Woman on scale happy about weight loss. [Credit: Edward J. Bock III] / [Dreamstime]

Woman on scale happy about her weight loss. [Credit: Edward J. Bock III] / [Dreamstime]

Weight loss is one of the top items that appear on New Year’s resolution lists. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people succeed, while most see it as a reoccurring item for the next new year.

What most people do not realize is that is takes more than just desire to lose weight. It takes commitment and planning, beginning with our step-by-step guide.

Step 1: Make a Commitment
Rather than just committing to losing weight, commit to specifics. Commit yourself to the amount of weight you want to lose, the date by which you want to lose it, diet changes you will make to establish healthy eating habits and your plan for exercising regularly.

The best way to lose weight is to set a reasonable goal and lose it slowly and gradually. An initial weight loss goal of 5 to 7 percent of body weight is realistic for most individuals.

Step 2: Know Your Current State
Speak with your health care provider about the state of your health, specifically asking about weight-related risks. Healthy weight is especially important if you have or have had heart disease; type 2 diabetes; stroke; high blood pressure; high total cholesterol level; cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, kidney, stomach, breast or colon; and arthritis, especially osteoarthritis of the back, knees and hips.

Keep a food diary for a few days to realize what and when you are eating so you become aware of the types of food you eat most often and your mindless eating tendencies. If you find you eat a lot of processed foods, know that those foods tend to be high in trans fats, sugar and sodium or salt, which make it difficult to lose weight.

Also analyze your lifestyle. Identify obstacles that could be a challenge for your weight loss, and think of solutions to overcome those challenges. Recognize opportunities that can support your weight loss (e.g. living near a fitness center) and how to take advantage of those opportunities.

Step 3: Set Milestones
Establish short-term goals for yourself that will act as milestones to getting you to your long-term goal weight. These goals should be specific and realistic. For example, lose 1/2 to 1 pound a week. Achieving your milestones will motivate you to continue making progress.

Your milestones should also be forgiving when you experience occasional setbacks. Rather than criticize yourself and give up, forgive and get back on track as soon as possible. It’s realistic for you to sporadically have setbacks.

Step 4: Take Advantage of Resources and Support
Reach out to family, friends and co-workers who will support you. Perhaps they are trying to lose weight as well, in which case you can support and motivate each other. You are more likely to eat better and exercise more if your friends and family are doing the same.

Also look to local organizations for information and guidance. For example, Howard County General Hospital offers a free Looking to Lose Weight class where a certified nutritionist and registered dietitian discusses the physiology and health challenges that affect weight, and teaches meal plans that taste great, provide a balanced diet and promote health.

Learn to read food labels to make better food choices. Foods like gravy, mayonnaise, sauces and salad dressings often contain hidden fat and lots of calories, and some yogurts may be low in fat, but are high in carbohydrates and sugars. Or, eat foods in their natural state, and you will not have to read labels at all!

Step 5: Monitor Your Progress
Evaluate your progress of the milestones you set in Step 3. Identify areas of your plan that are working well and areas that need adjusting. It may be necessary to rewrite your short-term goals and plan accordingly.

As you are monitoring your progress, you may find you need to focus more on the fit of your clothes and less on reading the scale, especially if you have increased your exercise level. As you increase muscle mass and lose fat, the reading on your bathroom scale may not change much, but the fit of your clothes may be looser. Measure your waistline and compare the results.

Do not forget to reward yourself for your successes, but not with food. If achieving your milestones are coming too easily, consider adding a new, more challenging milestone that will get you to your long-term goal.

Using this step-by-step guide will get you on your way to achieving your New Year’s weight-loss resolution and having a healthier new year.


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pure-soapmaking-693912The winter holiday season is joyful for many reasons. You get to spend time with friends and family, decorations are all around, the crisp air and blankets of snow bring a stillness like no other season, uplifting music swirls through the air, and the power of giving is in full force- just to name a few.

This holiday season, I decided I wanted to hand make as many gifts as possible and spend less money. I found myself getting too caught up in the consumerism aspect of the holidays and didn’t like what I was feeling. I love giving and making people smile, but that doesn’t have to be the result of frivolously spending money.

Handmade gifts are cost efficient and add a special touch to the gift-giving season. They are thoughtful and fun to create. Many times the fun comes in learning a new skill or technique with a handmade gift. You can make something useful and unique. Consider this: do you ever have the problem of not being able to find exactly what you’re looking for? Make it! There’s an endless sea of resources available to assist you in even the most daunting do-it-yourself projects. Try Howard County Library System’s new Hobbies & Crafts Reference Center.

beeswax-alchemy-592956I’ve been wanting to make more of my own everyday products instead of buying them. I started an expansive essential oils collection and did a lot of research on the many ways they can be utilized. These oils can be used in everything from body care products to household cleaning products- truly a great investment.

I decided to make soap and hand scrub for gifts this season considering both of these necessities can be great for absolutely anyone. I was able to experiment with scents and other natural elements to make each product specially designed for each individual based on their needs and preferences. For example, using real lavender to soothe skin, bits of oatmeal for exfoliation, and ground coffee for a kick of caffeine.

The hand scrub is such an easy process that you can make it right in your kitchen with items you most likely already have. A little bit of brown sugar, coconut oil, and vitamin E oil makes for a delicious smelling and nourishing treat for your hands. Add a couple drops of your favorite essential oil for more benefits and yummy smells. Winter weather can dry out your skin and cause cracking which makes simple tasks more difficult. With a small tub of hand scrub, you can remedy the issue while on-the-go.

idiots-guide-making-soap-248383The soaps that I decided to make are lemon cupcake, basil clementine, lavender chamomile, and sandalwood sage. After a test batch of each, I tweaked the recipe and got exactly what I wanted. Using essential oils allows for you to make the smell as subtle or as strong as you’d like. Different soap bases add even more benefits. I used goat’s milk, honey, shea butter, oatmeal, cocoa butter, aloe vera, and hemp oil. All bases are a simple melt and pour recipe (full of moisturizing properties) that you can customize to your liking.

the-chew-citrus-scrub-528399Another great aspect of handmade gifts is that I got to experience the process with a close friend. It was a fun way to deter from our normal hangout routine while being productive, learning a new skill, and spending quality time together. We got to test the product and do something we had been talking about for a long time. Even better, we made gifts for over 50 people at a great cost. Handmade gifts are something that I’ve always appreciated. The time and love that go into such creations just can’t be beat. This holiday season, consider making some, or all, of your gifts and learn a new skill in the process. Now get out there and start brainstorming!

Laci Radford is a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at Miller Branch. She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.

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Adult children caring for aging parents.

Adult children caring for aging parents. [Credit: Goldenkb] / [Dreamstime.com]

Caregiving for an aging parent can be challenging. Follow these tips to make the process easier.

Prepare for Doctor’s Visits

Older patients often have more health issues to discuss. Create an agenda and questions for the appointment. Attend appointments with your loved one, if you can, or send someone you trust, who can take notes and help remember and understand everything that was said.

Also bring all of their prescription bottles to their appointment. Elderly patients are more susceptible to side effects and interactions between medications and they often see many physicians—so bringing bottles is extremely helpful to the physician.

Organize Daily Medications

Use a pill dispenser with compartments for each day of the week or another reminder system to let your loved one know when to take medications. You can also keep a medication schedule and post it somewhere visible—the refrigerator or medicine cabinet.

Set an alarm on your loved one’s phone, watch or clock to help make taking medications a part of the daily routine.

Make a List of Medications

Maintain a list of medications—with the name of the drug, the dose, how often it is taken and why. Keep a copy somewhere immediately accessible, like your purse or car, in case there is an emergency. Schedule annual medication reviews with your loved one’s primary health care provider. Keep in mind, many common drugs can have interactions with food.

Fill Prescriptions at One Pharmacy

Using one pharmacy makes refilling prescriptions simpler and it helps your pharmacist protect against drug interactions and avoid potential problems. Some pharmacies even deliver.

Take Advantage of Technology

Many health care providers, pharmacies and insurance plans offer apps or websites to manage records. These online tools can help you retrieve and share health care information quickly. If you rely on electronic files, be sure to keep a back-up of logins and passwords. Johns Hopkins MyChart is one example—for more information, visit MyChart.

Discuss Advance Directives

Start the difficult but important conversations about end-of-life care early, when you are not in a crisis, and there is more time to think and make better decisions.

Advance directives identify who will make decisions regarding treatments, such as life support measures, when your loved one is too sick to do so themselves. The designee should have a full understanding of the patient’s wishes.

Know that you are not alone. There are many great resources for caregivers. To start, download a free copy of the Johns Hopkins guide “Take Care: A Guide for Family Caregivers.”

Anirudh Sridharan, M.D., is a board-certified geriatrician on staff at Howard County General Hospital.

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This is an emotional time of year for many of us. We can feel happy, sad, and stressed at the same time. Right now, I am happy that my kids will soon be home from college, but I am stressed that I won’t be able to clear the clutter off the dining room table in time for Thanksgiving dinner. I am also sad that this is the first Thanksgiving that my oldest son will not be home, because he recently moved across country. There is so much to do in a finite amount of time- cleaning, decorating, cooking, baking, and let’s not forget shopping. Are you one of those people that are near the front of the line waiting for the stores to open after you have finished your Thanksgiving dinner? If you are, I’ll admit I am a bit envious. I am usually the one endlessly circling waiting for you to leave, so I can have your parking space.

Managing your stress level is important throughout the year, but even more so around holidays. The best thing to do, which can seem impossible at this time of the year, is to work on preventing stress before it happens in the first place. Stress can lead to (or exacerbate) existing health problems. You can read about the causes of stress, its effect on the body, and how to effectively manage stress here.

It’s also important to recognize your stress triggers. I am embarrassed to admit that I canceled Christmas in our house one year, because I let my stress get the best of me. Some of the things you can do to relieve stress over the holidays are to set realistic and achievable goals, plan ahead, delegate, stick to your routine, get plenty of sleep, and don’t overindulge in food or drink.

One of the most effective ways I have found to reduce my stress is to take time for myself. The year I canceled Christmas I think what I really needed was a time out. So now I schedule time, just for me, around the holidays to do something I enjoy. What do you enjoy doing? Plan time in your week to do it. It can be as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood or sticking to your fitness or yoga routine, meditating, listening to music, reading a book or watching a movie, or doing something more indulgent like getting a massage or a new haircut. It’s also the perfect time of year to support Howard County General Hospital and walk, drive or jog through the Symphony of Lights. Symphony of Lights is also a great place to send your family, relatives or guests if you need a few minutes alone (hint,hint)! Think about what you enjoy doing and do it! Everything will still get done and you will be happier. You can find more tips for enjoying the holidays here.

I hope everyone finds a little more peace and joy this holiday season. Happy holidays!

Nancy Targett is an Instructor & Research Specialist at the Miller Branch. She lives in Columbia and is the proud mom of three boys and a girl and a Siamese cat.

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Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the United States, though it is not often detected early. It usually has no noticeable symptoms until it is in an advanced stage, when a tumor grows so large that it starts pressing against other organs, causing pain and discomfort.

However, screenings offer hope for early detection, and avoiding risks can help prevent lung cancer from developing. Know what to expect from lung cancer screenings and what risks to avoid.

Lung Cancer Screenings

  • Why screen for lung cancer? More people die of lung cancer than any other cancer each year. A recent large study has shown that for certain individuals with a history of smoking, early screening helped reduce mortality rates. (© One Photo | Dreamstime.com)
  • Who should be screened for lung cancer? Individuals age 55-77 who are current smokers or have smoked the equivalent of 30 pack years (number of packs a day smoked x number of years smoked) are screening candidates. If you are at risk, please ask your doctor about getting screened. (© Simone Van Den Berg | Dreamstime.com)
  • Do I need a doctor’s order? A referral from your primary care physician or pulmonologist is needed. (© Thodonal | Dreamstime.com)
  • Does insurance cover the cost of screening? Most insurance plans cover the cost and, depending on your plan, there may be a co-pay. Medicare does cover the cost. (© Olivier Le Moal | Dreamstime.com)
  • How safe is screening? Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging in Columbia uses an ultra low-dose CT scanner which reduces CT radiation exposure up to 60 percent, compared to traditional scanners. [Credit: [Jupiterimages]/Thinkstock]

Lung Cancer Risks

  • Smoking
    Cigarette smoking is the most significant risk factor in developing lung cancer. Nearly 90 percent of lung cancer diagnoses can be prevented if cigarette smoking were eliminated.
  • Family history
    People who have a family member diagnosed with lung cancer are twice as likely to develop cancer as someone without a family history of lung cancer. That rate increases for those who have two or more first-degree relatives (brothers, sisters, parents or children) who developed lung cancer.
  • Secondhand smoke
    While the same cancer-causing agents are inhaled in smaller amounts, secondhand smoke does increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
  • Occupational exposure
    Exposure to asbestos, once common among specific construction and manufacturing jobs and firefighters, is known to cause mesothelioma. Other toxins, such as arsenic, nickel and chromium, as well as tar and soot, can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer, especially among those who smoke.
  • Environmental exposure
    Chemicals and other cancer causing substances may exist in homes and offices, increasing the risk of people who live and work in them. The most common culprit is radon. Thirty percent of deaths caused by lung cancer have been linked to radon exposure in people who have never smoked with the percentage increasing for those who have smoked.
  • Vitamin supplements
    Beta carotene was once believed to have aided in reducing the risk of lung cancer among heavy smokers. Substantial evidence now shows beta carotene supplements increases the risk of lung cancer, especially among people who smoke one or more packs a day.

Read more about lung cancer, screenings, smoking and e-cigarettes.


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i-am-yogaI have often heard in both videos and in person that the hardest part of yoga is showing up to your mat. I have to say from experience that this is most certainly true. Yoga is just as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one and once you make it to your mat, the journey begins.

Yoga is a relatively new practice for me. I started in April 2015 and have been drawn to it’s benefits ever since. I love yoga for many reasons. The fact that it’s the only exercise I’ve genuinely enjoyed is a noteworthy part of it but there’s so much more to it than the physical aspect. I also use my yoga practice as a time and place for reflection. I have discovered an immense amount about myself by showing up to my mat every day and letting my thoughts arise naturally. I work through problems and questions when I am doing yoga whether it’s a huge personality trait that I’m trying to understand, a pattern in my thinking/behavior, or just something that bothered me earlier in the day. I get to have the time and space to really “sit” with my thoughts and explore what they mean. This allows me to trace back to the root of “why?”

I’m a rather busy person and can find it difficult to balance work and relationships while also finding quality time for myself. Yoga is the one thing I am sure to do for myself every single day whether it’s for five minutes or an hour. The time itself is such a powerful force because it’s for me and only me. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!

The discipline is another very appealing part of the experience. Learning the proper posture/foundation of each pose and flow is extremely rewarding- especially when you have those little “aha!” moments where something so little finally clicks for the first time. It’s empowering.

yoga-therapyYoga challenges my body, mind, and spirit all at the same time. This might sound overwhelming but it’s a surprisingly welcome experience that I am truly thankful for. Yoga has shown me how important it is to take care of myself and has become an incredible outlet to relieve stress, lower anxiety, improve depression, and build strength (just to name a few.) Yoga is a very individual experience. Even when I am in class surrounded by other contorting bodies, I am very much alone in my experience and what it means for me as cleansing energy fills the room.

I recently experienced a random wrist injury and my first thought went immediately to my practice and how it would change my abilities. I felt broken, upset, and annoyed. How could I possibly continue to make improvements with a hand that I can’t apply any pressure to? Of course, this happened right as I was about to master a pose that I had been working on for a year. I thought that this setback would diminish everything that I had worked so hard to achieve.

Instead, I was forced to ask for advice from my yoga instructor and learned several modifications (some of which were more difficult physically than the original). I did more standing yoga and decided to use this time as an opportunity to work on my balancing poses. I didn’t want to stop my practice. While I have no idea when my hand/wrist will get better- I can still experience yoga in a meaningful way. Not to mention, I was able to work through why this setback upset me so much. Yoga truly is more than just a physical exercise. Whether you’re a beginner, expert, senior, pregnant, curvy, or injured– there is a type of yoga for your body and skill level. With that part figured out, all you have to do is show up to your mat and explore your mind. Namaste.

Laci Radford is a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at Miller Branch. She is a music lover, writer, and an avid reader. She enjoys attending concerts, plays, and other forms of live entertainment. Her favorite activities include scoping out unique items at thrift stores, bonfires with friends, and having tie-dye parties. She is studying Psychology and plans to become a music and art therapist sooner rather than later.

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Man and Woman Sleeping [Credit: Monkey Business Images] / [Dreamstime.com]

Most of us love the extra hour we gain when daylight savings time ends in the fall. However, feeling better rested may not result from simply sleeping in an extra hour. Rather, aligning your waking time more with daylight – a physical cue that makes all the difference – is the more likely explanation.

Your biological internal clock, known as circadian rhythm, responds to light and darkness. When your activity does not correspond with sunlight cues, it throws off your circadian rhythm, causing your sleep to be disturbed. The extra hour helps with resetting your body’s exposure to sunlight.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important. If you are wondering how important, consider the risks associated with poor sleep and the benefits of good-quality sleep.

Risks from Poor Sleep

  • Weight gain
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Benefits from Good-quality Sleep

  • Feeling better
  • Looking younger
  • Experiencing improved memory and concentration
  • Feeling less moody and grouchy

While seven to nine hours is optimal for most adults, you can achieve big improvements in your sleep quality by practicing consistency, which is going to bed and waking up at the same time every day.

If you are not currently doing this, try testing it. Make a point of going to bed and waking up at the same time for a couple of weeks. I did this several years ago. For two weeks, I went to bed at 11 p.m. every night and woke up every morning at 7 a.m. After five days, I felt like the last time I had slept so well was in middle school.

However, if you think you are getting enough good-quality sleep, but are still very tired, that is a signal for getting evaluated. Start by contacting your primary care provider who may be able to treat your sleep condition or recommend someone who can. The good news is that common sleep disorders can be treated.

Rachel Salas, M.D. is the assistant medical director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Sleep at Howard County General Hospital.

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