Why History Channel's 'The Bible' draws boffo ratings despite reviews

Why History Channel's 'The Bible' draws boffo ratings despite reviews - Reviews of History Channel's 'The Bible' are lukewarm at best, but the Easter-season series is scoring high ratings, pointing to what some call an overlooked appetite for religious storytelling.

This is the time of year for traditional sandals-and-toga programming, but this year’s five-episode, 10-hour History Channel mini-series, “The Bible,” is a sensation.

According to Nielsen, the first two Sundays leading up to Easter drew in some 12 million viewers, making it the top-rated cable program of the night. Horizon media, meanwhile, said some 50 million viewers tuned in to at least some portion of the program over the first three weekends of its run.

At the same time, reviews have been lukewarm at best, with critics dismissing it as shallow gore. Conservative commentator Glenn Beck, meanwhile, suggested the show was taking a veiled jab at President Obama by casting a look-alike actor as the devil.

But, say religious and entertainment experts, the runaway success of the Judeo-Christian-themed show reveals an appetite for religious programming that is consistently overlooked in Hollywood.

“We often forget that Christians are still the largest special interest group in America,” says Hollywood producer and Christian media advocate Phil Cooke.

“Whenever they rally behind a movie, TV series, product, or cause, something big happens,” he adds, pointing to the now landmark message sent by Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.” Within months, he notes, “nearly every studio in Hollywood had opened a faith-based division,” hoping to capitalize on that market.

The approach to the material is key, says Mr. Cooke. While TV is chock full of religious-themed programming around Easter, such shows typically look at issues that don’t appeal to the faithful, he notes. “These shows ask questions like ‘Is Jesus real?’ or ‘Did he sleep with Mary Magdalene?’ Those are not questions that this audience wants to know.”

The show’s producers are quick to point out that they consulted a bevy of experts, some 40 in all ranging from scholars to archeologists.

But, says religious historian Stephen Cooper, a professor of religion at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., it is the very absence of such talking heads that makes this show appealing.

“This is a very broad-based program that is not trying to teach anything from a specific point of view,” he says. Often, that kind of programming, while serious-minded, ends up defeating the purpose. “They usually have scholars from different points of view arguing about the historical issues they are discussing,” he says, adding that in the end this sends an ambivalent message and it does not make good entertainment.

“This is the ‘Rome’ phenomenon,” says Lesleigh Cushing, an assistant professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., referring to the notably bloody and violent historical drama on HBO. Beyond that, she notes, “it’s the whole Bible, not just the Ten Commandments.”

Perhaps equally important, she says, “it does not seem to be morally preaching Christianity or any other point of view, it’s just telling the adventure. It’s a very masculine view of the Bible.”

This is not to say that Christians are approaching the show uncritically. Indeed, Brooklyner Carol Oliver, a deacon in her Dutch reformed church, says she was initially put off by the trailers.

“They looked really violent, with guys in pointy metal helmets yelling football type things at each other as they go to war,” she says.

Ms. Oliver reluctantly tuned in, she says, after a fellow church member told her to take a look. She copied it to her DVR and rose Monday morning to watch the program, “skipping all the commercials.”

She faults what she calls the hodge-podge of modern-appearing actors with some efforts to appear more authentically period. And she does not like the emphasis on fighting. But, she adds, now that most of the big wars of the Old Testament are over, “I’ll probably watch the rest of the show as it finishes Jesus’s story.”

Seeking to explain the broad appeal of the series to what he believes to be a largely Christian audience, Bob Waliszewski, director of the Plugged In Ministry, which reviews media for Christian advocacy group Focus on the Family, says, “This may be largely preaching to the choir, but the choir is increasingly illiterate when it comes to the Bible.” This series allows people with a sketchy grasp of the scriptures, he says, “to sit and watch it in the privacy of their homes.” ( Christian Science Monitor )

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Dachshund Pups Caught Nuzzling With a Capybara

Dachshund Pups Caught Nuzzling With a Capybara - Otherwise, how could one explain the adorable photos showing the Dachshund mix puppies being mothered by a prickly capybara known as Cheesecake?

The photos were posted to Facebook by Rocky Ridge Refuge, the Arkansas-based animal rescue group that took in the litter of eight puppies after they were left in a Tupperware container outside a church March 6.

Good Morning America/(Courtesy: Rocky Ridge Refuge) - (Courtesy: Rocky Ridge Refuge)

(Courtesy: Rocky Ridge Refuge)A litter of puppies abandoned by their owner are proving true to the old saying that love, especially motherly love, is blind.

(Courtesy: Rocky Ridge Refuge)
Four of the puppies were quickly picked up for adoption while the remaining four stayed at the refuge under the care of Janice Wolf, the

(Courtesy: Rocky Ridge Refuge)refuge's founder.

Just a few days after they arrived, March 9, Wolf left the resident capybara in her menagerie in charge of the pups.

"Saturday was warm and sunny here, so I put Cheesecake in charge of the Doxie pups for the day," she wrote on Facebook.

Capybaras, according to Arkive.org, are the largest rodents in the world and can sometimes weigh as much as an adult human, a far cry from the tiny Dachshund pups. Nonetheless, the pups can be seen in the photos nuzzling and snuggling with Cheesecake as if she were their mother. ( abcnews.com )

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The Truth About Vitamin D: How Sunshine Can Change Your Health

The Truth About Vitamin D: How Sunshine Can Change Your Health - Deficient is not a word we like to hear used to describe us. Unfortunately, that's what most of us are - in vitamin D, that is. It's estimated that three out of four Americans are D-deficient. Yet, how to get the needed vitamin - and exactly how much of it - is up for debate. That's why we scoped out the true lowdown on D.

"Although our body doesn't make vitamin D on its own, it does create the precursor to it, referred to as vitamin D2," says Jeffrey Morrison, M.D., founder of The Morrison Center in New York City. "Then, when we get ultraviolet exposure, that precursor is converted to the active form of vitamin D, which is vitamin D3."


Morrison says that low vitamin D levels can cause some autoimmune-related diseases such as fibromyalgia as well as seborrheic dermatitis. And, studies show that pregnant women who had low D put their children at risk for asthma and type-1 diabetes. Plus, low D has been linked to an increase in seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

The only way to truly know if you are D-ficient is to get a blood test. The healthy range of D, number-wise, is broad because your body's specific needs depend on a number of factors. However, if your results fall anywhere above 32, you're fine in terms from a baseline health perspective. Still, Morrison notes that he prefers to see the number hit 50 to 100, as that's the optimal range for disease prevention.

So, that brings us to the big controversy around D - namely, the sun. Because for the body to create active vitamin D3, the skin needs to come in contact with sunscreen-free UV light, and the sun's rays, are of course, a known carcinogen that has been linked to skin cancer. While some experts say that all you need (on an average day) is about 10 minutes in the sun, others say if you were to add those 10 minutes up over your lifetime, it could be enough UV light to lead to skin cancer.

Theoretically, you're probably getting enough incidental sun exposure, and that it could be enough to get enough D. But, the statistics suggest otherwise, because most of us are still low. Enter: fortified foods...right?

Unfortunately, outside of cod liver oil, there aren't that many foods that naturally contain vitamin D3. Some foods, such as orange juice and most cereals, have had D added to them. Just be sure it isn't laced with the cheaper and subpar precursor D2, which is harder for your body to convert.

Another no-brainer way to get D, which many experts say is the safest, is taking a supplement. "It can be very difficult to get ample D from sun exposure alone," says Morrison, who notes the standard recommendation on D is about 400 international units (IU). However, he normally recommends around 1000 IU daily for those who aren't at risk or have any health conditions related to low D - then it could go up to even 5000 IU. And, because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it's better absorbed by the body when taken along with a fat-based food, such as yogurt or a salad with olive oil dressing.

Bottom line: 
Go to your doctor to get a blood test to know where your levels stand. Then, ask her to recommend a daily supplement amount to be sure you get all the D you need. Finally, don't be afraid to let the sun shine in - just a little bit. ( refinery29.com )

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Israeli government sends mixed signals on peace

Israeli government sends mixed signals on peace - Ahead of the arrival of President Barack Obama on a high-profile Mideast mission, Israel's new government on Monday sent mixed messages about pursuing peace with the Palestinians.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech to parliament that his hand is outstretched in peace and that he is ready for a "historic compromise," but one of his closest allies called hopes for peace "delusional."

The conflicting signals gave a glimpse of the infighting that is likely to hinder the government if Netanyahu, who has historically been reluctant to make serious concessions to the Palestinians, decides to launch any new diplomatic initiatives.

Students of Estella's school for bakery and pastry making, work on an image depicting U.S. President Barack Obama made out of chocolate in Givat Shmuel, central Israel, Monday, March 18, 2013. Obama’s trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank will take place March 20-22, and it is the U.S. leader’s first trip to the region as president, and his first overseas trip since being reelected. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

"The rhetoric about peace is one thing and doing peace is something else. Doing peace requires deeds," Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said of the new Israeli government.

Well aware of the large gaps between the sides, Obama has been careful to lower expectations for the 48-hour visit, which begins Wednesday. The White House has already said he will not bring any bold new initiatives. He will leave the details of diplomacy to his secretary of state, John Kerry, who is expected in the region in the coming weeks.

Instead, Obama plans to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in hopes of finding some common ground. Toward that goal, the White House confirmed Monday that the president has added a third, previously unscheduled meeting with Netanyahu on Thursday, immediately after returning from talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. There are no plans for the three to meet together.

Upon taking office in 2009, Obama vowed to make Mideast peace a top priority. But talks never got off the ground, and ultimately Obama turned his attention elsewhere.

The Palestinians have refused to negotiate while Israel continues to build in settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories where they hope to establish a state. Israel captured both areas in the 1967 Mideast war.

The Palestinians say construction in the areas, now inhabited by more than 500,000 Israelis, is a sign of bad faith. The Palestinians say the pre-1967 lines should be the basis for a future border.

Early in his term, Obama persuaded Israel to impose a partial freeze on settlement construction, allowing talks to resume briefly in late 2010, toward the end of the Israeli moratorium. Netanyahu refused to extend the freeze, and negotiations collapsed weeks later. A frustrated Obama later backed off his calls for a halt in settlement building, leaving the Palestinians disillusioned.

Netanyahu says negotiations should resume without preconditions.

Since winning re-election in January, Netanyahu has pledged to make a new push for peace.

"We extend our hand in peace to the Palestinians," Netanyahu said in Monday's speech, delivered shortly before his new Cabinet was sworn into office. "With a Palestinian partner that is willing to hold negotiations in good will, Israel will be ready for a historic compromise that will end the conflict with the Palestinians once and for all."

Netanyahu gave no details. The Palestinians have suggested he again halt settlement construction or release the longest-held Palestinian prisoners Israel is holding as a goodwill gesture.

Making any significant concession would be a struggle for Netanyahu. The coalition, stitched together during nearly six weeks of negotiations following a Jan. 22 parliamentary election, is focused more on domestic issues than peacemaking. And on the Palestinian issue, his partners include moderates and hard-liners who share little common ground.

On one hand, Netanyahu has appointed Tzipi Livni, a dovish former foreign minister who has good ties with the Palestinians, to be his chief negotiator. His largest coalition partner, Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid Party, has called for an aggressive attempt to reach peace.

In contrast, the pro-settler Jewish Home Party rejects any concessions to the Palestinians, and Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu bloc itself is dominated by hard-liners. His new defense minister and housing minister, who each wield great influence over Israel's policies in the West Bank, are both sympathetic to the settlers.

Ahead of Netanyahu's speech, Avigdor Lieberman, a powerful ally of the prime minister and himself a West Bank settler, said anyone who thinks peace can be reached with the Palestinians is "delusional."

"This conflict cannot be solved. This conflict needs to be managed," he told his Yisrael Beitenu Party, an ultranationalist faction that has formed a joint parliamentary bloc with Netanyahu's Likud Party. Lieberman said he would fight any attempt to halt settlement construction.

Considering this recipe for deadlock, the Palestinians have shown no optimism over the new Israeli government.

"This is a government of political paralysis. It's also the government that has given the settlers enormous powers," said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official.

The Israeli election focused heavily on domestic issues, such as the high cost of living and calls to end a contentious system that has allowed ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students to be exempt from compulsory military service.

Addressing his party Monday, Lapid made no mention of the Palestinians, appealing to the ultra-Orthodox to work with him on draft reform.

Netanyahu said that while there is a "golden moment" to deal with domestic issues, his first concern was to protect Israel. He listed a number of security threats to Israel, including Iran's suspect nuclear program, instability in neighboring Egypt, the civil war to Israel's north in Syria and the threat of sophisticated weapons reaching the hands of violent anti-Israel groups.

Zahava Gal-On, leader of the dovish opposition party Meretz, said Jewish settlers were the "big winners" of the election.

"The next government will not make peace, will not narrow social gaps, will not concern itself with equality for all citizens of the state. The next government will continue to do much for the settlers and little for the rest of the Israeli public," she said. ( Associated Press )

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Cloning Woolly Mammoths: It's the Ecology, Stupid

Cloning Woolly Mammoths: It's the Ecology, Stupid -As an ecologist of ice age giants, I long ago came to terms with the fact that I will never look my study organisms in the eye. I will never observe black-bear-sized beavers through binoculars in their natural habitats, build experimental exclosures to test the effects of mastodons on plants, or even observe a giant ground sloth in a zoo. 

As a conservation paleoecologist, I study the natural experiments of the past--like climate change and extinction--to better understand the ecology of a warming, fragmented world. Admitedly, part of the appeal of the ice age past is the challenge of reconstructing long-disappeared landscapes from fragments like pollen, tiny fragments of charcoal, and bits of leaves preserved in lakes. 

In the absence of mammoths, for example, I rely instead on spores of fungi that once inhabited their dung. De-extinction could change that. On Friday, a group of geneticists, conservationists, journalists, and others convened in Washington, D.C. to discuss resurrecting extinct species, including the woolly mammoth. De-extinction sounds like science fiction, but it's rooted in very real conservation concerns. 
With the sequencing of the woolly mammoth genome complete and recent advancements in biotechnology, the question of whether to clone extinct species like mastodons, dodos, or the Shasta ground sloth is rapidly becoming more of a question of should, rather than how. The latter isn't straightforward, and involves the integration of a number of cutting edge disciplines, but I'd like to focus on the former: should we clone woolly mammoths? A growing problem I've had (and one which Brian Switek raises in a recent post at National Geographic) is that the de-extinction proposals are Big Ideas, but they they're often shallow when it comes to ecology. Even the concept of "de-extinction" itself is misleading.

Artist's rendering of woolly mammoths.

Skull of a Columbian mammoth at the Hot Springs Mammoth Site. Photo by Robert Geier

Successfully cloning an animal is one thing; rescuing it from the black hole-like pull of extinction is another. Decades of conservation biology research has tried to determine the careful calculus of how many individuals and how much land are needed for a species to survive without major intervention, accounting for its needs for food, habitat, and other resources. Mammoths have been extinct on continents for over ten thousand years (though dwarf versions survived into the time of the ancient Egyptians on isolated Arctic islands). 

Even so, the fossil record has yielded rich clues about ecology. All ethical considerations aside, from a conservation biology standpoint, what does it mean to be a mammoth? 

The woolly mammoth is the ice age species with the best-preserved specimens, and it was the first to have its genome sequenced (though the Neanderthals followed in 2010). As far as de-extinction efforts go, it's likely to be one of the first successful cloning efforts. However, not all mammoths were woolly tundra-dwellers; in North America, mammoth remains have been found at elevations ranging from sea level to the mountains of the Colorado Plateau, and from Canada to central Mexico. 

The largest of these, the Columbian mammoth, dwelled in savannas and grasslands like African elephants today, and the smallest--Pygmy Mammoths--lived on the isolated Channel Islands off the California coast. While knowing their habitat alone is useful in terms of identifying potential cloned mammoth reserves, we do in fact know quite a lot about what mammoths ate. 

Based on plant materials found in fossilized dung, the contents of permafrost-preserved stomachs, and isotopes in teeth enamel, we know that most mammoths were grazers, preferring grasses and herbs to woody trees and shrubs. In this way, mammoths were similar to modern African elephants, though evolutionarily they're more closely related to the forest-dwelling Asian elephants. 

Unlike horses and camels, which evolved in North America, mammoths were relatively recent comers, arriving around 1.7 million years ago via the same land bridge that the first humans would later take during the last ice age. Mammoths likely had elaborate social systems similar to modern elephants, and are thought to have lived in groups of up to twenty individuals. Woolly mammoths males had musth glands, which are important in modern elephant reproduction today. Groupings of mammoth bones at sites where multiple individuals died together show extended family structures. 

Preserved mammoth tracks show extended families walking side-by-side, as well as a decline in juveniles that indicate populations were in decline due to human hunting. Just like modern elephants today, these groups were all females, and so it's likely that mammoths were also matriarchal. Groups of females would typically stay together, and males would have been kicked out of the herd and left to fend for themselves when they reached adolescence. 

How could we possibly know this? The fossil record shows that mammoth tusks grew rings--just a like a tree, except mammoth tusks can record weeks or even days in a mammoth's life. From the width of rings and their isotopic makeup, we know that mammoth mothers nursed their young for two or three years. In teenage males, the growth rings in the tusks become suddenly narrow, indicating that the male suddenly had to fend for itself (the equivalent of going from your parents' home-cooked meals to the macaroni and cheese and ramen diets of your first apartment). 

Not all teenaged mammoths survived this dangerous period of isolation; at the Hot Springs Mammoth Site, paleontologists have uncovered a number of single, adolescent male skeletons that fell in the sinkhole and perished, one after the other through time. Broken tusks also reveal that, just like modern elephants, mammoth males fought for mates--there's even a pair of male skeletons locked in eternal combat, unable to disentangle themselves. 

Modern elephants have elaborate communication systems involving touch, sight, chemistry, and sound (including infrasonic and seismic communication across long distances). While fossils cannot recapture the sound of a mammoth's trumpet call, but we do know from modifications in their hyoid bones, tongue, and voice box that they would have been capable of low frequency communication, too. 

The mammoth steppe is just as extinct as its namesake, due to a combination of climate change and the loss of those megaherbivores that were likely "keystones," ecological engineers of their own habitats. Assuming that parts of modern Siberia or boreal Canada would do, how much land would a woolly mammoth need? The science on this is much less clear. By matching the isotopes in tooth enamel with the isotopes in soils, we know that some species of mammoths and mastodons roamed as much as 500 km a year, perhaps migrating to track their habitats. 

Calculating the carrying capacity of a mammoth herd is not trivial (trust me--I'm working on it!), and involves a careful consideration of how much forage mammoths would need to consume (modern elephants eat as much as 440 pounds a day), proximity to water (modern elephants drink around 60 gallons daily), and the complex interaction between animals, plants, and the changing climates they experienced as their populations dwindled. 

Once we know how much land a mammoth herd needs, it's another matter entirely to determine how many of those herds are necessary to maintain viable populations of woolly mammoths in the wild. Whatever that number may ultimately be, it's worth pointing out that 14,000 years ago, it only took small bands of spear-wielding humans and a backdrop of changing climates to push mammoths and other ice age megafauna over the brink. 

When we think of cloning woolly mammoths, it's easy to picture a rolling tundra landscape, the charismatic hulking beasts grazing lazily amongst arctic wildflowers. But what does cloning a woolly mammoth actually mean? What is a woolly mammoth, really? Is one lonely calf, raised in captivity and without the context of its herd and environment, really a mammoth? 

Does it matter that there are no mammoth matriarchs to nurse that calf, to inoculate it with necessary gut bacteria, to teach it how to care for itself, how to speak with other mammoths, where the ancestral migration paths are, and how to avoid sinkholes and find water? Does it matter that the permafrost is melting, and that the mammoth steppe is gone? As much as I love mammoths, the ecologist in me can't help but answer: no. These are practical considerations as much as they are as philosophical ones. 

Human activity is pushing the earth system outside of the natural range of climate variability that mammoths of all species--woolly or otherwise--would have experienced during their evolutionary history. Ironically, much of what we know about mammoth ecology comes from the newly-exposed carcasses uncovered from the melting permafrost. There are compelling ecological reasons to resurrect extinct species. Some have argued for rewilding to maintain certain habitats or to perform important functions like seed dispersal or fire suppression. As I've written previously, many plants live today as ecological anachronisms, out of context with their extinct dispersers. 

Bringing back the passengerpigeon may be an important part of saving the sand cherry (or even the American chestnut). My research on the ecological consequences of the extinctions of mammoths and other megaherbivores in North America indicates that the loss of mammoths during an interval of rapid climate change led to completely novel communities--a period of ecological upheaval that lasted for two thousand years. Work by others suggests that there may have been cascading effects to the biodiversity of small mammals. 

Modern elephants are keystone species, helping to maintain the African savanna habitat that many other species rely on. Losing species--especially ecosystem engineers, foundation species, or keystone herbivores, can lead to cascading effects that can be difficult to predict. 

The reverse is also true; adding herbivores to landscapes changes them. Are we--is society--prepared to accept those changes? I understand the impetus to resurrect the woolly mammoth--it comes from that same sense of wonder and drive for discovery that led me to be a scientist in the first place. When I watched 10,000 BC, I admit that I wept openly at the sight of CGI mammoths on the big screen. 

I would be the first person on a plane to Siberia if mammoths showed up in Pleistocene Park. Science needs icons--rallying points that capture the public interest. Cloning a woolly mammoth could be the equivalent of the moonwalk for biology, resurrecting not just an extinct species, but also rekindling a child-like sense of excitement for the natural world (though admittedly, cloning's public opinion record has tended to be more one of fear and admonition that scientists are "playing God"). 

And yet, as Hannah Waters rightfully points out, cloning extinct species may actually be more about us humans than the wildlife we care about. Arguments against de-extinction often center around what we don't know--particularly when it comes to the long-term collateral effects of our actions. 

The precautionary principle can be unsatisfying in conservation, because taken to its logical extreme it precludes action of any kind. We often don't have the luxury of waiting to determine how effective an action will be, especially as we race to save species on the brink of extinction. In the case of mammoths, however, there need be no sense of urgency. 

Perhaps the best course of action is to first demonstrate that we can effectively manage living rhinos and elephants before resurrecting their woolly counterparts in a warming, fragmented, overpopulated world. Ultimately, cloning woolly mammoths doesn't end in the lab. 

If the goal really is de-extinction and not merely the scientific equivalent of achievement unlocked!, then bringing back the mammoth means sustained effort, intensive management, and a massive commitment of conservation resources. Our track record on this is not reassuring. In the meantime, the least we can do is be guided by what we do know about woolly mammoths in their ecological context. 

Before we talk seriously about de-extinction, let's apply the lessons of the woolly mammoth to help save species in the face of pre-extinction. Images: Ice age fauna of northern Spain by Mauricio Ant?n at Wikimedia Commons; A Mammoth Skull by Robert Geier; Elephants at Amboseli national park against Mount Kilimanjaro by Amoghavarsha at Wikimedia Commons; Three elephant's curly kisses by jinterwas at Flickr. Follow Scientific American on Twitter @SciAm and @SciamBlogs. Visit ScientificAmerican.com for the latest in science, health and technology news. © 2013 ScientificAmerican.com

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Babies Swim Into Easter

Babies Swim Into Easter - Who needs a portrait with the Easter bunny when you have these tiny tots to ring in spring and Easter?

A group of babies who all learned to swim at Water Babies, the world’s leading baby swim school, were photographed underwater celebrating Easter in a unique way.

The three children – two babies and one toddler – were photographed earlier this month as part of the swim school’s regular tradition of offering parents the chance to have their babies photographed underwater each term, according to the team at Water Babies.

In this case, in celebration of the upcoming Easter holiday, on Sunday, March 31, the tots were given stuffed rabbits and bunny ears to make the photo shoot more fun.

“The photo shoot was magical,” a representative told ABCNews.com. “Jorja was even singing underwater while she cuddled her Easter bunny.”

Jorja is Jorja Lambie, the 3-year-old daughter of one of the swim instructors at Water Babies, a U.K.-based organization with branches in Ireland and Australia.

She, along with the two other children – 8-month-old Ioan Taghdissian and 6-month-old Summer Kelly – all of whom live in England, have been taking swimming lessons since they were “a few weeks old.” ( Good Morning America )

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Seven Steps to Cut Cancer Risk in Half

Seven Steps to Cut Cancer Risk in Half - It turns out that following the American Heart Association’s seven steps for heart health – dubbed Life’s Simple 7 – can also ward off cancer, according to a new study.

Following six of the steps can even cut cancer risk in half, said Laura Rasmussen-Torvik, a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. She said she and her colleagues just had a hunch that following healthy-heart guidelines would also decrease the risk of cancer.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. (Credit: Cultura/Getty Images)

And their findings confirmed that hunch. Adhering to four of the steps in Life’s Simple 7 resulted in a 33 percent cancer risk reduction, and following six or seven led to a 51 percent cancer risk reduction, according to the study, which was published today in the journal Circulation.

“We just wanted to test that hypothesis,” Rasmussen-Torvik said. “We hoped the information would provide extra motivation for the public to check out Life’s Simple 7.”

The American Heart Association developed the seven steps in 2010 with the goal of reducing heart attack and stroke deaths by 20 percent by 2020.

Rasmussen-Torvik and her fellow researchers examined two decades of data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study, looking at the health records of 13,253 patients from 1987 to 2006. They found that the more steps patients followed, the less likely they were to develop cancer.

Here are the steps in the Life Simple 7:
  1. Get active — AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.
  2. Control cholesterol — Cholesterol should be lower than 200 milligrams per deciliter.
  3. Eat better — This means foods high in whole grain, fruits, vegetables and lean protein such as fish. Limiting sodium, added sugars, trans and saturated fats is also important.
  4. Manage blood pressure — It should be less than 120/80.
  5. Lose weight — body mass index should be below 25.
  6. Reduce blood sugar — Fasting blood sugar level should be below 100, which can be achieved by avoiding soda, candy and other desserts, as well as getting exercise.
  7. Stop smoking — AHA says do “whatever it takes.”
The steps are cumulative, but quitting smoking was especially helpful, the researchers found. There’s also a considerable amount of overlap in the steps, considering that getting active and eating better — steps 1 and 3 — help with cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and blood sugar – steps 2, 4, 5, and 6.

The National Cancer Institute estimated that 12.5 million people had cancer in the United States as of Jan. 1, 2009. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 5.7 million people had heart disease.

Rasmussen-Torvik, who couldn’t say why these steps lowered cancer risk because cancer was not her area of study, said she hoped patients would be willing to follow the Simple 7 because they decrease the risk of two potentially deadly health ailments.

“Any little added encouragement for people to adopt these recommendations is great,” she said. ( abcnews.go.com)

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