Put on happiness

Special to The Times

You don't have to be an extrovert to act like one, and the reward for those who make an attempt to be more talkative, bold or assertive is feeling happier.

In the first of three experiments, 46 students kept track of when they were being outgoing and how they felt every few hours for two weeks. In all cases, they had the most fun when they were extroverted. In the second experiment, they kept diaries for 10 weeks, and researchers looked at how often the students were extroverted over a week and how they felt at week's end. An analysis showed that the link between being outgoing and a good mood was not just momentary.

The third experiment tested the notion that genuinely acting in an extroverted way would create a happy mood. After being randomly assigned to act introverted or extroverted in a discussion with a group of strangers, the students rated their mood. In all cases -- regardless of whether they thought themselves to be naturally introverted or extroverted -- the students who behaved boldly and energetically and were talkative and assertive felt happier after the exercise than those who were instructed to be quiet, passive and compliant.

"This study says that we can improve our level of happiness, " says the study's lead author, William Fleeson, associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. The results were published in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Although everyone has the capacity to be outgoing and adventurous, he says, introverts don't act that way as frequently as extroverts do. "The more they [act extroverted], the more they'll remember how and the easier it will be for them."


When doctors and nurses don't wash their hands, other staffers may follow

When it comes to hospital hygiene, higher-ranking staff members set the stage: If the doctor or nurse doesn't wash his or her hands upon entering a patient's room, health workers down the ladder don't either.

Health-care providers of all types were observed in 560 interactions with patients at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, both in the old hospital and a year later in the new hospital. Researchers also found that half of the hospital personnel washed their hands in the old hospital, and a quarter washed their hands in the new hospital, even though it had more sinks.

"There is no good explanation for this, but it does show that it's not just the number of sinks [that affects hygiene] .... There are other things, like the time it takes to wash your hands," says coauthor Dr. William Trick, an epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

If you have doubts about whether a doctor, nurse or other hospital worker has washed, Trick says, simply ask.


Large doses of vitamin D may cut fracture risk

Taking a single megadose of vitamin D three times a year lowers an elderly person's risk of breaking a bone, a British study has concluded.

Every four months for five years, about half of the 2,500 participants, all older than 65, received a fake capsule in the mail; the other half got a capsule of 100,000 IU of vitamin D3 -- about 250 times the amount in a typical multivitamin. Fifteen doses of vitamin D later, the treated group was 22% less likely than the placebo group to have had a fracture. And the likelihood of breaking one of the bones typically weakened by osteoporosis was cut by 33%.

Another study giving the same dose more often -- every three months -- is underway. For now, says lead author Dr. Kay-Tee Khaw, professor of clinical gerontology at the University of Cambridge, a daily multivitamin with calcium and 400 IU of vitamin D is unlikely to do harm and may do some good.

"If people wish to take a megadose of vitamin D ... every four months, they should consult their doctor to make sure they have no contraindications to doing so," he says. "Vitamin D can be toxic, so people certainly should not exceed the dose used in the trial. We certainly do not want people to get the impression in any way that more is better and take excessive amounts."

The study was published in the March 1 issue of the British Medical Journal.

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