What are the health benefits of a cold plunge? Scientists vet the claims : Shots

Mikki Smith lets out a cry as she adjusts to the frigid water. It was her first time with the Puget Sound Plungers in Seattle, Washington.

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Mikki Smith lets out a cry as she adjusts to the frigid water. It was her first time with the Puget Sound Plungers in Seattle, Washington.

Mike Kane for NPR

Your body’s first reaction to a plunge in chilly water is the “cold shock” response. Your heart rate jumps. Stress hormones spike. You gasp suddenly, and may hyperventilate.

Your reward if you stay in long enough to endure these initial excruciating moments? You start to shiver.

To the uninitiated, it may not be obvious why the practice of cold plunging has attracted a huge following in recent years.

But those who’ve embraced the cold water craze — be that in a frigid lake, the ocean, or an ice bath in their backyard — frequently describe powerful, even transformative effects on their state of mind and sense of wellbeing.

“Any anxiety, anything I’m struggling with, it’s gone and when I come out of the water — I’ve left it in the water,” says Audrey Nassal during a recent Sunday morning dip at a Seattle beach. It’s one of the gatherings put on by the Puget Sound Plungers, a group of several thousand who regularly take to the frigid waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Riley Swortz, who’s bobbing next to Nassal, says she revels in the moment her body stops recoiling from the shock. “There’s a point where it’s no longer cold anymore,” she says, “This calm washes over you and I feel like that lasts for at least a few days.”

Groups like this one have popped up in cold water spots around the U.S. and the world.

Rain or shine, the cold plunge crew gathers just ahead of 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings in front of the bathhouse at Seattle’s Golden Gardens Park. Entering the water is a communal activity, how long you stay is up to you.

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Rain or shine, the cold plunge crew gathers just ahead of 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings in front of the bathhouse at Seattle’s Golden Gardens Park. Entering the water is a communal activity, how long you stay is up to you.

Mike Kane for NPR

The massive popularity of the trend – with social media awash in half-frozen torsos and some devotees shelling out thousands of dollars for high-end cold plunge tubs – has in turn inspired demand for rigorous scientific evidence.

“I never expected this to take that direction,” says François Haman, who has studied cold exposure for more than two decades. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

When he first started off, Haman, a professor at the University of Ottawa, found himself in a sparsely-populated discipline. The research agenda tended to focus on the risks

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New COVID boosters very likely to protect towards worrisome variant : Shots

Lab information implies the new COVID-19 booster pictures really should shield versus a variant that issues researchers. The boosters should really be widely out there this slide at pharmacies, like the one found in the Flatbush community of Brooklyn borough in New York City.

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Lab information suggests the new COVID-19 booster shots should secure versus a variant that fears experts. The boosters ought to be widely readily available this fall at pharmacies, like the just one seen in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn borough in New York City.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Pictures

Scientists have created the first facts indicating that a variant that has raised alarm is not likely to pose a big new COVID-19 menace.

Four preliminary laboratory studies introduced in excess of the weekend discovered that antibodies from prior infections and vaccinations look able of neutralizing the variant, known as BA.2.86.

“It is reassuring,” claims Dr. Dan Barouch, who executed one particular of the reports at the Beth Israel Deaconess Healthcare Heart in Boston.

When it was initial spotted, BA.2.86 established off alarm bells. It includes more than 30 mutations on the spike protein the virus employs to infect cells. That is a level of mutation on par with the primary Omicron variant, which caused a enormous surge.

The concern was BA.2.86, whilst continue to rare, could sneak all over the immunity individuals experienced constructed up and trigger a further substantial, fatal wave.

“When a little something intensely mutated comes out of nowhere … you will find this threat that it’s radically unique and that it modifications the mother nature of the pandemic,” states Benjamin Murrell, who performed one particular of the other studies at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

But Murrell and Barouch’s experiments, alongside with comparable scientific studies executed by Yunlong Richard Cao at Peking College in China and by Dr. David Ho at Columbia University in New York, point out BA.2.86, is not likely to be one more activity-changer.

“It truly is reassuring that this is not a variant that is going to pose a large dilemma for our quickly-to-be-launched vaccines,” Ho claims. “At the very least from this point of view, it’s not as threatening as feared.”

Murrell agrees.

“For BA.2.86 the preliminary antibody neutralization success advise that background is not repeating by itself listed here,” Murrell states. “Its degree of antibody evasion is really identical to a short while ago circulating variants. It looks not likely that this will be a seismic change for the pandemic.”

The research show that BA.2.86 will not search like it can be any superior than any of the other variants at evading the immune program. In simple fact, it appears to be even be much less adept at escaping from antibodies than other variants. And may possibly also be less productive at infecting cells.

“BA.2.86 basically poses either very similar or less of an immune escape chance in comparison with currently circulating variants, not extra,”

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$102,000 was the bill for her teen’s stay in a state mental hospital : Shots

Bridget Narsh at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Narsh’s son has autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and ADHD. In 2020, he spent more than 100 days at Central Regional Hospital, a state-run mental health facility. The state billed the family nearly $102,000 for the hospitalizations.

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Bridget Narsh at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Narsh’s son has autism, post-traumatic stress disorder, and ADHD. In 2020, he spent more than 100 days at Central Regional Hospital, a state-run mental health facility. The state billed the family nearly $102,000 for the hospitalizations.

Eamon Queeney/KFF Health News

Bridget Narsh’s son, Mason, needed urgent help in January 2020, so she was offered the chance to send him to Central Regional Hospital, a state-run mental health facility in Butner, North Carolina.

The teen, who deals with autism and post-traumatic stress and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders, had started destroying furniture and running away from home. His mother worried for the safety of Mason and the rest of the family.

But children in crisis in North Carolina can wait weeks or months for a psychiatric bed because the state lacks the services to meet demand. And when spots do become available, they are expensive.

The standard rate at Central Regional was $1,338 a day, which Narsh could not afford. So, when a patient relations representative offered a discounted rate of less than $60 a day, her husband, Nathan, signed an agreement.

Mason, now 17, was hospitalized for more than 100 days in Central Regional over two separate stays that year, documents show.

But when requests for payment arrived the following year, Narsh said she was shocked. The letters — which were marked “final notice” and requested immediate payment — were signed by a paralegal in the office of Josh Stein, North Carolina’s attorney general. The total bill, $101,546.49, was significantly more than the roughly $6,700 the Narshes expected to pay under their agreement with the hospital.

“I had to tell myself to keep my cool,” says Bridget Narsh, 44, who lives with her husband and three children in Chapel Hill. “There is no way I could pay for this.”

Medical bills have upended the lives of millions of Americans, with hospitals putting liens on homes and pushing many people into bankruptcy. In recent years, lawmakers have railed against privately operated hospitals, and states have passed laws intended to make medical billing more transparent and limit aggressive debt collection tactics.

Some state attorneys general — as their states’ top law enforcement officials — have pursued efforts to shield residents from harmful billing and debt collection practices. But in the name of protecting taxpayer resources, their offices are also often responsible for collecting unpaid debts for state-run facilities, which can put them in a contradictive position.

Stein, a Democrat running for governor in 2024, has made hospital consolidation and health care price transparency a key issue during his time in office.

“I have real concerns about this

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Back pain or other chronic aches? Here’s how to garden safely to avoid pain : Shots

To garden without triggering chronic pain like back pain, choose careful positions recommended by a physical therapist.
To garden without triggering chronic pain like back pain, choose careful positions recommended by a physical therapist.

When I look at the economic news: the housing crunch, the high cost of groceries, or the possibility that AI will render my professional skills obsolete – I often come back to the same thought: I should start growing my own vegetables.

Financial savings and fresh produce aside, research shows gardening and spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety. For people like me who live in cities where community gardens are popular, there’s evidence that gardening helps build a sense of community with neighbors.

And of course, the regular, moderate-intensity exercise of planting, weeding, and pruning can supports general health.

This story was adapted from an edition of NPR Health, a newsletter covering the science of healthy living. To get more stories like this delivered to your in-box, click here to subscribe.

Sounds like a win all around. But there’s a problem. Like about 20% of adults in the U.S., I live with chronic pain, including many with back pain. Mine is in my pelvis and legs, and it can make repetitive bending or crouching very uncomfortable.

Fortunately for me, this spring I’ve been seeing Rebecca Stephenson, a clinical specialist in physical therapy at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts. She has a passion for plants — in her own garden she grows flowers like sedum, coleus, peonies, as well as herbs — and has a lot of ideas about how to modify gardening activities to prevent pain.

She says gardening can benefit people with chronic pain. “You’re exercising, breathing outside in nature and getting good lung expansion. You’re also using your arms and legs in a coordinated way.” Luckily she says, “there is a way to garden so that you don’t hurt yourself and end up in pain afterwards.”

Here are some of Stephenson’s tips for getting your hands in the dirt, without the hurt.

Try sitting with your legs spread out and your back supported with a stadium chair.

Leif Parsons


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Leif Parsons

Pace yourself

Like any physical activity, Stephenson says you can build endurance for gardening, step by step. Don’t overdo it. “It’s happened to me where I’ve gone out for four or five hours, and it’s going to cost me for two weeks.” But her professional training helps her stay grounded. “I come at it from underneath. Instead of going over your limit, I try to come under,” she says.

“What I really recommend is to take your garden project and see how you could split it up into smaller pieces and be very reasonable about the amount of time that you’re physically able to do it. So it might be a half an hour, it might be 15 minutes, it might be an hour, and then take a break, change your body position, do some stretches,” she says.

Embrace ‘functional bracing’

“Sometimes people wear a back brace just for gardening, and that gives them a little bit more of a reminder to be

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Health care goes remote with hospital-at-home trend : Shots

Since the pandemic, some hospitals have started offering to let patients with acute illness recuperate at-home, with 24-hour remote access to medical professionals and daily home visits.

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Since the pandemic, some hospitals have started offering to let patients with acute illness recuperate at-home, with 24-hour remote access to medical professionals and daily home visits.

FG Trade/Getty Images

David and Marcia Elder packed their bags anticipating a month-long stay at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., when David went in for a bone-marrow transplant in late February, as part of his treatment for multiple myeloma, a blood cancer.

A few hours after surgery, the couple were amazed when staff offered them the option of returning home that day. “They came to us and said, ‘We have this hospital-at-home program’ and I was like, ‘What? I’d never even heard of it,'” Marcia Elder says.

By dinnertime that day, paramedics had set up a make-shift recovery room in their living space and they returned to convalesce at home.

Such a thing was unimaginable, just a few years ago. The Mayo Clinic was among the first hospitals in the country to experiment with sending acute patients home for remote care four years ago. Now, some 250 similar programs exist throughout the country.

That’s largely because during the pandemic, the federal agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid relaxed normal rules requiring around-the-clock, on-site nurses for hospitals requesting the exception. This allowed at-home hospital care programs to rapidly expand. Those pandemic-era waivers will remain in place until at least the end of 2024, although some experts anticipate policy changes allowing such programs to remain in place permanently.

David Elder flashes his hospital bracelet from the comfort of an easy chair in his own home, which he was sent back to just a few hours after his bone marrow transplant surgery. He said it was a lot more restful to be home.

Marcia Elder


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Marcia Elder

As a result, at-home hospital care is fast becoming an option for acute care for many conditions, even for treatment of cancer, or for patients like Elder, recovering from complex procedures. Such shifts could potentially reshape the future of hospital care, affecting many more patients.

The practice has been enabled by other recent trends as well – for instance the increase in traveling medical staff and the prevalence of portable Internet-enabled devices to connect with medical help remotely. The crisis of the pandemic also normalized remote care. And dealing with COVID surges made hospitals — as well as regulators and health insurers — more receptive to the notion that at-home care might be healthier, cheaper, and generally more pleasant than at a hospital.

“People do better; they’re more mobile, they recover faster,” says Michael Maniaci, an internist who directs virtual care for the Mayo Clinic. “They use physical therapy or skilled nursing care less. You ask: Why is that? Because there’s something magical about being at home.”

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Is involuntary psychiatric commitment making a policy comeback? : Shots

A homeless encampment along a street in Skid Row on Dec. 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Two days earlier, LA Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency regarding homelessness in the city, where an estimated 40,000 residents are unhoused.

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A homeless encampment along a street in Skid Row on Dec. 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. Two days earlier, LA Mayor Karen Bass declared a state of emergency regarding homelessness in the city, where an estimated 40,000 residents are unhoused.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Many of Portland’s least fortunate live in tents pitched on sidewalks or in aging campers parked in small convoys behind grocery stores.

High housing costs and financial adversity are the primary root causes behind the burgeoning population on the streets; only about one in three people who are homeless in Portland report having a mental illness or a substance use disorder, or both.

But the combination of homelessness with substance use or untreated mental illnesses has led to a lot of very public tragedies.

People with schizophrenia, for example, have died of hypothermia on the city’s streets. Residents have given birth out in the open, to premature infants who did not survive. Methamphetamine, cheaper and more harmful than it used to be, is creating a heightened risk of overdose and psychosis.

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Mental illness can be part of the story of how a person ends up homeless — or part of the price of survival on the streets, where sleep and safety are scarce. Unsheltered residents in Portland die thirty years earlier than the average American, according to county data.

These grim realities have ratched up the pressure on politicians to do something.

In Oregon, some politicians, including Portland mayor Ted Wheeler, have proposed changing civil commitment law, so doctors have more leeway in compelling treatment for patients who are too sick to know they need care.

Without such changes, they argue, people with untreated addictions or mental illnesses are stuck cycling between the streets, county jails, and state psychiatric hospitals.

“I think we can do better by people than allowing them to flounder,” says Janelle Bynum, a state legislator who represents suburbs east of Portland.

Bynum was the sole Democrat to sign on to a pair of bills, introduced by Republicans earlier this year, that would expand the criteria for involuntary commitment in Oregon. “My intention was to signal how cruel I think our current system is,” she says.

As multiple crises spill into streets, calls for change

Half of the country’s unsheltered people live in California, and though only about a quarter or third of them are estimated to have a serious mental illness, they are the ones residents are most likely to encounter in California’s cities. Mayors from San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego have all expressed frustration that the threshold for psychiatric intervention is too high.

“When I’m often asked, ‘Mayor, why aren’t you doing something about this

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