Monday, June 27, 2016

Make a Fourth of July Declaration of Independence—From Smoking!

This July 4, will all the smoke be coming from the barbecue grill and from the fireworks high overhead? Or will you be seeking out a spot to have a cigarette during the festivities? Every year, over a million Americans are successfully able to “kick the habit” and quit smoking.
You’ve heard the statistics. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and other cancers, heart disease, stroke, emphysema and a host of other health problems. Smoking is also linked to many thousands of deaths every year. Second-hand smoke harms the health of family members and others who spend time around a smoker. Smoking is expensive and, increasingly, inconvenient. Gone are the days when there was a smoking car on every commuter train and smoke-filled Mad Men-style offices, equipped with ashtrays at every desk.
There’s no question that quitting can be a challenge. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out that cigarettes are designed to cause addiction. Like heroin or cocaine, nicotine changes the way the brain works and causes smokers to crave more and more nicotine. But smokers can and do beat nicotine addiction. Some do it alone, going “cold turkey”—but if that seems daunting, take advantage of these resources that can help:
Support groups and counseling. The CDC says people who have support—from family, friends or smoking cessation groups—are more successful than those who go it alone. Do you have friends or coworkers who also want to quit? Form a “buddy system” for encouragement and support. Ask your doctor about a quit-smoking class, or you can find one through the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association or American Heart Association.
Nicotine replacement therapies such as nicotine gum, inhalers, nasal sprays, lozenges or patches can help control the urge to smoke. Talk to your doctor about the form that’s best for you. It is important to follow the instructions carefully for best results and to avoid side effects.
Non-nicotine prescription medications may also be prescribed to cut down cravings and lessen withdrawal symptoms.
The CDC says that a combination of medication and counseling has been found to be more effective than either alone. And sometimes we just need to change the way we think about smoking! Here are some tips from people who successfully kicked the habit:
  • Set a date to quit, and stick to it.
  • Choose a time period when you will be busy but not stressed.
  • Change your habits. If you usually have a cigarette during your coffee break, go for a walk instead.
  • Get rid of your cigarettes and ashtrays at home, at work and in your car.
  • Tell people that you’re trying to quit; their support and understanding can help. (Ex-smokers may especially be able to commiserate with you.)
  • Try to figure out why you smoke, so you’re aware of situations that could cause you to start again.
  • Figure out the amount of money you spend per year on cigarettes. You may be surprised how much you’ll save!
  • Drink lots of water to flush the nicotine from your system.
  • Get plenty of exercise.
  • If you slip up, start again.
Try to figure out which situations tempt you to smoke, and stay out of settings where you might be tempted to have “just one.” Some common triggers for relapsing include being around people who are smoking; stress and depression; and consuming alcoholic beverages.
Remember: When you quit smoking, the benefits start right away! According to the American Heart Association, after three years your risk of heart attack returns to the same as a person who never smoked. And as your lungs heal, your risk of lung cancer drops, as well.
For more information, call the CDC’s “quitline,” 1-800-QUIT NOW (1-800-784-8669), or visit

Monday, June 20, 2016

Married Seniors, Watch Your Waistline!

“For thinner or fatter” … marriage seems to lead to weight gain.
Sociologists and public health experts have long known that couples influence each other’s health. Over time, couples tend to share habits. They might encourage each other to be healthy—or, influence each other to adopt patterns that are not so beneficial for physical and emotional health. In a sense, it’s important to treat the couple when one member is suffering from, for example, depression or a chronic illness.
Researchers from the University of Basel in Switzerland recently revealed another area in which couples should be cautious. The research team wanted to find out if being married (or cohabiting as a couple) made it more or less likely that a person would maintain a healthy weight.
The research team looked at data on 10,226 couples across Europe. They asked the couples about their body mass index (BMI) and their eating and exercise habits. The results: on average, couples had a higher BMI than singles. This held true for both men and women, and across socioeconomic status, age and nationality.
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. The World Health Organization says that a normal BMI is between 18.5 and 25; overweight is defined as between 25 and 30; and obesity is above 30. The University of Basel researchers found that the single men in the study averaged a BMI of 25.7, while the married men weighed in at 26.3; the single women averaged 25.1 and the married women at 25.6. Ralph Hertwig, Director of the Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, calls the differences “meaningful.” These aren’t huge amounts, but enough to alert us to creeping weight gain.
What accounts for this effect? Is it the stereotypical belief that once people are married, they “let themselves go”? It would seem that exercise is the key. The study’s lead author, Assistant Professor of Health Psychology Jutta Mata, noted that couples actually tend to buy healthier foods—“more regional and unprocessed products and less convenience food.” But perhaps they are eating too much. And the married people, especially the men, didn’t get as much exercise as the single folks.
According to Hertwig, “Our findings show how social factors can impact health. In this case, that the institution of marriage and certain changes in behavior within that context are directly related to nutrition and body weight.”
So couples should continue to cook healthy meals together, while being more mindful of the amount they eat. And rather than snuggling on the couch all evening, go out for a walk. Getting enough exercise makes it more likely that you’ll still fit in your wedding dresses and tuxes on your first anniversary and beyond.
(A note about BMI: Some experts caution that the BMI doesn’t reveal the most accurate picture of whether a person is at their ideal weight; for example, if the couple are body builders, they may weigh in at a higher-than-recommended BMI because muscle is heavier than fat. It’s important to talk to your doctor about maintaining a weight that’s right for your body type.)
Source: IlluminAge AgeWise reporting on a study from University of Basel.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Summer is Sunburn Season

This year summer officially begins on June 20, but most of us have already been spending more time outdoors. The American Academy of Dermatology reminds us to protect against the damaging effects of sun exposure.
“Whether you’re at the beach, going for a jog, or playing a round of golf, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays,” said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth S. Martin. “Although sunburn may seem like a temporary condition, it leaves behind long-lasting damage to the skin that increases a person’s risk for getting skin cancer.”
Dr. Martin offers tips for preventing sunburn:
  • Seek shade, especially during the hours when the sun’s rays are strongest—between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. if you’re in an area with Daylight Savings Time. Here’s a good test: If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, head for cover.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more. Apply to all exposed skin areas, and reapply every two hours or after swimming, even on cloudy days.
  • Monitor your skin during outdoor activities, remembering that the first signs of sunburn can take two to three hours to appear.
Prevention is the best strategy, but if you do get a sunburn, Dr. Martin recommends the following tips:
  1. Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturizer to help trap the water in your skin. This can help ease the dryness.
  2. Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply a hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription. Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine), as these may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
  3. Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.
  4. Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
  5. If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal. Blistering skin means you have a second-degree sunburn. You should not pop the blisters, as blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
  6. Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear clothing that covers your skin when you’re outdoors. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you shouldn’t see any light coming through.
Dr. Martin says, “If you get sunburned and you have blisters that cover a large area, such as your entire back, or if you have chills, a headache or a fever, seek medical care immediately.”
Source:  The American Academy of Dermatology (, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise. Visit the AAD website for more information about the dangers of tanning and the detection and treatment of skin cancer.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

National Institutes of Health Highlights the Benefits of Gardening

Have you started your summer garden yet? In a recent issue of NIH News in Health, the National Institutes of Health shared some information that might motivate you to rush right down to the nursery to pick up some seeds, seedlings and garden tools!
Is there anything more delicious and nutritious than vine-ripened tomatoes, just-harvested peaches and corn, or fresh herbs and spices? Growing your own edible plants—whether in a backyard garden or a few pots on your windowsill—can be fun, rewarding, and healthful. If you share your garden’s bounty with friends and neighbors, you might even expand your social connections and spread the health around.
“Gardening has many health benefits. It allows you to get outside, get active, and sit less, which might help to reduce stress,” says Dr. Philip Smith, a life-long gardener who oversees obesity research at NIH. “Gardening can also help to improve your diet if you eat more fruits and vegetables. They’re especially delicious, with a more intense flavor, when ripe and freshly picked.”
Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber and essential vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that eating fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet can reduce your risk for long-term diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. The fiber in fruits and vegetables can help relieve constipation and normalize your bowel movements.
Fruits and vegetables may also help reduce your calorie intake—especially if they’re replacing high-calorie, high-fat foods—to help you control your weight. Herbs can add rich and interesting flavors to your meals without adding calories.
“Americans generally don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables; it’s one of the major drawbacks of our diets today,” says NIH’s Dr. Charlotte Pratt, who oversees research on nutrition, physical activity, and heart health. The federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans published in 2015 recommends that adults who eat about 2,000 calories daily should eat about 2.5 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. But only a small percentage of us meet both fruit and vegetable recommendations.
When choosing vegetables, eat an assortment of colors and types every day. Broccoli, spinach, collard greens, kale, and other dark leafy greens are good choices. You might also choose red and orange vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, or red peppers. Many of these are easy to grow at home.
Gardening might enhance your mental health as well. Some studies have found that being physically active in natural environments—or even simple exposure to nature—can improve mood, reduce anxiety, and enhance self-esteem. “Growing your own vegetables and digging into the dirt can increase physical activity and give one a feeling of well-being and a sense of connection to the Earth,” Smith says.
If you think you don’t have space for a backyard garden, think again. “Some vegetables like carrots, lettuce, kale, and hot peppers don’t require much space,” says Smith. These can be grown in pots or small gardens. “You can also try growing hanger tomatoes, which can be suspended from your deck or porch.”
Before you get started, check out these garden safety tips, courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
  • Wear gloves to avoid skin rashes, cuts, and contaminants.
  • Read all instruction labels before using chemicals, tools and other equipment, and keep them out of the reach of children.
  • Cut your risk for sunburn and skin cancer by wearing wide-brimmed hats, sun shades, and sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
  • Protect against diseases carried by mosquitoes and ticks. Use insect repellent. Wear long-sleeved shirts. Tuck pants into your socks.
  • If you’re outside in hot weather, drink plenty of water.
  • Pay attention to signs of heat-related illness, including high body temperature, headache, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness. Seek emergency medical care if needed.
Source: National Institutes of Health News in Health, adapted by IlluminAge AgeWise.