Ever since Business Innovator/Corporate Director/Author (that’s a lot of slashes) Nilofer Merchant declared “sitting has become the smoking of our generation” in a TED talk, there’s been even more focus drawn to the inactivity that has become an accepted part of practically every adult working person’s daily life. This is not a new concern; there are plenty of known risk factors attached to a sedentary lifestyle including increased risk for heart disease and high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. More and more we’re discovering that being inactive is bad enough, but sitting is particularly pernicious. Check out this helpful info from The Washington Post on the dangers of sitting, especially with poor posture (something I need to work on). For more info on the dangers of sitting, you may also want to check out Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What you Can Do About It by James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D. and JustStand.org.
At the library, I do sit a lot, but, thankfully, moving around (shelving, shelf-reading, helping customers find what they’re looking for, etc.) is also a regular part of my job. My hubby, computer geek extraordinaire, gets less of a break from sitting during his day. And recently, he has developed some back problems. So he decided to do something about it, he decided to take a stand, if you will.
For the last month, he has been using a stand-up desk at work and home. Standing may not seem like an exercise per se, but it is one of the easiest ways to combat “sitting disease” (what some people are now calling the ill effects of a sedentary lifestyle). Additionally, JustStand.org indicates that standing does help improve posture; increase energy, blood flow, and metabolism; and it even helps tone muscles and burn calories.
And my hubby didn’t break the bank on an expensive stand-up desk. He borrowed a DIY method from this handy posting. So far my husband’s verdict on his stand-up experiment: “I can’t go back to sitting all day. The desk has really helped.”
As I mentioned, I do get opportunities to move throughout the day, but I know I could benefit from a little more standing and moving. Of course I can’t set up a stand-up desk in my office area (I share my desk with another), nor can I set up one at the Research Desk (that would just be plain weird). But I think I’m going to check out some of our DVDs on exercises you can do while sitting and maybe learn a little more about Physiology and Fitness.
February is Valentines and American Heart month. It’s all about the heart, and these picture books are just the ticket to keep you heart-healthy and heart warmed.
This humorous fiction/nonfiction blend introduces us to Henry’s heart. Using speech-bubbles, text boxes,and charts (ala Scaredy Squirrel) we learn how this important muscle pumps oxygen and blood around his body. When Henry’s mother says Henry Malcolm Webber go play outside in the fresh air, we learn the importance of keeping the heart healthy through exercise. A tip from Henry – “If your mom uses your whole, entire name in a sentence, then you should listen to her and do what shes says, or you might get in big trouble”. Henry and his Dad go for a walk and suddenly his heart starts beating faster and faster. He sees the love of his young life, a puppy. “Broken-hearted” when his father says no to adopting it, Henry slides into a slump. No exercise, no appetite, no racing heart. Eyes and heart know something is wrong. Mom takes him to the doctor, who has a chat with the boy. A prescription is given, but Henry notices that Mom drives right past the pharmacy. Instead, his dad arrives with a puppy. And at bedtime, two hearts beat as one.
A 2013-2014 Black Eyed Susan Picture book nominee, this clever picture book is just the ticket for explaining how the mind and body work together for heart-healthy living and loving.
Whoa! Here I come! I am the Hug Machine!” cries this book’s ebullient young narrator as he dramatically crests a hill on the first spread. No shrinking violet, the boy explains in a series of spot illustrations why he is the “best at hugging” everyone and everything. Even hug requests from a spiky porcupine and a ginormous whale don’t faze the resourceful tyke. After refueling with pizza (his preferred food) to “keep the hugging energy high,” the Hug Machine traverses the neighborhood spreading his special brand of magic. Campbell’s watercolors exude warmth, emotion, and humor, from the expressions of several surprised recipients of the Hug Machine’s hugs to his own serenely closed eyes during each hug, which make it clear that he’s giving each hug his all. After a day full of hugging, the Hug Machine discovers it’s just as nice to be hugged as it is to give hugs. It’s a non-sappy, warm-hearted ending to a book that feels just like a big ol’ hug.
One of the pleasures of being a Children’s Instructor here at HCLS are spontaneous hugs from exuberant participants in a children’s class. Make a point of hugging your friends and family. It’s good for your heart and there is some evidence it keeps you healthy also!
“All the jungle’s got the beat, but Gerald the giraffe has four left feet.” Giles Andreae’s bouncy read-aloud is an ode to self-expression and having heart. When he is laughed off the floor the annual dance, Gerald sadly walks his lonely path home. A wise cricket admonishes him to listen to the music in nature, and dance to his own special beat. Gerald begins to dance, and soon everyone applauds his new found talent. When asked how it did it, he replied “We all can dance,” he said,”when we find music that we love.” Guy Parker-Rees’ brilliant full page watercolor spreads and comic illustrations invite the reader to this feast of self-expression.
One of my go-to children’s class books, this heartwarming tale encourages us all to “dance like there’s nobody watching. You’ve got to come from the heart if you want it to work.” Hug someone.
I’m sure you’re glad that this winter hasn’t been as cold and snowy as last winter. This season has had its moments and there are certainly many more weeks until the first day of Spring – and I am discounting whatever Punxsutawney Phil says right now! So, my question for you is: How are your fingertips, knuckles, elbows, knees, toes, and all of that dry skin that this cold, damp and dry weather affects? When you look through your magazines, you certainly see all the ads for gentle face-cleaning and dry-skin products and soaps. It’s overwhelming to see so many kinds at so many different prices.
Do yourself (and the skin you’re in) a big favor by investigating all the possibilities that are out there, because just for a few more months of this cold raw weather you really might benefit from using a product targeted for your specific skin condition. You can do research online, or visit a dermatologist for suggestions too. The best lotion may not be the most expensive either. I have a friend who slathers Vaseline on her chapped skin, but oh it’s so oily! I try to remember (but often forget) to pull on rubber gloves when I’m washing up in the kitchen or involved in other cleaning where using harsh drying cleansers are not helpful to the skin on my hands. I also try to remember to drink more water to help alleviate dry skin. I also pay attention to my weather app because I’m a devoted daily dog walker. My pooch (3 year old golden retriever) and I like to get outside for two or three daily walks around the neighborhood or even around town. There are so many great walking paths around this area.
Sometimes, well, because there isn’t much birdsong right now, I cruise with my earbuds. Recently, the audiobook I was listening to actually made me colder – I’m not sure it didn’t literally lower the temps and increase the winds just around me! My fingertips cracked badly and my skin got super-chapped! All because I was listening to In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides. It was a terrific cold story, following an expedition to the North Pole to see if there (actually) was a warm vent at the top of the world (which was in 1880 the prevailing thought). Things did not go as planned and the poor ship was held fast in the ice. What the crew had to endure in order to survive and try to get back to civilization from where they were trapped in the frozen Arctic circle was truly amazing. Can you imagine the freezing days for them? It certainly made me shiver and I felt cold and hungry the entire time I listened to the book. Please don’t be put off by that – it’s a wonderful tale of the times – but you may want to wait until August to check it out, if you’re feeling too cold right now! And you don’t have to be like the crew on this expedition, you can take measures to help you and your skin weather the cold weeks ahead. Just remember to drink more water, cream up your skin and protect your hands.
I recently watched a great documentary film, Living on One Dollar, which featured four university students who decided to spend a summer in rural Guatemala, and attempt to survive on $1 a day. The young men planned to stay a total of 56 days, so each brought $56 US dollars for a grand total of $224 US Dollars. In order to simulate the inconsistent and unpredictable income of the local day laborers, the students broke down their sum total into increments of $0-$9, and would randomly draw a piece of paper each morning with their “income” for that particular day. There were days that the “family of four” would receive anywhere from $0 to a whopping $9. The young men learned a lot from their new neighbors regarding how to plant and maintain a plot of land, as well as how to seek out and obtain a loan to cover necessary expenses.
Prior to embarking on this excursion, the students did their research, especially the two who were the brains behind the project (international development majors’, Chris and Zach). The men set out in the summer of 2010, and gained invaluable knowledge about the struggle and hardships of the individuals and families living in the rural Guatemalan village that they would temporarily call home. During the course of their stay, they encountered struggles of their own, not only in their attempt to secure proper nutrition each day, but also in their attempt to overcome unforeseen financial expenses. The domino effect experienced by so many living in rural villages like the one the men visited looks something very similar to this: limited opportunities leads to limited education leads to limited income leads to limited resources, which leads to limited/insufficient food options, which then leads to poor health/energy. Without a stable income, individuals and their families are unable to purchase food or maintain the gardens that will provide them with their daily recommended caloric intake values. Lack of a proper caloric diet, replete of all necessary vitamins and minerals, results in increased susceptibility to illness, diminished weight, diminished height, and diminished energy levels. Each of the young men experienced significant weight loss, as well as diminished energy levels during their stay. They also witnessed first-hand how the link between limited income and poor nutrition affects the individuals of the village, especially the children.
The importance of good nutrition and adequate caloric intake is particularly important for growing children, but essentially, it’s of great importance to people of all ages. In order for the body and mind to function at an optimal level, one must consume a nutritious diet that provides adequate calories. In addition to low energy levels and an inhibited immune system, persistent lack of necessary vitamins and minerals may result in various nutrient and vitamin deficiencies, which may put one at risk of developing more serious health problems. In the United States, good health and nutrition are pillars of education taught with much emphasis from an early age. However, we can’t ignore the fact that health and nutrition are strongly influenced by income and economic status.
Just as the poor rural families in Guatemala are limited to a few staple sources of nutrition, so are the poorest families in the United States, and the rest of the world. Food assistance programs available here in the US, include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Americans who are struggling simply to put food on the table, may benefit from such programs to enhance the quality of their diets. In Guatemala, a country with the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean-international organizations, rely on programs such as UNICEF and USAID.
I recommend that you check out the documentary, Living on One Dollar. It’s a great film!
Congratulations! We survived the first full month of winter. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the cold, but I still wouldn’t mind one big snowfall this year! Luckily, February is the shortest month and spring is coming soon. In February, we celebrate our presidents and the people we love. This February let’s also celebrate loving ourselves.
Why is it so difficult for us to love and accept ourselves? I wish I had the answer, but we can start by being grateful for the things we do have. I have a colleague who writes down something or someone she is grateful for each day. A gratitude list might be something that we can all start doing. Even if we don’t write it down, starting each day by reminding ourselves of something we are grateful for may go a long way to helping us get through the day.
We can do ourselves a favor and turn technology off at some point during the day. According to the Kleiner Perkins Caufied & Byers annual internet trends report, 84% of mobile owners use devices while watching television. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, stated last year that American Facebook users spend an average of 40 minutes per day on his site. Now, it doesn’t sound too hard to cut back, does it? A simple change may be all that is needed. Review your emails only at certain times during the day or set a time limit when you are using social media.
What can you do with the extra time you have saved in your day? Do something for yourself. Get in touch with an old friend. Find an exercise or a healthy food that you actually like. Check out the resources and classes and events at Howard County General Hospital. Explore opportunities to continue learning. The library has a collection of The Great Courses on a variety of topics and there are no prerequisites, homework, or exams! You can also learn a language using the library’s online language learning system Mango Languages. (The hardest part will be choosing a language.) Make plans to travel somewhere you’ve never been! If you can’t travel, borrow one of the many travel DVDs available at the library.
The opportunities for you to do something for yourself are limitless. Focus on what’s important to you and don’t forget to have fun!
Michael Moss’ book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (2013) provides an inside look at something most people prefer to ignore: what’s in the convenient processed foods that make our lives easier. It’s easy to agree that we should eat less sugar, salt, or fat, but when it comes to actually doing it, few things are more difficult. I still cook in oil or butter, purchase full-fat food products, and I certainly give in to my enormous sweet tooth. But the big culprit isn’t baking cookies with too much butter or sprinkling salt on vegetables – it’s processed convenience foods that literally addict the people who eat them to copious amounts of salt, sugar, or fat.
I did an experiment earlier this year where I actually paid attention to food labels when I purchased food from the grocery store. (I live in blissful ignorance, guys!) I was shocked by the level of sugar in foods where I would never have expected to find it – fruit products for instance. I also found that nearly everything labeled “low-fat” was much higher in carbohydrates and sugar than their full-fat counterparts.
Just in the introduction to his book, Moss explains how it isn’t just consumers who have become addicted to these three ingredients, it’s the corporations, too, through their desire to achieve the best taste possible at the lowest price. He explains, “Sugar not only sweetens, it replaces more costly ingredients — like tomatoes in ketchup — to add bulk and texture. For little added expense, a variety of fats can be slipped into food formulas to stimulate overeating and improve mouthfeel. And salt, barely more expensive than water, has miraculous powers to boost the appeal of processed food.” (xxix) With that kind of lead, Moss ensures there’s only one conclusion for readers to reach: food corporations have used chemistry and biology to teach us to eat this way in pursuit of profit, and they must be held accountable for that.
One of the most telling observations Moss makes is that many executives from the corporations he investigated for the book “go out of their way to avoid their own products.” (p. 341) Despite attempts at government regulation and reductions in salt, sugar, or fat load in foods, the best option for everyday people is still boring old personal responsibility. “Only we can save us,” as Moss puts it, “we decide what to buy… [and] we decide what to eat.” (pp. 343-347)