Personal Health

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Why To Exercise Today: A Longer Life, Even If You’ve Got Health Issues

Exercise is my religion: in my family we use it for mental health, good sleep, clearer minds, calmer moods and bursts of joy. It inevitably gives us a boost, even when we’re not feeling so hot.

And, according to a new study, exercise offers the ultimate health benefit, even to people who aren’t particularly healthy and suffer from elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels or oversized waist lines. What’s the benefit? A longer life.

frodrig/flickr

frodrig/flickr

From the study, published in PLoS One:

The promotion of increased physical activity is clearly a powerful vehicle for prevention of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality. Every adult without major disease should benefit from increased physical activity, with the greatest health benefits associated with high levels of exertion. Our study confirms the independent role of recreational physical activity in predicting and reducing cardiovascular deaths, even after the common association with conventional risk factors and obesity has been accounted for. These findings support public health endeavor to promote exercise over and above the treatment of conventional risk factors.

From Gretchen Reynolds’ Times report:

More surprising, when the researchers controlled for each volunteer’s Framingham risk score and waist size, they found that exercising still significantly reduced people’s risk of dying from heart disease. The benefits were fainter, amounting to about half as much risk reduction as before adjustment for these health factors. But they accrued even among volunteers who had less-than-ideal blood pressure, cholesterol levels or waistlines. Someone with a high Framingham score who exercised had less risk of dying than someone with a similar score who did not.

The study’s results do not suggest, of course, that any of us should now willfully ignore cholesterol or other standard risk factors when considering heart health, said Satvinder Dhaliwal, a professor at Curtin University, who with Timothy Welborn and Peter Howat, conducted the study. But the data does suggest that “identifying and increasing physical activity” may be “at least as important as the measurement and treatment of lipids and hypertension,” he said.

Study: In ‘Healthy’ Fast Food Ads, Kids Mostly Just See French Fries

Just watch the video here and you’ll immediately get the gist of this study. To sum up: when fast food companies try to advertise to children their “healthier” dining options, (like apple slices) the kids, for the most part, don’t see beyond the fries.

The takeaway, according to researchers at Dartmouth, is that these ads from fast food giants like McDonald’s and Burger King “don’t send the right message.”

Here’s more from the Dartmouth news release:

In research published March 31, 2014 in JAMA Pediatrics, Dartmouth researchers found that one-half to one-third of children did not identify milk when shown McDonald’s and Burger King children’s advertising images depicting that product. Sliced apples in Burger King’s ads were identified as apples by only 10 percent of young viewers; instead most reported they were french fries.

Other children admitted being confused by the depiction, as with one child who pointed to the product and said, “And I see some…are those apples slices?”

The researcher replied, “I can’t tell you…you just have to say what you think they are.”

“I think they’re french fries,” the child responded. Continue reading

Project Louise: The One Thing That Will Actually Make Me Exercise

Who could look into a child's eyes and break a promise? (Joe Lencioni/shiftingpixel.com via Flickr)

Who could look into a child’s eyes and break a promise? (Joe Lencioni/shiftingpixel.com via Flickr)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been doing Project Louise for three months – one-quarter of this yearlong effort. In some ways it already feels like a year since I vowed to change my eating and exercise habits; in others I feel like a rank beginner.

Here’s where it seems as if I’ve barely begun: creating a real, practical, sustainable exercise routine. As coach Allison Rimm wrote last week, I jumped in with both feet to starting the project, and I’m now starting to realize that this habit of quick, impulsive beginnings has been one of my lifelong obstacles to creating lasting change.

Not just in exercise but in many areas of my life, I tend to dive right in with huge enthusiasm, tackle a project with great energy and excitement, and then … well, once the novelty wears off, I’m more likely to go looking for a new challenge than to focus on completing the one I’ve got.

So, as you may have noticed, already this year I’ve been gung-ho about swimming, and then power yoga, and then biking … and I haven’t even bothered to write about my other passing (and purely in-the-abstract) infatuations with everything from karate to Zumba to bellydancing as the real way to get in shape.

But this week I seem to have found the one thing that will actually make me exercise: I promised my kid that I would. And, because I vowed when I first looked into his trusting baby eyes, 16 years ago, that I would never, ever break a promise to him, I did it. Continue reading

Understanding Aster: How Singing And Dancing Help Heal A Child’s Trauma

For the past four years, I’ve been involved with a local nonprofit, the North Cambridge Family Opera, which stages original productions featuring cast members age 7 to grandma, and with a range of abilities. In 2011, I wrote about how performing in the group’s opera helped children with autism. This year, I was struck by the story of how music helps heal the past trauma of one young cast member, 8-year-old Aster, adopted from Ethiopia after her birth parents died. I asked Aster’s mother to write a bit about their experience. Here’s her post:

By Marina Vyrros
Guest contributor

In the mid 1990s, I worked as a refugee aide in the Guatemalan rainforest.

Many people in that community — having fled horrific atrocities, like their villages being razed or worse — were suffering from post-traumatic stress.

Atrocities notwithstanding, a contingent of ranchero musicians somehow managed to lug homemade, oversized guitars to the camps and play music each night, often in the 100-degree heat.

While the NGO’s provided a valuable service — helping the people rebuild their external structures — the service that the ranchers provided, though perhaps less tangible, was invaluable. Their nightly gatherings, singing songs about their plight, helped the community to rebuild and heal internally.

Four years ago, when I adopted an almost 4-year old child from Ethiopia (who continues to recover from the trauma of having lost both birth parents during her formative, early childhood years) the lesson of the power of music was not lost on me.

Claudia M. Gold, a pediatrician, blogger and author of “Keeping Your Child in Mind: Overcoming Defiance, Tantrums, and Other Everyday Behavior Problems by Seeing the World Through Your Child’s Eyes,” explains what may be going on in my daughter’s brain:

“Severe meltdowns are common in children who have experienced early trauma, at the time when the higher cortical centers of the brain were not yet fully developed. Stress of a seemingly minor nature can lead the rational brain to in a sense go ‘off-line.’ The child will have access only to the lower brain centers that function more instinctively.”

Especially during her first few years in Cambridge, Aster’s meltdowns were epic, but music and dance have consistently provided the most important vehicle to help her regulate her emotions.

Before, she might bang on the walls, now, to relieve her frustration, she pounds on a djembe, an African drum, in an afterschool program; instead of crying over seemingly inconsequential things, now, to release her emotions she invents and belts out Whitney Houston-y type songs, tears streaming down her face. To release her energy — which is abundant — she dances around. Everywhere. It all helps.

Recently, over the past five months, Aster’s been singing, dancing and even acting with the North Cambridge Family Opera based in Cambridge. In this year’s production, “Rain Dance,” she and the other animals living on the South African savannah elect a Machiavellian lion in a desperate attempt to end the local drought. Trouble ensues.

All kinds of research suggests that music can minimize the symptoms of post traumatic stress and other types of trauma. A 2011 study found that guitar-playing can help veterans with PTSD drown out the traumatic memories of bombs blasting; and in 2008 researchers found some reduction of post-traumatic stress symptoms following drumming, in particular “an increased sense of openness, togetherness, belonging, sharing, closeness, connectedness and intimacy, as well as achieving a non-intimidating access to traumatic memories, facilitating an outlet for rage and regaining a sense of self-control.”

Dr. Ross Greene, author of “The Explosive Child” writes that “children with behavioral issues don’t lack the will, they lack the skills.” Continue reading

CDC: Autism Rate Up To 1 in 68 Kids, But Still No Why

A new CDC analysis of autism prevalence shows a nearly 30 percent jump in cases between 2008 and 2010: that means 1 out of every 68 eight-year-olds in the U.S. is diagnosed with the disorder.

But health officials still don’t agree on what’s driving the increase. Debate continues to rage over whether the increase in cases is due to changing definitions and greater awareness of autism spectrum disorders, or if it’s due to some environmental or other factor.

Karen Weintraub reports for USA Today:

…virtually every grade in every elementary school has at least one child with autism – a seemingly astonishing rise for a condition that was nearly unheard of a generation ago.

What’s still unknown is the driver of that increase. Many experts believe the rise is largely due to better awareness and diagnosis rather than a true increase in the number of children with the condition.

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“We don’t know the extent those factors explain in terms of the increase, but we clearly know they do play a role,” said Coleen Boyle, director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities at the CDC. “Our system tells us what’s going on. It (only) gives us clues as to the why.”

The aging of parents is also known to be a factor; the chances of autism increase with the age of parents at conception.

“But that’s not the whole story is it?” said Robert Ring, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy group. Whether something in the environment could be causing the uptick remains “the million-dollar question,” Ring said.

Despite their concern, experts said they were not surprised by the increase, because other data had suggested the numbers would continue to climb. In New Jersey, for instance, autism rates were 50% higher than in the rest of the nation in 2000, and they remained that much higher in 2010 – suggesting the national rates will continue to rise to catch up, said Walter Zahorodny, a psychologist who directs the New Jersey Autism Study. “To me it seems like autism prevalence can only get higher,” Continue reading

To Turn Undergrads On To Sex-Ed: Phallic Name Tags And Orgasm Trivia

Attention-grabbing nametags at a sex-ed event for undergrads (Photo: Sascha Garrey)

Attention-grabbing nametags at a sex-ed event for undergrads (Photo: Sascha Garrey)

By Sascha Garrey
Guest contributor

How do you get busy undergrads to focus on their sexual health? Try penis name tags.

That was among the many strategies deployed this week at a sex-themed trivia night organized by the Boston University Health and Wellness Office.

Diners who went to the Sunset Cantina just for the Mexican food on a recent evening were in for a surprise. Amidst the usual busy hum of this popular night spot, the thunderstorm of phrases like “female orgasm” and “pus-like discharge” booming continually across the restaurant may have shocked some into choking on their tacos.

The Cantina played host to BU’s sex-ed evening, ”Sex at the Sunset”: students sporting comical penis-shaped name tags were spread around the venue, talking excitedly and sipping drinks from pink, labia-inspired straws.

A team of peer-health educators, known as the BU Student Health Ambassadors (SHAs), partnered with Bedsider — a pro-sex health outreach organization that advocates for the responsible use of birth control — to bring this racy, but informative, event aimed at BU students as a casual and amusing opportunity to learn and talk about sex.

Meilyn Santamaria, a senior at BU majoring in health sciences and one of the SHAs, helped organize the event and was also the mastermind behind the mood enhancing playlist – hot, throwback tunes like “Sexual Healing” and “Like a Virgin” were thumping all night.

Santamaria has learned a thing or two as a peer-health educator. For instance, she says, approaches to sex-ed like this light, fun-filled evening are important because they engage kids on a different level; and they sure beat those dry, awkward gym class lectures on hygiene.

“You actually get to interact with the material,” says Santamaria. “It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s a safe environment that is a less intimidating way for people to learn this kind of important information about sex.” Continue reading

Doc Says Pedal: Boston Launches ‘Prescribe-A-Bike’ Hubway Program

Boston Medical Center physicians can now refer low-income patients for a $5 membership to Hubway, the area’s bike share system, under a new initiative announced by the city Wednesday.

The “Prescribe-a-Bike” program seeks to address health disparities and increase residents’ access to affordable transportation options, the mayor’s office said in a release.

(gobanshee1/Flickr via Compflight)

(gobanshee1/Flickr via Compflight)

“Obesity is a significant and growing health concern for our city, particularly among low-income Boston residents,” BMC President and CEO Kate Walsh said in a statement. “Regular exercise is key to combating this trend, and Prescribe-a-Bike is one important way our caregivers can help patients get the exercise they need to be healthy.”

“Prescribe-a-Bike” expands on the city’s existing subsidized Hubway memberships. Under the new program, a BMC doctor can write prescriptions for annual Hubway memberships, which cost patients $5. A typical annual membership is $85, per Hubway.

Subsidized members also receive a free helmet, the mayor’s office’s release said.

“There is no other program like this in the country,” Mayor Marty Walsh said in a statement.

The city aims to enroll 1,000 low-income residents in “Prescribe-a-Bike.” The release did not indicate funding sources for the expanded subsidies.

Only Boston residents, age 16 or older, receiving public assistance or with a household income of no more than 400 percent of poverty level, are eligible for “Prescribe-a-Bike.”

Coerced Sex Common For Teen Boys And Young Men, Study Finds

A few nights ago, unable to wind down, I was searching for something to watch and stumbled across the film “Adore.” It’s about a pair of lifelong friends (grown women) who end up having affairs with each other’s young, hunky, 19- or 20-year-old sons. My first reaction was the same as one Netflix commenter:

“…if this had been two pals and each other’s teen daughter; well, you get the point. The movie would not have been made, or if so, it would have had an entirely different hue-to say the least. DOUBLE STANDARDS.”

Or, as A.O Scott wrote in his New York Times review:

“It is worth noting that the same movie about a couple of dads sleeping with each other’s 20-year-old daughters would need, at a minimum, to confront the ickiness of the situation. Really, such a movie would be unlikely to make it into theaters, in spite of the commonness of real-life relationships between older men and younger women.”

(Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancoft in "The Graduate"; Movie-Fan/flickr)

(Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancoft in “The Graduate”; Movie-Fan/flickr)

The film isn’t about sexually coercion; but it is about boundary breaking, and I thought of it again reading this new study on the pervasive, but largely unexamined problem of sexual coercion among boys and young men.

The study, published in the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity, found that coerced sex is fairly common for teenage boys and college-age men and can lead to psychological distress and risky behavior, such as sexual risk-taking and alcohol use.

From the American Psychological Association news release:

A total of 43 percent of high school boys and young college men reported they had an unwanted sexual experience and of those, 95 percent said a female acquaintance was the aggressor…

“Sexual victimization continues to be a pervasive problem in the United States, but the victimization of men is rarely explored,” said lead author Bryana H. French, PhD, of the University of Missouri. “Our findings can help lead to better prevention by identifying the various types of coercion that men face and by acknowledging women as perpetrators against men.” Continue reading

Why To Exercise Today, Moms: For The Kids, Of Course

mikebaird/flickr

mikebaird/flickr

My 11-year-old daughter recently asked if she could take a hot yoga class with me. My first reaction was negative: it’s too hot, it’s not “fun” and it’s one of the few things I do that’s truly mine — 90 minutes in which I don’t have to worry about anyone else’s needs.

Of course, I said yes. And I’m glad I did. She made it through class, and was totally into it (though she wished there’d been more “tricks” and less pose-holding).

“That was great, Mom,” she said afterwards. “When’s the next class?” And whether she becomes a yoga fan or not, I consider those 90 minutes to be a small gift: another way for me to show her how strong and able a body can be, and how good it feels. It doesn’t much matter if it’s yoga or running or swimming or playing ultimate frisbee — our kids are clearly taking their physical activity cues from us.

A new study out of the U.K. confirms this: researchers report that physical activity levels in mothers and their pre-school kids are directly associated. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, suggests that interventions to promote more physical activity among mothers (who, understandably, are often exhausted, harried and not great at fitting exercise into busy, kid-filled days) might also benefit their young children.

Here’s some of NPR’s report on the study of 554 mothers and their kids:

Mothers’ increased physical activity boosted children’s moderate and vigorous activity overall…

It’s not entirely clear whether it’s the mother’s activity that influences her child’s, or if mothers are more active because they’re busy keeping up with a playful child, says Esther van Sluijs, a behavioral epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge and the study’s lead author.

But busy mothers don’t have to drop all other priorities to play with their children all day. Van Sluijs says just small changes – walking to the park instead of driving or playing a good game of tag instead of a board game – can make a difference. Continue reading

Project Louise: Coach Undertakes To Kick Louise’s ‘But’

Louise's coach, management consultant and author Allison Rimm (courtesy, photo by Katie Bishop-Schaffer)

Louise’s coach, management consultant and author Allison Rimm (courtesy)

By Allison Rimm
Guest contributor

Haven’t you been enjoying Louise’s chronicle of her quest to become healthier? Who couldn’t love, respect and trust such a wise, witty and articulate woman? Turns out, Louise.

It’s time for Project Louise’s first quarterly check-in, and in assessing its first three months, I see that one of Louise’s main challenges is to be both easier and harder on herself. That is, she needs to learn to care enough for herself to take better care of herself — and she needs to hold herself accountable when she doesn’t.

I got hints of this underlying issue from our first meeting. Feeling honored to be chosen as her coach, I first met Louise in a coffee shop. Before we’d even sat down, she was berating herself for being “so stupid” as to order a latte that takes more than a nanosecond to make, keeping me waiting while I blew on my hot green tea. Thus came the first coaching imperative: Cut the negative self-talk.

Louise’s mission — “to take better care of myself and to feel at home with myself” — requires creating healthy new habits that she can maintain for the rest of her life. As Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” And bringing about sustainable change requires that she love, respect and trust herself enough to fully commit.

“There’s a fine line between self-compassion and accepting all your excuses.”

She needs to believe, at a visceral level, that she is worthy of this investment. Calling herself stupid is the kind of thinking that will tether her to the unhealthy habits that created her current state. So day one included adopting a new mantra: “I love, respect and trust myself to ….fill in your healthy behavior here.”

As a management consultant, I’m a big fan of using a strategic planning framework for any undertaking — even the project of your life. So, with her mission clear, we went right to work creating a vision of success for this endeavor. Having a clear vision of how she wants to look and feel will help guide her decisions throughout the year. Continue reading