Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August 5, 2009: Cinnamon, More Than Just a Spice

Did you know that cinnamon comes from the dried inner bark of a tropical tree? The highest grade of cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamomum zeylanicum tree from Sri Lanka.

In ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used as part of the embalming process for mummies. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine prescribe cinnamon for illnesses from flu to diarrhea.

Cinnamon is also an excellent air freshener. Tie a few sticks in a mesh bag and hang them in your closet. The scent works like mothballs to keep bugs away, and it smells a lot better!

Cinnamon contains two beneficial compounds, eugenol, which relieves pain, and cinnamaldehyde, a mild sedative. It has anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning properties. The spice is a good source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.

Cinnamon may lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol. A 2003 study in Diabetes Care reports on sixty people with type 2 diabetes who took one quarter to one teaspoon of cinnamon daily. After 40 days, they reported reduced fasting blood glucose of 18 to 29%, triglycerides lowered by 23 to 30%, LDL cholesterol by 7 to 27%, and total cholesterol by 12 to 26%.

Another study at Copenhagen University showed benefits from eating half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder plus one tablespoon of honey every morning. The patients had less arthritis pain after only one week.

A couple of cautions: (1) The less expensive cassia cinnamon commonly found in grocery stores contains a compound called coumarin, which at high levels can damage the liver. (2) Because of its blood-thinning effect, high doses of cinnamon should not be consumed with anti-clotting medication. Neither of these warnings applies to everyday use of cinnamon in recipes.

Cinnamon has been a favorite cooking spice for about 5000 years. Next time you make French toast, sprinkle on some extra cinnamon. Order chai tea made with cinnamon instead of coffee. Double the cinnamon in your favorite banana bread recipe. You can even add cinnamon to spaghetti sauce for a rich, exotic boost. Sprinkle it, spoon it, stir it in – add extra cinnamon to your healthy life.

July 29, 2009: Affirmations

We all talk to ourselves all the time. The little voice in my head tells me what to do, how to think about things, what’s important and what isn’t, even whether or not to eat.

Most of the time, the voice is helpful. Make sure there’s enough gas in the tank. But sometimes the voice isn’t helpful at all. You’ll never be able to do that. You’re fat already – go ahead and eat it. If you’re not perfect, no one will like you.

At these times, it’s important to recognize that the words are just a voice. Maybe your mother said, Eat your meat first, and now you wonder why you always eat the burger before you touch the French fries. We’ve been listening the voice for so long, sometimes we forget that it isn’t always right.

What can you do if you think you may be responding to unwise voices from the past? The first step is to recognize that some of your beliefs may actually be grooved-in repetitions of early unhelpful words.

Even if you can’t identify where an old thought pattern comes from, you can change your thinking. One way to do this is by actively grooving in a new, positive thought. Here are a few you might want to try.

I am not a victim.

I don’t need to be perfect.

I have the right to make my own choices.

I can disagree with someone’s views and still respect them.

I like myself just the way I am.

My time is valuable.

I can accomplish what I want if I work hard and keep trying.

If you have a specific unhelpful thought that doesn’t fit any of the above statements, you can create your own affirmation. Take the negative and turn it on its head.

I hate myself becomes I love myself.

I can never make up my mind becomes I make great decisions.

We may not be able to eliminate all the old voices, but we can hit the mute button. Take control of the little voice in your head, and you’ll be taking a big step forward into a healthy, happy life.

July 22, 2009: Succulent Houseplants

Since back in Greek and Roman days, people have been growing plants in containers inside their homes. In the nineteenth century, only wealthy people could afford houseplants. It wasn't until the 1950's that houseplants became readily available and affordable for everyone.

An easy group to start growing are the succulents. Native of arid regions, they grow in poor soil, don't mind dry air, and don't need a lot of water. They do need sun, so put them near a window.

A succulent with practical uses is aloe. You can buy an aloe plant just about anywhere, and they grow with minimal attention. Best of all, if you cut or burn yourself, you can break off a stem and let the sap ooze onto the sore spot for instant relief.

An attractive succulent is jade plant, crassula argentea. These grow with a trunk and branches, and look like little trees. They may bloom with tiny white flowers if placed in bright sun. Picture jade plant growing in hot, dry Africa, and don't water it too much. If the leaves start to look soft, it's time to water.

Another fun succulent is commonly called "hen and chickens." The formal name is sempervivum. The original plant will send out shoots which cluster tightly around the "mother." Eventually the offshoots will themselves produce offspring, which will again cluster.

A commonly gifted succulent is kalanchoe, sold in grocery stores for holidays with big leaves and bright flowers. The flowers last for weeks and will come back again and again. The biggest leaves will eventually turn brown and fall off, but by then new green leaves will be ready to take their place.

If you want to take the trouble, kalanchoe will bloom on target for Christmas. Starting around Labor Day, move them into a closet in the evening and give them less water. When buds appear, go back to normal light and water. If this sounds like too much trouble, kalanchoe aren't very expensive, so you can always buy another one that's already blooming.

Filling your house with succulents is an easy way to green up your healthy life.

July 15, 2009: Happy Pets!

The Humane Society estimates that every year, three to four million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters across the United States. The only way to avoid killing these millions of loving animals is for everyone to spay or neuter their pets.

Here in Tallassee, stray cats and dogs are an ongoing problem. A cat can have three litters of six to ten kittens per litter every year. That's up to thirty kittens per year from one unspayed cat. A dog can have two litters of three to eight puppies, up to 16 extra unwanted pups per year!

Spaying and neutering improves you pet’s health and may even save you money on vet bills over the life of the pet. Spaying reduces the incidence of mammary tumors, tumors of the ovaries or uterus, and uterine infections. Also, spayed females don't attract all the neighborhood stray males.

Neutering reduces male cat and dog territoriality and aggression. It also may cut down on wandering and escaping. Neutering also reduces the incidence of prostate enlargement and prostate tumors and infections, some other tumors, and perineal hernia.

Low cost spaying and neutering is available to everyone through the Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic in Montgomery. Tallassee resident Dr. Rebecca Davidson performs the surgeries. Cost for cats is $35 per male and $45 per female. Cost for dogs is $55 per male and $65 per female. Dogs over 60 pounds are an extra $10. You can also get your pet vaccinated for rabies at the same time for just $10 more.

Call 334-239-7387 to schedule an appointment. Surgeries are performed at 5316 Atlanta Highway in Montgomery every Monday through Thursday. You must make an appointment before bringing in your pet.

Tallassee, let's come together as a community and get our animals spayed and neutered. No one enjoys seeing dead cats and dogs by the side of the road. No one enjoys seeing abandoned kittens and puppies, waiting to be hit. This is a community problem we can fix.

July 8, 2009: Exercise for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects 27 million American adults. It commonly affects knees, hips, and hands. Activity guidelines for osteoarthritis have been designed by the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) to decrease pain, prevent deformity, and improve range of motion, strength, and cardiovascular fitness.

Three to seven days a week, those with osteoarthritis should get 20 to 30 minutes of low impact aerobic exercise at 50-70% of maximum heart rate. Aerobic exercise produces endorphins, which are the body's natural pain-relieving hormone. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for suitable exercises for your body and conditioning.

Those with osteoarthritis also need to do muscle strengthening activities. The AGS recommends two to three days per week doing eight to ten isotonic exercises with six to fifteen reps per exercise, building to more reps over time. Isotonic exercises are those moving with a steady weight, for example bicep curls with small weights or shoulder pull-downs on a workout machine. Again, ask your doctor or physical therapist to recommend a routine for your fitness level.

Why do you need strength training in addition to aerobics? The best support, both for comfort and movement, for a troubled joint is to strengthen the muscle that surrounds it. I have a torn miniscus in my right knee, and with regular workouts and yoga, it no longer restricts or bothers me.

The third exercise component recommended by the AGS is flexibility and balance. Three to five days a week, spend several minutes stretching your arms, legs, shoulders, neck, and back muscles.

A good balance exercise is to stand with your hands a couple of inches above the kitchen counter. Shift your weigh slightly, and lift one foot a few inches. After a few seconds, switch feet. If you wobble, drop your hands to the counter to steady yourself, then lift them again when you find your balance.

Every Saturday I teach a free yoga class at 8:30 am at the Tallassee Community Library. Tallassee residents ages 6 to 75 work on strengthening, stretching, and balance. Come join us in our pursuit of a healthy life!

July 1, 2009: Talking to Your Doctor About Pain

When you or a loved one is in pain, getting help can sometimes be difficult.

According to Dr. Frank Keefe, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, our attitudes toward pain have deep roots. The word “pain” comes from the Greek “poena” which means “punishment.” Many people still equate pain with sin, and may be reluctant to get treatment.

Instead, think of pain as your body’s early warning signal that something is wrong. Pay attention and get help. Listen to your body and catch a problem early, before it ripens into a full-blown disaster.

Before you see the doctor, jot down the answers to these questions. Giving your doctor accurate and complete information will help him or her find a strategy to eliminate or deal with the pain, and to diagnose the underlying causes. These questions are adapted from

How long have you been in pain?

Has this kind of pain come up before? If so, how did you deal with it? What worked or didn’t work?

Where is the pain located? Is it in more than one area? Does it move around? Where is the pain worst?

How severe is the pain? Be prepared to give the doctor a rating from one to ten.

Can you describe the pain? Is it stabbing, aching, burning, or like an electric shock? Write down a clear description of the exact pain.

Do you feel numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation along with the pain?

Does the pain stop you from doing regular activities? Do some activities make the pain worse?

How have you tried to alleviate the pain? Describe any stretching or postures that you have tried, those that help and those that don’t.

What medications have you tried? How often do you take them? How well and for how long do they work?

Do you have any allergies to pain medication?

Bring a copy of your answers to the doctor. Remember that excellent patients have excellent doctors. Be sure to state that your goal is to be comfortable and active. It’s time to enjoy a pain-free, healthy life.

June 24, 2009: Green Tomatoes

Friends ask me, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?”

Well, it’s growing very well, thank you! The yellow squash and zucchini plants are the size of small rugs, we’re eating basil like spinach, the peppers are peppering like mad, and the tomato plants are taller than I am.

So far there’s only one glitch – the tomatoes aren’t turning red. According to Purdue University, it’s gotten too hot too fast. They report the best temperatures for turning tomatoes red are between 68 and 77 degrees. We don’t even get down there at night these days! Their best advice is to wait it out. Eventually, the tomatoes will turn red and sweet.

In the meantime, there are plenty of good recipes for green tomatoes. We all know about fried green tomatoes. You can dip tomato slices in egg white first, then in corn meal, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or flour. A little cooking spray, a hot skillet, and you’ll have a delicious treat. Add diced hot peppers to the coating to spice things up.

Have you ever thought of baking stuffed green tomatoes? Just make your favorite stuffed pepper recipe with tomatoes instead. I like mine stuffed with rice, beans, and cheese. Dice up the scooped-out tomato center and add it to the stuffing. Again, think hot peppers!

If you have a lot of green tomatoes and don’t want to wait, try making green tomato ketchup or salsa. Put six pounds of sliced tomatoes and 3 pounds of sliced onions in a big heavy pot. Add spices to taste, plus two cups of vinegar and one cup of honey. Slow cook the whole thing for about four hours. For ketchup, puree the mixture in a blender, then sieve it to remove lumps. If you prefer salsa, add hot peppers to taste to the cooking pot and keep the lumps. You can preserve the ketchup/salsa, or you can put it in plastic containers and freeze it. Frozen, it keeps for several months.

To paraphrase a famous quote, when life gives you green tomatoes, Enjoy!

June 10, 2009: Aging and Health

As we age, our bodies change. Let’s look at how we can adapt and maintain a healthy life.

Our hearts get a little stiffer and a bit larger. If heart problems develop, lose a little weight. Losing 15% of body weight reduces blood pressure and may decrease the need for medication. Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous aerobic exercise, but keep up daily activities like walking. Spend ten to thirty minutes every day relaxing, perhaps through yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing.

Our lung capacity lowers. At the extreme, COPD results in difficulty exhaling. Breathe in through the nose and out through pursed lips, as if you were blowing out candles on a large cake. Exhaling this way keeps the lung passages open a microsecond longer, which helps clear the junk from the lungs.

The filtering capacity of the kidneys lowers. The answer to this is a no-brainer – drink lots of water!

The liver gets smaller. Avoid heavy consumption of alcohol; limit yourself to no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women. Cut down on fats, especially saturated and trans-fat.

Our muscle-to-fat ratio shifts, unfortunately toward less muscle and more fat. Another good reason to keep exercising and eat less.

Our eyes see less well at night. Be especially careful or don’t drive after dark.
We lose some high frequency hearing. It becomes harder to hear lighter, for example women’s, voices. Ladies, if he says he didn’t hear you, that might be technically true.

As we age, we tend to wake up earlier. Just follow Ben Franklin’s advice: “Early to bed, early to rise….”

And finally, there’s some good news! Our brains develop more connections. As we begin to lose neurons, our brains compensate by forming more and stronger connections. The saying, “Age brings wisdom,” has a basis in physiology.

Our bodies are getting a little stiffer and drier, but the lifestyle changes we need to make are healthy choices for everyone. A little more exercise, a little less food and alcohol, and going to sleep a little earlier will pay big dividends in maintaining a healthy life.

Friday, June 12, 2009

June 10, 2009: Protecting Your Spine

Did you know that one in three American women over 50 will eventually have a spinal fracture? According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, fractures can happen suddenly, when you are doing an activity you’ve done without problems for years. Your best protection is to know which postures are the safest, and which put your spine at risk.

The safest position for your spine is supine, or lying flat on your back. This is the best position for exercises that stretch, rotate, or flex your spine.

Another basically safe position is prone, lying flat on your stomach. If that’s comfortable for you, you can do back arches and upper body strengthening like knee push-ups with minimal spinal risk.

The next safest position is on your hands and knees with a flat back. When gardening, try going down on one knee (not both) and rotating forward from the hips to weed with a flat back, rather than rounding your waist and shoulders. Your back will thank you.

Next safest is standing. Stand up straight, think military “Attention!” without the tension. I like to imagine I have wings attached to my shoulder blades, tugging them gently down and back. You can safely do many exercises standing. Just be careful not to twist with weights. Use this posture to work on your arms, shoulders, waist, and neck. One thing you don’t want to do standing is to bend from the waist. If you need to reach forward, bend at the hips keeping your back flat.

Surprisingly, strong abdominal contractions like sit-ups put your back at risk. The fronts of the lumbar vertebrae are also crunched when you do crunches. If you want to strengthen your abdomen, work supine with exercises like alternate leg raises.

Sitting puts more load on your spine than standing. Things you can do safely standing up, you need to be careful with when seated. For example, don’t twist and lift. This is the single action that puts your back most at risk. Be careful passing heavy plates at the supper table.

You are as young as your spine! Follow these simple guidelines and protect your beautiful back.

June 3, 2009: Bug-Repellant Herbs

Did you know that many herbs are naturally repellant to bugs, and even cats?

Lavender repels flies, silverfish, and fleas, and may also repel tics and mice. Santolina (Cotton Lavender) is the best. Enjoy it in the garden, then put dried sprays in closets and drawers for the winter.

Mint repels flies, fleas, mice, rats, cabbage moth, and ants. An old hikers’ trick is to rub some on your pants to deter chiggers and ticks.

A great herb to repel many insects is sage. It’s also a cooking staple, and dries well for sachets and potpourri.

Marigolds are a time-honored bug-repellant for the garden, especially for nematodes (microscopic round worms that damage plant roots). An article from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) debunks the use of marigolds as a general bug-repellant, but I still like the bright little guys. Plants lots, and allow at least a year for them to start repelling nematodes.

I grow basil for omelets and salads. Happily, this delicious little plant also repels flies and mosquitos.

Tansy, pyrethrum and feverfew repel moths, flies, ants, mice, mosquitoes, cockroaches, mites and bedbugs. Two hundred years ago, tansy was scattered on sickroom floors as a natural repellant.

Rue, another bright yellow flower, repels cats, fleas, and Japanese beetles. Plant it near raspberries and roses.

Lemongrass contains citronella, a natural mosquito repellant. Catnip contains nepetalactone, which some claim is a more effective mosquito repellant than DEET. Pennyroyal contains pulegone, another strong natural repellant. The scientific name for pennyroyal comes from the Latin pulex, meaning flea. Early Native Americans rubbed pennyroyal on their skin.

In fact, for a quick bug repellent while you’re weeding or hiking, rub a few crushed leaves of basil, lemon balm, pennyroyal, or catnip on your arms and legs. Keep applying it often. The bug-repellant component is in the essential oil of the leaves and stems, and evaporates quickly.

An added bonus is that many herbs are perennials. Plant them once, and they’ll thrive year after year. Plant thyme and lavender around the edge of your vegetable garden, and intersperse annuals like basil and marigolds among the veggie plants.

Above all, enjoy! Rub your hands along the leaves and savor the aromas. Experiment with adding fresh herbs to favorite dishes. Dry them, and enjoy fresh-smelling clothes and an aromatic house all winter. How provident that bugs tend to hate the same scents that are so pleasing to human noses!

May 27, 2009: More on Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Last week we looked at several aspects of healthy life: paying attention, putting together a strong medical team, getting enough exercise, relaxing, and eating well. This week we’ll look at four more sectors of the “wheel of health” as identified by Duke Integrative Medicine: preventative care, environment, relationships, and spirituality.

Preventative care can save your life. Women need a pap smear every three years from age 18 and a mammogram every one to two years from age 40. Men, start annual PSAs at 50. Get your cholesterol checked every five years, women beginning at 45, men at 35. Ask your doctor what further tests are indicated by your family history and lifestyle.

Our physical environment can support or undermine our health. Common sense at-home preventative care includes washing your hands and avoiding cigarette smoke. Clutter is stressful; simple and neat is relaxing. Sound can be stressful too. Turn off the TV when you’re not in the room. Open a window and listen to the birds. With or without allergies, all of us benefit from avoiding harsh chemical odors. Fresh flowers and green plants brighten the room and clean the air.

Like the physical environment, our relationships either nurture us or undermine us. If you don’t enjoy loud music, you may want to steer clear of loud people too. Avoid people who gossip or put other people down. Anyone who makes fun of you or your interests isn’t worth your time. Avoid people who drain your spirit, and spend time with people who energize you. Surround yourself with upbeat people who like you the way you are.

Having a sense of purpose is one of the cornerstones of healthy life. Your purpose may come from helping others, from spirituality, from connection with nature, from expressing your creativity, or from a myriad of other sources. You can strengthen your sense of purpose by joining others with like goals. Some find great joy in their church community, linking spirituality with mutually supportive relationships. Some find purpose in helping others through organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the Humane Society. Some build connections with fellow writers or artists.

Each aspect of healthy living feeds the others. Eating and exercising are more fun with friends, knowing you don’t have a disease eases stress, relaxing your mind draws healthy people into your life. It’s a big circle, and the hub is mindfulness. Pay attention to your body, your friends, and your environment, and reap the rewards of a healthy life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

May 20, 2009: Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

Taking care of ourselves has many meanings. We need to attend to our physical health for sure, but also to our mental and spiritual well-being. In April, I attended a training program in Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors through Duke Integrative Medicine, a part of Duke University Health System. Their system looks at health from many aspects, each of which contributes to overall well-being.

First and foremost, we need to pay attention. Letting things slide doesn’t work. Pay attention to your body, your food, your energy, and your moods, not to the point of hypochondria, but enough to alert you to problems while they are readily treatable.

Second and equally important, get a solid professional team working with you. We are lucky in Tallassee to have wonderful primary care and specialist physicians and nurses. Remember to work with your pharmacist as well. Get all your prescriptions from one pharmacy. Keep a list in your wallet or purse. Don’t be afraid to speak up, and also to listen carefully. Your health is a cooperative effort. Being an informed patient is just as important as having a good medical team.

Our bodies are made to move. Twenty minutes of exercise a day can help prevent many common diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. Community Hospital offers a free Stretching for Seniors program every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 9:00. I teach a free therapeutic yoga class at Tallassee Community Library every Saturday morning at 8:30. No excuses! Walk, stretch, garden, and protect your good health.

Our minds have a great influence on our health as well. Stress produces harmful levels of hormones that over time can damage the body. Calm your mind and clean out the junk in the bottom of your lungs by drawing slow deep breaths into the belly. Practice whatever quiets your mind, whether meditation or prayer or progressive muscle relaxation. Worrying doesn’t solve problems, and it’s hard on your body. Let go of stress.

We are what we eat. A healthy, balanced diet will help protect your health, and a poor diet will predispose you to disease. Pay attention to what you put in your mouth. Everything works together. A well-exercised body and a relaxed mind will naturally choose healthier food.

Next week we’ll finish up the overview of an integrated plan for healthy life by looking at the role of spirituality, environment, relationships, and preventative care. Until then, relax, be grateful, enjoy!

May 13, 2009: Beginner Veggie Gardeners, Part 2

In between tornados, downpours, and plenty of lightning, my daughter Lynde, my friend Sharon, and I did finally manage to plant a garden-full of veggies.

A cautionary observation: If you rototill and fertilize ahead of time, and then you can’t plant because the weather goes haywire, the weeds will flourish with their excellent feeding! Another observation: the pine straw you put down to control the weeds will prickle your knees when you kneel down to pull out the weeds that grow anyway, thanks to the fertilizer that you thought was going to be for the plants.

One last mea culpa: We didn’t follow Charles Pollard’s excellent advice to be patient planters. Charles is a local horticulturalist and nursery owner who has been our mentor. We planted zucchini and peppers on Good Friday, and they froze a bit. Thinking they’d die, we added more, and now have 18 thriving zucchini plants and 27 peppers. I’ll be bringing the overflow to the library on Saturday mornings.

We did follow Charles’s advice on tomatoes, and I’m happy to report that all are thriving. Considering I bought the smallest, least expensive tomato plants (about 30 cents each), they are doing us proud. The secret is to dig a deeper hole than you think you need, and work in a couple of cups of pickling lime into the bottom. Mix the lime and soil well, and then plant the tomato on top of the lime mix, but still deep enough to encourage a sturdy stalk. We peeled off the bottom leaves and planted our little guys with about two inches of plant showing.

Being experimental farmers as well as beginners, we decided to do a controlled study and plant a couple of tomatoes without lime. Okay, we ran out of lime. So far the plants all look healthy, but we’ll monitor progress.

Next step will be to add more fertilizer, this time ammonium nitrate. For tomatoes and eggplants, dig a shallow trench and add one big spoon of ammonium nitrate on each side of each plant. Squash, greens, and corn also like extra nitrogen. Legumes (peas and beans) are nitrogen-fixing, which means they put nitrogen into the soil, so don’t include them in the ammonium nitrate feeding. Nitrogen in the soil lasts 60 to 90 days.

The garden is beautiful now, with the veggies in flower. Planting, watering, and weeding have become fun community times to share laughs and squeals. Isn’t it a blessing that hard times can push us toward healthy living?

May 6, 2009: The Joy of Hugging

Folk wisdom tells us we need eight hugs a day to stay healthy, twelve hugs a day to heal. Modern medicine may not use the same numbers, but it does endorse touch as an important component of health.

We are born from an all-surrounding hug, the womb. Our bodies know instinctively that a hug means warmth, caring, and support. As children we cuddle easily. As we grow up, we learn about distance, but we still crave hugs at moments of triumph or trouble.

Social hugging isn’t the same as healing hugging. The touch-the-shoulder, peck-the-cheek greeting of social gatherings doesn’t contribute much to the health of either party. Instead, next time you hug someone, put your focus on the other person, even if only for a few seconds. Giving a focused hug is a great way to genuinely connect, and receiving a focused hug is a powerful booster of self-esteem.

One of the lovely things about hugging is that it takes two. The hugger and the huggee benefit equally. Except in competitive wrestling, a hug is always a positive expression. We hug to greet, to comfort, to congratulate, and to support.

Here’s a heart hug you can try with someone you feel close to. Each person puts their left hand over the other’s shoulder, and their right arm around the other’s waist. You’ll find your hearts will line up, opening a channel of comfort and caring, heart to heart.

More benefits of hugging—it’s environmentally friendly. Conserve heat; hug a friend. It’s equal-opportunity. Everybody can give and receive hugs. It’s portable and doesn’t require equipment. You can hug any time, anywhere. It’s all natural, no chemicals, no pesticides, no preservatives. There are no parts to wear out, no warranties to send in, and no insurance requirements. In fact, hugging is the darn-near-perfect activity.

Medical research bears out the health value of hugging. According to Dolores Krieger, R.N., Ph.D., of New York University, when one person hugs or touches another, it raises the level of hemoglobin, bringing healing oxygen to tissues. Scientists have known for decades that infants require touch to develop healthy bodies and minds. Other research shows hugging can slow the onset of senility. From birth to death, we all need hugs.

So start counting. Have you gotten your eight hugs today? More important, have you given eight hugs? Just to be safe, I think I’ll go for twelve.

Apr 29, 2009: Happy Feet

Often feet give us the first signs of serious illness. Arthritis, diabetes, and nerve and circulatory disorders show their initial symptoms in the feet. It’s important to pay attention and take good care of your feet, both for comfort and for overall health.

Did you know your foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles? In fact, one-fourth of all the bones in the body are in the feet. The best exercise for all those bones, joints, ligaments, and muscles is walking. Our bodies are built from the ground up, so to speak. A good goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day. That’s about 3.5 miles, and you might be surprised how close you already come just living your life. You can invest in a pedometer that counts your steps for about $10. You can also get a step-counter as an iPhone app.

You may be as shocked as I was to learn that there are 250,000 sweat glands in a pair of feet. That’s why your shoes get stinky if you don’t air them out. A couple of simple rules may help. Don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row. Buy shoes that are a little bigger than you’re used to, especially in the toe area. Wear cotton socks. J. C. Penney is one of the few stores with inexpensive 100% cotton socks.

Here’s another factoid: the skin on the sole of the foot is four times thicker than the skin on the rest of the body. I’m not sure how that translates to foot care, but it’s interesting.

A few simple health precautions will pay dividends in healthier feet. Wash your feet every day with a mild soap. Use a fungicidal soap if you have foot odor or fungus. The skin between the toes is more prone to infection. Dry your feet carefully, especially between the toes. If you put lotion on your feet, avoid this area. Trim your toenails straight across. Let blisters dry out on their own. Just cover them with a dry, sterile bandage. Never pop them, as this can lead to infection.

Check your bare feet every day. Treat minor cuts and blisters right away. If you notice an ulcer, red spot, swelling, or sore, consult a doctor. Remember that foot problems can be early warning signs of serious illness. Take care of your feet, and keep your whole body healthy.

Apr 22, 2009: Less Is More

Several thousand years ago, a sage named Lao Tzu said, “If you know what is enough, you will always have enough.”

In our buy-now, buy-more society, we often lose sight of what’s “enough.” Here are a few concrete ways to pare down, live with less, and have “enough” to be truly healthy and happy.

Give stuff away. If you haven’t used the exercise bike in two years, either start riding, or donate it to a favorite charity. Get a box and go through your kitchen. Anything you can’t remember how to use, give it away. Anything you have so many of that you don’t even use them all when you feed a crowd at Christmas dinner, donate some. Same thing with clothes. Same thing with linens. Giving is good for the heart, and less clutter is good for the heart too.

Slow down and enjoy your food. If you slow down and savor each delicious bite, you’ll end up eating less and maybe even losing weight. Don’t shovel—put down your fork between bites. And be sure to thank the chef, even if it’s yourself. Good cooking deserves loud appreciation.

Learn to say no. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with jobs and activities. Start by making a list of essential responsibilities. Making sure there’s enough food in the house might be one of those. Making everyone’s breakfast every day may not need to be on the essentials list. Once you’ve defined what’s essential, look at other jobs and activities you’ve taken on. Decide which contribute to your happiness and sense of well-being, and keep those. Any job that’s just a “job,” see if you can delegate or trade it away.

You can also learn to spend less. Many of us need to shop smart in these tough economic times. One way to make buying decisions is to think of money in terms of time. If you make $10 an hour and you want to buy a $140 iPod, ask yourself, am I willing to work 14 extra hours to pay for this item? If you make $30 an hour and you want to buy a car, calculate first. A $15,000 car equates to 500 hours of work. That’s about five months’ salary, ignoring all other regular living expenses. I’m not saying don’t buy, but I am saying, think about it.

Remember that as long as we have food, shelter, clothes, and the love of family and friends, we really do have “enough.”

Apr 15, 2009: Build Health Through Compassion

A recent article in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology studied “the effect of compassion meditation on inflammatory, neuroendocrine and behavioral responses to psychosocial stress.” More simply, practicing compassion helps keep you healthy. Compassion seems to help especially with heart disease, depression, and diabetes.

How can you practice compassion? Here are a few ideas.

First, focus compassion on yourself. Make time to do something you love. Go for a walk in the woods, cuddle your dog, invite a friend for dinner—do what nourishes you. When you feel calm and content within yourself, you’ll find it easier to practice compassion with others.

A second simple builder of compassion is something many of us do already. Take time to express gratitude. Wake up and say thank you to be alive and healthy for another beautiful day. Give thanks before eating. End the day with a ritual, perhaps a prayer. Say thank you to the clerk, to the boy who opens a door for you, to everyone who could use a little boost. It’s impossible to feel down and grateful at the same time. Expressing your gratitude reminds you how lucky you really are.

Focus more on the ways we are alike, and less on the ways we are different. Sure some are taller, or smarter, or richer, or look different. But underneath, we all want the same things: health and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. When you are with someone, try to shift your view just a little to see things through their eyes.

Practice kindness. Some people believe that everything you do returns threefold. If you help someone out, three good things will happen to you. Chances are your good things won’t come from the person you helped, but they’ll come. Start by actively looking for a good deed to do today. It can be as simple as smiling at someone who walks by. Soon you’ll notice that you are practicing kindness all day, and it’s coming right back.

Scientists aren’t sure why practicing compassion helps with heart disease, depression, and diabetes. Further studies are under way at Emory University. But in the meantime, they’ve already begun compassion-building exercises with patients at Emory Winship Cancer Institute. They are willing to believe the early evidence that compassion builds health, and so can we.

Apr 8, 2009: Simplify for a Healthier Life

The more complicated our lives are, the more stressful. The more stressful, the less healthy. Here are a few easy ways to simplify your life.

Trade away activities that don’t contribute to your joy. I like washing dishes, warm water, squishy suds, so I wash while my daughter sweeps the kitchen, something I’d avoid forever if I could. Trade off so everybody gets to do more of what they like, and less of what they don’t. You get rid of the roaches; I’ll clean the toilet. You can trade with friends, too. A container of homemade soup may be a great trade both ways for a little yard work. Think outside the box. Do what you enjoy in exchange for what you don’t.

Create a simple system for bills. Set aside a particular spot on a desk with envelopes, stamps, return address labels, and a box for receipts. Write paid and the date on each stub, toss it in the box, and forget it. I empty my wallet about once a week and toss other important receipts in the same box. No stress if I need to return something to the hardware store. The receipt’s right there. And there’ll be less stress at tax time with all the receipts in one place.

Touch junk mail once. Put it straight into the shredder or recycling bin. The same holds for all paper. You may not be able to only touch a bill or a coupon once, but avoid organizing and reorganizing the same papers over and over.

Throw away before you organize. Get rid of the junk on your desk, then organize what’s left. Same for your purse, ladies. Clear out the empty lipstick tube and the inkless pen. Same for the refrigerator. Out with the expired, the dare-I-mention green, slimy, moldy? Straighten up the rest, and get a little burst of happy each time you open the fridge door.

Make lists. This may not work for everyone, but it does for me. Be sure to put “make a list” at the top, so you have something to cross off right away. For me, having a list on paper relieves the anxiety of wondering if I’m remembering everything. On a super-busy day, a list of things to do feels more do-able.

Best advice of all—listen to your own wisdom. You already have the solutions to create your simple, healthy life.

Apr 1, 2009: Love My Dog

Love My Dog
Dogs and humans have been companions for about 15,000 years. Dr. Stanley Coren, author of several books including How to Speak Dog, is the Canadian guru of dog-think. He and my dad were professors of psychology at the University of British Columbia together, so I feel a special connection to his work.

Dogs can’t talk, but they often develop a remarkable vocabulary. According to Coren, many adult dogs can recognize about 200 words, the capacity of an average two year-old child. Highly trained dogs can differentiate and respond to as many as 300 words.

The dog will pick out the important words in a sentence. For example, “Who wants a treat?” probably sounds to a dog like “mumble mumble mumble TREAT.” Some dogs even learn to “spell,” recognizing the sound sequence W-A-L-K and running for the leash.

Like humans, dogs show emotion with their eyebrows. Unlike us, dogs also communicate with their ears, nose, and tail. In a pack, the dog with the highest tail is the alpha or leader. Scientists have learned from studying wolves that early dogs used the tail to coordinate the hunt. A raised tail brings the pack together. The alpha then points his nose toward where he wants each member to go to circle the prey.

Today, if you want your dog to go somewhere, look in that direction. Waving your arm means nothing to a dog, but he’ll follow your nose direction instinctively. Next time you ask your dog a question, raise your eyebrows. He’ll probably raise his eyebrows in response.

One of the healthiest things you can do is to love a dog. There is scientific evidence that petting a dog slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure. Caring for a dog can give a person who lives alone a welcome daily routine, combating depression and loneliness. Dog owners may even survive heart attacks better and have lower cholesterol than non-dog-owners.

In many ways, the simplicity of a happy dog’s life points the way to health for us complicated humans. Love exuberantly, don’t carry a grudge, never go to bed angry—we can learn a lot from our dogs.

If you already love a dog, give him a hug right now. If you don’t, consider adopting a rescue dog if your circumstances permit. With an older dog, you get all the advantages of a loving pet without the need to house train or protect your shoes from chewing. Southern Skies Animal Sanctuary is a wonderful rescue organization right here in Tallassee. Give the adoption counselor a call at 334-283-1166, or check out some of their dogs at

Mar 25, 2009: Happiness Is Contagious

Scientists around the world have confirmed—happiness is contagious. A review published in 2008 in the British Medical Journal summarizes the findings of an ongoing study of the residents of Framingham, Massachusetts, which since 1948 has measured risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Nicholas Christakis, a medical sociologist at Harvard Medical School, reports that the study incidentally proves some familiar and reveals some startling new facts about happiness.

Happy people cluster together and are healthier overall. The more connected you are emotionally to a happy person, the more your own happiness increases. Surprisingly, not only your friends’ moods, but your friends’ friends’ friends’ moods affect your happiness. In fact, happiness spreads through three degrees of separation.

If a good friend who lives a few miles away suddenly becomes happy, you are 60% more likely to become happy yourself. If the newly happy person is a next door neighbor you know casually, your benefit drops to 30%. Surprisingly, the sudden happiness of a spouse only has a 10% chance of increasing your own happiness. This may be partly because we are most affected by the happiness of friends of the same gender.

How does happiness spread? We instinctively copy the facial and body language of people we are around. Elaine Hatfield at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, suggests that the observer feels a “pale reflection of their companions’ actual emotions.” Scientists at the University of Tübingen, Germany, found that the stronger the facial expression, the stronger the emotion of the person observing. In other words, if you are with someone who looks afraid, your own fear response will be triggered. Conversely, being around someone who smiles a lot will trigger your own happiness.

In fact, Duncan Watts of Columbia University has demonstrated that injecting a person with a particular behavior into a group can spread that behavior like an infection through the whole group. We’ve all seen one negative person wreck a meeting. Happiness spreads the same way.

How can you maximize your own happiness? If you are around someone whose mood or behavior negatively affects you, insulate yourself from infection by avoiding the natural tendency to mirror their expressions and body language.

Surround yourself with positive, upbeat friends. Spend as much time as you can with people whose moods and behavior you admire. Joining a group with interests similar to your own is good. Even better is to socialize with the members as often as possible.

Remember that happy people attract other happy people. Cultivate contentment and gratitude in your own life, and watch the happiness spread.

Mar 18, 2009: Beginner Veggie Gardeners, Part 1

My daughter Lynde, my friend Sharon, and I decided to cultivate a vegetable garden this spring. Our combined expertise consists of some half-remembered gardens from many years ago. We hope our veggie adventures will encourage fellow gardening newbies to give it a try. Experienced gardeners, try not to laugh too hard.

Local horticulturalist, nursery owner, and author Charles Pollard gave us some much-needed advice. A general 13-13-13 fertilizer is the best for vegetable garden preparation. The first 13 is the amount of nitrogen, which is like sugar for plants, instant energy. The second 13 is phosphorus and the third is potash. The nitrogen only lasts 60 to 90 days, so you need to reapply ammonium nitrate about every 30 days. For organic growers, you can compost all winter, save your cow manure, or buy mushroom manure by the bag at Lowe’s.

Without a soil sample test, you can still make a pretty good guesstimate of how much fertilizer to put down, about 1 pound per 100 square feet. Our plot is 15 feet by 25 feet, which is 375 square feet (multiple the numbers together), so we needed about 4 pounds of fertilizer. Enough calculating. Let’s get our hands dirty!

A wonderful neighbor, Danny, loaned us his rototiller. After we pulled out the most obvious weeds, Lynde, the sturdiest among us, grabbed the handles and dug in. Rototilling is like a wrestling match. Sometimes you’re winning, and sometimes you’re not. Sharon and I followed along behind, raking and pulling more weeds. Danny’s advice is to make several passes, rather than trying to dig all the way down on the first run. After a couple of hours, we had our 15 by 25 foot patch churned up and mostly weeded.

Then we added the fertilizer using a hand crank spreader. We kind of guessed on the amount, not quite one hopper-full. One more pass to till the fertilizer in, and we were ready to fence. Last summer my dog Gemma lay under a tomato bush and ate a tomato like a Roman emperor eating grapes. She eats every blueberry she can reach. She cracks pecans and picks out the nutmeats. At our house, a sturdy garden fence is essential. We sledge hammered in metal posts and wired on three foot tall welded wire fencing, strong enough to support climbing peas and beans.

In four hours, we had a plot tilled, weeded, fenced, and ready to plant. Sharon, Lynde, and I were dirty and grinning as we high-fived.

So far, I’ve planted English peas and marigolds. An old tale is that marigolds repel bugs. Whether it’s true or not, they are sturdy and colorful. I’ll keep you up to date on our progress as the weeks go by.

Mar 11, 2009: Color Your World

We all have been cheered by the vibrant yellow of a daffodil and or stirred by the deep red of a rose. Each color elicits its own emotional response. Incorporating color into your everyday surroundings can bring stress-relieving positive emotions into your life.

Blue is a calm and soothing color. Think of the ocean or a clear morning sky. Bring peaceful meals into your dining room with a pale blue tablecloth. Navy blue is a strong color associated with wisdom, and is great as an accent in a home office.

Another strong office color is black, associated with money and stability. Something as simple as adding a picture with a black frame and navy mat can make a room feel professional. A silver and black throw pillow might be overpowering in a quiet living room, but just the right touch to power-up an office.

Many of us paint the interior of our houses some variation of off-white, and that’s great. White is another calming color, and works especially well with metal color accents. Try a silver vase against a white wall, or a silver frame for a favorite family photo.

We often shy away from purple for decorating, but used in the right way, it can add a deep serenity to a room. Think of the purple vestments worn by clergy in some churches. My favorite way to add purple is through flowers. Deep purple irises in a silver vase against a white wall – ahhh.

Blue, black, white, and purple are the colors of relaxation and peace. At the other end of the spectrum, literally, are the colors of action and vitality: red, yellow, and orange. Too much of these colors may make you feel anxious, so use them as accents.

My daughter always paints one wall of her dining room a deep red. Red is an energetic color of courage and respect. While a rambunctious household might want to avoid the stimulation of red at mealtimes, for quieter folks, a red wall may be just the ticket to liven up dinner. If you’re not feeling quite brave enough for a whole wall, red is great for accent pillows, picture frames, placemats, and candles.

Yellow is a color of health and life. Perk up a corner with a green leafy plant in a bright yellow pot. Orange is a great color for creativity. A bright orange desk in a child’s room will say, “Use your imagination here!”

These days none of us has a lot of money to redecorate. Keep your eyes open for a small item in the right color. It may be just the perk-up your room needs.

Mar 4, 2009: Cancer Fighting Foods

An important step toward living a cancer-resistant lifestyle is to eat cancer fighting foods. These seven food categories will boost your body’s ability to fight off cancer.

Herbs and spices are good. Don’t save the thyme, sage, and rosemary only for Thanksgiving. Try mint or ginger tea. Grow basil in your garden, and add it to everything. I eat it by the handful like spinach. Turmeric is an Indian spice that scientists have found to be antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-carcinogenic. You already eat a little in your mustard. Just buy a jar of straight turmeric and add it to meat and vegetable dishes.

Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are also proven cancer fighters. For fish, try salmon or sardines. Tree nuts, especially walnuts, are a great source of omega-3. So are green vegetables, the darker the better.

Among vegetables, the best cancer fighters are the cruciferous ones like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. Garlic, onion, and leeks are proven cancer fighters as well. Americans on average eat only 8.5 pounds of broccoli a year. Compare that to 142 pounds of sugar. No wonder cancer is on the rise. Fill up on veggies, folks!

It’s almost Spring and fresh berries are in the supermarkets. Berries are high in antioxidants and are excellent sources of phytochemicals. One cup of strawberries provides your daily requirement of vitamin C. Anthocyanins in red berries slow the growth of lung, colon, and leukemia cancer cells. Grapes and red wine contain resveratrol, another cancer fighter. Blueberries contain pterostilbene, which seems to decrease development of cancer and heart disease. Add berries to your salad. For dessert, try a big bowl of berries topped with light vanilla yogurt. Yum!

Several beverages are especially good cancer fighters. Next time, opt for green tea. Pomegranate and cranberry juices are potent antioxidants. The acai from South America is the latest wonder food. Check the percentage of actual acai in the juice you buy. Producers are cashing in on the trend, and some “acai juice” products have almost no acai in them.

Dark chocolate is everyone’s favorite cancer fighter. Make sure you buy good quality, really dark chocolate. At least 60% cocoa is recommended. Higher is even better.

Clip this article and put in on your fridge. Bottom line is that if you consume less sugar and more of the above foods, you will be eating a cancer-resistant diet. Isn’t it wonderful that what’s good for you also tastes good!

Feb 25, 2009: Cancer-Resistant Lifestyle

Cancer has touched most of our lives. It’s the all-too-real boogeyman of our century. While we can’t eliminate the possibility of getting cancer, we can make healthy lifestyle choices that will minimize our risk.

In the March/April 2009 issue of AARP The Magazine, David Servan-Schrieber, M.D., Ph.D., outlines five simple and positive steps toward a cancer-free lifestyle.

First step, cut down on refined sugar. Sound odd? Cancer feeds on your body, and sugar is the easiest fuel. Side benefits of less sugar in your diet may include weight loss and lessening of inflammation. According to U.S. News & World Report, Americans have gone from consuming 114 pounds of sugar per capita per year in 1967, to 142 pounds in 2003. That’s too much sugar!

Second step is to eat lots of cancer-fighting foods. Herbs, Omega-3 fatty acids, greens, berries, dark chocolate, and green tea are all familiar and proven cancer fighters. Next week we’ll take a look at some specific cancer-fighting foods.

Third step, take a walk. How healthy is walking? Look at how many times it turns up in this column! Brisk exercise several times a week builds your immune system, and a healthy immune system is your best defense against all diseases including cancer.

Step four, minimize stress. We all have stressful people and situations in our lives. Keep them gently on the sidelines. Focus on what nourishes you. To relieve the stress that inevitably builds up in everyone’s life, try a relaxing form of exercise, like yoga. Full disclosure: I’m a yoga instructor, and I firmly believe yoga helps just about everything.

Final step, get rid of toxic elements in your environment. If a soap smells too strong to you, don’t use it. Don’t cook on scratched Teflon. The Mayo Clinic warns that exposure to pesticides may lead to increased risk of breast cancer. You may have read not to heat water in hard plastic containers. Did you know that the chemicals released by plastic shower curtains are also toxic? That “new curtain smell” is bad for you.

Do these five steps offer a guarantee? Unfortunately not. My father, the healthiest person I’ve ever known, died at a young age of colon cancer. But I take comfort in knowing he enjoyed his life, a healthy life of playing tennis with his buddies twice a week, eating fruit for dessert, and relieving the stresses of a high-power job by walking for miles.

We can’t predict the outcome, but we can choose the path. Choose a healthy lifestyle for yourself, and enjoy!

Feb 18, 2009: Home Workouts You Are Already Doing

Did you know that an hour of sweeping the garage and sidewalks burns 281 calories, equivalent to playing an hour of competitive volleyball?

If you can’t make it to the gym, that doesn’t mean you can’t work out. Many everyday activities at home burn plenty of calories.

Using an average weight of 155 pounds, here are some calories burned by jobs around the house. If you weigh more, you’ll burn more calories at each task. The actual calories burned also varies a bit depending on your gender, age, muscle mass, and general fitness. You can find an extended list at

Making breakfast, lunch, and dinner could take an hour total, right? You’ve just burned 176 calories. Compared to a resting rate, for example watching TV, of about 73 calories an hour, that’s good exercise. In fact, it’s equivalent in calories to an hour of playing catch or walking at a slow pace. Guys, get in the kitchen and cook! It’s a workout.

Gardening is even better. You can burn 352 calories an hour, about the same as kayaking or skateboarding. Raking will burn 281 calories, the same as playing an instrument in a marching band. Mowing the lawn for an hour burns a healthy 387 calories.

As every parent knows, child care takes a lot of energy. In fact, dressing your child burns 246 calories an hour. Sitting on the floor and playing burns 176. Vigorous playing with a child burns 352. It’s not on the list, but chasing a toddler is probably about equivalent to running a marathon.

Housecleaning can also be an excellent workout. Scrubbing floors on your hands and knees burns 387 calories an hour, almost as much as moderate weight training (440 calories). Coaches, tell your athletes to get scrubbing. General housecleaning burns 246 calories an hour, a bit more than bowling and the same as ultimate frisbee.

Handyman jobs can also give a good workout. Electrical work, carpentry, and plumbing each burn around 246 calories an hour. Carrying heavy loads, like bricks or lumber, burns a whopping 563 calories.

Give yourself credit for all the work you do, and all the calories you burn. Hopefully, you’ll also be inspired to get moving on some routine jobs around the house, knowing you’re working out and improving your health every day.

Feb 11, 2009: Baskets in the Closet

We’d all like our lives to be simpler, the chores to be lighter, and for time to stretch out when we’re busy. Here’s a simple idea that has shaved a few minutes off wash day for me.

Buy several small baskets, say ten inches square, whatever will fit on a shelf in your closet. I have one for underwear, one for light colored bras, one for dark colored bras, one for dark socks, and one for white socks.

On wash day, dump a dryer load on your bed and pull out the baskets. Sort the clean items into the baskets – no folding required, though I do pair up the socks. In about thirty seconds, everything is put away where you can find it easily, with no need to open and close drawers. When the baskets start looking a little empty, it’s time to wash.

If you have children, baskets can make life much easier. Even young children can sort out their own clean underwear and socks. Folding is hard for little fingers. Sorting is easy and fun.

A friend keeps rotating baskets of toys for her daughters. About every two weeks, a basket will disappear and another one appear. The girls have ‘new’ toys all the time.

I took a more drastic approach when my children were young. ‘The Box’ was a dreaded destination for toys that were left out in the living room. After a couple of warnings, toys that weren’t picked up went into the box for two weeks. Ouch!

A basket for dog toys is another handy trick. A really smart dog can even be taught to put its own toys away. My Gemma isn’t quite that smart, but she loves going to the basket and finding a toy to play with.

A nice wicker basket is a great location for napkins, paper or cloth, and it’s easy to bring to the table.

A rolling basket is great for cleaning supplies. I keep mine tucked away in the kitchen pantry, ready to roll around when the mood to clean strikes. If you can’t find a rolling basket, look for a plastic file box with casters.

Life is complicated enough. Next time you’re frustrated with a little task, maybe a basket can help.

Feb 4, 2009: The Joy of Sleep

Who doesn’t love to snuggle under the covers into a warm, soft bed? That moment of lying down, relaxing, and letting go is one of my favorite times of the whole day.

Scientists are now proving that getting your eight hours is even more important than we realized. People who sleep a solid eight or more hours are only one third as likely to get a cold, compared to those who sleep seven hours or less, according to a recent study by Sheldon Cohen, psychology professor at Carnegie Mellon University. A good night’s sleep seems to help your immune system keep you healthy.

A 2005 study of 10,000 adults tentatively linked the growing problem of obesity in America to the growing tendency to stay up late and watch television or play on the computer. We’ve only had electricity for a couple of hundred years, not nearly long enough for our bodies to adapt to strong artificial light. One theory is that when we are alert at night, our bodies are wired to think we must be searching for food or avoiding danger. Staying up late disrupts the hormones ghrelin and leptin that regulate appetite.

But let’s stay focused on the positive. Sleeping is fun! How wonderful that a good night’s sleep also helps us stay alert, improves relationships, helps us avoid injury, and may even help us avoid serious medical problems like heart attack, stroke, and obesity.

What are some tricks to ease into sleep? Heat up a beanbag in the microwave for about three minutes, then put it under the covers for toasty feet. Take a warm shower or bath, and slide between the sheets refreshed and relaxed. Listen to quiet music, perhaps while you drink a glass of warm milk or herbal tea. A couple of tricks that work for me: read for a few minutes in bed, and sleep in a warm bed in a cold room. A cousin falls asleep by playing a mental spelling game. She tries to think of words where the letters are in alphabetical order, like bow (B – O – W) or mossy (M – O – S – S – Y).

First and foremost, go to bed happy! Tonight when you lie down, breathe a deep sigh, count your blessings, and smile, knowing you are giving your body exactly what it craves.

Jan 28, 2009: A Different Cornbread Recipe

Everybody has a favorite cornbread recipe. Here’s mine. This cornbread is different both for what it has, and for what it doesn’t have. There’s no dairy and no wheat, helpful for those with allergies. It contains more protein and less fat, for those watching their waists. With only three ingredients, it’s super-easy. And everybody who’s tried it, loves it.

The ingredients are self-rising corn flour (available at Super Foods), egg whites (Winn Dixie carries Egg Beaters 100% Whites), and Dannon Light & Fit Vanilla Yogurt (Winn Dixie). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, mix together 2 cups corn flour, 2 cups yogurt, and 1 cup of beaten egg whites, pour into a large greased pan, and bake for about half an hour. Voila!

The recipe makes sixteen hearty pieces. At only 80 calories and half a gram of fat per piece, you can eat all you want.

Try the recipe plain first, then let your imagination go wild. For more protein, I use one cup corn flour and one cup chickpea flour (also called besan or garam, available from Indian Spices, 3462 Eastdale Circle, Montgomery, or from the Internet). The chickpea flour is light and produces a fluffier cornbread with no need for extra baking powder or baking soda. It adds about two grams of protein per piece without adding any calories.

You can make wicked-good banana bread by adding about 4 mashed bananas, a big whomp of cinnamon, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and a cup of pecans or walnuts. For sweeter bread, add honey or maple syrup to taste. When you get tired of banana bread, try pumpkin bread (add one small can of pumpkin), or carrot bread (add one bag of grated carrots). Zucchini bread is a great way to use a garden zucchini that got a little too big. Just grate it and throw it in raw.

For Thanksgiving and Christmas, I add chopped onions, celery, sage, and thyme, and use the already-flavored cornbread to make stuffing.

One last tip, if you like your cornbread crispy, make half the recipe and still use the big pan. You’ll get thin, crisp cornbread that’s great for crunching or for stuffing the bird.

If you have an extra-healthy version of a favorite recipe you’d like to share, contact me at, or through the Tribune.

Eat healthy, eat happy!

Jan 21, 2009: Buy Locally Produced Food

Which sounds like the healthier choice: tomatoes grown in Chile, or tomatoes grown in Alabama? I have nothing against Chile, but I’ll pick an Alabama tomato every day.

Shopping locally has more benefits than you might imagine. We can all think of the obvious ones – everything in Alabama is better, naturally! And there is evidence that eating food grown in soil you live on, watered with water you drink, and producing oxygen you breathe, contributes to overall health. The longest lived peoples on the planet, those in so-called Blue Zones, all grow their own food.

With our growing awareness of the impact humans have on the environment, we also need to take into account the fuel needed to transport our food. Moving a tomato 5000 miles is not cheap, or environmentally friendly. We in Alabama have the advantage of a long growing season, so the chances are good you’ll find what you want locally.

Eating locally supports area farmers, an important part of our economic structure. Local crops are brought to the market more quickly, often the same day they are picked.

So, in practical terms, how do you start eating locally? The website has some great advice. One idea is to choose five foods you can buy locally. A good first step is to get to know the manager of your favorite grocery store, and ask, what is in the store today that’s locally produced?

Here in Tallassee, Piggly Wiggly prides itself on stocking many locally produced items, labeled “Alabama’s Best” on the shelves, like Alaga Syrup from Montgomery. Super Foods stocks local produce in season, as well as many other local products like Wickles pickles from Dadeville. Miss Noel’s Heavenly Sweets serves salads featuring local produce. All winter, you can buy wonderful fresh pecans straight from the shellers.

Think about adapting recipes to work with whatever is in season. With no more pumpkins, I recently made locally-grown sweet potato/pecan muffins. Yum! is an informative blog with recipes and resources, including a farm locator button. This spring, I’ll write about growing your own garden, buying a share in a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and exploring local farmers markets. In the meantime, keep thinking about ways to eat healthy and support our local food producers.

Jan 14, 2009: Add One Good Habit to Your Life Today

We all know the right things to do. We all know we how to be healthy. It’s a choice, right? But how do we start making good choices, and even more important, how do we convince ourselves to stick with healthy choices long enough to feel the results?

My suggestion is to start by adding one healthy thing into your life. Adding a good habit is a lot easier than letting go of a bad one. Here’s an example. These chilly winter mornings, start your day with a glass of hot lemonade. I make mine in a mug, with water, a splash of lemon juice, and a dollop of honey. The lemon has fruit calcium that strengthens your bones and teeth, and calms the nervous system. It also contains phosphorus which will help you digest your breakfast.

And speaking of breakfast, adding a little protein early in the day pays off big-time. Sprinkle some parmesan on your grits. Toss an extra egg white into your omelet. Egg whites are almost pure protein. You’ll feel fuller all day if you start with a protein-aceous (it should be a word) breakfast.

One last morning trick: If you don’t already take a multi-vitamin, buy a bottle and take one every morning. What could be easier? Just this one little habit change will help you get all the vitamins and minerals you need to be healthy.

Have you ever said to yourself, I need to turn off the TV and get moving? Rather than restricting something you enjoy, how about adding something you will also enjoy. If you go for a brisk half hour walk, your metabolism will stay revved up for awhile, burning more calories even if you then sit down to watch that favorite show. You’ll also be benefiting your heart, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of diabetes. Another little factoid, as long as you cover the same distance, walking is just as good for you as jogging. In other words, walk a mile or jog a mile, you get the same benefits.

So my challenge for this week is to add just one healthy habit to your life: hot lemonade, more protein, a multi-vitamin, a thirty minute walk. Add a healthy habit, feel better about yourself, and soon those less healthy habits will slip away all on their own.