Tag Archives: health

Healthy Habits

So, I’ve been working healthy habits for a while now, and one of the tools I use is Health Month. Health Month is a website where you can track your progress on various goals every day. It’s set up sort of like a game; you earn points, and you can lose life points if you don’t meet your goals each week, and you can assign yourself rewards and consequences for the end of the month.

So, for instance, for September my goals were:

  1. Write for at least 10 minutes 2 times per week.
  2. Walk at least 5 miles per week.
  3. Ride my bike at least 30 miles per week.
  4. Do yoga at least 1 day per week.

And I made a contract with myself that if I survived the month with at least one life point left, I would buy myself a new top. And if I didn’t have at least one life point left, I would donate $5 to charity (it occurs to me that I ought to make the two things more equal).

I didn’t meet all my goals every single time. But the system is flexible, and if you start losing life points you can heal yourself with fruit, or ask other people to heal you with their fruit.

And next month I’m adjusting my goals — I added meditation and weight training, and I cut back my biking and walking goals a bit.

I also started a team, because I have not tried that part of the game yet. It’s a team for Portlanders — if you want to join, it’s at http://healthmonth.com/teams/show/923. You can try Health Month for free, as long as you do three or fewer rules. I did this for a couple of months before I decided to commit a little more — and it’s only $5 for the month to play more than three rules, AND you can easily request a sponsorship if you can’t afford that.

I like Health Month because it helps me with both fitness goals and mental health goals (by the way, I started my new medication, and have been feeling amazing for the most part). And it’s easy to track – just check a few boxes and/or fill in a few numbers every day. If I miss a day or several, it’s easy to go back and fill in the blanks.

And now I’ve got ten minutes of writing to check off for today!


I read a Sports Illustrated magazine on Monday, for the first time since probably the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals (boo, Lakers, boo, refs). Now I know about some college football scandals besides the one at Penn State and about the early days of the NBA (although the medical assistant pulled me right out of that article).

I probably wouldn’t have bothered, because the magazine selections at the doctor’s office are pretty poor these days, but I had FORGOTTEN MY PHONE! I’m usually connected at least 15 hours a day (I do like to sleep). I post Twitter and Facebook updates, play games, read books, track my exercise, EVERYTHING on line. Without my phone, I get even more jittery. And that’s why I was seeing the doctor – because I’ve been jittery and anxious and depressed. Even on good days, when I was working with fun and caring people, when the kids I worked with were funny and heartwarming, I wanted to sit and rock back and forth, or curl up in a ball under a desk. When I got home from work, I had no energy for anything.

I did get through it, though, without the help of Twitter. The doctor was sympathetic, took me seriously, and agreed that I was right to come in. She ordered labs, increased my meds and referred me for a psychiatric consult (to review medication options beyond what I’m taking now). She reminded me to use techniques I’ve learned before like breathing exercises and mindful meditation. I went straight to the lab and got five tubes of blood drawn, and then I had a baseline EKG (just for monitoring purposes in case there are any problems from the medication). All managed without Twitter! And without checking in on Foursquare.

Of course, when I got home I did get online and check on everything. But maybe, just maybe, I can unplug a bit more each day. My husband suggested that THAT might be good for my mental health too, and I suspect he’s right.

And don’t worry. I’m OK. I took a week off to deal with this stuff, so I’ve been getting plenty of exercise and rest. I’ve been doing daily meditation practice, and I even had a massage to help with stress relief. I feel much better. I know that doesn’t mean I’m cured. I need to keep doing all of these things. But I feel more able to deal with it now.

Technology and Focus

Have you read Your Brain On Computers, from the New York Times? The article details the lives of a family that’s having trouble with heavy technology use, perhaps an Internet addiction. My husband often accuses me of being addicted to the Internet, and sometimes, when I stay up too late doing pretty much nothing, I agree with him.  I’m obviously not about to kick the internet out of my life, though.

The Times article tells us why we’re addicted to the Internet and technology use:

The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

So, for instance, getting notification of a new email or a new tweet gives your brain a little ZING! So does surfing the web, discovering new and exciting things.

The article also discusses focus and multitasking, citing a study in which people were asked questions to determine whether they were heavy multitaskers, and then tested on their focus level and ability to switch between tasks. The results are not particularly encouraging.

Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.

Scientists also found that heavy multitaskers had more difficulty switching between tasks.

Sample tests were included with the article, so of course I took them myself. I don’t know whether I qualify as a heavy multitasker, because they didn’t include that questionnaire. I did very well on the focus test, getting only one item wrong, but apparently I’m very slow at switching between tasks.

I’m not sure whether that’s a good or bad result — or whether there really is a good or bad result. Perhaps we’re just all different in the way we process information?  It might be more informative to test a group of people who haven’t been exposed to technology, then have them use computers or other technology for some period of time, and then re-test them.

Here are the tests, if you want to take them yourself. Come back and report on how you did!

Test Your Focus

Test How Fast You Juggle Tasks

More on School Lunches (and National Security)

It turns out that the U.S. military agrees with me. Or at least group of retired officers does. Nonprofit group Mission: Readiness, Military Leaders for Kids has released a report which says that one-fourth of young adults aged 17-24 are unfit for military service because of weight issues. Which makes obesity a national security issue. So now Mission: Readiness is interested in making school lunches healthier.

That’s not really what I was going for here — making school lunches healthier so that kids can grow up to be good soldiers? I was thinking more along the lines of doing it so they WON’T die. But at least they’re interested in better nutrition? I’m not sure what to think.

Here are some additional school lunch links for those who are interested:

Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project – Mrs. Q is a public school employee who is eating the school lunch right along with the kids every day in 2010 and reporting on it.

Tales from a D.C. School Kitchen is a blog series from January 2010 by Ed Bruske on The Slow Cook. He spent a week in a District of Columbia elementary school kitchen, observing how food is prepared and served.

Revolution Foods was profiled in the New York Times in January 2010; it’s a company that contracts with schools to provide healthy, freshly-cooked meals made with natural and organic foods. Sample menu: “All-natural honey-glazed chicken with roasted potatoes and garlic braised collard greens.” But the main problem with programs like this? Money.  Oakland Unified School District, for instance, where Revolution Foods is located, is unable to afford this service due to low government reimbursement rates. They have, however, made significant improvements to their meal programs over the past several years.

Berkeley Unified School District, on the other hand, has started a School Lunch Initiative, in partnership with the Chez Panisse Foundation and the Center for Ecoliteracy. They’ve made sweeping changes to their school lunch menus, including use of local and organic ingredients. Perhaps private philanthropy is part of the solution, if the government can’t afford to subsidize healthier food?

Finally, an answer to a Twitter question. @kitchenmage asked — as a serious question, not trying to get people mad – “How many of you parents who hate school lunches are letting your kids eat them? Why?”

Yes, my kids do eat the school lunch, and the school breakfast. We are on the free lunch program, and it does help financially.  They do get healthy food at home, and they’re smart enough to make good choices like white milk instead of chocolate at least some of the time.

But even if I were making lunches for my kids, I would still care about what all of the kids get to eat. I work in a school. I know they don’t all get to eat properly at home. I’ve seen the kids who bring a bag of cold food from McDonalds for lunch, or a donut, chips and a Capri Sun.

We need to do better for everyone.


Image: heebs lunch, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from crd’s photostream

Carbs – What Do You Do?

I think about food a lot; probably more than I should.

I think about it in terms of sustainability. Are we eating locally-grown and produced food? Where should we get it from? Can we and should we afford organics?

I also think about it in terms of health. I know that I need to eat at least six servings of fruits and vegetables and not so much salt, because I have pre-hypertension.  I know I need to watch the sugar, too. And I know that I need to lose weight, which I’m working on (5-6 pounds down for January!).

But sometimes, food confuses me. For instance, many people say that it’s most sustainable to eat less (or no) meat. But others espouse a primal or paleo diet, saying that a human’s natural diet consists mainly of meat (and plenty of it) and vegetables.

And in weight loss circles, of course, carbs are the bad guy, which includes both sugary foods and grain foods. Some say only processed grains are bad. Some prefer to avoid even the whole grains as much as possible.

And that is the source of my confusion today — grains. Rice and pasta have always been staples in my diet. I love good bread, too, but somehow that’s easier to avoid.

Even when I’m using healthy recipes, laden with fruits and vegetables, rice or pasta is usually involved. I know I can use whole-grain or brown versions and sometimes I do. Other times, cost and time are issues, and I fall back on the white stuff.

So I’m asking, what do you do? Feel free to leave a comment in addition to taking the poll.

Vaccines and Priorities

H1N1 virusWe’ve been dithering about flu vaccines, and had never fully made up our minds until I took the girls for check-ups, and the doctor said they still had some doses of seasonal flu vaccine reserved specifically for children. The doctor and I talked it over, and I decided to go ahead and have the girls vaccinated. And I’ve signed up to get a seasonal flu shot next week, through my employer.

We don’t normally get flu shots, but since we’ve basically got twice as much chance of getting a flu this year, between the regular flu and H1N1, I thought it might be prudent to try to avoid catching at least one of them.  I still don’t know if we’ll get H1N1 vaccines. If it continues to be something you have to wait hours in line for, we probably won’t.  Also, we had a flu-like illness in August, so it’s possible we’ve already had the H1N1 virus. And we’re still determined not to succumb to panic. If the H1N1 vaccine is available, and we really feel we need it, we’ll get it. But we don’t want to do it just because the government and news media are determined to spread panic about it.

Speaking of the government, what exactly are the government’s priorities in this pandemic? The public health? Children, pregnant women and the elderly? Or is the main priority actually keeping the economy going?

The reports today of Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America being given doses of H1N1 vaccine for their company clinics raised a lot of hackles. People asked why these firms would receive this scarce vaccine when many children and other high risk groups can’t even get it yet.

I reacted this way at first, too, wondering whether the government were protecting Wall Street to keep the economy from collapsing; a case of seriously misplaced priorities.

It wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case here.  According to the AP report on this situation, vaccine is distributed to state health departments, who then decide where to distribute it. Occupational, company-sponsored clinics are a common choice. However, those clinics are still only allowed to give the vaccines to high-risk groups at this time.  Wall Street companies do employ pregnant women, people with babies at home, people with high-risk health conditions, etc.

So I can’t give you the rant I was planning earlier today, because I did a little research, thought about it a little more, and realized I’d be wrong.   Hey, I know of a few people in cable news who would benefit from that approach…

Public domain photo of the H1N1 flu virus taken in the CDC Influenza Laboratory

Swine Flu: To Vaccinate or Not To Vaccinate

I’ve been seeing tweets from Portland’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) all morning. They’re tweeting about swine flu (H1N1 virus), because they’re attending the Oregon Flu Summit today.

I’ve been decidedly on the “let’s not panic” side of the swine flu issue.  It hasn’t cause massive deaths in the U.S. so far (although I’m not sure what happened in Mexico). It has affected individuals and groups of people in various places, but it hasn’t been a 1918-style flu so far.

The U.S. is getting vaccines ready for this fall. The OEM says:

About 500k vaccine doses should be available about 10/15, more arriving weekly thereafter. 3.8mil doses needed for OR.”

They want the entire state to get vaccinated.  For some reason, that makes me uneasy.

But why should I be uneasy? We’re already required to have vaccines in order to enter school — measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, whooping cough, polio. All of those were judged dangerous enough for mandatory vaccinations, and most people agree. And now we’re also required to vaccinate for hepatitis B and chicken pox. Those I’m not too happy about. Hepatitis B is a bloodborne and/or sexually transmitted disease. Why does my young child need to have that?  And chicken pox — I know, some children do die from chicken pox, but for most, it’s not a big deal. Mostly, the chicken pox vaccine means parents don’t have to take time off from work while their kids have the chicken pox.

And then there’s the regular seasonal flu vaccine. We haven’t been using the flu vaccine in our family.  It doesn’t give you guaranteed immunity (it’s usually around 70% effective, according to the CDC).  And we’re much more likely to get a common cold (which the vaccine doesn’t affect) than an actual flu. And I’m unsure of how all these vaccines are really affecting our bodies, so if it’s optional, we generally let it go (now that I’m writing it out, I’m wondering if I’m just being stupid).

So, H1N1. The government wants us all to get vaccinated. That makes me immediately question whether it’s really necessary. So I looked up some facts and figures on the CDC website.

From April 15, 2009 to July 24, 2009, states reported a total of 43,771 confirmed and probable cases of novel influenza A (H1N1) infection. Of these cases reported, 5,011 people were hospitalized and 302 people died.

So, of 43,771 confirmed cases. 0.7% died (less than 1%). With measles, there are 700,000 deaths each year (worldwide) out of 30,000,000 confirmed cases, so 2.3% die. Still a small percentage, but significantly higher. Polio, of course, is even worse. 2-5% of children die, and 15-30% of adults. And we’ve all heard about the people who were (and are, in some places) permanently disabled by polio.

OK. So far, the H1N1 flu is not as deadly as measles or polio. What about age groups? We’ve been told that H1N1, unlike seasonal flu, is more deadly to younger people than to older people, and that this makes it worse somehow.

More young people have been infected so far:

Swine Flu by Age Groups

More young people have been hospitalized:

Swine Flu Hospitalizations By Age

But, most of the people who died were aged 25-64.

Swine Flu Deaths By Age

What does all this tell us? I’m not sure! It does still look like no reason to panic.

But the CDC is also predicting absentee rates as high as 40 percent among workers and students. It would be nice to not miss work, although I do get paid sick days.

I don’t know what we’ll do yet. But we’ll make an informed decision either way.

Future Health Care

The current U.S. health care system isn’t working. The health care reform bill under consideration now might help, or it might be too little too late.

Many countries use a single-payer system, which sounds good. The government collects taxes. The government pays for health care. The people pay nothing (aside from the taxes) or minimal co-pays for health care.  Everyone is taken care of.

However, there’s strong resistance to single-payer health care in the U.S., and I would now question whether it’s financially feasible on a national level.

I think that at some point in the future, health care decisions won’t be made on a national level.  I think what will work is a community-based system.

There are some existing hints of what this might look like.

The Transition Towns movement includes health care as one of the topics communities need to address in the post-peak oil era. A look at plans developed by Totnes and Kinsale in the UK shows that they’ve thought a great deal about what health care will look like and what kind of health care will be needed, but less about how this will be paid for or otherwise made available to the community.

Christian Healthcare Ministries, which I’ve heard about from Jesus-following radical Shane Claiborne, is a medical cost-sharing nonprofit organization.  Members pay a monthly amount into the program, and after a 45-day waiting period, are eligible to submit medical bills to the organization for assistance with payments. Pre-existing conditions are excluded, however (which is one of the problems with our current health insurance system). Members have a “personal responsiblility” amount they must meet each year, similar to a deductible in a traditional health insurance plan. There’s also a $125,000 lifetime limit for cost-sharing.  Could this work on a local level? You might need a certain number of people involved to make it work.

The Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in Spain, in addition to operating its cooperative businesses and schools, provides health care for its members, independently of the state.  So, people pay to be members of the cooperative, and as part of their membership benefit, they get health care.  Sounds pretty good! Again, you might need a critical mass of people involved in order to make it work.

The Co-Op Village Foundation has created a model (they hope to build an actual village soon) for cooperative villages which would include medical care for all members.  You can download their free book, which details the entire plan, but here are the basics:

-A group catastrophic health policy would be purchased to cover those who do not have entitlement health coverage.
– The Village might contract with a local medical group for primary health care for self-insurance, with X percent of the fees paid for by the Village and the balance paid by the resident. Over a period of time, the full amount might be paid by the Village.
– A pre-existing medical condition clause may be required to protect the Village from being overburdened by current catastrophic conditions. This clause probably would be required by the insurance provider but might apply to the Village self- insurance as well.

The village would also maintain access to preventative care for members, preferably on-site.  But it sounds like their plan is mainly to pay health care costs for members, rather than maintain their own health-care facilities.

That might work for a while.  I think that at some point communities will probably need to be more self-sufficient and less reliant on outside sources for medical care.  I think we’ll probably need something closer to the cooperative system, in which everyone in the community would chip in (at a level appropriate to their income) to hire medical practitioners for that community.  But that might mean that some communities couldn’t offer much more than food and housing to medical practitioners, which could result in great inequities if the doctors prefer to go where they’ll be paid more.

None of these solutions is perfect, and our future is very much in motion. It will be interesting to see what unfolds.