Get Up On Your Feet

This in today, from an article in the Yahoo Health blog entitled The Most Dangerous Thing You'll Do All Day:

Scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana analyzed the lifestyles of more than 17,000 men and women over about 13 years, and found that people who sit for most of the day are 54 percent more likely to die of heart attacks.

What makes this particularly interesting is that sitting appears to be a causal factor for heart attacks regardless of any other lifestyle considerations, i.e. it doesn't matter how much a person otherwise exercises or how fit they may otherwise be. Other factors such as diet and whether you smoke or not were also irrelevant. If you sit for much of the day, it is a factor.

For a long time, I have thought about the possibility of incorporating a standing desk into my work routine, mostly because of the negative impact of sitting for long periods on posture and back health. Looks like there's another good reason to start checking out some standing desks.

If you don't know what they are, just google "standing desk" to find lots of resources about them. You can also find one person's informative account of her experience switching to a standing desk here.

A Statistic About Cancer Worth Remembering

It is estimated that about 1/3 of the most common cancers can be avoided simply through changes in behavior, diet and exercise. (See here.) Among the recommended changes are avoiding sugary drinks, being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day and eating a larger variety of fruits, vegetables and WHOLE grains. It is never too late to start making changes, and you don't have to change everything at once. Any change, no matter how small, is change for the better. In fact, baby steps are encouraged...  you just need to keep making them.

Flying the Coop in the Wrong Direction

Flamingos usually conjure images of lush, tropical paradises. But in this case, these flamingos ended up in Siberia when they flew North instead of South. And apparently it is not the first time it has happened -- flamingos were were also reported to have made their way to Siberia about 100 years ago. Here is an interesting story entitled Flamingos Drop From Siberian Sky: Locals Mystifiedabout how birds are apparently known to sometimes get their wires crossed and fly in the opposite direction of their normal migration route.

Almost as interesting as the story of the flamingos itself is the tale of how Siberian locals took the birds in and cared for them until they were eventually relocated to zoos.

So, next time you're feeling all "turned around," just remember that it is natural and happens to the best of us!

Just Take A Pill

From The New York Times today comes an article entitled Talk Doesn't Pay, So Psychiatry Turns to Drug Therapy.

It takes a look at current trends in the psychiatric profession that have led psychiatrists to forego talk therapy altogether and rely solely on drugs to treat their patients.

Here's the understatement of the week:

Medicine is rapidly changing in the United States from a cottage industry to one dominated by large hospital groups and corporations, but the new efficiencies can be accompanied by a telling loss of intimacy between doctors and patients. And no specialty has suffered this loss more profoundly than psychiatry.

It is sad that not only are they giving up on the potential to actually heal rather than treat patients, but that it is probably indicative of the direction in which the practice of medicine is moving as a whole.

The Snow Is Deeper On The Other Side

With all of the snow, ice and rain we have been having this winter season, it is hard not to feel at least a bit singled out and put upon by Mother Nature. So just in case you've been feeling a little "under the snow," take a look at these pictures from Gizmodo of the island of Honshu, Japan to see just how bad it can get.

Makes our precipitation look like a covering of fairy dust!

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Smoking Ban In Spain

A recent blurb in BBC Mobile News Europe discusses a new anti-smoking law that has gone into effect in Spain. Given the continuing popularity of smoking in Europe in general, and in Spain in particular, this is no small feat:

The ban - one of the strictest in Europe - outlaws smoking in all bars and restaurants. Smokers will also be prohibited on television broadcasts, near hospitals or in school playgrounds.  The law tightens anti-smoking restrictions introduced in 2006.

Spain has a strong cafe culture and the owners of bars and cafes have complained the law will hurt business.

The anti-smoking rules introduced in 2006 outlawed smoking in the workplace, but it let bar and restaurant owners choose whether or not to allow it. Most chose not to impose any ban.  Only large restaurants and bars were obliged to provide a smoke-free area.

Hotel, restaurant and bar owners have said they could face a 10% drop in trade with the new rules. The industry has already seen a sharp fall in sales due to Spain's economic problems.  But doctors argue the new legislation will help smokers give up.

It is interesting that Spanish merchants tried to use the same argument of financial harm caused by such laws that merchants in other jurisdictions have also used to influence public opinion against such smoking bans -- even though such negative financial impacts have generally never come to pass.

I was also amazed to realize that it has already been (or "only been," depending on your outlook) a little over 7 years since New York City passed its own anti-smoking laws back in 2003.

A Sign of Hope

From today's New York Times comes an article on the results of a study that showed that daily use of a certain HIV anti-viral drug lowered the risk of HIV infection by about 90%. (You can find the article here.) A welcome sign of hope in a long struggle that has enabled those with access to healthcare to live full and productive lives but that, unfortunately, has made little progress in the realm of prevention.

What most caught my eye, however, was this short blurb:

Another concern was that the participants would become so fearless that they would stop using condoms, but the opposite effect was seen — they used condoms more often and had fewer sex partners.

This seemingly small observation about human behavior says so much about human nature and how it is that we change.

Many of our health-oriented education campaigns -- think "quit-smoking" campaigns, diet campaigns, most HIV-related initiatives, etc. -- use fear as a motivational tool to scare people into changing. In my experience, to the extent that actually works, it is always a superficial and short-lived result.

Fear is like poison ground. Because it is ground, you can plant seeds in it. And those seeds may even germinate. But they will never be able to grow and flourish.

When we empower people in ways that make them feel truly and fundamentally good about themselves, we are nourishing them and reminding them of their basic goodness. The result is that they start taking better care of themselves, and they grow and flourish.

When we invest in love, we always get love back.

The Secret to Happiness -- The World's Worst Kept Secret

STOP THE PRESSES!!!!

It appears that psychologists at Harvard University have finally discovered the secret to happiness. And what is the secret...? That a wandering mind is a sign of unhappiness and that we are most happy when we are focused on the task at hand.

From The New York Times:

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

Of course, this is only what the great masters, mystics and saints of all cultures throughout history have been telling us for 1000s of years. But I guess now it's official. They even used an iPhone app to reach this conclusion!

OK, all snarky-ness aside (I couldn't resist), I really do think this is great. The more we are encouraged to live in the present moment -- whatever the source of that encouragement -- the better life will be for all of us.

Movement Towards Green Cosmetics

In the past fifteen years, there has been a substantial increase in public awareness of environmental toxicity. From the steadily increasing cultivation and consumption of organic foods to the increased awareness of the toxic chemicals found in textiles and building materials, we are realizing more and more that the comfort and convenience of the many technological advances that have found their way into the products that we use every day have come with a steep price in terms of our health and well-being. One of the least known yet most often used sources of toxic exposure in our lives are cosmetics and beauty products. For instance, did you know that even cosmetic products normally associated with health, such as some of the most popular brands of tooth paste and soaps, often contain chemical additives that can cause health problems or even be toxic? The irony here is that not only are these among the most often and regularly used products in our homes, but they are intended to be used in ways that ensure that their components will be absorbed into the body.

Things, however, are starting to change even in the world of cosmetics. In the past five years, I have seen a slow but steady rise in the amount of reporting and general awareness concerning the toxic elements contained in these products. Here's an excerpt from an article I read today in The New York Times:

[T]he city [San Francisco] has just passed the country’s first Healthy Nail Salon Recognition ordinance. It is intended to address occupational health hazards among the city’s more than 200 nail salons and 1,800 nail technicians, many of Vietnamese descent. Under the ordinance, the city will publicly identify establishments that use polishes (including top and base coats) free of the chemicals toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde — the so-called toxic trio. The three are on the hit list of the California Safe Cosmetics Act as causing cancer or birth defects.

California, so often at the vanguard of progressive legislation in the US, appears to be once again doing its thing. Hopefully, this is a good sign of more movement to come in this direction.