How immunity boosting experiment saved couch potato when he got Covid

A couch potato took part in a TV experiment on boosting immunity – and when he got Covid, it saved him

  • The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System, airs on the BBC on Wednesday
  • Six volunteers will undergo a crash course to turn around their immune systems
  • Exercise-phobic David Richard came down with Covid during the experiment
  • But his symptoms were mild after he took part in the strict exercise regime

It is a perennial health question that has never seemed more relevant: just how can we boost our immune system and give ourselves the best fighting chance against infection?

Thousands of books, articles and blogs have been written on the subject (unsurprisingly, more than ever in the past 12 months), making audacious claims about specific regimes, diets and superfoods, which, they claim, will stave off illness and help us recover faster if we do succumb.

Meanwhile, chemist and supermarket shelves heave with products aimed at ‘supporting the immune system’ and other sufficiently vague yet intriguing promises. The problem is, there’s barely a jot of evidence for any of it.

Now, a timely BBC documentary has put some of the best-known immune-boosting theories to the test and found that, in just six weeks, a few simple lifestyle changes can make a significant difference, giving our body the tools it needs to defeat the common cold and flu. And, yes, perhaps even Covid.

The Truth About… Boosting Your Immune System, which airs on Wednesday, features six volunteers who undergo a six-week crash course designed to turn around their underperforming immune systems.

David Richards is one of the participants in the BBC’s experimental documentary, The Truth About Boosting Your Immune System

Each was picked as they’d admitted to having unhealthy lifestyles, such as boozing, eating too much junk food and doing little or no exercise – and suffering regular coughs and colds.

Blood tests at the start of the experiment confirmed that their immune systems were not functioning as well as they could be. Their new regime was nothing too unusual: a varied, balanced diet, high in fibre (yes, lots of fruit and veg), regular exercise and a good sleep pattern.

At the end of the programme, the participants not only felt better, but further blood tests proved their disease-fighting immune responses had become stronger.

Immunologist Professor Sheena Cruickshank, at the University of Manchester, helped oversee the experiment. She says: ‘The rapid response seen was pretty surprising. Their blood tests revealed the plan led to an increase in cells that produce disease-fighting antibodies.’

The programme also reveals other, perhaps less obvious ways to help boost immunity, from massages to cold showers, which have immediate benefits.

Our immune system is just that – a network of organs, glands, cells and compounds throughout the body, which protect us from attack by viruses, bacteria, parasites and other pathogens. As we age, levels of some immune-system cells naturally wane, which is why we tend to become more vulnerable to infections of all kinds.

But age isn’t the only factor – lifestyle plays a big part too. Alcohol, for instance, seems to have a wholly negative impact, even in relatively small amounts. Clinicians have long known that heavy drinking in the long term is associated with a raised risk of immune-related illness, such a pneumonia, slow recovery from illness and poor healing of wounds. 

But, in fact, the effects can be near-instantaneous. When it enters the gut, alcohol alters the make-up of our gut microbiome – the trillions of microorganisms that live in our gut which play an important role in immunity.

This, in turn, damages immune cells in the blood, including our lymphocytes, which are responsible for sending out antibodies.

Antibodies play a vital role in immunity, attacking and destroying invaders such as viruses.

In an experiment, with blood samples taken before and after drinking, presenter Dr Ronx Ikharia, an emergency medicine specialist, downs three glasses of prosecco and finds it is enough to bring down levels of lymphocyte cells by as much as 50 per cent. 

This could reduce the effectiveness of the body’s immune response – and for this reason Prof Cruickshank says people should avoid alcohol around the time of having the Covid jab.

David Lloyd, 38, pictured doing a dance routine with his daughter for exercise, also took part in the experiment

‘You need to have your immune system working tip-top to have a good response to the vaccine, so if you’re drinking the night before, or shortly afterwards, that’s not going to help.’

Alcohol isn’t the only vice that can impact the body’s immune response either. As the volunteers, all recruited from Crewe, find out, their choices in food and exercise are a major factors too.

Salesman David Lloyd, 38, admits he could be taking better care of his body. ‘I like a bit of McDonald’s, KFC, you know, fast food,’ he says. When asked whether he would class his approach to exercise as relaxed, moderate or vigorous, David quips: ‘What’s exercise?’

Meanwhile, Ruth Minshull, 47, a personal assistant, says her lifestyle has become increasingly sedentary. She says: ‘My diet has got worse, and I wouldn’t even say I do a little exercise these days. I do no exercise, truthfully.’

And couch potato Nadiya Remtulla, 45, a car-leasing manager, suffers from constant colds.

At the start of the six-week experiment, blood samples are taken from the volunteers and measured for the number of two key sets of immune cells – neutrophils and lymphocytes. 

Neutrophils are fast-responding immune cells that attack pathogens that can cause diseases as soon as they enter the body, while lymphocytes help the immune system ‘learn’ about different types of foreign invaders, and send out antibodies to fight them off.

If the levels of neutrophils in the blood are too high, it suggests that the body’s immune system is over-active – sending out cells to fight infection when it is not there. Low levels of lymphocytes suggest that the body’s ability to defend itself is impaired. In five out of six of the volunteers, test showed neutrophil levels were high, while lymphocyte levels were low.

According to Prof Cruickshank, the consequences could become serious. ‘Over time, if the immune system is out of balance, you’ll start to feel more run down. You’ll become more susceptible to infection, such as colds, and infections will stay longer.’ Prof Cruickshank warns: ‘These people could suffer more severe Covid illness.’

The good news is that it’s reversible. Prof Cruickshank’s first step for the participants is to change what they eat. Their new diet is one that aims to build ‘gut diversity’ – the variety within the make-up of the organisms that live in the gut and form part of the immune system. Studies show a diet high in meat, saturated fats and sugar can, as alcohol does, create imbalances in the kinds of bacteria in the gut.

And, as with alcohol, this can lead to weakened or abnormally behaving immune system cells in the blood. Meanwhile, diets rich in fibre – vegetables, wholegrains, beans, pulses such as lentils and cereals – can support good gut diversity, promote the development of antibody-producing lymphocytes, and help balance immune cells in the blood.

To illustrate, an analysis of salesman David Lloyd’s gut bacteria, using a stool test, revealed a shockingly low level of diversity.

Immunologist Professor Sheena Cruickshank, at the University of Manchester, helped oversee the experiment

‘All the participants ate very low-fibre diets, with few fruit or veg,’ says Prof Cruickshank.

‘We put them on a fibre-rich diet, not necessarily designed to make them lose weight, but to expose them to a wider group of foods.’

The volunteers replaced high-sugar snacks such as biscuits and chocolate bars with nuts, and had large helpings of vegetables with all their meals.

Personal assistant Ruth admits her meals often consist mainly of cheese and bread, so, like many of the volunteers, she found the new regime ‘a big change’. But they all found something to enjoy. Biscuit fan Nadiya now loves eating figs.

The volunteers were also given fitness trackers and asked to do either 75 minutes of vigorous exercise or 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.

Scientists believe that exercise boosts our immune system because it helps regulate the flow of immune cells around the body. As our blood flow increases with the heart rate, immune cells move more rapidly into our veins and are able to roam the body at the higher rate and in higher numbers.

A British study in 2011 found that people who did aerobic exercises five or more days a week were 40 per cent less likely to have a cold, over three months, than those who did one day of exercise a week.

‘Exercise is absolutely brilliant for your immune system,’ says Prof Cruickshank. ‘A good bit of moderate exercise really helps stimulate your immune system to help it work optimally.’

On top of that, the volunteers were instructed to stick to a good sleep schedule – with at least eight hours a night suggested. While asleep, humans produce more lymphocytes than they do while awake. This is because hormones such as adrenaline, which keep us alert, inhibit lymphocyte production. When we are asleep we produce less of these hormones.

One study which followed a group of volunteers for two weeks found those who slept less than seven hours a night were almost three times more likely to develop a cold than those who get more than eight.

While diet, exercise and sleep are the most important areas to focus on to help your body fight off infection, there are other ways to boost your immune system.

In the programme, Dr Ronx learns that stress, in the short term at least, can help bolster our defences. Long-term stress is generally considered harmful – for the same reason a lack of sleep damages the immune system. Stress hormones impact the body’s ability to produce lymphocytes. But, a short, sharp dose of stress has its benefits.

Massages and cold showers can boost your immunity, but you should go teetotal the week of your jab, according to experts

When we perceive danger, it triggers the release of a cascade of hormones and other compounds in the body that make us more alert and ready for physical action.

It also stimulates the production of neutrophils and other basic fighter cells – an evolutionary explanation is that, should we be wounded, which opens the body to potential infection, it would help better protect us.

DURING another experiment, arachnophobe Dr Ronx is asked to hold a tarantula, and blood tests are taken before and after to see if there is a difference in the levels of immune cells. The results are conclusive. There is a ten per cent increase in Dr Ronx’s white blood cells following that frightening experience.

This sort of change would effectively make the body better at fighting off an infection – for a few hours at least. Despite this, few will be prepared to scare themselves silly in a bid to avoid getting the odd cold, or even Covid. But research shows the ‘fright’ doesn’t need to be quite so extreme to be effective.

A Netherlands study found that, over a period of a year, people who had a normal shower and then for the final 30 seconds switched it to cold, were 30 per cent less likely to have sick days from work. Scientists believe this is linked to the body’s stress response.

Dr Ronx also finds out there are relaxing ways to boost the immune system too. In studies of people with HIV – a virus that attacks the immune system – massage appeared to increase the number of lymphocyte cells in patients’ blood. Scientists theorise this is because massage stimulates nerves in the skin that connect to glands which produce certain types of lymphocytes. Through stimulation, these glands release lots of lymphocytes into the blood.

Once again, Dr Ronx puts this to the test, undergoing an intense hour-long massage. It turns out Ronx is a ‘super responder’, with 20 per cent increase in lymphocytes in the blood. Dr Ronx adds: ‘Next time you ask your partner for a foot rub, tell them you’re not being self-indulgent – you’re simply trying to improve your immune system.’

Six weeks after beginning their immune-boosting regime, the volunteers get their results, and for one of them the programme may have had a more dramatic consequence than first intended.

Exercise-phobic David Richard, 48, came down with Covid during the experiment.

Asthmatic and overweight, David was sure that his symptoms would be serious: ‘I’m aware of people my age, who are fitter than me, who have ended up in hospital on the oxygen.’

But, to his surprise, David’s symptoms were mild. He had committed to 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week – including (virtual) dance classes, and brisk walking. And though Dr Ronx and Prof Cruickshank were unable to run a blood test on David because of Covid, he’s sure the regime helped make the difference. ‘I’m convinced that what I’ve done helped me fight this off.’

The rest of the volunteers underwent a lood test to take another look at their neutrophil and lymphocyte levels and the results were staggering. In all but one of them, there was a drop in neutrophils to more normal levels, and a rise in antibody-producing lymphocytes.

And the participant who had no change suffered a cold during the experience, which Prof Cruickshank believes is the reason: ‘A cold can leave your immune cells out of kilter, temporarily. But that’s the immune system doing what it’s designed to do.’

She adds: ‘It was amazing to see these changes in just six weeks.

‘The group adapted well to living healthier lifestyles and their bodies will thank them for it, if they stick to it. Many of them lost weight along the way, too. People take for granted the value of the immune system. The human body is a collection of cells that needs caring for, and the activities we do on a daily basis make a difference.’

  • The Truth About… Boosting Your Immune System is on BBC1 on Wednesday at 9pm

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What Happened When I Signed Up for the AstraZeneca Vaccine Trial

I was standing outside the fence at my son’s one and only swimming meet—watching through the wrought-iron bars as the swimmers raced two at a time with an open lane between them—when I heard that University of Wisconsin Hospital was seeking volunteers to test the AstraZeneca Vaccine (AZD1222). It was a few days before school started, which would be online, and after months of social distancing, no-contact delivery, countless virtual meetings, and swabs probing into the gray matter of my lower brain to test for COVID, I was starting to feel a little desperate for anything that might facilitate a return to normal life. Even if it meant donating my body to science. I signed up as soon as I got home.

Similar to the other major vaccines in the news—most notably the Pfizer and Moderna medications—AZD1222 uses a double-injection, or two-shot, protocol. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines differ from the AstraZenenca drug in that they use messenger RNA to signal cells to make a “virus spike protein,” which the immune system recognizes as foreign and learns to attack. Instead of mRNA, the AstraZeneca vaccine delivers the spike protein by way of an adenovirus, a weakened version of the common cold. In all three cases, the first shot revs the immune system and the second shot, a month later, boosts the body’s virus-fighting engine into high gear.

What about side effects?

The AZD1222’s possible side effects include pain, mild fever, chills, muscle aches, headache, and fatigue—all signs the immune system is turning on. I wasn’t overly worried about them, nor did I buy into the rumors that the vaccine would be used to Trojan horse government tracking devices. I’d lost the twenty pounds I’d gained during the first months of the quarantine, I swam five days a week, and with no underlying health conditions, I believed I’d be able to weather the storm if the vaccine failed and I ended up getting sick. And since my wife worked for the health system running the trial, and had a number of colleagues who’d already volunteered as guinea pigs, I had had faith in the study’s integrity. In fact, as a healthy, active man, I felt a duty to pony up to help end the pandemic. Plus, if a tracking device were somehow implanted, maybe my sense of direction when driving would improve.

A rocky start

But as soon I signed up, the trial screeched to a halt. A week after I completed the screening questionnaire, AstraZeneca announced it was pausing the trial after two participants in the U.K. experienced symptoms of transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. An independent committee needed review the data before study could resume. I was glad for the safety protocols, but I confess I felt like a delayed airline passenger stuck in an airport. The endless waiting around seemed worse than the possibility of crashing.

Six weeks later, when the trial re-started, I once again filled out the screening questionnaire and, this time, was able to schedule an appointment. I was pulling into the parking garage when the news announced that the Pfizer vaccine had been approved in the U.K. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar predicted that emergency approval in America would be coming in the next week. Health care workers and the elderly were first in line, and the vaccine would roll out to the rest of the country over the coming months. Participating in the AZD1222 study wouldn’t disqualify me from getting another vaccine—a good thing since there was a 1 in 3 chance I’d be getting a placebo instead of the actual medication. The study was “double blind,” meaning that not even the physicians administering the trial knew which volunteers got the good stuff.

What happened on injection day

A research coordinator met me in the hospital’s lobby. She knew my name and, strangely, had no trouble picking me out amongst the traffic of patients and staff crossing through the room. We couldn’t shake hands, so we nodded in our masks and I followed her deep into the hospital’s interior to an elevator I never would have found on my own. I was led into an exam room, my first of three, where I answered a long series of questions about my medical history. The trial was voluntary, and I could quit any time, but if I stayed in, the study would last two years. I’d be given injections today and again on Day 29, have blood drawn both times, as well as on Days 57, 90, 180, 360, and 730, and would conduct follow-up interviews by phone and email in the meantime. “That all sound okay?” the research assistant asked me.

“I’ve come this far,” I said, giving her a thumb’s up.

“Good,” she said. She punched in a code on a small metal box. For a moment I thought she was retrieving my shot. Instead, she handed me a small brown envelope with a crisp hundred-dollar bill inside.

“I get paid?” I asked. I hadn’t expected to receive a dime.

She nodded. “Just a little. It’s sort of buried in the consent forms.”

“Score,” I said. I slid the bill inside my wallet.

Another elevator led me to another exam room, this time with a view of Lake Mendota. It was a blue, windy day and the lake was wrinkled with white-capped waves. A pair of nurses worked in tandem to check my vital signs, draw my blood, and administer a final COVID-19 test. The nurse slid the swab so far inside my nose I felt my eyes go crossed. After a quick physical from the doctor—no pants around the ankles, no turn and cough—I was led across the hall to my final room, this time full of recliners. This where I’d, at last, get my shot in the arm.

I rolled my sleeve above my shoulder. “I just hope I get the real deal,” I said to the nurse. “I don’t want the placebo.”

“You’ll know if you get it,” said a man’s voice behind a curtain. He was another volunteer. “My buddy’s an immunologist at Harvard. He says you’ll be able to tell if you really got it.”

“Will my pee turn blue?” I asked.

He laughed. “You’ll feel like you’ve caught a cold.”

A few minutes later

For the first time in my life, I actually wished for a stuffy nose—for any sign that would confirm the presence of the actual vaccine. In addition to furthering the cause of science, I was excited about the possibility of being among the protected. Of putting the pandemic behind us.

After the nurse administered our shots, we were required to wait twenty minutes to ensure against adverse or allergic reactions. I leaned my head against the chair. A moment later, the guy spoke up again. “I have a good feeling,” he said.


“I think so,” he said. Then, “What are you going to do when this is over? You know, once we can go back to normal?”

“I’m thinking dinner party,” I said. “Lots of friends. Lots of food. How about you?”

“Concerts,” he said. “I caught thirty-four shows in 2019. I’d planned to go to even more this year, before all hell broke loose. Live music, man. It’s the stuff of life.”

“I wouldn’t mind a ball game,” I said. I imagined sitting in the stands with my sons, hot dogs on our laps.

“Oh, God, football,” he said. He let out a little hum. “There’s so much to look forward to.”

Seven days in, I’ve yet to feel a thing, other than a little soreness where the injection went in. Earlier tests have shown that AZD1222 is most effective when a half dose is given first, followed by a full dose in the second round. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed that in three more weeks, I’ll wake up with a mild fever, maybe a few aches and pains. Just a little misery to know the vaccine is working.

Here’s hoping.

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How and When You’ll Actually Get the COVID Vaccine

Two pharmaceutical companies say they’re ready to begin vaccinating people before the end of December, if their vaccines are authorized by the Food and Drug Administration. What does that mean?

The two companies have applied to the FDA for emergency use authorization of their Covid-19 vaccines immediately.

The FDA will meet on December 10 to discuss approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and a week later on December 17 for Moderna’s. But the vaccines may not be widely available to the public until at least April 2021, although the companies have started sending doses for potential distribution already. Last Friday, the first large shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine arrived in Chicago and Moderna’s CEO believes they can begin vaccinations by December 21.

But hold onto your masks: we will have a very, very small fraction of the doses we need and, unless you are a healthcare worker or in a higher risk group, you probably won’t be able to get one for a while.

In the best case scenario, only 22.5 million people in the United States will be vaccinated by the end of the year—Moderna says it has 20 million doses and Pfizer 25 million, and both vaccines require two shots to work.

Who gets the vaccine first?

Today, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for the CDC to recommend that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities should get the vaccine first.

That decision follows the recommendation of experts, such as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Since there will be so few vaccines at first, the question is how to distribute with the maximum impact. The answer was to protect the healthcare workers who are likely to be exposed to the virus and essential to stop it as well as the residents of long-term care facilities where the virus has been merciless.

Nearly one in four coronavirus deaths is linked to a long-term care facility, and the surge of cases in the Midwest is largely due to cases among already vulnerable, older people in close-contact environments.

But a recommendation is just a recommendation, and states are not obligated to obey the CDC.

And just because healthcare workers are waved to the front of the line doesn’t mean they will take the vaccine, unless required by their employer. Only 63% of healthcare workers said they would get the vaccine, according to a CDC survey, reminiscent of the low swine flu vaccination rates for health workers back in 2009.

Even if everyone in this group wanted one, there wouldn’t be enough in December anyway: there are 21 million healthcare workers and 3 million residents of long-term care facilities, meaning it will be January before we have enough vaccines for this first group.

How many people need to get the vaccine for it to have an effect on the pandemic?

The very good news is that both vaccines appear to work very well—Moderna’s is 94.1% effective at preventing the disease and the Pfizer vaccine is 95%. And when people in the study did get the virus, Moderna’s was 100% effective at preventing severe disease.

The very bad news is that a vaccine is no good unless it is actually in people’s bodies, and the vaccine needs to be in a lot of people’s bodies.

Most experts say we need to reach 60 to 70 percent immunity to break coronavirus transmission, and at most, only 10% of the population has coronavirus antibodies right now (and who knows how long they last or who those people are).

This becomes a math problem: at the very least, a 95% effective vaccine needs to be given to 63% of the population to raise the immunity by 60 percent (0.95 times 0.63).

That’s about 207 million people. And don’t forget, they need two doses each. And we don’t yet know if people will need a seasonal booster like the flu shot.

So how long before the sign at your drugstore says “COVID vaccines are available”?

The optimistic answer is by April. That’s according to Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services Secretary, also expects vaccines to be generally available by the spring.

But there’s reason to be pessimistic. Vaccines won’t be widely available unless we solve manufacturing and distribution problems that have been characterized as logistical nightmares more than once. There are bottlenecks in vials and syringes and facilities that can seal the vaccine into sterile containers, according to a report earlier this month from the US Government Accountability Office. And while Moderna’s vaccine can be thawed and stored for a month in a regular refrigerator, the Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius (-94 Fahrenheit), while most freezers only get to about -20 degrees Celsius. The wait on a freezer that can keep the Pfizer vaccine is currently six weeks. And the shots need to be cold throughout their journey: there need to be planes and trucks equipped to carry these vaccines at super low temperatures, meaning lots and lots of dry ice.

The path from the pharma factory to your arm goes like this: manufacturers make them and ship them to a distributor, then a distributor ships them to where you’d go to get the shots, such as a hospital or pharmacy. From here, things look a lot more clear.

As part of Operation Warp Speed, the CDC partnered with McKesson Corporation to distribute vaccines, while Pfizer has set up a distribution campaign of its own.

And earlier this month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a partnership with nineteen pharmacy chains, including CVS, Walgreens, and WalMart. That covers 60 percent of the nation’s pharmacies, according to HHS.

So, after we make hundreds of millions of doses of vaccines, produce an equal amount of vials and syringes, make and pack them with dry ice, equip trucks and planes to move them from A to B to C, purchase enough below-Antartic cold freezers and put them in hospitals across the nation, then it’s smooth sailing. In other words: don’t throw away your masks. It’s going to be a while.

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Why we need to get creative when it comes to talking about pain

What [do] I mean by sitting in a pit of fire? You’ve got every nerve ending that’s just going hellfire, and you just don’t know what to do with yourself.

Forty-two year old Emma has experienced chronic pain from a spinal cord injury for the last year. For Emma and many others, living with severe pain is now part and parcel of everyday life. It is estimated that 35-51% of people in the UK live with chronic pain. But communicating that experience can be a challenging endeavor.

We interviewed people with spinal cord injuries and women with endometriosis – a condition where tissue resembling the lining of the womb grows elsewhere in the body causing severe pain—in an effort to find out about their experiences and to learn more about how they talk about pain.

This research suggests that the inability to communicate pain effectively may partly account for delays in diagnosing some conditions. We also found that people with various types of chronic pain—such as that caused by endometriosis and spinal cord injury – often use metaphors to describe it.

Many speak of their pain in terms of being attacked. What might sound overly dramatic actually uses a variety of mechanisms, ranging from conveying high levels of pain severity and trying to make sense of the experience, to expressing the emotional consequences.

In using these expressions, sufferers may be trying to elicit support and empathy from others. At the moment though, widespread practice in pain consultation involves the use of numerical rating scales asking people to identify a number that best represents their pain.

The use of such potentially simplistic and reductionist tools means that a holistic assessment of the physical, psychological and social complexity of the pain experience is neglected.

Using metaphors to talk about pain

In conducting our research, we found that the ways people spontaneously talk about their experience of pain go beyond the measuring capacities of the standard assessment tools. For example, the McGill pain questionnaire asks people to rank each of the descriptive words such as “searing,” “pinching” and “flashing” in terms of their pain intensity.

But many people describe their pain in ways that aren’t measured in this questionnaire. For example, one participant described their pain as feeling like “you’re dragging your organs.” Such creative and detailed descriptions often capture both the severity and the distress pain causes. However, not all expressions convey the intended message effectively.

Common pain descriptors such as “shooting” and “stabbing” pain may fail to articulate intended meaning as they have lost their metaphorical force due to overuse. These are known as dead metaphors. So more detailed creative descriptions, often involving similes, may be more effective in helping the listener to understand, assess and provide better support.

We found interesting examples of creative and extended metaphors such as: “It feels like somebody putting barbed wire through your belly button in a figure of eight … And then they set fire to the barbed wire and it starts getting hot and everything’s just being squished inside you.”

Using highly personal and creative metaphors like this provides a mechanism to communicate pain in one’s own terms rather than being restricted by standardised assessments. “It’s like some little devil in the corner. Yeah, you know like that little exorcist thing in the corner … torturing me.”

This language could help others understand more clearly how a sufferer is feeling and perhaps elicit some support. However, these benefits may come at a cost to the person in pain. We also found that some metaphorical expressions alluding to torture and attack could reflect individuals’ perceptions of pain as a physical threat, leading to higher levels of distress, fear and despair.

As a result, the use of such language could increase the attention that an individual pays to their pain. This has been shown to also lead to an increase in pain intensity, as people become more aware of, and sensitive to, the sensation.

Promoting effective pain talk

Pain is a private experience; encouraging people to find different and more appropriate ways to talk about it can help them make sense of their unique experience and describe it more effectively.

People with different conditions tend to use similar types of metaphorical expressions. For example, we found that words like “pins and needles” and “electricity” are often used to describe nerve pain associated with conditions like spinal cord injury. Similarly, expressions involving physical action such as “tearing” and “pulling” are more commonly found in descriptions of endometriosis pain.

This, in turn, can potentially guide doctors to identify potential causes of pain in certain conditions, like endometriosis. For example, a description such as “feeling like a balloon is about to explode” may point to inflammation, while “felt like I had tiny people with ropes tied tightly around my insides and pulling down” may be indicative of a deeper, more visceral pain.

Pain is also an all-round experience, and its impact goes beyond the physical. The way that someone talks about their experience can also highlight its effect on other parts of their lives, such as mental health and socialising. For example, pain described as “all-consuming” could reveal an emotional dimension while talking about how people in pain “hide from the world” could indicate a drive to conceal pain from others and avoid seeking help.

Encouraging people to talk about pain in their own terms is key to understanding and supporting their individual needs. In fact, this is what our participants ask for: “Listen closely” or “Be more open-minded about the difficulty of describing pain I can’t explain well.”

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The best stretches to do when you get out of bed

The way you start your morning can often set the tone for the rest of your day, and making sure that you’re connected to your body is the perfect place to start. While the classic full-body, noise-making, head-to-toe stretch is wonderful, a few extras may help move any sense of stagnancy throughout your system and help wake you up more fully.

After you’ve taken a full-body stretch, bring your knees to your chest while you’re still laying down. Like a gentle hug, this stretch offers a simple massage for your muscles. Relax your upper body and just connect more deeply with your breath. Yoga instructor Brooke Blocker tells Prevention, “This stretch helps you gently wake up the low back and stimulate the mind and body, helping you feel ready to start your day.” Aiding in digestion, stretching the spine, and taking pressure off of your internal organs, this simple stretch can help you ease into your routine. 

Next, while sitting cross-legged in bed — or, standing up while placing your feet hip-width distance apart — interlace your fingers with your palms facing outwards, and pull them toward the ceiling. Then, as you lift upwards, gently lean to one side and breathe deeply for a few moments. Reverse to the opposite direction. According to Cosmopolitan, side stretches like these will have you feeling it in your obliques, arms, and upper back.

Go gentle on yourself while stretching first thing in the morning

Obviously, your muscles aren’t fully warmed up yet when you first get out of bed — so make sure to take it easy and not dive into a deep stretch right away. If you notice tightness in your chest, stand in mountain pose with your arms at your sides and feet hip-width distance apart, then lift your arms towards the ceiling. On an exhale, bend your elbows out to your sides, making a goal post with your arms. This offers a great pectoral stretch with external rotation of the rotator cuff, Mindbodygreen notes.

Now that your shoulders are opened, drop to all fours for a few rounds of cat-cow. On your inhale, drop your stomach toward the floor as your gaze lifts slightly, then reverse the movement on an exhale, rounding out your back. Take a few rounds, flowing with your breath. Then, end with a child’s pose. Bring your knees out to the sides, big toes come together. Then, slowly sink your hips back to rest on your feet as your arms lengthen in the opposite direction. If this causes discomfort in your low back, bring your knees closer together. Just breathe here for a few moments as the pose relaxes your back, shoulders, and neck (via Mindbodygreen). Plus, this stretch helps to calm the nervous system, as well. Make sure to hold for at least ten breaths, so the pose can fully relax your body.

Rise and shine! 

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Ryan Lochte: When Kayla and I Will Consider Having Baby No. 3

Room for one more? Ryan Lochte dished on when he and his wife, Kayla Rae Reid, will consider expanding their brood further with a third child.

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“I am so happy right now with [what we have]. We wanted a boy and then a girl afterwards, and it worked out in our favor,” the 36-year-old pro swimmer told Us Weekly exclusively on Thursday, October 15, while promoting the Piñata app. “Like, it was just perfect. We had the perfect family right now.”

Lochte continued, “But, I mean, it’s not really up to me [if and when we have more kids]. It’s up to the boss lady. And if she wants more, we’re gonna have more. … But I said, ‘Let’s wait after 2021, the Olympics.’ Then we can start popping out more kids if we want.”

The 12-time Olympic medalist married the 29-year-old model in 2018. They welcomed their son Caiden, 3, in 2017 and daughter Liv, 15 months, in 2019.

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Last year, Lochte spoke to Us exclusively about how much his life has changed since becoming the father of two young children. “Kids have changed everything,” he said at the time. “It’s not just me and her anymore. We have to always wake up and care for our little ones.”

The athlete added, “One was hard, two is very hard, but it’s so much fun knowing every time we see our kids, we created this. … It’s pretty awesome to see them grow into people that they’re going to become.”

One thing that hasn’t changed for Lochte and Reid since becoming parents is the strong foundation they have in their romantic relationship. Speaking to Us on Thursday, he explained that the key to their successful marriage is making sure to “do something nice” for your partner every day.

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“I have little Post-it notes in the cupboard. So, when she opens up to get coffee or something, she sees like, ‘You’re beautiful,’ stuff like that,” he explained. “So, I still do a lot of things like that and just being there all the time as much as I can when I’m not swimming. I mean, she’s, like, my best friend. So, that’s awesome.”

Instead of gearing up to expand his family with Reid, Lochte currently has his sights focused on his new partnership with Piñata alongside pal and Celebrity Big Brother costar Jonathan Bennett. Through the unique app, users are rewarded for paying their rent on time.

“Being an Olympian, I was always traveling [and] going to different places, always on the road. Renting was the best thing that fit my lifestyle at the time,” he told Us. “Then, when I found out about Piñata and the rewards that you can get while paying rent, I was, like, my mind was blown. I was like, ‘What? Are you serious? I can actually get rewards for paying rent?’ This is unheard of. So, I immediately teamed up with them.”

With reporting by Christina Garibaldi

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When is HIIT the best exercise fit?

Determining whether high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an appropriate form of exercise for the average person has been hotly debated for years. But for one UBC Okanagan researcher, there’s not much to debate—interval exercise, when used appropriately, can fit into people’s menu of flexible exercise options.

“The physiological benefits of HIIT or SIT [sprint interval training] are well established,” says Matthew Stork, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences and study lead author. “What has been difficult to nail down is if interval-based exercise should be promoted in public health strategies. If so, how can we help people, especially those who are less physically active, get that kind of exercise on a regular basis and over the long term?”

Stork describes interval exercise as repeated short, high-intensity efforts that are separated by periods of low-intensity rest or recovery and that typically last around 20-25 minutes or less. HIIT usually consists of bouts performed around 80-90 percent of a person’s maximum heart rate. SIT involves shorter bouts of activity, but at an even higher, “all-out” intensity.

“While SIT can be attractive for those who feel particularly short on time, it can be pretty off-putting for those that aren’t used to exercising at all-out intensities,” he explains.

And that, says Stork, is why there’s debate among exercise scientists.

While all styles of exercising have similar health benefits, critics of interval exercise argue that it’s not a sustainable public health strategy—it’s high-intensities may deter people from sticking with it in the long-term.

“Unsurprisingly, different people tolerate different exercise programs in different ways,” says Stork. “That makes it difficult to establish the ‘best’ exercise program for the ‘average’ person. There’s little research to unpack the experiences and perceptions of HIIT and SIT compared to traditional continuous exercise in the way we have in this study.”

Stork and his co-authors, including UBC Professor Kathleen Martin Ginis, interviewed 30 inactive adults—18 men and 12 women—before and after they participated in different types of continuous and interval exercise in a controlled lab setting and on their own free time.

Participants discussed the trade-offs of interval versus traditional exercise, the appeal of HIIT or SIT as an idea compared with actually doing it, and creative ways interval exercise can be adapted when working out on their own.

Stork says the factors that influence adherence to traditional or interval training are far more complex than what has been captured in research to date, but there’s certainly room for HIIT and SIT in exercise plans for the general public.

“I think many people assume that they need to go all-in on one form of exercise—if they’re a ‘HIIT person,’ they must have to do HIIT all the time,” he says. “But what I’m seeing is that different forms of exercise can be used interchangeably and that people should approach their exercise with a flexible ‘menu’ of options.”

Stork points to the parent of a toddler as an example.

“Maybe one day you only have 20 minutes to squeeze in a HIIT session while your child naps, but the next day you prefer an hour-long hike up the mountain to destress from work. As long as you’re getting a bit of exercise, you should feel empowered to choose a protocol that fits your needs in that particular time and situation.”

He says the next stage of this research is to determine what tools and resources can be used to help people engage in HIIT or SIT on their own while unsupervised.

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When doing good boosts health, well-being

Performing acts of kindness and helping other people can be good for people’s health and well-being, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. But not all good-hearted behavior is equally beneficial to the giver. The strength of the link depends on many factors, including the type of kindness, the definition of well-being, and the giver’s age, gender and other demographic factors.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.

“Prosocial behavior—altruism, cooperation, trust and compassion—are all necessary ingredients of a harmonious and well-functioning society,” said lead author Bryant P.H. Hui, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong. “It is part of the shared culture of humankind, and our analysis shows that it also contributes to mental and physical health.”

Previous studies have suggested that people who engage in more prosocial behavior are happier and have better mental and physical health than those who don’t spend as much time helping others. However, not all studies have found evidence for that link, and the strength of the connection varies widely in the research literature.

To better understand what drives that variation, Hui and his colleagues performed a meta-analysis of 201 independent studies, comprising 198,213 total participants, that looked at the connection between prosocial behavior and well-being. Overall, they found that there was a modest link between the two. Although the effect size was small, it is still meaningful, according to Hui, given how many people perform acts of kindness every day.

“More than a quarter of Americans volunteer, for example,” he said. “A modest effect size can still have a significant impact at a societal level when many people are participating in the behavior.”

Digging deeper into the research, Hui and his colleagues found that random acts of kindness, such as helping an older neighbor carry groceries, were more strongly associated with overall well-being than formal prosocial behavior, such as scheduled volunteering for a charity. That may be because informal helping is more casual and spontaneous and may more easily lead to forming social connections, according to Hui. Informal giving is also more varied and less likely to become stale or monotonous, he said.

The researchers also found a stronger link between kindness and what is known as eudaimonic well-being (which focuses on self-actualization, realizing one’s potential and finding meaning in life), than between kindness and hedonic well-being (which refers to happiness and positive feelings).

The effects varied by age, according to Hui, who began this research at the University of Cambridge. Younger givers reported higher levels of overall well-being, eudaimonic well-being, and psychological functioning, while older givers reported higher levels of physical health. Also, women showed stronger relationships between prosociality and several measures of well-being compared with men—perhaps because women are stereotypically expected to be more caring and giving, and thus derive a stronger sense of good feelings for acting in accordance with those social norms, according to the study.

Finally, the researchers found that studies that were specifically designed to measure the connection between prosociality and well-being showed a stronger link between the two than studies that analyzed data from other large surveys not specifically designed to study the topic.

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Huge mistakes everyone makes when shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond

Bed Bath & Beyond makes the interior designer in us very excited. Thank you to shows like Fixer Upper for making us believe we can all decorate like Joanna Gaines. But luckily, if you struggle finding the right items for your place, the retail giant has a ton of great stuff. From the beautiful bedding options to affordable artwork and sleek appliances ⁠— it really has everything we need. It’s also great for festive occasions, and you can even do your wedding registry at the store. They seriously have one the best dish and silverware sections. And according to CNBC, the secret is out about their robust inventory, as the retail chain brings in nearly $3 billion a year.

However, with all of the options available it can be hard to make the right decision. From picking up expensive back-to-school items to missteps in the clearance section, here’s how to avoid the common mistakes shoppers make at Bed Bath & Beyond.

Buying pricey back-to-school items

When your child is going off to college for the first time your instinct might be to buy them every modern convenience you can, but that isn’t necessarily a great idea. First of all, it’s an impermanent place they’ll be staying and it can get very expensive. Cheatsheet recommends staying away from things like a fancy hamper from Bed Bath & Beyond, which can set you back around $60. Instead, get them a laundry basket that is practical for them to carry to the communal laundry room and is much more cost-effective.

Also, avoid buying from the dorm furniture section at the retail giant. Stylish study setups that have already been curated by the store can come at a hefty price tag of $120. That’s a lot for items your child will probably discard relatively quickly. To stay on budget, try picking out inexpensive furniture from different stores that have not been bundled together.

Not downloading the Bed Bath & Beyond app

The first thing you need to do if you want the most current discounts is sign up for them online at the retail giant’s website (per CBS News). However, if you’re less into receiving coupons by regular mail and more of a tech enthusiast, the app might be a better option. Shopping expert at True Trae, Trae Bodge, explained the app keeps all of your coupons and receipts in one place. This means way less of a mess in your purse with trying to keep track of everything. It also has a very handy feature, where you can scan any barcode in the store for price checks on products.

Another techie hack that can save you 20 percent is signing into your Bed Bath & Beyond account and adding an item to your online shopping cart (via CBS News). Then, exit out of the page by closing the tab. The store often will send an email with a 20 percent off code to encourage you to buy the product. Also, make sure to not throw away coupons you receive in the mail from the chain because they never expire.

Not shopping the clearance section the right way and tossing receipts

The Spruce recommends to not just look at the clearance sections that are typically located in the center aisles. Other sections have their own clearance items, like the bedding section, where you can find some incredible deals. Designer bedding with budget friendly prices? Sign us up! Expert on savings at, Kendal Perez, also suggested shopping the clearance area on Monday. “According to retail insiders, Bed Bath & Beyond restocks its clearance section over the weekend, making the beginning of the week the best time to search for deals,” Perez said (via CBS News).

Another mistake is not saving your receipts. According to The Krazy Coupon Lady, Bed Bath & Beyond recently updated its return policy — which means if you don’t have your receipt, the store will only give you a credit for what the item is currently being sold for and will subtract 20 percent. The store once had a flexible return policy, but Benjamin Glaser from said the chain has gotten stricter. “Returns with a receipt can be made for a full refund, with essentially no time limit,” Glaser explained (via CBS News). So if you decide to buy with cash, make sure to keep those receipts in a safe place.

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The real reason you shouldn’t drink raw milk when pregnant

Maybe you’ve gone most of your life without really questioning what you’re eating. You have friends who talk about non-GMO this and gluten-free that, and you’ve shrugged it off and kept eating your Cocoa Puffs. But all of that can change when you’re pregnant, and you become intensely aware that whatever you put into your mouth is also feeding your baby. Suddenly, you crave free-range chicken and apples picked off the trees of a local orchard. You make yourself a salad from lettuce and carrots that still had a little dirt on them when you bought them at the farmer’s market.

And what about milk? Should you keep on buying that half-gallon at the grocery store — which has been pasteurized to remove bacteria — or does your imagination send you to a barnyard, where a pink-cheeked milkmaid hands you a rustic metal pail, filled with the frothy, raw, unpasteurized milk from that morning’s session with Bessie? According to Nourished Kitchen, raw milk indeed has many health benefits, ranging from enzymes that allow you to better absorb the calcium to beneficial bacteria that support gut health.

But experts warn that it’s extremely dangerous for pregnant women to drink raw milk. Here’s why.

Drinking raw milk when pregnant can cause serious complications

The biggest risk of drinking raw, unpasteurized milk when you’re pregnant is that you could develop Listeria, which causes a miscarriage or stillbirth in 20% of women who contract the pathogen. The American Academy of Pediatrics noted that higher rates of pre-term delivery, as well as sepsis and meningitis in newborns, have all been linked to a Listeria infection due to the mother’s consumption of raw milk (per Live Science). If you’re wondering whether milk from cows that are grass-fed is safe to drink — or if a farmer says the milk is tested to confirm lack of bacteria — the CDC says there’s still a risk that the milk will be unsafe to drink, noting that even healthy animals from clean farms may pass on harmful microorganisms.

What about if you’re not pregnant? Raw milk enthusiasts chug the stuff because they believe in its health benefits and are outraged by government regulations restricting its sale. “Legally, I can feed my children fast food three meals a day. But then to get this incredible, nutrient-dense, fresh local food, the farmer in my state is criminalized for selling that to me,” stay-at-home mom Liz Reitzig told NPR. However, the bottom line comes from Mary Glode, a professor of pediatric infectious disease at Children’s Hospital Colorado: “Pasteurization is one of the major public-health advances of the century. It’s a shame not to take advantage of that.” (via WebMD)

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