Author Archives: BarbaraU

About BarbaraU

A health education professional with a passion for acquiring, using, and sharing knowledge to increase health and wellness in myself, those around me, and hopefully you, too!

What makes you smile?

Smiling feels good. Sometimes we just can’t help it! We can give a smile, yet still have one. We can have our smiles returned, yet the returnees retain theirs. One of my all-time favorite quotes is Victor Borge’s “The shortest distance between two people is a smile.” Close the gap!

I can always find a reason to smile. Sometimes I have to look harder than others. Sometimes I forget to look. But once I remember it’s always worth the effort! Of course there are certainly times in life when a smile isn’t appropriate. Fear, anger, and sadness need to be felt and processed. But sometimes we get stuck there. Sometimes we need to pull ourselves out, and oftentimes it starts with a smile.

As I sat at my desk tonight deep into a project I was not enjoying I saw my 101 Reasons to Smile bookmark. I was not expecting to smile, but I smiled. It felt so good I posted to Facebook: What makes you smile? The first response was giggling babies. YouTube here I come! One video of giggling babies and one of babies laughing at dogs, and my spirits were much higher. So much so I took to my blog to share!

Have you ever felt the change in attitude after an unexpected smile? There was an icebreaker at a recent networking event I attended. It was called Say “Ha!” Each person repeated then added another “Ha!” so the second person said “Ha Ha!” The third, “Ha Ha Ha!” It seemed silly to some, completely absurd to others. But by the time it was over almost everyone had been laughing and most everyone was smiling. Let the human interactions begin! It’s much easier to network in a room of smiling faces rather than a room full of people steeped in thought, worry, and who knows what else.

If feeling good (and making others feel good) isn’t reason enough to make us want to smile sometimes, there’s always the other benefits of smiling. “Over the long term, smiling can benefit your health, perception at work, social life, and romantic status.”

“In ancient China, the Taoists taught that a constant inner smile to oneself, insured health, happiness and longevity. Why? Smiling to yourself is like basking in love: you become your own best friend. Living with an inner smile is to live in harmony with yourself.” -Mantak Chia, Taoist Master. If that’s too deep, just start with the outer one!

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I challenge you. At some point today, out of the blue, smile or laugh. Smile or laugh at something. Smile or laugh at nothing. Just smile and see how it makes you feel. Maybe do it again tomorrow? And the tomorrow after that? I have often said “I don’t care if you are laughing with me or at me, as long as you are laughing.” I love to see people smile. It makes me smile. Maybe I’m selfish. 🙂

So? What makes you smile?

Overwhelmed?

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I am overwhelmed.  Who hasn’t said that?  But what does it really mean?  The definition is “to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything.”  That is certainly true when it comes to all of the health and wellness advice that we hear.

I truly believe that everyone wants to feel good and to be healthy.  There are so many reasons that we have trouble striving for, and reaching, improved health.  These reasons can be emotional, physical, political, and many others.  Add in the vastness of information at our disposal, much of which is confusing and contradictory.  How are we supposed to navigate all of this, and who has the time to do it anyway?

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Sometimes we have to make the time if we are faced with serious illness in our lives.  We need to be able to find reliable and valid information.  Please, please, please remember that what we read is not always true just because it comes from an excellent public speaker and/or a doctor.  Solid starting points are:  WebMDHealthfinder.gov, US Department of Health and Human Services.  Take advantage of their search functions.  Also, Wikipedia is always a great place to start a search, but keep in mind that the information can be posted by anyone at any time and always needs to be verified.

prioritize

So what is the most important aspects of health and wellness to concerns ourselves about?  Exercise?  Diet?  Stress control?  Should we worry about butter vs. margarine?  Alkaline vs. acidic?  Carbs vs. fat?  Organic vs. conventional?  The concerns seem endless.  And for each concern there are multiple and conflicting opinions as to what we should be doing.  Then, just when we think we have it figured out, the experts discover something new and everything we know as true is turned upside down.  Frustrating?  Yes.  Yes it is.  But it is also the nature of the proverbial beast.  As our technology and understanding evolve and increase, so do our core beliefs on what is healthy.

Certainly when our lives are effected by a specific illness we tend to concentrate on that one as the most important.  If we are predisposed to a disease, that should be of greater importance to us to learn about.  Knowledge is power… as long as we are willing to implement that knowledge.  Just how much time and energy do we need to spend researching all aspects of health and wellness in order to improve our health and quality of life?

Good_News

The good news is that for most of us, simply being mindful goes a long way toward improving our health and wellness.  Start with the basics, my personal mantra:  balance, moderation, and variety.  They all are all different, yet each ties in with the others:

download     Balance:
Work and play, good food and junk food, spending and saving, exercising and relaxing… It doesn’t matter what it is.  Too much of one and not enough of the other infringes on our health and happiness.  When we balance all aspects of our existence we can enjoy a healthier, happier life.

images (2)     Moderation:
Anything taken to the extreme can be harmful.  As I’ve mentioned before, that includes drinking too much water.  Not only do we want to balance relaxation with exercise, we also want to exercise in a safe manner and not push harder than our bodies can safely handle.  If we are not active, we need to work up to strenuous activities.  “Weekend athletes” suffer injuries due to their lack of conditioning.  If we “work hard and play hard” we are balanced, but if we are pushing ourselves too hard in each of them, we will suffer from the lack of moderation in both.

Variety of fresh vegetables at market. Siem Reap     Variety:
We all know how important it is to have variety in our diet.  Different colored fruits and vegetables each provide distinct health properties.  We need a variety of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in order to survive and thrive.  Most of us eat wheat (white or processed whole wheat) at every meal and for snacks in between.  Many of our bodies are rejecting the wheat we are consuming at every meal (and it’s not the same wheat our grandparents ate.)  We are complex organisms.  When we consume a large variety of healthy foods we don’t have to concerns ourselves with the specifics of eating the right combination of nutrients.  When we vary our exercise routines we are working different muscle groups and different systems.  By varying our mental activities, we work different parts of our brains.

When we are mindful and aware of what we are doing to and with our bodies, we can do so with balance, moderation, and variety which will increase our health and wellness.  Will you start with being mindful and perhaps throw a little more balance, moderation, and variety in?  I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome!

Our Loved Ones are Important to Us

Because the quality of life of our loved ones is Important to us, so is this message…
7 Common Myths and Misconceptions about Hospice

Myths-and-Facts

 We are living longer.  That’s good news!  Most of us are no longer dying of acute infections and plagues.  More good news!  Unfortunately, the diseases that oftentimes consume us now tend to drag on for an extended period.  So, while living longer, we may not be living better – especially toward the end.  We know this to be true.  We don’t want to think about a time when our loved ones may no longer be with us.  By not thinking about it and by being uninformed or misinformed about the options as our loved ones get older or fall ill, we are doing a tremendous disservice to them, and to ourselves, if they are diagnosed with a terminal illness.  It’s truly tragic that hospice is seen as taboo and as something not to discuss because hospice is not the enemy.  The illness is.

If you or a love one face/have faced a terminal illness I am truly sorry for your suffering.  If you have used hospice services,  please comment and share your experience below.

Hospice’s sole purpose is to increase quality of life:  to comfort us and our loved ones, and to make everyone’s life easier and more fulfilling.  When the days of life are limited, hospice adds life to the remaining days.  When I was working for a hospice company, one patient (I refer to her as “The Entertainer”) chose no medication during the day so she could be as alert, active, and interactive as possible with her family and friends.  At night she threw out her arm and said “Let me have it!” as she tapped the inside of her elbow.  She slept through the night and started over the next morning.  Every experience is different because each is tailored to the patient, and every patient is unique.

In addition to the stigma surrounding hospice, there are also many MYTHS and MISCONCEPTIONS running rampant.  I address seven here.

1a     MYTH:  Hospice means everyone is giving up.

FACT:  It really means that caring people will work together to improve our quality of life physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually with high quality palliative (comfort) care and symptom management.  A team of nurses, home health aides, clergy, social workers, volunteers, and others work together with the patient and their loved ones to create an individual plan with the sole purpose of supporting and comforting everyone involved.  Sometimes doctors hold off on recommending hospice because they don’t want to give the “giving up” message, but by opening up that line of communication early, the patient and family will reap the greatest benefit.

2e     MYTH:  Hospice is just for the last few days of life.  I’m not there yet.

FACT:  Hospice certainly helps people “die with dignity.”  It also has many advantages and services for up to the last six months of life, and sometimes longer.  Most patients and their caregivers miss out on very valuable services by waiting until the very end.  Earlier entry ensures comfort, support, and care that will add valuable life to our days.

3e     MYTH:  If a new treatment becomes available, it won’t be an option.

FACT:  Patients can be discharged from hospice whenever they choose to be, for any reason, and for any number of times.  If the new treatment doesn’t work, they can always return to hospice for excellent palliative care.

4c     MYTH:  Hospice is expensive.

FACT:  Hospice is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most major insurance companies.  All services, medication, and equipment related to the diagnosis are covered, sometimes with a copay (never over $5.00.)  This often saves the the patient a lot of money.

5h     MYTH:  Hospice is only for the elderly or cancer patients.

FACT:  Hospice is for any person in the end stages of life who is diagnosed with six or fewer months to live, although this can be extended as often as needed.

6g     MYTH:  The patient can no longer go to the hospital if needed.

FACT:  The purpose of palliative care is to minimize hospital visits and take care of the patient at home with qualified and caring staff.  This reduces everyone’s stress and the patient’s discomfort.  Hospital stays are always permitted when necessary.

7b     Myth:  The patients can’t keep their own doctor.

FACT:  The patient can certainly keep their own doctor if they choose to.  The hospice doctor will work closely with him or her on their behalf.

PLEASE, for your the sake of your loved ones, don’t let the stigma of hospice cloud their judgement.  Learn about it now, so you can help them understand it if/when the time comes.  Hospice can add valuable life to their days.

For more information on hospice, visit:  Medicare and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

I’m dying to clear up some misconceptions.

 

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Live more fully, right up to the end.

Why are we so afraid of death?  We know for certain that it’s coming, don’t we?  I don’t know of anyone who has escaped it.  Cheated it a few times, certainly, but in the end we all succumb.  Why the heck am I talking about death on a health and wellness blog?!  I am dedicated to being that little drop that causes a ripple that helps everyone to live with a better quality of life.  So I ask you to please read on.  This is, I believe, a very important post.

We know death is permanent.  We know there will be a tremendous sense of loss when a loved one dies.  Quite often we are just not ready to accept it, or our doctors or loved ones are not ready to “give up.”  But by accepting the inevitable once the time comes, and embracing it, we can finish our days in comfort and dignity, surrounded by loved ones.  Isn’t that what we all want?

Hospice.  The word makes people turn away.  The word itself is taboo.  It means “I’m going to die,” they say.  Hospice care is extremely misunderstood.  Hospice comes into play after we have already learned that our life is coming to a close.  It does not invoke death.  It does not bring it on sooner.  It is not meant to prolong life either.   It has one purpose and one purpose alone.  Comfort.  Hospice serves the whole patient and that includes their loved ones.

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to work for a hospice company.  It was such a wonderful learning experience.  I had a very narrow belief that hospice is “for people who are dying,” and that hospice is called in “during the last few days of life.”  I had no idea how wrong I was.

Hospice is a philosophy that utilizes palliative healthcare along with an interdisciplinary team to take care of the entire terminally ill patient; physically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially.  Hospice offers specially trained doctors, nurses, social workers, home health aides, non-denominational clergy, volunteers, and much, much more.  It aids the caregivers and loved ones in much the same way, including support with difficult and confusing matters and with respite care, as well as bereavement counseling.

Death Quote

We often see death as “a painful truth.”  But hospice is designed to help us through that difficult time.   Hospice services can be used for six months (sometimes longer), saving us money on medical supplies, equipment, and medication, and possibly most importantly allowing the patient to stay comfortable in their own surroundings without expensive and painful trips to the hospital.

Hospice is all about palliative care, about comfort.   It is about adding life to the days when there are no more days to be added to life.  For a comprehensive overview of what hospice is and what it does, see:  Medicare Hospice Benefits.  The majority of hospices are Medicare certified and provide all of these services as needed.

Bottom line:  Please reconsider your beliefs and preconceptions about hospice so that when the unfortunate time comes when you or a loved-one is going to be leaving us, you can help them to live more fully and with dignity right up until the end.

This has been a short overview of what hospice is.  I hope to write another on some of the common myths and misconceptions that prevent people from utilizing this phenomenal resource in the near future.

I welcome your story in the comments section.  Do you have experience with hospice?  Will you share it with us?

My poor self-sacrificing telomeres!

Fountain of youth?!  How easy is it to attain?

Fountain of youth?! How easy is it to attain?

Could our telomeres be the key to the fountain of youth?  (If you are not interested in the science, skip the next two paragraphs.  You won’t feel like you missed much.)

The blueprint for everything “us” is in our DNA.  Our DNA is neatly packaged in chromosomes during cell division.  “In human bodies, cells divide nearly two trillion times every day.”  (ASU)  Each time a cell divides, the DNA is replicated, and the end of each chromosome is slightly shortened.  Telomeres protect the DNA by covering the ends of the chromosomes (like an aglet protects a shoelace.)  Each time they replicate, it is the telomere that is shortened, protecting the DNA.  Imagine that you are an architect and you have a blueprint that needs to be duplicated many times for all of your contractors.  But every time you make a copy, part of the original is removed.  The end result would not be a very healthy building.  It would be disastrous.  (UCSF)

And so it is with our chromosomes.  Rather than allowing the ends of the DNA to fray with each replication, the telomeres protect the tips and are whittled away with each copy made.  “The ends of our chromosomes are made up of cells with a DNA sequence that protects the threads of DNA from unraveling, a natural fraying effect that is part of cell division.”  (How Stuff Works)  Thank you, telomeres!  Your selfless acts of self-sacrifice allow me to keep replicating my cells in a healthy way!  But once they are gone, the cell can no longer divide.

What can we do to preserve our telomeres to protect our DNA?  “One study so far has observed an increase in telomerase activity (which protects and lengthens telomeres) by persons enrolled in a health program including eating a healthy diet, getting daily exercise, and using stress reduction techniques such as yoga and/or meditation.”  (Telomere FAQs)

Bottom line:  Why does it matter?  It matters because it appears that we can actually lengthen our telomeres by implementing a healthy lifestyle, which in turn allows our cells to continue replicating longer keeping us younger and healthier!  What is the latest superfood of the day?  What fad diet it spreading like wildfire?  What is the most recent exercise craze?  The beautify of is that It doesn’t matter!  What does matter is that we adopt healthier lifestyles.  Exercise more.  Eat healthier foods.  Eat less of the unhealthy foods.  When you increase your telomeres, you quite possibly increase your life!

Remember:  Balance.  Moderation.  Variety.

“Date” Yet one more four-letter word.

Tzolkin Calendar - hsc08a

No, not that kind of date!  It can’t be healthy to eat food past the “expire” date, can it?  What about the “sell by” or “use by” dates?  These labels are confusing, and really don’t mean very much.  We might as well use an Aztec Calendar Wheel for the same amount of clarity!

They give us the the date by which the manufacturer has deemed the food to be closest to the taste that the manufacturer decided was best.  “But companies want people to taste their products as best they can at the optimum, because that’s how they maintain their business and their market shares.”  (Institute of Food Technologists)  “There should be a standard date and wording that is used. This is about quality, not safety. You can make your own decision about whether a food still has an edible quality that’s acceptable to you.” (Harvard Food Law & Policy Clinic)  All sources say the same thing.  Smell it.  Taste it.  You can tell if a food has gone bad.

This is much different than contamination.  “Bacteria, viruses, or parasites mainly cause foodborne illness. Many foodborne illnesses are a result of bacteria or viruses, which are microorganisms or “germs” that occur either naturally in foods or are spread as a result of poor practices, such as cross contaminating foods or improper handling during food preparation. Bacteria can rapidly multiply under the right conditions.”  (MDH)

Bacteria growth in food 2

Bottom line:  Let your senses (including common sense) guide you, and take basic precautions including hand-washing and sanitary kitchen practices.  (Information on food safety here.)

I LOVE YOU!!!

Valentine’s Day is approaching.  It’s February.  It’s all about our hearts, right?!  I’ll be spending it with my daughter.  Whenever I leave a note for her, for as long as I can remember, I always draw two hearts.  A larger heart with a smile in it (mine – she makes my heart smile), and a smaller one the same way for her.  Sort of like this:

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What does it mean to love someone?  The first part is the definition.  There are so many different definitions for the word love.  To me it is:  “Love is a verb.”  I’ll never forget how shocked I was to hear that many, many years ago.  It has always stuck with me.  We don’t always have warm and fuzzy feelings for the people we choose to love, but we work through problems (or try to, anyway) because in the end we know that our relationship is worth it.  Siblings, parent/child, friends…  Whatever the relationship is, we know there will be times we don’t’ see eye-to-eye.  Love is a verb.  It takes work to keep any relationship healthy.

That is especially true with a child.  Our vulnerable children.  I just returned from my daughter’s school for a presentation on Child Assault Prevention (CAP.)  One form of abuse is neglect.  I know this to be very true.  One of the handouts we were given is titled “50 Ways Family Members Can Say “I Love You.”  It got me to thinking how easy it is to forget sometimes.  A few of the suggestions listed:  Say please and thank you.  Speak kindly.  Make “I love you” the last thing you say every night.  Say “Good morning!” cheerfully every morning.  The list goes on and on, with fifty very simple things.  But when we are stressed and hurried (and dare I say angry?) it can be so easy to forget just how important the few words, the smile, the warm hug can be.  Even when we are angry.  Maybe even more so then.

I am taking this evening to refocus on what is truly important in my life.  It is way too easy to get wrapped up in the daily grind.  I often tell my daughter that I love her.  I show her with hugs and kisses.  I tell her that there is nothing more important to me than her health and happiness (and I believe the two are very tightly intertwined.)  I try to show her with my actions, which isn’t always easy and sometimes makes me unpopular.  Also from the list:  State limits and consequences clearly and implement consequences consistently.  Kids don’t always get “I love you so I’m punishing you!”  But I do believe that in the end the appreciate the structure and the rules.  It’s their job to test the boundaries.  It’s our job to show them that the boundaries are there to keep them safe, healthy, and ultimately happy.

What does it mean to love someone?  The second part is much more complicated to understand, but the beauty of it is that we don’t have to understand it to feel it.  Why the emotions of affection and love are attributed to a muscle that pumps blood never made a lot of sense to me!  Love is in our brains, in our minds, in our chemistry.  Why do we give chocolate for Valentine’s Day?  Because food is love.  Haven’t you heard?!   “The dopamine system becomes active in people when they look at someone they love or a favorite food, Allen says. So in our brains, at least, food really is connected to love and a sense of well-being.”  (NPR)  Also, chocolate affects our brains in much the same way love does.  “there are indeed pleasure-inducing and stimulating chemical compounds found in chocolate.”  (Chocolate and the Brain.)  

The comfort foods, the ones that make us feel good, that we equate with love, can be very tricky indeed.  They are often not the healthiest foods, and more often addictive for those of us who are susceptible to them.  My daughter and I will likely spend quality time together either making a relatively healthy dinner or possibly going out, and watching a movie.  I strive to make the special occasions about feeling special.  If you try to reach me that evening, you’ll have to leave a message.  I will be turning my phone off and giving my daughter 100% of my attention.  I know of no better gift.