Exercise can improve memory, US study shows

Exercise is well-known for its health benefits – but a recent study has found it’s even more beneficial than previously thought.

The study, led by psychologists at Pitt, analyzed data from dozens of previous studies and found that older people may be able to prevent memory loss by exercising regularly.

“Everyone always asks, ‘How much should I be exercising? What’s the bare minimum to see improvement?’” said lead author Sarah Aghjayan, a clinical and biological health psychology PhD student in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. 

“From our study, it seems like exercising about three times a week for at least four months is how much you need to reap the benefits in episodic memory.”

Studies in mice have also found an association between cardiovascular exercise and improved memory, but the results of human studies on the same subject have been equivocal.

[Also read: Exercise your way to beating poverty]

Interestingly, the team found there were greater improvements in memory among those who were aged 55 to 68 years compared to those who are 69 to 85 years old — so intervening earlier through exercising is better.

The team found the greatest effects of exercise in those who hadn’t yet experienced any cognitive decline, and in studies where participants exercised consistently several times a week.

“You just need a good pair of walking shoes, and you can get out there and move your body,” added Sarah. 

Inspired to act?

There are many charities across the US that help older people maintain fitness and exercise for their health.

DONATE: Body and Soul Senior Fitness is a nonprofit helping senior adults live confident and independent lives through physical activity. Donate here

GET INVOLVED: The International Council on Active Ageing runs events and activities to support elderly people in their exercise. Learn how to get involved.



Cafe sparks cheer for young people with autism

As the mother of an 18-year-old with autism, Monica Marchi understands the importance of appropriate work experience. In her son’s case, he was keen to try catering and because she was volunteering for a community cafe, it seemed like the perfect idea.

But thinking about it more deeply, it dawned on her that this could be a fantastic opportunity for young people with autism in general – not just her son alone. 

So she spoke to the staff and volunteers at the Gardener Cafe in Brighton where she volunteered, suggesting they dedicate one day a week to training children and teenagers with autism.

They loved the idea and teamed up with a parent-led support network called mASCOT to spread the word. Together they launched mASCOT Mondays, a day when any young people with autism can visit the cafe to contribute to the usual cafe work. 

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The children enjoyed the experience thoroughly and it quickly grew in popularity. Monica tells Smiley News: “Young people get the benefit of work experience and a number of parents come and volunteer because it’s a good way for them to network.”

About five young people visit each week to help with food preparation, cleaning and serving customers.

Monica explains: “Some don’t want any contact with the public. So they are happier doing food preparation or washing up. Others don’t like the sensory feeling of cleaning and they prefer contact with customers. So we really try to accommodate for the young people’s preferences.” 

She’s seen how young people return week after week despite having no obligation to do so. They understand how this will benefit their job prospects with a young volunteer named George saying how brilliant it looks on his CV.

For parents, it’s an effective way to connect and share ideas for how best to care for their children. 

“I know having a child with a disability can be quite isolating sometimes,” Monica remarks. 

The cafe helps overcome this isolation by hosting mASCOT coffee mornings when parents get a chance to catch up in the morning before the cafe opens to the public.

Additionally, the Gardener tackles food waste by redirecting surplus supermarket food away from going to landfill sites. 

Founded by nationwide food waste project The Real Junk Food Project, it provides food and drinks to disadvantaged people on a pay-as-you-feel basis. 

These more inclusive prices open the space up to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to eat out. In doing so, the cafe helps tackle the issue of loneliness in the local community. 

“We have lots of returning customers, quite a few of whom are not only homeless but also socially isolated. For them this place has become almost like their second home,” Monica explains.

MASCOT Monday runs from 11am to 3pm every Monday. Find the Gardener Cafe at 50 Gardner Street, Brighton.

Inspired to act?

DONATE: To overcome the challenges of food waste and social isolation, donate to The Real Junk Food Project.

SUPPORT: Help tackle food waste in Brighton and keep the Gardener Cafe running by volunteering for The Real Junk Food Project.



Bridgerton star challenges plastic pollution

Georgian era scandals have been the main focus for actor Phoebe Dynevor in her lead role in the period drama, Bridgerton. But in real life, finding an eligible husband is the least of her worries.

As the new face of eco-friendly haircare brand weDo/, Phoebe hopes to challenge plastic pollution and build awareness of how others can drive positive change. 

“I do believe actions define you as a person,” she says. “And that’s true whether you’re onscreen or off-camera. Slogans, statements, scripts are not always enough.”

“Acts of kindness, compassion, perseverance, willingness – they’re what matters,” she adds.

[Read more Smiley News here]

She has great faith in the newly-formed brand, which prevents eight plastic bottles from entering the ocean for every single product sold. 

In partnership with the charity Plastic Bank, weDo/ has already helped remove over 10 million bottles. They attempt to minimise packaging themselves, selling plastic-free shampoo bars. 

The company’s other products include vegan bottled products that are 100% recyclable and free of harmful chemicals such as silicones and sulphates.

Aware of her power as a celebrity, Phoebe lept at the opportunity to work with this eco-ethical company to change our everyday routines for the better.

She explains: “In the world we are living in today, there is pressure to look good and do good and we are all searching for ways we can help the planet simply just by changing our daily routines, products or habits.”

Greatly appreciative of Pheobe’s support, weDo/ co-founder Cecile Jolly adds: “[Pheobe]’s an authentic advocate for positive change who’s using her influence for good. Her passion for what we’re trying to do here has been genuinely inspiring for us.”

This isn’t Pheobe’s first effort to support an important cause. In addition to her work for weDo/, Phoebe is an ambassador for Action Aid UK, for whom she spreads awareness of their mission to support deprived women and girls.

Inspired to act?

DONATE: To help teams of collectors clean up ocean plastic waste, donate to Plastic Bank.

SUPPORT: Help build the campaign to tackle plastic pollution by getting involved with Plastic Bank.


Culture Planet

Harnessing weather power into energy

A nonprofit is hoping to reduce the risks of extreme weather across the country by alerting people early to the problem, and then converting the power into usable energy. 

Forest fires raging, lightning strikes causing $5 to $6 billion in damage each year, according to Project First Light. Hurricanes are growing in power, inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars in losses. 

Project First Light is a peace and conflict resolution strategy focused on developing key pieces of technology that alarms public of environmental hazards and redirects global warming effects to power progress. It is part of the nonprofit Americas Green Corps, which building networks and clean rapid-charge batteries that absorb astro-geo-energy and shield our land, air, and sea.

So, what is the project all about?

“We are transforming our foundation of infrastructure to shield, capture, store, and transmit astro-geo-energy to ensure the success of longterm water, power, transportation, and agricultural master plans,” they said.

“In the first ten minutes of a hurricane making landfall it releases more energy than all the nuclear weapons on the planet combined. Storage of high energy discharges are the key to rapid-charge batteries and the major obstacle for electric vehicle mass production.”

The project’s Green Lighthouse idea is a proposal of transforming an oil platform into a “Green Lighthouse” National monument – dedicated to the protectors who served on the front line. 

The idea was conceptualized by Ryan Davis, creative director of Americas Green Corps, as a way of converting the abandoned oil platform into a useful monument.

“California committed to 100% renewable energy, so it’s quite an interesting narrative to turn an oil platform over into a wind, solar and sea-powered lighthouse,” Ryan told Daily Nexus.

The lighthouse will be powered by a wind-power generator – it will become a habitat for sea life, a wave breaker for the community, and a wind and wave energy collector. 

Inspired to act?

DONATE: Support Americas Green Corps, the nonprofit making this happen.

GET INVOLVED: Learn more about the Project First Light and the phases in which it will happen. 



The Refugee Cafe uniting people through food

When arriving in the UK, refugees face many barriers to work, including a lack of language skills and social networks – especially so in big cities like London, which can feel overwhelming. 

The unemployment rate is four times higher for refugees than the national average, and employment is their first priority for integration. 

So, to bridge the divide between refugees, asylum seekers and the community as a whole, the London borough of Lewisham founded a Refugee Cafe in 2019. 

It aims to provide a path to employment and friendship, by helping refugees and those granted asylum in London to build safe, happy and productive lives. Lewisham is also offering a home to 100 families who have gained asylum by 2022. 

(Read more about how Banksy is helping refugees with a collaboration)

Inside the Refugee Cafe

A team of local chefs, all granted asylum in Lewisham, work to cook up a storm, with food from their home countries to sell at various outlets.

Some of the offerings for sale include Persian carrot jam, Ecuadorian chimichurri and Syrian chilli paste. At the same time, they’re gaining hospitality training, and coaching towards their employment or enterprise goals.

The Refugee Cafe plans to open an eating and meeting place for locals and newcomers to unite, and learn from each other over food and drinks – a “perfect recipe for community and contribution”. 

And, on the 18 March, it’s hosting its first community dinner of the year, with lovely traditional Syrian food and entertainment. 

(Read more about how Give Your Best empowers refugees in need of clothes)

Viggo is a volunteer, who has helped the trading team since 2021. “Meeting other volunteers as well as shoppers has been a hugely enjoyable experience,” he said.

“The city can be a tough place for newcomers, which was one of my initial motivations to step forward to join the volunteer team.

“I very much look forward to the permanent cafe being launched.”

The Refugee Cafe has also been selected for the Co-op Local Community Fund, so if you’re a Co-op member, you can select them as your local cause. For £1, you can get a membership with the Co-op and raise funds when you shop, to help local refugees work. 

Inspired to act?

BOOK TICKETS: You can book tickets for the three-course traditional Syrian meal.

BUY FOOD AND SUPPORT: find out more about the Refugee Cafe’s work, and where to buy their products, on their website.


The woman saving lives at sea

One woman has vowed to try to educate young people about the dangers associated with water, so that thousands of lives can be saved. 

When Christopher Turnbull tragically died at Cyfyng Falls near Capel Curig, Gwynedd, in August 2006, his mother Debbie launched River and Sea Sense (RASS) – an organisation which tries to educate youngsters about water safety.

According to recent statistics, every year the main age for drowning is between 14 and 17 years old – and the majority of those at risk are boys. 

Alcohol plays a significant part, as does peer pressure – but in some cases the people who drown had no intention of going in the water. This is why better education is needed.

(Read more about how St John’s hospital was recognised in the HSJ Patient Safety awards)

Since losing her son, Debbie has educated more than 500,000 young people across North Wales, and the UK. “Last year 49 people drowned in the space of 14 days in July, as a result of more staycations due to Covid-19,” she said. 

“Telling my story from tragedy, to surviving and thriving helps others in many ways, and educates on water safety, too.” 

Debbie started off visiting schools, and spoke at her son’s school Erias Park, in Colwyn Bay, a month after she lost Chris. “I wanted to show people what it was like to lose a son to this terrible tragedy, and how I felt so helpless,” she said.

From this, the school raised more than £16,000, of which they bought a lifesaving raft and 6 dry rescue suits for the Ogwen Valley Rescue Team, who amongst 70 others searched for her son’s body. “The more I spoke at schools, the more money I raised,” she said. 

(Read more about this 60 year old swimming in 60 wild lakes in memory of his mum)

“From the beginning I wanted to create a legacy which would leave a memorable impact on both young people and adults in making them more aware of their own and others safety,” added Debbie. 

RASS provides workshops, assemblies, presentations and public speaking at events and conferences – and since Christopher’s death there have been huge innovations regarding water safety and education. For example, the All Wales Drowning Prevention Strategy was developed and launched in December 2020. 

Inspired to act?

SUPPORT: You can find out more about River and Sea sense, and support their work, on their website.

DONATE: CAPT is a charity that works to prevent accidents in children and young people. Support their work online



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Culture Equality

Helping people with chronic illness excel

Did you know that according to Public Health England, 1 in 3 people of working age in England have at least one health condition? And it’s thought that by 2030, 40% will have at least one long term health condition.

Everyone has the fundamental right to either work as an employee – or even run their own business, if they want to – regardless of their health status. This is why an organisation called Excel Against the Odds was set up to help people with chronic illness navigate the workplace. It has a mentoring scheme, free Facebook community and membership to help. 

Founder Sarah Berthon has a number of health conditions, including Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, POTS Syndrome, ME, IBS and chronic migraines. “I found that running a business was not as compatible with having a chronic illness as I had thought,” she tells Smiley News.

“All the advice that I was reading was telling me what I should be doing and the hours that I should be working and it had a negative effect on my health.”

(Read more about these five habits of positive people in the workplace)

Sarah continues: “I started to work on developing techniques and strategies that I could put in place to help me run a successful business which worked well with my health. It also felt quite lonely running a business with a chronic illness, so I decided to set up a free community for other people in a similar position where I could share the advice that I had developed.”

This community – Excel against the Odds – developed into a supportive space where the members feel safe to chat about the issues they were facing and everyone offered support.

Since then, Sarah has launched the Excel against the Odds podcast, sharing tips, advice and inspirational stories about running a business while looking after your health.

“I now offer one-to-one mentoring and a membership providing workshops on how to work in a way that works well with your health,” she says. 

(Read more about giving back to key workers in retail)

As a result of the pandemic, Sarah hopes there will be greater awareness and more research carried out for certain chronic illnesses. In the meantime, employers should create a culture of trust and acceptance, where employee wellbeing is taken seriously. 

“Many people keep their conditions a secret as they don’t want it to be perceived as a weakness, yet if they felt that they would be supported, they are much more likely to ask for the help that they need, which would improve their wellbeing, their work and enable them to stay in employment”, she says.

“It’s wonderful to see the positive effects that working with your health and energy levels can have on your working life”, she adds. 

Inspired to act?

GET INVOLVED: You can find out more about Excel Against the Odds on their website.

DONATE: Donate to CISFA, a chronic illness charity providing support. 



The uplifting power of the arts

In 2014, Adam Tulloch had a vision. 

Having seen firsthand how beneficial the arts can be in creating a positive impact on people’s lives, he wanted to focus his energy on giving back. 

The result? An award-winning charity that uses arts to transform the lives of children and young people: Total Insight Theatre. Their mission is to increase the number of children and young people benefitting from the arts – especially those experiencing disadvantages in any way.

Ella Schwarz, head of participation and development at the charity, tells Smiley News that the charity started in a small classroom in Crystal Palace engaging young people in after-school activities – giving them somewhere to go and something creative to do. Since then, the programme has grown “quite remarkably” – having engaged more than 18,000 children and young people across the Midlands, West Yorkshire, London and the South East. 

“We work in areas of high deprivation,” she says, “and focus our services to make sure we concentrate our work in areas where we think most children would benefit.”

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For the charity, “disadvantage” means socially and economically. “We recognise even where an area might appear affluent, there are pockets of deprivation,” says Ella, “so we try and address those as well.”

The basis of their work is their Creative Hubs programmes, which have the sole purpose of giving children and young people something to do at times when they’re not busy with school. This can be anything from dance, musical theatre, or singing, for example. 

One of these programmes is called The Nest, a free online creative scheme for ages 18-25 that “highlights different pathways into the arts, and helps you find your voice, own your story and embark on your own creative path”. Of course, all the charity’s services are free or charge and their after-school programmes are heavily subsidised. 

“We also do film and awareness campaigns,” adds Ella. “We’ve done a lot of work around crime prevention, with resources that bring home the impact of knife crime with theatre, film and workshops. The aim is to get young people thinking about the impact of their decisions and perhaps make them think in the future about making positive choices for themselves – so they don’t get stuck in cycles of crime.”

The charity supports local youth centres, too, as well as schools and pupil referral units. They work with young refugees and children exposed to crime to add and complement the use of arts for a positive impact. 

The inspiring impact on young people

As for many charities, Total Insight Theatre was hit hard by the pandemic. “When lockdown came in, we had to close,” says Ella. “We had to create a whole new operating model to continue providing opportunities. We pivoted online and go so much rewarding feedback.”

One young person, who took part in one of the charity’s online creative hub programmes, said she had been suffering with anxiety since being diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome – she said the programme was incredible and still to this day she uses techniques she learned to manage everyday life.

Another young person who took part in The Nest managed to get offered training placements from two big companies – she said she’d never been able to do as well as she did in those job interviews without the charity’s support.

“It’s those kind of stories that make a difference,” says Ella. 

Inspired to act?

STAY UPDATED: Follow Total Insight Theatre on social media – they post projects they’re starting and share details about everything going on. 

VOLUNTEER: The charity has volunteering opportunities, as well as paid ones, available on its website. 

DONATE: Help Total Insight Theatre continue their mission by donating

Photo credit: Erica Dezonne

Planet Wellbeing

A ‘Million More Trees’ in New York City?

The green spaces in New York city are important for recreation and leisure, but also crucial in helping our country tackle climate change. 

So it’s encouraging that five of the city’s borough presidents have joined forces to give the mayor a new idea to go even further: plant one million more trees in the next 10 years. 

They also called on the mayor to honor a pledge he made to allocate 1% of the city’s budget to funding the Parks Department. “It seems like trees are universally liked,” said Antonio Reynoso, one of the borough presidents. 

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It’s been reported that planting one million trees would increase the canopy of the city to 30% – right now, it sits at around 22%.

The “Million More Trees” project isn’t new – in 2015, one million trees were planted on streets and parks across all five boroughs. At the time, they encouraged people to plant trees on their own, or attend volunteer tree planting events. Others were given the option to adopt a tree or attend events about the benefits of them.

Overall, New York has around seven million trees. They absorb carbon dioxide, as well as providing shade for the public in the summer – this is advantageous for the city, as they lose “hundreds” of residents a year due to extreme heat. 

An average of 10 New Yorkers die of heat stress and approximately 100 die due to chronic conditions that have been worsened by the heat on extreme heat event days. 

If the pledge goes ahead, Million More Trees hopes to finish the planting by 2035.

Inspired to act?

GET INVOLVED: Want to find out how the last Million Trees initiative went down? Learn more at

VOLUNTEER: One Tree Planted is a nonprofit in the US that is deidcated to supporting tree growth. Find out more

DONATE: Join Team Trees and donate as little as $1 to help them on their mission.