Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan


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You know baths are good for you… but have you tried forest bathing?

“You didn’t come into this world.
You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.
You are not a stranger here.”
Alan Watts

Summer is a perfect time to immerse yourself in nature. A walk outdoors anywhere, but especially in the woods, may confer additional benefits. “Shinrin-yoku”, or forest bathing, has been shown to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, and strengthen our immune systems.

One may wonder if relaxing in a bar, on one’s porch or in a lounge chair anywhere may offer the same benefits. Possibly, but…. Japanese scientists have been researching Shinrin- yoku since the 1980s, and have found that spending a minimum of 20 minutes in the woods has a notable effect on our physiology. Specific benefits were found to be the following:

  • Boosted immune system functioning, with an increase in the count of the body’s Natural Killer (NK) cells.
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Improved mood
  • Increased ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerated recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increased energy level
  • Improved sleep

What accounts for these additional changes to our physical wellbeing?

Forest bathing has a major effect on our parasympathetic nervous system, which controls stress, ability to conserve energy,  relax, and slows down our heart rate, while stimulating glandular activity.  In a study out of Nippon Medical School in Tokyo in 2006, Dr. Qing Li and other researchers discovered that there are natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees, collectively known as phytoncides. These essential oils increase the activity of our frontline immune defenders, known as killer cells, which promote healing.  This has lead to research correlating forest bathing with an increase in the activity and presence of intra-cellular cancer-fighting proteins. To learn about the myriad of research studies on Shinrin-yoku, see http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/the-science.html

Being in the moment, without thinking of what you have to do next, what you should have done already, or how much more productive you could be, is essential to give your mind a rest.  Mystics throughout the ages have known that meditating, being still, listening without speaking, and walking and absorbing nature through all our senses promotes a sense of calm and has healing properties.

Fortunately, we live in an area with many opportunities to be at one with nature. There are walking trails from easy to challenging, all within an hour’s drive of Boston. Here are some places to get you started on your walk through the woods:

https://www.boston.com/culture/travel/2015/07/02/15-places-to-hike-within-an-hour-of-boston

Try World’s End in Hingham, Blue Hills reservation which offers 125 miles of trails and scenic views from the top, Mount Misery in Lincoln (nothing like its name), Noanet Woods in Dover, and Medford’s Middlesex Fells Reservation which are all no more than half an hour to 45 minutes away. If you’re pressed for time, try a walk around Lake Waban at Wellesley College, Cold Springs Park in Newton, or the Weston Reservoir- all within 15 minutes of here.

Ready, set, bath time !


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Here’s to the bounty of the season- fresh picks that are delicious and nutritious

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I love summer for so many reasons, one of which is the great fruits and vegetables that are garden fresh. There is so much produce that is harvested during this time of year. Following is some important information about the health of the following superfoods and recipes you can try.

There’s nothing like watermelon to quench your thirst, and give you the needed hydration for those hot days of summer. In addition, watermelon is full of vitamins A, B6, C, lycopene, antioxidants and minerals.  There’s also evidence that watermelon helps with cardiovascular health, and has a protective effect against strokes, because of its extremely high levels of lycopene.  See http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/35/7/1584.  for the full study.  Lycopene, which is also found in tomatoes, helps reduce cholesterol, relaxes blood vessel walls, and protects the skin from UV rays among other benefits.  I love making watermelon, mint and feta salad in the summer. Here’s a quick and easy recipe that’s healthy and satisfying from Tory Avey’s kitchen. You can also add arugula to round out the taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 7-8 lb. seedless watermelon, chilled
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 limes, juiced
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh chopped mint leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese (goat or sheep milk feta is best) 
Total Time: 20 Minutes

Servings: 8 servings

See the full post:http://toriavey.com/toris-kitchen/2011/06/watermelon-feta-salad-with-mint/#mEsTQceWhX1bxYzg.99

Cherries from Oregon and Washington state are also in season.  There’s lots of varieties from tart to sweet, although the tart kind have been found to have the most benefits. Cherries have recently been identified as a superfood, due to their high level of anti-oxidants such as super-nutrients quercetin, hydroxycinnamates, potassium, carotenoids and melatonin. These have been found to have substantial anti-inflammatory properties, and in some experiments have been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen and tylenol in decreasing pain.  In a randomized, double blind trial of runners, some of whom were ingesting cherry juice for the 7 days prior and right after a running event, the runners who drank cherry juice reported significantly lower pain. For the full study, see /www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20459662. It’s also been shown to help gout, arthritis pain, and autoimmune diseases.

Artichokes are great to add to salads, and also pack a major nutrient punch. They are contain two natural chemicals cynarin, and silymarin, which aid in detoxifying the liver, stimulating the kidneys, and increasing the flow of bile. They are also jam-packed with iron, and essential minerals like manganese, copper, calcium and phosphorus. These minerals help build red blood cells, optimize fluid balance, and control heart rate and blood pressure. Vitamin K and B complex vitamins contained in artichokes help in bone, brain and skin health.

Debby Doktor’s luscious artichokes:

1.   Using a jar of Trader Joe’s whole artichokes, drain the artichokes ( in a colander)  & lightly rinse with cold water.
2.  Gently squeeze to release excess water.
3.  Slice each artichoke in half vertically & place cut side down on paper towels.  Cover top with more paper towels & press down lightly – or use dish towels.  Let rest until artichokes are free of moisture.
4.  Heat a heavy large skillet with Evoo to coat the bottom of the pan completely on medium-high heat.
5.  When the oil is hot, add the artichokes, one piece at a time, cut side down & not touching.  Sauté until nicely “grilled” & then turn carefully to “grill” the other side.
6. Place on a serving platter, cut side up.  Drizzle with the warm oil from the pan and/or with additional Evoo of your choice(I used Meyer lemon olive oil.  Sometimes I use Spanish or Greek Evoo).  Sprinkle with finely diced fresh herbs (I used Italian parsley, basil, lemon thyme, & oregano) & a sprinkling of smoked paprika.
7.  Serve warm or at room temp.

Last but not least, beets are one of nature’s most perfect foods. They are low in calories, high in fiber and phytonutrients, have loads of Vitamin C, (a powerful anti-inflammatory and immune-system booster), iron, manganese and potassium. Beets (also known as beetroot)  help blood flow, may reduce blood pressure, and help build lean muscle mass. They are versatile and have a long shelf life, but are best used when fresh picked.  Beet greens are also rich in vitamins and minerals. You can substitute beet greens for kale and spinach in salads, soups or smoothies. Here’s a great recipe for lunch for a beet and hummus wrap, along with one of my personal favorites, beet dip with yogurt. 

 

 

 

 

Hummus Beet Wrap

INGREDIENTS

1 Tbsp. Hummus
1 6-inch Sprouted Grain Tortilla (Gluten Free available )
½ c. (75g) Peeled and Grated Beet (TIP: Cut beet into 3 or 4 big chunks and grate using thegrating disk for a food processor or large holes of box grater.)
2 tbsp. Feta (½ oz.)(15g)
¼ Packed c. (5g) Arugula, roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS

Spread hummus on tortilla, leaving a 1 ½ inch(4cm) border. Sprinkle evenly with beets, feta, and
arugula. To roll up, fold in 2 opposite sides of tortilla and roll, starting with the end closet to you.
Slice each wrap in half on the diagonal. Wrap each wrap tightly in foil or parchment paper and
refrigerate in an airtight container or zip-top bag. (Make Ahead: May be made up to 1 day in
advance.)

Beet dip with yogurt from the Jerusalem cook book:

900g  (2 medium beets
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
250g  (1 cup) Greek yoghurt
1 1/2 tbsp date molasses or date syrup
3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish the dish
1 tbsp za’atar
salt

To garnish:
2 spring onions (scallions) , thinly sliced
15g  (3 tbs) toasted hazelnuts, roughly crushed
60g (1/3 cup) soft goat’s cheese, crumbled

Summer is a great time to experiment with different salads, wraps, and simple vegetable preparations using olive oil, lime juice or lemon juice. Fruits with high levels of water help with hydration, while providing loads of essential vitamins and minerals. Eating these superfoods is a form of multi-tasking!  You get high doses of anti-oxidants, which contain important nutrients that strengthen your immune system, control caloric intake while feeling satiated, and aid in the health of your organs and cardiovascular systems.

Bon appetit – your body will thank you!

 


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Don’t sweat it- on second thought, it’s good for you!

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I’m often asked by clients, “Why am I sweating so much, or is my lack of sweating a sign that I’m not working out hard enough? ”  Many factors contribute to excessive sweating, but reasons for profuse sweating, or not sweating enough, differ.

Our body’s built-in mechanism of sweating is an excellent thermo-regulator.  As our core temperatures increases with activity, sweating serves a cooling function as the sweat evaporates.

People have varying numbers and size of sweat glands, which accounts for some people being prodigious sweaters, and others not sweating much at all.

For the full article, go to  http://blog.myfitnesspal.com/everything-you-want-to-know-about-sweat-and-sweating/

For example, an overweight, unfit person may sweat a lot because their body is working hard to manage the exercise. On the other hand, a well trained athlete may sweat early and profusely through a workout because their sweat response is well conditioned, and their system is better acclimated toward maintaining a comfortable temperature during exertion. Note that humidity curtails the cooling effect of sweating, since the air contains too much moisture for efficient evaporation.

The amount you sweat has a lot to do with several factors:

  • age
  • the size of your sweat glands  – we’re all different.
  • how well hydrated you are. Watch this closely in high heat and read on for more specifics.
  • how well acclimated you are to exercise. The better acclimated you are , the more efficient a sweater you’re likely to be.
  • how intensive your workout is, or how much heavier it is than your normal workout. Sweating may not always be a good barometer of how hard you’re working. In cooler temperatures, we can go for longer and harder, as our bodies don’t have to work as hard to maintain a comfortable core temperature.
  • your body fat percentage- Heavier people will sweat more than lean people.

What are some ways to stay cool while exercising outside in the brutally hot and humid weather? Here are some tips as we go through the dog days of summer:

First and foremost, stay hydrated. We’ve all heard this before, but how much fluid is enough?  At least 16 ounces for each hour of exercise is a good rule of thumb, but for very hot weather, add another 8 ounces to the mix. Also, we lose a lot of sodium when we sweat, so you must add electrolytes to your drink if  you’ll be outside for more than half an hour.  Although many sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade contain a lot of sugar, they do provide needed electrolytes. There are others that contain much less sugar, but still provide what’s needed. Fruit or vegetable juice is another good option. Eating things high in salt content, like pickles or nuts,  will provide you with the essentials.

Other important ways to stay safe and cool while exercising in the hot weather follow:

  • Wear light-colored and moisture-wicking clothing.
  • Avoid direct sunlight; try to find shadier areas as temperatures can vary as much as 10-15 degrees from sun to shade.
  • Hydrate before, during and after your workout with fluids as above.
  • After your workout, be sure to refuel with foods or drinks with potassium, sodium and magnesium.
  • Monitor how your body (heart rate, muscle function, sweating) is responding to the heat. Today on my 30 mile bike ride, I went slower than usual, as I could feel I was working harder in the heat and humidity.  If you experience cramps, dizziness or lightheadedness, this is your sign to stop, take it easier and rehydrate or take a break.
  • Avoid the most intense heat of the day, which is between 11-3:30. Most of us do best in the earlier morning before we’re tired, and before many of the day’s activities divert us from exercise.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen to avoid the effects of sunburn. Wear a hat and sunglasses to keep your head cooler and eyes protected.
  • Wet a towel, and wear it around your neck to stay cool. When your neck is cool, your whole body will stay more comfortable.
  • Check your weather app on your phone or website on your computer to see the safety index for exercising. On wunderground, you can see how good the weather is for various activities. For example,  since I set it for biking,  it will tell me the temperature, wind speed, chance of precipitation and humidity.  It can also be set for air quality alerts.

So, there you have it. You can enjoy being outside while still getting all the benefits of exercise, as long as you pay attention to what your body is telling you. If the mercury exceeds what’s comfortable for you,  there’s always the air-conditioning of your home or gym as a back-up.

Welcome to summer, and happy July 4th to all !


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Staying safe during tick season

This is my favorite time of year to be outside. But alas, there’s a record number of tick-borne illnesses that are being reported and treated. It’s a good thing that there are precautions that can keep us safe, despite the annoyance of the extra preparation before venturing out in the woods.

The wetter winter and spring has produced a bumper crop of ticks from larvae that were not killed off during a winter that was fairly mild, with long stretches of warmer than usual weather.  Scientists are blaming climate change, as larger stretches of the U.S. population are experiencing tick-borne illnesses that were once confined to specific regions.  For example, Rocky Mountain Fever, named because it was first diagnosed in Montana, is now being seen in the Midwest and even in southern climes. Lyme disease, which earned its name from Lyme, Connecticut, and was seen mostly in New England states, is now commonly seen in most parts of the U.S. One cattle rancher in Florida reported that 20% of his cattle was afflicted by tick borne diseases.

Many of us have memories of jumping in leaves, rolling down hills in the grass, playing in the woods and climbing trees. These days, forewarned is forearmed, as we need protection from potentially serious illnesses before we come in close contact with forests, mountains, bushes and meadows.

Ticks don’t jump, fly, or drop from trees. The only way that ticks transfer to humans is by direct contact with shrubs, trees, and tall grasses.  Dogs often get ticks, and although dogs can’t catch Lyme disease, they can transmit it. Tick collars are minimally useful; one should check his/her dog after every walk outside to make sure your home and body remain tick free.

Most of us know about the bullseye shaped rash that is a hallmark of Lyme disease. But only 70% of people who contract this have the telltale skin rash. If it goes undiagnosed, serious joint, muscle and even cognitive symptoms may result. The best treatment is early detection and strong antibiotics.

Lyme isn’t the only, nor the most serious disease that ticks may carry. Powassan is a rarer strain of virus that has even more damaging effects. Thirteen people have been diagnosed with Powassan in our state since 2014, with 3 fatalities. This disease can cause encephalitis, and has a 10-15% mortality rate.  Although the initial symptoms like headache, vomiting, high fever, confusion, loss of coordination and speech difficulties are very serious, people can recover, but it’s essential to get medical treatment as early as possible.  Other common viruses carried by ticks are babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaplasmosis, Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever, and tularemia.

Babesiosis is a tick-borne illness that was originally seen only in cattle, but now also has been diagnosed in humans. Symptoms are more vague than that of other illnesses, and malaise and intermittent fevers may go on for months before a diagnosis is made. Long courses of antibiotics is the antidote, but the sooner it is detected, the better the prognosis.

Anaplasmosis is another strain of virus that has similar symptoms of fever, headache and general arthralgias and fatigue. Suffice to say early treatment is essential, as this global virus can has serious long term effects. For more information about tick-borne illnesses, see https://www.cdc.gov/features/stopticks/

So what can you do to enjoy the great outdoors but protect yourself at the same time?

Here are the experts’ suggestions:

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  • DEET is the most effective mosquito and tick repellent, and strengths between 20-50% are ideal for any exposed skin when walking outside in leafy areas. For a handy guide to the best tick repellents, see https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/insect-repellents.html
  • Use Permethrin, which is a spray for your clothing that lasts through 6 washings. This formula actually kills ticks, rather than just repelling them, and has proven to be very effective.
  • Cover your arms and legs, and particularly your lower body, or body parts that come into contact with brush, bushes, grasses and leaves.
  • Do a very thorough tick check after being outside and be sure to check all the crevices, as ticks like warm, moist areas.  The groin, armpits and scalp, the back of knees, behind the ears and around the waist are common areas for ticks to attach.
  • You may not feel a tick bite, since they are very small, with the larvae being about the size of pinpoint, the nymphs the size of a period, and the adults the size of an apple seed.
  • Be sure to check your hair, as they often will try to migrate to the scalp.
  • Take a hot shower right after being outside, which should kill any ticks that may be on you. Ticks take up to 36 hours to attach and begin to suck blood, so they can be easily taken off before they latch on.
  • Wash your clothing and put it in the dryer for at least 10 minutes to be sure that all ticks are killed.
  • If you find a tick on you, the best way to remove it is to get fine pointed tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as you can, and pull gently and firmly straight up. You should  keep the tick and bring it to the doctor for identification if you think you’ve been infected.
  • If you’ve found a tick on your body, tune in closely to any changes in your health. Lyme disease takes 24-36 hours to show symptoms, but Powassan takes only 15 minutes.
  • Get immediate medical help if you suspect you have been infected and have any symptoms including but not limited to:
  1. a red spot or rash near the bite site
  2. a full body rash
  3. neck stiffness
  4. a headache
  5. nausea and/or vomiting
  6. weakness
  7. muscle or joint pain or achiness
  8. a fever
  9. confusion or any change in your cognition

One piece of promising news is that there  is a vaccine in development that is slated to be widely available by 2018. Researchers are hoping that this public health approach will go a long way toward preventing these potentially deadly viruses.

So, suit up, spray yourself and your clothing, and check yourself and your dog after walks for these tiny but outsize threats. Then you can still enjoy the wonders of the season!

 

 


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A powerful lesson for a privileged white woman

Every now and then, an experience comes along that slaps me upside the head.  I had one a week ago in my effort to get to Portland, Oregon. After 7 hours of waiting at the airport gate, then getting on and off the plane on the tarmac, our flight was cancelled.  I figured sleep would be a good idea as 3 AM approached.  No airport hotel rooms were available, so I went to Ozone City, which is in Jamaica, Queens, 15 minutes from JFK airport.  It was at that moment, that I began to notice how alive and aware I felt, in spite of my exhaustion.  Everything was totally different from what I’m used to, from the time I felt stranded and realized I would not make it to the west coast to meet my husband and 2 sons on Thursday night, until the time I finally met up with them on Saturday at 12:30 PM.

From the moment that the Econolodge clerk asked for cash instead of a credit card,  to the hard bed and persnickety climate control, I began to appreciate my ridiculously privileged life even more than I already do, (and I really do count my blessings every day).

The myriad of things I take for granted each day were turned on their heads. Forgive the banality of these daily details but here are some things I now appreciate even more.

Thanks so much for my wicked comfy bed, pillows, sheets and blankets.

Thanks for the perfect temperature in my room at night, and ability to open my windows.

Thanks for the quietude of Newton, complete with occasional sirens and trains, but not equaling the loud voices and TV of my next door Econolodge neighbors, even at 4 AM.

Thanks for the privilege of being able to sleep in the same bed with my husband of 33 years.

After 4 fitful hours of sleep,  I bemoaned the 8 AM (which is a perfectly reasonable hour for those who haven’t gone to sleep until 4 AM)  loud bangs and knocks that came from construction in the next room on the wall against my bed.  When I asked the carpenters next door if they could quiet down, they said they only had 5 more minutes to finish. About 15 minutes later, the banging was replaced by vacuuming for 15 minutes. Giving up on sleep seemed a good idea as I plotted my escape from New York.

Again, I was struck with the good fortune I enjoy in my day-to-day life. Thanks for the privilege to be where I want to be at any time with freedom, mobility, ability, perspective and free will.  Thanks for productive, meaningful, and interesting work that makes me feel good every day I choose, and access to the fitness activities that make me happy. Although I had free will and some mobility in Jamaica, it was not where I wanted to be at that time.  It’s a real life lesson, and makes me think of those who are refugees, fleeing from violence.  Of course, there’s no comparison whatsoever, because so many people are running for their lives, but if I felt stranded, how must they feel?

On the way out the door of the Econolodge, I met Dolores, who is a security guard (pictured here). We had a great talk about breakfast places and how, of course, she wouldn’t know good breakfast places, because breakfast is the easiest meal to make, and it’s best made at home and she lives around there. We also discussed gambling and how we’d both rather save or invest our hard-earned money- she was a lot of fun and very smiley.

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Although I didn’t get a picture of Nugget, the next person I met, he was getting some provisions at the same corner convenience store where I got my most excellent breakfast sandwich.  When he dropped his change, and I bent over to pick it up, he told me thanks, because he couldn’t do it;  he’d had a stroke and went to rehab once a week at a nearby hospital. His breakfast was a can of beer, and the mother in me couldn’t help but ask him if it wasn’t a little early to drink.  He said,  “It’s already 11:30 AM!” and we proceeded to humor each other and talk about rehab and life for a few minutes. His nickname comes from his affinity for Chicken McNuggets from McDonald’s.

I had the day in Jamaica ahead of me, and I considered my options. I hadn’t been able to get a good internet connection for several hours, so thought I’d catch up on my email and writing my blog.  I figured the library would be a good place to get all this done, so my luggage and I set out to find it. Every person I met on the street was friendly and helpful, and happy to tell me where to go (in the nicest way possible!) I happened to be wearing my T shirt that says Bike, Eat, Drink, Sleep, and one guy that I walked by on the street called out, “I got the last 3 down pat !”

When I arrived at the library, the staff were very accommodating, and I was able to use the computers for an additional half hour, for which I was very thankful.  A parade of homeless folks drifted in and out of the library, and were sitting in a circle of chairs behind my perch at the computer. A few of them were very talkative, but I noticed that one man was speaking quietly and pragmatically to the rest of the group. I decided I’d talk to him, and when my internet session timed out, it turned out that he was the only one left in the circle.

I sat down across from him, and we proceeded to have a 2 hour visit.  Ramprasad turned out to be a delightful and engaging man. He told me about his origins in British Guyana, and his Indian ancestors’ emigration to that South American country. He also told me that French Guyana, Dutch Guyana and British Guyana all kept some of their imperialists’ culture, but that France is the only country that maintains jurisdiction over French Guiana, which has kept that name.  The two other Guyanas are independent states.  Dutch Guiana is now called Suriname, and British Guyana is now just called “Guyana”, and is the only country in South America where English is the first language.

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Ramprasad also told me about the people from India, Africa and other countries in the Western hemisphere who were brought to Guyana as slaves, and that slavery was abolished there decades before it was abolished in the U.S.A.  He told me that he’s proud to live in America, and believes that opportunity abounds here, if you’re not lazy.  He is a retired math teacher, and was able to buy a home not far from the library.

It was no coincidence that he was sitting in front of a chess board, as he’s almost a chess master.  He said that kids these days are not patient enough to learn to play chess, and he thinks it’s a great loss, because the game teaches patience.  Each and every move you make has consequences, which is a lesson lost on most kids and teenagers.  I took this rare and perfect opportunity to re-learn how to play chess, which I hadn’t played in many decades. Ramprasad was incredibly patient and was an excellent teacher, and told me why the moves I made were either good or bad. We had a lively game and discussion for the better part of the afternoon, and I really felt honored to be in his presence. Besides feeling almost competent playing chess again, I so appreciated being able to spend time with someone who I never would have had a chance to relax with and talk to at length.

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I have to say, although I missed a day and a half out of a 5 day vacation with my family, the lessons learned from my day in Jamaica, and subsequent 11 hour train ride from Sacramento to Bend, Oregon (which was another worthwhile experience too lengthy for this blog) gave me perspective that escapes me in my normal routines.

Gratefulness in a vacuum is impossible. It’s essential to do what Thomas Friedman, in his book, “Thank you for being late” describes. It is those unplanned, unexpected breaks in normal activities when you find yourself with extra time, when you can have a true experience of “being in the moment”.  Here was a rare opportunity to absorb, process and really reflect on those things that were happening right in front of me, instead of trying to discern what’s important from the million pieces of information that we’re confronted with each day.

“Friedman concludes that nations and individuals must learn to be fast (innovative and quick to adapt), fair (prepared to help the casualties of change), and slow (adept at shutting out the noise and accessing their deepest values).”

I’m interested in all 3 ways of being, but am most enamored with the last one, which occurs all too seldom in my busy life. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on similar experiences. Thanks for reading!

 


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Getting to the marrow of the matter

The research for the benefits of exercise continues to pile up . You’ve heard the studies regarding the effect of exercise on brain health, muscle strength, mood regulation, control of triglycerides and fat metabolism, and bone health.  A new study has found another mechanism by which exercise mediates one of the most active aspects of bone, the marrow. “Marrow, in particular, is a hub of activity, coordinating the formation of bone and cartilage while simultaneously churning out blood cells, immune cells, and cancerous cells.” Marrow also produces fat, and those special fat stores were previously thought to not be used to fuel exercise, unlike fat reserves in other parts of the body. There’s been intense interest in fat in marrow because there’s a strong association between high levels of marrow fat and low bone density.  This new study examined how this fat was influenced by exercise. For the full article, see https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170518140220.htm

The researchers, lead by Maya Styner, a physician and assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, used two groups of mice. One month after birth, one group was fed a high fat diet, resulting in obesity, while the other was fed a normal diet, resulting in the creation of a lean group.  At four months old, half of each group they were given an exercise wheel, and since mice like to run, both groups spent a lot of time running on the wheel. After 6 weeks, the exercising groups of both the obese mice and the lean mice showed significant drops in overall size and the amount of  fat cells in the marrow, reaching nearly identical levels.

“More surprising was the dramatic difference in the number of fat cells present in the marrow, which showed no change in lean mice but dropped by more than half in obese mice that exercised compared to obese mice that were sedentary. The tests also revealed that exercise improved the thickness of bone, and that this effect was particularly pronounced in obese mice.” The research leads us to believe that exercise can burn off fat cells in the marrow, and this in turn builds stronger, thicker bones. This has many implications for people with various conditions that cause osteopenia and osteoporosis, like post-menopausal women and those who have used steroids for extended periods. Other conditions include but are not limited to people with anorexia, diabetes, or arthritis.

There are caveats to this study, as there are in all research that compare mice to humans. Although the kind of the stem cells that produce bone and fat in humans are the same kind that produce them in mice, results are not directly translatable. Another major issue is that because marrow is encased in bone, it is difficult to study.  Previously, toxic tracers used with CT machines was the only way to examine marrow fat.  This study used a sophisticated MRI machine at UNC, eliminating the need for tracers, which can measure activity in living organisms. This will greatly expand opportunities to examine bone marrow activity in human subjects in the future.

What’s the take-away?

  • Exercise has a substantial, significant effect on bone health in everyone, but especially in obese populations.
  • Positive effects were seen after only 6 weeks of exercise
  • Although the exact amount of exercise wasn’t measured, we know that cardio exercise that involves impact (running, walking, weight training) improves bone density

If you haven’t been convinced yet about the importance of exercise, here’s another study to confirm its importance to continued vitality through bone health. So get out there, hit the road,  mountain,  forest, or whatever environment in which you can walk or run that makes your heart sing!


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Wait, What?

When writing my last blog post, I wanted to hear from an inspirational athlete about his journey toward marathon fulfillment. I spoke to Marc Fucarile, who, as a result of the marathon bombing, lost his right leg above the knee and has shrapnel in many parts of his body. He was the last to leave the hospital because of the severity of his injuries. Marc let me in on his motives and how he prepared for the race.

Marc said that one of the main reasons he competes is to be a role model to his 9 year old son, Gavin. He’s showing Gavin through his actions that no matter what happens, you must still show up, and participate to the best of your ability.  Although he says he doesn’t have much time to train for the marathons, he stays in very good shape and has completed them all, and this speaks volumes. His determination and spirit have propelled him to complete several marathons since the bombing in 2013. In the last four years, he has competed in the Los Angeles and New York Marine Corps marathons in the hand cycling division.  He raises money for Semper Fi/America’s Fund which provides “immediate financial assistance and lifetime support to post-9/11 wounded, critically ill and injured members of all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their families, ensuring that they have the resources they need during their recovery and transition back to their communities”. He also raises money for the Achilles Freedom Team, which is composed of wounded war veterans and civilians who were severely injured as a result of the 9/11 bombings.

In thinking about his story, I came across the 2016 commencement speech of the dean of education at Harvard University, James Ryan.  He posits that there are 5 basic questions that get to the heart of life fulfillment. For the full speech, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBvyBn6crLE

Wait, What?

I Wonder if/what…..

Couldn’t We At Least…..?

How Can I Help?

What Truly Matters?

  1. Wait, What? is that question you get when someone, for example your child, isn’t really listening and suddenly realizes you’re asking something of him/her that requires clarification. It causes one to stop, and make sure you understand something. Did you mean, or are you saying?… is an excellent question to truly understand what is being asked.
  2. I wonder why.. or if…  “Why” creates curiosity and “if” opens up possibilities. It causes people to imagine together, and expands the realm of solutions.  You are not positing an opinion or acting like the expert, but you are inviting collaboration. This is at the heart of brainstorming and potentially important new insights.
  3. Couldn’t we at least?… is an excellent way to get to consensus about an issue, rather than holding a polarized, fixed position. It’s a good way to get started if you feel stuck.  For example, if a discussion began with “Couldn’t we at least agree that children should be well fed when they arrive at school?”,  vs. “We need to increase funds for poor students.”
  4. How can I help? is an excellent way to find out how to truly meet someone’s needs. We may be in the habit of asking, “Can I help? but when you ask the question HOW can I help? you are giving power back to the person you want to help, as they are in the best position to figure out how best you can be of assistance. This brings to mind the typical interaction between couples when a spouse complains about a difficult day, and the partner responds in a “fixing” way, like “you should do this, or that”, when often the best response would be to just listen and empathize.
  5. What truly matters?  is the question that gets to the essence of fulfillment. If you include this in your new year’s resolutions, it may give clarity to help form meaningful goals. Given that you can’t achieve ALL that you want, and you must choose between competing interests, how can you drill down to the truly essential elements of contentment?

The bonus question is ” Did you get what you wanted from this life?” which comes from this poem, Late Fragment by Raymond Carver.

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”
―from Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall

Back to Marc Fucarile. He’s a young man of 38, so he has plenty of time to continue accomplishing his goals. He’s a motivational speaker, and volunteers for an organization to help others who have lost limbs due to injury or illness. He may have begun with the question- how can I help, or I wonder…, and maybe ended up with what truly matters- fully engaging in life no matter what the circumstances, and to be beloved by his son and others he has helped.

What answers do you have to these life questions? Because the last question was pondered by one who was at the end of his life, this one perhaps may be answered only partially; the others bear some serious reflection.