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Testicular Cancer Awareness

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Thu, Apr 23, 2015

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Self-exams are not just for women and their breasts.  Familiarizing yourself with your self is one of the best ways not only to ensure that you are healthy, but also to catch any early signs of illness more promptly. This is why men also need to embrace the self-exam.

As you may or may not know, April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month.  Testicular Cancer is not a very common cancer over all, but it is the most common cancer affecting men between the ages of 15 and 34, though it can develop in boys and men at any age.  Unfortunately, there are no real preventative measures that can be taken to avoid developing the disease as the known risk factors are outside of our control.  The risk factors include: a family history of the cancer; your age - 50% of cases develop between the ages of 20-34; your race - white men are more prone to testicular cancer; or if you have had an undescended testicle or abnormal testicle development.  Luckily, even if you are high risk, the disease is very treatable; its survival rate is 95%.   Also, 99% of the time the cancer only affects one testicle, and the undamaged one is capable of providing all needed male hormones for a normal life.  Remember, the earlier the disease is caught, the better the chances of stopping its spread to other organs and recovering.  So, how does one catch it early?

Annual physical exams and self-exams are the best ways to find testicular cancer.  As per the Testicular Cancer Society, is recommended that this self-exam be done after a shower and in front of a mirror.  Their directions are as follows: (http://www.testicularcancersociety.org/testicular-self-exam.html)

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The common signs and symptoms to look for include:

•    A lump on the testicle
•    Enlargement of the testicle
•    Changes or irregularities in the testicle’s size or shape
•    Pain or discomfort in the scrotum or testicles
•    Aches or pressure in the lower abdomen or back
•    Feelings of heaviness or fullness in the scrotum
•    Enlargement of the breasts (due to increased estrogen levels)

Later stage symptoms may include:

•    Significant weight loss
•    Back or chest pain
•    Coughing up blood
•    Enlargement of the abdomen and/or neck lymph node

It should be noted that the most common symptoms can also be caused by non-cancerous conditions.  If cancer is the cause, the early stages may present themselves painlessly, meaning physical discomfort does not always accompany the signs and symptoms.  It is always best to see your doctor if one or more of these signs should develop.

So men, do not just shrug off the self-exam as something only women need to do.  You too can benefit from knowing your own body.

Tags: cancer, men, Testicular Cancer, men's health

What's In A Name

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Tue, Mar 31, 2015

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Perception is a strange thing.  Depending on certain conditions objects can appear larger, further away, darker, or even differently shaped than they actually are.  Perception does not just alter how we see the physical world, but how we envision things, as well.  Imagine for a moment that you need to paint an Easter something-another a nice light sunny yellow.  You are in the paint store browsing the unending supply of yellows when finally you happen upon the perfect color… named “cow slip.”  That happy euphoric moment of accomplishment is instantly replaced by a head shake as you wonder who in the world comes up with the names for paint.  Of course, it is the perfect color so you go on to purchase it and cover all of your happy yellow Easter decorations with (mentally cringing now) cowslip.  

Our perception of names, and what they are associated with, can lead us to make unrealistic or unfair judgements.  Unless you know it refers to a little yellow flower, cowslip yellow just sounds bad.  Unfortunately, even knowledge cannot offset certain ingrained biases.  Last year the Smithsonian shared a study that discovered hurricanes and other severe storms that were given female names were an average of 3 times more deadly than their equally severe male named counter parts.  Why?  Because society tends to associate women with weakness.  As such, people do not consider lady storms to be as dangerous, so they take fewer precautions than if the storm had been given a man’s name.  The study excluded Katrina (’05) and Audrey (’57) as they were particularly more deadly than usual.   Naming biases not only put us in danger of ignoring storm warnings, but they can also threaten our quality of care for certain medical conditions.

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), is a hard to diagnose and often misunderstood condition that millions of people suffer from every day.  Unfortunately, because it is so misunderstood, it has developed a negative stigma as being something in the patient’s head, or simple laziness someone is trying to pass off as an illness.  Worse, the dismissive attitude towards CFS is also found among doctors leading to poor diagnoses rates and symptom management.  But the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is looking to change that by updating the diagnosis criteria and changing the disease’s name.  The new name proposed is: Systemic Exertion Intolerance Disease (SEID).  The IOM believe the new name more accurately depicts the disease and its severity.  With any luck the new name will reduce the negative stigmas and improve patient care.  But, is it reasonable to hope that simply changing a disease’s name will improve a patient’s social and medical treatment?  Yes, because it has already happened in Japan.

In 2002 the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology renamed schizophrenia (roughly: “split mind”) from Seishin Bunretsu Byo, (mind-split-disease) to Togo Shitcho Sho, (integration disorder).  Before the name change only about 36.7% of patients were informed about the diagnosis because their doctors were concerned about the potential negative consequences.  Within 3 years of the change that rate improved to 69.7%.  82% of psychiatrists also reported improved treatment compliance, a reduction in negative stigmas, and better social interactions for their patients.  And before anyone can harp on the stereotypical Japanese person for being too polite to deliver bad news, know that American doctors are guilty of the same.

The Alzheimer’s Association has recently reported that only about 45% of patients or their care-givers are informed about the diagnosis.  Why?  For the same reason the Japanese doctors did not want to say anything either.  Informing their patients of such a diagnosis opens the door to hard questions, uncomfortable situations, and a wide range of other potentially negative consequences.  But Alzheimer’s has something that a mystery-disease does not.  It has a name.  The name may be terrible; it may be associated with years of decline, frustration, violence, and death, but at least it is a name - a solid starting point to getting the right kind of help and preparing for the future.  A name such as Alzheimer’s may come with a mountain of negative imagery, but for someone suffering from an unnamed ailment an answer is better than silence.

Names shape our world, help us communicate, and influence how we treat and are treated by others.  Sometimes we need to take a step back to examine how our biases are manipulating our good judgment, and whether or not we need to make a change.

Tags: biases, stereotype, stigma, Name, Alzheimers Education, care giver stress

Care for the Heart You Share

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Fri, Feb 13, 2015

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February is all about hearts.  Not only is it the month dedicated to love; romantic and platonic, but it is also American Heart Month – the month devoted to making sure everyone knows how to keep the heart they share on Valentine’s Day healthy and strong.  It is an unfortunate fact that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US.  It kills thousands more each year than all cancers combined.  Luckily, there is a lot of information about heart disease, and education is a great way to arm yourself.  Think: “Know thy enemy…” because understanding the warning signs and risk factors can dramatically improve your odds of living a longer healthier life.  

Regrettably, even people who have been healthy and have lead healthy lifestyles their entire lives can develop heart disease.  Knowing the warning signs can help save your life by getting you proper care as soon as possible.  Basically, heart disease occurs when the heart cannot function normally.  The most common form of heart disease is coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease (CAD).  CHD is the narrowing of the coronary arteries, the ones that supply oxygen to the heart.  This narrowing is frequently caused by plaque build-up within the blood vessel walls.  Put simply, CHD is when an accumulation of bad cholesterol slowly suffocates the heart.  Symptoms of CHD include shortness of breath, chest pain, and heart attack.  Shortness of breath can be a tricky symptom as it often results from physical exertion.  You are the only one who understands how your body should feel.  So, if you are short of breath when you think you should have been able to do more, you may want to discuss this with your doctor.  Chest pain can happen during physical activities or while you are at rest.  They can even encompass the neck, jaw, teeth, shoulders, arms, and back.  Chest pain is not a good sign, and should never be ignored!  Shortness of breath and chest pain are symptoms that can start out a relatively insignificant, but grow into something more substantial as further damage accumulates.  Seeing your doctor regularly and discussing these problems can help to diagnose such health issues faster.  The sooner treatment is received, the better your outcome and chances of not having that heart attack.

Unfortunately, avoiding a heart attack is something that can only be strived for, not guaranteed - especially when realizing that age is its biggest risk factor.  A heart attack happens when a part of the heart dies because it was denied a sufficient amount of blood and oxygen.  Symptoms may include chest pain/discomfort, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shortness of breath, gray pallor, feeling clammy/sweaty, generally feeling awful, extreme anxiety (usually about dying), and restlessness.  Note: chest pain is not always present during a heart attack (especially among women).  Few of these symptoms can be classified as brightly waving red flags, therefore paying attention to your body can be lifesaving.  As mentioned before, you are the only one who knows how your body feels when you are well, unwell, or otherwise.  So, even without the quintessential chest pains, if you think you are having a heart attack seek help immediately.  Also, (women) question a diagnosis of anxiety.  Many women are sent home from the hospital with “anxiety” only to die later of the heart attack they went in with.  Remember: it is better to be a little embarrassed about overreacting than dead.

Heart failure is another common heart problem that should be better understood.  Heart failure does not mean the heart stopped beating, but that it stopped beating normally; it is when the heart can no longer pump blood as efficiently as it once could.  Most often it results from CHD, though it does have other contributors such as previous heart attack.  Common symptoms include shortness of breath; trouble breathing when lying down; fluid buildup/weight gain; swelling of the feet, legs, ankles, and or stomach; and general feelings of tiredness or weakness.  The symptoms usually present over the course of a few weeks or months, but the disease itself can take years to develop. Like CHD, heart failure can be managed by carefully following your doctor’s advice, and staved off by making healthy lifestyle changes such as eating right, exercising, and quitting smoking.  

If you have managed to avoid heart disease so far, know that there are a few things you can do to lower your risks.  Knowing the risk factors means knowing what to keep an eye on, avoid, or change in one’s daily routine.  Some risk factors include: age; having a medical condition such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity; and practicing unhealthy habits such as smoking, not exercising, and eating foods high in fats, sodium, and/or cholesterol. 

As far as age is concerned, increasing the number of candles on your birthday cake also increases the risk of having narrowed or damaged arteries.  As such, men who are over 45 and women over 55 are at greater risk of heart attack.  If you have reached an age to be in a higher risk group then there is not much to do about it but congratulate yourself for having lived long enough to worry about heart problems, and make sure you see your doctor for regular checkups. 

Certain medical conditions can also increase one’s risk of developing heart disease.  Most notably, one of the leading causes of the disease is uncontrolled high blood pressure.  According to the CDC, one of the best things that can be done to ensure a healthy heart is to keep track of your blood pressure, even if you think your blood pressure is fine.  This is because high blood pressure is a sneaky sinister thing often displaying no symptoms, making it difficult to catch unless you have regular checkups with your doctor.  Fortunately, high blood pressure, like many other medical conditions, can be managed by follow your doctor’s advice such as making dietary changes and taking all medications as directed. 

As for the unhealthy habits, start changing them now.  If you smoke, quit.  If you are sedentary, exercise.  If you never eat vegetables, start.  Fortunately, lifestyle changes do not have to happen all at once, so you need not feel overwhelmed by the thought of change.  More often than not, starting out with smaller healthier alterations that can be built on over time leads to more permanent beneficial results. For example, if you have never been one to exercise, start out slowly.  You can break up your workouts into 2 or 3 10 minute segments throughout the day pacing yourself into better shape.  Keep in mind, that even small healthy changes can go a long way to improving your overall health.

February is all about hearts.  So this Valentine’s Day, think more about your heart; the one that really makes life and love possible, not just the one made of chocolate.

Tags: healthy heart, heart health, elderly care, better living, heart disease, chronic conditions, blood pressure, Heart Failure, Controlling Heart Failure, screening, Cholesterol, diabetes, aging parents, Congestive Heart Failure, eating healthy

Little by Little

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Fri, Jan 30, 2015

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This week we find ourselves at the very end of January; the close of the first month of the New Year.  Looking back on how the year has started one is tempted to ask: “So, how is that New Year’s Resolution going?” If the answer is somewhere along the lines of “Eh...” you should not feel so bad.  Of everyone who makes a resolution for the New Year only about 8% ever accomplish them.  It is unfortunate though, considering that the top New Year’s Resolutions focus on self-improvements such as becoming healthier.  But there is good news.  It is not too late to get back on track; to become one of the 8%. Besides, it can take up to 6 weeks to develop a new habit.  So far, only 4 have gone by.  

Remember, getting healthier is not about dieting or exercising for the express goal of losing 10lbs and then quitting.  It is about making permanent positive changes in your daily life. Such lifestyle changes not only benefit your physical appearance, but everything about you - from the way to feel to the very beat of your heart.  Unfortunately, changing one’s lifestyle may seem overwhelming at first, and many simply give up in the face of such a challenge.  But the changes you are looking for do not have to be made and maintained all at once.  In fact, such drastic alterations to one’s daily routine are best made slowly over time.  

According to Peter Pribis, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of New Mexico, you can (and should) start out with just one small change, such as switching out an unhealthy daily snack for a healthier one a few times a week.  Once that change becomes a habit, add another.  In this way you can continuously strive toward your goals without becoming overwhelmed.  An impressive amount of progress can be made by the end of the year using this method.  Best of all, he says that by maintaining a healthy diet throughout the year, you will not have to worry  so much about the extra treats come next holiday season. Just be mindful of the portion sizes.

Likewise, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association, say that when trying to become healthier thinking you have to change everything all at once often leads to failure.  Instead, they suggest thinking about the small easier changes you could be making now.  These minor adjustments will have you making smaller longer lasting improvements that can be built on over the course of the year.  One trick they recommend is to fill your plate as normal at dinner time, and then scoop a few bits off the plate.  You will slowly reduce your portion size overtime, and not even notice the difference when you are done eating. This way of thinking also works for increasing your amount of physical activity. If you cannot make it to the gym, then can you march in place during a commercial break?  Or, park further away from a building’s entrance?  A little bit goes a long way, and every extra minute of physical activity can add up to help improve your overall health.

Also, if you have not been regularly active, it is good to remember that working up to your physical goals will take time. Expecting a sudden big change in your daily routine (such as working out everyday instead of never) to become a permanent adjustment is unrealistic.  Making small daily changes you can build on over time will not only get you more active, but start making the activities a more regular part of your daily life. If 30 minutes of exercise is too much at first, then start with 15 or 20 minutes.  The time can even be broken up into 10 minute segments that can be done throughout the day.  Exercising and increasing one’s amount of physical activity is not about getting the perfect body as quickly as possible.  It is about getting healthy, while preferably not hurting yourself in the process.  The slimmer and trimmer body is just a perk that comes later, through consistency.

So, yes; January may be over, but it was only 1/12th of the year.  There is still so much time left to make that New Year’s Resolution a reality. Besides, February is just around the corner and with it comes the extra couple of weeks needed to solidify a healthy habit as well a friendly reminder of why getting healthier is an excellent thing to do this year.  February is not only a month for sharing your heart with others, but it is American Heart Month – a month dedicated to ensuring the heart you share is cared for and healthy. 

Tags: healthy heart, New Years Resolutions, diabetes prevention, Fall Prevention, better living, chronic conditions, Controlling Heart Failure, Never Too Old To Play, diabetes, Congestive Heart Failure

Giving Thanks

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Wed, Nov 26, 2014

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Thanksgiving has a rather complex history.  It started off as more of a concept, an idea that every once in while people needed to sit down, and actively be thankful for what they have.  It had no set date or time of year, nor was it an annual event.  During the 19th century, Ms. Sarah Josepha Hale, an author and editor, saw the establishment of a nationally held annual Thanksgiving as a way to promote unity and peace within the country.  She lobbied for the “Day of Thanks” for over 30 years before President Lincoln, struggling with the horrors of the Civil War, established it as a federal holiday in 1863.  But what exactly is so special about gratitude that it should warrant its own holiday?  Does being thankful really instill a sense of unity, or peace within people?  Strangely, it does.

Studies in gratitude have yielded some intriguing observations regarding the overall health and social benefits of being thankful.  One fascinating observation is that gratitude can indeed build a foundation of peace and unity.  As it is, gratitude is one of the first building blocks to forming strong social bonds and friendships by creating a cycle of good will.  Acts of kindness are either reciprocated to the original doer of good, or bestowed upon someone else, a surrogate.  Such kindness has no strings attached, therefore it does not create a sense of indebtedness, but rather thankfulness.  Put simply, those who can appreciate the benefits of kindness are more likely to be kind in return.  Gratitude has also been shown to increase one’s empathy and reduce aggression, both of which are necessary when seeking to generate a healthy community.

Additionally, grateful individuals are more optimistic, as such, they tend to take better care of themselves.  They eat healthier, exercise more frequently, and have more regularly scheduled checkups.  They also report faster recovery times from surgeries, have better immune systems, and have a generally decreased risk of dying from all causes.  It seems being happy that one is alive makes people more inclined to try to stay that way.

But what about those of us who are a bit more grumpy than others?  Fear not.  According to phycologists, gratitude is a skill one cultivates throughout life.  Children and adolescents do not appear to benefit as much from gratitude building exercises as adults.  Conversely, adults who use a gratitude building technique, for even a short period of time, see increased happiness and life satisfaction, reduced stress and feelings of depression, as well as decreased amount of time feeling unwell for several months after ending the exercises.  Best of all, gratitude building exercises do not have to be strenuous at all; some are as simple as thinking about two or three things to be thankful for once a week (like not being stuck in that slow moving checkout line).  

As for deserving its own holiday, there seems to be no greater concept to celebrate than the very foundation of good-will.  It is a simple act to express thanks for the things we have, and the people in our lives, but it holds far more power than one would expect.  Giving thanks brings individuals joy and deepens social bonds between loved ones and neighbors.  So, this Thanksgiving, do not spend quite so much time fretting about the place settings.  Instead, focus on the fact that you are lucky enough to have companionship and a full belly.

Tags: gratitude, Holiday health tips, better living, tips for healthy holiday, Never Too Old To Play, Thanksgiving, thankful, Giving Thanks

Halloween: More than Costumes and Candies

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Fri, Oct 31, 2014

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Halloween: More than Costumes and Candies

Halloween is a minor holiday mostly celebrated by disguised trick-or-treating children, and adults who use it as just another reason to throw a party.  It comes with over-commercialized costumes and candies, along with fears of sugar spikes and poisoned chocolates.  For many the holiday’s description can end here and they would agree, but such a narrow view of the holy evening does the complicated event little justice.

Halloween started as an autumn holiday signaling the death of the land and coming of winter.  According to some traditions, it is the one hallowed evening of the year when the netherworld beings could wander the land of the living.  Of course, while they were here, some of these beings would get hungry or thirsty and ask the locals for a snack or two, and other times they just wanted to have fun and visit people.  Unfortunately, not all of the visiting beings were nice, so people needed to dress up in costumes in order to blend in with the spirits to go about the day unmolested by the nastier beings.  It is also why everyone carved a jack-o-lantern, as they scare away the evil spirits.  Which brings in another aspect about Halloween, one that is often overlooked, – hospitality.  It was considered very rude to turn a visitor away, and so, even with a jack-o-lantern protecting a home from evil beings, the occupants could still be cursed if they denied a more benign otherworldly guest the courtesy of a drink or snack.

 Of course, Halloween has changed over the years, and for many it is now a night for spider rings, mummy-shaped candy, and dodging hyper hordes of children wearing too dark clothing at night.  But even today Halloween is not just about giving out edible and entertaining goodies to the neighborhood kids, it is about having fun as a community.  It is a simple fact that Halloween cannot be properly celebrated without the assistance of nearly the entire community, whether said community is a neighborhood, apartment complex, or a group of local businesses; it just does not work if only a few people are involved.  It is also the only time of year when strangers are not nebulous sinister evildoers, but treat giving sets of extra eyes and ears watching over the many groups of children as they adventure through the night.

However, the question must be asked: Exactly how safe are those treats the strangers give out?  Though many stories have circulated about poisoned, drugged, or booby-trapped candies, they are just stories.  According to research by Prof. Carroll of Indiana University, the only documented instance of poisoned Halloween candy, was a case in which the deceased boy’s father was responsible.  There have also been unfortunate times when a child has found a relative’s drug stash, and said relative tried to blame the candy.  But on each occasion, the children in question had more to fear from their own family members than any stranger.  In fact, on Halloween night, the biggest threat to child’s safety comes from cars (which is why it is a good idea to put those little Halloween themed reflective stickers on your little goblins’ shoes and shoulders).  

Today’s Halloween may no longer herald the coming winter, but it is far more than just over-commercialized costumes and candies.  It is the celebration of youthful fantasy, it is a time when fairy princesses, super heroes, and vampires can join forces and hunt for treasure in the vast wilderness that is the next block over.  Major holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the like can be celebrated privately needing only a few friends or relatives to join the merriment, but Halloween requires an active community.  It is a bizarrely more complicated holiday than one would imagine while dressed as a zombie and eating a tootsie roll.

Tags: Halloween, Never Too Old To Play


Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Fri, Sep 26, 2014

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By now it is common knowledge that a healthy heart leads to a longer healthier life.  Unfortunately, heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States, taking upwards of half a million lives every year.  Known as the silent killer, the most insidious part of this disease is that it forms gradually over time, and without regular checkups it can be easily missed.  Sometimes symptoms are minor, and may be attributed to other conditions such as anxiety.  Worse yet, men and women present differently for the disease, further complicating diagnosis and treatment.  This is a particular problem in regards to heart attacks.

Heart attack symptoms include pain in the chest and left arm, so if neither of these are present then it is something else making you feel ill, right?  Not necessarily.  There are many warning signs of impending heart attack, but the most well-known, that of chest or left arm pain, is decidedly missing from many women suffering from an attack.  Regrettably, the common signs of heart attack for a woman are far more easily missed as they include such ailments as: fatigue, trouble sleeping, shortness of breath, upset stomach, anxiety, sudden sweating or dizziness, as well as pain in the back, shoulder, neck, ear, and/or jaw.  If these symptoms sound rather vague and characteristic of other conditions, that is because they are… which is where knowledge comes into play.

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Regular checkups and monitoring of your health can help diagnose heart disease.  The earlier it is found the better a patient will fair.  Also, never be afraid to insist on having your or your loved-one’s heart health checked if any of the aforementioned symptoms present.  It is better to be safe than sorry, especially knowing that many women experiencing heart attacks are sent home from the hospital after being misdiagnosed.  The sooner help can be provided, the better the odds of survival.  If a woman is misdiagnosed and sent away, she is clearly not receiving the needed care.  If you think insisting your heart be checked makes you seem pushy, be pushy!

Fortunately, it is not all doom-and-gloom when discussing heart disease.  Earlier this year (2014) researchers from Yale-New Haven Hospital found that hospitalizations and deaths from heart disease have been declining for senior citizens.  Studies have also shown that, through proper diet, exercise, and healthy life choices, about 80% of heart attacks in men can be prevented even if the gentlemen have not always taken the best care of themselves.  Heart disease is not inevitable, it can be managed, and it can be ousted as the top US killer.  Talk to your doctor.  Ensure your healthier heart will lead to a longer healthier life ahead.

Tags: healthy heart, heart health, women, elderly care, better living, heart disease, chronic conditions, Heart Failure, Controlling Heart Failure, Congestive Heart Failure

A Good Night’s Sleep

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Fri, Aug 22, 2014

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A Good Night’s Sleep

Despite what some workaholics will say, putting down that unfinished project to get some sleep is not a sign of weakness or laziness.  No, sleep is a physical requirement needed for maintaining a healthy mind, body, and spirit, yet it is often neglected as a factor of personal health.  In today’s hectic society, proper rest is becoming a secondary thought, and that is not a good thing. 

When we sleep the body is hard at work doing things like processing short term memories into long term memories, regulating hormones, and releasing other biological supplies that repair and maintain our physical selves.  Getting a good night’s sleep is special, it means we wake up feeling relaxed, have energy for the day, and can focus on important things like not crashing the car on the way to work or school.  Unfortunately, a good night’s sleep is special because it is not the norm.  When asked how we know if we need more sleep, sleep doctors like Prof. Russell Foster of the University of Oxford will say:  if you need an alarm clock, or caffeine in the morning, then you need more sleep.  How many of us do not need an alarm to wake up, or our morning cup of coffee? 

Chronic sleep deprivation is bad.  It increases our risk of developing memory problems such as dementia, interrupts normal memory processing, and damages brain cells.  Also, it can lead to increased rates of obesity and diabetes because, when we are tired during the day, we tend to consume more sugary foods and drinks in an effort to gain more energy.  Lack of sleep also makes us irritable, disrupts normal hormone function, and can lead to depression.  Likewise, we are less aware of our surroundings, and more likely to take risks, making that morning commute considerably more dangerous for everyone involved.

Moreover, night is not the only time of day when our bodies tell us to rest.  Most normal sleep patterns include becoming drowsy in the early afternoon.  Resting for 10-15 minute in the afternoon, may seem lazy to some, but it is entirely natural and recommended if you plan on being productive for the rest of the day.  Not only does taking a quick nap help improve overall productivity, it can also keep the streets safe by reducing the number of drowsy drivers on the road.  Drowsy drivers are just as dangerous as drunk drivers, and cause an average of 100,000 accidents a year.  Pulling over for a few minutes is the best thing to do if we become tired while driving.  It does not make us weak to acknowledge that the need to sleep is stronger than our will power.  It just means we are smart enough to realize that we will spend a lot less time on a nap than filling out police or hospital forms.

Furthermore, sleep requirements vary from person to person.  Mary Jane may do just fine on 7 hours while Peter needs 8.5.  Similarly, the time of day we become sleepy can vary, meaning there is no set bed-time or waking hour that is right for everyone.  Likewise, sleep requirements change with age. It is not until we are adults that the average recommended sleep time is 7-8 hours.  Young children need about 12 or more hours, whereas school aged children tend to need around 10-11 hours of sleep a day.  Teenagers need about 9-10 hours of sleep, and develop a shift in their Circadian rhythms (sleep cycles) that delays the production of melatonin (the sleepy hormone) which makes falling asleep before 11:00pm difficult for most teens.  Unfortunately, the shift also means their bodies’ strongest desire to sleep includes the time many are waking up and driving to school - between 3:00-7:00 am.  For some teenagers, this sleep drive can even last until 10:00 am.

Regrettably, the shift in their natural sleep cycle also means that adolescents are heavily prone to sleep deprivation.  In the U.S. nearly 70% of teens get an insufficient amount of sleep.  Sleep deprivation in teens is linked to early morning accidents, lower test scores, and increased consumption of sugary and caffeinated foods.  Additionally, it leads to increased levels of stress, depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety, as well as increased rates of “bad behaviors” such as risk taking, fighting, substance abuse, and poor sexual choices.  For young children, sleep deprivation has been linked to an increased risk of obesity by their 7th birthday.

Poor sleep leads to poor health; mentally, physically, and emotionally.  It should not be neglected when considering lifestyle choices, and certainly not relegated to just something we do after everything else.  Doctors advise that the best way to ensure getting the right amount of sleep is to make getting to bed at a regular time the top priority of our nightly routines.  We can do this by limiting our afternoon caffeine intake, turning down the lights, and reducing the time spent with media devices during the evening. 

Obviously, caffeine keeps us awake so we should avoid it at night, but why reduce light and our media time?  The reasoning for this is two folds - one:  distractions will keep us up longer; and two:  light (especially the emissions from computers, cell phones, and televisions) disrupts the normal production of sleep hormones.  When our eyes detect varying levels of light they send that information to our brains, which in turn triggers the production of appropriate nighttime or daytime hormones.  Darkness, or dimly lit environments, causes the body to produce melatonin.  Light causes the body to produce cortisol which helps us to either wakeup in the morning, or stay alert longer; it is also called the “stress hormone” because it is produced en masse during life-threatening events.  Elevated levels of cortisol can lead to aliments such as chronic stress.  So, allowing the levels to reduce normally and earlier will help us to relax and rest easier.  Likewise, the sooner we increase our melatonin levels, the sooner and easier it will be to fall asleep.  Combined, these will dramatically increase the odds of a good night’s sleep. 

The time we spend sleeping and the quality of our rest is just as important to our health and wellbeing as the foods we eat the amount of exercise we do.  It may seem trivial, but getting a good night’s sleep can keep our minds and bodies functioning normally throughout our lives.  So just remember:  Staying up all night studying or working does not make us productive go-getters; it makes us cognitively impaired.

Tags: stress, better living, sleep, diabetes

August: National Immunization Month

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Fri, Aug 08, 2014

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Nobody likes August; it is a dull month.  It is hot, has no special holidays, and signals the end of summer vacation.  So, it makes some sort of sense that it is also National Immunization Month as nobody likes shots or the whole “back to school thing.”  But like school, shots are necessary evils; they may not be liked, but they make life better.  

Not so long ago, it was common to loose friends and relatives to diseases that are almost unheard of nowadays.  During the times before widespread vaccines, diseases like diphtheria and polio ravaged children by the thousands every year.  For perspective: In the US, during 1921 alone, diphtheria was responsible for 15,520 deaths.  At its worst, the disease could kill an entire family in only a few weeks.  Thanks to vaccines, diseases like these are no longer threats.  Doctors have been given the ability to prevent diseases from ever hurting their patients by simply giving them a shot. 

Keeping children’s vaccines up-to-date is very important, especially when they are surrounded by so many other children in school.  Vaccines help keep children from getting or spreading diseases, but they are not only for children.  Vaccines are good for adults, too.

Many adults do not often think about updating their shots, but there are certain times when it should be discussed with a doctor, and not just around flu season.  For example, adults who will have contact with children or infants (e.g.: parents, grandparent, aunts and uncles) should update certain shots to reduce the risk of infecting the child.  There are also adult specific vaccines such as the Shingles Vaccine that is recommended for anyone 60 or older.  Moreover, it is always a good idea to look into any travel vaccines that may be needed before going abroad. 

In terms of human history, widespread immunization is new, and it is an amazing gift that has prevented the suffering of millions.  Unfortunately, the developed world has forgotten how devastating diseases can be, and many parents are opting out of immunizing their children for erroneous beliefs that they somehow cause autism or other ailments, which simply is not true.  This year the US saw a sad reminder of the importance of vaccines with a measles outbreak that set a 20 year record for annual infections…. it was only May 29, 2014.   And just 15 years ago, the country had established itself as measles-free.  Globally the disease is killing over a hundred thousand people a year, and as all other diseases, it does not know what political borders are.  According to the CDC, 97% of those infected brought the disease home after traveling abroad, and 90% were either unvaccinated or could not confirm their vaccination status.  Diseases are global, they travel, and they will find the unvaccinated.

August is National Immunization Month.  Take a moment to be thankful for all those annoying shots; they have saved you and your family a considerable amount of pain.


Tags: health care, immunization, vaccine, better living, tips for healthy holiday, flu

Summer Heat

Posted by Maureen Mahmood on Thu, Jul 03, 2014

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Summer Heat

It is summer.  It is Fourth of July Weekend.  And, it is hot.  Not only is it hot now, but it is going to keep on getting hotter, and that heat can be dangerous.  According to the CDC, about 650 heat related deaths occur every year; 96% occur in the home, 91% of those happen in homes without a working air-conditioner, and 75% of the time, those victims lived alone.  These deaths were all preventable.  So, how do we protect ourselves from heat-illnesses?  We stay cool, and make sure our neighbors do, too. 

The obvious ways of staying cool are to turn on an air-conditioner or fan.  If an A/C is not available and a fan just is not enough, then there are places to go to keep cool.  Senior centers, grocery stores, shopping centers, libraries, movie theaters, and book stores are just a few examples of air-conditioned public spaces one can spend time and cool off during the hottest parts of the day.  Many communities also have cooling centers available.  

Knowing how to keep cool keeps us safe, but knowledge of heightened risk factors is just as important.  Age is, regrettably, a risk factor when dealing with heat.  Young children and adults 65 or older tend to succumb to heat sooner than healthy adolescents and younger adults.  Similarly, the healthy fair better than those with chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diseases of the heart, lung, or kidney.  Being underweight or overweight may also increase the risk of heat related illness.  Additionally, certain medications, such as sedatives and heart and blood pressure prescriptions, can affect how we handle the heat.  Speak to you doctor if you have any concerns regarding medication.  Likewise, the choices we make can increase our risks of overheating.  Over dressing and spending too much time in warm crowded areas is generally advised against on hot days.  Alcohol use should also be avoided.  This 4th of July, reach for a glass of ice water, lemonade, or juice instead.

Unfortunately, accidents do happen.  So, what is the best way to proceed if someone does become overheated?  First, we need to be able to recognize the problem.  When someone is suffering from heat stroke their body can no longer regulate its temperature.  Symptoms include a body temperature above 103°F, dizziness, nausea, confusion, headache, hot red skin, no sweat, strong rapid pulse, and unconsciousness.  For this situation it is recommended that you do NOT give the victim something to drink, but DO get them to a cool place such as a shaded area, cooled building, or cool bath/shower.  Try to lower the temperature by running cool water over them, or placing cool items on the neck, wrists, armpits and groin.  Cooling the victim is the most important task in this situation, but getting the proper care is also vital, so be certain to call an ambulance while the victim is being cooled.

Heat exhaustion is another form of heat illness.  Its symptoms occur after a few days of heat exposure coupled with insufficient fluid intake.  Victims exhibit profuse sweating, cramps, weakness, paleness, headache, nausea, vomiting, tiredness, cool moist skin, a fast weak pulse, and fainting.  In this situation, get the victim to a cool place, have them rest, and drink something cool.  Water is the best option for rehydration, but juices are also recommended while caffeinated and alcoholic beverages are to be avoided.  Medical attention should be sought if the victim’s symptoms worsen, or do not subside in an hour.  

Summer is a time of BBQs, water sports, and spending time with friends and family.  So, if your friends’ A/C happens to go out, invite them over for lunch.  In the meantime, enjoy your Fourth of July!

Tags: summer, heat, Holiday health tips, better living, heart disease, chronic conditions, blood pressure, tips for healthy holiday, fourth of july, aging parents, seniors, avoidable hospitalizations