Monthly Archives: May 2022

What the “Right” Vacation does for us (and why we should start taking them)

What the “Right”  Vacation does for us (and why we should start taking them)

It used to be that we booked vacations, even through travel agents.  Not stay-cations, not busman’s holidays (a British term that according to wiktionary, was first recorded in 1893 in the UK. The idea is that a busman, to go off on a holiday, would take an excursion by bus, thereby engaging in a similar activity to his work.)  The (non-refundable) plane tickets were purchased, the hotels were booked, the suitcases were packed, and unless tragedy struck, we were going!  

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans already fell short in taking paid time off (PTO) days, mainly due to the competitive nature of workplaces (often perpetuated by managers), short-staffed work environments, or the expectation to work remotely while on vacation (BBC).   Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American workaholic now has more reasons to leave PTO on the table: 

  • Plane and public transportation seem risky
  • Popular destinations have reduced availability or limitations that don’t seem fun
  • It’s harder to arrange caretaking responsibilities since the pandemic

According to a survey taken in July 2020 ( in the US), over 90% of Americans either canceled, postponed, or simply didn’t book vacations (based on feedback from 2027 people).  However, surveys (Expedia regarding 2021 and Qualtrics taken in January 2022) show that Americans have resumed taking vacations at a rate that is still less than needed, and are still working during vacations. 

Here’s why we need to step up our vacation game (Forbes):  

  • Taking time off is “integral to (employee) well-being, sustained productivity and high performance” 
  • Vacation time increases mindfulness, which means that being out of our normal routine prevents us from operating on autopilot!
  • Vacation time improves heart health by decreasing symptoms of metabolic syndrome (study).  Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes (Mayo Clinic)
  • Vacation time reduces stress, which is another boost for good health.  Another post on stress (Increasing our bodies’ resistance to mold) show that stress induces lowered immunity and cell aging, death, and deformation.
  • Vacation time increases brainpower, because our most creative ideas are generated when we are in a relaxed state of mind.
  • Vacation time improves sleep.  According to a New Zealand Air study,  people on vacation generally sleep one hour longer and continue this schedule when they return home.  

So why do we fall into the perception that taking a vacation will negatively affect us?  It requires changing our mindset.  Contrary to the perception that taking a vacation will put us at a disadvantage, consider these facts from Harvard Business Review:

  1. People who take all of their vacation time have a 6.5% higher chance of getting a promotion or a raise than people who leave 11 or more days of paid time off on the table.
  2. The right vacation increases positive thinking, which in turn can cause productivity to improve by 31%, sales to increase by 37%, and creativity and revenues can triple.  What is the “right” vacation?  It’s one where travel stress is reduced.   Here are the ways you can plan the right vacation and get those benefits:

a) plan a month in advance and prepare your coworkers for your time away

b) go outside your city (the further the better)

c) meet with a local host or other knowledgeable guide at the location, and 

d) have the travel details set before going.

  1. Your manager will perceive you as more productive, because employee happiness is perceived as productivity.
  2. Consider that you are giving yourself a pay cut every time you don’t take all of your PTO.  Why?  If you’re a salaried employee, and if paid vacation is part of your compensation package, you’re essentially taking a voluntary pay cut when you work instead of taking that vacation time. 

We at HypoAir would also add that the “right” vacation spot is one with great air quality.  If you are used to working indoors, try booking a vacation in a spot with stellar air quality, like one of these US cities with the cleanest air, or one of these international cities with the cleanest air.  Your lungs and body will thank you!  If you plan on going to a more polluted city, be sure to bring your Air Angel along to get clean air in your hotel room and car.

Be a leader!  Consider your vacation as part of your pay, as a project with payoff, and as part of your own self-care.  Even if the culture in your office is anti-vacation, act as a visionary leader: encourage your co-workers by offering a pact to support one another before, during and after vacations.  You never know; your determination to take your full vacation could change the culture.  The “right” vacations require effort, but it’s effort that is well-rewarded in better health, and happiness at work. It’s a project that really does pay off! 

Photo by Chen Mizrach on Unsplash

Why is the Sun in the news so much lately (and what does this mean for me?)

Why is the Sun in the news so much lately (and what does this mean for me?)

Sometimes with natural disasters and “acts of God” I wonder, was this happening before with the same frequency/intensity while I wasn’t paying attention, or are they really becoming worse?  Hurricanes. Winter storms. Earthquakes. and…Corona Mass Ejections (CMEs).   

This “corona” event refers to explosions that  originate in magnetically disturbed regions of the corona, the Sun's upper atmosphere (UCAR Center for Science Education).  In addition, CMEs tend to originate in or near sunspots–those darkened spots on the sun's surface which are have a high magnetic disturbance and much lower temperature than the surrounding gasses. CMEs and solar flares are similar, however CMEs may or may not occur with solar flares.  Here’s the difference between them, as explained by NASA:  “The flare is like the muzzle flash, which can be seen anywhere in the vicinity. The CME is like the cannonball, propelled forward in a single, preferential direction, this mass ejected from the barrel only affecting a targeted area. This is the CME—an immense cloud of magnetized particles hurled into space. Traveling over a million miles per hour, the hot material called plasma takes up to three days to reach Earth.“ 

We are seeing more news headlines about CMEs because we are nearing the peak of a solar cycle, which happens approximately every 11 years.  The peak this time will be the mid-2020’s.  Already CMEs are causing greater areas of northern lights, when the radiation hits gasses in the earth’s upper atmosphere, as well as satellite damage.  We’re warned that it can cause power outages and communications blackouts on earth, and there are many famous stories of solar storms that wreaked havoc on earth, including the one in 1967 that nearly caused a nuclear war when it jammed anti-missile radars. 

CMEs obviously can do a lot of damage to our technologies on earth.  Yet, most of the news headlines say that CMEs pose no threat to humans on the earth’s surface.  Why is that?

Like many other dangers we face everyday (mold, toxic chemicals from the products we use, EMF radiation), this is a case that the majority of people will not feel differently because of a peak in the solar cycle.  Those who have heart-sensitive conditions, however, may notice it. Several studies over the last few decades show that geomagnetic activity (GMA) and geomagnetic storms (GMS) do affect our physiology.  Most interestingly, a meta-study published in 2021  shows the following:

  • According to a Bulgarian study, mean arterial systolic and diastolic pressure (key blood pressure measurements) increased statistically significantly during increased GMA and decreases in CRI (cosmic ray intensity).  The same research concluded that stress and the ability to concentrate and work can be affected by GMA.

  • Cardiovascular disease is affected by space weather.  The most important and statistically significant results for myocardial infractions (heart attacks) and strokes are observed on days of geomagnetic disturbances accompanied by FDs (Forbush Decreases, which occur right after CMEs reach earth and sweep cosmic rays away from the earth). 

  • In Sofia, Bulgaria and Baku, Azerbaijan, the frequency of acute myocardial infarction increased from one day before to one day after the occurrence of geomagnetic storms of different intensities.

  • In Lithuania, the total monthly number of deaths (total, stroke, suicide, and deaths due to non-cardiovascular causes) was significantly correlated with solar and geomagnetic activity and is significantly correlated with cosmic rays.

  • An increased risk of different subtypes of stroke may be related to geomagnetic storms, very low GMA, and stronger solar flares and solar proton events.

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus disease activity may be influenced by geomagnetic disturbances, including the level of geomagnetic activity, sunspot numbers, and high proton flux events.

  • For the studies that included both sexes, women were more sensitive/impacted by GMA than men.

  • There is a point at the peak of the solar cycle when the sun’s magnetic field reverses polarity.  This event was correlated to the sign and the value of the relation of the patients’ number with the types of arrhythmias and the solar, cosmic ray, and geomagnetic parameters. 

These types of trends can only be seen when analyzing large groups of people and correcting for seasonal, demographic, diet differences, and so forth.  However, it’s not “in our heads” that cosmic rays affect us here on the earth’s surface.  They do, unfortunately for the most sensitive, have an effect.

Amazingly, almost all recorded influenza/possible pandemics have occurred in time frames corresponding to sunspot extremes, or +/- 1 year within such extremes. These periods were identified as important risk factors in both possible and confirmed influenza pandemics (2016 study).  The inference is that maximum and minimum sunspot activity (and thus geomagnetic field activity on earth) actually causes viruses to mutate and cause epidemics or pandemics.  This is a very interesting topic on its own!

Figure source: Revealing the relationship between solar activity and COVID-19 and forecasting of possible future viruses using multi-step autoregression (MSAR)

How then do we prevent negative effects of geomagnetic storms on us?  By examining the ways in which these storms can disrupt our lives, we can prepare for them, and subsequently be less stressed emotionally and physically.  Here are some points that lead to how GMS are hypothesized to affect us. 

  • Cryptochromes are …blue-light photoreceptor flavoproteins, first identified in plants in 1993 and since found in bacteria, insects, and animals. It is known that animals navigate primarily via 2 systems: permanent ferromagnetic crystals found in vertebrates’ sinuses, and/or a cryptochrome-mediated radical-pair based paramagnetic detection located in the eye (2012 study).   Similarly, humans have been found to have a weaker magnetosense involving both ferromagnetic crystals and cryptochrome genes, and experiments investigating humans’ magnetosense have been replicated.

  • The 2012 study acknowledges the two functions of cryptochrome (one is to act as a geomagnetic compass, the other is to act as a circadian oscillator), and further proposes that GMS interfere with our circadian rhythm through the cryptochrome genes, which control the hormone melatonin.  

  • Besides regulating our circadian rhythm, melatonin has an even more important function: as an antioxidant protecting cells from oxidative damage (2015 study).

  • According to this 2019 study, “cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death worldwide with several conditions being affected by oxidative stress. Increased reactive oxygen species lead to decreased nitric oxide availability and vasoconstriction, promoting arterial hypertension.”

The takeaway from this reasoning is that the most likely method geomagnetic storms cause adverse health is that they disrupt our melatonin levels, leaving our bodies more stressed not only from disruptive sleep, but also from increased oxidative stress.  Contrary to covering your home or head in aluminum foil, there are practical ways to protect your body from the effects of GMS.    Novel methods have been attempted with positive results, such as supplementing melatonin for at-risk cardiovascular patients (2007 study).  Without drugs, we can practice all the good ways of maintaining healthy melatonin levels and adequate sleep, to “beat the odds” (see our post on Maximizing your sleep).   Also, we can increase our bodies’ resistance to mold and viruses naturally (read our post here).  

The “other” stress factor of GMS: if you are reading this, chances are high that the internet and electricity play a big role in your life.  Large solar storms can knock power grids, cellular communications and internet services out, so even if you haven’t experienced a prolonged power outage in your life, it’s smart to plan for one by having essentials prepared. has some good tips about preparedness, but also be sure to visit their link at to build your emergency kit.  (Maybe you’ll want to add some melatonin and sleep masks in there!)

Obviously, solar storms and the solar cycle are not within our control, but the way we respond to them can be!

Photo by David Herron on Unsplash

Why selecting and sizing your HVAC system is critical for healthy air (and what to do when it’s not sized or balanced correctly)

Why selecting and sizing your HVAC system is critical for healthy air (and what to do when it’s not sized or balanced correctly)

A home’s HVAC system may seem like a commodity when building a new home, but it’s one of the most important selections you can make for your health.  When purchasing an existing home, it becomes apparent very quickly if the HVAC system “fits” the needs of the home!  An HVAC system needs to be (health effects are prioritized first!):

  • Sized correctly:  This means that the main equipment (compressor, evaporator and air handler) are not too large or too small for the cooling and heating needs of the home.  Having excess capacity in an HVAC system is just as bad, or worse, than having equipment that is undersized, because the units may cool, but not adequately dehumidify the space.  HVAC contractors should be able to calculate the thermal needs of your home in order to specify this equipment.
  • Balanced correctly:  Even if you are living in a large studio apartment, there can be hot or cool spots if the system is not balanced well.  This means that ducts take into account the distance and routing from the unit, and some dampers may be needed in order to direct the air flow more evenly.  In addition, more twists and turns in the ducts cause pressure drop, restricting air flow.  
  • Ventilated correctly:  Although this is not a requirement in the lists of Forbes and Consumer Reports, we at HypoAir argue that fresh air ventilation needs to be incorporated into any new or older system for healthy air quality.  Period.
  • Be efficient: Electric costs are increasing, just like costs for everything else.  With new inverter technology, it’s possible to get the same cooling and heating capacity at less cost. 
  • Maintained easily:  Will your system require custom filters that are hard to find (especially in this age of shortages) and does the installation company also offer maintenance plans?  
  • Not be the center of attention:  I’m talking about noise!  With older units, you can sometimes hear a distinguishable knock when the compressor kicks on. Maybe the “whistle” of air through vents is distracting for our ever-increasing home time. 

If you are building a home from the ground up, these are reasonable requirements for any HVAC contractor to fulfill.  You can see a range of HVAC solutions here.  What’s more difficult is transforming an older system into a healthy system!  Here are some ways to do just that, sourced from our own customers’ problems.

  • I live in a hot, humid area, and have a 2-story house that stays too hot upstairs.  In this case, pulling in humid air from the outdoors is not an option. What can I do?  

We found a really helpful video that explained it well:  how to get the right temperatures in the right parts of the house!  Basically this is a problem when you have 1 zone cooling/heating.  The part of the home where the thermostat is installed (usually downstairs, if that is where the main living space is) gets cooled to the correct temperature, but since the upstairs shares the same thermostat and heat rises, it ends up being 5 degrees or more warmer.  Here’s what you can do while keeping the existing equipment: 

  1. Insulate the attic really well, if this has not already been done.  In existing homes, blown-in insulation is an easy way to increase the insulation.
  2. Check for other leaks in your building envelope, such as windows, doors and other penetrations on exterior walls.
  3. Have an HVAC technician install a manual damper (or series of dampers) in the duct to adjust airflow.  This will route more cold air to the “zone” that is warmer, and in general is better than shutting off registers manually, which can cause too much static pressure for the air handler.   
  4. To get more fresh air into the house, we advise adding an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV).  See our post on Adding fresh air through the HVAC system.

If you have the option to replace equipment, variable-speed equipment can give you the opportunity to add a second zone while providing for better cooling and constant dehumidification, as well as energy savings (inverter technology uses variable speed compressors).

  • I live in the southwest, where it can get scorching hot during the daytime and cool(er) at night. How can I reduce my electricity bill?  

Whole-house fans are useful to cool down the house at night, but if you don’t have one, you can still use the principle of “stack ventilation”, or the way heat rises through your home, to your advantage.  If you have a basement, use it as the “ground floor” of your stack–that is where the coolest air is.  Close all exterior windows and doors except for a window in the top floor, and place a box fan in it facing out.  This will be the “exhaust”.  Next go down to the basement, and open a window or door–this is the “intake”.  Open interior doors between these two windows so that air can flow upward through the house.  Even if the air outside is warmer than the basement, it will be cooler by the time it exits the basement and makes its way through the house.  You can also turn on ceiling fans near stairwells to help move air.

Here are some other ideas for extremely warm climates (some from

  • If your basement does not have a cold air return vent, you can have one installed. This will enable your central AC to suck cool air from the basement and circulate it throughout your home.  If your basement smells musty, you’ll want to dehumidify and tackle mold issues first.  Similarly, make sure that you don’t have high radon levels coming in through the basement, so that you’re not circulating unhealthy air.
  • If your community water laws allow it, plant bushes and bushy trees around your home (but not too close to the foundation) to provide insulation all year round.
  • Install heat reflecting film on south and/or west-facing windows (check out our post on Low-E window films).
  • Make sure your attic has working ventilation.  Heat that is trapped in the attic is like wearing a wool hat in the summer–your body heat cannot be expelled through it!  It puts a strain on your HVAC system.  Ventilation can be accomplished via a passive soffit and ridge-vent system (outside air floats up through the soffit vents and pulls hot air from the attic through the ridge vent), or an active roof vent (a fan pulls out air through the roof) or through gable vents (active with a fan or passive).    
  • Lighten up the exterior:  There are a lot of white paints on the market, even ones that claim to reject more heat than others (like InsulAdd and Rainguard Cool Coat), but according to a cnet test, they perform similarly to plain white paint, which stays close to ambient temperature.  On the other hand, a brown stucco can be 25 degrees warmer than white paint, so although dark and black exteriors are trendy right now, you will pay for them if the summer heats up!    A new paint developed at Purdue University reflects 98% of sunlight (average white paint reflects 80-90%), cooling down buildings by 19 deg F (at night).  This means that the paint and building lose more heat than they absorb!  Traditional white paints are made with titanium dioxide, which heats up by absorbing UV rays of the sun.  The new paint uses barium sulfate and reflects the heat out of the earth’s atmosphere, to deep space. (

Photo by Moja Msanii on Unsplash