Both zingy and true

It’s a continent with a long history of war, famine, disease, and recently, a penchant for political instability due to economic mismanagement.

But enough about Europe. Let’s talk about a continent with some hope: Africa. [CSM]



When I was young we didn’t have to go to the gym to run on a treadmill or lift weights …

The Amish could kick your gym bunny ass

There was a time when the question of how much exercise a person required was moot. The cows needed seeing to; the corn needed tending. As we all know, prior to World War II, most Americans lived outside cities and were active almost all the time, whether they wished to be or not. A recent study of activity levels among a group of modern Old Order Amish families, whose lifestyles are considered representative of a past America (apart from the boomers), found that Amish men spent more than 10 hours a week in vigorous activity, on top of almost 43 hours a week of moderate activity and 12 hours a week of walking. They averaged almost 18,500 steps per day, or about nine miles of walking every day of the week except Sunday. The Amish women were relatively slothful, covering only about 7.5 miles per day, on average.

By comparison, according to 2010 statistics, most American adults take about 5,000 steps a day, which pales in comparison not only with the Amish but also with activity levels in other countries. The happy-go-lucky Australians average about 9,700 steps a day, the highest total in the Western world. The Swiss, number two, yodel through 9,650 steps a day and, despite the ready availability of Lindt chocolate, have a national obesity rate of barely 8 percent. In America, that rate is 34 percent and rising.

If you want to get fitter, you don’t need to spend a long chunk of time in the gym, you can do like the Amish, and spread your activity over the course of the day.

What this means, in practical terms, is that according to the best available science, you should walk or otherwise work out lightly for 150 minutes a week in order to improve your health. This report and other, newer science show that you can split these 150 minutes into almost any chunks and still benefit. In a nifty study of aerospace engineers (virgin exercisers, one and all), the men were assigned to briskly walk or gently jog for 30 minutes a day in either a single, uninterrupted half-hour bout or in three 10-minute sessions spread throughout the day (10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunchtime, and 10 minutes in the evening). At the end of eight weeks, both groups of engineers had improved their health and fitness profiles, without major differences between the groups. All had wound up with lower heart rates, better endurance on a treadmill test, and a few less pounds.

What cookstoves tell us about the limits of technology

What cookstoves tell us about the limits of technology

It sounds too good to be true: If we could just swap out dirty indoor cooking stoves in the developing world with cleaner versions, we could cut pollution, save lives, and slow climate change. Promising, yes? But, like most things that sound too good to be true, it’s not that easy. 

About 95 percent of all people in poorer countries still burn coal or wood directly for fuel, to heat their homes and cook their food. This causes plenty of indoor air pollution, and the World Health Organization estimates that smoke from indoor cooking fires kills about 2 million people a year — more than malaria and tuberculosis combined. 

So, plenty of aid groups, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have endorsed the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a push to get 100 million homes around the world to adopt cleaner stoves and fuels by 2020. The technology exists. It’s cheap. It’s simple. What could go wrong?

One problem is that having a cheap, clean technology is no guarantee that it will be properly adopted… in the first year of using the stoves, households saw a serious drop in smoke inhalation. The cleaner cookstoves were working exactly as they did in the laboratory. But in the years after that, the stoves stopped working effectively. “We find no evidence of improvements in lung functioning or health and there is no change in fuel consumption (and presumably greenhouse gas emissions),” the authors write.

when the technicians departed and the owners had to clean the chimneys themselves, they lost interest over time. People were spending too many hours conducting repairs and eventually just preferred to switch back to indoor cooking fires.