Category: Lifestyle

Farm Health and Safety Awareness

September 17-23 marks National Farm Health and Safety Week 2017. As someone who grew up on a Dairy and Crop Farm, I am all too familiar with the dangers that come along with a life in agriculture. From close calls, to the injuries of family members, to the tragic passing and near death experiences of neighbors and others in the community, the risk of injury and death was always in the back of my mind. My parents still operate our family farm together, juggling the responsibilities of keeping the farm going, raising grandchildren, and navigating health issues that someone who has grandchildren often begin to deal with (sorry mom and dad!).

The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety uses each day this week to highlight a different issue that faces those who work in the agricultural industry, and today marks farmer health. Where I’m from in the Thumb of Michigan, many of the local farms are operated by an aging population, who along with the risks involved with a farming lifestyle, are also coping with diseases associated with aging, such as arthritis and cancer. I encourage you to take the time to learn more about the Health of Farmers, and to appreciate the unique challenges that accompany the large scale agricultural work, and the impact that farming has on a national and global scale. More information is sourced below!

 

Sources –

National Education Center for Agricultural Safety National Farm Health and Safety Week 2017 – http://www.necasag.org/nationalfarmsafetyandhealthweek/

Hello from the other side

Hola! This post comes to you from Barcelona, Spain. The juxtaposition of history and modern day is stunning. Although this visit is short, I can’t help but notice some stark cultural and environmental differences, and similarities, between this urban environment and those I have lived in state side.

Similarly, the streets are filled with bicyclists, pedestrians, taxis, and various forms of pubic transportation. However, bicyclists and pedestrians have more dedicated space on the road than most places in the US. A recent initiative with the US Department of Transportation, Safer People, Safer Streets, hopes to change that.

You may already know that walking and bicycling are good for one’s own health, but they are also good for the health of the environment and financial health of a community. Alarmingly, while walking and bicycling are on the rise in the US, so are fatalities associated with these modes of transportation.

Safer People, Safer Streets, an initiative launched in early 2015, involves research and resources to help communities create safer, better connected walking and bicycling networks. The Initiative involved road safety assessments in every state as well as a Mayors’ Challenge to do at least one of several things: take a complete streets approach (enable safe access for all), identify and address barriers to safe streets, collect data about walking and biking, use practical designs for existing streets, create and complete transportation networks, improve laws and regulations, and educate and enforce proper road behavior. You can find out if your local community has been recognized for its efforts to improve safety here.

I look forward to witnessing positive changes in the transportation networks of the communities in the US. What are the streets and laws like in your area?

Sources:

U.S. Department of Transportation. Safer People, Safer Streets: A Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Initiative. https://www.transportation.gov/safer-people-safer-streets

Wearable technology: What does the research say?

Sitting in my public health course, I glance around the room and it’s rare to see someone not wearing a Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin or some sort of wearable device on their wrist. We are in the age where we are addicted to tracking everything (steps, weight, food consumption, water consumption, you name it) and having that information at our fingertips or more accurately accessing it using our fingertips on our smartphones. I myself have a Fitbit and am neurotic about hitting that 10,000 steps a day even if its right before going to bed running in place.

However, there is still little research on whether these devices have the ability to promote long term behavior change. While there are many studies suggesting that they have an effect in the short term there is little to suggest that they are able to influence long-lasting sustained behavior change. One study published in JAMA found that the devices themselves are only facilitators and that the engagement strategies and components of the application are the real drivers of the behavior change. Since these are relatively new we expect to see more research come out in the near future!

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28488834

Do you have an Advance Directive?

Everyone deserves the right to make their own decisions about their health. But sometimes we may found ourselves in certain circumstances in which we are unable to do so, such as during a coma, terminal illness, or serious injury. An important way that we can communicate our decisions during these times, however, is by having an “advance directive” in place.

Advance directives are written, legal documents that outline your decisions regarding medical care when you are unable to make them. They assist doctors and caregivers in making medical decisions on your behalf, and they can be written at any age.

There are several types of advance directives:

Health care power of attorney (also called “durable power of attorney for health care” or “health care proxy”). This is a type of advance directive in which you appoint a person you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. This may be a family member, partner, or friend.

Living will. This is a written, legal document that outlines your wishes for certain medical or end-of-life care treatments. These may range from mechanical ventilation to tube feeding, to even organ and tissue donations.

Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders (DNR). This order informs health care providers not to perform CPR if your breathing or heart were to stop.

While advance directives are not required, it may be a good idea to have one in place so that you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re in control of your health care in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

It should be noted that state requirements regarding advance directives, such as living wills, may vary, so be sure to check your local state laws if you decide to create one for yourself. Also, be sure to keep a copy of your living will for yourself, as well as provide copies to family members, health care providers, and your health care power of attorney. Advance directives can be changed at any time, but just be sure to redistribute copies as necessary.

For more information about advance directives, check out the following resource links:

Advance Care Planning | UNC Health Care: UNC Medical Center

Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney | North Carolina Bar Association

Living Wills and Advance Directives for Medical Decisions | Mayo Clinic

References:

Advance care directives. (2017, September 5). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000472.htm

Advance directives. (2017, July 24). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/advancedirectives.html#summary

Creating advance directives. (2014, November 11). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/living-wills/art-20046303?pg=2

Living wills and advance directives for medical decisions. (2014, November 11). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/living-wills/art-20046303

 

The Magic of Mindfulness

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with work, can’t stay focused in class, or simply feel down most of the time? If so, you may have gotten caught up in the whirlwind style of functioning known as “multitasking.” It is likely that we all have at some point or another and for some, there is no way around it, so what can we do to combat the stresses of the busy lifestyles of 2017?

You shouldn’t have to uproot your whole working style or job just to find peace of mind. Today I’m going to propose a solution that you may have overlooked, mindfulness meditation. The following are the benefits that we know of today:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased depression
  • Increased empathy
    • With decreased negative feelings like sadness, tension, and anger
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased focus
  • Decreased blood pressure
    • While also improving the transportation of oxygen and carbon-dioxide
  • Increased immune function

As you can see, mindfulness does a lot more than simply strengthen our ability to focus. While you will see some of these benefits after your first time, there is evidence showing that after 8 weeks of practice neurologists seen an increase in gray matter density in brain regions associated with learning, memory processing, and emotional regulation.

Mindfulness is just one style of meditation. There are myriad resources out there to help you get started, but Headspace is my favorite. Have you tried meditating before? If so, let me know your thoughts on the practice and your favorite style.

 

AB

What is the low FODMAP diet?

There are some foods that are known culprits of abdominal bloating and gas, foods like carbonated soda, beans, and dairy. Pistachios and mangos aren’t usually included in that list. They are, however, both considered high FODMAP foods.

FODMAPs is an acronym for “Fermentable Oligo- Di-Monosaccharides And Polyols” and these short-chain carbohydrates are not always well suited for the intestinal tract. Decreasing high FODMAPs food may help relieve digestion problems like abdominal cramping as well as other intestinal issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Common FODMAPs:

  • Fructose (fruits, honey, high fructose corn syrup)
  • Lactose (dairy)
  • Fructans (wheat, onion, garlic)
  • Galactans (beans, lentils, legumes such as soy)
  • Polyols (sweeteners containing sorbitol, xylitol, stone fruits)

The low FODMAP diet is a short-term restrictive diet to determine which type of foods trigger intestinal symptoms through the process of elimination. After about 6 weeks on this diet, each of the above types of FODMAPs is reintroduced (one type per week) as symptoms are noted per type and food sensitivities discovered.

Know thyself, and know thy gut! For more information on FODMAPs, check out these links:

Low FODMAP Diet: The D.I.Y Beginner’s Guide

Stanford University Medical Center Digestive Health Center

PrEP for HIV Prevention? Here’s what you need to know

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, has changed the way in which we talk about HIV Prevention. After being approved for preventive use by the FDA in 2012, there has been a sharp increase in PrEP prescriptions in the U.S. over the past several years. Currently, the only prescription available for PrEP is Truvada, which also serves as a treatment drug for those who are HIV positive.

Truvada is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, or an NRTI. When exposed to HIV, a NRTI works by masking itself as a building block of the virus’s genetic structure. While our own cells are able to recognize and correct for this coding mistake, HIV cannot, and as a result is unable to replicate and mount a widespread infection.

A quick distinction: Truvada as a drug is a form of PrEP, PrEP is a general class of preventive measures. Birth control can be thought of as a form of PrEP, preventing a pregnancy before it occurs. Even sunscreen is a form for PrEP. You apply lotion to prevent sunburn before it occurs.

But PrEP only works if you take it. According to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of uptake of PrEP in the United States has been among middle-aged, white, gay men. But the HIV epidemic has shifted, with the CDC noting continuous inequalities in the southern states and among young African Americans.

More concentrated efforts need to happen to ensure that those who can benefit from PrEP are able to access and receive it. Gilead, the company that produces Truvada, has a copay card available, where they pay up to $3600 a year in copays for those living under 500% of the national poverty level. For more information on PrEP, UNC campus health also serves as a great resource on campus, and students can get more information by making a free appointment with Student Wellness by emailing LetsTalkAboutIt@unc.edu or by calling (919) 962-WELL(9355).

For additional Resources on what to know about PrEP, and how to have a conversation with your provider, please see the resources below for information from the CDC. For those looking for a PrEP friendly provider, here is a list of providers in the State of North Carolina who actively prescribe PrEP.

Sources –

Gilead Copay Card: https://www.gileadadvancingaccess.com/copay-coupon-card

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PrEP Resources: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PrEP Information: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html

List of PrEP Providers: https://www.med.unc.edu/ncaidstraining/files/PrEPProvidersforDownload.pdf/view

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

Like diet and exercise, sleep is an important part of living a healthy life. Sleep supports healthy brain function, healthy growth and development, and our immune function. For adults, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. But what happens if we don’t get enough shut-eye? This can affect our productivity, our ability to manage our emotions, and even our ability to fight off infections. In addition, a lack of sleep can increase our risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

An important part of getting enough and better sleep is practicing good sleep habits or “sleep hygiene.” Here are some ways that you can practice good sleep hygiene:

Sleep more consistently. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning by setting your alarm. This will help to reinforce your body’s sleep/wake cycle.

Create an optimal sleep environment. It may be helpful to keep any work-related items/electronics in a room other than the bedroom. This will allow you to better associate the bedroom with sleep. Also, use a comfortable mattress and pillows, and try to reduce any light and noise that can affect your sleep. Blackout curtains, eye masks, and/or ear plugs can help with this. Finally, keep your bedroom at a cool temperature (60-75 degrees Fahrenheit) to facilitate sound sleep.

Establish a bedtime ritual. Listening to relaxing music, stretching, or reading before bed can be helpful to prepare you for sound sleep. Avoid activities that are very stimulating such as strenuous exercise or using a computer.

Put away technology. Using electronic devices such as your cell phone and computer before bed can make falling asleep more difficult. This is because the blue light that emanates from your phone and computer screens stimulates your brain, which can affect your sleep/wake cycle. Avoid using these devices 30 minutes before bed.

Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals before bed. Caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes can act as stimulants that can keep you awake. Avoid these substances 4-6 hours before bedtime. Additionally, avoid heavy foods before bed as these may cause indigestion, disrupting your ability to fall asleep.

If you must, nap during the day. Taking naps later in the day may disrupt your drive to sleep at night.

Happy Sleeping!

Helpful Resources: 

National Sleep Foundation

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

American Sleep Association

National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project (from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine)

References: 

Circadian Rhythm and Your Body Clock. (N.d.). Retrieved from  https://sleep.org/articles/circadian-rhythm-body-clock/

Healthy Sleep Tips. (2017). Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips/page/0/1

National Sleep Foundation. (2015, February 2). National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times

The High-Tech World of Sleep. (N.d.). Retrieved from https://sleep.org/articles/how-technology-changing-the-way-we-sleep/

Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep. (2007, December 18). Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips

Peters, B. (2016, March 1). What Sleep Rituals Should Be Part of Your Bedtime Routine?  Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/bedtime-routines-and-sleep-rituals-for-restful-sleep-3014947

Why Is Sleep Important? (2017, June 7). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

Meditation and Stress Relief

Earlier this semester, I heard about Transcendental Meditation (TM) for the first time. It’s defined as a technique that trains one to turn “attention inwards towards the subtler levels of a thought until the mind transcends the experience of the subtlest state of the thought and arrives at the source of the thought” (Mahesh Yogi, 1969). A distinguishing characteristic of this form of meditation is the carefulness with which the pedagogy is preserved–requiring a training process to certify preservation of fidelity to the method. (Wallace, 1970).

An early and foundational study noted physiological changes attributed to practicing TM.  These included decreased heart rate and oxygen uptake, and changes in EEG frequency (Wallace, 1970). Generally, as we’ve heard in class from various individuals who practice, these manifest themselves as lower stress levels, in creased focus, and increased clarity and decision-making power.

Other positive benefits have been described in a variety of populations. TM has been suggested to facilitate decreased drop-out rates from urban schools, improve quality of life in children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder ,  boost immunity levels , and generally improve mental health and well-being.

This New York Times article chronicles the experiences of schools implementing TM in classrooms around NY, largely featuring success stories, while still noting that research on the use of TM in an academic setting is not yet conclusive.

There is room to speculate whether TM is radically different form other forms of inward reflection. Surely, there are many ways to reduce stress and enhance productivity, of which TM is just one. With TM on my radar, I look forward to seeing if research can discern TM as a distinctively beneficial.

 

Non-linked References:

M. Mahesh Yogi, The Science of Being and Art of Living (International SRM, – London, rev. ed., 1966), pp. 180-209.

Wallace, R. K. (1970). Physiological effects of transcendental meditation. Science, 167(3926), 1751-1754.

*credit for articles/reference guidance to EPID799c course resources made available to students

Networking the New Normal: Confronting Illness through Social Media

GUEST BLOGGER: Terri Beth Miller, PhD

This is not how you expected life to be. You’re run down. You’re hurting. You’re physically and emotionally drained. And it feels as though those closest to you are a million miles away, as though you’ve suddenly found yourself stranded on a desert island with no hope of rescue.

This is what it can feel like when you are confronting illness, when a diagnosis suddenly transports you to a new world you never wanted to visit, let alone permanently inhabit.

The truth is that illness, whether physical or psychological, chronic or acute, can be one of the most frightening, disorienting, and isolating experiences a person can face. And yet, if we live long enough, we will all confront this experience. After all, ain’t none of us getting out of this life alive.

But diagnosis doesn’t have to mean disaster. Our 21st century world offers resources once unimaginable to those seeking health information and support. Few are more potent than the vast social media networks available to connect people in the most far-flung corners of the globe with the simple click of a button.

This seemingly limitless connection can be an infinite comfort for those who are suffering from illness, allowing survivors to reach out to fellow survivors, who often can understand illness in a way that those who haven’t experienced it simply cannot. After all, family and friends may empathize. They certainly can provide a love and comfort that the virtual world cannot replace. But there is a special and necessary connection shared by those have felt the gnawing at the bones, the torment of the mind—by those who have the visceral, intimate experience of real, bloody, hand-to-hand combat with illness. This is the connection that social media can offer to those suffering from illness, a means to overcome the isolation that can cut as deeply as sickness itself.

In addition to the opportunity to connect with fellow survivors, social media is an exceptional outlet for sharing health information and resources, from exploring treatment options to connecting with care-providers. After all, an informed patient is an empowered patient. Because those who are suffering from ill health often feel a tremendous lack of control and a vast feeling of uncertainty for the future, this access to knowledge can restore the sense of self-determination and understanding that survivors knew before diagnosis. These resources can restore some normalcy, or at least something of a return of the survivor’s sense of self.

Nevertheless, extreme caution must be practiced. We are perhaps never more vulnerable than when we are battling illness, and unfortunately those who would prey on the hopes and fears of the desperate are legion. So while it is healthy—and, indeed, essential—to seek out all the knowledge and resources possible when battling illness, it is equally essential to be wary of promises that are simply too good to be true. Vet the company you keep and the treasures you store up in the virtual world just as you do in the physical one.  Avail yourself of the immense resources available to you online as you wage your battle with sickness. But do so from a position of strength and discernment. This is your body. This is your mind. This is your spirit and your life. Harness the best and highest powers of social media. There is tremendous solace, solidarity, and support to be found online for those battling illness, but only for those who use it wisely.

For more information on the most beneficial mental health online resources, please visit: https://openforest.net/4-best-mental-health-bloggers-period/

Terri Beth Miller completed a PhD in English Language and Literature at the University of Virginia. She has taught writing and literature courses for more than a decade and is a regular contributor to the http://openforest.net mental health self-help portal. View her profile on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/drterribethmiller.