Looking at trees is relaxing. At least this is true for most of us. Some researchers, however, have a stressful time to sort out what it is exactly about trees that causes this impression, perception or feeling. Time to do a few studies on this issue (Lancet RM, 2023). Most likely it is the size or the number, maybe the surface or volume covered by trees that have an impact on us. Maybe it is the sequence of seasons that really causes the pleasant feeling about trees. Perhaps the fresh air, shadow in summertime or more the birds and squirrels or dogs that „inhabit“ the trees in neighborhoods that are important to us. More and more cities really develop sizable programs to care about their green spaces. In a simple cross-sectional study it seems the visibility of trees that is important rather than other effects. More sophisticated second round effects like oxygen levels or meeting points like in rural areas seem not to matter as much in cities currently. The study cited below invites us to devote more consideration to trees which we took for granted for far too long.
Ordóñez, C., Labib, S.M., Chung, L. et al.Satisfaction with urban trees associates with tree canopy cover and tree visibility around the home. npj Urban Sustain 3, 37 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42949-023-00119-8
Mortality in many instances is avoidable. Estimates Mühlichen et al. (2023) for Germany are as high as 19% of all deaths in the years 2017 to 2019. For men the figure is as high as 24%, for women “only” 13%. The scientific interest in the concept of avoidable death originates in the interest to indirectly gauge the efficiency of health systems. In order to do this the authors estimated cause-deleted life tables in a fine graded regional fashion. Avoidable deaths are defined as deaths that occur before the age of 75 and are either classified as medically preventable or preventable through a different life style. The study applies a quasi-experimental design in comparing German speaking regions within Europe. This allows to measure the influence of health care systems on a general level within Germany, Austria, Switzerland and South Tirol in Italy. The study corrects for different age structures in these regions. For Germany avoidable deaths are substantially higher in the North than in the South. Additionally Eastern parts of Germany have higher avoidable deaths. Even the best performing regions in Germany have higher rates of avoidable mortality than Switzerland.
The differential to other countries health systems is worth a concern, because the expenditure in the German health system per 1000 population are among the highest in Europe (OECD 2021). Despite the high expenditure per head, avoidable mortality remains particularly high for German men and in the North and East of Germany. Lack of prevention of unhealthy life styles is most likely the decisive factor to explain the disappointing results. There might be another “unaccounted” risk factor that originates in the lack of sufficient preventative health care and environmental risks during the young age of the regional populations. 33 years of unification and a cut-off age of 75 mean that in East Germany the oldest people lived through 40 years of high pollution coal as primary heating system. Similar to Northern and Western Germany little concern and careless use of risky fertilizers might drive higher mortality decades after exposure. Life style patterns might additionally contribute, but are harder to assess in comparison. Research to clarify these differentials are just at the beginning. A valid conclusion remains: prevention is key, but it has many facets.
Most people, including many sociologists, believe preparation for a marathon is a rather lonely exercise. During hot summers you get up early and run alone across the streets in your neighbourhood or in a green area. Even on weekends you tend to put on your running gear at least once to chip in a few extra miles or once or twice before the marathon a longer distance test run of 20, 25 or 30 kilometers. Just for the sake of testing to withstand more pain, like in the real event. Running guides in form of books, apps reach “cult status”. In sociology we teach students about the social trends of individualisation ever since the book by Putnam “Bowling alone”, which depicted the new kind of lonesome person going alone to the bowling hall for exercise, as social life seems to evolve towards “individualised” leisure time and social life. Social capital seems to get lost on the way.
“The New York Times International” published an article and photo by Lauren Jackson on September, 27 (2023) page 17 in the sports section, which states the not so new phenomenon of “run clubs” (see extract on image below). These clubs bring runners from all walks of life together on a regular basis to train jointly and add a social function to the club as well. Just like previous sport clubs or socialising bowling groups did before, they meet and greet as well as party and celebrate together. Even travelling thousands of miles to distant events occurs in groups. Berlin seems to be a very attractive location for such clubs to go to. For some the sport stays in front of the activities, but for quite a few the social and party-like atmosphere is just as important. Even a local Berlin newspaper portrayed an older runner who stops in-between to have a small glass of alcohol-free beer on a terrace 2 steps from the official track with friends and family. Most people take their time record rather seriously, but the event is to enjoy community and celebration. Lauren Jackson even equates this to some forms of religious practice. I’s rather call this the other side of the same coin. Lone practice and meditation like running prepares a person to enjoy community (again). Extremes in both directions are part of the bell-shaped probability distribution of runners across the lonely-crowded spectrum of running experiences. The Marathon 42km 195m certainly has some historical even mystical connotation. While watching the finishing line at 42 km, just after the hypothetical run from Marathon to Athens in ancient Greece, you see many worn out persons, but also the many happy faces. After the run you meet your peers to exchange on stories and anecdotes around the track. Success and failure, just as in other team sports become a topic of conversation and shared experiences. These are community building events as wheel chairs and hand-driven bikes are part of the Berlin event as well as the in-line skaters the day before. In Berlin you get a feeling that running world records (women 2023, men 2022) can go hand in hand with the running fun for many. From “bowling alone” to “running together”. Sounds good to me.
Berlin celebrates its 49th Marathon in September 2023. The first Berlin Marathon in 1974 had less than 300 participants. To separate this from Olympic games, these runs were coined “Volks-marathon” at the time. 5 events had already taken place in New York when these annual events started to catch on in Berlin. In 2023 there are close to 50.000 participants mostly drawn from a lottery of about 500.000 entries. So, you can call yourself one of the lucky few, if you manage to get a place. The event is a drain, but it creates a fantastic hype not only for the runners. The many cheers and bands along the running track transform the inner city into a huge party zone. The Berlin marathon is known around the world for its fast track. In 2023 Berlin is proud to be the city where both the women and men’s world record are held currently at the same time. This is quite an achievement.
Personally, I enjoy more the courage, stamina and will power all the participants gear up to. Months, if not years of preparation find their climax in getting to the starting line in the “Tiergarten”, just where you had (have) the “Love Parades” some weeks before. The finishing line is 300 meters away, once you have passed the “Bandenburger Tor”. From a public health perspective, we applaud the encouragement such events give to all those that have an active life style and to some to get started on such a trajectory. The media coverage is enormous and with all sponsorships, equipment, hotels, meals and travelling involved such events have become big business, too. No such event and going to health limits is without risk. This is, of course, also the case in Berlin. The emotions run high for almost all, except for a few, who go too far beyond their limits.
The medical assessments of exhaustive endurance sports are an ongoing research issue. A recent literature review reveals that there are quite substantial numbers of previous smokers or persons with previously unhealthy life styles participating in popular marathons. Running, probably, has been part of overcoming bad habits of the past. It is therefore, not surprising to find that some of the participants are at a risk of wanting to run too much or too fast for their current state of health. The hypnotising effect of music and stimulation from being part of a huge crowd, contribute to the effect to go beyond limits. Cardiovascular events or brain lesions are, therefore, part of the ex-post risks of participants who have had specific medical check-ups. Know your limits, train them wisely, but respect that limits exist. This seems to be a reasonable summary based on sports medical research. Berlin 42km finishing line2023
In a country where most people subscribe to the “protestant work ethic” it is not easy to raise the issue of overwork. Yet, overwork needs to be become an issue of concern. In combination with overwork comes too little rest. Particularly the lack of rest and sleep is likely to cause serious medium and/or long-term effects. Burn-out is only one of the more obvious and drastic experience of exhaustion. The lifestyle of overwork has direct causal links to malnutrition and cardio-vascular risk factors. Once triggered these processes are even harder to control. The run on meditation exercises is only reiterating the huge difficulties to find a balance or antidote to overwork.
The Pew Research Center in Washington has published results from a survey in 2023 that shows that only about half of American people take the full vacation they are entitled to. The evidence of pervasive overwork in the U.S., not limited to the higher executive branches of employees, is hugely unhealthy. Physical and mental health is endangered and the cost to individuals and society are immense. Who cares? Well, we should care. (1) Documentation and monitoring this trend are the first elements of a strategy to counter these effects. Keep spreading the message that overwork is not without serious risks and mostly is followed by huge costs, someone will have to pay. (2) Start to analyse why we glorify overwork and keep doing so for centuries. The strive for higher pay, more money, higher profits, wealth or social prestige is a powerful driving force, of course. Legal measures or taxation to curb extra benefits of overtime have apparently had only marginal effects as they are circumvented, if people are too much focused on the immediate earnings effects. (3) Examine the question, why we glorify overwork? The Harvard Business Review published an article on this on 28th of August (just after the vacation period) to blame the culture of “workaholic” behaviour. In short, if your self-concept is defined exclusively through work, you will be doomed for overwork and its consequences. The next shot of overwork satisfies the urge for self-esteem and most likely also recognition from peers, colleagues and supervisors. This is an unbelievably heavy drug and addiction terribly hard to resist. (4) Who keeps pushing the agenda of overwork? We know for sure that it is not your children. If you have none, you will be at a higher risk to overwork and to push the overwork agenda compared to others, just because compared to families your time budget leaves more reserve capacity for time to rest. Employers set powerful incentives to reward any form of overtime and thereby overwork not only in pecuniary form, but also more rapid career advancement. Strongest and most addictive is your very own behaviour not to respect limits to working time. (5) Remedies to overwork are only partly in your own command. Of course, getting more sleep, doing more exercise, walk instead of drive to work are all fine. However, we need to address the danger of addiction, especially when we do not want to admit our dependency on overwork for self-esteem and recognition by others. Getting together with like-minded persons, for example, in trade unions, will make it easier to get collective solutions to isolated overwork. Higher wages should allow you to get more rest as you earn the same absolute amount with less input of hours. The danger of working even more, because the incentive to put in an extra hour of work has risen at the same time. Be aware of this “duality of higher pay”. Societies have lots of reasons to redistribute work. Between women and men, young and old as well as the “overworked” and “underworked”.
Ozone (O3) has a rather mixed reputation. High up in the stratosphere it protects us from too much radiation from the sun, but down on earth in our respiratory environment it causes and amplifies respiratory difficulties. Hence, it is very important to differentiate the 2 different layers and differential effects of concentrations of ozone in the air. A forthcoming study in the Lancet Regional Health Europe (Nov. 2023) by Tianyu Zhao et al. demonstrates the long-term, negative effect of higher concentrations of Ozone on lung function. The prospective cohort study followed individuals in multiple states and locations over 20 years and corrects estimated effects for other environmental effects (fine particles PM 2.5 pollution) and green environment. Faster decline in spirometric lung function is highly likely to be caused by higher ambient ozone concentrations. The study is based on 3000+ observations from 17 centres in 8 countries in Europe. Older persons in the range from 35 to 55 had a steeper decline in ozone-related decline in lung functions.
This is rather bad news for older persons living in inner cities where both ozone concentrations, mainly in summer, heat and micro-particles cumulate. Similarly, areas with frequent so-called inversion micro-climate, (a layer of cold air on top of SMOG blocks the renewal of air for extended periods) face particular health risks. Professions that work long durations outside in the sun or the exercise of sports during high ozone day-time run higher risks for a deterioration of their lung functions in the long-run. The medical evidence is there now, also for Europe, what had been shown already for the US before.
It is time to adapt our lifestyle to these health risks. High effort physical work outside should start as early as possible in the morning hours or even before sun rise. Staying indoors is highly recommendable for older persons and persons with reduced lung functions (asthma risks) during such periods of high ozone concentrations. Like it or not, even wearing a mask outside, when it is sunny and hot would be preferential, but is rather inconvenient. We need to shift airing living rooms or offices without climatization to early morning hours rather than ambient temperatures in the afternoon, when ozone peaks are prevalent.
These effects and remedies have been known for some time, but the evidence is much more compelling now (Zhao et al. 2023). Climate change in form of global and local warming, particularly in inner cities, will only exacerbate these effects in the coming years. Prevention measures need to be considered in public health measures as well as urban planning. We can do it, if we want to. Start now to benefit from the effects a decade later or for the benefit of younger generations. (Image: Int. Encycl. of public health, p.702).
For everyone who enjoys a good walk, with or without dog, Alberto Giacometti is an artist of interest. The world-famous statue “L’homme qui marche” can be admired in several places. Chur (CH) is the artist’s place of death. The most prestigious galleries in Switzerland all have one or several of his art works. In the Bündner Museum in Chur three sculptures of women are perfectly put into correspondence in one exposition room. Eli and Anette from the years 1961 and 1965 talk to Francine with her arms closed in front (title: buste d’une femme). The latter one is from 1962, but was only finished and released as sculpture in 1966, the year of his death or departure. This seems to close a wide circle of creation in the life course of this itinerating artist. Walking the exhibition from sculpture to sculpture is a first step towards meditation walks. Awareness of the stories of the personalities involved widens our horizons. Alberto Giacometti is one of the many artists from the family of the Giacomettis. In the museum in Chur the other family members are well represented, too. Women artists seem to be missing there, probably this needs additional generations.
Strand kann so schön sein. Am besten mit viel Sonnenschutz. Das können dann auch schon mal Wolken sein. Das reduziert die UV-Strahlung ganz erheblich. Warum gerade dann besonders wenige Personen am Strand anzutreffen sind, werde ich nie verstehen. Regenschauer und Regenbogen verbessern die Luft und sorgen für Glücksgefühle. Wolkenformationen sind nicht nur attraktiv für romantische Personen, sondern auch für Hobby- Meteorologen. Das sind wir doch irgendwie im tiefsten Inneren alle mit dem täglichen Blick auf 1-2 Wetterapps für die Prüfung der Wetteraussichten. Beim Walking am Strand ist eben etwas für alle Sinne dabei. Cryothérapie inklusive.
Waldbrände sind leider jenseits vom Süden Europas auch im Zentrum von Europa ein Bestandteil der täglichen Gefahren geworden. Vor 50 Jahren waren die seltenen heißen Sommer die große Gefahr. Seit einiger Zeit bemerken wir öfter heiße Sommerwochen, die die Wälder austrocknen und leicht entzündlich machen. Jetzt haben wir die noch frühere Sommersaison nicht nur im Süden, sondern auch im mittleren Europa. Neben den Bränden in der Lausitz in Deutschland, kämpfen Feuerwehrleute öfter in den französischen nördlicheren Waldregionen mit Bränden. Eine Nachricht, wie die zum Brand Anfang Juni im „Forêt Fontainebleau“, sollte uns klar machen, da brennt unserer europäisches ökologisches und kulturelles Erbe. Jeder hat die brennende Kathedrale „Notre Dame de Paris“ noch in Erinnerung. Da war Klimawandel nicht die Ursache. Bei den Waldbränden sieht das anders aus. Das Ergebnis ist das gleiche. Die Vernichtung unseres kulturellen Erbes schreitet voran ohne Prävention. Das ist eine zentrale Aufgabe. Nicht erst in der Zukunft. Prävention verlangt Handeln, Planen und Implementieren schon heute. Das ist ein riesiges Qualifizierungsprogramm nötig. Es umfasst die Sensibilisierung für die allgegenwärtigen Gefahren genauso, wie das Schulen allfälliger Einsätze von professionellen und freiwilligen Helfenden. Gefahr erkannt, heißt leider nicht schon Gefahr gebannt. Da gibt es viele Zwischenschritte, die geprobt sein wollen, damit ein effektiver Einsatz gelingen kann. Es bleibt viel zu tun, packen wir’s endlich an. (Artikel in La Marne 7.6.2023 S.6)
So-called deep learning algorithms can assist us in lots of routine tasks. Their applications seem to be spreading more rapidly than we commonly believe. The recent paper published in “Lancet Digit Health 2023; 5: e257–64” shows the relevance for medical screening again. Beyond skin or breast cancer, digital images have for years or decades been subject to studies using deep learning algorithms to early detection of cancer and other diseases. Now Google has published an additional potential application of algorithmic learning that assists in diagnosing blood sugar levels among others. For diabetes scanning photographs of the external eye with professional equipment (Zeiss Cirrus Photo 600) was used in the study, but the outlook hints already at the potential for most recent smartphone cameras to also be able to capture images of even better resolutions.
Just like measuring our weight and muscles as a weekly routine on scales, we shall have a more scientific look at our selfies soon. Spotting early onsets of several diseases will become a normal feature.
Early adopters of the new technology and screening potential of the smartphones might live even longer. Reminders to adopt or keep a healthy life style will be all around us. In some cultures, it is deeply offensive to look straight into the eyes of another person. We always knew that our eyes might tell a lot about us. Beyond mental health, they tell a lot about physical health, too.
Artists have always told us fascinating stories about eyes or how and what they see with their eyes. Scientists confirm that there is a lot of information in the eyes. (Image extract from MAD Paris, Picasso, Schiaparelli).
Der bürgerliche Flaneur wird kritisch hinterfragt und erweitert erörtert im Festival DRiFT in Berlin. Das passt doch gut zu dem nötigen WALK und WALKING, welches uns schon alleine aus gesundheitlichen Aspekten von Nöten ist. Die subversive Form als kollektives Wandern, gefährlicher historisch waren die Märsche auf Rom von Mussolini, friedlicher Gandhi, aber beeindruckend erfolgreich. Ostermärche kennen wir noch als Beispiel dieser kollektiven Form des gemeinsamen Gehens und Erkundens, oder doch Beeinflussung oder gar Eroberung.
Die Idee ist alt, die Ansätze in unserer Zeit bleiben eine Herausforderung. Protestmärsche kennen viele Organisationen gerade aus den nicht-regierungs Organisationen (NGOs) und den Gewerkschaften. Präsenz zeigen und seine Meinung äußern, wenn sie nicht genügend Gehör oder Widerhall findet, gehört zum demokratischen Kanon. Eine entsprechende Wiederbelebung und Stadtteilerkundung als “Psycho-geografie” hat historische Wurzeln in Paris und Frankreich. Räumliches Vorstellungsvermögen und Orientierung ist eine Qualifikation, die messbar ist. Eine Stadt erlaufen bildet eine kognitive Landkarte der Straßen und Umgebung. Mal schwer, mal einfach, aber fast immer irgendwie anders.
Mobilität geht heute schon anders als für meine Generation oder vorherige Generationen. Selbst wenn Autos noch für viele in den Vorstädten und auf dem Land schwer verzichtbar sind, ist der Stadtverkehr im Wandel. Erst die Teslas, die einen scheinbar unaufhaltsamen Aufstieg als relativ saubere Alternative zu den Verbrennern darstellen und jetzt der Quantum aus Bolivien, wie der Wall Street Journal am 27.4.2023 berichtet. Sehr klein, noch ohne Heizung, gemütliche Stadtgeschwindigkeit als Maximum und knapp 100 km Reichweite für 3 mittlere Personen plus Chihuahua oder Dackel für gerade mal 7.500$. Das kosten 2 gute, flotte E-Bikes auch, nur werden die noch schneller geklaut als damit gefahren wird.
Für viele Städter sollte der elektrische Einkaufswagen genügen, dieser steht ja sowieso die meiste Zeit. Kleine Ausflüge ins Umland unternimmt der Städter eher selten, vielleicht noch zum Sport in jüngeren Jahren. Fernreisen werden meistens anders bestritten. Bus und Bahn bieten wieder wachsende Reichweiten, wenn es sein muss nachts. Hier kann weniger groß (auf 4 Rädern) wieder zu mehr Beweglichkeit führen, egal ob als Eigentum oder besser noch als Sharing-Variante. Von den großen Reichweiten mit Fußwegen in deutschen Städten sind wir noch weit entfernt. Das wird sich hoffentlich bald ändern. Bis dahin drehen wir Runden in kleinen Parks und verkehrsberuhigten Ecken. Wem es draußen mit dem Fahrrad zu gefährlich, kalt oder nass ist muss auf den Heimtrainer umsteigen. Mal sehen wie lange es noch dauert bis sich kollektive Vernunft durchsetzt. Verhaltensänderungen sind bekanntlich schwer und dauern wegen Rückschlägen lange. Wir bleiben dran am Thema der nachhaltigen Mobilität, um unserer (Enkel-)Kinder willen.
Walking after work is a kind of medicine. Blood pressure calms down about 30 minutes after the walk. Light exposure contributes to higher melatonin levels, which lets us sleep better. Oxygene and humidity purify the office and street dust we inhale during the day. It is largely free of charge for everybody and just needs some appropriate clothing. A rainbow is nice to admire, but it does come with some rain somewhere between the sun, you and the rainbow. The oak trees are admirable kind of trees. In spring they appear like sculptures with numerous branches out of branches. The big one on the photo below has a diameter of 125 cm, pretty senior to the others around. A flowery finish complements the walk after work in spring. As variant of the folk saying, I would suggest: Visiting your favourite tree every day keeps the doctor away. Of course I like my doctor, too.
Yes, walking again. It is so nice, if there are a few roads blocked for car and bus traffic in central cities. Walking the city becomes a marvellous experience. On Easter Sunday 2023 the Champs-Élysée is great because strolling down the avenue without paying attention to road traffic offers an even better view on the surroundings. Why don’t more cities dare to lock out cars to facilitate pedestrian circulation and reduce air pollution at the same time. No problem to reach more than the WHO recommended 10.000 steps/day on such a sunny day in Paris. Inside the Louvre, another chance to achieve new records in mileage by foot.