All in the family? DNA doesn’t determine longevity

November 15, 2018

If most people in your family live to a ripe old age, that might just be luck or coincidence. Findings of a study of the family trees of more than 400 million people indicate that the heritability of life span is well below past estimates.

Indeed, the research—conducted by Calico Life Sciences in cooperation with AncestryDNA—has determined that previous investigations into the role of genetics in longevity have failed to account for our tendency to select partners with similar traits to our own.

The new findings have been published in the November edition of Genetics, a journal of the Genetics Society of America.

“We can potentially learn many things about the biology of aging from human genetics, but if the heritability of life span is low, it tempers our expectations about what types of things we can learn and how easy it will be,” says lead author Graham Ruby of San Francisco-based Calico—a Google-funded research and development company that uses advanced technologies to further understand  the biology that controls lifespan.

Heritability is a measure of how much of the variation in a trait—in this case, life span—can be explained by genetic differences, as opposed to non-genetic differences such as lifestyle, sociocultural factors, and accidents. Previous estimates of human life span heritability have ranged from around 15% to 30%.

Starting from 54 million subscriber-generated public family trees representing 6 billion ancestors, Ancestry removed redundant entries and those from people who were still living, stitching the remaining pedigrees together. Before sharing the data with the Calico research team, Ancestry stripped away all identifiable information from the pedigrees, leaving only the year of birth, year of death, place of birth (to the resolution of state within the US and country outside the US), and familial connections that make up the tree structure itself.

They ended up with a set of pedigrees that included over 400 million people—largely Americans of European descent—each connected to another by either a parent-child or a spouse-spouse relationship. The team was then able to estimate heritability from the tree by examining the similarity of life span between relatives.

Using an approach that combines mathematical and statistical modeling, the researchers focused on relatives who were born across the 19th and early 20th centuries, finding heritability estimates for siblings and first cousins to be roughly the same as previously reported. But, as was also observed in some of the previous studies, they noted that the life span of spouses tended to be correlated: They were more similar, in fact, than in siblings of opposite gender.

This correlation between spouses could be due to the many non-genetic factors that accompany living in the same household—their shared environment. But the story really started to take shape when the authors compared different types of in-laws, some with quite remote relationships.

The first hint that something more than either genetics or shared environment might be at work was the finding that siblings-in-law and first-cousins-in-law had correlated life spans—despite not being blood relatives and not generally sharing households.

The size of their data set allowed the team to zoom in on longevity correlations for other more remote relationship types, including aunts and uncles-in-law, first cousins-once-removed-in-law, and different configurations of co-siblings-in-law. The finding that a person’s sibling’s spouse’s sibling or their spouse’s sibling’s spouse had a similar life span to their own made it clear that something else was at play.

If they don’t share genetic backgrounds and they don’t share households, what best accounts for the similarity in life span between individuals with these relationship types? Going back to their impressive data set, the researchers were able to perform analyses that detected assortative mating.

“What assortative mating means here is that the factors that are important for life span tend to be very similar between mates,” says Ruby. In other words, people tend to select partners with traits like their own—in this case, how long they live.

Of course, you can’t easily guess the longevity of a potential mate. “Generally, people get married before either one of them has died,” jokes Ruby. Because you can’t tell someone’s life span in advance, assortative mating in humans must be based on other characteristics.

The basis of this mate choice could be genetic or sociocultural—or both. For a non-genetic example, if income influences life span, and wealthy people tend to marry other wealthy people, that would lead to correlated longevity. The same would occur for traits more controlled by genetics: If, for example, tall people prefer tall spouses, and height is correlated in some way with how long you live, this would also inflate estimates of life span heritability.

By correcting for these effects of assortative mating, the new analysis found life span heritability is likely no more than 7 percent, perhaps even lower.

The upshot? Choose your mate wisely. How long you live has less to do with your genes than you might think.

Research contact:graham@calicolabs.com

What time is it in your body?

November 14, 2018

Do you take medicine at a certain time of day? If so, those pharmacy instructions may be about to change: The first simple blood test to identify your body’s precise internal time clock as compared to the external time has been developed by scientists at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

The test, called TimeSignature— which requires only two blood draws— can tell physicians and researchers the time in your body, no matter what global time zone you live in or might be visiting. For instance, even if it’s 8 a.m. in the external world, it might be 6 a.m. in your body.  

“This is a much more precise and sophisticated measurement than identifying whether you are a morning lark or a night owl,” said the study’s lead author, Rosemary Braun, assistant professor of Preventive Medicine (Biostatistics) at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “We can assess a person’s biological clock to within 1.5 hours.

Previously, measurements this precise could only be achieved through a costly and laborious process of taking samples every hour over a span of multiple hours.  “Various groups have tried to get at internal circadian time from a blood test, but nothing has been as accurate or as easy to use as TimeSignature,” Braun said.

Processes in nearly every tissue and organ system in the body are orchestrated by an internal biological clock, which directs circadian rhythm, such as the sleep-wake cycle. Some people’s internal clocks are in sync with external time— but others are out of sync and considered “misaligned.”

The new test for the first time will offer researchers the opportunity to easily examine the impact of misaligned circadian clocks in a range of diseases from heart disease to diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. When the blood test eventually becomes clinically available, it also will provide doctors with a measurement of an individual’s internal biological clock to guide medication dosing at the most effective time for his or her body.

The software and algorithm are available for free to other researchers so they can assess physiological time in a person’s body. Northwestern has filed for a patent on the blood test.

“This is really an integral part of personalized medicine,” said coauthor Dr. Phyllis Zee, chief of Sleep Medicine in Neurology at Feinberg and a Northwestern Medicine neurologist. “So many drugs have optimal times for dosing. Knowing what time it is in your body is critical to getting the most effective benefits. The best time for you to take the blood pressure drug or the chemotherapy or radiation may be different from somebody else.”

The test measures 40 different gene expression markers in the blood and can be taken any time of day, regardless of whether the patient had a good night’s sleep or was up all night with a baby.

A link between circadian misalignment and diabetes, obesity, depression, heart disease, and asthma has been identified in preclinical research by scientist Joe Bass, chief of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Molecular Medicine at Feinberg.

The study was published on September 10 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research contact: rbraun@northwestern.edu

Just you wait: How to curb impatience

November 13, 2018

A woman in front of you on the checkout line actually is writing a check and digging in her bag for the required IDs. You clench your jaw. A driver stopped at the entrance to the parking garage cannot dislodge a ticket from the machine. You check your watch and hit your horn. A colleague is at the photocopier, carefully removing and replacing paper clips from documents, as she plows through large piles of materials. You consider asking if you can just cut in front for one image.

If these scenarios seems familiar, you are not alone. Impatience has reached epidemic proportions in America and we see signs of it everywhere—as bad manners, road rage, parking lot meltdowns, and more.

According to a November 5 report by The New York Times, patience is “the ability to keep calm in the face of disappointment, distress or suffering.”

Easier said than done, we know. But if you can master the skill, you’ll be rewarded with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as reducing depression and other negative emotions.

Researchers also have concluded, the Times reports, that patient people exhibit more “prosocial” behaviors—including empathy—and are more likely to display generosity and compassion.

A study conducted in 2012 by Sarah Schnitker—who was, at that time, an associate professor in the Thrive Center for Human Development at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California—identified three situations in which subject expressed patience: 1. Interpersonal, which is maintaining calm when dealing with someone who is upset, angry, or being a pest. 2. Life hardships, which is finding the silver lining after a serious setback. 3. Daily hassles, which is suppressing annoyance at delays or anything irritating that would inspire a snarky tweet.

However, even if none of these is in your own personal repertory yet; the good news, the Times reported, is that same study found that, even if you’re not a particularly patient person today, there’s still hope you can be a more patient person tomorrow.

So if you find yourself getting exasperated more than you’d like, here are ways to keep those testy impulses in check:

  • Identify your trigger(s): Figure out which situations set you off — careless drivers, technological glitches, slow-moving cashiers,— and you’re already on your way to taking control.
  • Interrupt the cycle and evaluate the risk: The idea is to take a step back from the situation and try to look at it objectively. Are you really in such a rush? What’s the actual consequence of standing in line another 10 minutes or restarting a finicky device? Do any of these outcomes constitute a life-or-death threat? The answer is almost always “no.”
  • Reframe the experience and connect it to a larger story: Are you annoyed with the coworker at the photocopy machine? Instead of dwelling on your irritation, you could think about the times when you have been the one who has frustrated others.

Another strategy recommended by Schnitker in an interview with the Times is to focus on why and how patience is integral to your values. “For instance,” she said, “if I were talking to a parent who is struggling with their kid, I’d say, ‘Well, first, let’s think about the really big picture: Why is being a parent an important role to you? What does that mean in your life?’”

Thinking about how patience ties into your larger sense of integrity and poise “will make it a whole lot easier to stick with practicing patience on a daily basis and building up those skills,” she added.

The most common mistake people make is thinking sheer will can turn them into a more patient person,  Schnitker said. If you do that, she cautions, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Just as marathon runners don’t run a marathon on their first day of hitting the trails, people who are serious about cultivating patience shouldn’t expect immediate results.“You want to train, not try, for patience,” she said. “It’s important to do it habitually.”

Finally, recognizing your own triggers may help you to make remedial lifestyle changes. For example, if you detest being stuck in traffic, leave for appointments earlier. If you abhor crowded grocery stores, run your errands at off-hours.

Research contact: @AnnaGoldfarb

Guppy love: The ‘feel-good’ properties of fish tanks

November 12, 2018

People who spend time watching aquariums and fish tanks could see improvements in their physical and mental well-being, according to findings of a study conducted cooperatively in the United Kingdom by the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth University, and the University of Exeter.

The team found that viewing aquarium displays led to noticeable reductions in blood pressure and heart rate, and that higher numbers of fish helped to hold people’s attention for longer and improve their moods. The study was published in 2015 in the journal, Environment and Behavior.

Lead researcher Deborah Cracknell of the National Marine Aquarium team said in a press release, “Fish tanks and displays are often associated with attempts at calming patients in doctors’ surgeries and dental waiting rooms. This study has, for the first time, provided robust evidence that ‘doses’ of exposure to underwater settings could actually have a positive impact on people’s well-being.”

The researchers benefited from a unique opportunity when the National Marine Aquarium refurbished one of its main exhibits —contained in a large 145,000-gallon tank—and began a phased introduction of different fish species. They were able to assess the mood, heart rate, and blood pressure of study participants as fish numbers in the exhibit gradually increased.

Dr Sabine Pahl, associate professor in Psychology at Plymouth University commented, “While large public aquariums typically focus on their educational mission, our study suggests they could offer a number of previously undiscovered benefits. In times of higher work stress and crowded urban living, perhaps aquariums can step in and provide an oasis of calm and relaxation.

Dr Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, remarked, “Our findings have shown improvements for health and well-being in highly managed settings, providing an exciting possibility for people who aren’t able to access outdoor natural environments. If we can identify the mechanisms that underpin the benefits we’re seeing, we can effectively bring some of the ‘outside inside’ and improve the well-being of people without ready access to nature.”

Research contact: Mathew.White@exeter.ac.uk

Down and out: Why the five-second rule isn’t safe

November 9, 2018

How does eating something that you just dropped on the floor compare to leaving your seatbelt unlatched when you are in the car? It may be okay this time—but you are taking a huge risk, according to a report by Prevention magazine posted on November 8.

This may or may not surprise you, but what is widely known as the “five-second rule” is an old wives’ tale, food scientists (and authors of Did You Just Eat That?)  Paul Dawson and Brian Sheldon have determined. “There is conclusive evidence that when food comes into contact with a contaminated surface, bacteria are transferred immediately,” they warn.

In 2006, Dawson and his colleagues in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Clemson University in South Carolina published the first peer-reviewed study on the five-second rule. The researchers tested the rule by contaminating three different surfaces—tile, carpet, and wood—with salmonella, dropping food (specifically, bologna and bread) on each surface, and measuring how much bacteria was picked up by the food within five, 30, or 60 seconds.

“Our findings pretty conclusively busted the myth of the five-second rule,” they wrote. “We found that bacteria transferred to the bologna after only five seconds of contact time….” And the more time the food spends on the floor, the more bacteria it attracts.

Even worse, according to Prevention, Dawson’s experiment also found that salmonella hung around on the contaminated tile surface for a month. “Bacteria capable of forming spores are known to survive for years in their dormant spore form,” the authors said.

FYI, this isn’t the only research to debunk the five-second rule, Prevention found. In 2016, a second peer-reviewed study conducted by Rutgers University in New Jersey reported similar findings; although the researchers included a wider variety of food in their experiment—watermelon cubes, plain bread, buttered bread, and gummy bears—on a variety of surfaces. (Because bacteria move quickly through moisture, the watermelon sucked up the greatest number of germs.).

The bottom line: The five-second rule is a gross simplification of how bacteria transfer to food, and there are many more factors than simply how long food sits on a surface—for example, the type of food, whether it’s carpet or tile, and how contaminated that surface is. So don’t take any chances. Discard that tasty morsel.

Research contact: JanaeSitzes@hearst.com

Showing your true colors: What you didn’t know about gray hair

November 8, 2018

Some people don’t turn a hair when they start going gray; others run straight for the colorist. But for those who embrace the natural look, there is good news. According to AARP, “Gray hair is having a moment. Now more than ever, women are feeling empowered to embrace their natural roots as they age.”

And while the advocacy group for those over 50 does not mention men, they, too, have stopped shunning those silver streaks.

What started the trend? Maybe there is just strength in numbers, as Baby Boomers begin to show their age: By 2029, fully 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65.

Now, as millions of Americans dump the dye and go for authenticity, Good Housekeeping has posted a story on the “root causes” and recommended care of your newly metallic mane.

1. Normal aging is the biggest culprit. Okay, no surprise here, the lifestyle magazine says. Dermatologists call this the 50-50-50 rule. “Fifty percent of the population has about 50% gray hair at age 50,” Dr. Anthony Oro, a professor of Dermatology at Stanford University, told Good Housekeeping. And like skin, hair changes its texture with age, says Dr. Heather Woolery Lloyd, director of Ethnic Skin Care at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

2. Your ethnicity makes a difference. Caucasians tend to go gray earlier—and redheads, the earliest of all. Then Asians. Then African-Americans. Scientists haven’t figured out why yet.

3. Stress seems to play a role. “Stress won’t cause you to go gray directly,” says Roopal Kundu, an associate professor in Dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “But stress is implicated in a lot of skin and hair issues.” During an illness, for example, people can shed hair rapidly. And hair you lose after a stressful event—such as a course of chemotherapy—may grow back a different color.

4. Lifestyle makes a difference. Smoking, for example, stresses your skin and hair. “Low vitamin B12 levels are notorious for causing loss of hair pigment,” says Karthik Krishnamurthy, director of the Dermatology Center’s Cosmetic Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

5. Hair and its color are separate things. Hair stem cells make hair, and pigment-forming stem cells create pigment. Typically, they work together—but either can wear out, sometimes prematurely. Researchers are trying to determine whether a medicine, or something you could put on your scalp, could slow the graying process.

6. Your hair basically bleaches itself. You may be familiar with hydrogen peroxide as a way to go blonde, but it’s also the way we go gray. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, hydrogen peroxide naturally occurs in our hair follicles, and as we age, it builds up. This build-up blocks the production of melanin, which forms our hair’s pigment.

7. Your hair doesn’t turn gray—it grows that way. A single hair grows for one to three years; then you shed it—and grow a new one. As you age, your new hair is more likely to be white. “Every time the hair regenerates, you have to re-form these pigment-forming cells, and they wear out,” says Stanford’s Oro.

8. Gray hair isn’t coarser than colored hair. Gray hair actually is finer than colored hair, but it may seem drier because our scalps produce less oil as we get older. Another reason? Your hair may also ‘feel’ coarser if you pull out your first few grey hairs, because constant pulling-out of hair can distort your follicles.

Finally, the experts say, gray hair turns yellow in the sun. Wear a hat, or spray on a hair sunscreen to keep those silver strands at their best.

Research contact: @karenspringen

Coming clean: Your showerhead is spritzing bacteria on your naked body

November 7, 2018

Do you want to know “the real dirt” on showers? A study conducted at the University of Colorado-Boulder has found that showerheads are covered with bacteria-filled slime that could make us sick.

The researchers used high-tech instruments and lab methods to analyze roughly 50 showerheads from nine cities—among them, New York City, Chicago, and Denver—in seven states nationwide.

They concluded that—while we believe we are getting invigorating relief and a good daily cleansing, about 30% of the showerheads we use instead are covering our naked bodies with significant levels of Mycobacterium avium. That’s a pathogen linked to pulmonary disease that most often infects people with compromised immune systems; but which occasionally can infect healthy people, said CU-Boulder Distinguished Professor Norman Pace, lead study author.

 “If you are getting a face full of water when you first turn your shower on, that means you are probably getting a particularly high load of Mycobacterium avium, which may not be too healthy,” he said.

Showering may cleanse our bodies of sweat and dirt, but over time, our showerheads develop scum—also known as biofilm—due to the warm, wet conditions in the stall or tub.

Many of the bacteria in the scum are not harmful, but the team did find traces of nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) in showerheads across the United States. NTM is particularly prevalent in parts of Southern California, Florida, and New York — all areas with higher reported incidences of NTM lung disease, the study authors note. They believe showerheads may transmit the disease.

Symptoms of the infection include coughing up blood, shortness of breath, persistent coughing, fatigue and fever, according to the American Lung Association. Not everyone develops the condition after exposure to NTM, and doctors aren’t sure why only some people get sick. However, those who already have lung problems,  as well as older adults and people with weak immune systems are at greater risk. The infection is treated with antibiotics, according to WebMD.

The team also found that NTM is more common in metal showerheads, as well as U.S. households that use municipal water over well water. Mycobacteria are resistant to the chlorine found in municipal water, so they have more room to grow after other the chlorine kills off other bacteria.

According to study co-author Noah Fierer, more research should be done to determine whether our water treatments could put us at risk.

“There is a fascinating microbial world thriving in your showerhead and you can be exposed every time you shower,” Fierer said in a statement. “Most of those microbes are harmless, but a few are not, and this kind of research is helping us understand how our own actions—from the kinds of water treatment systems we use to the materials in our plumbing—can change the makeup of those microbial communities.”

What does all this mean for you? You definitely shouldn’t stop showering, but you might want to think about cleaning your showerhead every now and then. Using vinegar, which has been shown to kill many types of mycobacteria, is a good bet.

Research contact: matthew.gebert@colorado.edu

Hit or miss? AAP strengthens ban on spanking children

November 6, 2018

In an updated policy statement on corporal punishment, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued new evidence on November 5 that spanking harms children—and even may affect normal brain development.

Indeed, updated research has shown that striking a child—or yelling at or shaming them—can elevate stress hormones and lead to changes in the brain’s architecture. Harsh verbal abuse is also linked to mental health problems in preteens and adolescents.

This week, at the AAP’s 2018 National Conference, the professional group is strengthening its ban on corporal punishment with an updated policy statement, “Effective Discipline to Raise Healthy Children.”

Pediatricians long have believed that corporal punishment—or the use of spanking as a disciplinary tool—increases aggression in young children in the long run and is ineffective in teaching a child responsibility and self-control. The policy statement, to be published in the December 2018 issue of Pediatrics also addresses the harm associated with verbal punishment, such as shaming or humiliation.

“The good news is, fewer parents support the use of spanking than … in the past,” said AAP member Dr. Robert D. Sege, an author of the policy statement. “Yet corporal punishment remains legal in many states, despite evidence that it harms kids—not only physically and mentally, but in how they perform at school and how they interact with other children.”

He noted that, in one study, young children who were spanked more than twice a month at age three were more aggressive at age five. Those same children at age nine still exhibited negative behaviors and lower receptive vocabulary scores, according to the research.

“It’s best to begin with the premise of rewarding positive behavior,” said Dr. Benjamin S. Siegel, co-author of the policy statement. “Parents can set up rules and expectations in advance. The key is to be consistent in following through with them.”

The policy statement provides educational resources where physicians and parents can learn healthy forms of discipline, such as limit setting, redirecting and setting expectations.

“There’s no benefit to spanking,” Dr. Sege said. “We know that children grow and develop better with positive role modeling and by setting healthy limits. We can do better.”

Research contact: @BobSegeMD

A museum to visit on an empty stomach

November 5, 2018

When your entry ticket to a museum is actually a vomit bag—similar to the one you would use on an airplane—you might be just a little daunted, even before you see the displays. And no, it’s not a gag—although several visitors at the pop-up exhibition already have gagged.

The Disgusting Food Museum in Malmo, Sweden, knows some of its guests may be queasy when they are confronted with carefully curated sheep eyeball juice, bull testicles, maggot-infested cheese, a dead mouse in Chinese wine, Icelandic fermented shark—and yes, American root beer and Jello salad. Worse yet, most of the food items on display can easily be smelled or tasted.

The museum opened on October 31 and Chief Disgustologist Samuel West told The New York Times that he hopes visitors will be entertained—and also will be disposed to try some of the more sustainable food products that are available, such as insects and lab-grown meat.

West believes that what we now consider to be appetizing or repulsive represents a preference acquired through our own culture; and that such beliefs can change. “Disgust is one of the six fundamental human emotions, and the evolutionary function of disgust is to help us to avoid foods that might dangerous, that are contaminated, toxic, gone off,” he told the Times. “Disgust is hardwired as an emotion, but what we find disgusting is culturally learned.”

He has tried most of the exhibits, himself. He describes eating the Icelandic fermented shark to be “like chewing on a urine-infested mattress,” adding, “It’s a fermented sort of rotten Icelandic shark,” he says. “Anthony Bourdain, the late TV personality, called it the single most disgusting thing he’d ever eaten, and I totally agree with him.”

Australian visitor Nichole Courtney said she was surprised to come across Vegemite, her homeland’s sandwich spread of concentrated yeast extract which is known to divide opinion.

“Things like Vegemite which we find really normal at home, like we’d eat that every day for breakfast, are next to things like the shark that I couldn’t imagine tasting and I think it is revolting so it’s quite funny for us.”

The museum will be open through January 27. Admission is about $20 for adults and free for children.

Research contact: @DisgustingFood

Facing the music: Why it feels so good to sing in the car

November 2, 2018

There’s nothing like belting out a song in the car to brace you for a hard day ahead—or to bring you back from the doldrums. You’ve probably experienced the euphoria of hopping into the car, turning the volume up on your favorite tune, and singing along like you’re performing at the Grammys. But you might not realize that it’s actually good for your health, the Huffington Post reported on November 1.

In fact, according to findings by researchers at Ashford University— an online for-profit school based in San Diego— music, alone, can increase antibodies that boost your immunity and protect your body against bacteria.

What’s more, the HuffPost reports, singing can induce a bunch of feel-good mental health effects—among them:

indeed, Connie Omari, a licensed professional counselor practicing in North Carolina and owner of Tech Talk Therapy, told the Huffington Post that she suggests singing and driving to her patients. The practice can be its own form of meditation and can help to quiet a racing mind. “By listening to music,” she said, “drivers are [given] an opportunity to replace negative thoughts with more [positivity] through the use of rhythm and beats.” she said.

And because driving alone for long periods of time can have negative effects (some research has found it increases the risk of depression), Omari said singing and driving on a regular basis can help to slightly alleviate some of those issues.

“Most people feel the effects of oxytocin when they’re hugging someone or in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship,” Ziskind noted. “Oxytocin initiates emotions like trust, a sense of stability, and even relaxation.

“It boosts mood and uplifts mood,” she said, adding that oxytocin isn’t the only happy hormone that is released when you’re blasting your favorite tunes. “Studies have shown [e.g., a study published in the journal Nature in 2014] that simply thinking about listening to your favorite song, before you actually listen, releases serotonin, another feel-good chemical in your brain that reduces anxiety.”

  • The dopamine released when you sing can reduce your road rage. In addition to the other feel-good hormones mentioned above, you’re also releasing a hefty dose of dopamine. Kristen Fuller, a physician and clinical mental health writer for Center For Discovery, a treatment center in California, told the HuffPost that dopamine is the kind of neurotransmitter you want if you face a lot of traffic during your commute, because it has an effect on your emotions—producing sensations of pleasure.

“Dopamine boosts your motivation and drive,” Fuller said. “This happy mood can result in less road rage and friendlier driving — which can potentially lead to [fewer] accidents.”

  • Singing releases tension in your diaphragm more naturally than taking deep breaths. When you are anxious, a good remedy is to take long, deep breaths—bBut singing along to your favorite song might be even better than inhaling and exhaling.

Loretta G. Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute in San Francisco, told the daily news outlet that singing actually relieves tension that can build up in your diaphragm. Tension happens when your body believes you’re being threatened, even if the only danger is being late for work.

“Shallow breathing is a common response to tension,” Breuning said. “It can become a habit, and even though you’re not doing it consciously, it reinforces the sense that you’re threatened. Deeper breaths feel good, but natural ones feel better than forced ones. That’s what singing does.”

  • Singing can help you with unprocessed emotions. Even if the song you’re listening to happens to be sad, it can still help you process your emotions in a healthy way. Depending on your mood, different kinds of musiccan feel almost therapeutic, according to a course taught at Penn State University.

Music is emotionally evocative and helps bring up emotions you might have otherwise avoided for a long time, said Nick Hobson, director of science at the coaching service Psychology Compass, an online “cognition calculator.”

“It’s for this exact reason why music therapy is showing promising results for helping people deal with anxiety, depression and PTSD,” Hobson told the HuffPost.

Research contact: @emilyblackwood