Category: Lifestyle

Tips for Healthier TV Binge Watching

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

It’s about to get colder out, and I plan to spend some time this fall and winter on my couch covered in blankets, especially when the new Gilmore Girls episodes premiere. Yet this year I plan to plan ahead to make my TV and Netflix binge watching healthier, especially after reports that binge-watching and prolonged sitting have negative effects on your health. Binge watching has most commonly been linked to weight gain and obesity as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. While many experts recommend cutting TV viewing hours and limiting the number of hours you watch at once, sometimes there are rainy days or a new show that everyone will be talking about on Monday and you find yourself on your couch binge watching yet again.

Before you Netflix and chill, here are three tips to make your marathon a little bit healthier.

Choose Healthier Drinks and Snacks: Eat real meals with protein and vegetables to prevent too much snacking. For snacking, choose healthy options such as veggies and hummus, fruit, and nuts. Remember to stay hydrated, which will also get you up and moving!

Get Physical: Keep active while you are watching TV by doing stretches, yoga, or crunches. Also, instead of jumping right into the next episode, use the pause as an activity break and take a walk, complete a task in your house that requires movement, or try a two-minute workout like this. Keeping some exercise equipment or a yoga mat near your TV is a great reminder to stay active while watching your favorite show.

Set a Limit: We all know it can be extremely difficult to stop in the middle of a marathon (especially when the next episode auto plays!). Decide beforehand how long you will watch TV and set a timer, or set a bedtime for yourself if watching at night. Setting a timer will help the day from getting away from you without you realizing. Also, since screens can alter your production of melatonin, be sure to turn off the TV 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep.

Cars vs. Cows

There is a lot of talk about cars emitting pollution, but what about cows? Yes, the environmental sin you commit by using the drive thru is not the driving part, but rather that you are buying beef. Watch this video to learn about cow’s surprisingly large environmental impact.

Video Source: Reveal (2012, Aug 1) The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers.

Are Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Correlated?

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

I recently went in for my annual physical at Campus Health Services. Just like any other doctor’s appointment, vitals were taken before seeing the physician. Because I’m a graduate student in public health, I am a little embarrassed to disclose that I have to look up my blood pressure readings every time. I can never remember the difference between systolic vs diastolic and normal heart rates. Thus for both my own and your benefit, I’ll recap the important points.

Blood Pressure (BP) is the force the heart exerts against the walls of the arteries as it pumps the blood out to the body (measured in millimeters of mercury or mm Hg). It is comprised of systolic pressure which is the pressure as the heart beats and forces blood into the arteries and diastolic pressure which is the pressure as the heart relaxes between beats. Note: Remember diastolic pressure is the bottom number because it starts with a “D” and is the denominator or down below. A normal BP reading is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Typically, more attention is paid to the top number because it is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, however this number tends to rise with age and small increases over time are not desirable, but also not alarming.

High Blood Pressure (HBP): If your BP is more than 120/80 mm Hg consistently over time, you have HBP or hypertension. This is fairly common as about a third of the U.S. adult population has HBP. There are eight main ways to combat HBP or prevent it:

  1. Eat a balanced diet, particularly reduce salt intake
  2. Participate in regular physical activity
  3. Maintain a healthy weight
  4. Manage stress
  5. Avoid tobacco smoke
  6. Comply with medication prescriptions, particularly BP medications
  7. Limit alcohol consumption
  8. Understand hot tub safety

Low Blood Pressure (LBP): Usually the lower your BP the better, but too low or sudden declines can be hazardous. While there is not a threshold for determining LBP, if you experience dizziness, fainting, difficulty concentrating, blurred vision, nausea, cold or clammy skin, rapid or shallow breathing, fatigue, or depression, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. LBP can be an indicator of other more serious health issues.

Heart Rate (HR) is the number of times your heart beats per minute (measured in BPM). Normal resting HR is between 60 and 100 bpm. However, many factors can influence HR, including activity and fitness level, air temperature, body position, emotions, body size, and medications. Extremely active or fit individuals typically have lower resting HR, but when exercising experience faster spikes in HR and quicker recovery to their resting heart rate afterwards. The heart is like any other muscle in the body and can be strengthened and become more efficient with training.

BP and HR are not necessarily correlated. Measuring HR does not predict BP or vice versa. For example, a doubling in HR while exercising does not mean BP doubles. However physical activity that results in increases in HR and BP can be dangerous for individuals with extremely high or extremely low BP. Thus if you are at one of these extremes, make sure you consult with a physician before starting an exercise routine and always exercise with a family member, friend, trainer, or under supervision.

Now the next time you visit your physician, you will be better educated about BP and HR. Hopefully you can understand what your numbers mean during the visit instead of nervously trying to remember them so that you can look them up later.

Resources & Links:

American Heart Association: Blood Pressure.

UNC Campus Health Services: Home.

Mayo Clinic: Heart Rate: What is Normal?.


Making Time for Self Care


By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

The weather is getting (a little bit) colder, and my to-do list is getting much longer. I’ve had several recent conversations with friends in passing about how busy and overwhelmed we are starring to feel as assignments and obligations start to pile up. And I’ve started to rationalize that if I skipped my planned exercise class or morning walk or cancelled plans, I would have more time to tackle all of the things that need to get done. However, even though it’s important to do well and succeed in school, it is also important to take care of yourself! Practicing Self are will help to prevent overload burnout, will reduce the negative effects of stress, and will also help you refocus.

Here are some tips for Self Care

  • Make time to eat well and exercise: No need to cook gourmet meals and workout for multiple hours per day, but it is important to remember to fill your body with good and nutrient dense food (with occasional treats!) and to take time to move your body every day.
  • Don’t overschedule: It may be tempting to fill your schedule up with extracurricular activities and social events on top of classes and homework, but everything starts to add up eventually. Set aside time each week for yourself even if it means saying no.
  • Get enough sleep: Make getting enough sleep a priority. I set an alarm on my phone every day 45 minutes before my ideal bedtime, which gives me enough time to get organized for the next day and to wind down any activity or assignment that I am working on, which has improved the amount of sleep that I get. It may also be helpful to set a caffeine cut off time each day and to limit screen time before bed.
  • Spend time each day NOT working: Even though there is always something productive that you could be doing, it is important to take a break each day. Take a study break by going on a short walk with a friend or take real break at lunchtime and don’t look at your computer. Make time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy like reading for pleasure, sports, and cooking.

Check out this list of TED Talks to learn more about self-care.

Healthier Pumpkin Spice


By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

It’s officially Fall! Soon everything you see on menus and in stores will be pumpkin spice. I always get tempted when see a large display of pumpkin spice foods in Trader Joes or smell someone else’s Pumpkin Spice Latte in Starbucks, but whenever I break down and get something for myself I almost immediately regret it because almost all pumpkin spice foods and drinks are too sweet. Also, many of the pumpkin spice foods starting to show up on shelves don’t even contain real pumpkin, which are good for you!

Here are some healthy recipes to celebrate the start of Fall, but with less sugar, more creativity, and more pumpkin!

Pumpkin Pie Protein Smoothie – Nutritionist in the Kitch

Pumpkin & Sage Savory Muffins – Love Food Eat

Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili – SkinnyTaste

Pumpkin Pancakes – Cookie & Kate

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – The Kitchn

Miso Pumpkin Soup – The Kitchn

September Eats: Eating What’s in Season

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

Halloween decorations, gourds, and thick sweaters are already in stores, but it is still warm outside. This means that we still have plenty of time to enjoy an abundance of produce in season. Here are some of my favorite recipes (and some that I have had my eye on for a while) for produce that is currently in season in North Carolina. Use this as inspiration to visit a local farmers market and cook seasonally! Check out this guide to continue eating seasonally throughout the year. What are your favorite seasonal recipes?

Healthy Apple Muffins – Cookie & Kate
Apple Pecan Arugula Salad – Minimalist Baker

Baked Oatmeal with Blackberries & Coconut – Cookie & Kate
Blackberry Chia Jam – Two Peas &Their Pod

Cucumber Yogurt Raita Salad – Smitten Kitchen
Avocado Cucumber Salad – Smitten Kitchen

Grilled Ratatouille – Serious Eats
Grilled Eggplant and Goat Cheese Salad – Giada De Laurentiis
Charred Eggplant and Walnut Pesto Pasta Salad – Smitten Kitchen

Peach Ricotta Crostini – Budget Bytes
Almond Crisped Peaches – Smitten Kitchen

Burrata and Heirloom Caprese Salad – foodiecrush
Spaghetti with Sun Gold Tomato Sauce – Amateur Gourmet

Zucchini Noodles with Basil-Pumpkin Seed Pesto – Cookie & Kate
Zucchini with Almonds – Amateur Gourmet

Hot, Hotter, Hottest

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

Unfortunately, I have personally experienced and witnessed many cases of sweaty back lately. Here in North Carolina, it has seemed exceptionally hot and humid since starting classes last week. This is confirmed by consistent weather reports stating that the heat index is over 100 degrees. What does this really mean though?

First we need to understand that when the human body gets hot, it tries to regulate body temperature by sweating, and then evaporation of hot sweat off the skin reduces body temperature. In arid climates, such as the southwest US, this process is very efficient. However, in North Carolina and the rest of southeast US, evaporation of sweat off the skin is much slower because the air already contains a lot of moisture. Thus, in very humid environments, sweat remains on the skin longer and the body is not cooled very quickly.

The heat index takes into consideration both the air temperature and the humidity. For example, even if the air temperature is 90 degrees, it may feel like 109 degrees if the humidity is at 75% (see table 1).

Table 1

heat index_1

People are at increased risk for heat stroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion as the heat index rises (see table 2) and it is important to understand the heat index so you can take necessary precautions to prevent these.

Table 2

heat index_2

Follow these helpful tips if you know you are going to be spending time outside during high heat index times of the day or year, particularly if you will be exercising.

  1. Know and watch for signs of heat-related illnesses.
  2. Avoid or limit midday sun–the hottest times of the day are noon-6pm.
  3. Dress appropriately–lightweight, light-colored, loosefitting clothing and a brimmed hat.
  4. Wear sunscreen–a sun burn decreases the body’s ability to cool itself.
  5. Stay hydrated–don’t wait until you are thirsty.


National Weather Service (

Mayo Clinic: Heat and exercise: Keeping cool in hot weather (

WebMD: Understanding Heat-Related Illness — Symptoms (



Farewell to summer (and food poisoning)

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

How will you bid summer farewell this Labor Day holiday? If your plans are like mine, they might include a backyard barbecue or festival. But one thing I don’t want my, or your, weekend to include is foodborne illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 1 in 6 (or about 48 million) people gets sick from bacteria, viruses, or microbes in food. Older adults, pregnant women, and young children are the most vulnerable groups. Symptoms of food poisoning may include: fever, fatigue, or gastrointestinal side effects like cramping, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. While most people recover, about 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die from severe complications.

Outdoor events in warm weather are the perfect breeding ground for those bacteria in food, but following these 4 Fight BAC!® practices can help keep you and your loved ones safe.

  1. Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.
    Wash your hands before and after handling food. If you won’t have access to soap and water, consider throwing a bottle of hand sanitizer in your bag.
  1. Separate. Don’t cross-contaminate.
    Keep raw meat separate from fresh foods, like fruit and veggies, that you don’t need to cook. And don’t reuse that marinade or plate that stored the raw meat.
  1. Cook. Cook to the safe internal temperature.
    Food thermometers are the best way to tell whether a food is ‘done’. Use this temperature guide to help you grill to perfection.
  1. Chill. Refrigerate promptly.
    Keep cold foods cool. Bring an insulated cooler packed with ice and consider serving cold foods from a dish on ice.

Last but not least, don’t let hot or cold food sit out for more than two hours. The longer these foods are in the Temperature Danger Zone (40 – 140°F), the more those bacteria will grow.

And if in doubt, throw it out.



Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The Danger Zone (

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Estimates of Foodborne Illness in the United States (

Fight BAC! Partnership for Food Safety Education ( Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures (

Technology and Sleep: Timing is Everything [Infographic]


According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, the average American looks at their phone 46 times day and uses gadgets for 11 hours a day. In addition, 90 percent of adults and 75 percent of children use their electronic devices within an hour of bedtime.

The result: Americans are being exposed to short-wavelength blue light that affects their circadian rhythm, which determines when we feel tired or awake. The infographic below was created by Nursing@Georgetown, Georgetown University’s School of Nursing and Health Studies’ online FNP program, to explain how light affects our ability to fall asleep. For more information, visit Nursing@Georgetown’s post here.