Berries and Parkinson’s

I just read about an interesting study that shows that eating berries can reduce your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Berries are very high in antioxidants, plant pigments, etc, and are very healthy foods. Coffee also lowers the risk. Apparently the solution to prevent Parkinson’s is to go to a Panera, and enjoy a Wild Berry Smoothie and a coffee. I actually did that last week.

Raising a Millionaire?

I recently bought the book Young Bucks: How to Raise a Future Millionaire for a great price. Since my wife is expecting, I thought it looked interesting. The book, from what I can tell, is about raising a kid with an entrepreneurial attitude. A few years ago, I would have been horrified at such a book, and my visceral reaction would have been negative, but I  have been evaluating my view of work and education lately, as I am aware of my own prospects for job advancement, and the general work situation in America.

I have started questioning the way work “works” in America right now. With a majority of Americans unhappy with their jobs, corporate greed, non-profits squeezing every last drop from their employees, and increased government hassles and regulations, a lot of people just plain aren’t happy with their current job or job prospects. Incomes and benefits are dropping. Our first inclination is usually to blame the individual job or company, so we change  jobs, but then find there isn’t much difference between faceless company A or faceless company B. The same is true of Non-Profit A and Non-Profit B. No matter where we work, it seems like we end up giving the best ideas and time we have so that somebody else benefits (whether the stockholders or institution), and we hope and pray that they give us our fair share (such as raises, benefits, etc), and don’t lay us off when the economy gets a little bad. Basically, we don’t have simple human autonomy. We move far from friends and family just to find that one perfect job, only to find it isn’t really that perfect.

Most of my friends are very frustrated with work. Perhaps it is just a little Facebook over-dramatization, but most aren’t looking for riches, but instead a job that pays fairly and gives them the autonomy to live their lives (e.g. having time with their kids, etc).

One answer to this problem is to resent business, schools, non-profits, etc, and this is the solution many people take (and that I used to take). However, I am convinced now that the answer is not resentment (which only hurts you, not the company), but starting new systems. Instead of working for a bad system, or even changing the system from within, the solution to me is to start something better and compete with the bad: Plant a new tree*. Instead of resenting the financial services sector, start a financial business that does things right and ethically. Instead of lamenting the way stores treat their employees, start a store selling something great and treat your employees right! Instead of complaining that non-profits are inefficient and always begging for money, find a creative way to increase efficiency and get more money.  One of my long-term dreams is to start an energy company that takes advantage of the “crack” in gasoline refining costs, and passes savings onto the consumer so that all the local gas stations aren’t charging the same price (how is that for real competition??). I would love to be the local supplier and station that is always 10 cents or more a gallon lower than the competition.

Ultimately, I don’t care if my child is a millionaire. I want him or her to be happy and have autonomy in life. Research shows that small-business owners are happier than average workers, even though on average, they make less money. I don’t want my child thinking that work=scraping by giving her best for somebody else. If that is what she wants to do (work quietly and happily for somebody else), then I will support that. However, I don’t want this to be the only option. He shouldn’t have to look around at adults hating their jobs and job prospects and think “that will be me someday, beaten down by the very system I am supposed to look forward to.” Whenever someone asks her what she will do when she grows up, good answers will be “in charge” and “happy.”

* – note that for some institutions, I think fixing things from inside is best, as opposed to starting something new. Religions and governments are an example where constant splitting has caused problems. There is value to unity, however not the point of virtual enslavement.

Back in the “Low” Life Again

appleliyy1

If you are prone to weight gain, it’s important to live your life lower (but not too low) than higher. And, it’s amazing how weight gain can get away from you. You work hard, you love how you look and feel, and then bingo, you’re back on the roller coaster ride of weight gain. The key I guess is to keep it a small hill since it’s much easier to get down. I personally put on about 6 pounds over the last 3 weeks and I’m trying not to make it permanent and a prelude to more.

How did it happen? I took the vacation mentality too far. My mother in law was in town for a few weeks and she can cook. Very, very well, in fact. And, she cooks in a traditional Italian way: generally healthy (I don’t eat meat which helps), but also caloric and lots of added flavor. For example, I put about a cup of cheese on a whole pizza. She put almost a cup per slice (or so it seemed). As much as I loved it, the pounds started creeping on. And, since she was visiting, I didn’t make it to the gym as much. In short, my control slipped away.

My plan is to lose it over the next few weeks now that she is gone. I’m going to miss her for a variety of reasons including her cooking. I should’ve adjusted and actually used moderation and control. This is how I typically gained weight in the past: I “go off” and never really get back on until it’s too late. Not this time, though. I’m back in the low life again, which, as those who have been overweight and lost it know, the “low” life of healthy weight is actually the high life in terms of health and confidence.

Image by Jonathan Bennett. To order prints or download high resolution images, click here.

Political Pork

Congressmen and women are having the same problems many Americans are having these days: gaining weight. The article I linked to blames long hours, poor food choices, economic stress, and extra workload. It’s tempting to think of these people negatively since they are politicians, but I actually felt an odd degree of sympathy. Perhaps because it’s a struggle that I’ve faced and still struggle with.

My guess is that the issues cited in the article are ones that lots of Americans face and have faced. It’s helpful to see that it’s not just the average person who is struggling. In fact, the statistics suggest that it’s every American. I also hope that as the leaders of our nation battle the bulge they will realize the value in letting ordinary Americans enjoy the same benefits they do, like good food choices (the congressional cafeteria is amazing), gym access, and nutrition consulting. And hopefully they’ll stop subsidizing crap for our schools. But, that’s another issue.

Although I disagree with a lot of what he is doing politically, I will grant that Obama is a great role model for health and fitness (except for smoking). When the media mocked him for being a gym rat, I was annoyed. If only everyone spent as much time in the gym as Obama, I guarantee that our nation’s health and healthcare system would be much better off. Congress could use, at least on this one issue, to follow the President’s lead.

Spring and Summer Vitamin D Levels

vitamin d levels chart

I take around 2,000 IU of Vitamin D a day throughout the winter, and since October 1, 2008, I have averaged 1433 IU of Vitamin D per day. Next year, I will probably up that amount to around 3000 IU/day. It may seem obvious that supplementing Vitamin D is important during the winter months, when the sun is not strong enough in the northern U.S. to cause our skins to manufacture the vitamin, but I often wonder if I should supplement during the months when my skin can make the vitamin. I have thought about this because I want to make sure my levels are optimal, and I also don’t want to waste money taking a pill when the sun is providing plenty for free. By the way, according to Drs. Roizen and Oz, if you live north of North Carolina, the sun is not strong enough from October 1-April 15 to consistently cause our skin to produce Vitamin D.

I found the chart above that shows that Vitamin D levels tend to reach higher levels in the middle of summer, and start to decline by the end of the summer. However, the Vitamin D Council recommends a blood level of at least 50 ng/mL of calcidiol, which is not even reached, on average, in the chart above, so it is possible that most of us aren’t out in the sun enough to even make a basic amount of Vitamin D, even in the summer. I seem to recall that only lifeguards and a few others who were in the sun daily had truly normal levels without supplementing! Research I came across a few months ago (that I cannot seem to find again!!) suggests that by the late summer most of us are actually Vitamin D deficient, probably because tanned skin no longer produces a lot of Vitamin D. I believe this study suggested Vitamin D levels peak around May and June, and decline until spring the next year. I am guessing that I am one who has to watch my Vitamin D levels during the summer. I tend to get out in the sun a lot in April and May, so by the mid summer, I have a pretty strong tan (I am naturally a little darker-skinned, and tan easily). Also, research suggests that dark skinned people require more sunlight to make Vitamin D, which, if you live near the equator works out fine, but if you are dark-skinned and live far from the equator (like in the northern U.S. or Canada) you will have trouble making adequate Vitamin D from sun exposure.

I was out in the noonday sun for about 25 minutes a few days ago, and I also ran outside the last few days during peak hours, and given that it is past April 15th, I theoretically made plenty of Vitamin D. I am going to hold off on Vitamin D supplements for a few weeks if I consistently get this kind of sunlight, and may not start supplementing again until July or August, and even then, I will probably stick with 400 IU/day until October begins. Outside of getting regular blood tests, I don’t know how to consistently regulate my Vitamin D levels in the spring and summer months, but this post shows I am trying to make an educated guess about it. I have emailed the Vitamin D Council with this basic concern, but have yet to get a response. If I get one, I will share it.

Chart from When Your Body Gets the Blues by Brown and Robinson

Introducing Blue Zones

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My wife has been very fascinated by the idea of blue zones lately, especially since Oprah and Dr. Oz started promoting them. I’ve taken up a lot of her enthusiasm too. The idea behind them is simple: regions where people typically live active lives to age 100 and beyond are considered “blue zones.” Author Dan Buettner is releasing a book on the topic which I’ve pre-ordered.

From what I’ve gathered so far, he has identified four “blue zones:” Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (CA), and Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica). He’s isolated several factors that all the cultures embrace that may lead to their unusually long and active lives (see diagram above).

I can’t wait to read more about this topic when the book is released (and amazon brings it to my doorstep), but am encouraged that many of the practices Buettner has isolated, my family and I already embrace. I will definitely have more to say about this in future posts.

Image from wikipedia

One In Five Four Year Olds Is Obese

Yes, you read that statistic right. According to a recent study, one in five American four year olds is obese. In addition, the study revealed racial disparities with Hispanics, blacks, and American Indians having an even higher rate. The American Indian number was a disturbing 31%.

Now, these statistics are troubling in and of themselves, but considering that people are more likely to gain excess weight as they get older, these statistics are even scarier. How many of this new generation of children will be obese when they reach the age of ten or eighteen? Most troubling for our society and its fragile healthcare system, how many will be obese when they are forty?

As many who read this blog know, I used to be fat. However, I was not fat as a child. I can pinpoint the exact time I got fat. It was when I got a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Previously, I spent most of my time outside, however, after the NES, rather than kickball, I preferred Mario Bros. And, my figure showed it. How many of these four year olds suffer the same problems, like lack of activity? Judging by the stats, quite a few.

We have our work cut out for us!

Obesity Could Cost You A Decade

A huge study of studies involving over 900,000 people has concluded that being obese can take up to ten years off of a person’s life. General obesity can take off two to four years while extreme obesity, eight to ten. Of course, what the article doesn’t deal with either is quality of life issues. I wonder how many “years” of truly living obesity has taken off people’s lives as well. Either way, the study confirms that obesity leaves many widows and orphans.

The Health Benefits of Coffee

cup of coffee

It’s a cold, December, Saturday morning. The light is streaming in through the window, and you notice your wife is not in bed, and you smell the beautiful scent of coffee wafting through air. You walk into the kitchen and she has you a nice cup of bold coffee with some real cream and stevia sweetener.

It’s a hot summer day. You just got done playing a round of golf with your buddies, and you head over to Tim Horton’s for a large iced coffee. It hits the spot!

I love coffee. These stories more or less describe scenarios in which coffee enhances my life. Coffee not only enhances my life, but also my health. While many health food enthusiasts assumed for years that coffee and tea were bad for you (and in excessive amounts, they can be), scientific studies have shown that both of these foods actually have health benefits when consumed in reasonable amounts.

Natural News has written an article highlighting some of the health benefits of coffee, a drink loved and cherished by various cultures since its discovery around the 9th century AD.

Specifically, coffee can lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease, asthma, and headaches. Additionally, coffee drinkers are at a 20% lower risk of having a stroke. Drinking the golden brown liquid also helps prevent Alzheimer’s disease and type-2 diabetes. Gallstones? Coffee reduces the chance of getting those by 50%. Liver Cirrhosis? Coffee drinkers had an 80% lower rate. And Colon Cancer? Coffee drinkers have a 25% reduced risk of coming down with this deadly form of cancer. And finally, coffee has been shown to help prevent depression, and regular coffee drinkers have lower rates of suicide.

So next time you are enjoying that nice cup of Joe, enjoy it a little more, because it’s good for you!

Image taken by me then GIMPed up

Your Kids Lack Vitamin D?

Well, if so, they may be short and fat.

According to a new study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, young women with low blood levels of Vitamin D were, on average, one inch shorter, and 16 pounds heavier, than women that had normal levels of Vitamin D. Thus, according to the researchers, “vitamin D insufficiency is associated with increased [bodyfat] and with decreased height but not with changes in peak bone mass.”

Vitamin D has been in the news a lot lately, and this is yet one more instance where a lack of vitamin D (obtained mainly from sunshine or supplements, since good food sources are uncommon) is shown to have serious health consequences.