer alternatives, does it make sense for women to continue opting for the pill, or should we – like men – be giving it the cold shoulder in favour of something better?

The side-effects and risks associated with the combined pill, which is a mix of oestrogen and progesterone, and is the most commonly prescribed type, are fairly small. The older the pill gets, the more data scientists have about its health impacts. A Danish study published in November 2016 linked women who use hormonal contraceptives with higher rates of depression. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen followed more than a million women between the ages of 15 and 34, and found that those taking oral contraceptives were 23% more likely to take antidepressants.

For most women, however, the main problem with the pill, when it’s weighed up against newer alternatives, is that it’s just not as effective as it should be. Women often skip doses, intentionally or by accident. It’s a hassle to remember to take it. The situation is complicated by government funding cuts to the NHS, which have had an impact on sexual health services. Implants and intrauterine devices need to be fitted by a health professional, unlike the pill, which needs only a prescription. Julia Bradley, a lead nurse and education manager at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, says that, until a few years ago, long-acting reversible contraceptives enjoyed a push from government, but now “with the pressure on GP practices, women are finding it really hard to get a GP appointment”. She knows of one patient who had to wait a month to get a coil fitted. “In that time, accidents can happen,” she says.

Let’s not forget that contraceptives such as these are a medical intervention we make that isn’t medically necessary. We choose to introduce discomfort, pain and health risks into women’s lives because there are few other options if we want to avoid pregnancy. Bradley recalls instances of older female patients who have taken the contraceptive pill for decades finally asking their male partners to have vasectomies after they have had all the children they want. When men refuse, she says, “it does sometimes feel unfair”.

With abortion such a heavily politicised issue, it’s surprising that more isn’t made of the birth-control burden that women are expected to shoulder as a matter of course. This is the story of our lives. Period pain? Get on with it. Heavy bleeding? Stick on a fresh pad and carry on. Hormonal migraines, mood swings or depression? Suck it up. Anxious about the pain of childbirth? “More women should be prepared to withstand pain,” said senior midwife Dr Denis Walsh in 2009, suggesting women forgo epidurals. It’s hardly a surprise that when offered an imperfect contraceptive pill, women just swallow it. Absorbing pain is expected of us.

But I’m inclined to hold out for something better, the contraceptive that causes me no pain or side-effects. The kind I never even have to think about. By that, of course, I mean the male pill.

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story, by Angela Saini, is published by Fourth Estate. To order a copy for £11.04 (RRP £12.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

Exposed: ‘secretive’ NHS cost-cutting plans include children’s care

Cancer diagnostics and treatment for children with complex needs are among services earmarked for cost-cutting plans considered by the NHS to plug a funding gap, according to documents seen by campaigners.

The plans, by South Gloucestershire clinical commissioning group and released under a freedom of information request, show that waiting targets for non-urgent operations are also due to be relaxed under the “capped expenditure process” (CEP) as the health service seeks to balance its books in the current financial year.

The proposals are the latest example of what critics have condemned as “draconian” measures that NHS care providers in 13 large areas of England are being told to push through, said the campaign group 38 Degrees, which obtained the documents.

They detail £5m of additional cuts to local services in South Gloucestershire as part of CEP, which is run by national NHS regulators and aims to find £250m of savings by rationing services.

Cancer diagnostics, neurological rehabilitation and children’s continuing care policy for those with complex needs arising from disability, accident or illness, are listed for proposed savings by the South Gloucestershire CCG. It aims to make a total of £4,839,000 in extra savings under CEP. The bulk could be made by “reduction in RTT [referral to treatment] performance”, which would lead to longer waiting times, and reduction in independent sector treatment centre activity.

The crowdfunded group 38 Degrees said the proposals were the first to be revealed under FOI. The doctors’ union, the British Medical Association, which has been frustrated in its attempts to gain information about the CEP through FOI requests, has previously accused NHS bosses of shrouding the process in “totally unacceptable secrecy”.

Leaked proposals from three other areas have already revealed plans including downgrading or closing A&Es and extending waiting time for operations.

Holly Maltby, a campaigner at 38 Degrees, said: “These plans shed light on just how seriously patient care in South Gloucestershire could be affected. They also begin to paint a picture for how services in other areas of England are likely to be hit too – with cancer treatment and children in need affected.”

More than 245,000 people have signed a 38 Degrees petition calling for full public disclosure on each of the 13 regions being forced to make deeper cuts. “The NHS belongs to all of us, so all of us should get a say in any changes to our local services,” said Maltby.

The 13 regions, which are among those expected to record some of the service’s biggest deficits, have been instructed by NHS England and NHS Improvement to “think the unthinkable” to balance the books. Originally they were told to make £500m of savings by March 2018, later reduced to £250m.

The South Gloucestershire CCG is part of the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire sustainability and transformation partnership (STP). The South Gloucestershire savings amount to £4.8m, which is roughly a quarter of the £17.2m savings required from the whole STP.

The Guardian revealed in June the threat of closures and increased waiting times under proposals to save £183m across five London boroughs under the CEP programme. There is also concern that cancer treatment may be delayed if the NHS in Cheshire reduces the number of diagnostic endoscopies it undertakes by 25%, and that patients in east Surrey and Sussex may be denied angiograms and angioplasty surgery as part of the CEP savings drive.

The president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Prof Neena Modi, said: “The UK has previously been a champion of fair and equitable cost-containment, so secretive decisions on which services to stop providing are both surprising and unacceptable.

“Transparency is essential around what each service costs the taxpayer, what proportion of public monies go to frontline care and what proportion is wasted on the profit margins of non-NHS providers. The public has a right to know the basis on which decisions are made. These should demonstrably be based on principles of equity, efficiency and should include consultation with healthcare staff and the families of children that will be affected.

“Without such transparency there will inevitably be even greater disquiet at the erosion of children’s services at a time when metrics of children’s healthcare in the UK is a recognised cause of national concern.”

NHS England was approached for comment.

Get up, stand up: including exercise in everyday life healthier than gym, says study

Incorporating physical activity into our everyday lives, from taking the stairs to holding “walkaround” meetings in the office, is more likely to protect us from heart disease and an early death than buying a gym membership, according to the author of a major new global study.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that one in 20 cases of heart disease and one in 12 premature deaths around the globe could be prevented if people were more physically active. It compared 130,000 people in 17 countries, from affluent countries like Canada and Sweden to some of the least affluent, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

While 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days a week, which most guidelines recommend, reduces heart disease and deaths, one to two hours a day is the optimal amount of physical activity, said lead author Professor Scott Lear, of Simon Fraser University’s faculty of health sciences in Vancouver, Canada.

Most people will think they cannot incorporate that much physical activity into their life, he said. “They will think ‘I’m stressed out and have to make dinner – and then do exercise for two hours!’” he said.

But the study showed that those people who have the highest activity levels are those for whom it is part of their everyday working lives. In developing countries, more people still have physically taxing jobs but as they become more economically prosperous, their activity levels fall.

“They are going from sweeping the floor to buying a vacuum,” said Lear.

He does not advocate selling the vacuum cleaner, but we could all incorporate more activity into our lives rather than relying on occasional forays to the gym or swimming pool. “It becomes routine as opposed to an endeavour,” he said. “Sitting for hours is not good for hearts or the physical body. Getting up every 20 to 30 minutes for a walk around is beneficial. I have a cooking timer.

“We spend a lot of time in meetings. If it is just two or three people, why not have a walkaround meeting?”

He also suggests playing with children in the park rather than sitting watching them, increasing the walk to work by getting off the tube or bus early and taking the stairs rather than the lift.

The authors found that the more physically active people were, the lower their risk of heart disease or an early death.

“Participating at even low physical activity confers benefit and the benefit continues to increase up to high total physical activity,” says the study. People who did more than 750 minutes of brisk walking or equivalent activity per week reduced their risk of death by 36%.

But the study notes that “the affordability of other CVD [cardiovascular disease] interventions such as consuming fruits and vegetables and generic CVD drugs is beyond the reach of many people in low-income and middle-income countries; however, physical activity represents a low-cost approach to CVD prevention.”

While the amount of physical work people do in low income countries reduces heart disease, their chances of surviving if they do have a heart attack or stroke are lower because their health services are not as advanced.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, as well as muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week. But it is thought that almost a quarter (23%) of the world’s population are not meeting physical activity guidelines.

The study is the first to compare physical activity and heart disease levels in countries of varying affluence.

“The clear-cut results reinforce the message that exercise truly is the best medicine at our disposal for reducing the odds of an early death,” said Dr James Rudd, a senior lecturer in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge.If a drug company came up with a medicine as effective as exercise, they would have a billion-dollar blockbuster on their hands and a Nobel prize in the post.”

“There is a trend for more heart disease in lower income groups both within and between populations,” said John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London. “In the UK it has been shown that lower social class is associated with more heart disease. Walking is easy and cheap. This study should encourage governments to rebalance health budgets away from high tech treatment of heart disease to promoting simple strategies of prevention like walking.”

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: “In an age where we’re living increasingly busy but often sedentary lives in the west, weaving physical activity into our daily routines has never been more important, not only to improve our physical health but also overall well-being. Increased physical activity could have an even greater beneficial impact in lower income countries, due to its low its cost and the high incidence of heart disease in those countries.”

Get up, stand up: including exercise in everyday life healthier than gym, says study

Incorporating physical activity into our everyday lives, from taking the stairs to holding “walkaround” meetings in the office, is more likely to protect us from heart disease and an early death than buying a gym membership, according to the author of a major new global study.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that one in 20 cases of heart disease and one in 12 premature deaths around the globe could be prevented if people were more physically active. It compared 130,000 people in 17 countries, from affluent countries like Canada and Sweden to some of the least affluent, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

While 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days a week, which most guidelines recommend, reduces heart disease and deaths, one to two hours a day is the optimal amount of physical activity, said lead author Professor Scott Lear, of Simon Fraser University’s faculty of health sciences in Vancouver, Canada.

Most people will think they cannot incorporate that much physical activity into their life, he said. “They will think ‘I’m stressed out and have to make dinner – and then do exercise for two hours!’” he said.

But the study showed that those people who have the highest activity levels are those for whom it is part of their everyday working lives. In developing countries, more people still have physically taxing jobs but as they become more economically prosperous, their activity levels fall.

“They are going from sweeping the floor to buying a vacuum,” said Lear.

He does not advocate selling the vacuum cleaner, but we could all incorporate more activity into our lives rather than relying on occasional forays to the gym or swimming pool. “It becomes routine as opposed to an endeavour,” he said. “Sitting for hours is not good for hearts or the physical body. Getting up every 20 to 30 minutes for a walk around is beneficial. I have a cooking timer.

“We spend a lot of time in meetings. If it is just two or three people, why not have a walkaround meeting?”

He also suggests playing with children in the park rather than sitting watching them, increasing the walk to work by getting off the tube or bus early and taking the stairs rather than the lift.

The authors found that the more physically active people were, the lower their risk of heart disease or an early death.

“Participating at even low physical activity confers benefit and the benefit continues to increase up to high total physical activity,” says the study. People who did more than 750 minutes of brisk walking or equivalent activity per week reduced their risk of death by 36%.

But the study notes that “the affordability of other CVD [cardiovascular disease] interventions such as consuming fruits and vegetables and generic CVD drugs is beyond the reach of many people in low-income and middle-income countries; however, physical activity represents a low-cost approach to CVD prevention.”

While the amount of physical work people do in low income countries reduces heart disease, their chances of surviving if they do have a heart attack or stroke are lower because their health services are not as advanced.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, as well as muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week. But it is thought that almost a quarter (23%) of the world’s population are not meeting physical activity guidelines.

The study is the first to compare physical activity and heart disease levels in countries of varying affluence.

“The clear-cut results reinforce the message that exercise truly is the best medicine at our disposal for reducing the odds of an early death,” said Dr James Rudd, a senior lecturer in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge.If a drug company came up with a medicine as effective as exercise, they would have a billion-dollar blockbuster on their hands and a Nobel prize in the post.”

“There is a trend for more heart disease in lower income groups both within and between populations,” said John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London. “In the UK it has been shown that lower social class is associated with more heart disease. Walking is easy and cheap. This study should encourage governments to rebalance health budgets away from high tech treatment of heart disease to promoting simple strategies of prevention like walking.”

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: “In an age where we’re living increasingly busy but often sedentary lives in the west, weaving physical activity into our daily routines has never been more important, not only to improve our physical health but also overall well-being. Increased physical activity could have an even greater beneficial impact in lower income countries, due to its low its cost and the high incidence of heart disease in those countries.”

Get up, stand up: including exercise in everyday life healthier than gym, says study

Incorporating physical activity into our everyday lives, from taking the stairs to holding “walkaround” meetings in the office, is more likely to protect us from heart disease and an early death than buying a gym membership, according to the author of a major new global study.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that one in 20 cases of heart disease and one in 12 premature deaths around the globe could be prevented if people were more physically active. It compared 130,000 people in 17 countries, from affluent countries like Canada and Sweden to some of the least affluent, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

While 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days a week, which most guidelines recommend, reduces heart disease and deaths, one to two hours a day is the optimal amount of physical activity, said lead author Professor Scott Lear, of Simon Fraser University’s faculty of health sciences in Vancouver, Canada.

Most people will think they cannot incorporate that much physical activity into their life, he said. “They will think ‘I’m stressed out and have to make dinner – and then do exercise for two hours!’” he said.

But the study showed that those people who have the highest activity levels are those for whom it is part of their everyday working lives. In developing countries, more people still have physically taxing jobs but as they become more economically prosperous, their activity levels fall.

“They are going from sweeping the floor to buying a vacuum,” said Lear.

He does not advocate selling the vacuum cleaner, but we could all incorporate more activity into our lives rather than relying on occasional forays to the gym or swimming pool. “It becomes routine as opposed to an endeavour,” he said. “Sitting for hours is not good for hearts or the physical body. Getting up every 20 to 30 minutes for a walk around is beneficial. I have a cooking timer.

“We spend a lot of time in meetings. If it is just two or three people, why not have a walkaround meeting?”

He also suggests playing with children in the park rather than sitting watching them, increasing the walk to work by getting off the tube or bus early and taking the stairs rather than the lift.

The authors found that the more physically active people were, the lower their risk of heart disease or an early death.

“Participating at even low physical activity confers benefit and the benefit continues to increase up to high total physical activity,” says the study. People who did more than 750 minutes of brisk walking or equivalent activity per week reduced their risk of death by 36%.

But the study notes that “the affordability of other CVD [cardiovascular disease] interventions such as consuming fruits and vegetables and generic CVD drugs is beyond the reach of many people in low-income and middle-income countries; however, physical activity represents a low-cost approach to CVD prevention.”

While the amount of physical work people do in low income countries reduces heart disease, their chances of surviving if they do have a heart attack or stroke are lower because their health services are not as advanced.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, as well as muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week. But it is thought that almost a quarter (23%) of the world’s population are not meeting physical activity guidelines.

The study is the first to compare physical activity and heart disease levels in countries of varying affluence.

“The clear-cut results reinforce the message that exercise truly is the best medicine at our disposal for reducing the odds of an early death,” said Dr James Rudd, a senior lecturer in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge.If a drug company came up with a medicine as effective as exercise, they would have a billion-dollar blockbuster on their hands and a Nobel prize in the post.”

“There is a trend for more heart disease in lower income groups both within and between populations,” said John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London. “In the UK it has been shown that lower social class is associated with more heart disease. Walking is easy and cheap. This study should encourage governments to rebalance health budgets away from high tech treatment of heart disease to promoting simple strategies of prevention like walking.”

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: “In an age where we’re living increasingly busy but often sedentary lives in the west, weaving physical activity into our daily routines has never been more important, not only to improve our physical health but also overall well-being. Increased physical activity could have an even greater beneficial impact in lower income countries, due to its low its cost and the high incidence of heart disease in those countries.”

Get up, stand up: including exercise in everyday life healthier than gym, says study

Incorporating physical activity into our everyday lives, from taking the stairs to holding “walkaround” meetings in the office, is more likely to protect us from heart disease and an early death than buying a gym membership, according to the author of a major new global study.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that one in 20 cases of heart disease and one in 12 premature deaths around the globe could be prevented if people were more physically active. It compared 130,000 people in 17 countries, from affluent countries like Canada and Sweden to some of the least affluent, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

While 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days a week, which most guidelines recommend, reduces heart disease and deaths, one to two hours a day is the optimal amount of physical activity, said lead author Professor Scott Lear, of Simon Fraser University’s faculty of health sciences in Vancouver, Canada.

Most people will think they cannot incorporate that much physical activity into their life, he said. “They will think ‘I’m stressed out and have to make dinner – and then do exercise for two hours!’” he said.

But the study showed that those people who have the highest activity levels are those for whom it is part of their everyday working lives. In developing countries, more people still have physically taxing jobs but as they become more economically prosperous, their activity levels fall.

“They are going from sweeping the floor to buying a vacuum,” said Lear.

He does not advocate selling the vacuum cleaner, but we could all incorporate more activity into our lives rather than relying on occasional forays to the gym or swimming pool. “It becomes routine as opposed to an endeavour,” he said. “Sitting for hours is not good for hearts or the physical body. Getting up every 20 to 30 minutes for a walk around is beneficial. I have a cooking timer.

“We spend a lot of time in meetings. If it is just two or three people, why not have a walkaround meeting?”

He also suggests playing with children in the park rather than sitting watching them, increasing the walk to work by getting off the tube or bus early and taking the stairs rather than the lift.

The authors found that the more physically active people were, the lower their risk of heart disease or an early death.

“Participating at even low physical activity confers benefit and the benefit continues to increase up to high total physical activity,” says the study. People who did more than 750 minutes of brisk walking or equivalent activity per week reduced their risk of death by 36%.

But the study notes that “the affordability of other CVD [cardiovascular disease] interventions such as consuming fruits and vegetables and generic CVD drugs is beyond the reach of many people in low-income and middle-income countries; however, physical activity represents a low-cost approach to CVD prevention.”

While the amount of physical work people do in low income countries reduces heart disease, their chances of surviving if they do have a heart attack or stroke are lower because their health services are not as advanced.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, as well as muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week. But it is thought that almost a quarter (23%) of the world’s population are not meeting physical activity guidelines.

The study is the first to compare physical activity and heart disease levels in countries of varying affluence.

“The clear-cut results reinforce the message that exercise truly is the best medicine at our disposal for reducing the odds of an early death,” said Dr James Rudd, a senior lecturer in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge.If a drug company came up with a medicine as effective as exercise, they would have a billion-dollar blockbuster on their hands and a Nobel prize in the post.”

“There is a trend for more heart disease in lower income groups both within and between populations,” said John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London. “In the UK it has been shown that lower social class is associated with more heart disease. Walking is easy and cheap. This study should encourage governments to rebalance health budgets away from high tech treatment of heart disease to promoting simple strategies of prevention like walking.”

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: “In an age where we’re living increasingly busy but often sedentary lives in the west, weaving physical activity into our daily routines has never been more important, not only to improve our physical health but also overall well-being. Increased physical activity could have an even greater beneficial impact in lower income countries, due to its low its cost and the high incidence of heart disease in those countries.”

Businesses on the couch: the co-founders in couples’ therapy

There are plenty of good reasons to set up a business with a co-founder rather than go it alone. A co-founder is another committed financial partner and someone who is likely to bring a vitally different skillset and will be a source of support when the going gets tough. Research by the Kauffman Foundation in the US suggests that co-founder teams can attract 30% more investment and can increase their customer base more quickly, improving business survival rates.

But there is still a lot to consider before taking on a co-founder. Startup life is stressful and sometimes is it’s all too easy to take it out on the only other person in the same boat as you: your business partner.

Therapy helped us remember why we went into business together

After becoming friends while on the same master’s degree course in their twenties, Ed Gillespie and Solitaire Townsend had a solid foundation in place to launch their sustainability and communications consultancy Futerra in 2001.

Co-founders of Futerra, Ed Gillespie and Solitaire Townsend


Co-founders of Futerra, Ed Gillespie and Solitaire Townsend. Photograph: Futerra

However, they’ve always had their differences; in fact, their business is based on combining their two competing visions about how to make organisations more sustainable.

“I enjoy working with Ed because he makes me think,” says Townsend. “It started with us having arguments on our master’s [course] about how to change the world, and those discussions are the heart and soul of Futerra,” says Townsend. “But over time, concerns over working hours, salaries, practical stuff, all got in the way and overshadowed our initial reasons for working together.”

The pair started to argue more in 2010 when they were battling through the recession. “As co-founders you’re always looking out for the team and the business first – we have had times when we both didn’t take a salary. So, you turn on each other,” Gillespie explains.

They decided to try a therapist who specialises in professional relationships. Their first big discovery was that they were speaking too much on the part of the other person. “We both kept saying ‘We must do this’, instead of ‘I want to do this’, says Gillespie. “One of us was always co-opting the other person.”

They give the example of differences over work-life balance. “If your business partner says ‘We must work harder’ when you want to improve your work-life balance you feel disgruntled, but if they are free to tell you what they want to do on their own terms, you’re likely to feel more helpful,” Townsend explains.

Their toughest exercise was a listening technique. “You have to listen silently to the other person, without nodding or interrupting, and then repeat back what they said without altering it. It’s great being the person who gets to speak but it’s hard to be the listener, especially if you have to hear a criticism,” Townsend says.

It was worth it though, they agreed. “The subtext of disagreement started to disappear and we found at board level that different views could be shared without it feeling hostile,” said Gillespie.

Best of all they managed to keep their business partnership and friendship intact while developing their roles in the business. “We don’t have to be carbon copies of each other to have an equal voice – we have very different jobs to each other now, and we remembered why we chose to do this in the first place,” Townsend said.

We no longer argue over small things like the price of a printer

Jon Chintanaroad and Mike Prestano first met working for the same staffing agency where they were both top performers. They soon decided to try and set up on their own and ended up living and working together while launching Aspire Recruiting, a tech recruiting firm, four years ago.

Aspire co-founders Jon Chintanaroad and Mike Prestano


Aspire co-founders Jon Chintanaroad and Mike Prestano. Photograph: Aspire Recruiting

“The business initially went very well and we secured clients, but in the second year, it took more of a downturn and there was less revenue coming in,” Chintanaroad says. “Things started to become more tense – we were spending a lot of time together, and we have different personalities so we reacted differently. Our differences mean we complement each other, but it can make communication difficult.”

Prestano says: “I’m a lot more conservative and Jon’s more adventurous. I wouldn’t want to spend too much, whereas he would be more relaxed about spending now and paying back later.”

They decided to see Sunny Sabbini, a Silicon Valley-based family therapist. Sabbini helped them understand that the other person wasn’t putting a different view forward intentionally – they were just different.

The pair developed a numbering system to assess the level of importance each decision had for them both, one for “I couldn’t care less” and 10 for “very important, we should have a discussion”.

Prestano said this helped them see why the other person seemed relaxed about one decision, but stressed about another. “It helped us sort through decisions that we didn’t need to waste energy discussing, and therefore put us in a more productive mindset,” he says.

Prestano added that he also stopped worrying about any expenditure under $ 100 (£77), to curb unnecessary arguments, such as when he said no to the purchase of an $ 80 printer. “It’s all about having a ‘SOP’ – standard operating procedure – for as many things as possible so you can handle everything more easily.”

Alternatives to the therapist’s couch

If your budget doesn’t stretch to regular therapy sessions, Dr Patrick Meade, a New York-based therapist who runs a practice dedicated to counselling for business partners, recommends finding any external adviser such as a friend or former colleague to act as a sounding board.

He also recommends being prepared, in case things don’t got to plan. “One of the most common problems is optimism bias, in which co-founders believe that everything will go well. They make little preparation for when things go wrong,” he says.

“Another tool that can help is to take time to get the other perspective, to put yourself in your partner’s situation and write down the thoughts and feelings that go through his or her mind when he or she thinks about you and your joint business,” he adds.

Both the Futerra and Aspire Recruiting co-founders agree that keeping their friendship and shared purpose in mind has been crucial.

“Mike and I trust each other, we’ve been brought up in a similar way, we have the same core values,” says Chintanaroad. “For example, if one of us needs to take a day off for family reasons, we are both fine with it, I think that’s important.” Prestano says that remembering the reason they left their jobs in the first place is sometimes all it takes to keep going. “Looking back and remembering how much better it is to be running your own business can really help,” he said.

“Go out for a meal, get drunk and chat – you need to get out of the office if you can’t do anything else,” says Gillespie. For both the Futerra founders, it was their enduring friendship that they realised was at stake – and that wasn’t worth losing.

Townsend says: “I went to visit Ed’s new baby last week at his home, and I thought about how, while the company is so important, over the years of arguing I might not have ended up sitting there. If you start off as friends, you need to not forget that’s what you were first.”

Body’s ‘bad fat’ could be altered to combat obesity, say scientists

“Bad fat” could be made to turn over a new leaf and combat obesity by blocking a specific protein, scientists have discovered.

Most fat in the body is unhealthy “white” tissue deposited around the waist, hips and thighs. But smaller amounts of energy-hungry “brown” fat are also found around the neck and shoulders. Brown fat generates heat by burning up excess calories.

Now scientists experimenting on lab mice have found a way to transform white fat into “beige” fat – a healthier halfway stage also capable of reducing weight gain.

Dr Irfan Lodhi, from Washington University School of Medicine in the US, said: “Our goal is to find a way to treat or prevent obesity. “Our research suggests that by targeting a protein in white fat, we can convert bad fat into a type of fat that fights obesity.”

Beige fat was discovered in adults in 2015 and shown to function in a similar way to brown fat. Lodhi’s team found that blocking a protein called PexRAP caused white fat in mice to be converted to beige fat that burned calories.

The discovery, published in the journal Cell Reports, raises the prospect of more effective treatments for obesity and diabetes. The next step will be to find a safe way of blocking PexRAP in white fat cells in humans.

Lodhi said: “The challenge will be finding safe ways to do that without causing a person to overheat or develop a fever, but drug developers now have a good target.”

NHS spends £80m on private ambulances a year, data shows

The NHS is spending almost £80m a year hiring private ambulances to answer 999 calls and take patients to hospital for appointments, new figures show.

Widespread shortages of paramedics and rising demand forced England’s 10 NHS ambulance trusts to spend £78.4m in 2016-17 on help from non-NHS providers to supplement their own services. That was down on the £79.7m trusts spent in 2015-16, but 22% more than their £64.2m outlay in 2014-15, according to data obtained by the Press Association under freedom of information laws.

South Central ambulance service spent the most on private services last year – £16.3m, up from its £13.6m outlay the year before and £12.3m in 2014-15.

The East of England ambulance service spent the second-largest amount: £14m, more than double the £6.6m it paid to non-NHS providers the year before. The South East Coast ambulance service spent £11.1m.

A spokesman for the Independent Ambulance Association (IAA) said the main reasons for a rise in private ambulance use in the last two years were “staff shortages in NHS ambulance trusts, combined with continued increases in demand”.

The benefits of using independent firms include flexibility and good value for money as “it’s cheaper for the NHS than paying overtime”, he added.

Jonathan Street, a spokesman for the College of Paramedics, said NHS ambulance staff were “under heavy pressure due to growing numbers of 999 calls”.

He added: “These services are increasingly reliant on paramedics and other ambulance clinicians within the private sector to meet the demand, which involves considerable cost.”

The disclosures sparked concerns that ambulances supplied by profit-driven firms may provide a lower standard of care than that provided by crews employed by the NHS.

“The huge sums spent on private ambulance services expose the pressures on staff due to soaring demand. Experienced and highly trained employees are leaving because of the strain,” said Alan Lofthouse, Unison’s national ambulance officer and a former paramedic.

“Paying agency workers to fill the gaps is putting patient safety and the wellbeing of crews at risk,” he claimed.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, said the rising spend on private ambulances was a shocking stain on the government’s NHS record.

“Ambulance services are simply not being provided with the resources or staff needed to cope with soaring demand. Growing reliance on private sector services is not only costly, inspections have also raised serious concerns over patient safety,” said Lamb.

However, the IAA insisted that the standard of care was “no different” to that offered by the NHS, and that all providers are registered with the Care Quality Commission and subject to the same inspection standard as NHS ambulance trusts.

Private ambulances are hired from private firms as well as charities such as St John Ambulance and the Red Cross.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E staff, said: “It is concerning that trusts are having to use part of their budget for private ambulances, and serves to highlight the current levels of demand emergency departments are facing.”

Hassan also voiced unease about the quality of training private firms provide to their staff, leaving them ill-prepared for treating patients.

“The Care Quality Commission has previously highlighted that they may use less qualified staff or staff whose qualifications aren’t regulated or restricted,” he said. “They may be poorly equipped, have poor clinical governance, poor infection prevention, and a lack of or inappropriate equipment.”