Thursday, November 20, 2014

Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Cleanup

You and your family gobbled up the Thanksgiving Day meal, but now it’s time for the cleanup. Rather than groan at the thought of the chore, enlist the help of family members, and your cleanup will be a breeze.

How can you ensure a quick and easy Thanksgiving cleanup?

Have storage containers ready. Younger family members can help with cleanup by transferring mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and other side dishes into separate bowls for storage. Always label and date the containers for quickly locating in the refrigerator.

Clean the turkey bone. Always have an adult take care of this task, putting leftover meat into separate containers for sandwiches, baked dishes and soup.

Save the wishbone. If it’s your family tradition to save the wishbone to determine future good luck, place it out of hands of young children and pets while drying.

Safely dispose of discards. To ensure pets and young children can’t get into garbage, be sure to wrap everything well and throw out of reach of little paws and hands.

What do you need to know about leftovers?

According to the Mayo Clinic, you can safety keep leftovers for three to four days in the refrigerator. If you don’t think you’re likely to use leftovers within that timeframe, it’s best to freeze them.
To avoid food poisoning, refrigerate leftovers promptly and don’t let them sit for more than two hours at room temperature.
Refrigerate turkey and stuffing separately, rather than in one container.

What are the best uses for leftover turkey or ham?

You can quickly turn Thanksgiving leftovers into everyday meals by using either turkey or ham in soups, casseroles and sandwiches. With fresh new recipes, these ideas for leftovers are anything but boring.

Sandwiches are always a big hit with leftovers. Put a new twist on a classic sandwich with this recipe idea. Open-faced sandwiches are another idea. With gravy, stuffing or potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce, you can easily create a delicious hot meal for your family to enjoy. Looking for a healthier alternative? Consider a wrap instead of sandwich bread.
Soups are an easy way to use leftover ham or turkey. Once cooked, soup can easily be frozen for use during the cold winter months. Check out this recipe for Creamy Mashed Potato and Turkey Soup.
Individual potpies can be made with both ham and turkey.  Step-by-step instruction are available at
Replace bacon or sausage with ham or turkey as a breakfast meat for a change of pace.

Additional suggestions for leftovers:

Consider making individual meals for elderly neighbors who might not get out for the holiday.  Include a choice of meat, samples of all the fix-ins and a slice of pumpkin pie for a nice treat.
Encourage your guests to create plates to take home for themselves. Often, family members and friends say they enjoy eating out for Thanksgiving but miss the leftovers when they don’t cook at home.
Not a fan of leftovers? Don’t overcook. Keep your meals in proportion to your number of guests to ensure less or no waste.

Do have a favorite recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers? Feel free to share! Happy Thanksgiving.

Be Wize & Be Healthy

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Protecting Your Precious Eyes

With the increased use of computers and other electronic devices, it’s crucial to protect your eyes from the negative effects these devices may have. Whether you spend only an hour a day on a computer, or have a family member who is glued to an electronic device, it’s important to be aware of the special needs of your precious eyes.

What is Computer Vision Syndrome?

According to the American Optometric Association, CVS is a term that encompasses eye and vision-related problems associated with prolonged computer use. It can apply to cell phones and other electronic devices, too.

The most common symptoms of CVS are:

Blurred vision
Dry eyes
Neck and shoulder pain

What factors contribute to the symptoms of CVS?

Poor lighting
Glare on a computer or electronic device screen
Improper viewing distance
Poor seating posture
Uncorrected vision problems
A combination of causes

Why is staring at a computer screen or other device difficult on eyes?

In general, eyes work harder when viewing electronic devices than reading a printed page due to the unique characteristics of the screen and the high visual demands of viewing it. Letters on an electronic device are often not as precise or sharply defined as those on a printed page. In addition, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.

How is CVS diagnosed?

A comprehensive eye exam, including an eyesight test.
A patient history.
Other specific tests as needed, including those to check measurements and how the eyes are focusing.

If you’re diagnosed with CVS, how is your overall vision affected?

Typically, most symptoms of CVS are temporary and will decline or stop completely after cutting back on or alleviating computer work. In rare instances, eye symptoms continue to worsen over time.

How can you protect your eyes from electronic devices?

Control the lightning and glare on your computer or electronic device screens. Consider a computer screen eye protector, if necessary.
Maintain the appropriate posture when using a computer or other device.
Establish a proper working distance from any electronic screen.

What are the recommendations for preventing or alleviating CVS?

Location of computer screen. Your eyes should be looking downward, approximately 4-5 inches below eye level.
Reference materials.  Placing reference materials beside your monitor usually works best. Refrain from moving your head back and forth from document to screen.
Lighting. Avoid glare from lighting and windows.
Seating. Use a comfortable chair, with feet flat on the floor. Your wrists should not rest on the keyboard.
Rest. For every two hours of computer work, rest your eyes for 15 minutes. In addition, for every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance to refocus eyes for a few minutes.
Blink. Help minimize dry eye by blinking as you work. Blinking keeps the front surface of your eye moist, which helps to alleviate this symptom.

What else do you need to know?

Special glasses for computer use are sometimes necessary. Even individuals who have an eyeglass or contact lens prescription may find it's not suitable for their computer requirements. Your eye care professional will work with you to determine your specific needs.

Sometimes vision therapy, also called visual training, might be necessary. This therapy is a series of eye exercises that assist the eyes and brain in working together more effectively.

Be Wize & Be Healthy,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Unexpected Health Benefit of Computer Games – Reduced Nicotine & Food Cravings

Can you "game" the system of addictive behaviors to reduce cravings? A recent study suggests that you can – that you can subdue your addictive cravings, such as those for cigarettes, food, or alcohol, simply by playing certain PC games for a few minutes.

Gaming can be good for you?

We reported in 2012 on the potential health benefits, and even social benefits, of computer gaming and video games. While the same potential risks from too much gaming or age-inappropriate games are still there (discussed in the 2012 gaming article), a 2014 study adds further grist to the mill of the arguments in favor of gaming.

The research psychologists focused on the measurable effects generated from study participants who were playing the computer game Tetris, observing that the game-playing activity lessened the severity of alcohol, food, and nicotine cravings.

In this study, the psychologists witnessed that the mental-visual stimulation experienced when players rapidly manipulated the Tetris game shapes distracted participants' brains from picturing food, alcohol, or tobacco products and, consequently, the associated cravings.

The study also revealed that the positive effects kicked in after as little as three minutes of gameplay. It appears that the visual stimulation inherent in the game Tetris reduced cravings associated with alcohol, cigarettes, and food.

How researchers discovered the positive effect of gaming

The science behind the study is based on "Elaborated Intrusion Theory," which suggests that imagery is central to craving and that, therefore, a visually-based tasks should decrease craving and craving imagery.

The research, conducted at the Plymouth University Cognition Institute, tested this theory using 121 study participants who were asked if they were experiencing a craving and, if so, were then instructed to rate the strength, vividness, and intrusiveness of the craving. Following this, the participants either played Tetris for three minutes or, for participants placed in the control group, watched what appeared to be a computer program trying to load for three minutes, effectively receiving no visual stimulation.

Before task completion, craving scores of both groups were essentially the same. However, after the three minute period, those participants who played Tetris had significantly lower craving and less vivid craving imagery than the control group.

The conclusion: loading up the visual-spatial part of our memory has the potential to reduce our naturally occurring cravings. The researchers also concluded that Tetris might be a useful way for just about anyone to tackle cravings outside the laboratory in everyday life.

Understanding the science of cravings

Earlier studies on addictive behaviors have shown cravings to be a trigger that launches undesirable activities such as binge eating, giving up on weight loss programs, and even the onset of obesity.

Cravings are an everyday occurrence; we all experience them. Cravings are usually associated to negative effects. When experiencing cravings that we can't ignore, we either lose resistance and engage in the undesirable behavior (such as breaking a diet, overeating, smoking, or drinking) or, even if we are able to resist the temptations of the cravings, we often experience undesirable distress or distraction.

What happens is that an internal or external trigger gives rise to a spontaneous thought that we are either able to ignore or that latches on, becoming elaborated. When elaboration happens, mental images are developed and held onto, overwhelming other mental faculties, such as the desire to resist the negative behavior.

The power of these images in the mind's eye is substantial. For example, an earlier study showed that alcohol-craving imagery resulted in a majority of study participants being able to mentally "taste" the substance they craved.

Why Tetris can short-circuit addictive behaviors

It turns out that working memory – the place in our minds where visual cravings occur – has a limited load capacity. As the new study showed, involving the working memory system with an irrelevant task load, such as playing Tetris, overwhelms that visual-spatial "sketchpad." The result is that this unrelated task can short-circuit the cravings for food, alcohol, or cigarettes – effectively distracting the mind and dulling the addictive cravings.

While this short-circuiting effect may work with other similar games, Tetris is specifically known to load the visual-spatial part of working memory. In Tetris, the player can only keep the game going if they rotate and move geometric shapes very quickly to achieve the goal of completing a row of shapes without gaps.

How you can game the system of addictive behaviors

If you want to try this same experiment at home, you will find that Tetris and several freeware knockoff versions of Tetris are available for download from the Internet. The next time you are experiencing cravings common to tobacco, alcohol, or foods, open your computer or mobile device right away and play a few rounds of Tetris.

You too may find that Tetris works to manage your cravings or other related imagery.  Worst-case scenario, you'll get to enjoy the pleasure of a short game break. 
As an added bonus, if you have any trouble with lazy eye syndrome, a 2013 study showed that Tetris can also improve problems with lazy eye.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Discover The Ancient Chinese Practice of Tai Chi

What is tai chi?

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that originated as a martial art and form of self-defense. The practice has evolved into a form of exercise that incorporates a series of gentle, focused movements with deep breathing and relaxation. While there are thousands of different styles of tai chi, all are based on specific forms and moves. Often referred to as “meditative movement,” this non-competitive, self-paced practice is great for stretching, balance and calming the nervous system.

Tai chi basics for beginners:

* Styles of tai chi include: Yan, Wu and Chen.
* The ancient practice is based on forms, with short being best for beginners.
* Tai chi involves moves, which are a combination of actions. Many moves have been named after animals, such as Bird’s Tail, Horse Stance and White Crane Spreads Its Wings. But, don’t let the complexity of the names deter you.

What are the health benefits of tai chi?
According to the Mayo Clinic:

Relieves stress and anxiety
Benefits cardiovascular health
Increases stamina and energy
Assists with balance, flexibility and agility
Improves muscle strength

Results of studies evaluating balance, sleep quality and cognitive performance can be found at

Additional benefits include:

Noticeable improvement in quality of sleep
Immune system enhancement
Lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure
Helps diminish joint pain
May improve chronic pain

Studies have proven that regular tai chi practice results in a reduction in the number of falls among participants. In addition, in a study involving stroke victims who practice tai chi, significant improvement in balance, quality of life and mental health issues were reported. Read more here.

What health conditions can tai chi benefit?

Balance, equilibrium issues or vertigo
Arthritis and any condition affecting the joints
Chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia

While tai chi is generally a gentle, safe form of exercise, always consult your healthcare provider before starting a practice.

Who can practice tai chi?

Individuals of all ages and fitness levels
Older individuals who otherwise may not be able to engage in exercise
Those recovering from injury or illness
Individuals or groups

How can you find a class?

Experts suggest you find a qualified teacher to learn tai chi movements
Videos and books are available to augment classes
Local YMCA/YWCAs, senior and health centers offer classes
Sites such as can help you find a teacher in your area.

Suggestions for maximum benefits of tai chi:

1. Set regular practice times
2. Practice several times per week, in addition to your class
3. Aim to workout for 20 minutes or longer
4. Wear loose, comfortable clothing

So, if you're looking for a new activity that offers numerous health benefits, can include the whole family and is relatively inexpensive to try, the ancient Chinese practice of tai chi might just fit the bill.

Be Wize & Be Healthy,

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Does Obesity Equate to Poorer Grades?

A recent study revealed some troubling statistics that appear to connect childhood obesity with lower grades and less success in secondary level education. The study also determined that the negative influence of obesity on education is not affected by the student’s social background.

The groundbreaking study from the WZB Berlin Social Science Center (WZB) focused on obesity statistics in Germany, but it portends even greater concern for US children, since obesity among German children is approximately six percent while, by comparison, more than 10 percent of US children are obese, according to statistics from California Center for Public Health Advocacy.

And the percentage of obese children in the US is increasing at an alarming rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the past 30 years, childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents. The CDC estimates that obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States — triple the rate from just one generation ago.

In the 2013 German study, researchers looked closely at how weight and obesity influences grades in mathematics and language in primary school and in Germany's equivalent of of our secondary schools, analyzing both those children who would be classified as overweight and those who would be classified as obese (The CDC defines overweight as having a body mass index (BMI) at or above 85 percent, and obesity as having a BMI at or above 95 percent compared to children of the same age/sex – see CDC Growth Charts for a breakdown by age and gender).  The researchers discovered that:
  • Obese girls and boys are statistically less likely to receive a“ good” or “very good” math grade, with the likelihood of getting top grades as much as 11 percent lower compared to children of healthy weight.
  • Those children classified as overweight do not perform worse in math.
The influence of obesity on math grades did not appear to be effected by whether or not a child is healthy, how much exercise or sports participation they did or didn't get, nor how much TV they watched.

The bully effect

The researchers also found that, because obese girls are bullied more often, they showed lower self-confidence, leading to an increase in behavior problems.
Interestingly though, researchers found no “bully effect” in the study for boys. Although obese boys were found to suffer from lower self-confidence. The researchers believe that this helps to explain the lower math grades.

Self-confidence and obesity

An earlier study in the US on the psychological and social adjustment of obese children and their families showed that obese children are less socially competent, had more behavior problems, and had poorer self-perceptions than their non-obese peers. In effect, the newer WZB study continues where this earlier study left off, connecting these common problems of obese children to negative school performance.

The WZB researchers also concluded that obese children are less likely to take advanced level classes in secondary education than their overweight counterparts.

Parents in the US are already concerned about the health impact when their children struggle with obesity. The German study also highlights the social burden that accompanies the childhood obesity epidemic, not just for the child's current situation but potentially for the long term. 

Parents can investigate two CDC resources for more information about childhood obesity:  the Basics about Childhood Obesity website and CDC's Strategies and Solutions content.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What the Heck is a Macrobiotic Diet?

Macrobiotics – a word you’ve likely heard but … what does it mean? If the term macrobiotics is Greek to you, here’s your primer! 

And, incidentally, the word macrobiotics is in fact Greek, at least in origin, coming from the word macro, meaning great, and bios, meaning life: Great Life.

Given the principles of the macrobiotic diet, you couldn’t choose a better word than one that means Great Life. Macrobiotics is not just a diet but a philosophy of life balance.  The founder of macrobiotics, Japanese philosopher George Ohsawa, taught that a balanced, healthy diet is a necessary component of a great life. And let’s face it, if you have an unhealthy diet, it’s only a matter of time before your health will suffer – and where’s the happiness in that?

What a macrobiotic diet looks like

Have you heard someone describe themselves as a pescatarian? It’s not a church denomination; a pescatarian is someone who considers themselves a vegetarian but who also eats fish and other aquatic animals for protein.  The macrobiotic diet strictly follows vegetarianism or pescatarianism. 

The diet is also based on the principles of yin and yang: opposing, complementary life forces that we should strive to keep in balance.  As this balance applies to the diet, foods are categorized as belonging to yin or yang, based on sweet vs. salty, hot vs. cold, and so forth. Thus, a macrobiotic dieter seeks to keep a good balance between yin foods and yang foods.

Macrobiotics practitioners are generally either health conscious individuals or those who are sick and hoping to find healing through the macrobiotics diet and lifestyle (including physical health and spiritual health).
What’s on the menu?
The macrobiotic diet is roughly half whole grains, a third vegetables, and the remainder a combination of beans, bean soups, miso soups, and sea vegetables. Rather than eating on a breakfast-lunch-dinner schedule, you eat when you feel hungry.  The diet also advises you to thoroughly chew when you eat to aid in digestion. 
What’s off the menu?
Things a macrobiotic dieter avoids:
  • No dairy products and no meats
  • No vitamin or mineral supplements
  • Avoid microwaving
  • Avoid cooking with electricity
  • No processed foods
  • No foods that contain artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors
  • No caffeine
  • No plastic storage; use stainless steel, wood, glass, or china instead

Why do a macrobiotic diet?

There are many health benefits reported by macrobiotic dieters.  Ohsawa stated that the macrobiotic diet could even cure cancer. Scientific studies do not unequivocally support this claim. Some studies have found no conclusive connection between the macrobiotic diet and cancer improvement.  However,  a 1993 study looking at pancreatic cancer reported that more than half of those who maintain a macrobiotic diet were alive after one year, while 90 percent of the study participants not on the macrobiotic diet had died by the end of the 12 months – results which generated a macrobiotic diet boon, especially among those with cancer.
Other macrobiotics health benefits are likely, simply because the diet removes all processed foods, includes lots of vegetables, is low in unhealthy fats, and high fiber. These factors have all been shown in numerous studies to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.

How to get started with a macrobiotic diet

Given the holistic lifestyle nature of macrobiotics, and the likelihood that the diet and food preparation methods will be radically different than what you are familiar with, the best way to get started is to seek out a macrobiotic practitioner for guidance.  Your budget or comfort level can determine whether you choose a person who teaches macrobiotics for a living or is simply a person who is experienced in practicing macrobiotics in daily life.
If personal guidance from an experienced practitioner is not an option for you, there are many books and online resources that can give you the basics.

Risks of the macrobiotic diet

It’s easy to do a macrobiotic diet wrong if you haven’t received guidance and training.  Risks to consider:
  • Since the macrobiotic diet has no dairy or animal products, you need to make sure that your body gets enough nutrients from other sources.
  • Many people lose a great deal of weight after switching to a macrobiotic diet. If you are already low in weight, this can put you in danger.
  • Even those who strictly follow macrobiotic diets might be deficient in certain vitamins, such as B12, D, iron, and calcium.
  • Because of the potential for vitamin deficits on the diet, macrobiotics is unadvisable for children, pregnant women, and those are already very sick.
As with any significant diet change, talk to your doctor, especially if you have any serious medical conditions.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Study: Even Nominal Alcohol Use Increases Cancer Risk

Researchers conclude that there is no safe threshold for alcohol and cancer risk.

When the science research came out telling us that there may be actual health benefits to wine (such as that gained from the bioflavonoid resveratrol found in the skin of red grapes), many used that as a “bottoms-up!” justification to drink, and drink some more. But is it wise? Even if there are health benefits to alcoholic drinks in moderation, the latest research puts the cap back on the bottle, warning us of cancer risks associated with alcohol use, and that, in fact, alcohol contributes substantially to premature death from any cause.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, shows that alcohol accounts for 3.5 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. That’s a whopping 20,000-or-so alcohol-attributable deaths annually.

Their estimates showed that each alcohol-related cancer death led to about 18 years of life lost. Do the math: This means that, on average, if you would have lived alcohol-free to, say, 80, your alcohol-related breast cancer death would take your life at closer to age 62.

Still looking forward to your six-pack TGIF celebration at the end of your work week? 

But how much is too much?  As it turns out, Not much!

Back to “common sense” – you will have surmised correctly if you suspected that quantity of drinking is a factor. But you may be surprised to read how little alcohol it takes to nudge you closer to death.

True enough, those who drink more that three drinks a day have the highest risk of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths. But before you offer up a toast to your good fortune as one who drinks less,  you should know that the study also showed that 30 percent of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths happened to those who consumed less than one and a half drinks a day.

So, as it turns out, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) was right when, four years ago, they set Dietary Guidelines for Americans advising that, "If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation – up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men."

That said, the researchers in this latest study concluded that, while higher consumption increases risk, there is no safe threshold for alcohol and cancer risk.

Just one drink … But in How big of a glass?

Let’s talk about the definition on “one drink” before you swipe your brow with relief as a one-drink-a-day kind of person. 

Researchers define a drink by units, in which one unit is 10 ml of pure alcohol. That’s roughly a single shot glass of stronger liquors, such as vodka or whiskey, or a standard-sized single bottle of beer.  If you’re one of those who fills their red wine glass to the top – which is not how a red wine glass is meant to be used – you’ve likely just consumed the alcoholic equivalent of three drinks already. That particular kind of “just one drink” is enough to put you into the higher cancer risk category.

The science behind the conclusions

Existing research has already identified alcohol consumption as tied to increased incidences cancer. In this new study, the researchers analyzed records of deaths tied to seven different types of cancers known to be associated with alcohol use: cancer of the colon, rectum, oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, and of the female breast.

The scientists used 2009 U.S. mortality data, aligning it to alcohol surveys and per capita alcohol consumption data to determine the extent to which cancer deaths can be attributed to alcohol use. As well, the researchers studied earlier cancer research and even examined alcohol sales figures from 2009 and two large nationwide surveys of alcohol consumption levels in adults.

Is no alcohol the answer?

Whether you choose to use this new information to motivate a cutback vs. a full stop vs. no change in your alcohol consumption is up to you.  One could argue (and many have) that it’s biblical to drink alcohol. Apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, recommended drinking a little wine once in a while to help digestion.
But the sum of it remains that, while alcohol – in moderation – may offer a few cardiovascular benefits, alcohol's cancer-causing properties appear to outweigh the benefits.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer