Wednesday, July 18, 2012

7 Ways to Stay Healthy This Fall

I'm overjoyed that fall is here. It's my favorite time of year.

Fall means pumpkins, mushrooms, apple cider, and soup. Some of my favorite foods.

Fall can also mean colds, flu, and low energy.

Is there a way to ward off such inconveniences? Well nothing is foolproof, but here are 7 suggestions to stay healthy this fall so you can enjoy all the festivities of corn mazes, apple picking, leaf peeping, pumpkin carving and football.

Eat those apples (and other seasonal fruit). Apples have been shown to strengthen your immune system. Other seasonal fruits such as pomegranates and citrus also help you ward off fall illness by giving you a big boost of vitamin C and phytonutrients. Aim for 2-3 servings of these nutrient dense foods a day.

Slow down. It seems like I've been going full-throttle lately. I know that for those with kids, the start of school is partial relief, partial stress creator. So as the air is turning colder, take some time out to relax and let your body renew. Even if it's just 10 minutes a day, sit in your favorite spot and watch the world go by. Maybe have a cup of herbal tea. Slow down and take in the crispness of autumn air.

Part of slowing down is also getting your 8 hours of sleep a night. I know it's hard to get 8 hours during the long days of summer. The shorter days make fall the perfect time to start a habit of getting to bed earlier and recommitting to 8 hours of sleep a night.

Get those fall greens. We often think of green for spring, but greens are also a perfect fall food. Greens grow better in the cooler weather, and are actually sweeter than when grown in the summer. So now is a perfect time to try kale or mustard greens, arugula or bok choi. Of course don't forget the broccoli and cauliflower.

Wash up. One of the easiest ways for germs to spread is through hand-to-hand contact. You don't have to get excessive about it, but be sure to wash your hands, especially after you sneeze or if you are traveling with lots of people. Plain old soap and warm water do the trick; so don't waste your money on expensive hand sanitizers or antibacterial soaps or sprays.

Spice it up. Spices have been used for centuries to boost your immune system. Try any of these spices to boost the flavor of your dishes, as well as strengthen your immune system. Turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, black pepper and more. For a wonderful relaxing drink that will help you slow down and boost your immune system at the same time, try some homemade chai - not the processed stuff with loads of sugar, but homemade goodness.

Check out my recipe:

In 10 ounces of water, boil the following: 4 whole black peppercorns, 4 whole green cardamom pods, 3 whole cloves, ½ stick cinnamon, ½ inch fresh ginger root. Let boil for 15 to 20 minutes. Then add ½ cup almond milk. Heat again, strain and enjoy.

Try some herbs. Many tout the benefits of Echinacea, but I have a big fan of Astragulus. It can even be taken by those with auto-immune conditions because it is an adaptogen. That means it is thought to help protect the body against various stresses, including physical, mental, or emotional stress. Like many herbs, you don't want to take it forever. Instead, take it for week when you start feeling run down. Or if you're traveling, take it a few days before, during, and then a few days after your trip.

Hang out with the Fun-Gi. Mushrooms are great for increasing your white blood cells - the cells responsible for fighting off illness. Whether sautéed, marinated or raw, mushrooms are amazing foods. While maitake and shitake are the most coveted for the immune boosting powers, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, your standard white button mushrooms have recently been shown to be pretty powerful immune boosters.

Not sure how to add mushrooms to your diet? Try this easy and delicious recipe.

A Fall Celebration Salad

2-3 shitake mushrooms, cleaned, de-stemmed and sliced 
juice of ½ lemon 
1 tbl Bragg's amino acids 
½ Asian pear, sliced thin 
hand full of walnuts 
hand full of dried cranberries (without sugar if you can find them) 
2 cups mixed greens


Juice of 1 lemon 
1/3 cup olive oil 
1 tsp sea salt

Place sliced mushrooms in a glass bowl. Pour lemon juice and Bragg's over the mushrooms. Stir. Let sit for 20 minutes or longer

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour dressing over greens. Place greens on a plate. Evenly distribute marinated mushrooms, pear, walnuts and cranberries on each plate.

Any other tips you like for staying healthy this fall?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Role of the Small Intestine in Digestion

The small intestine is the grand central of the digestive system. Most of the real digestive process happens here.

Most of the protein, fat and carbohydrate breakdown happens within the small intestine. Most of the nutrient absorption also happens here. It is roughly 22 feet long, muscular tube that sits between the stomach and the large intestine.

The small intestine connects to stomach through a muscle called the pylorus. This connection is the pyloric valve. Whenever small intestine is not busy with digestion, stomach releases chyme through the pyloric valve.

Small intestine works with liver, pancreas and gallbladder for digestion. There are digestive enzymes that secrete within its wall. But the digestive enzymes from liver, gallbladder and pancreas are also delivered here to help with digestion.

The liver sends bile to the gallbladder through the hepatic ducts for storage and concentration. Pancreas delivers pancreatic enzymes into the small intestine through the pancreatic duct. The gallbladder is connected to the pancreatic duct through the cystic duct and delivers concentrated bile.

The small intestine has three major parts, duodenum, jejunum and ileum. Duodenum is a Latin word and it means 12 fingers. It is about 10 inches long. Jejunum is also a Latin word and it mean empty at death. It is about 6 to 8 feet long. And the ileum is the last part, which could be up to 11 and a half feet long.

Chyme is partially digested stomach content. Stomach squirts chyme into the duodenum - the first part of the small intestine. The liver and gallbladder deliver bile through ducts to the duodenum. Pancreas delivers a very complex mix of enzymes through the pancreatic duct into the duodenum.

Pancreatic enzymes include alkalis such as bicarbonates, which neutralize the stomach acid. Besides alkalis, pancreas secretes 15 different enzymes that work on three major food components carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

The enzymes in the small intestine carry out two stage enzymatic breakdown of the nutrients. Complex nutrient molecules are first decomposed into less complex molecules and later less complex molecules are broken into most basic forms.

Bile salts emulsify large fat droplets and create an emulsion of tiny fat droplets. Thus increasing the surface area for enzyme action.

Pancreatic amylase converts long chain carbohydrates like starch into disaccharides (two molecule sugars) - mainly maltose sugar. Pancreatic lipase works on small fat droplets and converts triglycerides into monoglycerides and fatty acids. The pancreatic protease enzyme breaks down protein into short chain peptide and amino acids.

Remaining of the small intestine - jejunum and ileum - is the site for the last breakdown of the food and its absorption into the blood and lymphatic fluids. The bile and the pancreatic juices continue to work within jejunum and ileum, although intestinal wall also releases few enzymes.

The enzymes work within the lining cells and on their surface. These enzymes include lactase and maltase, which work on disaccharide carbohydrates and convert them into simple sugars like glucose and galactose. Intestinal peptidases convert short peptide chains into their sub-units amino acids.

This way, finally carbohydrates turn into simple sugars, the proteins turn into amino acids and fats turn to monoglycerides and fatty acids. These are the simplest form of molecules, easily absorbed into the blood stream.

Finger-like villi of the small intestine lining give a large area for absorption of nutrients resulting from digestion. Through the surface of the villi, nutrients enter into the blood stream.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Senior Fitness: Identifying Physical Activity Barriers

I haven't been physically active lately and look it. My weight zoomed up and I don't have the stamina I had previously. Though I'm still within the normal weight range, I have small bones, and the extra weight doesn't look good on me.

This fact hit home when my husband and I attended a weekend conference. Our picture was taken before dinner, developed during dinner, and given to us as we left. When I looked at the photo I couldn't believe my eyes? Who was that chubby woman? Who was the large man next to her?

"We've got to lose weight!" I exclaimed to my husband. This spiked my curiosity about the physical activity barriers many older adults face, and I searched the Internet for information. A Mayo Clinic website article, "Barriers to Fitness: Overcoming Common Challenges," lists five barriers: lack of time, attitude, self-consciousness about appearance, fatigue, and lack of motivation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites other barriers on its website. Fear of being injured is one barrier and I suspect it is a common one. Lack of safe parks and safe walking areas are other barriers. "Look upon your retirement as an opportunity to become more active instead of less," the CDC advises. Good advice, but how could I follow it?

I read a dozen articles or so and none of them -- not one -- addressed health barriers. What are some of them? These are my health barriers and you may face them as well.

1. Arthritis. During my last physical exam I told my physician about my painful right hip. She ordered x-rays and the results showed I had two arthritic hips, not one. When my hip is throbbing I'm not inclined to go for a walk.

2. Medications. I have high blood pressure and take several prescribed medications to control it. These medications slow my heart and my walking speed when climbing stairs.

3. Injury. Several months ago I fractured a bone in my foot. My foot was so painful I went to the hospital emergency department. I was given a prescription for pain killers, told to stay off my feet, and use crutches. Though my foot is healing nicely, every once in a while I get a stabbing pain in my foot.

4. Occupation. I am a nonfiction writer -- a sedentary occupation. In addition to writing books and articles, I write for two websites. As you might imagine, I spend hours at the computer.

5. Weather. Outside physical activity is difficult in Minnesota when the temperature is below zero and the wind chill freezes flesh. I know how to dress for the weather and enjoy walking in the snow, but have to be on constant alert for icy patches. The last thing I want to do is fall and break a hip.

Chronic illnesses, such as diabetes and asthma,also make physical activity difficult for older adults. Have you identified your physical activity barriers? If not, you may wish to take the "Barriers to Being Active Quiz," posted by the CDC.

Twenty-one barriers are listed on the left and rating possibilities on the right. The ratings: very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely, and very unlikely. At the end of the quiz you tally your score. It will reveal your barriers, which include lack of time, social influence, lack of willpower, fear of injury, lack of skill, and lack of resources. Once you have identified your barriers, you can work on overcoming them.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Treatise on Strength: Part 4, Conclusion

The purpose of this series was to give you a practical definition of strength, and I will give you what it is shortly. First, let's look at a few things.

"He who overcomes others is strong. He who overcomes himself is mighty" - Chinese Proverb
The De-strengthening of society:

The history of humanity is a history of the strong. Our ancestors have had to survive every possible terrain and climate you can think of. Look at where people live now. I come from Minnesota where the winter weather will sit 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit below zero for weeks at a time. Living in a home with central heating and double-paned windows makes this easy, but the pioneers who settled the land did not have these luxuries.

The settlers made houses out of the earth, and before them, the Native Americans had animal hide shelters. In prehistoric times, Man had to fight for every scrap of food, for the right to mate, and to protect his home. During the Industrial Revolution children, would work up to 14 hours a day 6 days a week in coal mines and cotton mills. We have survived every natural disaster that has ever happened, and continue to live in places plagued by earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes. These feats require strength. Not only has humanity survived these grueling situations; humanity has thrived!

At one point in time, it was survive or die. As stated in the previous instalments,

Monday, July 2, 2012

Longing for Longevity

If you had to rank the following activities in order of preference, what would your choices be?

___Floss your teeth every night.


___Get a colonoscopy.

___Exercise. Exercise. Exercise.

___Go on vacation.

Now, if you had to guess what all of the above have in common, what would you say?

Give up? Believe it or not, the answer is that each of them can prolong your life.

You probably already know about the standard lifespan enhancers: Watch what you eat. Workout. Schedule regular checkups, routine tests, and immunizations. And if you smoke, quit. Sure, these sorts of efforts are 100% fundamental... but they're 0% fun. They're not the kind of things anyone would long for. That's what I wanted to explore. Was there any way we could put the "long" in longevity? I was happy to find that scientific studies tell us of at least three ways.

An article on the Psychology Today website by Dr. Wednesday Martin summarized research on vacationing and concluded, "skipping vacation can actually put your physical, mental, and fiscal health at risk." (Woo Hoo!! Caribbean here I come!) The article cited numerous studies, including the Framingham Heart Study and quoted University of Pittsburgh researcher Karen Matthews on the clear link between vacation and longevity: "The more frequent the vacations, the longer the men lived." The article also referenced a follow up study done by the State University of New York at Oswego that produced specific numbers: Men who go on vacations annually lessen their overall risk of death by an astonishing 20% and their risk of dying from heart from heart disease by 30%!

The next life-prolonger I discovered really shocked me. Did you know that flossing your teeth can put an extra 6.4 years on your lifespan? That's what Dr. Michael Roizen says in his book, The RealAge Makeover. Look at what a deal that is: Floss one minute a night and get maybe six more years of life. That's an incredible return on investment and the kind of bargain I'd take any day. I love a good bargain. A good bargain excites me. So I guess you could say I long for good bargains and when I find one, it can really motivate me. For years my dentist had been telling me to floss my teeth but frankly, I couldn't be bothered. That was until I came across studies that showed what an impact good oral care can have on longevity. I've been flossing religiously every night ever since. I no longer look at dental floss as a pesky little string. I now behold it as "The Fountain of Tooth." Isn't it interesting how a single bit of information... how viewing something in a new light can change your behavior overnight?

Last in the line of my favorite life-prolongers is a trifecta of treats: Eat. Play. Laugh. I was delighted to discover that dark chocolate and red wine are associated with longevity. And that a Swedish study found people who play golf live longer because they spend more time outdoors. And that research from Norway shows laughter can extend the lifespan. Who wouldn't long for all that? So here's my prescription for adding years: Book plenty of vacations with loved ones who make you laugh. Or if funny bones don't run in your family, catch a couple of comedies at the movie theater while you're away. Play golf during your trip or simply spend some time outdoors while you're savoring a daily dark chocolate bon-bon and sipping some red wine. And of course, don't forget to pack plenty of dental floss so you can add even more years to your life while you're adding years to your life.