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Don’t treat love or leisure like a job

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

Recognising the dedication of carers, spouses or parents is well-intentioned, but let’s not treat every contribution to society as ‘work’

In an old cartoon by the American Roz Chast, a waiter approaches a woman with food on her plate. “Are you still working on that?” “No, in fact, I’m completely exhausted,” she replies. “Maybe if you wrap it up, I can finish working on it at home.” The title is Another Day In The Salt Mines. The idea that eating a delicious meal – cooked by someone else! – constitutes work remains largely confined to the US, mercifully. But the general enthusiasm for describing things as work is more widespread. Marriage, we’re endlessly informed by relationship gurus and divorcing celebrities, is work. Parenting is “the hardest job in the world”. Even leisure has been remade in the image of work, as we strive to reach 10,000 daily steps on our wearable fitness monitors; or check off experience after experience on “bucket lists” – a form of to-do list you’re not even permitted the pleasure of moaning about, because they’re meant to be fun.

In recent decades, of course, one major reason for defining more things as work has been to call attention to burdens that still fall disproportionately on women – cooking, toddler-chasing, caring for ageing relatives – and that are no less arduous, or crucial to the economy, simply because they’re unpaid. But as theology professor Jonathan Malesic wrote recently in the New Republic, there’s a dark side even to that worthy goal: in extending the logic of the workplace to life outside it, we implicitly concede that workers are the only kind of people worth valuing. “If everything is work,” Malesic writes, “then talk of work/life balance is a sham.” And we start judging parents, partners and others by their work ethic. “We shame mothers who don’t perform ‘best practices’ like breastfeeding, or initiating skin-to-skin contact with their child within seconds of birth,” he says, while the childless are seen as self-indulgent slackers.

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I’m running the world’s biggest trail race. I just hope it gives me a new screensaver

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

This year’s Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc has the strongest line-up ever assembled for a trail ultramarathon – a visceral adventure of rawness and vulnerability

I used to change the screensavers on my laptop and smartphone every month or so. But I have had the same picture on both for almost exactly a year now. It is the photo above of my kids meeting me in Chamonix, France, in the final few metres of 2016’s 105-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB). After the birth of said children, and that time Danny Dyer put the phone down on me, it felt like the greatest moment of my life.

I only placed 19th, yet the generous crowds treated me like I’d won the thing. The surge of euphoria was huge. The chronic soreness in my legs temporarily erased. My kids didn’t know or care how well I’d done, they just thought the whole thing hilarious. And soon went back to calling my Pooh Head.

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How was your weekend running?

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

Racing, running, or lying in bed whimpering to yourself? Oh, just me then. As always, share your weekeng highs and lows below the line

Apologies – Bank Holiday notwithstanding – for being a day late, but the picture above pretty much summarises my weekend (non) running. Not only ill in bed but also having completely lost my voice, which reduces me to writing notes to my children. Let me tell you, “stop arguing and tidy your rooms” doesn’t have much authority when written in pink Sharpie on a piece of newspaper …

So, straight over to you guys. Let me do some running vicariously through your exploits, so share your long weekend’s highlights and lowlights below the line as always. Plus, obviously, miracle cures for chest infections that will work in less than, say, 10 minutes.

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In praise of the sun – archive, 29 August 1930

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

29 August 1930 Industrialism drove mankind indoors, and now from the darkness of coalfields, from the half-light of offices mankind is looking at the sun as a caged bird looks at the sky

Editorial
When, as has lately happened, the sun comes after a long grey absence, we appreciate its qualities freshly, almost with surprise. That the world should, after all, not be cold and wind-swept, but warm and mellow, strikes us with a delicious strangeness. And just now the coming of the sun is even more of an event than it has been in the past. For people have begun to find a special significance in the sun, rather as those who once worshipped it. They spread out their limbs to receive the sun, and are made the better for having done so. They drink sunshine and find it a fine draught – life-giving and, in a way, truth-giving as well.

Related: A short history of tanning | Sophie Wilkinson

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Why we fell for clean eating – podcast

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

The oh-so-Instagrammable food movement has been thoroughly debunked – but it shows no signs of going away. The real question is why we were so desperate to believe it

Read the text version here

Subscribe via Audioboom, Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Acast & Sticher and join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

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Does ‘phone separation anxiety’ really exist?

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

Researchers last week warned that nomophobia – a phobia of being without your smartphone – is affecting everyone

You know the feeling – you have left your phone at home and feel anxious, as if you have lost your connection to the world. “Nomophobia” (short for no-mobile phobia) affects teenagers and adults alike. You can even do an online test to see if you have it. Last week, researchers from Hong Kong warned that nomophobia is infecting everyone. Their study found that people who use their phones to store, share and access personal memories suffer most. When users were asked to describe how they felt about their phones, words such as “hurt’” (neck pain was often reported) and “alone” predicted higher levels of nomophobia.

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Young at heart: why children who exercise become healthier adults

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

New research suggests childhood exercise has a protective effect on health in later years, as well as improving brain power – even in inactive grownups

Last week, Public Health England said 6 million middle-aged adults in England take less than 10 minutes’ brisk exercise a month, risking their health. But when does the problem start? It seems the answer is “very young”. Last year, a damning international study portrayed British children as among the least active in the world. Despite government guidelines urging parents to ensure their offspring do at least an hour of moderate-intensity exercise every day, compared with 38 other nations including Venezuela and Slovenia, England and Wales are currently third-worst in the list – with Scotland at the bottom. Only 22% of boys aged 11 to 15 manage the recommended amounts of daily exercise, and just 15% of girls.

But while active childhoods can have many obvious short-term benefits, including reducing the rates of obesity – the latest figures suggest that nearly 20% of 10- to 11-year-olds in England are obese – the little we know of the long-term benefits point towards exercise being even more crucial than we might already assume.

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How our desires shape our beliefs | Tali Sharot

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

We love to talk and want to be listened to, but we stand less and less chance of being believed

People love propagating information and sharing opinions. You can see this online: every day, 4m new blogs are written, 80m new Instagram photos are uploaded and 616m new tweets are released into cyberspace. It appears that the opportunity to impart your knowledge to others is internally rewarding.

A study conducted at Harvard University found that people were willing to forgo money so that their opinions would be broadcast to others. We are not talking about well-crafted insights here. These were people’s opinions regarding mundane issues, like whether coffee is better than tea. A brain-imaging scan showed that when people received the opportunity to communicate their opinions to others, their brain’s reward centre was strongly activated.

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Fit in my 40s: ‘I have the forward hunch of a sedentary worker’

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

Everything at the front needs stretching, and everything at the back needs strengthening

I am back at Nyambe’s personal training studio. “Everybody is in training for the life that they lead,” he says. “If you and Mo Farah had a sitting-down-for-eight-hours competition, you would win.”

In case you’ve forgotten; my anterior chain (the front) is tight, my posterior chain is weak, and this is down to my posture, the forward hunch of the sedentary worker. Most likely you have it, too. Today we’re figuring out a 20-minute workout I can do at home. Everything at the front needs stretching, and everything at the back needs strengthening. This is how it goes.

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Slob versus neatnik: it’s time to come clean | Oliver Burkeman

Sep 2nd, 2017 by

Let your house get dirty enough and you really might get a nasty illness. The same can’t be said for a non-alphabetised bookshelf

Recently, thanks to multiple studies, the old consensus that “a tidy desk equals a tidy mind” has been shouldered aside by its opposite. These days, mess is a sign of creativity. Frankly, as a neat-freak, I consider this offensive, though I confess there’s a solid argument for it, stated most cogently in Tim Harford’s 2016 book Messy. Learning to embrace disarray, he argues, helps disrupt our tendency to think along the same pre-ploughed furrows, and permits the fresh associations that allow new ideas to form. Fair enough. But don’t expect me to stop arranging my notebooks and pens in a perfect line on my desktop. And don’t give me all that stuff about how this is an external manifestation of a desperate quest to retain a sense of control in the face of a meaningless cosmos. I’m just not a slob. OK?

Except I’ve realised, over the last few years, that this slob versus neatnik dichotomy – subject of a thousand slanging matches between spouses – is an oversimplification. I’m a tidy person, but decidedly average when it comes to cleanliness; whereas my partner values cleanliness enormously, while being somewhat untidy. I’m baffled that she thinks it’s OK to leave books strewn across the coffee table, when they could be nicely stacked. She’s baffled that I care so much about arranging the rug so it’s perpendicular to the floorboards, while apparently not seeing the crumbs and bits of pasta accumulating along its edge.

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