Monday, February 17, 2014

February is American Heart Month

Cardiovascular disease is often called the silent killer because it can have no noticeable symptoms. Especially for this reason, it’s important to learn the components of good heart health to keep you and your family safe and healthy.

What do you need to know about heart health?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
  • Every year, approximately 715,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack.
  • About 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year, which accounts for one in four of all deaths.

Common types of heart conditions:

  • Coronary heart disease: Also called coronary artery disease, this is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. This condition occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This disease can cause a heart attack, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias.
  • Heart attack: According to the Mayo Clinic, a heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through a coronary artery. This can cause damage or destroy part of the heart muscle. Also known as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Feeling lightheaded, faint, or weak.
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest.
  • Shoulder or arm pain or discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath.

If you experience any of the symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Are heart attack symptoms different for men and women?

Yes, they can be. In fact, women often ignore their symptoms because they’re not those typically associated with heart attacks. Women should pay attention to:

  • A burning sensation in the upper abdomen
  • Lightheadedness
  • An upset stomach
  • Sweating.

What steps can you take to ensure good heart health?

  1. Eat a healthy diet.  A diet of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and unprocessed foods is best. Limit salt or sodium intake. Also watch your intake of saturated and trans fats and cholesterol.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
  3. Get moving! Experts recommend moderate to intense exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week. If necessary, break those workouts into shorter periods of time. In general, include more movement in your daily routine, especially if you have a job that requires sitting for most of the day.
  4. Watch your blood pressure.
  5. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. And limit exposure to secondhand smoke, too.
  6. Limit alcohol consumption. Men should consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per day; women should drink no more than one beverage containing alcohol daily.
  7. Have your cholesterol checked.
  8. Manage diabetes. In women, other chronic conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, too.
  9. Take medications as prescribed.
  10. Reduce stress levels.
  11. Get treated for depression.
  12. Be aware of your family history.

What events are being held throughout the month?

Go Red for Women is one of the organizations with a specific focus on heart health. Visit for events in your area. Check out the American Heart Association’s Website for valuable information on American Heart Month.

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 14, 2014

CDC Alert on Lyme Disease Deaths

Sudden deaths from cardiac arrest by three healthy young adults put the CDC on high alert when it was discovered that all three were victims of carditis, a tick-borne heart inflammation, and all three lived in areas known for high tick populations.

The first victim was found dead in his car after it had veered off the road late in 2012 in Massachusetts. Since the victim was an organ donor, a pathologist working to harvest organs discovered the telltale inflammation around his heart.

Just six months later, two more carditis victims, one from New york and one from Connecticut, died after collapsing suddenly, unexpectedly.

Did the victims, all between 26 and 38 years old, even know they had Lyme disease? Apparently not, as none of them had been diagnosed or treated for it before their untimely deaths.
While the CDC assures that deadly carditis cases resulting from Lyme Disease are rare, you should take precautions, such as:
  • Learn to recognize the symptoms of Lyme disease.
  • Follow recommended safety procedures when recreating or working outdoors in areas that may have ticks.
  • Contact your physician if you think that you or a loved one has received a tick bite or has symptoms of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease fact sheet

Things you need to know about Lyme disease and carditis:
  • Lyme disease is passed to humans by the bite of black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks) and western black-legged ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.
  • The Lyme disease bacterium normally lives in mice, squirrels, and other small mammals, but one of the three recent victims is believed to have contracted his Lyme disease from his pet dog, known to have ticks.
  • Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in the United States.
  • In 2010, more than 22,500 confirmed and 7,500 cases of Lyme disease were reported to the CDC.
  • About one percent of Lyme disease sufferers develop carditis.
  • Carditus is usually treatable with antibiotics.
  • Outdoor workers are at risk of Lyme disease if they work at sites with infected ticks.  U.S. workers in the northeastern and north-central States are at highest risk of exposure to infected ticks.
  • Lyme disease is known to be particularly problematic in specific areas of the U.S., as the CDC map below shows:

How to protect yourself from ticks and Lyme disease

To protect you and your family from tick bites, take the following precautions when working, camping, or playing outdoors in tick areas:
  • Wear a hat and light-colored clothing, including long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into boots or socks.
  • Use insect repellents containing 20-to-30 percent DEET on your skin or clothing.
  • Use insecticides such as Permethrin (only on clothes, not skin) for greater protection. One application of permethrin to pants, socks, and shoes typically stays effective through several washings.
  • Check your skin and clothes for ticks. The young ticks are very small and may be hard to see.  Particularly check your hair, underarms, and groin for ticks, and immediately remove them from your body using fine-tipped tweezers, grasping the tick firmly and as close to your skin as possible, and then pulling the tick's body away from your skin with a steady motion. Wash the infected area with soap and water.
  • Wash and dry potentially exposed clothes in a hot dryer to kill any attached ticks.

Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Lyme disease symptoms include:
  • An expanding circular rash that may look like a red bulls-eye at the site of the tick bite.
  • Fever
  • Joint and muscle pains
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes
If you develop symptoms of Lyme disease, the CDC advises that you seek medical attention promptly. Be sure to tell your doctor that you work or recreate in outdoor areas where ticks may be present.

Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, if treatment is started early. However, some victims may have lasting symptoms such as arthritis, muscle and joint pain, or fatigue.
Lyme disease and pregnant women
If you get Lyme disease while pregnant, it can lead to infection of the placenta and possible stillbirth. However, no negative effects on the fetus have been found when the mother receives appropriate antibiotic treatment.

There are no reports of Lyme disease transmission from breast milk.

Learn more about Lyme disease and carditis

To find out more, check out these resources:
Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Enjoy a Snow Day with Kids

A snow day might be one of the best aspects of living in an area that has winters and sees the powdery white stuff. Regardless of your age, a snow day is an unexpected day off from your regular routine. Free from school, work, or your normal activities, a snow day can provide hours of fun, activity, and pleasant memories.

Outdoor activities for snow days:

  • Build a snowman. Try a snow cat or dog for a variation.
  • Make snow angels.
  • Have a playful snowball fight.
  • Construct a snow fort or igloo.
  • Enjoy ice skating, sledding, or cross country skiing with the proper equipment.

Indoor activities for snow days:

  • Watch a snow day movie. Suggested titles include: Ice Age, Home Alone, Trapped in Paradise, Groundhog Day, Happy Feet, and Snow Dogs, to name a few.  Another option is to pull out some classic movies your children have never seen and enjoy them together.
  • Play board games. Board games are a great alternative to movies, TV, and spending more time on the computer. Any of the old ones you have in the closet will do. Don’t have any board games? Make up your own. Years ago when my stepsons were much younger, we created a “Dog Days” game one weekend. It comprised of a homemade board, dog bones served as player’s tokens, and the tiles had dog-related topics on them. It was great fun, and it was extra special because we made it ourselves.
  • Whip up something tasty. Whether you cook, bake, or like to make your own chocolate, snow days provide a great time to enjoy making your favorite recipe as a family. Try new ideas like chocolate covered pretzels or gourmet popcorn.
  • Get creative. Pull out paints, brushes, old newspapers, and magazines and allow each of your children to create their own piece of art.
  • Try something new. Arm and finger knitting are hot new activities that can utilize many types of yarn. Check out this site for step-by-step instructions.
  • Dance! Turn off the electronics and TV, move the furniture, and turn on some music. It’s a great way to get some exercise on a snow day while keeping warm inside.
  • Read. Whether you engage in this activity as a family or individually, snow days provide precious extra time to catch up on your reading.

Don’t forget!

  • If you have a fireplace, make a fire. It’s a perfect way to keep your family warm and cozy on a snow day.
  • Enjoy hot chocolate by the fire. Need a great recipe? Try this one.
  • Bring the snow in with “Bottle Guys.” Fill empty plastic bottles ¾ way with snow, decorate, and stick in the freezer.
  • Take a nap. After all the outside work and play, you deserve to curl up and get some much-earned rest.
  • Capture the events of the day with pictures.

Whether you stick with traditional activities for snow days or find new ways to enjoy the surprising day off, you are sure to create wonderful memories with your family that will last a lifetime.  Do you have some great ideas for the next snow day? Feel free to share.

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

Monday, February 10, 2014


As we march towards the middle of February, a favorite – or less so – holiday awaits. Valentine’s Day. For some of us, it holds dear memories, exciting expectations, or the comforting security of knowing we are held as precious. For those of us who are single, or in unhappy relationships, Valentine’s Day holds little enjoyment. While there are those who are able to ignore the unrelenting hearts and flowers, others have a much harder time letting it go.

So rather than sit in our doldrums, let’s try some new approaches to making February 14th your own V-day, regardless of your circumstances.

Adopt a Valentine. If you are feeling left out of the love, chances are other people are, too. Check around among your friends and social circles. Ask your co-workers. Who else doesn’t have Valentine plans? Agree to exchange cards, or flowers – or even chocolates – that day, and perhaps treat yourselves to a nice dinner. Do something special for your adopted Valentine that they won’t expect. It will get you out of your own feelings, and pay you back with pleasure when your adopted Valentine feels extra special.

Practice acceptance. If you’ve recently gone through a breakup, the pain doesn’t go away overnight. While others move on with their lives, you may feel like you are stuck in yours. Mental health writer Therese J. Borchard reminds us that sometimes we must “go through it, not around it.” Going out with friends, treating yourself to some movie nights with a box of tissues, or throwing yourself into another interest might be the key to pushing through. Whatever you need to do, as long as it isn’t detrimental to you, go for it.

Focus on what you have. We can get caught up in the negatives, and we forget to remember that we have many blessings around us. Particularly when we are alone on a traditional “couples” holiday, you may find yourself giving the hairy eyeball to romantic duos. Resist! One of the wonderful benefits of being single is getting to choose what you want to do, when you want to do it, without anyone else’s opinion involved. You don’t have any relationship drama going on in your life. You have no in-law issues to address.

Embrace the moment. You will never be at this exact place in life again. And while not everything is perfect, there are some pretty amazing things happening in your life right now. It is tough to be alone over the holidays, but you won’t always be. So enjoy the freedom and peace that comes with being single, knowing that when you are no longer so, you will – at times – wish for a few solitary moments! So appreciate where you are right now, with all its bumps and wrinkles.

Write yourself a Valentine. It sounds corny, but when was the last time you focused on all the things you love about yourself? Life coach Debra Smouse suggests crafting a Valentine card to your present self, from your pre-school self. It might feel awkward, but remembering back to the days before we placed so many judgments on ourselves can help us break out of some negative mindsets. List in detail what is lovable and wonderful about you. What are your best talents? If you don’t think you have any, think back to when you were little – what were you drawn to? What did others say you were good at? Write a love letter to yourself, complete with a rose or romantic token. For this year, romance yourself. You might be surprised how it changes your perspective and improves your self-image.

Being single when there’s so much couple-focused romantic advertising isn’t easy, but with some mindset shifting, you can own and enjoy this Valentine’s Day. So much so, I hope you start to call it your own V-Day, where you celebrate being single and special in your own right.

What things do you do to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a singleton? What’s been your best experience so far? How have you owned V-day? (And check out 50 Ways to Love and Pamper Yourself on Valentine’s & Every Day for some other ideas!)

Ally Bishop
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 7, 2014

Embracing the Imperfect Diet

It sounds like the antithesis of what it means to be healthy, right? Haven’t we been told that we have to eat more veggies, consume less junk food, and cook more at home? Doesn’t that mean always striving for better nutrition, not embracing the “less than,” substandard fare?

Yes…and no. While eating healthier is great, we can take it too far. There’s a new term on the rise in health circles: Orthorexia. It may sound odd, but it’s a serious issue. It is caused by being overly concerned about healthy eating. And before you scratch your head, let me explain.


The orthorexic person doesn’t just care about eating healthier: they live for it. They consistently try to improve their diet and have anxiety when they are placed in situations that compromise it. They worry about food quality when they eat out, when they visit with friends, and when they are grocery shopping. They suffer from guilt if they aren’t 100% perfect when it comes to their strict eating protocol. Often, they may judge or scold friends and coworkers when they eat foods that don’t adhere to the orthorexic’s view of healthy eating.

It may sound unlikely to happen to you, but if you come to healthier eating with an eating disorder of any kind – yo-yo dieting (disordered eating), bulimia, anorexia, etc. – you may very well develop an orthorexic mindset. We often trade one obsessive pattern for another.

So how do you combat falling into an orthorexic mindset?

First, seek help. If you recognize that you have suffered from disordered eating in the past, getting quality care from a therapist is the first place to start. We live in a culture that promotes perfection, and in so doing, often sends us down a path of dieting, body image dysmorphia, and unhealthy mindsets. Professional psychological counseling can help you work through those pain points and assist you in finding peace.

Second, take small, loving steps. While improving your diet and health is an awesome goal, you also have to live your life! If you find yourself cringing when you are going out to eat or attending a friendly mixer, examine what it is that is really bothering you. Is it fear that you’ll fall back into unhealthy eating patterns? Is it giving up control over the quality of foods you eat? Or is it something more? Do you have a hard time letting yourself enjoy those moments? Whatever it may be, give yourself permission to let go and embrace the time spent with others. You can enjoy the healthiest fare available if you choose, but you can also give yourself a break and simply be – eating delicious food and celebrating with the people you enjoy. The habits you’ve cultivated around making healthy choices will be there in the morning.

Third, embrace imperfection. We are never going to lead the perfect diet 100% of the time. And it is okay! You are doing many great things by choosing to eat whole foods, cook at home, and buy local produce. If a little imperfect food creeps its way into the mix, you are still making amazing changes. If your favorite popcorn is at the movie theater, then enjoy it a few times a month. Are you daydreaming about a Snickers bar? Then go eat one and savor it. The stress caused by worrying over these occasional treats is harder on you and your body than the occasional indulgence.

Orthorexia is quickly becoming a buzzword in healthy circles, but you don’t have to fall into its trap. Stay aware of your mindsets as you start making healthier choices, and remind yourself that imperfection is the goal – perfection is not attainable.

What ways have you witnessed orthorexia in the lives of those around you? Have you dealt with a similar issue? How did you overcome it?

Contributing Writer

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Five Tips for Winter Weather Exercise Outdoors

It's winter – time to give up on your favorite outdoor exercise activities, right? Maybe not.  If you are an avid bicyclist, hiker, or runner, repulsed by the idea of cross training indoors because of the cold or snow, here’s good news; thanks to fascinating new technology and new sporting equipment options, there's just about no weather condition that can force you indoors.  Combine this with some good old-fashioned survivalist winter wisdom, and you can happily continue your outdoor routine in the cold and snow.

In this first of two articles on winter weather exercising, we'll focus on tried-and-true techniques for enjoying many of your favorite outdoor sports even the worst of winter weather. In the follow-up article, will introduce you to the latest equipment and gear – new technology to help you stay warm and safe even when the weather outside is frightful.

Common sense first

With or without the right winter wear and winter gear, you will need to work a little harder at keeping yourself safe when the weather is wicked. Here’s some common sense advice from experienced cold-weather fitness folk.
Tip #1 – Layer up!
Active cyclist and runner Heather Connan of  Southern River in Western Australia likes to continue her favorite outdoor pursuits even if it's cold or wet. Step one, she says, is “a moisture-wicking base layer. Good thermal wear doesn't make you cold when it is wet.”
Heather Conan enjoying her favorite sport in good weather

Note that she speaks of layers. This is one of the most important tricks to exercising in the cold. You may be tempted to throw on a big heavy winter coat, but your body temperature varies greatly as you work out. Dressing in layers lets you unzip or even remove layers as you warm up or as the weather changes. advises handling the winter with a threefold approach to layers, starting with the innermost layer – also known as the base layer – making it a wicking material(often a synthetic fabric, designed to move moisture away from your skin), with a middle layer of clothing comprised of an insulating material (wool or fleece clothing works well for this), and topping it off with an outer layer designed for wind, rain, or snow protection when the weather requires it.

Tip #2 – Cover up!

The colder or windier it is outside, the more you need to consider protecting your skin. Canadian outdoor enthusiast Jodi Kalman of Waterloo, Ontario agrees: “Living here in the ‘great white north’ in Canada, winters can be extremely harsh! It's not just the biting cold, but also the wind chill factor.”

Ontario's Jodi Kalman demo's layering technique

How does Kalman fight that skin exposure risk? “I layer up and make sure that I have no exposed skin, including my face; I wear a balaclava to keep my face protected from wind and sunburn. And I wear lip balm and Vaseline to keep my skin from chapping,” she advises. Anther good skin chap prevention solution that even has health benefits for your skin and lips is to coat your exposed skin with coconut oil.

Tip #3 – Don't fight the rain – work with it

Many people make the mistake of trying to stay completely dry when exercising in sleet or cold rain conditions. But the majority of experienced runners and cyclists advise against trying to waterproof yourself when exercising outdoors.  “A wind jacket is a very wise investment, even more so than a waterproof rain jacket," Connan recommends. “With a rain jacket, you will still end up wet on the inside of the jacket due to sweat.”

An overload of perspiration brought on by the sauna-like affect of a rain proof coat will make you uncomfortable at best, or even more susceptible to chill.  But with a wind-breaking jacket, “You stay warm because of the wind protection factor,” adds Connan. 

With the right base layers, getting wet doesn't mean getting cold. The trick then is to think in terms of body temperature management as your top priority, which may prevent you from becoming dripping wet from sweat while trying to stay bone dry from rain.

Tip #4 – protect your feet
Unless you wear thigh-high waterproof boots – nearly impossible and even dangerous to try while running or cycling – it's best to assume that snow or slush will result in your feet getting wet. With the right protection for your feet and ankles, you'll be fine even if your feet get wet.
  • Consider investing in a pair of trail running shoes or light hiking boots that have a reputation for good drainage and for drying quickly. You'll also benefit from the extra traction that most trail shoes/boots provide.
  • Avoid cotton socks, which will stay damp and will make your feet even colder.
  • Better choices are athletic socks made of "technical fabrics," wool sport socks, or a pair of socks that combines these two materials.
If you are dealing with less than five or six inches of snow, you may want to invest in a pair of gaiters to help keep your feet warmer and drier.  Gaiters, available from any wilderness outfitter store (check online if there isn't one near you), are a kind of fabric that holds snug to your shins/calves and drapes down over the top of your shoes. Gaiters are not only a good winter wear solution for running, walking, or hiking in snow, but useful year-round on slippery, dusty, or rocky trails to keep debris from getting inside your shoes or boots.
Tip #5 – Be more cautious!
If your favorite form of outdoor exercise involves navigating through streets or around traffic, stay aware at all times. Winter often causes conditions that hamper drivers' visibility, such as any kind of precipitation or darkness – the shorter days of winter may require you to exercise at dusk or night.
Do not assume that drivers can see you. To be safe:
  • Wear bright colored or even reflective clothing.
  • Leave the MP3 player at home; let your ears listen for approaching traffic.
  • Consider alternative routes to avoid heavy traffic or roads with no sidewalks.
Winter weather may also increase your risk of slipping and falling. To stay safe, tread lightly and move with the assumption that the ground ahead may be slippery. Take smaller steps to keep your feet under your center of gravity, and take extra precaution when turning corners.

Exercising year-round

To exercise outdoors in winter safely, and to keep it enjoyable, requires a little more forethought and preparation.  But with a little education and the right attitude, winter weather exercising is not only possible but fun.

For more tips on how to dress for successful winter fitness, check out Bike Winter's how-to page.  Most of their tips are useful for doing any outdoor sport, such as treating your lenses of your glasses with gel toothpaste to prevent fogging.  And to get the scoop on the latest gear for winter fitness, key an eye out for Part Two of this article.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, February 3, 2014

How Do You Know When You Have a Food Allergy or Intolerance?

We're hearing about them more and more often: food allergies are on the rise in the U.S. And it’s not just among children, either. Adults suffer from them as well, and as we understand more about inflammation in the body, more people are realizing that certain foods make them feel worse, regardless of how great they taste.

But how do you know whether you have a food allergy or a food intolerance? Do you handle them differently? What if it is a friend or coworker – how do you plan for their needs in the event you are making food and want to include them?


Understanding Food Allergies and Intolerances

According to WebMD, the most important difference between a food allergy and a food intolerance is that an allergy can be life-threatening. Allergies tend to show up quickly every time you ingest the allergen, and a small amount of the offending food can cause a reaction. (In fact, it’s so serious that one city in Canada is considering placing EpiPens in restaurants in case a patron has an allergic response to his or her food.)

Food intolerances are more gradual in their effect on the body, are not fatal, and are a bit harder to nail down, as they don't always occur when you eat a small amount of the triggering food. Often, you may only have a reaction when you consume too much of the food or if you eat it more often than your body to handle.

How Do I Know What My Issue Is?

As a general rule, food allergies are easier to spot than intolerances. However, if you suspect you have an issue related to food, you should see your medical doctor for testing. They can run a battery of tests that will identify any food allergies, narrow down intolerances, and help you create a menu and safe eating plan to improve your health and digestion.

But when considering symptoms, WebMD points out that both intolerances and allergies may cause nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and digestive upset. Intolerances tend towards Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms, like gas, heartburn, headaches, irritability, and even constipation or diarrhea.

Allergies reveal themselves in severe symptoms, like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, and hives or fever. You cannot wait to deal with the reaction of an allergy – you may need medical help immediately.

This is when keeping a food diary can be most helpful. Track the foods you eat every day for two weeks, and include in your notes how you feel after each meal. While allergies show up immediately, intolerances can take hours, sometimes even days to affect you, so following your symptoms over time is one of the best ways to evaluate the severity of your intolerance.

How Do I Deal With My Allergy or Intolerance?

If you have a food allergy, there is absolutely no wiggle room. You must avoid the offending food at all costs. Awareness is spreading globally about the seriousness of food allergies, so it’s much easier to find foods both in restaurants and grocery stores that are safe for you to consume. Just remember the golden rule: never trust – always ask. Even if the server offers assurances that the meal will be safe for you, if you have any qualms, ask to speak with the chef.

If you have a food intolerance, you'll need to gauge how sensitive you are. Some people experience mild sensitivities that only show up if they eat a certain food every day, or too many servings of it. Others are more sensitive, and even a small amount results in unpleasant side effects.

The Good News

With the influx of awareness around those with food allergies and intolerances, life has become much easier for those afflicted. And if your digestion isn't ideal, such as you suffer from regular bouts of gas, bloating, and bowel irregularity, it’s worth investigating with the help of your medical practitioner.

Ally Bishop
Contributing writer