Reason #1,374 to Drink More Coffee

coffee

I have written on the health benefits of coffee before, but it seems like research supporting the healthiness of coffee emerges so often, that it is hard to keep up.

I have mentioned before, many, many, times, how much I love coffee. That first cup in the morning, the second cup after lunch, and the third cup after dinner, all make my day more full and enjoyable. That a drink brightens my day so much is a testament to this amazing drink!

Now, if the taste and aroma weren’t enough, research shows that coffee may not only prevent Alzheimer’s, but actually reverse it! Yes, that is right, reverse it. The research was carried out on rats, but it looks promising nonetheless. Researchers gave rats (specially bred to develop Alzheimer’s like dementia) caffeine, the equivalent to 5 cups of coffee a day. They found some amazing things. First of all, the caffeine significantly reduced brain and blood levels of beta-amyloid, the substance many believe is responsible for Alzheimer’s disease. Second, giving young rats of this strain caffeine prevented dementia from developing in these animals, even though they were specifically bred to develop dementia. Third, and very exciting, once the older rats (who had, by this point, developed dementia) started receiving caffeine, they not only stopped losing their memory, but regained what they had lost, having normal memory as regular rats of the same age. In other words, consuming the human equivalent of drinking 5 cups of coffee a day not only prevented dementia, but reversed it.

Drink up.

Nice Change of Pace

The purpose of this blog is to not only have many years in your life, but also to help our readers have life in their (hopefully many) years on this earth. We often do this through health and fitness advice, but having a long and happy life is also dependent on doing activities that you enjoy. That was very true for me this week while visiting my family.

I live about four hours away from my mom and dad, so visiting them is always special. And, since they live so far away, it’s always necessary to find new things to do when visiting. This allows a nice change of pace.

For example, I enjoy target shooting a lot, but there aren’t any close places to shoot where I live. Although I live in the country, my land is flat and not ideal for target shooting. In addition, the nearest public ranges are at least 30 minutes away. But, my dad’s friend has over 100 acres of hilly land and lives 5 minutes from his house. So, my brother, dad, and I had a great time shooting. In addition to trying accuracy with our pistols, we also obliterated several pieces of wood with the shotgun.

Also, David and I are taking a health and wellness course and we wanted to do some studying together. So, we went to Tim Horton’s to have an evening coffee (no Tim Horton’s near Cleveland) and they had new blueberry flavoring. I love coffee and this seemed interesting. It was great and well, summery (if that’s a word).

It was also nice to do some pleasurable learning. Studies have shown that learning throughout life in beneficial to the brain’s health. Too often learning is not enjoyable, but a chore because it is required. In this case, I was very interested in learning about the topic (health and wellness), so it was a great experience. My brain got healthier and it also relaxed me.

Although I find comfort in routines and enjoy mine generally, a change of pace is nice too.

Facebook May Be Good For You

Studies have shown that friends, specifically a social network, can be good for your health. While Facebook and other online sites may not provide the same level of companionship that a “real life” relationship does, they, I believe, still could have health benefits.

My personal experience with Facebook has been that it allows me to stay connected with people I normally would not have kept in contact with. While it may be true that meeting regularly for coffee could be better than referencing someone’s status update, if that person lives in California and you live in New York, I think responding to status updates is still better than nothing. I have re-connected with numerous people from my past thanks to Facebook.

I’ve also been able to more deeply explore my interests by networking with other like-minded people. Doing things you love more often and with others probably has health benefits as well.

Beating Expectations

My employer is known for its excellent lunches that it provides to its employees free of charge. We have all kinds of choices including soups, bagels, deli, salads, and dessert in addition to a hot meal. People who work here often speak of the “G_____ fifteen” referring to the amount of weight people gain once they start working here.

A colleague recently shared with me a story about my first year here. Some of the kitchen employees predicted, in a lighthearted way, that they thought I would gain weight while eating their lunches. Maybe it was the fact that I came in chunky.

Happily, I’ve beaten expectations by not just avoiding weight gain, but also by actually losing weight and getting fitter. How did I do it? Responsible choices. I picked the salads, the veggies, the fruit, and the whole grain items. I skipped the desserts.

It’s nice to beat expectations.

Workout Tip #4: Work Out Without Working Out

Sometimes you don’t have to “work out” to get a work out. In fact, some of the best fitness moments I can remember were times when I got lost in the fun and had a great workout to boot. I remember in high school playing pickup basketball for hours with friends. We played aggressive and rarely stopped for breaks. The sheer fun and competition were excellent and I burned more calories in those 2-3 (sometimes 4) hours than I would have in a gym. And, the experience was much more memorable.

Last week, I watched this principle in action when I went to Cedar Point with my school. I walked around a huge amusement park in hot weather, logging nearly 17.000 steps on my pedometer! I was way too tired to go to the gym afterward or even move really! Yet, I didn’t need to because it was an incredible workout and also incredible fun. I also got paid since I was technically working! Not bad.

So, find those ways to work out without really “working out.” They’ll make you fitter, healthier, and happier.

Iceland’s Massive Decline in Coronary Deaths

From 1981-2006, mortality rates from heart disease went down by 80% in Iceland. Yes, that is 80%. In an era when we hear about chronic disease rates going up, how in the world can Iceland have such a massive reduction in heart disease?? Researchers recently studied why this happened, and they have concluded that 3/4 of the reductions were due to lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, eating healthier foods, and quitting smoking. That is it, basic lifestyle changes that are pretty simple (although admittedly often difficult to implement, because of addiction, habit, etc).

It is really unbelievable that a disease that is largely preventable takes so many lives in the U.S. each year, and causes our health care costs to skyrocket. Maybe U.S. citizens should look to the good people of Iceland for direction.

A Disappointing 2010

The US Dept. and Health and Human Services, in 2000, outlined goals for national health promotion. Specifically, they hoped to make the United States healthier by 2010 in several measurable categories. Let’s just say that unless some trends dramatically reverse (parting of the Red Sea level drama, mind you), 2010 will be very disappointing.

For example, they wanted to increase the percentage of those at a healthy weight to 60% of the population by 2010. At the time, the number was around 42%. As of 2004, the estimate was 33%. They also wanted to lower the obesity rate to less than 15% of the population. They were working with a 23% number. As of 2004, it stands at 32%. I’m going with 2004 figures because I have them available, but the numbers now are probably even worse.

These numbers are actually good compared to the nutrition ones. The government wanted 50% of the population to consume at least three daily servings of vegetables. The original number was a whopping 3%. By 2004, that number was pretty much the same. Yikes! The goal for 6 daily servings of grains was 50% and the trends are not better: starting at 7% it was also largely unchanged in 2004.

While the government has made strides in other ways, the numbers are not good and the US population doesn’t seem to be embracing health in meaningful ways. The government will never solve this problem, for a variety of reasons. But, private individuals and businesses through incentives and persuasion just might. Why? Because media, commercialism, and society have gotten us into our current mess and only those factors can probably get us out.

So, to all of our many creative and thoughtful readers. Start working! 2010 is just around the corner and the government could use a bailout.

Too Much of a Good Thing

No, I’m not talking about chocolate, wine, cheese, meat, or anything else that experts recommend we consume in moderation. The topic of this post is exercise.

Exercise addiction is a real phenomenon and generally involves a real addiction to the act of exercising and the subordination of other activities and obligations to working out. It also usually includes an emotional component where not exercising can bring anxiety and depression. You can find out more here.

Many of our readers (all five?) may see a little bit of themselves when they read about exercise addiction. This is  something that many of us who are excited about our health probably border on. It’s probably even more true if we used to be sedentary and overweight. After all, we have to be vigilant or it’s back to the old habits (and the old health and old looks). So, we can be forgiven for being a tad obsessive, right?

A tad, yes. Certainly, a student who has to work 3 hours to understand a concept is not an addict to education just because he or she can’t learn it in 1 hour like another student. So, in this sense, many of us who used to be fat genuinely may have to put in more effort. I do get somewhat upset if my exercise routine is interrupted. It’s because I know what happens when that becomes a trend…and it ain’t pretty.

However, we all must make sure we’re not becoming addicted to exercise. Our previous habits were unhealthy and brought us down. We can’t have the same thing happen with our new habits. Exercising while injured or sick and becoming emotionally disturbed over exercise will both damage health, not advance it.

So, if the article I linked to sounds a lot like you, it may be time to pull back a little and maybe even get some help doing it. We want to live life to its fullest and exercise should help that, not hinder it.

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.

The United States of Fatness

CalorieLab has come up with a listing of the thinnest and the fattest states in the union and results are not pretty. Here are a few of my observations:

1. As with cities, weather doesn’t seem to necessarily help states- Just as Miami was the least fit city according to Men’s Fitness, a state with a lot of warmth, Mississippi, ranked worst in the fatness survey. In fact, the warmest states don’t have that good of records overall.

2. The South Has Risen Again- In this case, it’s their weight. The former Confederacy, excluding Virginia and Florida, are all in the top 20 of the worst offenders. I don’t know if it’s the traditional cooking, but it’s bad news for the health of the region.

3. The Midwest Isn’t Much Better- The South may be bad, but the Great Lakes States and the broader Midwest have pretty bad numbers too. My state of Ohio is in the bad top 20 too.

4. Turning Blue States Yellow/Green- Green and Yellow are the colors given to states that are not as obese in the listing. Of these 15 states, 11 voted for Barack Obama. 

5. Mormonism has some health benefits- Just as Salt Lake City was the fittest of the cities, so Utah does pretty well in avoiding obesity. Mormons avoid caffeine and tobacco, which certainly has health benefits. It probably relates to obesity because I’ll bet that the sugar water known as Coke and Pepsi doesn’t sell too well in Utah.

6. Even the good isn’t that good- This survey measures obesity and even the “best”  state, Colorado, still weighed in at 18.4% obesity. In fact, with the exception of Washington DC, every single state saw its obesity levels increase since 2007.