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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Technology

In Elemental. More on Medium.

Why knowing your personal norm can help you keep tabs on your health

A woman stretching while wearing a smartwatch.
A woman stretching while wearing a smartwatch.
Photo: Grace Cary/Getty Images

“According to my Fitbit, I’m probably going to die soon,” I informed my husband.

“Probably from stressing about those numbers,” was his not completely unreasonable response.

“Those numbers” were my resting heart rate (RHR), the number of times a heart beats in a minute while the body is at rest. My Fitbit told me it seemed high, around 85 beats per minute (bpm). “Poor,” the smartwatch declared about my overall cardiorespiratory fitness.

I found that hard to believe considering I regularly log well over 10,000 steps chasing after two little kids all day long. How accurate are the health metrics…


Screen eyes are tired eyes. So what to do about it?

I’d never thought of my childrens’ six underage eyeballs as “plump” until Manoush Zomorodi prompted me to in her recent piece about the tricky ways quarantine behaviors are impacting eyesight. Her description conjured a creepy haunted house moment from elementary school days — my hand plunged into a bowl of perfectly round peeled grapes.

The image is apt. By design, eyeballs are round and — as Robert Roy Britt reports for Elemental — nearsighted ones (like mine) are elongated. …


The 20–20–20 rule can help

Photo: Shannon Fagan/Getty Images

The second I woke up this morning, I picked up my phone and checked my email before catching up on Instagram and Twitter. I spent the next eight or so hours switching between browser tabs for Gmail, Zoom, and Google Docs to work. Any time I took a break, I was back scrolling through social media or reading a few chapters of an e-book on my iPad. When I wrapped up work, I did an hour-long workout using the Nike Training Club app on my phone. Before bed, I watched two episodes of Schitt’s Creek.

Sounds pretty normal, right? Since…


An investigation into whether audio technology can make us feel less alone

Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images

It’s 5 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. I’m cutting up a courgette for that Rachel Khoo recipe I’ve been meaning to try for weeks now. It’s a meal-for-one, as per usual. I’ll be eating it alone, as per usual. Except not really. My good friend Adam Buxton will be with me, droning on about mattresses and his dog Rosie in my ear the entire time. In pursuit of some surrogate company via the medium of podcasts, I know I’m not alone at all.

“Sometimes I listen to them [podcasts] with my full attention but most of the time I just…


Why it’s odd to see your own face during conversations — and hard to look away

Illustration: Jon Han

As the coronavirus pandemic swept across the globe — relegating workers to their home offices (or kitchen tables or beds), happy hours to the digital sphere, and classes to a webinar format — society has been forced to grapple with the intricacies of digital interaction. While the shortcomings of the Zoom happy hour have been thoroughly documented, there’s one aspect of the video chat that needs more attention: It’s extremely odd, and even off-putting, to constantly stare at your own face when you’re conversing with other people.

Try as you might to stare into your laptop camera, it’s difficult to…


If you can’t actually go outside, technology can help

Photo: James O’Neil/Getty Images

As concern grows over the mental health impact of Covid-19 around the world, there’s one universal, all-encompassing force that seems to get overlooked in its role as a solution: nature.

Nature is omnipresent. Or at least, it was. With over half the world in some sort of lockdown confinement, it’s maybe not quite as accessible as it once was.

There are ways around that.

It is possible for technology to increase our access to nature experience, but first, let’s understand why nature really is the beating heart of our mental health and well-being.

Nature plays a prominent role in cultivating a healthy state of mind

“Biophilia” describes the love we have for…


Kids are staring at screens all day. Is that unhealthy? Experts can’t agree.

Illustration: Sophi Gullbrants

Every generation of parents faces its own new challenges. For the current crop of moms and dads — and in the midst of a pandemic, when screen time has in many cases become a necessity, rather than a choice — questions surrounding technology and adolescent mental health are among the most pressing and bewildering.

Are all screens created equal? And how much screen time is too much? Is social media uniquely dangerous? Different studies seem to yield different answers. While one group of experts issues warnings, another argues that concerns are overblown. Competing op-eds alarm or pacify.

This expert debate…


America was never prepared for this

Photo: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

As has been widely reported, a major bottleneck in addressing the novel coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is the extremely limited testing capacity. While South Korea has tested over a quarter million people, the U.S. has performed only 33,000 tests to date*, just three times South Korea’s daily testing capacity. Speculations about negligence, incompetence, and deliberate conspiracy have been floating around to explain this discrepancy. In reality, as is almost always the case, the factors impacting the U.S.’s ability to ramp up testing are incredibly complex. …


As Covid-19 spreads, more questions arise. ‘Elemental’ has answers.

Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Getty Images

Follow Elemental’s ongoing coverage of the coronavirus outbreak here.

As of publishing time, there have been 554 reported cases of Covid-19 in 34 states across the U.S., and 22 people have died. (You can track the spread of the virus using this helpful tool built by engineers at Johns Hopkins University.) As the disease spreads, people are understandably becoming more anxious about infection, and sometimes you want more detailed prevention tips than just “wash your hands.” As additional questions arise, Elemental is committed to providing science-backed answers. Here’s some advice about keeping clean.

What are the best soaps, hand sanitizers, and cleaning products to disinfect me and my surroundings?

The good news is the new coronavirus


Consumer genetic testing is resulting in some truly traumatic medical surprises

Photo: ERIC BARADAT/Getty Images

In her early fifties, Linda Minten began experiencing symptoms of what her doctor believed might be ovarian cancer. She was bloated, bleeding, and in pain. An ultrasound was inconclusive, but testing found an elevated level of a tumor biomarker. The fact that Linda had recently learned she was likely about half Ashkenazi Jewish through her mother worried her because it increased her likelihood of having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 variant, which would put her at higher risk of that kind of cancer.

Wondering if her father might also have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, further increasing her risk of these variants, Linda…

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