Strange but True: Smartphones can reduce a lot of stress

Sunday June 23, 2013

Q: How might your "smarty" smartphone help you control the stresses in your life?

A: You’re already aware of body monitors for checking blood pressure, heart rate and more, says Dirk Trossen of the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory, as reported in "New Scientist" magazine. But his Android Remote Sensing App (AIRS) for smartphones goes beyond the body to track environmental changes, including surrounding noise levels, social activity, number of e-mails and other interruptions. It even looks at changing light levels, body movements and body postures.

AIRS can record over 60 such values, giving you a quick fix on your lifestyle and the pressures you regularly face.

What’s critical here is that change itself can mean stress and stress can undermine your health. With today’s workforce working longer hours than the previous generation, stress takes on an even higher profile.

Trossen describes how after monitoring his own stresses for a year, he began to set aside "blackout days" where he stays away from work interruptions such as e-mails and is more cautious about making travel plans. If enough people become similarly alert, "we hope to be able to reduce the burden on healthcare systems," he concludes.

Q: Guys, over dinner with your lady friend, you put your hand on the table and say, "Look how my index finger is shorter than my ring finger. I’ll bet your index finger is longer."

A: Just as you expected, her index finger does turn out to be a bit longer, but no need to explain to her that this is usually the case, though for some women the two digits are really about equal, says Rebecca Coffey in "Scientific American" magazine. This sort of "digit ratio" may reflect the female-male hormonal balance in the womb during the week that the fingers form, with androgen apparently producing a longer ring finger in males.

"Researchers study these ratios to see if they can serve as markers for certain human attributes." They’ve noted that "girls with a masculine ratio do not get lost as easily... and that boys with more masculine ratios have more typically masculine facial features."

All in all, a "handy" way to get your sweetheart’s attention.

Q: It’s a humdrum bodily fluid, barely something to be taken seriously, unless of course you lack it. It’s about 99% water, plus a gaggle of proteins, minerals and microbes. It can vary from person to person, so much so that each of us has a unique kind. Kind of what?

A: It’s "spit," or "saliva" to be more polite, lubricating the mouth for talking and chewing.

Unstimulated saliva forms a protective film that clings to the surface of the teeth and traps bacteria, says Mary Roach in "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal." The "prettier" stuff is stimulated, coming from the parotid glands between the cheek and ear. When a plate of appetizing food makes your mouth water, that’s stimulated saliva, which comprises 70%-90% of your 2-3 pints daily.

Chewing on something can be a mechanical stimulation. "You may be wondering," Roach poses, "why newborns without teeth produce excessive volumes of drool." It’s simple mechanics, answers Dutch researcher Erika Siletti: "They lack teeth to physically keep the saliva in the mouth." Or as Roach puts it, "Your lower incisors are a seawall holding back the salivary tides."

Over 1,000 species of bacteria have been shown to colonize the mouth, varying with diet, disease, immune status, adds Dr. Frank Scannapieco of the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. "So each individual would have a unique set of proteins and microbes in the mouth, thus making for a unique spit." Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at


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