Category: Lifestyle

Give Thanks. It’s good for your health.

Gratitude is an emotion that, when expressed, can have a very positive effect on our health.

Mankind has always recognized gratitude as a positive emotion, but it took psychologists a long time to dig into the science of giving thanks.

Recently, they’ve found that gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions we have as humans, and can make us happier and change our attitudes about life, somewhat like an emotional reset button.

Professor Michael McCullough from the University of Miami says that when people stop to give thanks and count their blessings they are, in a way, hijacking their emotions, and as a result of the gratitude, become happier.  Findings suggest that gratitude is an emotion that, much like victory, feeds on itself.  The more you express it, the more you feel it.

One reason that gratitude does this is by automatically connecting you with others, especially when your gratitude is heartfelt and personal: genuine gratitude.  For genuine gratitude to exist there must be some amount of humility and the recognition of how we are blessed by things outside of ourselves.

There are still a lot of questions that scientists are asking about the brain chemistry behind gratitude and the best ways to express it.  In the meantime, many psychologists are now incorporating gratitude journals into sessions with patients, having the patient use the journal to write down things they’re thankful for.

So, how can you better express gratitude?

If you haven’t started this yet, you can follow a lot of people who have joined the 30 Days of Thanks game and used each day of November to be thankful for something different (many are posting their daily gratitude on Facebook and other social media).  Though this officially takes place in November, you can start the activity anytime, and doing this every day from today until the end of the year will give you a list of over 30 things that you’re thankful for.

The researchers studying gratitude also suggest that when we do give thanks for something we should check ourselves to see if it’s genuine gratitude or if we’re doing it simply out of obligation (which won’t bring the same emotional benefits of honest and pure gratitude).  Some examples to check yourself on are how you say grace before dinner, or how you express thanks for gifts you receive.

However you do it, this week is the perfect week to start giving thanks.  For the little things, for the big things.  For the people in your life.  For food on the table and a bed to sleep in.  For your education.  For laughter, challenges, forgiveness, and growth.  For any and all of these, and for so much else, give thanks.


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Thanksgiving Health Myths and Facts

Before scrolling to the bottom of the page to see the answers, see if you can figure out which of the following statements are facts and which are fiction:

#1. Turkey makes you sleepy.

#2. Thanksgiving chefs have an increased risk of burns and cuts.

#3. The average Thanksgiving costs 3000 calories and 226 grams of fat.

#4. Stuffing your turkey increases the risk of salmonella poisoning.








….figured out which statements are fact and which are fiction?  If yes, keep scrolling…if no, keep scrolling…







#2: Thanksgiving chefs have an increased risk for burns and cuts.

It’s TRUE!  Think about how busy the kitchen gets during the Thanksgiving holiday – people can’t resist the smell of Thanksgiving dinner, leading them to gravitate toward and around the kitchen; kids running around playing tag and/or football in and around the kitchen; and the college students grazing on more free food than they have probably had set in front of them all semester…more hands in the kitchen increases the likelihood of cuts and burns whether due to cooking, or just being in the way of the cook.

#3:  The average Thanksgiving costs 3000 calories and 275 grams of fat!

Also true, but this can’t be THAT much of a surprise, right?  All those starches and desserts…so wrong, yet so right…just don’t make a habit of it and try to listen to your stomach – if it’s full, maybe stop after only two slices of Aunt Suzie’s famous pie.


#1: The biggest myth of all: Turkey makes you sleepy.

No it doesn’t.  Turkey has no more of that magical natural sedative called tryptophan than any other meat.  So what is it that makes you sleepy? Carbs...

#4: Stuffing your turkey increases the risk of salmonella poisoning.

Not true.  Some people like the stuffing that comes out of the bird, and others would rather never see anything put on their plate that was prepared in such a way.  However, whatever your taste may be, fresh-out-the-bird stuffing can be safe (and for those of you who like that sort of thing, I’m sure you would add ‘yummy’) as long as you follow some very easy guidelines:

1.Make sure the stuffing is moist and loosely packed

2. DO NOT BUY A PRE-STUFFED TURKEY! Instead, stuff it yourself right before popping it in the oven.

3. Internal stuffing temperature should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit.


Condom Contest!!!!

No! This is not a post about who can blow-up a condom like a balloon the quickest…But it is about the race to get more people using condoms!

Just yesterday, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the winners of their contest on how to create a better condom. According to the foundation, the contest focused on decreasing unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by creating “a next generation condom that significantly preserves or enhances pleasure.”

Awarded a $100,000 grant each, 11 ideas from 812 applications were the chosen winners, with designs that range from condoms made of fish skin to condoms that have “shape memory.” With applications spilling in from all parts of the globe, many of the ideas utilize alternative materials to help create a condom that feels like another layer of skin, while maintaining a comfortable fit and durability. Other designs focus on creating a condom that’s more useable in the dark, such as putting tabs on it to ensure the condom is put on correctly, and creating a “one-size-fits-all” product that would conform to the shape of a man, rather simply cover him.

According to the foundation, these ideas target the common problems of lubrication, friction, and heat; while at the same time bring a new level of creativity and utility to the traditional condom. A lot of work is in front of the grant winners, but hopefully, so is a lot of success. Our world is in need of newer and better condom, and this contest just brought some of the best ideas to light. So be on the lookout! – Because a new wave of science could be coming to the bedroom.

To our readers: What do you think of foundations hosting contests like this? What do you think of these new ideas?


Post courtesty of: “Condom Contest Produces 812 Ideas for Improvement” By: Pam Belluck of The New York Times, Nov. 20, 2013.

Squatting for Tickets: Russia’s Exercise Incentive

After my recent series of posts on how important exercise is for disease prevention and overall health, I was excited to see that Russia has now found the answer to how even the busiest people with the longest commutes can fit in a daily workout: squatting.

Don’t want to pay for the train?  Just do squats.

To promote the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympics, which will take place in Sochi, Russia, subway stations in Moscow have added machines that will let passengers do 30 squats for a train ticket instead of paying.

The new machines are fairly high tech and use technology similar to the Wii Fit.  But, unlike the Wii, these rides-for-squats vending machines won’t let you get away with cheating.  They require that you complete the 30 squats in 2 minutes or less, to make sure your heart rate gets going and you get your bona fide workout in before the workday begins.

This machine is just one part of a bigger campaign being run by Russia’s Olympic Committee to get people more active and have them incorporate more aspects of sport into daily life.  “We wanted to show that the Olympic Games is not just an international competition that people watch on TV, but that it is also about getting everyone involved in a sporting lifestyle,” Alexander Zhukov, president of the Russian Olympic Committee, said.

As someone who is slightly frugal with money and active with exercise, I could (in delusion) hope that, through a future Olympics or some other campaign, someone decides to fund such an initiative in a U.S. city.  Though how many calories you burn depends on several variables, getting any sort of a heart rate-raising workout in before 8am is bound to help anyone jump start their day.

Unfortunately, such an initiative is not likely to be economically sustainable nor economically wise, and potentially wouldn’t even end up being used by those most in need of exercise.  It might be interesting to see over the next few months how often these machines are used and by whom, and whether rides-for-squats is an effective public health tool, or simply part of a brilliant marketing strategy.

Read more and see a video of how the machine works.



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The Art of Napping

It’s that time of year again – crunch time.  Whether you are a grad student writing tons of papers and definitely not getting sidetracked by Netflix sitcom marathons, or you are working  extra hours before the holiday season, chances are you may be feeling pretty tired by 3pm.  So what’s a (fill in your noun here) to do?  While it’s not wise to just give up and not do anything in favor of a full 8 hours of sleep, not all is lost.  There is hope – there is…the NAP.

Four steps to a successful nap…

….and a couple of disclaimers:

1.  Don’t nap too long!  Napping too long can leave you groggy, lethargic, or even more tired than before you closed your eyes.  Honestly, all you need is a quick 10 to 20 minutes to feel refreshed and ready to finish the rest of your work for the day – just be careful not to sleep longer than 20 minutes!

2. Time of day is key.  Napping is most effective between the hours of 1pm and 4pm.  This is due to a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus that regulate physiological processes such as temperature, digestion, and blood pressure – otherwise known as our circadian rhythm.  Having a little hump of drowsiness during the day is common – especially if you have been not been getting a full nights sleep, or have been up for 14 hours or more.  A nap is a good way to boost your circadian rhythm.

desk sleep3. You can sleep anywhere! Well, almost anywhere (places you can’t sleep: in your bosses office, the bar, class, or anywhere where you should be at full attention).  Try sleeping partially upright to avoid falling into a deep sleep.  Whether you snooze at your desk, under your desk, on top of your desk (not recommended, but hey, it’s your nap, not mine), or even in your car, try to prop yourself up with some books, pillows, or jackets to ensure a successful power nap.

4. Ever had one of those really weird, really short dreams during a power nap? That’s a sign.  A big sign that you need more sleep at night – you should not be dreaming during your power nap because if you are, that means you are quickly slipping into REM sleep, which is the last stage of a 90-min cycle

Disclaimer #1: if you have a diagnosed sleep condition, napping is actually not recommended for you – please talk to your physician about better options for a mid-day energizer.

Disclaimer #2: Napping is not a substitute for normal sleep (that means 7-8 hours per night).  Sleep is good for you.  For more info, please check out the CDC’s page on Sleep and Sleep Disorders:

Help Fight Food Waste

Consider for a moment how much food you order at a restaurant or make at home. Now think about how much you leave on your plate and thrown away. While there is undoubtedly a hunger problem in our country (one that effects 50 million Americans, to be exact), we are also experiencing an epidemic in this country’s food waste.

Currently, Americans throw away about 40% of our consumable goods. This equates to a grand total waste of more than $100 billion. However, there are things we can do to help decrease our food waste, as well as make sure our unused foods don’t go to waste:

Don’t Grocery Binge!

When you make your annual trips to the grocery, plan out your purchases. Do what you can to only purchase what you plan to use.

Freeze! Put Your Hands Up and Your Food in the Freezer!

Let’s be honest, plans change and so does dinner. So don’t let that roast you were going to cook go to waste when it gets replaced by pizza – freeze it. In addition, don’t let last night’s dinner go to waste. Leftovers that you don’t plan to eat the next day can easily freeze for Friday’s lunch.

Clean Out the Pantry and Donate!

Open up your pantry and take a look at what you’ve had sitting in there for the last three months. Remember that new kind of Mac N Cheese you saw on sale but never ate? Don’t let it go to waste, donate it – along with any other foods you have that are not being used and haven’t expired.

Don’t Put Your Doggie Bag IN the Trash – Put the Bag ON the Trash!

Visit to learn more about the food-recovery movement that is encouraging urban eaters to put their leftovers in bags and on top of their trash cans for foraging eaters. This helps to give foragers a clean meal without having to dig through the garbage.

You can also check out these additional food-recovery programs to find other ways to prevent food-waste in your area:

  • sends trucks to local restaurants for leftover food pickup.
  • The Food Donation Connection ( shows a list of chain restaurants that participate in charity food programs.

Hunger and waste are two very large problems facing our country, but efforts like those listed above are great ways to kill these two problems with one stone. What’ll you do to combat food waste?  

Post Courtesy of: “How to Fight Food Waste: It’s time to rethink another epidemic: food waste” by Julia Savacool on October 21, 2013

A Silent Battle: How PTSD is Affecting Our Veterans

In honor of Veterans’ Day, it seems fitting to consider veterans’ health, and the silent battle with PTSD that many veterans face.

Tim King, a veteran from Oregon, recently rode his motorcycle across the country and back to speak about and raise awareness of veterans’ health, particularly the impact of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Posttraumatic stress disorder can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event, and combat exposure is at the top of the list.  Other things that soldiers face in combat can also be contributing factors to PTSD, including: what they do in the war, politics around war, where its fought, and the type of enemy they face.  Another tragic occurrence causing PTSD for members of the military is military sexual trauma (MST), which can happen to both men and women, during times of peace, training, or war.  All of these things make PTSD a huge and unexpected battle for many soldiers when they arrive home.

Nearly everyone who comes out of a traumatic event has some stress-related reaction.  When those reactions don’t go away over time, and begin to disrupt someone’s life, it may be a sign of PTSD.  Some PTSD symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks and bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts

These effects can bring massive struggles for the soldiers, and for their families and friends (See: The Marlboro Marine).

Experts think PTSD occurs:

  • In about 11-20% of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars
  • In as many as 10% of Gulf War (Desert Storm) Veterans
  • In about 30% of Vietnam Veterans, or about 30 out of 100 Vietnam Veterans.   (Source: National Center for PTSD)

Though PTSD is normally treated through counseling and/or medication, more than half of the soldiers returning from combat with PTSD symptoms do not seek help for it, and, of those that do,  20-50% drop out of treatment programs before they’re complete.

King says that the government does not have sufficient programs in place to serve veterans when they return from deployments, especially from combat zones.

He says “One day they are fighting, and then two days later, they are in their living rooms,” he said. “That is just not acceptable. They’re ticking time bombs.”

But, contrary to common belief, military members have the right to refuse psychiatric treatment or medication unless they are clearly a risk to themselves or others; they cannot be forced into therapy.  It’s common for soldiers who want to be selected for combat to refuse treatment, fearing that even psychological testing will prevent them from deploying again.

On the research side, the National Institute of Mental Health is exploring new medications in hopes of target the underlying causes of PTSD and find a way to prevent it, and other research is hoping to enhance protective factors and minimize risk factors in order to prevent full-blown PTSD occurring after trauma.  A third effort is being made to figuring out which interventions will be most effective with which type of PTSD victims, in order to make treatments more effective.

Until those things come to pass, it seems important that the military work to reduce the stigma of PTSD among military men and women and enhance treatment recruitment and retention, so that those who come back from traumatic environments (ones that most of us will never face) will have the professional help and support they need to return, as best as possible, to normal life.


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The Oldest Child is the Smartest! – The Psychology of Your Birth Order

Alright, so maybe I am a little biased seeing as I am the oldest child in my family, but science can back me up on this one: the oldest child of the family is the smartest!!!…and, yes, the younger siblings have some good qualities, too.

Recent family psychology studies that examine our birth-order have made some discoveries that could very well explain some of our individual personalities.

For instance:

  • The youngest tend to be more fun-loving, non-confrontational, outgoing and all around easy to get along with. However, they tend to desire more attention, be self-centered, and be rebellious.
  • The middle child tends to be very social, have a lot of friends, and be great team players. But they generally suffer from insecurities of not “measuring-up,” which is arguable the result of their over-achieving older sibling.
  • The oldest sibling is commonly found to be more reliable, and structured; they tend to the best in school, leaders, and mature for their age. Yet, they tend to have higher anxiety and concern for perfection.

But why? – Why do these characteristics show through family after family, generation after generation?

A recent study from Duke University has found that parents interact differently with each child. Scientists have found that parents tend to be the strictest on their oldest child in hopes that their ‘tough-love’ demonstration on the oldest will deter bad behavior from the younger siblings. In psychology, this pattern of stricter parenting is referred to as the reputation model of strategic parenting. But at least there is a pay-off to the oldest child because, in general, they have the most success academically and career-wise.

While it is undeniable that every child and every family is different, the characteristics discussed above are not the result of our DNA. Personal development is person-to-person dependent, but the more we learn about family dynamics and the psychology of raising children it cannot be denied that birth-order has an influence on our personality. Which, speaking as the more intelligent of my family’s children, I must say that I agree with these findings. What do you think?  


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Discovery News: “The Oldest Child Is Smarter and Here’s Why”

Sleep: Just like Taking Out the Trash

Raise your hands:
How many of us regularly take out the trash in our homes?

…Now, how many of us routinely go to bed and get a scheduled, uninterrupted sleep for eight to nine hours?

Likely, a lot of hands dropped for the second question. (Guilty party writing, too!)

Turns out, we might need a more “routine” schedule for sleep and waking cycles, in the same way we respond in a straightforward and timely manner to our household chores. Why? A recent study review, “Sleep Empties the Brain’s Dumpster” proved a groundbreaking connection between something we already know well, and the reasons why it is so. Sleep is restorative for our bodies because it empties the toxins from our brains that have accumulated from a day’s thoughts, interactions, and labors.

With the prerogative of “putting breaking medical news into practice,” this translation of research — just published in Science, by Xie et al (funded by the NIH) — gives us a window into the “purpose” of sleep, at a metabolic level. The short of it: sleeping “clears” the “degradation products of neural activity …during wakefulness ” from mammal’s brains. This clearing allows up to 60% increases in the space between tissues (what’s called interstitial space), so that key fluids to our brain’s functioning (cerebrospinal and interstitial fluids) can move around and do their jobs, the next day!

This research may help us to understand what editor Dr. John Gever calls one of the “biggest puzzles in the history of science” — to the extent that “Until now, even the most advanced technologies have been unable to determine firmly why people die when deprived of sleep for long enough.”  (Sheesh, this will get us to bed).

So, when the trash (or compost) begins to smell, we take it out. We don’t wait — we don’t do another work assignment, check more email, or continue to prep for a professional presentation the next day. For that matter, when the trash smells, we don’t read more books for fun, watch more TV, or even communicate with beloved friends on Facebook. We take the trash out!

So here’s to sweet dreams (because all our brain’s hard work means no smelly side effects of toxins hanging around!).

And the benefits of a full night’s sleep.








Domestic Violence: Being Aware

“I was stuck between the person I loved, and the person that changed so much when he hurt me. I couldn’t understand how one minute he would be fine and the next he would switch. I just treasured every moment he was nice to me, and waited for the next time he would hurt me, I knew it would happen again, but I didn’t care. One day I just hoped he would realize that I would love him through everything and he would stop.” – Fran, domestic violence survivor

One in four women in the United States will experience domestic violence at some point in their lifetime.

Every year, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.

The vast majority (over 75%) of domestic violence cases are never reported to the police.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and there are organizations all over the country taking steps to educate their communities about domestic violence and how to help its victims.

Domestic violence or Battering is a pattern of behavior used to establish power and control over another person with whom an intimate relationship is or has been shared through fear and intimidation, often including the threat or use of violence. Battering happens when one person believes that they are entitled to control another.

Some examples of “intentionally violent or controlling behavior” include:

  • control over someone’s schedule
  • doesn’t allow access to the phone and/or monitors calls
  • limits use of the car or doesn’t allow a car
  • persistent calling at work to check up or not allowing someone to work
  • doesn’t permit use of birth control
  • name calling and / or threatening family, friends, pets
  • destruction of property

A local government in Sacramento, California is being proactive this month and running the Suited for Successful Families 2013 Donation drive, in which community members are encouraged to donate clothes, diapers and other needed items that will be given to victims of domestic violence and their families:

Though October is almost over, it’s important to think about how domestic violence awareness can continue all year, and how each community can help its victims.

What can YOU do?

  • Tell others about resources available for victims of domestic violence and their families
  • Be supportive and believe others. Express concern and ASK if they are okay, if they don’t seem to be doing well.
  • Speak out when others say victim blaming comments
  • Talk to your children about domestic violence and teach them that no one deserves to be abused.




Source: The Compass Center, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

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