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Fresh home upgrades

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Spring is the perfect time to start re-imagining your home and making upgrades that create a fresh, welcoming vibe. These project ideas – some big, some small – can help breathe new life into your home so you’re ready to enjoy your favorite rooms to the fullest.

Photo Courtesy of Velux

Air it out

Months of closed windows and doors can make any room feel dusty and stale. As soon as temperatures allow, throw open the windows and skylights to let the fresh air chase away the remnants of winter. It’s a perfect time to launder window treatments and clean area rugs. After a few passes with a carpet cleaner, allow rugs to air-dry outdoors. If you’re considering an update to the overall decor, changing out these textiles is an easy and affordable way to create a new look. Just donate the used drapes and rugs after cleaning instead of bringing them back into the room.

Shift your outlook

When contemplating changes to a room’s aesthetic, most people focus on the floor, walls and elements like furniture and accessories. As some homeowners are discovering, there’s a whole other space waiting to be discovered. The ceiling, a fifth wall of sorts, opens up endless creative design opportunities.

Whether you’re seeking more natural light, access to fresh air, a sense of spaciousness or a way to bring sophistication to a room, a skylight may be just the solution. For example, Velux room-darkening and light-filtering blinds can add a splash of color just where you least expect it, and they’re efficient in shielding your space from the sun, meaning the blinds and installation are eligible for a 30 percent tax credit.

Paint to perfection

Over time, once cheerful walls can grow dull. Create a livelier ambiance with a fresh coat of paint, either in the same shade or something completely new. If you’re not sure exactly where to start, tackle the project room by room. To choose the right hue, select a favorite item in the room, such as an heirloom throw blanket or a piece of wall art, and consider color shades that complement the item well.

Make what’s old new again

Sometimes a fresh perspective is as simple as rearranging a room to better fit your needs. Over time, the furnishings can become almost an afterthought because they’ve been in place so long. Try moving things around to create new conversation groupings or to highlight a piece that has been tucked away in the shadows. An updated arrangement may inspire to you add and embellish with some simple new accessories or accent pieces for a room that only looks brand new.

Get earth smart

With all of the new growth and hues of green that abound during spring, it’s natural to be more mindful of the environment. Earth-friendly upgrades like switching out inefficient lighting or installing low-flow toilets and shower heads can make a sizable difference. Another option for energy conservation: Look for ways to maximize natural light for heat and to brighten rooms. Well-placed windows and skylights can harness energy naturally, so you can minimize your reliance on electricity for comfort and convenience.

5 Ways to Make the Most of Your 5th Wall

1. Start with a smooth canvas. This means eliminating any details like popcorn ceilings or other texturing that may appear dated and dingy.

2. Add some color. Bring character to the room by adding color to the ceiling that complements the traditional walls for a cohesive look. If you have eaves, dormers or other architectural elements, consider painting some and leaving others white for variety and added dimension.

3. Introduce natural light. When it comes from above, natural light brightens a room in a whole new way. An option like a Velux skylight is a sensible solution because it offers plenty of ways to customize the skylight to your specific space and functional needs.

4. Enhance with accessories. Both practical and attractive, blinds are a good idea for a skylight. They let you control the light, such as blocking out harsh rays during the heat of the day but letting the gentle evening light illuminate the room. In addition to choosing a style and color that complements the room decor, also look for features such as remote-control operation and room-darkening textiles.

5. Get creative. Treating your ceiling like a wall opens virtually endless possibilities. Especially if you have some unique architectural features, you can highlight them by adding special touches such as built-in shelves for extra storage or new place to nurture lush house plants.

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Cardio-fitness cuts death and disease by nearly 20%

Running, cycling, or swimming – if you regularly exercise, you’re on track for a long and healthy life.

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Running, cycling, or swimming – if you regularly exercise, you’re on track for a long and healthy life.

This is according to a study – “Cardiorespiratory fitness is a strong and consistent predictor of morbidity and mortality among adults: an overview of meta-analyses representing over 20.9 million observations from 199 unique cohort studies” – that was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study comprised of 26 systematic reviews with meta-analysis representing more than 20.9 million observations from 199 unique cohort studies. It is the first study to collate all the scientific evidence that looked at the prospective link between cardiorespiratory fitness and health outcomes among adults.

The study found that:

  • for every 1-MET increase in cardiorespiratory fitness – the amount of energy used for quiet sitting – a person can reduce their risk of death by 11-17%, and specifically, their risk of heart disease by 18%.
  • an increased cardio fitness level will reduce your risk of death from any cause by 11-17%.

Senior author Grant Tomkinson said that cardiorespiratory fitness is probably the most important type of fitness for good health. “Cardiorespiratory fitness (or CRF) is your ability to perform physical activity for a long period of time like running, cycling, and swimming. And in this study, we found prolonged cardiorespiratory fitness is strongly and consistently associated with all types of premature death and incident disease – spanning heart failure, depression, diabetes, dementia and even cancer.”

Tomkinson added that the researchers “summarized the evidence linking CRF to numerous health outcomes and found that those with low levels of CRF are far more likely to die early or develop chronic conditions like heart disease later in life.” Specifically, “we found that every 1-MET increase in CRF, which is the amount of energy used when sitting quietly, reduced the risk of early death from any cause and heart failure by 11–17% and 18%, respectively. For most people, a 1-MET increase in CRF can be achieved through a regular aerobic exercise program.”

For Tomkinson, the message is quite simple: if you do a lot of “huff and puff” exercise, then your risk of dying early or developing diseases in the future is reduced. If you avoid exercise your health may suffer.

Chronic health conditions are an ongoing cause of poor health, disability, and premature death. In Australia, an estimated 11.6 million people (47%) have a chronic and debilitating health conditions, which contributes to two thirds of the burden of disease.

“Clearly, cardiorespiratory fitness is as an important factor for good health. If you are already exercising, this is good news; but if you know you need to up your fitness and movement, then this is a timely reminder,” co-author Dr Justin Lang said.

“People can make meaningful improvements through additional moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, at least 150 minutes a week. And as they improve their fitness, their risk of death and disease will decline. But the onus for improvement should not just sit with the individual, it should also be routinely assessed in clinical and public health practice, so that we can support people to improve their health outcomes,” Lang added.

Through regular assessment, clinicians and exercise professionals could better identify adults at greater risk of early death and initiate exercise programs aimed at increasing CRF through regular physical activity.

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Natural therapy shows promise for dry-eye disease

Castor oil has been proposed as a natural product that could offer a safe, effective and easy-to-use alternative to existing therapies.

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Researchers at the University of Auckland are running a trial of castor oil as a potential safe and natural treatment for dry-eye disease following a successful pilot study.

While exact figures aren’t available for New Zealand, in Australia, it is estimated dry-eye disease affects around 58% of the population aged over 50. Advancing age, menopause, increased screen time, contact lens wear are just some of the risk factors for developing dry eye disease.

Blepharitis is the most common cause of dry-eye disease, accounting for more than 80 percent of cases. It is a chronic condition with no known cure.

“Currently, patients are left grappling with symptoms of dryness, grittiness and, in some cases, watery eyes that feel uncomfortable impacting on their quality of life and work productivity,” says doctoral candidate and lead clinical investigator Catherine Jennings.

Current treatments, such as antibacterials and anti-inflammatories, are generally unsuitable for long-term use, due to significant side-effects and potential for antimicrobial resistance.

“Often patients are left feeling helpless when attempting to manage a chronic condition,” Jennings says.

The current trial is of a product containing cold-pressed castor oil enhanced with mānuka and kanuka oils applied using a rollerball attached to a small glass bottle.

“The previous pilot study, conducted by our research team, was unique in its use of castor oil in such an application on the eyelids, with the product not known to be used anywhere else in the world for treating blepharitis,” says Jennings.

Castor oil comes from a flowering tropical or subtropical shrub from the species Riccinus communis. It has been used therapeutically for millenia, including more recently in eye cosmetics and eye makeup removers.

In the pilot study, 26 patients with blepharitis were treated with cold-pressed castor oil over four weeks. They had measurable improvements in symptoms, such as reduced redness of the lid margin, decreased thickening of the eyelid, and a decline in bacterial profusion, as well as reduced eyelash crusting.

Building on the success of the pilot study, the research team is now engaged in the more extensive double-blinded, randomised and placebo-controlled study. They are aiming to recruit 92 participants and generate robust scientific evidence for clinicians.

The ultimate goal is to sustainably improve quality of life for this large group of patients using a natural, safe and effective product, principal investigator Professor Jennifer Craig says.

“Castor oil has been proposed as a natural product that could offer a safe, effective and easy-to-use alternative to existing therapies,” Craig says.

“My hope is this study will produce evidence-based guidance for clinicians with regard to offering castor oil as a possible management option for patients suffering from blepharitis, so they continue to enjoy a great quality of life, read the books they love, be productive in their work environment and enjoy other visual hobbies.”

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For epilepsy, yoga may be good for your mind

People who did yoga were more than four times as likely to have more than a 50% reduction in their seizure frequency after six months than the people who did sham yoga.

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For people with epilepsy, doing yoga may help reduce feelings of stigma about the disease along with reducing seizure frequency and anxiety, according to new research published in the November 8, 2023, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“People with epilepsy often face stigma that can cause them to feel different than others due to their own health condition and that can have a significant impact on their quality of life,” said study author Manjari Tripathi, MD, DM, of All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi. “This stigma can affect a person’s life in many ways including treatment, emergency department visits and poor mental health. Our study showed that doing yoga can alleviate the burden of epilepsy and improve the overall quality of life by reducing this perceived stigma.” 

For the study, researchers looked at people with epilepsy with an average age of 30 in India.

Researchers measured stigma based on participants’ answers to questions such as: “Do you feel other people discriminate against you?” “Do you feel you cannot contribute anything in society?” and “Do you feel different from other people?”

Researchers then identified 160 people who met the criteria for experiencing stigma. Participants had an average of one seizure per week and on average took at least two anti-seizure medications.

Researchers then randomly assigned participants to receive yoga therapy or sham yoga therapy. Yoga therapy included exercises in loosening muscles, breathing, meditation and positive affirmations. Sham yoga consisted of exercises that mimic the same yoga exercises, but participants were not given instructions on two key components of yoga believed to induce a relaxation response: slow and synchronized breathing, and attention to the body movements and sensations during practice.

Each group received seven supervised group sessions of 45 to 60 minutes over three months. Participants were also asked to practice sessions at home at least five times a week for 30 minutes. They tracked seizures and yoga sessions in a journal. After the three months of therapy, participants were followed for another three months.

Researchers found when compared to people who did sham yoga, people who did yoga were more likely to reduce their perceived stigma of the disease. People who did yoga had an average score of seven at the start of the study and an average score of four at the end of the study, while people who did sham yoga had an increase from an average score of six at the start of the study to an average score of seven at the end.

Researchers also found that people who did yoga were more than four times as likely to have more than a 50% reduction in their seizure frequency after six months than the people who did sham yoga.

In addition, people who did yoga were more than seven times more likely to no longer have seizures than those who did sham yoga.

There was also a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms for people who did yoga versus people who did not. They saw improvements in quality of life measures and mindfulness.

“These study findings elevate the need to consider alternative therapies and activities for people with epilepsy facing stigma,” said Tripathi. “Yoga may not only help reduce stigma, but also improve quality of life and mindfulness. Plus, yoga can be easily prerecorded and shared with patients online using minimal resources and costs.”

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