In a special programme recorded live at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Health Check explores the psychology of motivation, and its enemy: procrastination.
Why do we do it? Neuroscientists have found differences in the brains of people who get on with stuff and those who procrastinate a lot. Being a chronic procrastinator is bad for your health, but there are ways to help you stop. Is willpower a good source of motivation?
Claudia is joined by British TV presenter Louise Minchin, who cycles, swims and runs in triathlons for Team GB; Dr Fuschia Sirois from the University of Sheffield, who has been studying the psychology of procrastination for more than 15 years, and sports psychologist at Loughborough University, Dr Ian Taylor. She hears about some tips to overcome a lack of willpower, including keeping gym kits washed and ready by the door and focusing on the end result.
(Photo caption: Procrastination and urgency concept – credit: Getty Images)
Producer: Pamela Rutherford
The small, but increasing risk of stillbirth past term
With every week that a pregnancy continues past 37 weeks, the risk of stillbirth increases and women who reach 41 weeks of gestation are routinely offered an induction of labour. This increasing potential risk has now for the first time been quantified by researchers at Queen Mary University of London. Professor Shakila Thangaratinam, also a consultant obstetrician at St Bartholomew's Hospital in London, is lead author.
In the largest study of its kind, data from Denmark, the US and the UK, which included 15,124,027 pregnancies, was analysed and it was found that compared to delivery at 40 weeks, there is one additional stillbirth at 41 weeks for every 1,449 pregnancies. This is a small but statistically significant increase in risk, but it is hoped that being armed with this information will help parents and clinicians make informed decisions about timing of delivery. The research has just been published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Last week, British MPs met to discuss the difficulties faced by parents during the long summer school holidays. In the UK, children are given six weeks off school, although some countries, like the US - where holidays have already begun - can have up to eight weeks off. During this time, families who are already struggling to provide additional meals, cover any childcare costs that can arise and fill the days until the child goes back to school. The cost to the physical health of a child, whose parents are unable to cope with this added burden, has been well documented. But a new paper has explored how the long summer holidays can also affect the mental health and well-being of children during this time. Hugo Goodridge reports.
Dr Monty Lyman, a doctor currently in training at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford in the UK, is fascinated by the skin, so much so that he has written a book about it. It is called The Remarkable Life of the Skin, and is being published this week by Bantam Press. He came into the Health Check studio to tell Claudia more.
(Photo caption: Pregnant woman patient in hospital – credit: Getty Images)
Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from BBC Health and Science correspondent, James Gallagher.
Producer: Helena Selby
Lighting the brain after birth
Claudia Hammond visits the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.
Every year a minority of births goes wrong and the baby is deprived of oxygen, which can lead to long-term brain damage and conditions such as cerebral palsy. Early treatment can reduce the likelihood of permanent disability or even death, so a team at University College London have now developed a new portable device which uses harmless infra-red to detect signs of brain injury in newborn babies, minutes after birth. It is called Cyril and consultant neurologist Subhabrata Mitra and Dr Ilias Tachtsidis, Reader in Biomedical Engineering, demonstrate it to Claudia.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a well-known problem, with one insidious thriving place being medical implants, where they form impenetrable biofilms. But there could be a solution from scientists at Nottingham University. Kim Hardie, a molecular microbiologist, is part of a team that has developed special slippery coatings for biomedical devices, such as catheters, that stop bacteria attaching and sticking in the first place. It is hoped these super biomaterials will help in the fight against super bugs, which has huge implications for infection rates in hospitals globally.
It is estimated that one in nine people experience some form of breathlessness, which is most common in conditions such as heart failure, lung disease, panic disorder and Parkinson’s. But there are also significant numbers of people who suffer from breathlessness which cannot be explained. A team at Oxford University hypothesise this might be driven by networks in the brain. So using brain scans and computational modelling, Breathe Oxford has examined breathlessness in athletes, healthy people and those with chronic lung disease, seeking clues as to why some individuals become disabled by their breathlessness, while others with the same lung function live normal healthy lives.
Claudia discusses this relationship between breathlessness and brain perception with lead researcher and anaesthetist Professor Kyle Pattinson and research scientist Sarah Finnegan. They also, using a ‘Steppatron’, demonstrate what it is like to live with a chronic lung condition.
Mirror-touch synaesthesia is a rare type of synaesthesia where people can actually feel something that they can see being done to someone else. For example they might seem to feel a brush on their hand whilst watching someone else having their hand stroked. Dr Natalie Bowling from the University of Sussex researches this condition. It is estimated that 30% of the population could experience some form of synaesthesia and Claudia also meets Kaitlyn Hova, a violinist with visual-auditory synaesthesia. She demonstrates her violin, which lights up with different colours according to how she sees the notes.
(Photo caption: Members of the MetaboLight team working together to develop novel light technologies to assess brain injury severity in newborns within hours after birth - credit: MetaboLight)
Producer: Helena Selby
A new unique discovery about Parkinson’s
It is difficult to study the earliest stages of Parkinson's disease because people are not aware they have it, but there is one very special group of people who might hold the key. They live in villages of the northern Peloponnese in Greece and near Naples in Italy, and have a very rare genetic mutation which means that they will almost certainly develop the disease.
For years professor of neurology Marios Politis, who is also director of the Neurodegeneration Imaging Group at King’s College London, had wanted to study this tiny group or people. Many of them had never been abroad before, so persuading them and organising a trip to London for them was not an easy task. But in the end 14 of them made the journey, and thanks to their generosity, Professor Politis’ team were able to make an extraordinary discovery.
For decades dopamine has been considered to be the main brain chemical affected when someone has Parkinson’s disease. The team’s new research challenges this view of Parkinson’s and backed up what they had suspected for a while; that the brain chemical serotonin is heavily implicated in the early stages of the disease. The work has just been published in the journal Lancet Neurology.
The Chinese authorities say the practice of taking organs from executed prisoners without their consent came to an end four years ago. But a former war crimes prosecutor has concluded that prisoners of conscience in China are still having organs removed for transplants; despite official denials from China. The allegations have been examined in detail by a tribunal set up by the charity End Transplant Abuse in China, or ETAC. Over the past two years Matthew Hill, the health correspondent for BBC in the South West of England, has been examining these allegations and has this exclusive report for Health Check.
Very long hours at work can put you at risk of burnout, but unemployment is not good for your mental health either. But how much do you really need to work to start seeing the benefits of having a job? The answer is rather less than you might think. Daiga Kamerade-Hanta, senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at the University of Salford, studied data from more than 70,000 people in the UK, and the results, which have just been published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, were quite unexpected.
(Photo: A picture of a human brain taken by a positron emission tomography scanner, also called PET scan. Credit: Getty Images)
Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond with comments from Sarah Boseley.
Producer: Helena Selby