All posts in Wellbeing

Summer Is The Best Time For Reading

Summer has arrived in South Carolina, and between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. it’s hard to rustle up enough energy to take on the smothering heat. So don’t, unless you have to. There’s plenty exercise to be done at home.

No matter how old you are now, it’s never too late to learn. Think about it. You know you need to increase your heart rate for at least 30 minutes a day, so start you day with an early walk at 8 a.m.

You also know that you should eat well-rounded meals, so have a good breakfast after your morning walk. And you know you need at least seven hours of solid sleep, so eat supper no later than dark, and hit the sack by 10 p.m.

But do you know the best time to exercise your brain?

Most folks say the best time to read is when you go to bed, but I disagree. A good book might help you get to sleep, but that’s really not the point. Reading is supposed to stimulate your brain, not wind it down, right? So why sleep on it? An hour or so in the morning makes more sense to me. So, when your brain is energized with knowledge, you’re ready to do whatever you have on your agenda.

And remember, reading is a skill, a lot like riding a bike. Both of which take practice. Reading also strengthens your vocabulary, your comprehension and your imagination. So make reading a part of your daily routine.

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Relax, take a trip, enjoy!

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Just the thought of another South Carolina summer wears me out. It may be debatable about what is causing more and more heat year after year, but there is no doubt in my mind that climate change is real.

My husband and I are rejuvenated every summer when we take a short up I-26 to the mountains. Not only do we have fun together, traveling also is healthy — physically and spiritually. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits:

Studies show that people — especially men — are less likely to have a heart attack if they take at least one vacation per year. One nine-year study of 12,000 men found that those who took a well-planned trip were 30 percent less likely to have major heart problems.

Leaving town on a pleasant vacation is also a great way to kick the blues, and women appear to benefit most for this, studies show. There are several ways to fight depression, and travel is one of the most effective. I like to think of the mountains as one of only a few “thin places” on earth. A slow hike up a mountain obviously exercises my heart, and it is at the top where I feel closest to God.

Vacation travel reduces stress on you as well as your mate, not only during the trip, but well after you get back home. Studies of regular travelers show most are less bothered by stress hormones. (But not at airports, I might add.) Other studies show that workers who take pleasant trips have lower rates of absenteeism and burn out, plus higher productivity levels.

Travel is a learning experience, too, which is not only enjoyable but an excellent way to exercise your brain. New cultures, cuisines, sights and sounds combine to keep my memory sharp. How about you?

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Do your city a favor: Ride a bike to town

Charleston, S.C. — one of the world’s most popular cities — is a nice place to live, especially if you have good physical health.   A morning stroll along The Battery overlooking Charleston Harbor is delightful, especially during the spring and fall. You are certain to see ships entering and exiting past Fort Sumter to and from the Atlantic Ocean. The sky is typically clear with white clouds billowing in calm winds mostly from the south. The old city sparkles today — generally fit and healthy, always alive and largely well.

It’s a thriving, livable city for good reason. Its people are generally happy and healthy and work hard to keep their historic port city ship-shape, so to speak. But it could be so much better. We have too many cars and trucks constantly breaking the silence and fouling the air. We have few bicycle riders risking life and limb to share the streets, and it doesn’t have to be this way. More bike lanes and a modern, reliable system of public transportation would do wonders.

Cities — like people — must stay active to remain healthy. And fiscally speaking, Charleston appears to be doing just fine. But it’s way past time to make it easier for folks to check their cars at the door. The walking and bike lane on the “new” Ravenel Bridge on the peninsula’s east side is an obvious success, and its use is growing day after day. Having a bike lane from the West Ashley Greenway across the Ashley River is a no-brainer as well. Closing one lane of the Legare Bridge into the city makes a lot of sense to me, but even if the traffic studies prove it will do more harm than good, then why not widen the span instead? If city, state and federal government would provide the seed money, there is no doubt in my mind that the balance could be raised by walkers, bicycle riders and others in very little time. Every one of the 40,000 or more Cooper River Bridge runners would happily contribute at five dollars per year, and friends and advertisers could surely cover the balance.

Each of us needs regular physical activity to help protect ourselves from serious diseases such as obesity, heart disease, cancer, mental illness, diabetes and arthritis. Riding your bicycle regularly is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

Cycling is a low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. It’s also fun, cheap and good for the environment. Riding to work or to the shops will become routine with convenient bike lanes and parking areas. An estimated one billion Americans already ride bicycles every day — for transportation, recreation and sport.

All is takes is between two and four hours of cycling per week to achieve marked improvement in one’s general health. It’s low impact and less dangerous for strains and muscle injuries that most others forms of exercise.   Cycling uses all of the major muscle groups, and it does not require a whole lot of physical skill. Once you learn, you seldom forget. And you control the intensity.

These are the benefits, according to health experts:

— Increased cardiovascular fitness.

— Increased muscle strength and flexibility.

— Improved joint mobility.

— Decreased stress levels.

— Improved posture and coordination.

— Strengthened bones.

— Decreased body fat levels.

— Prevention or management of disease, including cancer and diabetes.

— Reduced anxiety and depression.

— Weight control.

You get none of these benefits by sitting in traffic waiting for the light to change, a broken down car to be removed from the roadway or the police, ambulance and wrecker to clear a wreck. And the cost and convenience of building bike lanes on roads and bridges are minimal compared to building superhighways to accommodate all of the cars and will only make matters worse in time.

Charleston has some excellent bicycle-advocacy organizations whose members would be happy to join forces with you to achieve the necessary goals. Go on line. Check them out. And get busy. We all could use some help.

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Spirituality and Health

 

Spirituality comes naturally, and it is typically a very healthy activity. If you have found meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in your life, you know what I’m talking about here. Spirituality is available to you through religion, music and art, nature, exercise and possession of a high sense of principle and morality.

Being a spiritual person is the ability to engage in any or all of these activities. It’s the key to health and happiness too. The mind, body and spirit are connected — and when synchronized properly, your overall wellness spikes. But like anything that’s worthwhile in your quest to get healthy and stay that way, being spiritual takes practice.

And you do not have to join a gym to find it. You can be outside or inside to practice spiritual health — anywhere that is quiet and comfortable, a place where prayer and meditation comes easily. Good spiritual health gives you a sense of wellbeing both physically and in your mind. It brings comfort and strength and will power to live you’re your life to the fullest.

How strong is your spiritual health? Do you want to strengthen it? If so, here are some ideas to consider:

— Take some time daily to practice meditation. Get comfortable and sit down in quiet, pleasant surroundings. Cross your legs like a yogi as best you can. Hold your hands palm-side up while resting your arms on your knees. Sit up straight and relax. Simply clear your mind by focusing only on your breathing initially. This should not be difficult. Every time a thought enters your mind, cut it off by returning your focus back to your breathing. Slowly take in a breath and slowly exhale.   Doing this regularly for about 20 minutes will give you a sense of inner peace, comfort, strength, love and connection.

— Do something good for others every day. Say “hello” when you pass a stranger. Hold a door for someone who needs a hand. Smile. These little things are acts of kindness, and they are very easy to do when you stop and think about it.

— Pray. Ask God to help you clear your mind of the senseless clutter that takes up valuable space in a place where goodness needs room to thrive.

— Read a good book about good people doing good things for themselves and for others.

— Learn about yoga and then give it a try.

— Sing if you can. If that’s a problem, take some lessons. It’s never too late to learn how to sing. This will surely help your breathing too.

— Exercise and eat right. Your brain works better when you do.

— Talk to your doctor about the importance of spirituality as a way to deal with stress. Good ones know how important it is for getting healthy and staying that way.

— And always be respectful of others. Practice the Golden Rule.

 

PERSONAL NOTE: Do you need help with your health? Doctors typically find out what’s wrong when you’re feeling bad, then go about treating your symptoms. They are trained to determine your problem then treat it in some way with drug prescriptions and surgery and the like. They may advise you on how to get healthy. But a doctor’s time is limited. Ultimately, it’s up to you to follow through and make healthy changes to your life.

That’s where a wellness coach comes in. A wellness coach works with you one on one, or sometimes in groups, to understand your problem and determine what’s important to you. They help you develop an action plan and provide accountability to get you started with new habits that will last a lifetime.

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Focus on a Plant-Based Diet

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Plant based diets can be very beneficial to your health. Switching to a plant-based diet does not necessarily mean you must give up meat all together. But for most people, it does mean a change in food priorities.

In other words, when planning your menu, build meals around fruits and veggies, and not meats. This simple shift will do more to ward off chronic disease, spark energy and keep you in shape more than any other diet plan. Such a plant-based diet allows for lots of fish and some lean meat, but the focus is on fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

A type 2 diabetes time bomb has already been set off in the United States, especially here in the South, and it is doing more damage than any terrorist attack thus far. The best defense for contracting diabetes? Change your diet so that the emphasis in on fresh vegetables and whole grains instead of fatty meats.

Americans especially are subject to heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States. One in three American adults have high blood pressure. The best way to protect yourself? Change your diet. Emphasize fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead of fatty meats. Fact: The higher your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, the lower your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Eating eight or more servings of fruits and veggies a day (most of us eat only 1.5 servings), cuts your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 30 percent.

A smorgasbord of recent dietary studies have shown that vegetarians consume fewer calories, and thus weigh less and have lower body mass indexes, than non-vegetarians. So why not shift your entrée priority from meat to fruits, veggies and whole grains? You will feel fuller on fewer calories, weigh less and have a lower body-mass index. Hello? Can you hear me?

Another fact: Fiber keeps you regular by aiding in digestion and preventing constipation. It also helps lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Consuming mostly plant-based meals packs your system with fiber, thus helping it run clean.

Worried about failing vision? Eat carrots, which are loaded with vitamin A. But don’t stop there. Your eyes also benefit from a plant-based diet rich in spinach, kale, squash, kiwi and grapes. The lutein and zeaxanthin pigments in these foods combat cataracts and macular degeneration.

How’s you skin? Dry and itchy? You need oil. By cutting back on saturated fats from animal products, there will be less chance of your skin pores clogging with the wrong stuff. Focusing on a plant-based diet means consuming more vitamins, pigments and phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables. Lycopene in tomatoes, for example, helps protect your skin from sun damage, and the vitamin C in sweet potatoes smoothes wrinkles by stimulating the production of collagen.

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Statins Cut ‘Bad’ Cholesterol

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You have your blood tested, your “bad” cholesterol is high and your doctor prescribes a statin to cut plaque buildup on the walls of your arteries, thus reducing the risk of angina, heart attack and stroke.  Which, of course, is good.  But should you worry about side effects of this potent drug?

Although proper diet and exercise is critical in the fight against heart disease — the nation’s leading cause of death — most health experts agree that the benefits of statins largely outweigh the risks associated with this prescription medication.  That’s why more than one in four residents of the United States have increasingly been using statin drugs since it was introduced in 1987.  It’s also interesting to note that about twice as many men than women 65 and older are currently prescribed this medicine.

Statin drugs block the action of a chemical in the liver that is necessary for making both high-and low-density cholesterol.  Even though cholesterol is necessary for normal cell and body function, very high levels of it can lead to atherosclerosis, a condition where cholesterol-containing plaques build up in arteries and block blood flow.  A high-density cholesterol level is the most common reason that a person is prescribed a statin.

Most people who take this drug do not experience side effects.  Those who do have a reaction report headaches, a feeling of pins and needles in their arms and legs, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or a rash.  Only a few experience memory loss, cataracts, liver failure and skeletal muscle damage, so it is very important for users to report ill effects to their doctors.

Meanwhile, studies indicate that statins may play a role in slowing the aging process. As we get older, our cells do not divide and multiply as quickly as they used to.  Statins delay cell deterioration, a recent study in Naples, Italy, has found.

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Get Smart with Exercise

Senior Man In Fitness Clothing Running Along Beach

Regular exercise is not only a young person’s game.  Studies show that as your age, getting a regular workout affects the brain in such a way that strengthens cognitive abilities.

How long do you exercise daily?   Do you wear a tracking device that records the number of steps you take each day?  If not, then consider buying one.  Fitbits and other brands are now available where ever sporting goods are sold.  An investment of  $100 to $150 for an easy-to-use tracker worn on your wrist is well worth the time and expense. You establish a goal — say, 10,000 steps (or about 5 miles) — and get going.  By the end of the day, your tracker tells you where you stand. But, remember, check with your doctor or health-care provider first to determine your daily goal.

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to keep your body — and especially your brain — in good working order.  New studies show that people 65 and older who stay active, don’t smoke and eat healthy have less trouble remembering things.  And the more intense your daily exercise, the more your brain works as it should.  Again, be sure to check with your health-care provider to determine your maximum limit.

“Physical activity is an attractive option to reduce the burden of cognitive impairment in public health because it is low cost and doesn’t interfere with medications,” said Clinton B. Wright, MD, MS, of the University of Miami in Miami, Fla., and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Our results suggest that moderate to intense exercise may help older people delay aging of the brain, but more research from randomized clinical trials comparing exercise programs to more sedentary activity is needed to confirm these results.”

Exercise in older people is associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occurs with aging. People who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise, according to Dr. Wright’s population-based observational study.

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“Bug Season”

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It’s always the “bug season” down at the gym, so beware!

There’s a cliché out there about staying out of hospitals because germs gather there. It’s misleading, of course, because hospitals typically take extra care to clean everything thoroughly.  But it’s also true. Most hospital executives steer clear of questions about staph infections, for instance.

Same goes for gymnasiums. There was an interesting item in Parade magazine recently by Leslie Goldman tagged “Gym Germs” that should be noted by everyone who enjoys a good workout in public facilities.

“Muscles aren’t the only things you can get at the gym,” the writer notes. “The close quarters, plus the prevalence of sweat, leaves you vulnerable to germs and infections. In fact, a University of California, Irvine, study found that staphylococcus bacteria easily survives on gym equipment and locker room benches even after being sanitized.”

These bacteria are commonly found on human skin, and can cause problems when they enter the bloodstream through cuts and blisters especially in the nose area.

Also prevalent on gym equipment including free weights and machines are traces of rhinovirus, which is responsible for common colds. This germ typically enters the body through the eyes, nose and mouth.  So practice swabbing down all gym equipment with a disinfectant before and after use.  Hand sanitizer is OK if used abundantly.

And the showers area is another place to visit with care.   Foot fungus and plantar warts just thrive in warm, moist environments.  So don’t forget to wear your flip-flops.  Gym bags and towels are also havens for nasty germs.  So bring some clean plastic bags for used towels and an anti-germ spray for your backpack.  Mold spores multiply rapidly, so don’t delay doing your cleaning once you get back home.

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Get Smart with Blueberries

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It’s the spring growing season in South Carolina.  Have you forgotten that this is the time to get your garden ready for organic delectables?  Why not try blueberries this year?  The small blue fruits that grow happily on bushes in sandy soil gives your brain the juice it needs to run smoothly year after year, according Science Daily about healthy aging.

Just about everyone likes blueberries.  You can eat them raw, in smoothies, on pancakes with yogurt or, occasionally, on homemade ice cream.  Meanwhile, blueberries have recently gained an enhanced reputation of being a “super fruit” because it has been determined that they have not only the potential to lower your risk of heart disease and cancer, but are also a help older folks stave off the onset of memory problems.

New research was presented recently at the 251st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society that certain antioxidants in blueberries help prevent the devastating effects of dementia, including the dreaded Alzheimer’s disease.

“Our new findings corroborate those of previous animal studies and preliminary human studies, adding further support to the notion that blueberries can have a real benefit in improving memory and cognitive function in some older adults,” says Robert Krikorian, Ph.D., leader of the research team. He adds that blueberries’ beneficial effects could be due to flavonoids called anthocyanins, which have been shown to improve animals’ cognition.

Currently 5.3 million people suffer from Alzheimer’s. But that number is expected to increase as the U.S. population ages. Estimates are that, by 2025, the number of Americans with this degenerative disorder could rise 40 percent to more than 7 million, and it could almost triple by 2050.

One recent study involved 47 adults aged 68 and older who had mild cognitive impairment, a risk condition for Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers gave them either freeze-dried blueberry powder, which is equivalent to a cup of berries, or a placebo powder once a day for 16 weeks.

“There was improvement in cognitive performance and brain function in those who had the blueberry powder compared with those who took the placebo,” Krikorian says. “The blueberry group demonstrated improved memory and improved access to words and concepts.

In the future, the team plans to conduct a blueberry study with people aged 50 to 65. The group will include people at risk of developing Alzheimer’s, such as those who are obese, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. This work could help the researchers determine if blueberries could help prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms.

A brief history

Blueberry farms did not exist until the 1900s. They are native to North America and grew in the wild until scientists figured out a way to plant and cultivate them. Today blueberry bushes are grown commercially or in the backyard in slightly acidic soils, and can produce for 20 years or more.

Blueberries are relatives to rhododendrons and azaleas. The bushes offer scarlet fall foliage and creamy white spring flowers. They are also resistant to most pests and plant diseases.

They come in three varieties: Highbush, lowbush and hybrid half-high. Most people plant the highbush in moist, but well-drained soils that are high in organic material.  The ph should be between 4 to 5.  Purchase bushes from a reputable nursery. Each bush should be around three years old.  Plant in early spring, and in full sun. Be sure to give each plant plenty of room to grow.  Keep them weeded and fertilize sparingly according to directions.

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Don’t Buy Supplements Without Doctor’s Approval

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Walk into a name-brand drug store and check out the colorful vitamins and minerals aisle.  Look at all the health supplements!   Need more energy? Less wrinkles? Sleep? Iron? Goat Weed?  It’s like a Yellow Brick Road. A bottle of every vitamin and mineral you’ve ever heard of and more are right there waiting for you.  All you need is red shoes for clicking and a credit card.

But there is lesson in the story of the magnanimous Wizard of Oz.  He’s a nice guy.  He’s also a fraud.  So don’t be fooled by the glitz.  Nutritional supplements are not all they’re cranked up to be.

We mentioned this subject before in this space because it is very important. The message is worth repeating.  Americans spend $11 billion annually on vitamins and minerals, and “baby boomers” are especially vulnerable to the latest fads because they are at the age where they are especially vulnerable to quick fixes regarding their health.  So get real.  If you’re feeling like something’s missing in your diet, it probably is.  But the solution will not be found in an over-the-counter pill.

Supplements cannot prevent or cure illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.  Supplements are no substitute for a good, well-rounded diet.  Consuming too many supplements on a regular basis is not healthy — especially if you are on an aspirin regime or blood-thinners.

Also understand that too much Vitamin A increases your risk of osteoporosis.  Too much Vitamin E can elevate the chances of your having a stroke.  Too much iron can raise your risk of heart problems.  Excesses of anything in pill form can build up in your body fat and become toxic.  Also try to get outside in the sunshine daily for a while.  It’s the best source of Vitamin D.

The key to proper consumption of vitamins, minerals and all the so-called natural supplements is to talk first to your doctor or dietitian about it.  Tell her what’s bothering you. Give her a list of what you typically eat each day, including fruits, vegetables, fortified cereal and low-sugar juices.  Ask her if a multivitamin is right for you, and listen carefully to her instructions.

Also, don’t be fooled by labels that proclaim a supplement is “all natural.”  This is a typical sales gimmick.  But do pay close attention to the nutritional information panel on the bottle.  The percentage of the recommended daily value (DV) of each ingredient should be no lower than 100 percent and no higher than 300 percent.

Ask you health professional about that too. She knows!

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