Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More on Feet

You might recall that we mused earlier about research that found that walking in high heels creates less stress than running in so-called "running shoes." Think what you will, but today there was more news about yet another study finding that running barefoot might be best, or at least more natural for what the human foot was meant to do. With cushioned running shoes, humans tend to strike the heel first, which over time causes enormous stress not only on the heel but throughout the foot, ankle, leg and hip. Humans running barefoot tend to strike the forefoot first, which relieves stress on the heel. This is a more natural response, of course, in order to avoid pain when landing on the heel. Cushioned running shoes prevent us from feeling this pain, thus the bad habit continues. The study was posted today in the journal Nature.
In the end, researchers say wear shoes if you have always worn them to run because changing those habits now might be too difficult. On the other hand, brain fitness proponents would urge trying to make the change, since putting attention on changing habits helps stimulate brain chemicals necessary for brain health.
So, from head to foot, pay attention! And, if you do get plantar fasciitis, don't ignore it. Stretch, stretch, stretch. Ice your foot. Wear cushioned shoes and try arch cradles. If all else fails, get a plantar fasciitis boot to wear when you sleep. And, stretch some more.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ankle Sprains and Other Uses for Bubble Wrap

In case you missed it, bubble wrap celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this week. While there are endless uses for bubble wrap, including the delightful popping thing nearly everyone loves to do, there are yet to be discovered uses, especially in the health and caring realm.

It happened only twice at Capabilities, the store I owned and operated for a number of years. But it happened. One day a young man arrived, limping. When I looked down, I noted a large compress of bubble wrap around his ankle. He had twisted it earlier in the day at a college event and could not tend to it. So, next best thing. Bubble wrap! He said it actually felt great. I wondered why he would want to change anything, but we considered some of the ankle braces and supports we sold. He tried on three different types before he found one that felt as good as the bubble wrap.

Two years later, an older woman arrived with bubble wrap on her arm around the elbow. She had taken a big fall. Scrambling around her house for something to make the pain go away, she dunked it first in the sink full of cold water. Then, inspiration! She had just received a package from her sister many states away, a vase wrapped safely in bubble wrap. Well, if it worked for that lovely vase her sister, it might just help cushion her elbow. And so it was! She walked out of the store with the bubble wrap intact, unable to find anything that felt quite as comfortable.

So, celebrate as you will the invention of this incredible creation! And keep thinking of uses, since it will last forever…even after the bubbles are popped. Check out more.

What other ideas do you have for bubble wrap for? Please share your ideas. And, what else have you done for sprains, just to stay on topic?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Video games and elders

Research reported on January 22, 2010 suggests that video games might actually be great for seniors by keeping their minds focused and responsive. "There's a growing body of evidence that suggests playing video games actually can improve older adults' reflexes, processing speed, memory, attention skills and spatial abilities," said Jason Allaire, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University and co-director of its Gains Through Gaming Lab. Allaire is part of a team that has received a $1.2 million grant from the National Science foundation to study how video games can increase memory and cognitive skills in the elderly.

As Wii exploded on the scene a couple of years ago, retirement centers and senior day programs took notice, adopting the programs for their residences and participants. With games like Wii bowling, for example, studies show increased heart rate, making the game a natural for incorporating into exercise programs. In 2008 another piece of research conducted at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign showed that cognitive abilities increased as well. Some residential communities have Wii challenges among themselves, drawing family and friends to watch and root for their teams, which adds the social element, also found critical for warding off many of the effects of aging, such as depression and isolation.

I can say for myself, having been introduced to Wii through my grandchildren, that Wii is surely a lot of fun. I find boxing the best for raising my heartrate...and causing a lot of laughter as I nearly knock out the TV each time! I love having my own "profile," too, and a set of improvement scores to brag about each time I play.

Do you play video games? Try playing one with an aging loved one and see what happens. What types of challenges? What joys? Please share your comments.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How Massachusetts Politics May Affect Health Care

The election of Scott Brown, a Republican, has dominated the news all day. The potential impact on the pending health care legislation in Washington is anyone's guess...and everyone is guessing. Ideas range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here are two that may not be so crazy:
  1. Congress reviews the bills from the House and Senate, pulls out the most impactful on the American public, and brings each important piece one by one for a yes/no vote. The three main issues discussed at length today are no pre-existing conditions, coverage for over 30 million people, and making Medicare prescription care more affordable by eliminating the so-called "donut hole."
  2. The House accepts the Senate bill as is, the President signs it, and the Congress immediately works to fix some of the problems with it.

The panoply of voices today, though, also reveal a Democratic party torn, fatigued and certainly worried. As one of the pundits said, though, "I wish they would stop worrying about their jobs and start focusing on the jobs of everyday Americans." The job and foreclosure numbers will, in fact, trump any decision about health care, it seems.

Among the least believable options are those that suggest "waiting," or "starting over again." To arrive at November without anything tangible is not an option.

As someone who has seen just how broken our health care system is (in spite of some terrific practitioners and approaches) as I worked with individuals facing major physical challenges in their lives, I am a firm supporter that we need change. As someone who has run a business and worked inside of many companies, I also know change does not happen quickly. I can live with the incremental. Can you?

Post your thoughts about health care and what might happen now.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Multitasking Has Its Detractors

Among the many wonders of the significant technological shift in the 1990s was the idea that we could “save time.” Having instant access to phones, email and information, many declared, would give us more time to do the “important things.” Some even suggested it was better for your brain!

Now that technology has taken us to a place never before known (e.g., 74% of Americans use the internet, over 80% own or use cell phones), science is taking a closer look at what effects multitasking (or task switching) has on the human brain and life in general. A study in New York City revealed that over 89% of those in the city use cell phones.

This past Sunday’s New York Times (January 17, 2010) reported on just how risky it is to walk and use your cell phone at the same time. The article quotes a study at Ohio State University that showed a doubling of emergency room visits resulting from walking and simultaneously talking on the cell phone in 2008 over 2007, which also doubled over 2006. The study suggests the actual numbers of incidents is higher than the reported 1000 emergency room visits because many people may not have suffered injuries requiring treatment. Over half the injuries reported happened among those between the ages of 16 and 20. One quarter of injuries happened to people 41 to 60 years old.

And we know all too well the dangers of cell phone use while driving as more and more states limit and outlaw cell phones while behind the wheel.

A significant report published in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Science and Technology, in 2008 uncovered the myth of multitasking, summarizing a number of studies conducted since 2000. One of the more entertaining, but alarming quotes in the article is attributed to a study done at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, funded by Hewlett-Packard on email and cell phone use in the workplace. “Workers distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” Go figure! I was impressed with the range of research on multitasking and that most of it underscores the downsides.

I worked with someone once who decried the focus on multitasking that had “taken over reason,” she claimed. “If I need to work on two things at once, I won’t do either of them well. It’s your choice,” she said to me, her boss at the time. I guess now she was right!

Do your experiences with multitasking support the detractors or the supporters? Post your thoughts in a comment below.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dance Away Stress

Dancing with a partner lowers levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which at high levels can wreak havoc in the human body. A recent study reported in the print magazine, Shape Your Life (December 2009), specifically talks about the tango as salve for romantic troubles. Cortisol fuels stress which often leads to anger. When squabbles turn more serious, stepping away and stepping out...with your partner, the article suggests, will turn down the stress. There is more, though. Dancing can raise levels of testosterone, the hormone with stimulates sexual attraction. The tango is mentioned because of its complexity; the more complex the steps, the better.

Dance as therapy has a place not only as part of physical rehabilitation in hospitals and rehab centers, but is added to the treatment of eating disorders, substance abuse and, more recently, autism. As the focus on brain fitness grows, dance plays a role, too. Not only does dancing increase the flow of blood throughout the body and brain, experts say that the demands of dancing engage the whole brain. Coordinating, balancing, counting and timing are all useful brain exercises. Furthermore, socializing is crucial for brain and physical health. Some dance classes are positioned as meditative, good for the body, good for the mind.

Get those dancing shoes out and work a few steps into your life on a regular basis. Dancing seems to be the perfect exercise!

Do you dance? How do you integrate dancing into your busy life?

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Oldest Old

The U.S. Census Bureau confirms the fastest growing demographic is “The Oldest Old,” the common label used to describe those over 85. With the 2010 census scheduled to roll out later this year, numbers for this demographic are expected to have increased significantly. Some estimates suggest that this population in the U.S. will grow to 8.6 million by 2030. And by 2050 this part of the population will represent five percent of the overall population versus 1.9% today.

The topic is gaining traction among researchers of every ilk. At a symposium held in February 2009 in India, the focus was on health and the dire straits the world population may be in as this demographic grows and consumes many health resources. Other research underscores the “resilience” of those who live into this “oldest old” category, highlighting that, with the exception of dementia, which increases with age, other psychological disorders, including depression, actually decrease significantly with this demographic.

An article in the September 14, 2009 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that exercise among the oldest old shows benefits that translate into fewer physical disabilities, which ultimately impacts the possibility of staying independent.

Gussie Shelby reflects on turning 100 in November 2009. Raymond Fowler is pictured at 90. He wears a suit and tie every day since his wife died in 2006. He says his cellphone is full of phone numbers for "lady dance partners" and "friends."

How old are you? Please share your thoughts about growing older and perhaps reaching this “oldest old” mark. If you have reached that mark or know someone who has, tell us more.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Participation in Clinical Trials Can Be Win-Win

Clinical trials are not for everyone, of course. The process is invaluable, though, to drug and device manufacturers, to scientists and researchers, and often to individuals who feel trapped in their physical or emotional condition. Clinical trials are conducted within a host of rules and guidelines making them a safe way to collect much needed data. Individuals with chronic conditions or whose condition is without currently available treatment options often apply to participate with hopes there will be some new information that will change their situations.

Two recent trials are forming and are in search of participants, according to a report from the
U. S. Department of Health and Human Services yesterday, January 13, 2010. One trial focuses on fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by chronic and widespread pain throughout the body. It brings with it such a wide range of symptoms that individuals are often not diagnosed properly or for years. While some treatment advances have been made, the disease can be debilitating. The research site is in DeLand, FL. Visit Clinical Connection online for more information.

The other trial forming is looking for participants with traumatic brain injury (TBI) or stroke. The research site is in Menlo Park, CA. Contact Clinical Connection for more details.

Clinical Connection provides information and resources about clinical trials. Additionally, they offer a notification service, a message board, and links to relevant health sites. Other sites with information about clinical trials include and National Cancer Institute.

Read more about fibromyalgia. If you have fibromyalgia, TBI or are recovering from stroke, post your comments about treatments and suggestions for others. If you have participated in a clinical trial, please share your experience here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Make Pedometers Part of Your New Year's Resolutions for Fitness

With yesterday’s news about more reasons not to spend so much time watching TV, this story from The Los Angeles Times on January 11, 2009 about the effectiveness of pedometers as a “mini personal trainer” gives one more tool against dwindling motivation levels after the New Year.

It appears that the simple act of clipping on a pedometer causes the wearer to pay more attention to walking. These little gadgets apparently have a good track record (no pun intended!) of playing a strong role in maintaining a steady focus on fitness. The article is full of stories from physicians using these small tools to Peter Orszag, who heads the Office of Management and Budget. He gave his staff pedometers in 2009 with the challenge that they all “walk the talk of fitness.” While final numbers are not yet in, progress was impressive during the last quarter of the year, according to the OMB. The best part is that pedometers are quite inexpensive, generally under $25.

Once again we find the simple may be preferable to the more complex. Pedometers are a less expensive and perhaps more sustainable ways to incorporate more activity into our daily lives. The LA Times article quotes Harley Pasternak, a Los Angeles-based personal trainer who has been studying the health habits of various cultures for his latest book, The 5-Factor World Diet. "What I found was that in the 10 healthiest countries in the world, they all have different [dietary habits]. But one thing they all share is that they all walk way more than we do in America. For those in these 10 countries, being fit and healthy is about having an active lifestyle, while here in America, being fit is about performing an exercise in a room designated for fitness."

A 2004 study confirmed that test groups using pedometers have better results increasing daily activity over those who were in so-called “time based” groups that focused on committing a certain amount of time to exercising every day.

You can find pedometers at retail sports outlets, such as Sports Authority or Dick’s Sporting Goods, or at some specialty health retailers or medical equipment stores. Try a basic one out of the gate. Test it with 20 -50 paces to be sure it is fairly accurate. After you get into the rhythm, you can find fancier models. There are plenty of reviews online. recommends Omron Pocket Pedometer HJ-112 as one of the simplest and most reliable, available for just around $23. This model has also been tested favorably by Consumer Reports.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turn TV Watching from a Death Sentence to a Fitness Tool

The latest bad news about watching television comes out of Australia. For every hour you watch, researchers say, you increase your risk of heart disease by eighteen percent. I immediately turned off my TV when I read this. For Americans and Australians alike, watching TV now occupies upwards of four hours a day. Aside from work and sleep, it captures more of our time and attention than anything else. Of course, it is not what you are watching that makes it dangerous (although we know there is ongoing research about violent subject matter, especially vis-à-vis children and teens), it is the fact that you are not doing something else that involves physical movement during those four hours, even if you are the jittery type. Unfortunately, shouting at the football team or lifting chips to your mouth do not count!

Lead researcher on the study, David Dunstan, reports that “we tend to underestimate the value of incidental, non-sweaty activity throughout the day when we are not sleeping or exercising – the more you move, the greater the benefits for health.” This study suggests that while exercising is indeed critical for health, so, too are the thousands of small movements – up and down, in and out, across, over, under – that we do daily. Adding more of these to those four hours, and shutting off TV, the study says, will add to your overall health and reduce risk of heart disease and probably dozens of other things.

The prescription is simple enough, get moving. The video gaming industry finds innovative ways to incorporate people into virtual games. Take Wii by Nintendo, for example. Have you tried Wii, the virtual gaming system that hooks up to your television and allows you to “participate?” The basic package comes loaded with several sports, such as bowling, tennis, baseball, golfing and boxing.

I was skeptical when the grandkids unbundled their Wii paraphernalia last Christmas, but I must say I am a fan, especially of boxing. There is absolutely no need to have any experience in real life with any of these sports to play and have fun. The instructions are simple and the movements can be as dramatic or restrained as you prefer or need. But, if you join in, I can guarantee a lot of fun and quite a bit of physical movement. Watch out, though, it seemed so “real” that I nearly knocked over the TV my first time!

Monday, January 11, 2010

More Ways to Fight the Blues

What do bananas, music and gratitude have in common? A lot, according to the well –known “media” physicians, Michael Roizen, M.D. and Mehmet Oz, M.D., authors of the You series. Fifteen percent of us are clinically depressed at any given time, they say. Remember that clinical depression is persistent, and is not signaled by the occasional “down” day many of us feel now and again. While accounts of depression appear to be fewer among those over 65, white men in that age group are five times more likely to commit suicide than the average population.

The doctors outline a few key steps everyone can take to ward off depression:

  1. Talk it out. Talk therapies prove successful in almost 70% of cases studied. With serious depression, psychotherapy may be coupled with drug therapy.

  2. Eat a banana every day. This fruit is packed with nutrients that stimulate production of neurotransmitters, brain chemicals essential for healthy brain functioning. When the brain is healthy, incidences of depression decrease. Bananas are also a rich source of antioxidants that keep the presence of damaging free radicals at bay.

  3. Stay in the light. Research shows that we all respond positively to light, sunlight, bright light of most types. Try the Indoor Sunshine bulb to get full spectrum light inside your home. Halogen lighting also provides a level of brightness that the brain responds favorably to.

  4. End the day with gratitude. Keeping a journal and noting at least a few things every day for which you are grateful proves effective for pushing away negativity. Oprah says she lists six things as she gets into bed every night!

  5. Play music. Music stimulates the production of certain brain chemicals that can soothe and calm. While the type of music may vary for each person, nearly everyone has a positive reaction to some type of music. Experiment and find yours.

See Doctors Oz and Roizen discuss depression in this Real Age video clip.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Boomers and ski helmets

Findings of a survey conducted by members of the National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) last season, showed that the use of ski helmets is up in most age categories, especially among children and people over 65. The most resistant group is the so-called “middle-aged” skiers and riders. Is it vanity? Is it that peculiar sense of immortality we humans cultivate? Is it that until you have a ‘close call” you just don’t feel a helmet is necessary? Does it interfere with the thrill of skiing or snowboarding? Please leave a comment if you have some thoughts on this or if you are one of the “resistant” ones.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nearly 8,000 head injuries a year could be prevented with helmet use. The NSAA findings suggest, however, that helmet use does increase with skill level. Over half of advanced skiers and riders wear helmets regularly. This season Vail Resorts has made helmet use compulsory for ski-area employees. Most resorts require helmet use for children taking ski lessons. And internationally, Austria leads the way with a mandatory helmet requirement for children under the age of 15.

Millions of people suffer closed head injuries every day. Many of these injuries are mild, resulting in minor and temporary symptoms, such as headache or dizziness. In these cases, the symptoms pass and there are seemingly no lasting effects. Concussion is the most common form of traumatic brain injury (TBI), where the brain is “shaken.” Some concussions create long-term injury. Knowing signs for severe brain trauma is critical to stop further brain damage. Signs of serious injury include, but are not limited to, confusion, drowsiness, changes in size of pupils, lack of coordination, slurred speech, changes to vision or other senses, and sometimes convulsions. Immediate treatment is recommended when any of these symptoms are present.

Head injuries account for ten to twenty percent of all snow sports related injuries according to some sources. Statistics vary widely internationally and cause some to make the case that the numbers of head injuries and deaths related to snow sports are small enough to challenge mandatory helmet use.

The National Football League has come under scrutiny recently regarding its previous policies regarding head injuries and its penchant for keeping mum on concussions and their effects on players over the years. The much-publicized new guidelines are keeping some players on the sidelines now.

If you have suffered a TBI, however, you know it can have lasting effects, memory loss and confusion among them. Read more about brain fitness strategies for combating the effects of mild TBI and do not miss this post about algae as brain food.

Check out my articles on adaptive skiing and snowboarding at

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee: Caffeine and Alzheimer's

Caffeine nearly represents one of the basic food groups for most Americans. Ninety percent of us drink coffee, or some form of caffeine, every day…and about 300 mg of it, too. Some scientists say anything over 250 mg in one sitting will make you jittery and restless. Drinking over 2500 mg can literally kill you!

Because this drug is such a recognized and accepted part of our lives, it also spends a lot of time in the scientist’s lab. Conflicting studies abound. A series of studies may find that the effects of caffeine on the nervous system make it a less healthy choice overall. Others suggest that caffeine might actually help reduce scarring of liver tissue with Hepatitis C.

One of the most recent research studies at the University of South Florida involved caffeine, mice and memory. The upshot was that the caffeine interfered with production of a disease-causing protein that builds up on the brain, impeding memory in humans. It was difficult to check the “memory” part for the mice, of course, but the results were impressive enough to continue testing the hypothesis. Studies have not begun on humans yet. In the meantime, though, caffeine is everywhere, relatively cheap and mostly risk-free in moderate amounts to do your own testing.

As gingko biloba falls off the list of over the counter remedies for memory loss, turning to one of America’s favorite drugs just got another boost.

So, if Aunt Sally or Grandpa have cut down on coffee and you are noticing more forgetfulness, buy them an automatic coffee machine and set the timer. Starting the day with some “joe” might make all the difference.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

High heels prevail and other unbelievable health news

In this business I have seen hurting feet – plantar fasciitis, heel spurs, bunions, metatarsal pain, hammer toes, and more. If you suffer from any of these conditions, or simply have aching feet, you know how long and suffering a day can be, especially if you work on your feet. Read more on taking care of your feet.

One of the tried and true prescriptions for “happy” feet has always been to wear “sensible shoes.” The shoe industry has turned out all manner of options over the past couple of decades, catering to arches, wide toe boxes, and gel inserts for additional support and comfort. So, imagine my surprise to read today that a new study released on January 5, 2010,
finds that walking in high heels or running barefoot offers less stress to knees, hips and legs than running in running shoes. Go figure! It appears that while running shoes are great for your feet, they offer little to no protection to the other vital parts of your walking system.

Somehow, I just do not imagine this trend is going to catch on. Look for pumps at the next marathon and write me if you see any. I have heard that there are some runners who are choosing the barefoot method. Abibe Bekila, for instance, won a 1960 Olympics marathon running barefoot.

Don’t miss, too, the findings of another study released on January 6, 2010 using salamanders to re-grow missing limbs. Scientists say that this early research may illuminate a path to human limb regeneration, in spite of the myriad differences between salamanders and humans. Understanding the basics of regeneration will inform future work, say the biologists involved in this research. While it may be decades before the technology applies to humans, the fact that a living creature can successfully regenerate a missing complex limb, offers hope. Scientists are examining the human fingertip, which already has demonstrated a capacity to regenerate in some conditions, despite the presence of bone, tendons and nerves.

And, not the last of the unusual is that the most extensive study of gingko biloba, the herbal supplement that Chinese medicine has relied on for over 500 years and that nutritionists and those in the supplement industry built into a multimillion dollar business, concludes that it does not enhance memory or help ward off dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

Just when you thought there were a few things you could count on – running shoes, prosthetics as the only way to replace a limb, and gingko biloba– life throws another curve ball. “The more things change…”