Health news in brief: Napping improves memory

TAKING a nap — even a short one — may boost a sophisticated kind of memory that helps us see the big picture and get creative.

The findings, revealed at the Society for Neuroscience conference in the United States, said that interrupting sleep seriously disrupts memory.

Researchers said that our brains can keep on working while we are asleep to solve problems and come up with new ideas.

Researchers noted that more common than insomnia is fragmented sleep — the easy awakening that comes with ageing, or, worse, the sleep apnea that afflicts millions, who quit breathing for 30 seconds or so.

Fragmented sleep, whether from ageing or apnea, can suppress the birth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, where memory-making begins — enough to hinder learning weeks after sleep returns to normal.
Scientists are increasingly focusing less on sleep duration and more on the quality of sleep, what's called sleep intensity, in studying how sleep helps the brain process memories so they stick. Particularly important is "slow-wave sleep", a period of very deep sleep that comes earlier than better-known REM sleep, or dreaming time.

Good sleep is a casualty of our 24/7 world. Surveys suggest few adults attain the recommended seven to eight hours a night. Over time, a chronic lack of sleep can erode the body in ways that leave us more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.

Face-to-face buggy is better

BABY buggies which face forwards may stunt children's development and turn them into anxious adults. Infants suffer more stress and sometimes even "trauma" in modern buggies with seats facing away from their parent.

Researchers at Dundee University in Scotland said children found it difficult to get their parents' attention and were spoken to only rarely, at a stage of life when youngsters thrive on interaction.

In contrast, children in traditional parent-facing buggies were more likely to laugh, listen to their mothers talking and to sleep — indicating lower stress levels.

They observed 2,722 parents in Britain and found that parents were more than twice as likely to talk to their child if they used a face-to-face buggy — 25 per cent against 11. The study involved 20 babies being pushed across a town centre, 0.8km facing forwards and 0.8km facing the pusher.

Only one baby laughed during the away-facing journey, while half laughed during the face-to-face journey. The researchers said parent-child interactions are crucial at a time when brain connections are multiplying rapidly.

Ban on fast-food ads may reduce childhood obesity

A BAN on fast-food commercials could put a significant dent in the problem of childhood obesity. It could reduce the number of obese young children by 18 per cent, and the number of obese older kids by 14.

Researchers at City University of New York also suggested that ending an advertising expense tax deduction for fast-food restaurants could mean a slight reduction in childhood obesity.

The new study — published in the Journal of Law & Economics — is based in part on several years of government survey data from the late 1990s that involved in-person interviews with thousands of US families. The researchers used a statistical test that presumes TV ads lead to obesity but made calculations to address other influences such as income and the number of nearby fast-food restaurants.

They also took steps to account for the possibility that some children may already have been overweight and inactive regardless of their TV-watching habits.

Brisk walk reduces choc craving

CHOCOHOLICS looking to curb their chocolate urges may be able to do so simply by taking a brisk 15-minute walk. Chocolate is likely the most commonly and intensely craved food, and chocolate urges are often triggered by boredom, stress or the desire to uplift mood or increase alertness.

Previous studies have shown that short bouts of exercise, such as brisk walking, can also improve alertness and mood, and reduce sugar snack urges.

The latest findings by researchers at School of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter in Britain revealed that exercise also appeared to lessen participants' increase cravings.

They enlisted 20 women and five men (25 years old on average) who reported eating at least two chocolate bars daily to abstain from eating chocolate for three days.

The participants also abstained from caffeine products and exercise for two hours prior to undergoing each of two testing scenarios — either 15 minutes of brisk walking or sitting quietly for 15 minutes. After each scenario, participants completed a mentally arousing task.

Post scenario testing showed being sedentary "did nothing to reduce chocolate cravings, whereas doing a 15-minute walk reduced urges to eat chocolate". — Agencies

I'm every woman: Older, wiser and ... calmer?

ON a clear day, you can see forever, they say. But even when the sky is a calm, clean azure, eternity may still elude you as you’d have been severely blinded by the folly of youth and its tempestuous nature.

Raise a hand, people, if you have in your younger and not necessarily wiser days made decisions or “grand gestures” that you now sorely regret.

I have done this hand over fist and I must admit that not all of my moves of years ago have been slick or smart.

Now that I am convinced I am pretty much mellowed, I often wonder how life would have turned out if I had not done this or made that.

Entertaining these thoughts is probably an exercise in futility because, of course, no one can turn back the clock. Not that I want to but the “what ifs” can be mystifying.
This is the very reason why I cannot quite forget this movie I saw and recommended to friends years ago titled Sliding Doors.

It is about how differently your life might have been played out should you have chosen one path as opposed to the other at the crossroads in your life.

The movie is told in two parallel versions, one which sees the lead character catching her train ride home which led to a hazardous turn of events when she sees her boyfriend with his ex-lover. The other sees her missing the train and coming home much later, oblivious to the tryst between her beau and his paramour. I found the tale disturbing because it suggested many things, among which is the fact what we don’t know won’t hurt.

But given my “let’s face the music right here and now” nature, I’d rather know the worst and the sooner the better, rather than be left in the dark.

But I have digressed, of course. What had started me thinking about Sliding Doors once again was that quite recently, I have seen deep regret etched on the faces of people I know who had, in the heat of the moment long ago, made life-changing decisions.

At the engagement of a friend’s daughter not too long ago, I saw remorse in the eyes of her former husband when he watched with a heavy heart the betrothal of his little girl now grown up.

He was a mere guest in that ceremony when he could have had the role of the beaming host and proud papa, of course. The marriage had broken down when the children were little and who is to know if the union could have been salvaged if the couple had been a decade and a bit older?

I won’t be surprised if the chap was kicking himself hard for the follies of his youth, now that his fine looks had faded away somewhat. Sorry but I’ve always believed that wrinkles and white hair will always bring a person a notch or two down to earth. It applies both ways, by the way.

On another occasion, at the wedding of a relative’s daughter recently, the mother of the bride became tearful when her ex-husband turned up with his wife. She had issued the invitation, of course, for her daughter’s sake, but the sight of that familiar face must have brought back a flood of fond memories.

Interestingly, the chap was just as affected. He hung around all of us and unabashedly admitted that he missed the family as it is close-knit like no other, he said.

Now, if looks could kill, he would have keeled over cold right there as his present wife wasn’t amused at all by this show of affection. But that’s another story altogether!

The thing is, could we and would we give love rats or skirt-chasing cads a second chance if we’d stopped to count sheep instead of sending them straight to the “slaughterhouse”?

I’ve had my share of rows with loved ones and as if it were yesterday, I can still recall the blinding rage and indignance you feel when you know you’ve been wronged.

No, the gamut of emotions one feels in the high noon of our youths and under such circumstances do not always include being forbearing or tolerant.

We would be given to acts of pride, foolishly at times but that’s how it is, fellas. When the executioner sings her song, there may be no turning back.

We might then live to only pine and ponder over what might have been if we had stopped ourselves in our tracks before making crushing decisions but for most women, it is well worth the pain of the aftermath because it is crucial for their self-esteem.

No, many of us may not need a clear day to see forever because we simply believe there is a silver lining behind the clouds...


Disadvantages of Credit Cards!

Individuals currently enjoy a wide variety of payment options include cash, cheques, debit cards, credit cards and online payment services such as PayPal. Although many of these methods such as credit cards are very convenient, they can also cause many problems when not used properly.

High Interest Charges

One of the biggest disadvantages to using credit cards, is the extremely high interest fees charged by the credit card companies. The interest fees are always significantly higher than the cost of obtaining a traditional bank loan. In fact, many credit companies charge as high as 20 percent for any purchases that aren’t paid in full at the end of each month! The high interest charges are what keep the credit card companies in business so you need to check the fees of each particular card before you apply for one.

Temptation To Overspend

Credit cards can be dangerous for individuals who are not good at budgeting. The temptation is very easy to overspend because you don’t need to pay for your purchases upfront. Regardless of how much money is actually in your current account, you can charge purchases up to your maximum credit card limit. Somehow signing a piece of paper at the time of purchase doesn’t always feel like you are actually spending money.

This is exactly the mentality that the credit card companies want users to adopt.

Unpaid Balances

By spending more than they can actually afford each month, individuals end up paying very high interest charges each month. Because you are only billed once a month, it is also very easy to forget about purchases you have made using a credit card. You may end up with a very unwelcome surprise at the end of the month once you see just how many purchases you signed for during the past 30 days! Any unpaid balances are charged very high interest rates that can quickly add up. If you continue to pay only the minimum amount, your unpaid balance can often become unmanageable.

Credit Card Fraud

Another common problem with credit cards involves credit card theft. Credit cards can always be stolen meaning that other individuals can start to make charges to your account.

Credit card fraud is becoming an increasing problem due to more sophisticated technology. Nowadays, you don’t even have to lose your physical card for others to make fraudulent purchases. Criminals have devised even more devious methods of obtaining credit card numbers from individuals. This means you may not even realize your card has been compromised until you receive your monthly statement. You need to check every monthly statement very carefully to detect any suspicious charges.

Although credit cards are convenient, they carry very high interest charges. Carrying an unpaid balance for an extended period can get you into financial debt very quickly. You often have a greater temptation to overspend because you don’t need to have money available at the time of purchase. Last but not least, credit card theft is an ever-increasing threat that you need to consider before applying for a card..



Travelling Solo? Make a point to meet new people everyday and you'll have a fab time. Here's you can come home with a whole new list of Facebook friends.

Rather own, try being stuck in a hotel room all on your own, try shared rooms at hostels. The living room and kitchen are great places to strike up conversations.

Many hostels offer free or cheap walking city-tours and these are a good way to get chatting with a group of people.
Activities such as snorkelling excursion, island trips and cooking courses are great for meeting people. You'll be doing things with strangers, so it's difficult not to get talking.
Look up your hostel's bulletin board for festivals or shows happening in the city. BBQs or movie nights are the perfect place to meet people from all walks of life.

When you are traveling alone, chances of you meeting people are much higher in buses, trains or in a plane. So go ahead and ask a fellow passenger for info on bus routes ar places of attraction. Beware of dodgy characters though!


How to Budget & Save

As a consumer, you face many choices on how to manage your money.

Knowing how to manage money can help you make smart choices. Your money will work harder for you. You'll be more likely to avoid traps that can undermine your ability to attain your financial goals. You'll be in a better position to pay off debt and build savings.

Being smart about money can help you buy a house, finance higher education or start a retirement fund. A money management game plan can help you get started and stay with it until you achieve the goals you set for yourself.

A game plan for learning about money management

A few simple steps can make a big difference in making your money work harder for you.

* Establish goals. Where do you want to be?
* Create a budget. Determine your current situation. Where are you today?
* Save your way to a more secure future.
* Conserve - spend sensibly; pay wisely.
* Act - implement your plan/assess/adjust.
* Select a financial institution.

Establish goals. Where do you want to be?

Use the work sheets directly below to help you identify your goals. Print them and fill them in.

Without goals, it's difficult to accomplish anything. When you think about your future and what you want to achieve, it's helpful to establish a timeframe.

* Short-term: such as paying off credit card debt, saving for a vacation or buying new clothes
* Intermediate: such as saving to buy a car
* Long-term: such as saving for education or for retirement.

Estimate the cost of each goal and the date you want to achieve it. Then figure out how much you need to save each month. Try to set realistic goals and saving requirements.

Create a budget. Determine your current situation. Where are you today?

Now that you've figured out your financial goals, you are ready to create a budget that will help you attain them. Print the budget work sheets below and write in your budget figures. Start by writing down your expenses (under Current Monthly Expenses).

Monthly fixed expenses
Start with monthly fixed expenses such as regular savings, housing, groceries, utilities, and car payments. Put these continuing obligations under the heading: Fixed.

Use checking account statements, credit card statements, receipts and other records to help you complete this estimate. Be realistic - it's better to estimate high than low.

Remember that savings is considered an expense even though you keep the money. You work hard. You deserve to keep some of what you earn every month. Savings is the key to meeting your financial goals.

Make estimates for all money spent - regardless of how you pay: cash, check, credit card, debit card, automatic checking account withdrawals or savings through work plans such as 401K or 403B plans.

Monthly variable expenses
Once you have noted all your fixed expenses, write down your expenses that vary each month such as clothing, vacations, gifts and personal spending money. Put these expenses under the heading: Variable. You might have these expenses every month, but the amount you spend could change.

Get a handle on variable expenses by writing down every expense for a month - even small purchases. Use a small note book or other informal method to track your spending. This is very important because it's the best way to understand your current spending behavior. Get receipts for all purchases - especially those you make with cash. Record and categorize each transaction. You may be surprised at how much you spend in certain categories.

Use a notebook to write down every purchase you make for one month. This is the best way to understand your current spending behavior.

List your monthly income
Now that you have figured out your expenses, write down your monthly income after all taxes and deductions. Write this under the heading: Monthly Income. Make sure this figure reflects the total take-home pay for your household after all taxes and deductions.

Now compare expenses to income
One of the advantages of doing a comparison of expenses to income is that it provides a quick reality check. If you are spending more than you're bringing home every month in income, you have a deficit. If you're spending less than you're bringing home, you have a surplus. In either case, it's time to step back and consider some options.
If you have a deficit: Spending more than you're bringing home, ask yourself:

* Can I spend less in some of my variable expenses?
* How much interest am I paying with credit card and other loans?
* Where did my money go? (Consider writing down everything you spend for a month.

If you have a surplus: Spending less than you're bringing home, ask yourself:
* Am I saving enough to meet my goals?
* Are my spending estimates accurate?
* Have I included all my fixed and variable expenses?

Save your way to a more secure future.

An estimated seventy-five percent of families will experience a major financial setback in any given ten-year period. The economy and the job market are good now, but that could change. It's smart to be prepared for financial thunderstorms.
Save early, save often
A consistent, long-term saving program can help you achieve your goals. It also can help you build a financial safety net. Experts recommend that you save from three to six months worth of living expenses for emergencies.

Savings grow beyond what you contribute because of compound interest. Over time, the value of compound interest works to every saver's advantage.

For example, if you save $75 a month for five years and earn five-percent interest, the $4,500 you contributed would grow to $5,122 because of the compounding interest.

It's easy to figure out how long it will take you to double the money you save. It's called the Rule of 72. You take the interest you're earning on your money and divide that number into 72. The result is roughly the number of years it will take your principal to double.
For example, if you're earning 5 percent on your money, you divide 72 by 5 and you get 14.4. Your principal will double in 14.4 years without further contributions.
Keep in mind, however, that inflation reduces the return on your money.

For example, five percent-interest, adjusted for three-percent inflation, only nets a two-percent real return.

What you don't see, you don't spend
Saving means giving up something now, so you will have more in the future. It's not easy deferring or eliminating purchasing things you want today.

It helps to pay yourself first. Take a portion of savings from every paycheck before you pay any bills. Use your company's payroll deduction plan if available. Arrange for a fixed amount to be taken out so that you never see it. What you don't see, you don't spend. You also can direct automatic checking account withdrawals into a savings account or money market.

Join the company's retirement-savings plan (such as a 401K or 403B). Your contribution avoids current taxes and accumulates tax deferred. Also, companies sometimes match some of your contributions.

For example, for every dollar you contribute, the company could contribute 25 cents. That would be a 25-percent return on your money.

Other saving tips:

* When you get a raise, save all or most of it.
* Pay off your credit card balances and save the money you're no longer spending on interest.
* Shift credit card balances to a card with a lower interest rate and use the savings to pay off the balance.
* Keep your car a year or two longer. Do routine maintenance and make regular repairs. Save the money you would have spent on a new car.
* Stop smoking.
* Take $5 from your wallet everyday and put it in a safe place. That will add up to $1,825 in a year.
* Shop with a list and stick to it.
* Don't buy any new clothes until you've paid off your current wardrobe.
Eat more meals at home.
Look for inexpensive entertainment: zoos, museums, parks, walks, biking, library books, concerts, movies and picnics.
Shop for less expensive insurance.
* Save any tax refund.
* Drop subscriptions to publications you don't read.
* Postpone purchases or consider fewer features on the items you plan to purchase.
The less you spend, the more you can save. And the longer you can consistently save, the faster your savings will grow.
Conserve - spend sensibly; pay wisely.

Experts recommend paying with cash whenever possible. This helps you spend less than you otherwise would have spent if you had charged the purchase. You'll also avoid credit card interest charges and check-cashing fee

Applying for a credit card
When you choose to apply for a credit card, shop carefully. There is a wide range of annual fees, interest rates, grace periods for which you do not pay interest, late fee charges, cash advance charges and other fees. Watch out for "teaser" rates that offer low rates initially but increase dramatically soon after.

To get a card with a low interest rate, you'll first need to pay down your current debt. Second, let a year go by without applying for any new cards or loans, or accepting a higher credit limit on your current cards. Third, cancel cards you're not currently using. As a rule, limit yourself to two credit cards. Fourth, get a copy of your credit report and check it for accuracy.

Credit cards
Visa, MasterCard, and Discover are revolving-credit cards. You can charge up to a certain limit and carry most of the balance forward from month to month. Be careful about only paying the minimum amount due. This is a very expensive form of credit because of interest charges. The best rule is to charge only what you can afford to pay off in full every month. Then actually pay the entire balance when you get the bill.

When you are paying down credit card debt, start with the card with the highest interest rate. Pay your bills as quickly as possible.

Charge cards
Some cards require that you pay the balance every month. They provide the convenience of not using cash and the discipline of requiring that you pay what you owe every thirty days.
Charge cards also provide the additional benefit of not charging interest, although you may pay an annual fee and other transaction fees.
Debit cards
A debit card looks like a credit card, but it works like the electronic equivalent of a check. You use it when you want to pay cash instead of using credit. When you pay with a debit card, your checking account will be debited for the amount of the purchase.

ATM cards (Automated Teller Machine) are debit cards. They automatically withdraw money from your account.
Some consumers prefer to use debit cards rather than credit cards because debit cards don't incur interest charges.

Paying off debt versus saving
If you have credit card or other debt, it usually makes sense to pay off this debt first before contributing to savings. The interest rate you'll get on savings is likely to be far less than the amount of credit interest you're paying.

Act - implement your plan/assess/adjust.

Once you have set goals, estimated your fixed and variable expenses and identified monthly savings targets, it's time to put your plan to work.

Give it some time. Then see how you're doing. Were you able to meet your savings goals? If so, stick with it. If not, look at your variable expenses for opportunity areas to cut back spending and increase savings.

Evaluate your plan every three months and make adjustments as needed. If you're not saving enough to meet your monthly goals, you may need to spend less.

Saving is the key to successful financial plans. Use payroll deductions or automatic transfers to checking, savings or money market accounts. It's easier to save if you never see the money.

Use budget plans for paying utilities if they're available. Use cash for purchases rather than charging if you can.

Enter each check you write in a check register. Balance the account every month. If you use a debit card, enter those amounts in your check register.

Select a financial institution.

Creating a safety net is easier if you work with a good financial institution such as a credit union, a bank or a thrift.

Interview employees at several locations. Look for people who are willing and able to answer your questions. Be ready to talk about the services and the advice you need.

For example, if it's important to you to conduct transactions face-to-face rather than by Automatic Teller Machines (ATM), ask if the financial institution charges for the services of a person at the counter. If you prefer to use ATMs, make sure they're readily accessible and don't charge transaction fees.

Once you select a financial institution, consider opening a checking account if you don't have one. A checking account can save you fees you may now be paying for cashing your paycheck and paying your bills.

Start now and stick with it. You'll find that being smart about money is well worth it.