It may be harder than it sounds: from sundown today to sundown tomorrow, the organizers of the National Day of Unplugging urge you to disconnect, detach, and generally extract yourself from the electronics which rule our daily lives.
In an age of hyperconnectivity, more people are attempting to find some peace away from their tablets, laptops and smartphones. Multi-tasking to the extreme, beleaguered employees are finding themselves anxious and stressed, rather than flush with the extra leisure time these technological devices were supposed to bring.
- Read more: How does stress affect our longevity?
An antidote to this fractured attention? Mindfulness meditation - a simple but profound practice which encourages us to simply observe our thoughts in the moment, and accept our current frame of mind. Even brief periods of so-called mindfulness can help you calm down and be less reactive to the emotions triggered by the aggressive driver behind you, or the slow-moving clerk at the grocery checkout.
Stress is a major reason that baby boomers rank lower on the health scale than their parents' generation did, at the same age, despite our current knowledge about fitness, healthy lifestyle and anti-aging diet rules. Mindfulness training may offer a hedge against the dangers of ongoing stress, by offering a "mini-vacation" for your psyche.
It's enough of a health concern that corporations like General Mills are adopting mindfulness programs for their employees to reduce stress, absenteeism, and improve productivity and creativity, according to a cover story in last month's Time magazine.
One of the most frustrating side effects of getting older is the extent to which sleep can be fractured. Staying asleep - even for people who have no trouble actually falling asleep - becomes a nightly challenge for many.
How can you manage this, and still feel well-rested in the morning? Many sleep experts advise getting out of bed in order to read or listen to music, to avoid turning your bed into a stress-ridden bastion of sleep performance anxiety.
I've never found this approach to be effective for me, however. So-called "morning people" (and I am one) just wake up too thoroughly once out of bed, whether it's 3 am or 7 am. Instead, I have through trial and error developed some techniques of my own, and benefited from those recommended by sleep doctors such as practicing meditation or relaxation exercises.
For an avid walker, ice on roads and pathways can really get in the way. I live in Calgary and this year we've seen an unprecedented number of falls within the community. While living near the mountains always creates a freeze-thaw cycle that repeats several times over the winter, the temperature has really jumped up and down more than usual this year. With every big melt comes a rapid freeze, creating skating rink conditions on city sidewalks and streets.
In one 48-hour period, thirty people fell and suffered injuries requiring emergency medical care, with broken limbs occurring at triple the seasonal average. Some seniors' homes were advising their residents not to walk outdoors at all. Indeed, falls are the top cause of injury and injury-related deaths in people over the age of 65, and the effects can be disastrous.
So, I've researched tips on how to walk safely in winter conditions! Not only should you be careful to dress for the weather to avoid getting too cold, proper footwear and technique can help keep you vertical on icy surfaces. This is the time to wear your flat, supportive shoes rather than boots with smooth soles and spiked heels. Think stability over fashion.
Above all, don't stay inside if at all possible. Enlist the help of a supportive friend or family member. Being outside is good for your morale, your health, and is likely to help you continue exercising more regularly. Just make sure you do it safely.
Read more: Winter walking tips
Like many people, I recently asked myself how much daily movement I was getting, over and above the time I spent exercising at the gym. A traditional step-counting pedometer could tell me how many steps I logged each day - and according to a 2007 study might succeed in giving me that motivational push to take more steps. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the research found a strong link between regular pedometer use and lower Body Mass Index, lower blood pressure and more physical activity in general.
Still, I have always found step counters to be cumbersome: they bulge out under my shirt, and inevitably they fall on the floor or worse, into the toilet. I decided I'd rather wear something on my wrist than on my waistband, to register not only my daily steps but all movement.
Based in part on our Walking Expert's review of the Nike FuelBand SE, I decided on this model. I knew I would like the visual readout, not to mention the fireworks display when I hit my daily goal. Nike's "fuel" reading took some getting used to (1 point of fuel = roughly 3 steps) and I had to return it to the store once in order to get the right size. But overall, even though there's very little independent research on these wearable trackers, I have found the Fuelband motivates me to get moving. When else have I been on the phone at 11pm, walking around the living room to log some last movement of the day in order to hit my goal?
Research is pending on the accuracy and motivational power of digital activity monitors. I suspect they'll find that for people who pick an achievable goal and stick with it, these little devices will prompt them to sit less and move more during the day.
Read my full articles:
- How motivating are activity monitors?
- How accurate are these wearable devices?
- How to burn calories without exercising
Dena M. Bravata, Crystal Smith-Spangler, Vandana Sundaram, Allison L. Gienger, et al. "Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health: A Systematic Review." JAMA. 2007;298(19):2296-2304.
New research out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has found that spinal cord injury rates are rising among seniors. In fact, falls appear to be a greater cause of these injuries than traffic accidents - a switch from past trends.
Injuries from falls: Falls in older adults represent a serious threat to their health and independence; a person with a hip fracture, for example, has twice the mortality risk in the first year after suffering the break. But spinal cord injuries also pose a danger, according to the study. It found that seniors with spinal cord injuries are four times more likely to die from those injuries than younger adults.
Published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, the research found that 41.5% of spinal cord injuries were caused by falls between 2007 and 2009, while traffic accidents caused only 35.5% of the injuries recorded in the same period. The scientists speculate that safer driving laws may account for the drop in injuries from car crashes, but call for more programs to prevent dangerous falls among seniors.
- Read more: What causes falls among older adults?
How to fall-proof your home
Why programs like Tai Chi work to boost balance
Shalini Selvarajah, Edward R. Hammond, Adil H. Haide et al. "The Burden of Acute Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury Among Adults in the United States: An Update." Journal of Neurotrauma 31:228-238 (February 1, 2014).
How's this for an inspirational story: at the tender age of 104, masters athlete Jaring Timmerman of Winnipeg, Canada set two world records on January 24, 2014. By finishing the 50-metre freestyle and 50-metre backstroke races, he swam into the world record books.
Timmerman began competitive swimming late - at the age of 79 - and holds four world records in the oldest existing category, 100-104 years. On Friday night he clocked a personal best in backstroke, completing the race (though not winning it) with a time of 3:09:55. Family members, friends and news media were there to cheer him on.
For the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) reporter Karen Paul's report, click here.
Blend Images - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images
With wind chills down to -40 and - 50 degrees (converging on the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales) raging across central and eastern North America, weather-battered residents are trying their best to stay warm. The challenges and dangers of bitterly cold temperatures are even greater because of power outages in many regions.
While everyone is at risk of getting too cold in frigid temperatures, seniors are especially vulnerable to dangerous hypothermia - a potentially life-threatening condition of a dropping core temperature. Aging skin doesn't regulate internal temperature as well, and less insulating fat on your body, certain medications for many age-related diseases, along with other health problems can make it tough to stay warm or even realize you're getting too cold. Hypothermia can even happen indoors.
How to avoid hypothermia: When possible, avoid going outdoors in extremely cold or windy days, as wind cools the skin more rapidly. Wear several loose layers to trap heat rather than constricting clothing, and keep skin covered. If you live alone, make sure you know the signs of hypothermia, such as slurred speech, or confusion. Have a friend or family member check on you regularly or consider moving in with someone else for the duration of the severely cold weather - especially if there's a risk of a power outage.
Finally, take care with space heaters by keeping them away from drapery, paper and other flammable items. Make sure your carbon monoxide monitor is working, to avoid poisoning.
For more information on why older people are at greater risk of hypothermia, see my article here.
Hypothermia: A Cold Weather Hazard. US NIH National Institute on Aging Public Information Sheet. Accessed January 6, 2014.
We certainly know the toll a high-fat, highly-processed diet can have on the heart, more and more research is revealing how a poor diet and obesity affect another important organ: the liver. First identified as recently as the early 1980s, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) now ranks as the second most common cause of liver transplants, after hepatitis infection.
In its advanced stages, fatty liver disease can cause swelling and scarring of the liver, liver cancer, and organ failure, with a disease progression almost identical to that seen in alcoholics. Though epidemiologists have not documented higher mortality rates with NAFLD, they caution that the liver is put at grave risk with today's over-consumption of a calorie-rich -- and nutrient-poor -- diet.
- Read more: How Fatty Liver Disease Progresses
- How Deadly is Fatty Liver Disease?
- What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?
Lazo M, Hernaez R, Bonekamp S, Kamel IR, Brancati FL, Guallar E, Clark JM. "Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and mortality among US adults: prospective cohort study." BMJ. 2011 Nov 18;343:d6891.
If you live in a dry climate, you're no stranger to dry and cracked fingers. The outer layers of your skin apparently require about 10% moisture content to stay intact, and if you're like me, that's more than my chapped hands seem to have during Canada's winter months. It's a regular topic of conversation in this area, thanks to Calgary's low humidity and high altitude. So what to do?
First off, keep your hands out of water as much as possible, since wet work hastens moisture loss. Second, apply a thick and emollient hand cream after you wash your hands, and reapply often during the day. While some premium hand creams are pricey, there are many inexpensive ingredients that you should look for on the label, including petrolatum (petroleum jelly), wax, glycerin, shea butter, and urea.
If finger cracks keep you up at night, good old super glue is a surprisingly quick and effective remedy! For more advice on how to cope with dry, chapped hands, click here.
If you usually avoid heart-healthy peanuts and tree nuts like walnuts, pecans and hazelnuts for fear of gaining weight, you needn't worry. According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, people who eat nuts regularly tend not to weigh more than those who rarely (or never) eat nuts - even though regular nut-eaters consume as much as 250 extra calories a day!
The jury is still out on why consuming more calories doesn't result in any weight gain, but the nuts themselves may influence metabolism; that is, how quickly your body burns off the food you consume. The caveat? That you eat no more than an ounce or an ounce and a half of nuts (about 40g) per day. An ounce of nuts represents about a quarter-cup.
Nuts are a crucial part of an anti-aging diet, since they've been shown to lower rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and help improve longevity overall. According to a 2013 review of two large longitudinal studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine, eating about an ounce of nuts (28g) each day was linked to a 20% lower risk of death from any cause, in subjects followed over a 30-year period.
So if you find yourself gravitating towards a bowl of nuts at a party this holiday season - enjoy - just as all things, in moderation.
- Read the entire article here: Will I gain weight if I eat nuts?
King JC, Blumberg J, Ingwersen L, Jenab M, Tucker KL. "Tree Nuts and Peanuts as Components of a Healthy Diet." J Nutr. 2008 Sep;138(9):1736S-1740S.
Ying Bao, Jiali Han, Frank B Hu, Edward L Giovannucci, Meir J Stampfer, Walter C Willett, and Charles S Fuchs. "Association of Nut Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality." N Engl J Med 2013;369:2000-11.