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Hey, I am a med student who likes to write. Each week I provide a handful of tips that will help you in your quest to become healthier.

How to Declutter Your Home

Written: 03/31/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

Most of us clean our homes regularly, but when was the last time you cleaned out your home's clutter? Clutter can be anything from stacks of mail taking over your kitchen table to too many toiletries under your bathroom sink.

Clutter takes the form of leftover Christmas wrapping paper and bows that you're saving for next year to those coffee mugs your friends brought you from their trip to Disney World, which you just can't get rid of.

While most of us revel in the clutter-free spaces that exist in nice hotel rooms, model homes and pictures in magazines, our own homes are typically far from serene -- and our peace of mind is paying for it!

Clutter Equals Stagnant Energy

One of the basic tenants of feng shui, which is an ancient art of creating a harmonious environment in your home using space, placement of objects, color and more to keep vital energy aligned, is that clutter represents stagnant energy.

In order for energy, or chi, to flow -- and therefore for your home to feel peaceful, support your mental and emotional well-being and provide a sanctuary for you to reside in -- the clutter must be cleared.

We feel this inherently upon walking into a cluttered room or looking at a cluttered counter. It is visually distracting to start, then mentally distracting as you feel overwhelmed and think of all the things you need to get done, and all the while brings up feelings of anxiety and tension.

Just as clutter keeps energy stagnant, it can also keep other areas of your life from growing. Do you avoid having friends over because your home is not in order? Have you put off planning a vacation or starting a new business because your life feels too out of control? Does a lack of organization make daily tasks, like paying bills or putting away groceries, seem like insurmountable feats?

Or does the clutter in your home leave you feeling tired? Overwhelmed? Irritable?

If so, clutter may be controlling your life.

Clutter Leads to More Clutter

The thing about clutter is it can easily spiral out of control. It starts with just one thing out of place, say a bill you've been meaning to pay left out on the counter. Soon, that one bill turns into a mountain of clutter: your kids' school books, a hairbrush, a two-day-old newspaper, etc.

You may then very well take that pile of clutter and move it into an even larger cluttered area, like a closet, a basement or an extra room devoted just to things you don't know where to put.

Material clutter will inevitably also lead to mental clutter. You may find you have thoughts running through your head constantly, too many tasks to fit into a day, too many e-mails to answer, and soon become way over-stressed.

With too much stress, and no peaceful retreat of a clutter-free home, you can easily be on your way to a myriad of stress-related illnesses and chronic disease. So clearing clutter is not just a matter of personal preference, it's a matter of health and sanity!

How to De-Clutter Your Home

Most of us dream of, and aspire to have, a clean, clutter-free home. This dream no longer has to be out of your reach, as clearing clutter and freeing the energy in your home is something that anyone can do using these 10 tips.

  1. Start small -- a kitchen drawer, a countertop, a front entrance or a bathroom vanity -- to keep from feeling overwhelmed.

  2. Make a decision about every item you pick up. Either it stays where it is, gets put away someplace else, is given to charity or gets tossed.

  3. Use organizational tools, like file drawers, to give you appropriate places to put things. But, don't buy them until you've cleared the clutter. Buy containers, folders, furniture, etc. based only on what is left (example: if you have three piles of tax papers you need to keep, invest in a file drawer where they can be stored safely, in order and out of sight).

  4. Adopt this rule: Before you bring something new into the house, you must get rid of something old. Buy a new coat? Give the purple one in the back of your closet that you haven't worn in 10 years to charity. New dishware? Time to purge the cabinets of the set you no longer use.

  5. Get help. Enlist your kids, your friends, your spouse and anyone else who's willing to tackle a cluttered room. Explain the goal to your family so they will help ensure the home remains clutter-free.

  6. Buy less stuff. Part of what brings on clutter is simply trying to fit too many things into your home. If you don't really need it, or really, really love it, leave it at the store.

  7. Learn to let go. Clearing clutter means saying goodbye to items that aren't necessary. Do you have three sets of barbecue tools and only grill out twice a summer? Give two away. Holding on to your child's stuffed animal collection, even though he just turned 22? You know what to do.

  8. Look for, and clear out, clutter where you wouldn't expect it, such as old books, items from past relationships, makeup you've had too long, worn-out clothing, and magazines you don't really need.

  9. If all else fails (or if you don't want to do it yourself) hire a professional. Pro organizers are out there and will come into your home to clear out clutter. They charge anywhere from $40-$80 per hour.

- Ryan

Feng Shui Tips for Clutter Control
ABC 7 Online: Turn Your Home Into a Sanctuary
40 Places to Look for Clutter Now

6 Major Causes of Dry Hair

Written: 03/27/2008 | Join the discussion (1)

Dry hair lacks the oil and moisture it needs to give it sheen and a soft texture. As a result, hair that's dry will be brittle and dull and have a straw-like texture. Most of us will get dry hair at one point or another--either due to over-processing or exposing it to sun, wind and chlorinated swimming pools.

Dry hair that comes and goes from these external causes is an annoyance. Chronic dry hair that comes from an internal source, however, can be a sign of an underlying health problem. That's why, if your hair is dry, it's important to take a look through these six top causes and try to pinpoint yours. If conditioning treatments do not improve your hair's moisture level, it may be time to contact a health care provider.

  1. Excessive Washing and Blow-Drying, Harsh Detergents

    Washing your hair too often, especially with a harsh shampoo, is a surefire way to strip moisture away. Heat from blow dryers, curling irons and electric curlers will also contribute to dryness.

    "It's in vogue these days to shampoo every day, but shampooing doesn't only wash away dirt, it washes out the hair's protective oils," says Thomas Goodman, Jr., M.D., a dermatologist from Memphis, Tennessee, and assistant professor at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences.

    If your hair is dry, try washing it just two or three times a week using a mild shampoo and a quality conditioner which uses vegetable proteins to reconstruct extremely dry and damaged hair.

    Like home remedies? "Mayonnaise makes an excellent conditioner," says Steven Docherty, senior art director at New York City's Vidal Sassoon Salon. Leave it on for five minutes to an hour before washing out.

  2. Environmental Dryness

    The climate you live in can also dry out your hair. Areas with lots of sun, dry heat and little humidity, for instance, will definitely make your hair drier than tropical, humid locales. Likewise, if you're an outdoorsy person who likes to spend time in the sun, wind, ocean or pool, your hair also risks being dry. You can cut down on the damage to your hair from the elements by wearing a hat while outdoors and always using a swim cap when swimming in chlorinated water.

  3. Anorexia

    Because people with anorexia engage in self-starving to stay dangerously thin, their bodies are denied the nutrients they need to function. This includes the nutrients necessary to maintain luster, shine and softness in their hair. Dry hair (along with dry skin and hair loss) is a common side effect of anorexia, and one that may manifest early on.

  4. Malnutrition

    Similar to anorexia, a person who is malnourished does not take in the nutrients necessary for the body to maintain healthy hair. As a result, the hair becomes dry, brittle and damaged. In particular, dry hair can be a sign that your diet is lacking in omega-3 essential fatty acids, which can be found in salmon and fish oil, walnuts and flax seeds.

  5. Hypothyroidism

    This is a condition in which the body produces too little of the thyroid hormone. Dry, brittle and thin hair is an early symptom of hypothyroidism, along with weakness, fatigue, depression and joint or muscle pain. If left untreated, the condition causes the body to slow its functions, leading to mental and physical sluggishness and other symptoms that can range from mild to severe.

  6. Hypoparathyroidism

    Hypoparthyroidism is having too little parathyroid hormone, which causes blood levels of calcium to fall and phosphorus to rise. This can lead to dry hair, scaly skin, cataracts, muscles cramps and spasms, seizures and more. The most common cause of hypoparathyroidism is injury to the parathyroid glands during head and neck surgery.

- Ryan


Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia

The Doctor's Book of Home Remedies: Dry Hair

The World's Healthiest Foods

Getting Hooked on Tanning: Health Benefits and Risks of Tanning Beds

Written: 03/25/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

Tanning in the United States is a $2-billion industry, bringing in more than 1 million indoor tanners every day. What has caTanners, as it turns out, may be going to the tanning salon for more than just a bronze glow. Tanning beds, along with their potential risks, also offer some health benefits -- and they may also produce a drug-like high.

Getting Hooked on Tanning

It's possible to get "hooked" on tanning much like it is possible to get hooked on a drug, researchers say. A new study has lent credence to a 2004 study, which found that when tanners used two tanning beds (one with real ultraviolet (UV) light and one without), they felt happier after the UV light.

"A more relaxed and less tense mood was reported after UV exposure compared to after non-UV exposure," said Dr. Steven Feldman, a dermatologist at Wake Forest University. "We believe these relaxing and reinforcing effects contribute to tanning behavior and may help explain why people choose to tan despite the risks."

The new study, conducted by Dr. Mandeep Kaur of Wake Forest University (who was also involved in the 2004 study), compared eight frequent tanners (who went tanning eight to 15 times a month) with infrequent tanners (tanning once a month or less).

Half of each group was given opiate-blocking drugs, which blocked endorphins (the "feel-good" brain chemicals) from producing their pleasurable effects. The frequent tanners said they got less enjoyment when taking the drugs, which suggests the pleasant feeling played a role in their desire to tan.

Interestingly, half the frequent tanners also experienced withdrawal-type symptoms, including nausea and jitteriness, when the pleasant feeling was blocked.

Dr. Feldman explained: "Frequent tanning may be driven in part by a mild dependence on opioids, most likely endorphins. The nausea and jitteriness ... are consistent with symptoms of mild opiate withdrawal."

The Health Benefits of Tanning

Relaxation and better mood aside, tanning does offer some other health benefits that are often overlooked by the mainstream public (but not by frequent tanners, it turns out).

Most notably, tanning gives the body a chance to produce vitamin D, a nutrient that has come out as a major player in fighting everything from cancer to heart disease to depression, and which many Americans may not be getting enough of.

"Instead of tanning just for cosmetic reasons, an increasing number of regular tanning bed users have learned that regular, responsible and moderate exposure to UV light -- from natural or artificial sources -- is important to well-being, natural vitamin D production and disease prevention," said tanning technology researcher Michael Stepp, who is CEO of Wolff System Technology (a manufacturer of sunlamps for tanning beds).

In circumstances when a person is unable to get out into natural sunlight, either because of climate or a disability, some experts say tanning beds may offer a suitable solution to getting adequate amounts of vitamin D.

According to a Wolff study, which surveyed 300 men and women who use commercial indoor tanning beds, "Nearly 55 percent believe indoor tanning is a responsible way to protect the skin from overexposure by the sun. These regular tanners recognize that there is a growing body of validated medical research pointing to the benefits of UV-generated Vitamin D -- as well as the serious medical and health risks of chronic sun-deprivation vitamin D deficiencies."

Tanning Poses Risks, Too

Before heading out to one of the nation's nearly 20,000 tanning salons, you should be aware that tanning does pose some risks.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exposure to UV light, either from the sun or a tanning bed, is a risk factor for skin cancer. Short-wavelength UVB light has been found to be carcinogenic in animals, and longer wavelength UVA, which penetrates the skin more deeply and is used in tanning beds, may also contribute to cancer.

Further, a study in Norway and Sweden found that women who regularly used tanning beds had a greater risk of malignant melanoma.

Tanning, either from tanning beds or the sun, can also damage the skin structurally. In the short-term, this can lead to burning, fragility and scarring. In the long-term, overexposure to UV can result in photoageing, which occurs when collagen in the skin is broken down by UV. The end result is wrinkling and a loss of elasticity.

Eye problems, including cataracts, pterygium (a white-colored growth over the cornea) and inflammation of the eye can also occur from UV exposure. Excessive exposure may also suppress the immune system, potentially leaving a person at risk from infectious diseases.

Avid tanners will defend the benefits of tanning just as intensely as opponents will refute them. As the debate over tanning ... and its stronghold over many Americans ... continues, it's up to you to make your own final informed decision about this activity.

- Ryan


You Can Get Hooked on Tanning Because it Gets You High

Frequent Tanners May be Lured by the "Feel-Good" Effects of UV Light

Research Study Profiles Indoor Tanners

WHO: Sunbeds, Tanning and UV Exposure

Indoor Tanning Dangers

8 Essential Nutrients to Help Prevent Breast Cancer

Written: 03/20/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, accounting for one in three of all women cancer cases diagnosed. In 2005 alone, more than 211,000 women will be diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Cancer Society, along with nearly 1,700 men.

It's estimated that over 40,000 women will die of breast cancer this year, surpassed only by lung cancer deaths. Another 460 men will also die from the disease.

While age (over 65) and family history are unchangeable factors associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, there are other factors you can control. Lifestyle factors, including drinking two or more drinks a day and not exercising, along with being obese, all increase the risk. Along these lines, eating a healthy diet that includes the foods and nutrients noted below may help to reduce your risk and prevent you from becoming one of the one in seven U.S. women (or smaller number of U.S. men) who has, or will develop, breast cancer during her lifetime.

  1. Vitamin D3

    This vitamin helps control cellular growth and inhibit the growth of cancer cells. According to holistic healing and natural health author Donald R. Yance Jr., "Vitamin D3 may also inhibit the activity of hormones such as estrogen in breast cancer, thereby decreasing its spread."

    A University of Birmingham study also found that vitamin D3 encourages healthy breast cell growth while making cells more resistant to toxins.

    One way to get vitamin D3 is through sun exposure--one study found that safely exposing your skin to the sun reduced the risk of breast cancer by 30 to 40 percent. If that is not possible, you can get vitamin D3 in the foods below.

    Found in These Foods: Salmon, tuna, cod fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks, shrimp and some wild mushrooms

  2. Monoterpenes

    These substances, found in citrus fruits, appear to help sweep carcinogens out of the body while helping to inhibit the spread of breast cancer cells. In a study published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, the authors wrote, ""These compounds have been shown to exert chemopreventive and chemotherapeutic activities in mammary tumor [cells] and represent a new class of breast cancer therapeutic agents."

    Found in These Foods: Citrus fruits, including grapefruits, oranges and tangerines

  3. Indole-3-carbinol

    This is a phytochemcial that belongs to the glucosinolate family. It's formed when certain vegetables are crushed or cooked. Research has found that it deactivates an estrogen metabolite that promotes tumor growth, particularly in breast cells. It's also been found to keep cancer cells from spreading to other parts of the body.

    Found in These Foods: Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, kale, bok choy, arugula, horseradish, radishes, watercress, daikon, kohlrabi, mustard greens and rutabaga

  4. Calcium d-glucarate

    This substance has been found to inhibit beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that, when elevated, is associated with an increased risk of cancer, particularly hormone-dependent varieties like breast, prostate and colon cancers. Studies in rats have shown that this substance reduces breast cancer by as much as 70 percent. It also has detoxifying properties that may help the body excrete potentially toxic compounds.

    Found in These Foods: Oranges, apples, grapefruits and cruciferous vegetables

  5. Lignan

    This phytoestrogen inhibits estrogen production, which may stop the growth of breast cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic.

    Found in These Foods: Flaxseed, pumpkin, sunflower and poppy seeds, whole grains (rye, oats, barley), fruits (especially berries) and vegetables

  6. Epigallocatechin-3 gallate (EGCG)

    This phytochemical has been found to strongly inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells while leaving normal cells alone. A study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that Asian-American women who drank about three ounces of green tea (which contains EGCG) a day had a 47 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who did not drink green tea, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

    Further, a meta-analysis in the June 2005 issue of Integrative Cancer Therapies found that evidence to date suggests drinking five or more cups of green tea a day shows a non-statistically significant trend toward preventing breast cancer.

    Found in These Foods: Green tea and green tea extract

  7. Lycopene

    This antioxidant is a member of the carotenoid family. Studies have found that consuming lycopene is associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer. In one study in rats, those given lycopene-enriched tomato developed fewer tumors and had smaller tumor volume than the control rats. Lycopene also attacks free radicals in the body that may trigger cancer.

    Found in These Foods: Tomatoes (particularly cooked varieties such as tomato sauces, paste and ketchup), watermelons, carrots, red peppers, apricots, papaya, pink grapefruit and guava

  8. Oleic Acid

    A Northwestern University study, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, found that oleic acid inhibited activity levels of the Her-2/neu gene. This gene is thought to trigger breast cancer and is found in over one-fifth of breast cancer patients. The gene is associated with highly aggressive tumors and poor prognosis.

    Found in These Foods: Olive oil, avocados, almond oil, peanut, pecan, cashew and macadamia oils


American Cancer Society

News Target: Sunlight Emerging as Treatment for Breast Cancer

Annals of Oncology, March 2005;16(3):359-71

Nutrition and Cancer, 1998;32(1):1-7

Alternative Medicine Review: Calcium-D-glucarate

American Institute for Cancer Research

Mayo Clinic: Breast Cancer Prevention

8 Tips to Get Rid of Pain

Written: 03/19/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

For the majority of Americans, pain -- either chronic or the kind that comes and goes -- is a way of life. More than half of us suffer from physical pain, which means that if you were to stop someone randomly on the street and ask "Are you in pain?" chances are high that they'd say yes.

This finding comes from a nationwide phone survey of over 1,200 Americans, sponsored by Stanford University Medical Center, ABC News and USA Today. Back pain was the most common type of pain reported, followed by knee and shoulder pain, joint pain and headaches.

When pain strikes, about 80 percent of Americans reach for over-the-counter drugs or home remedies to help. 60 percent have also tried other pain-relief methods including prescription drugs, bed rest and prayer. More than 10 percent of adults now rely on prescription painkillers everyday (interestingly, the survey reported that prayer and prescription drugs worked best, and equally well, in addressing Americans' pain).

And the pain is more than just a mere nuisance, as it can severely impact people's work, relationships, mood and more.

"Pain has been a hidden disease; it has not received as much attention as other diseases. But now there's a growing recognition that pain really is not just the sensation we have--it's something that interferes with every one of us, with life," said Raymond Gaeta, M.D., associate professor of anesthesia at the Stanford School of Medicine and director of pain management services at Stanford Hospital & Clinics.

A separate phone survey of 800 adults, the Americans Living with Pain Survey (ALPS), found similar results. Two out of three respondents said that their pain led to stress and irritability, while:
  • 45 percent said pain negatively impacted their personal relationships
  • 51 percent said it affected their work productivity
  • 61 percent said it affected their daily routine
"This survey demonstrates that chronic pain is a problem that has reached near epidemic proportions," said Edward Covington, M.D., director of the Chronic Pain Rehabilitation Program at the Cleveland Clinic. "The 'can do, can cope' spirit of Americans can lead to untreated chronic pain, which has a severe impact on people's work, personal relationships, hobbies, and even sex, and can greatly diminish their quality of life. In addition to physical disability, it may also lead to irritability, anxiety, or depression."

To look at the glass half-full, pain can be construed as a good thing. It serves as a warning of a deeper, underlying problem, which otherwise may have gone unnoticed. So it's extremely important not to simply ignore or mask your pain, but rather to seek out and address the problem that's causing you to be in pain. Once that problem has been addressed, it's likely the pain will subside. In the event that it doesn't, here are eight methods you can try to reduce and eliminate pain, without relying on prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
  1. Deep and Proper Sleeping/Relaxation
    Says Dr. Neil B. Kavey, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, sleep is the time when your body is able to do repair work. So whether you're in pain from an injury or due to an underlying condition, your body will be able to fight and work toward healing that pain while you sleep.

    Relaxation is also important, not only in helping you to fall asleep, but by reducing tension in your muscles, which can help to relieve pain or keep it from getting worse. Being relaxed may also help any other pain relief methods you're using to work better.

  2. Prayer/Meditation
    Similar to relaxation, meditation and prayer are ways to calm your body, focus your mind and reduce stress, all of which can help to lessen your feelings of pain. Prayer is the most commonly practiced type of meditation, and according to the first study it ranked right up there with prescription drugs for its ability to relieve pain - obviously without any of the possible negative side effects of drugs!

    "Prayer falls in the category of having patients learn about the meaning of their pain. Sometimes patients do need to be introspective before they can move forward," said Gaeta.

    Meditation includes concentration meditations, in which you focus your mind on a single object, phrase or thought and often practice deep breathing as well, and exercise meditations like yoga, tai chi and qi gong. Even reading, thinking about those you love and writing can be forms of meditation. Pick the method that feels most naturally alluring to you.

  3. Stretching
    After three weeks of stretching, stretching expert Jacques Gauthier was able to reduce his pain by 50 percent. Stretching helps to reduce tension in your muscles, improve flexibility and range of motion, and may slow the degeneration of your joints. The act of stretching alone will also improve your blood circulation and help you to relax--a key to pain relief.

  4. Reduce/Prevent Inflammation
    When your body is in a chronic state of inflammation, the inflammation can lodge in your muscles, joints and tissues. Over time, this can lead to physical pain, as well as a number of diseases including heart disease. Emotions (too much stress), diet and lifestyle all contribute to inflammation.

    One of the safest, low-risk things you can do to lower your risk of inflammation is to modify your lifestyle and dietary choices. This means eating a variety of anti-inflammatory foods (fruits and vegetables), limiting or avoiding all together the pro-inflammatory foods (highly processed foods, high-sugar foods, trans fats, etc.), exercising and quitting smoking (if you do).

  5. Regular Exercise
    "One of the most important aspects of managing one's pain is taking an active role in care and becoming part of the treatment team," says Penney Cowan, executive director of the American Chronic Pain Association. "There are many treatment options available to help people reduce the effects of pain in their lives. Proactive behavior such as recognizing emotions and practicing relaxation techniques to reduce stress, pacing activities and working within personal limits, and exercising on a regular basis may contribute to better pain control."

    Although you may be tempted to not move around much when you're facing pain, a regular exercise program can actually help to relieve pain. According to the Mayo clinic, exercise works by prompting your body to release chemicals called endorphins that actually block pain signals from reaching your brain.

    "Endorphins are the body's natural pain-relieving chemicals that in many cases are more powerful than morphine," says Edward Laskowski, M.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist and co-director of the Sports Medicine Center at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

    Plus, exercise will help you to sleep better, have more energy to cope with your pain, and lose weight, which will relieve any excess strain on your joints. If you're currently in pain, remember to consult your physician before starting any exercise program.

  6. Chiropractic
    According to the American Chiropractic Association:
    Chiropractic is a branch of the healing arts which is concerned with human health and disease processes. Doctors of Chiropractic are physicians who consider man as an integrated being and give special attention to the physiological and biochemical aspects including structural, spinal, musculoskeletal, neurological, vascular, nutritional, emotional and environmental relationships.
    Every Doctor of Chiropractic is different, and will use varying chiropractic methods to relieve your pain. According to the first survey above, chiropractic (and massage therapy) ranked second-best at relieving pain. If you're interested, the American Chiropractic Association has an online tool to help you find a Doctor of Chiropractic near you.

  7. Massage Therapy
    The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) says massage therapy:

    • Helps patients become more aware of their bodies and the sources of pain.
    • Better familiarizes patients with the pain they experience.
    • Has an impact on the patient by virtue of human touch.
    • Improves confidence by encouraging patients to effectively cope with their pain.

    Further, according to an American Hospital Association survey about their use of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) therapies, nearly 82 percent of the hospitals offering CAM therapies offered massage therapy. More than 70 percent of these used the massage therapy for the purpose of pain management and relief.

    The AMTA can help you to find a massage therapist near you.

  8. Hot or Cold Packs
    Applying a hot pad or cold pack to your area of pain can provide temporary relief. Hot pads are helpful for sore muscles, while cold packs work by numbing the affected area. If you've only tried one or the other, switch to the opposite and see if it works. Be careful not to use a pad that is too hot or too cold, and when using a cold pack, wrap it in a towel so you don't expose your skin to the cold.

HealthOrbit May 9, 2005
Medical News Today May 9, 2005
The Mayo Clinic
American Massage Therapy Association

- Ryan

Serious Health Risks of Loneliness: How to Cultivate New Friendships and Live Longer

Written: 03/18/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

"No man is an island," wrote English poet John Donne all the way back in the 17th century -- yet now, in the 21st, people may be more socially isolated than ever before. This is not, as it was once, due to distant locations or plagues that wipe out entire communities. It is a new type of loneliness that has emerged even as we are surrounded by cities full of people.

Loneliness is an emotional state in which a person experiences a powerful feeling of emptiness and isolation. Loneliness is more than the feeling of wanting company or wanting to do something with another person. Loneliness is a feeling of being cut off, disconnected and alienated from other people. The lonely person may find it difficult or even impossible to have any form of meaningful human contact. Lonely people often experience a subjective sense of inner emptiness or hollowness, with feelings of separation or isolation from the world.

It is in these cities and suburbs that we co-exist to reach the ultimate esteemed goal: self-reliance. "Our notion of success is being able to purchase what you need and not be obligated to anyone,'' said Richard Schwartz, a psychiatrist who co-authored the book, "Overcoming Loneliness in Everyday Life," with his wife, Jacqueline Olds, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

"Yet in other cultures," Olds continues, "people have always accepted leaning on each other as part of life."

Aside from the fact that the very way our society conducts daily life -- in offices, on the phone, by computer, in cars and inside our homes -- encourages isolation, is the fact that admitting to being lonely is looked down on, even to the point of being shameful.

I'm Not Lonely, I'm Self-Sufficient

When Olds studies loneliness, it is usually by way of anonymous survey. Even then, many lonely people describe themselves as "independent" or "self-sufficient," rather than the dreaded "lonely."

"In American society, saying you're lonely suggests that you're weak or unable to attract friends. Yet total self-reliance is a myth, and loneliness is not a sign of weakness. It's an alarm system, a signal that we need to bring people into our lives," says Olds, who believes the nation is facing a loneliness epidemic.

How many of us are lonely? No one knows for sure, but when someone typed a heartfelt message -- "I am lonely will anyone speak to me" -- in an unlikely place (, a highly technical computer Web site), the response spoke for itself.

Over the course of days, weeks and months, thousands of messages flooded in. Among them:

  • "I'm surrounded by so many people every day but I feel strangely disconnected from them."

  • "I used to have a big family and now am down to a few aunts and uncles."

  • "The friends I have had moved on and got married. I must have done something to deserve this."

  • "It's 3 a.m. here. Just woke up next to my boyfriend and felt so incredibly lonely and sad."

At one time, the site became so popular that it was the first listing on Google if you searched the phrase, "I am lonely."

And, says Olds, the incredible popularity of TV talk shows and reality TV, "our seeming obsession with the most intimate details of strangers' lives, is another manifestation of our isolation."

"When you lack a circle of people you know well, gossiping about strangers is a way to fill the gap," says Olds.

Loneliness is Bad for Your Health

Loneliness is not just an emotion -- it affects many facets of the physical body. One study of 37,000 people, conducted by James House, PhD, a University of Michigan sociologist, found that people who lived alone or had few friends were twice as likely to die over 10 years than people with more friends and family.

Further, 82 percent of people who survived a heart attack and were married or had friends survived for at least five years. Among those with neither a spouse nor friends, only 50 percent survived five years.

Other studies have found that:

  • Lonely people have blood pressure readings that are as much as 30 points higher than non-lonely people.

  • Women with advanced breast cancer live twice as long when they join a support group, according to Dr. David Spiegel, a Stanford University psychiatrist.

  • According to Ohio State University researchers, having close friends helps keep your immune system strong during times of stress.

University of Chicago researchers have also found that loneliness affects the way people react to stress. "Lonely people differ from non-lonely individuals in their tendency to perceive stressful circumstances as threatening rather than challenging, and to passively cope with stress by failing to solicit instrumental and emotional support and by withdrawing from stress rather than by actively coping and attempting to problem solve," said John Cacioppo, the Tiffany and Margaret Blake distinguished service professor in psychology.

How to Cultivate New Friendships and Live Longer

Building new friendships is therefore a way to not only increase your enjoyment out of life, but also to improve your health and lifespan. This may sound challenging, but there are many opportunities to cultivate new relationships. Consider:

  • Joining a club, organization or other group that interests you (book clubs, quilting clubs, garden clubs, and adult sports teams, for instance)

  • Volunteering for a charity, and making friends with other volunteers

  • If you are retired, going back to work part-time, simply for the sake of meeting new people

  • Making an effort to re-establish or make stronger ties with family (even those that may live across the country)

Another interesting take on friendship is to seek out someone who can help you. For instance, if you're not fond of cooking, asking a co-worker to get together for pot-luck dinners once a week. Or, asking a neighbor to help you plant a flower garden in your yard, then returning the favor by helping with their yard work.

"The idea is that you need to be willing to enter into relationships of mutual obligation," says Olds, " … the fact is, people's lives are so hectic that those purely fun relationships often don't get sustained. It's the relationships where people are really useful to each other that do get sustained, that deepen and that therefore fulfill people's needs for long-term intimacy."


Guardian Unlimited: Anybody There?

Bottom Line Secrets: The Special, Very Special, Gift of Friendship -- Made Easy

Boston Globe Online: Loneliness Can be the Death of Us

Senior Journal March 28, 2006

Wikipedia - Loneliness

Why Playtime is Good for Kids... and Adult

Written: 03/17/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

One of life's simple pleasures -- playtime -- is not only as good for you and your kids as it feels, but it also seems to be disappearing from many adults' and even kids' schedules.

And while there is surely something to be said for working long hours and enrolling your kids in non-stop enrichment activities, there are increasing arguments that free play (tag, hide-and-go-seek, playing house, building with blocks), for kids, and various leisure-time activities for adults, are just as important.

Many Kids Missing Out on Unstructured Play

Unstructured play, things like playing with blocks and dolls, running around outside, building forts and making up imaginative games, is fast becoming a thing of the past for American children, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics report.

The beneficial free play is being bumped out in favor of educational videos, classes and other enrichment activities -- so much so that it may be hurting children's physical and mental health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is now suggesting that pediatricians examine children with "stress checks" to be sure their schedules are not overloaded.

"A lot of pediatricians are seeing stress in children with this kind of [overloaded] schedule. It's not true for all kids, but it is a serious problem," says report author Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Free Play Encourages Healthy Development in Kids

The report stresses what commonsense also indicates: that allowing kids to play freely, along with providing "downtime," is necessary for their healthy development. According to the report, this type of play (dolls, books, blocks, physical play, etc.) helps children:

  • Become creative
  • Develop problem-solving skills
  • Relate to others
  • Discover their own passions
  • Adjust to school settings

Adults Need Playtime, Too

Kids are not the only ones who benefit from unstructured downtime -- time to do whatever your heart desires. Adults also need to play, for their health, their minds and their very sanity.

When you take time to do something you love, levels of dopamine and serotonin rise in your body, which makes you feel calm and pleasant. Meanwhile, adult playtime gives you a chance to:

  • Connect with family, friends or new acquaintances
  • Reflect inwardly
  • Learn a new skill or hone an old one
  • Relax and de-stress
  • Be creative

"You feel happier, healthier, and more fulfilled when you can do things that provide the kind of satisfaction you're looking for," says Howard E.A. Tinsley, PhD, professor emeritus of psychology at Southern Illinois University. "Over the long term, the ability to do these kinds of things leads to a greater level of physical and mental health, and to a higher quality of life."

Playtime is also essential to help adults relieve stress, says Blair Justice, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Texas School of Public Health.

"You don't have time to make yourself sick," he says.

However, when adults become overly stressed and don't take time for leisure, they do just that. Too much stress leads to increases in chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine, which can disrupt the immune system and cause you to feel edgy and hostile. Studies have also found a link between high levels of these chemicals and heart disease.

Not Sure How to Play?

Kids seem to know inherently just what to do to have fun, but adults may need a little help. Above all else, make sure your playtime is enjoyable, and not something that feels like "one more thing to fit into the day."

Playing should be simple, fun, easy, and something that's a regular part of your routine. For this reason experts suggest NOT planning a complicated vacation for your playtime, but rather focusing on the little things (vacations are healthy, too, but for most don't happen often enough to rely on for your sole playtime).

Researchers say that many people enjoy nature, being near water, pets, poetry and good conversation, but do whatever you enjoy.

"People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature," says Justice.

Try to fit some type of play into your day, everyday, and you'll feel the difference. Need a few more ideas? Try:

  • Window shopping
  • Calling a friend for a chat
  • Flipping through a magazine
  • Putting on some music and dancing
  • Going for a walk
  • Drawing or painting a picture, or making something out of clay
  • Doing something you enjoyed as a kid (carving a pumpkin for Halloween, for instance)
  • Playing a board game
  • Singing a song
  • Playing with your pets
  • Daydreaming
  • Writing something (a poem, a note to your spouse, a letter)
  • Joining an adult sports league


Good, Old-Fashioned Play Just What American Kids Need

The Power of Play

- Ryan

The Best Type of Tea to Lose Weight

Written: 03/12/2008 | Join the discussion (1)

The virtues of tea are endless! The weight-loss properties of the drink among the various properties it possesses, are the most sought after. Because it contains fat-burning substances: catechins. The regime tea, is it effective? What are the varieties most active against fat?

People never ceases to repeat that green tea is a powerful antioxidant, which gives it its health virtues. But we do not talk enough about the role of catechins, a group of very active molecules of the family of flavonoids. The epigallocatechol gallate (EGCG) is the most common form in chocolate and black leaf tea.

Catechins to burn fat

Everyone knows the slimming reputation of tea. These properties are now partially clarified. We know that the capabilities of this drink to increase energy expenditure and "burn" fat reserves are due in part to the caffeine it contains. But it was unclear that the catechins also had a key role in regulating weight. However, the benefits of regular consumption of catechins are not limited to the increased energy expenditure and fat oxidation. The catechins act also on the distribution of fat in the body and help reduce weight and waist circumference. Studies have also shown that the consumption of green tea could limit the recovery of lost weight after a diet.

Tea against abdominal fat

A study by the Shanghai Medical School has demonstrated the beneficial effect of catechins on the loss of abdominal fat. The weight, the proportion of body fat, the percentage of intra-abdominal fat and waist circumference were measured at baseline and after 4, 8 and 12 weeks on 4 groups of adults with a diet. 1 group was given a placebo, the other 3 were given different doses of catechins:

Group 2: 440 mg of catechins once a day
Group 3: 230 mg of catechins twice daily (468 mg / day)
Group 4: catechins 440 mg twice daily (886 mg / day)

Result: in the last group, the study noted a significant reduction in weight, waist circumference, body fat and abdominal fat.

Catechins against metabolic syndrome

In addition to their benefits in weight, catechins play a vital role in health care, especially in the prevention of metabolic syndrome. This disorder is characterized by blood glucose (rate of sugar in the blood) and high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and waist circumference exceeding 102 cm for men and 88 cm for women. In these people, often overweight, there is also resistance to insulin, an inflammatory reaction, and oxidative stress associated with the decrease in insulin sensitivity.

It so happens that regular consumption of catechins in green tea regulates considerably this insulin resistance, decreases the incidence of type 2 diabetes in women, regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, and has an anti-inflammatory effect. The impact of catechins on body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and blood sugar found in patients with metabolic syndrome occurs after consumption of 456 mg daily for 2 months of catechins in green tea. The ideal would be to consume 3 to 6 cups daily.

Choosing the right tea to get your fill of catechins

There are large differences in the concentration of catechins, especially between black tea and green tea. Indeed, shortly after harvest, green tea is subjected to a heat treatment that prevents oxidation of its compounds. It is richer in catechins than black tea. Some brands offer even more green teas are rich in catechins (including Lipton with Linea).

The choice of tea is not enough, it should also be drunk regularly: catechins having a life span of less than 24 hours in the body, it is recommended to renew the consumption of green tea throughout the day.

Finally, we must remember that the tea alone is not enough to lose weight! An appropriate diet and a bit of physical exercise are essential.

Reference: 1st European Symposium on catechins, Paris, January 2008

Related Articles: Healing Power of Tea - 9 Powerful Benefits of Drinking Tea

Mark's Daily Apple - Tea Time

Tea Recipes

Tea Masters: Discovering Oolong, Pu Er and the Art of Gong Fu Cha with Taiwan's Tea Masters.

Tea Blog Tea Blog is an ongoing project by artist Ellie Harrison launched on 1 January 2006. Every time Ellie has a cup of tea (or a different type of hot drink) she notes down the thought which is most on her minds during the first few sips. These thoughts are then uploaded to the Tea Blog at regular intervals.

8 Delicious Foods To Boost Up Your Energy Levels

Written: 03/10/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

Having energy throughout the day is, for many, like chasing after the elusive white rabbit. Just when you think you've got it, after a cup of coffee and a morning sweet roll, for instance, it slips away and feels as though it was never even there.

Whether struggling with energy ups and downs or, worse, feeling tired all the time, a lack of energy is a real drain on your work and social life. In fact, close to one-third of respondents to the 2005 National Sleep Foundation poll said they have missed work or other events, or made errors at work, because of being too sleepy. Another 23 percent said their intimate or sexual relationship had been negatively affected because of being too tired.

Of course, many factors contribute to your level of energy but one of the most influential is what kinds of food you put in your body. Overall, a healthy diet with fresh, minimally processed foods will give you drastically more energy than a diet of mostly processed food.

Specifically, adding the following eight foods to your diet will rev up your energy and help keep you from yawning at 10 a.m., feeling your eyelids get heavy at 1 p.m., and nodding off during your afternoon meeting at 4 p.m.--and they taste great too.
  1. Lean Beef or Chicken (ideally free-ranged)
    Adding a little protein to every meal is essential to keep your organs functioning and your energy levels up. Lean protein also contains tyrosine, an amino acid that helps your brain produce the chemicals norepinephrine and dopamine, which improve your mental function. Turkey, pork tenderloin, eggs, shellfish and sardines also contain tyrosine.

  2. Black Beans
    Complex carbohydrates like those in black beans and other legumes help keep your blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day, providing a steady, slow-burning source of energy to make you feel awake. Plus, black beans are a rich source of iron, an integral part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the body, and key enzyme systems for energy production and metabolism.

  3. Seaweed
    Seaweeds like kelp, wakame, arame and dulse can be found in Asian grocery stores and health food stores. It can be eaten dried, straight out of the bag, or added to soups, salads and vegetables. Seaweed contains the broadest range of minerals of any food--the same minerals found in the ocean and in human blood. It also contains pantothenic acid and riboflavin--two B-vitamins needed for your body to produce energy.

  4. Almonds
    These tasty nuts are rich in manganese and copper, both of which are essential cofactors of an enzyme called superoxide dismutase. This enzyme helps keep energy flowing by inhibiting free radicals inside cells' mitochondria (the energy-producing area of cells). Plus, they also contain riboflavin, another important component of energy production.

  5. Water
    We know, it's not really a food, but it's so important that we decided to include it anyway. Water is necessary for your body to produce energy, including digesting, absorbing and transporting nutrients. If you don't drink enough of it, your cells will be less able to receive the nutrients they need for energy, leaving you feeling sluggish. If plain water doesn't appeal to you, try spicing it up with a squeeze of lemon, lime or other citrus.

  6. Cantaloupe
    This melon is an exceptional energy food because of its combination of vitamin B6, dietary fiber, folate, and niacin (vitamin B3). The B vitamins (necessary for the body to process sugars and carbs) combined with fiber (which helps the sugars be distributed gradually) support energy production by keeping blood sugar levels stable.

  7. Kiwi
    This tiny fruit often gets overlooked in favor of the more common apple or orange, but it packs a powerful punch. With more vitamin C than an equal amount of orange, it's a potent energy-boosting food. When vitamin C levels are depleted, people often feel tired. One study found that women with low vitamin C levels felt more energized after receiving vitamin C daily. "They felt better and they had more energy," said Carol Johnston, PhD, assistant professor of food and nutrition in the family resources department at Arizona State University. Other foods rich in vitamin C include raw red or green pepper, broccoli, strawberries and Brussels sprouts.

  8. Oatmeal
    This morning favorite is loaded with soluble fiber, a key to slowing down carbohydrate absorption and keeping blood sugar levels steady. "A fiber-packed whole grain cereal, oatmeal is your best breakfast choice for long-lasting energy," says William Evans, PhD, director of the nutrition, metabolism, and exercise laboratory at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/Veterans Affairs Medical Center.


The World's Healthiest Foods

Prevention: Feast on These High-Energy Foods

Men's Fitness: Energy-Boosting Foods

Seven Dangerous Common Weight-Lifting Exercises and How to Do Them Properly

Written: 03/07/2008 | Join the discussion (1)

Weight training is an important part of a comprehensive exercise program, helping you to increase your muscle tone and mass, lose body fat, improve your strength and even improve your bone density.

But by its very nature, weight lifting, which calls for placing extra weight, or stress, on your muscles to receive the benefits, can cause injury if it's not done with the proper technique.

Most people learn their weight training techniques by watching friends or others in the gym. Often, this can be problematic because you may be picking up incorrect techniques. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, using improper technique is one of the main reasons why people get injured during weight training. Common injuries that can occur immediately include:

  • Sprains and strains
  • Tendinitis
  • Fractures
  • Dislocations

However, if you continue to use incorrect weight training techniques, over time you may end up with a chronic problem, such as:

  • Damage to your rotator cuff
  • Nerve damage
  • Muscle overload
  • Stress injuries to your bones

Be Careful When Doing These Common Weight-Lifting Exercises

If you are just starting out in weight training, you may want to get the help of a personal trainer or other fitness expert who can teach you the correct techniques from the get-go.

Here we've listed some of the most common weight-training exercises out there, which are also those that you'll often see being done incorrectly in your local gym. Before your next workout, make sure you're not putting yourself at risk of injury by honing up on these common weight-training exercise tips.

  1. Bench Press

    The bench press helps to tone and build your chest muscles, but if done incorrectly can cause damage to your rotator cuff and shoulders. (And without a spotter it can result in a serious or even deadly crushing injury!)

    Correct Technique: To keep your shoulder joint free from injury, keep your elbows at the horizontal line of your body (do not let them drop down below your body line). And of course, always use a spotter who can help you if the weight gets too heavy.

  2. Leg Extension

    The leg extension works the quadricep muscle (on the front of the thigh). The major injury risk is in extending your leg too fast or too hard, which can cause you to overextend your knee.

    Correct Technique: Protect your knees during the leg extension by keeping a 90-degree angle between the thigh and lower leg, then extending your leg smoothly. Do not "kick" your leg out or lock the knees when they're extended, as this can cause excessive stress on the knees.

  3. Lat Pull-Down

    Lat pull-downs work a muscle called the latissimius dorsi, which is located in the outer chest wall. If done incorrectly, this exercise can cause injury to the neck and shoulders.

    Correct Technique: You have probably seen people in the gym doing a lat pull-down by gripping the bar widely, then pulling it down behind the neck. This is incorrect, as it places excess stress on the neck and shoulders. The safer and more effective technique is to use a narrower grip on the bar, and pull it down to the front of the chest while keeping your back straight.

  4. Biceps Curl

    The biceps curl helps to strengthen and build the biceps (located in the front of the upper arm). This exercise poses a risk of injury to your elbows if done incorrectly.

    Correct Technique: While doing a bicep curl, always keep your wrist straight and rigid. If you flex your wrist while you bend your elbow it can cause injury to your elbow. Also be sure to release the curl smoothly to avoid overextending your elbow.

  5. Dead Lift

    The dead lift can help to strengthen your lower back, hamstrings, gluts and calves. If done incorrectly, however, it can strain the back.

    Correct Technique: Bend forward at the waist with your arms straight toward the floor. Be sure to keep a natural curve in your lower back and a slight bend in the knees to protect your back and avoid overextending your knees.

  6. Squats

    Squats help to tone your gluts, hamstrings and quadriceps muscles. However, if you squat too far or don't have your weight centered correctly, it can cause injury to the knees.

    Correct Technique: Lower your body as if you're going to sit in a chair, keeping your weight over the heels or mid-foot area. Lower to about a 90-degree angle, no farther, then slowly raise your body back to a standing position.

  7. Leg Press

    The leg press works the front and back of the thighs, the calves and the buttocks, but can cause injury to the knees if the proper technique is not used.

    Correct Technique: As you press your legs out, make sure the kneecap follows the foot (don't allow your knees to come too close together) and the thighs do not drop below a 90-degree angle to the knees. Both of these tips will help protect your knees from injury.

- Ryan