Make the Census Count

When we look at Wellness, we need to consider what enhances a healthy life.  Facilities such as schools, hospitals, roads, parks, governmental representation and funding are all components of Wellness.

This year the Bureau of the Census will conduct the 23rd decennial census, mandated by the U.S. Constitution.  The census will count every person living in the U.S. on April 1.  An exception to the April 1 date is the rural Alaska count in areas accessible only by small plane, boat, snowmobile, four-wheel-drive vehicle, or dog sled.  This early start is conducted so census enumerators (counters) can reach people living in remote locations before the spring thaw. After the spring thaw, these areas may become inaccessible.

In addition to determining the number of representatives from each state sent to the U.S. House of Representatives, the information collected by the census helps determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding each year is spent on infrastructure and services such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Job training centers
  • Schools
  • Senior centers
  • Bridges, tunnels and other-public works projects
  • Emergency services

Locally, Broward County was the first county in the nation to form a Complete Count Committee. The mission of this committee is to raise awareness about the importance of the 2010 Census, reach out to hard-to-enumerate groups, and encourage participation in the census in order to obtain an accurate count of Broward County residents.

It is important that the census obtains an accurate count.  An accurate count ensures that resources are allocated according to current and anticipated need.

Remember to return your Census form to help ensure that your community has the resources it needs to facilitate the health and wellness of its residents.

Jogging Weather

31 Degrees in Fort Lauderdale

Today’s run at Fort Lauderdale beach was the first of the New Year.  Although there was an 18 mph wind from the south, with gusts to 28 mph, the temperature was 73 °.  Last weekend, the temperature was 31°, so I opted to postpone the inaugural run of the new year until today.

My coldest run was in Fairbanks, Alaska when I was an Air Force captain.  That run was 20 ° below zero in December.  As we used to say, it was too cold to snow.  Ice crystals just seemed to fall from the sky all day.  The hottest weather I ever ran in was at a military Red Flag exercise at Las Vegas; the temperature was 114°.  In each case, the weather was so dry, the humidity did not prevent the run.

Although the recent cold snap in Florida does not compare with the winter weather experienced in most of the country, no matter where you are, it is important to dress according to the local conditions and remain well hydrated.

Preferred Running Temperature.

As you jog, air flow around the body removes the sweat from the surface of the body through evaporation, engaging the body’s natural cooling mechanism.  For my own exercise programs I prefer synthetic clothing that wicks the moisture away from the body; aiding the cooling effect.

A secondary choice is for exercise wear is light cotton.  Avoid wearing clothing that will trap moisture and heat next to the body.  Some manufacturers of synthetic moisture wicking materials claim that the use of their product has a greater cooling effect than not wearing a shirt during a run.  Keep in mind that wearing a shirt does provides some protection from the sun.

Whenever and wherever you chose to exercise, the bottom line is to use common sense.  Start your program slowly and dress appropriately for the weather.

Setting Healthy Goals

Once again we are at the start of a new year; a time when many of us make New Year’s resolutions and “start anew” in our lives.  As we make these resolutions, or goals to better our lives in the upcoming year, we need to ensure that we will be successful.
CDC Employees Exercising

On the CNN Health website, visitors were asked, “What are you resolving for 2010?”  The available responses broke down as:
     Diet – 21%
     Exercise – 45%
     Cut stress – 34%

Although not a scientific poll, it allowed some interesting analysis.  I thought that diet would have topped the list but respondents placed it third.

We are surrounded by information in the media about the importance of exercise in a healthy lifestyle.  This time of year there is no shortage of infomercials selling us gadgets to get and stay in shape.  You can check out healthy exercise guidelines and suggestions, “Be Physically Active in the New Year”,  from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

I attribute the second place position of “Cut Stress” to the current uncertainties in the economy.  While we may not be able to affect the state of the economy, we can take time to manage our stress.  One of the easiest stress reduction techniques is meditation and breathing exercises.   Remember to breathe from the diaphragm and to take full breaths.

Eating healthy on a budget is affordable and easy.  Just keep in mind that eating off a dollar menu – for you and your family – may have long term health consequences.  There are many free web sites you can view that provide shopping tips and recipes.  Please make sure that the site is reputable.  As always, remember to talk to your doctor or others on your health care team if you have questions.

Whatever goals you chose for the coming year – hopefully these goals will become healthy habits – remember to keep them S-M-A-R-T: Specific – Measurable – Attainable – Realistic – Timely.

Specific – A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. A goal might be to lose 20 pounds, rather than to just “lose weight.”

Measurable – Make sure you can measure your progress.  If you want to lose 20 pounds, have a system to measure your progress, target dates, etc.

Attainable – Have a realistic goal such as to lose 10 to 20 pounds.  Breaking your goals into increments will help ensure success.  According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “A weight loss of 5 to 7 percent of body weight may improve your health and quality of life, and it may prevent weight-related health problems, like type 2 diabetes. For a person who weighs 200 pounds, this means losing 10 to 14 pounds.”

Realistic – A high goal may provide greater motivation than a low one, but make sure that your goal is realistic.

Timely – If you want to exercise/ lose weight /reduce stress this year you should set a timeframe to achieve your goal(s).

This year, my goals include:

Learn specific cooking techniques – I’ve signed up for a series of free classes at a cookware store.

Learn to jump rope – I will do this by the end of the semester as part of the Aerobic Wellness course I’m teaching

Continue my education on health and wellness – since this permeates everything I do, I intentionally have not set an end date.  As always, my goal is to find the best information for my family and friends, my students, and myself.

Happy New Year and good health to each of you.

Why Our Health Matters

This week, health care reform took center stage in the news.  While government leaders and political pundits debate the merits of the current legislation, we need to keep in mind that we need to take steps to promote and maintain our own health. 

Andrew Weil

In his book, Why Our Health Matters, Andrew Weil, M.D., Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, emphasizes that we need to invest in health promotion and prevention programs.  As a health educator, this is my role. 

Health promotion and prevention programs are not about saying what we can and cannot eat or what we must do to maintain our health; they’re about providing the information to help people make better choices.

Dr. Weil suggests that an Office of Health Education should be established within the Department of Education.  Similarly, he recommends a National Institute of Health and Healing.  This would put the focus on health and healing rather than on disease management.  A National Institute of Health and Healing would promote research on the body’s innate mechanisms for maintaining health, for repair, for regeneration – this is where health begins.

We need to concentrate more on health than on sickness; to increase the confidence of individuals that their bodies can heal themselves.

The body has a marvelous capacity to maintain and to restore health.  As we go through life it’s up to all of us to find ways to maintain and enhance that capacity.

Small incremental changes can make a big difference.  Whether through making healthier food choices, such as cutting back on saturated fats and refined food; increasing physical activity (please note the previous postings on my pedometer research); or participating in stress management techniques, we all have the capacity to improve the health of our families and ourselves.

Physical and Social Benefits of Volunteering

It’s Sunday night.  I’ve been to two fundraisers, two community tree trimmings and hosted a dinner party for friends I haven’t seen in ten years.  I feel good about my accomplishments.

Charlie, 92, helps put up lights

According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, the past two decades has provided a growing body of research that indicates volunteering provides individual health benefits in addition to social benefits.

This research has established a strong relationship between volunteering and health. Those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.

The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research has found a significant connection between volunteering and good health. The report shows that volunteers have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of heart disease.

Research suggests that volunteering is particularly beneficial to the health of older adults and those serving 100 hours annually. According to the report:

• A study of adults age 65 and older found that the positive effect of volunteering on physical and mental health is due to the personal sense of accomplishment an individual gains from his or her volunteer activities.

• Another study found that volunteering led to lower rates of depression in individuals 65 and older.

• A Duke study found that individuals who volunteered after experiencing heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression – two factors that that have been linked to mortality in post-coronary artery disease patients.

Marge’s 98th birthday

• An analysis of longitudinal data found that individuals over 70 who volunteered approximately 100 hours had less of a decline in self-reported health and functioning levels, experienced lower levels of depression, and had more longevity.

• Two studies found that volunteering threshold is about 100 hours per year, or about two hours a week. Individuals who reached the threshold enjoyed significant health benefits, although there were not additional benefits beyond the 100-hour mark.

I am fortunate that many of my elderly neighbors, about a half dozen of which are in their nineties, are active and continue to volunteer in the community.  One of the neighbors assisting with the tree trimming, Charlie, will soon be 92.  He stays active by taking daily walks, some up to two and a half miles.  Debra, who was a Freedom Rider with Martin Luther King, Jr., is a library volunteer.  Marge, who just celebrated her 98th birthday, is one of those rare persons that make you glad just to know her.  These and other neighbors are an inspiration to all of us.

If this research on volunteering holds true, I look forward to joining my friends and neighbors in many more years of healthy living – and volunteering – in the years to come.

Art Museum – Stress Management

Last week I gave my students a stress management assignment; participate in a wellness activity that would take them out of their usual routine and experience something different.

Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell

Since I always try to do the assignments I give my students, this weekend I walked to the Fort Lauderdale Art Museum to see the special exhibit “American Chronicles: the Art of Norman Rockwell.” This experience allowed me to combine several activities; in this case physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual wellness.

I’ve seen many Norman Rockwell illustrations throughout the years. As an Eagle Scout, and former scout leader, my first introduction to Norman Rockwell was his paintings of Boy Scouts. These were reproduces in Scouting handbooks and magazines. On display was A Scout is Helpful; a depiction of a Scout rescuing a young girl and her kitten from a flood. As I got older, the idealistic and sentimentalized portrayals of holidays, American life, and homecomings became more familiar.

Later, as a student of Political Science, History, Health and Wellness, the paintings were interesting on the surface, but with all great artists, the paintings led you to ask about the story behind the painting. Such examples are his Four Freedoms, based on a speech by President Franklin Roosevelt; The Problem We All Live With, dealing with school integration; and Murder in Mississippi (Southern Justice), which depicts the murders of the three civil rights workers in Mississippi.

Over his career, Rockwell created 323 covers for the Saturday Evening Post. My tribute to the artist was to burn 330 calories walking to the museum. I hope my students’ lessons in stress management were equally satisfying.

Wellness Education

One of the ways I stay up to date on health news is to listen to podcasts while I exercise.

college studentsAccording to a recent “Your Health” podcast from National Public Radio (NPR), students at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania are upset about a school rule requiring overweight students to take an exercise course in order to graduate. This applies to students with a body mass index above 30 (the BMI classification for obese).  James DeBoy, chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Lincoln University, says the school officials believe that it’s their responsibility to alert students to the dangers of obesity.  The university believes that the measure sends an important message about battling obesity in black America.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows “blacks had 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity, and Hispanics had 21 percent higher obesity prevalence compared with whites.”  The study used data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS); an ongoing, state-based, random-digit–dialed telephone survey of the U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized population aged 18 years and older.

While Lincoln University purports to raise awareness of obesity in the black community by requiring the obese students to take the “Fitness for Life” health and nutrition class, perhaps all students should take the class and not single out one segment of the student body.  At Broward College, I teach required Total Wellness courses.  From the information obtained in the course, students identify how to apply the information to lead healthy lives that contribute to the welfare of the community and the environment.

Student feedback shows that the information learned in my class is shared with family members, helping support a healthier lifestyle.

In order to educate students about healthy living and reinforce healthy behaviors, we need to educate all students.  For more information on obesity trends, tables, including an animated map, visit the CDC website.

Family Health History

At Thanksgiving and other holidays, we should take the opportunity to talk with our families about health issues faced by our relatives – both living and dead.

Family Health Portrait
Family Health Portrait

Although we may be predisposed to the same medical conditions as our relatives – high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc. – that does not mean that we will come down with the same conditions ourselves, only that we may be susceptible to them.  Like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, these ailments “are shadows of what may be.”  Genetics are only part of the equation.  As the popular expression proclaims, “genes load the gun; lifestyle pulls the trigger.”

In other words, we may be predisposed to the same ailments, but we should not entertain the fatalistic approach that these conditions are inevitable.  Remember, a healthy lifestyle is the key to prevention.

When I started teaching a number of years ago, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) encouraged U.S. citizens to track their family health history with a chart, similar to a family tree; recommending that participants record known health history for each family member.  Since I did the family genealogy, it was a relatively easy task.

HHS now sponsors the Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative – a revised, convenient, and free computer tool (available in English and Spanish) to help families gather their health information.  This information should be shared with your family doctor and other family members.

Each year since 2004, the Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day. Over the holiday or at other times when families gather, the Surgeon General encourages Americans to talk about, and to write down, the health problems that seem to run in their family. Learning about their family’s health history may help ensure a longer, healthier future together.1

Awareness is a key to preventing disease.  Take the time to learn what ailments afflicted your relatives and take the necessary measures – diet, exercise, screenings, etc. – to prevent or delay these afflictions in you and your children.

Saturated Fat – No Biological Shutoff

Saturated Fat BellyThe October issue of Scientific American presents the article, “Lard Lesson: Why Fat Lubricates Your Appetite.” In the article it looks at the possible connection between saturated fat in the diet and obesity.

The article banner states, “Saturated fats dull the brain’s response to key appetite hormones, an effect useful in our evolutionary past during times of scarcity, but not so much in a well-fed society.”

Put quite simply, the hormones ghrelin, leptin, and insulin are involved in appetite control. Ghrelin signals hunger, so we eat. The digested food becomes glucose, enters the bloodstream and signals the pancreas to produce insulin to store this circulating energy source and tells the body we have had enough to eat. Leptin also signals the body to stop eating.

The article cites a University of Cincinnati study published in the September issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation reporting after three days of a diet high in saturated fat, rats and mice “became resistant to leptin and insulin. In contrast, unsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, did not trigger resistance.” Researchers feel this response could be the same in humans.

Although health educators and nutritionists apprise us of the chronic consequences of a diet high in saturated fats (e.g. triple layer burgers with cheese, high fat meats, and fried everything), scientists ask why the body does not reach satiety and shuts down the very mechanisms (leptin and insulin) that tell the body to stop eating when faced with an overabundance of saturated fat.

As stated in the article’s banner, the key may lie in our evolution. During times of famine, the body relied on its accumulated fat stores to survive. Today, while rarely faced with food scarcity, the body interprets a diet high in saturated fats as a signal that we are in a period of starvation and the body is merely doing what it was designed to do – use its accumulated fat stores for energy – for survival. Therefore, the body ignores the high levels of fat in the bloodstream (thinking that it is necessary to survive the current “famine”) and overrides the “shut off” signals of insulin and leptin, thus keeping a high level of fat in the bloodstream in order to survive.

The lead author, Stephen Benoit, notes that this neurological override was useful at some point in our evolutionary history, but not so today.

What does this research mean to us?

If the body sees a diet high in saturated fat as a survival mechanism, the body allows us to continue eating in order to maintain a high fat content in the blood. Conversely, we must maintain a way of eating that allows proper nutrition and avoid the chronic disease implication of a high saturated fat diet – obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, etc.

One such diet low in saturated fats and higher in vegetables is the “Mediterranean” diet. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), “people who follow the average Mediterranean diet eat less saturated fat than those who eat the average American diet.

More than half the fat calories in a Mediterranean diet come from monounsaturated fats (mainly from olive oil). Monounsaturated fat doesn’t raise blood cholesterol levels the way saturated fat does.”

“Mediterranean” diet

Foods from a Mediterranean diet.
Foods from a Mediterranean diet.

Although more than 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea and their diets have slight variations, the AHA finds these common characteristics:

  • high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds
  • olive oil is an important monounsaturated fat source
  • dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts, and little red meat is eaten
  • eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
  • wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts

While further research is needed to determine whether diet or other lifestyle factors are responsible for lower incidence of heart disease in this region, this type of diet may allow the hormones leptin and insulin to shut off the instinct to continue eating when we are full.

My 7,500 Mile Walk

Over the past four years, I walked 15 million steps – the equivalent of walking 7,500 miles around the perimeter of the United States. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering I did it while teaching college courses, working at a library, completing a second master’s degree, volunteering and still managing to have time for myself.

15 million steps = 7,500 miles walked around the United States.

15 million steps is equvalent to walking 7,500 miles around the United States.

The secret to my success was to walk an average of 10,000 steps per day. Using the standard value of 2,000 steps per mile, the 15 million steps logged on my pedometer (step counter) represent 7,500 miles.

These daily steps help me maintain a healthy body weight. As studies demonstrate, those taking 10,000 steps per day have a healthy body mass index (Allen, 2009; Jackson & Howton, 2008).

Keep in mind, that not everyone walks 10,000 steps per day. Some of us may walk more; some may walk less. If you would like to start a walking program, the important thing to do is to find out how many steps you currently take per day.

When choosing a pedometer, I recommend you select one that has a cover to prevent accidental reset. One pedometer I recommend comes in a “buddy pack.” You should also buy a security strap to keep the pedometer from getting lost. To help ensure your success, you should have a friend or family member join you in your daily step program. Working with a partner will help keep both of you motivated.

10,000 steps

10,000 steps on a pedometer / step counter.

Write down your daily steps for one week, or keep track in a spreadsheet. Once you determine your average number of daily steps, try to increase your total number of weekly steps by three to five percent. Using a weekly average will account for some days when you walk a lot, as well as days when you are less active.

As with any physical activity, check with your physician before starting your exercise program. After you determine your baseline, increase your steps gradually and remember to have fun.  

According to my calculations, I should reach my next goal – 16 million steps – around Valentine’s Day; an auspicious date to promote heart health. Good luck with your own walking program and let me know about your success.

For more information on how a pedometer can support your wellness program, please check out my pedometer research interview and research abstract.