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facts & arguments

Nancy Black, a personal swim trainer, demonstrates how to freestyle swim using the correct breathing techniques on April 28, 2011.JENNIFER ROBERTS

How to build a better brain

"[There is an]easy-to-achieve, scientifically proven way to make ourselves smarter," writes Gretchen Reynolds in The New York Times Magazine. "Go for a walk or a swim. For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence of the beneficial relationship between exercise and brainpower. But the newest findings make it clear that this isn't just a relationship; it is the relationship. Using sophisticated technologies to examine the workings of individual neurons – and the makeup of brain matter itself – scientists in just the past few months have discovered that exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhances cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does."

Violence harms DNA

"Children who are exposed to violence experience wear and tear to their DNA that is similar to that seen in aging, according to a new study that may help explain why they face a heightened risk of mental and physical disorders as adults," says the Los Angeles Times. "In a long-term study of 118 pairs of identical twins, researchers at Duke University found that boys and girls who had experienced violence had shorter genetic structures called telomeres than youngsters who had more peaceful upbringings. The children in the former group had been physically abused by an adult or bullied frequently, or had witnessed domestic violence between the age of five and 10. And the more types of violence a child had experienced, the faster his or her telomeres eroded, said study leader Idan Shalev, who published the findings Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychiatry."

Where ID thieves plunder

"Identity thieves are increasingly targeting dead people, according to a new warning from the firm ID Analytics," says The Huffington Post. "Personal details of nearly 2,.5 million deceased Americans are used every year to illegally apply for credit products and services, ID Analytics calculates in a study released [this month] … The morbid fraudsters typically find potential targets by perusing obituary notices or graveyards. The identities are targeted for misuse on applications for credit products and cellphone services."

Engineers at play

Students at a top U.S. university dropped a piano off the roof of their dormitory building for what has become a 40-year tradition, The Daily Telegraph reports. "About 200 people watched as the piano, a baby grand, fell six storeys from a Massachusetts Institute of Technology building, before smashing into a second piano positioned below. Onlookers then scrambled for keys, hammers, strings and splinters to keep as souvenir pieces. … Broken pianos are used in the drop, usually donated by people eager to have the unwanted instrument taken away for free. Other items are sometimes placed below for a more resounding impact, such as the second piano this year. Onlookers appeared to enjoy the spectacle. 'It's fun to see a piano hit a piano,' said Tom Moriarty, 'you don't usually see that.'"

Burglar's rookie mistake

"A Washington state burglar who was chased off by a gun-wielding homeowner called later in the day to offer a trade for items he left behind, police said," reports United Press International. "Bremerton, Wash., police said officers were called to a Pitt Avenue home around 3 a.m. and the homeowners told them they had awakened to the sound of a burglar in the house and they chased him off with a gun … Police said the burglar called the homeowners in the afternoon and offered to trade some of the items he had taken from their home for a bag he had left behind, which contained papers bearing his name. The homeowners agreed and the burglar arrived at the home to find police waiting for him."

Penguins and stress

In Britain, "penguins which had to be given antidepressants after a break-in left them stressed have made a full recovery," reports Orange News UK. "A trespasser broke into their enclosure at Scarborough's Sea Life Centre one year ago and chased the birds. Staff at the centre said the birds had been 'frightened' and needed medication … The birds have now recovered and two couples have even produced eggs which are due to hatch later this year, curators said. Lyndsey Crawford, displays curator, said 'Penguins only lay eggs when they're happy enough to do so.' … Penguins are particularly vulnerable to any change of routine, which was why the incident last year had proved so unsettling for them, she explained."

Thought du jour

"We like to give but hate to lose." – Eric Hoffer (1902-83), American writer and philosopher