If you’re a distracted media multitasker, take a few deep breaths to get your focus back

When you listen while reading or text while watching, it can distract you long after you’ve stopped. Scientists have a fix – breathe deeply. Also in the news: sweet-toothed toddlers likelier to eat needlessly and get fat later in life

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 April, 2016, 12:54pm

Do you text while watching television, or listen to music while reading? Media multitasking is known to distract people not only when they are doing it, but when they aren’t consuming media – which is detrimental to performance at school or work, maintaining relationships and general well-being. A new study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US shows that a short meditation exercise involving counting one’s breath – inhaling and exhaling nine times – can sharpen one’s focus, and especially so for heavy media multitaskers.

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“Many people have had the experience where they’ve felt a phantom phone ring or vibration in their pocket,” says the study’s senior author, C. Shawn Green, a psychology professor. “That means part of your attention is actively monitoring your leg, even while you’re trying to do other things.”

Multitasking has its benefits

In the study, participants – comprising people who reported frequent media multitasking and those who rarely combine media – spent parts of two days taking standard tests that measured their attention. On one day the attention tests were interspersed with web browsing. On the other, each test was preceded by 10 minutes of the breath-counting exercise. Heavy media multitaskers scored worse than light media multitaskers all round and both groups posted better attention scores right after counting breaths.

Freedom at last from multitasking

Most critically, though, heavy multitaskers made greater strides than their low-multitasker counterparts after breath counting.

The more you run, the denser your bones will be

We lose bone mass or density as we age, but a new study has found that endurance running training could prevent this progressive decline. In fact, the further the distance run, the better one's bone density. Researchers from Camilo José Cela University in Spain revealed this through tests performed on the calcaneus – the bone that forms the heel – of the right and left feet of 122 marathon runners and 81 half-marathon and 10km runners. The figures were compared to those from a control group of sedentary individuals of a similar age.

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The results showed that the endurance runners had a greater stiffness index, a variable that is directly related to the bone density of the calcaneus, than the sedentary people. Exercises that require greater muscular forces (weight-bearing exercise) or heavy impacts (such as jumping) are the best activities for increasing bone mineral density, the researchers say.

“Sports such as swimming or skating, in which bodyweight or impact loading are reduced, do not generate high osteogenic benefits,” says the study’s main author, Beatriz Lara, a member of the university’s exercise physiology laboratory.

Crisps or biscuits? Toddlers with sweet tooth more likely to experience weight gain

Children who have a bigger appetite for dessert rather than salty foods may be more likely to gain unhealthy weight, suggests a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. University of Michigan researchers asked 209 low-income mothers to have their child fast for one hour, then eat a substantial lunch. The toddlers were then presented with a tray of sweet treats such as chocolate chip cookies and salty snacks such as crisps, from which they could eat as much as they wanted.

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The researchers found that children between one and three years old who ate more desserts and who became upset when the food was removed experienced gradual increases in body fat by the time they were 33 months old. Those who picked the salty foods did not.

“Eating in the absence of hunger is associated with being overweight among older children, but this is the first time we’ve seen this link in children as young as toddlers. We found that eating sweet, but not salty, tasty foods after they had already eaten a filling meal puts children at a greater risk of weight gain,” says senior author Dr Julie Lumeng, a developmental and behavioural paediatrician at University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“The tendency to eat when you’re not hungry increases with age and could have lifelong implications for weight gain. We need to explore ways to target this drive to eat before children even turn three.”