Do you know how to welcome the sun safely?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Light spring weather sends us to the back of the closet where we’ve stashed shorts, t-shirts and swimsuits. (In Atlanta, where the weather seems to snap back and forth between glorious spring and frigid winter until the end of April, switching closets now may be premature.) But no matter how unending the cold weather may seem, summer is on its way.

The most important accessory for summer, beating out flip-flops and a new swimsuit, is protection from the summer sun. Worldwide, one in three diagnosed cancers is skin cancer. The majority of malignant melanomas (cancerous tumors) are caused by excessive sun damage. One of the best defenses against skin cancer is sunscreen. But for the last few years, consumer anxiety about sunscreen safety has grown. Is it warranted?

Alternative “health” sites like Mercola argue that sunscreen is toxic. (It’s prudent to note that Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website is not a trustworthy resource; I mention it, however, because it is well known. Its eponymous founder has been sent multiple warning letters from the FDA for making false claims.) Certainly, there is debate about certain ingredients in sunscreen, but there is little scientific data supporting the claim that sunscreen use can lead to health problems. To date, there are no recorded health concerns linked to the proper use of sunscreen.

Another complaint lodged against chemical sunscreen is its interference with our body’s natural ability to make vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is vital and many of us don’t get enough of it. But we can get it from food and supplements, which is fortunate since the sun isn’t a reliable source of vitamin D for everyone. Our skin’s ability to produce vitamin D is affected by season, cloud cover, the time of day, the latitude where we live, and which body parts we expose, as well as our age and the color of our skin.

Really, there’s not much cause to be skittish about sunscreen. Especially when you consider the risks of skin cancer.

  • The average person’s risk of melanoma doubles if they have had more than five sunburns.
  • Melanoma accounts for six percent of all cancer cases for teens 15 to 19. It is the most common form of cancer for 25 to 29 year olds.
  • The incidence of melanoma increased 1.9 percent a year from 2000 to 2009. Of the seven most common cancers in the United States, melanoma is the only one whose occurrence is increasing.

Which Sunscreens Are Safest?

If you’re still not convinced, I have great news! There is effective sunscreen that contains none of the chemicals some consumers are worried about. You can use a resource like Good Guide (a company that is dedicated to evaluating the health, societal, and environmental impacts of products.) If you click the link, you’ll find a list sunscreens ranked by their health impact. Many brands, like Badger, KINesSYS and even the more mainstream L’oreal, score a perfect 10 on the health scale. This means they contain no ingredients that raise a health concern. All are available for purchase through Amazon, as is Bare Belly Organics (via third-party link), which was created by an Atlanta pediatric ICU nurse who was shocked by the number of childhood cancers she was seeing!

How Can You Protect Yourself Without Sunscreen?

  • Cover up. Find a stylish, broad brim hat or two and wear them to protect your face. Invest in lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants for yard work and a day on on the beach. You’ll avoid harsh rays and save your skin.
  • Try to avoid direct sunlight when UV rays are the strongest, between 10 AM and 4 PM.

Bring back the parasol. In other countries, many people (mostly women), still carry a summer parasol. There’s no better way to get out of the sun than by creating and carrying around your own shade

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Did you know vein disease affects about half of people over the age of 50?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, I wrote about venous disease, specifically deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism. I’m especially passionate about venous disease – it is the reason VeinInnovations exists, after all! Venous disease is underdiagnosed, which is a shame because it is so easily treatable and the results from treatment are impressive, providing almost instant relief. So this week, I’d like to discuss another venous disease, chronic venous insufficiency (CVI.)

Chronic venous insufficiency is a condition that occurs when veins in the leg struggle to send blood back to the heart. In healthy veins, blood is only able to travel in one direction, towards the heart. In an unhealthy vein, faulty valves allow blood to flow backwards. This can cause blood to pool in the legs. Without treatment, CVI can cause pain, swelling, restlessness, and host of other uncomfortable symptoms.

Chronic Venous Insufficiency Risk Factors

  • Age. The older you are, the higher your
  • Tall height
  • A family history of venous disease, including deep vein thrombosis
  • Past trauma to the leg from previous blood clots, surgery, or injury
  • Being female
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Lack of exercise
  • Sitting or standing for long periods of time

The first five risk factors are, unfortunately, out of our hands. But the remaining five risk factors are within our control! I hate to beat a dead horse – I feel like I repeat this advice all the time – but if you’re a smoker, stop right now. This instant. Smoking increases your risk factor for a litany of health problems. There’s no reason not to quit.

If you fall into the “lack of exercise” risk group, you’re at risk for the “obesity” group as well. Kill two birds with one stone and start exercising. Even moderate exercise, such as a daily walk around the park, can lower your risk for a seemingly endless list of diseases.

The modern office and home habits of watching hours of television or game playing are to blame for an increase in the amount of time we spend sitting. Sitting has been called the new smoking for good reason. Though we’re meant to move about during the day, you might not want to go as far as installing a standing desk, because standing for too long has bad effects as well. They key is to mix things up. If you sit most of the day, keep a timer at your desk. Every 30 to 45 minutes, stand up, stretch out and do a loop around the office. If you stand for the majority of the day, try to take a break every hour and rest.

Finally, we come to pregnancy. During pregnancy, the amount of blood in your body increases by 25 to 40 percent. The extra blood is necessary to support two bodies, but does put extra pressure on your blood vessels. As the uterus enlarges to accommodate the growing baby, it puts pressure on blood vessels in the pelvis. To learn more, read my earlier article about pregnancy and varicose veins.

CVI is the culprit behind a slew of unpleasant symptoms, including troublesome and unsightly varicose veins. CVI and varicose veins can cause symptoms of restless leg syndrome (RLS),  which may impact your ability to sleep. The pain of varicose and spider veins prevent some people from exercising. For this reason, CVI can become a quality of life issue, as ones quality of life is diminished by an inability to rest and exercise. Other common symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the legs
  • Itching and tingling in the legs
  • Painful tightness in the calves
  • Pain during walking that subsides with rest
  • Skin color changes, especially near the ankles
  • Venous stasis ulcers, which are difficult to treat and heal.

Luckily, there are a number of fairly simple treatments for CVI. Some of them you can do on your own. Lose weight if you are overweight. Tend leg and foot wounds conscientiously, or seek treatment,  if you have an open sore or infection.. Don’t sit or stand for long periods. If your legs swell, wearing compression stockings will help – for as long as you wear the stockings.

There are, of course, a number of minimally-invasive, virtually painless treatments that provide relief. When medically indicated, most treatments are covered by insurance. These office-based treatments  include sclerotherapy, EVLA, Venefit, and laser treatment. For in-depth information on treatments, I will direct you to the VeinInnovations website!

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Do you know the risk factors for Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

I’ve covered a lot of health topics. (After almost four years, that may be an understatement!) Of course, as a medical professional running a vein clinic, one subject I’m most passionate about is venous disease. Venous disease includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism (PE), and chronic venous insufficiency.

DVT and PE are serious conditions and together affect an estimated 350,000 – 600,000 Americans each year. And there’s evidence to suggest that the number is even higher, as studies suggest both diseases are underdiagnosed. There’s also reason to believe that the number of cases will rise in the coming years, as the risk of both DVT and PE risk increases with age.

Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism can be deadly. Estimates of the deaths caused by DVT and pulmonary embolism vary widely. In a year, estimates are that DVT and PE cause between 30,000 and 100,000 deaths a year.

When it comes to our health, it’s often true that a good defense is your best offense. In other words, knowing your risk factors and practicing prevention is key.

Risk Factors for Deep Vein Thrombosis and Pulmonary Embolism

  • An inherited blood-clotting disorder or a family history of DVT or PE. Take comfort, though: the inherited condition may not be an issue unless it’s combined with other risk factors. Knowing your family history can help you better protect yourself.
  • Injury to your veins and some surgeries may increase your risk of blood clots.
  • Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy can both increase the ability of your blood to clot.
  • Pregnancy, which increases the pressure in the veins of the pelvis and legs, also increases your risk of DVT. The risk can continue for up to six weeks postpartum. Women who have a family history of blood clots are especially at risk, so know your history!
  • Maintaining a healthy weight is important. When you’re overweight, veins in your pelvis and legs are under increased pressure.
  • Smokers increase their risk of DVT (along with a host of other diseases!)
  • Sitting for an extended period of time. When your legs are moving, your calf muscles contract, helping blood circulate. When you’re still for long periods (a big drive or flight, or when you’re chained to your desk) blood clots can form in your calves.
  • Age, the uncontrollable risk factor. People over 60 have a higher risk of DVT and PE.

Prevention

In theory, prevention is easy. In practice, we fallible people often find it’s a challenge. I wish there was a silver bullet, really.

  • Get to know your family history, if possible. If you’re at higher risk of DVT or PE, it means that you need to work a little harder to control what you can.
  • Don’t smoke. Or quit smoking. Smoking shows up in a lot of prevention lists for a reason. The destructive effect smoking has on your health is far reaching. If you’re not a smoker (because you’ve never started or you’ve fought and quit) congratulations! If you are a smoker, here’s a resource to help you quit.
  • Eat well and exercise regularly. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of DVT and PE. It also increases your risk of getting diabetes, which is a condition that can trigger excessive clotting in your brain and heart.

Take a coffee break at work. You’re probably not doing anything of value when you chain yourself to the desk for hours on end. You’ll get your creative juices flowing, be more productive, and get your calf muscles moving if you cut down on time spent sitting down during the day, and break up the day with walks.

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Giving up Sugar for Lent? You’ll want to know where sugar is hiding.

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

In the age of social media, Christians observing Lent light up their feeds with longing missives for their forbidden substance or activity. Those who’ve given up bread snap photos through the bakery window. People going without caffeine share old photos of lattes past. And anyone who has given up sugar drools over the sweets they’re passing up.

Abstention during Lent is meant to sustain the soul, but it can do the body a world of good, too. Regardless of your faith, a 40-day fast from a dietary vice can be a positive experience.

Why Should I Give Up Sugar?

The average American consumes three pounds of sugar in one week. If you think you’re immune, try keeping a food diary. You may not be eating cookies and cakes on a regular basis. But if you regularly eat processed foods, start checking the nutrition labels. The methods that give food such a long shelf life also leave them with a nasty, chemical taste. To compensate, large quantities of sugar, salt, and fat are added. Sugar pervades our diet in ways we don’t often see.

A type of sugar called glucose is a substance we require for survival. Glucose is fuel for our energy-hungry brains, which use one-fifth of the body’s energy. Foods that break down slowly (such as proteins, whole grain bread, or fruits and vegetables) release glucose slowly and steadily. This kind of glucose is good for our brain. On the other hand, sweets and processed foods not only contain far more sugar than we need, they’re broken down quickly in our bodies, flooding the body with sugar. In excess, sugar is poisonous to us. So the glucose our brains can’t use is turned into fat in short order.

The most obvious danger of over consuming sugar is its contribution to weight gain. Obesity in America is still a growing problem. The health challenges that are linked to obesity include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers (among other health issues.)

How to Quit Sugar

Ditching a vice is easier said than done. You’ll need to lean on your willpower to succeed. Research suggests that we have limited reserves of willpower, but that like a muscle, we can strengthen it. When you embark on a new challenge, be it exercising more or cutting out sugar, remember to focus on willpower first. Below, I’ve listed some ways you can boost your willpower.

  •  Avoid temptation whenever possible. Out of sight, out of mind works on adults, too. Don’t walk down the treat aisles at the grocery store. Go through your pantry and get rid of sugary snacks and treats. Hit a coffee shop that doesn’t carry baked goods in the morning.
  • Get enough sleep. When we’re well rested, we’re better able to exert self control.  Eat protein-rich meals with low-glycemic foods. (Low-glycemic foods are foods that take longer for the body to break down, providing a slow and steady supply of glucose for the brain.) When our brains are properly fueled, our willpower is stronger.
  • Work on one goal at a time. Because our willpower is limited, we have to use it wisely. Focus on one thing, make it a habit, and then move on. Trying to do everything at once is setting yourself up for failure.
  • Ask your friends and family for help. If you’re serious about a goal, tell your community. A spouse whot keeps you honest or joins you in your challenge can be a huge help. (So can coworkers and friends!) Ask for encouragement and support.

Want to know even more about sugar? Check out these other VeinInnovations posts. 

As Sneaky Sugar Invades the Food Supply, We’re Eating More With Not-So-Sweet Consequences

When It Comes to Sugar Consumption, Moderation is Key

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Were you a dirty child? If so, some believe your parents did you a favor. Would you agree?

By David Martin, President & CEO of VeinInnovations

Most adults over the age of 30 remember a childhood full of dirt. People who grew up with a lot of siblings or a few pets almost certainly remember dirt. And anyone who grew up on a farm definitely would. According to the “hygiene hypothesis” your parents did your immune system a favor if they let you get grimy as a kid.

The hygiene hypothesis is back in the spotlight this week with the publication of a preliminary study from Sweden concerning kids and allergies. The study of just over 1000 children found that in homes where dishes were hand washed, kids were slightly less likely to develop allergic asthma and hay fever and were significantly less likely to develop eczema.

The hygiene hypothesis is straightforward: exposure to germs and certain infections helps kids’ immune systems develop. For years now, researchers have wondered if our first-world commitment to extreme cleanliness (antibacterial soap and surface cleaners, hand sanitizer and the like) have changed the direction of our immune response. If we’re not exposed to a diverse group of bacteria and other microorganisms as kids, do our immune systems overreact later in life?

The answer is: maybe. The dishwashing study is only observational and can’t confirm causality. Some studies have shown that children who grow up on farms are less likely to have asthma. A 2013 study found that the prevalence of asthma “…had begun to decline in some western countries, but there is little evidence that they have become less clean; Latin American countries with high infection rates have high asthma prevalence and the hygiene hypothesis relates to early-life exposures, but exposures throughout life may be important.”

The hygiene hypothesis is compelling and will hopefully be more fully researched in the years to come. In the meantime, what you do with the conflicting information is up to you. Parents (new and seasoned) with young kids can at least take heart: your home does not always need to be clean. Dog slobber on a few of the toys? Not a problem. The times you’ve “cleaned” a pacifier by popping it in your own mouth for a second? You may have lowered your child’s risk of developing asthma. Toddlers ate a handful of dirt? They’re just helping their immune system practice.

Now, this isn’t to say that all germs, bacteria, and viruses are gentle. Humanity has been at war with disease (and mostly lost) since the beginning. Some microbes are killers, so don’t romanticize our dirt-filled past too much. (And absolutely do not attend a measles party. There’s a perfect example of a challenge to immunity we could do without!)

While you may not want your child to kick up as much dust as Pigpen did in Peanuts, a little dirt won’t do any harm. And it may be good for them! You can tell them so while they hand wash the dishes after dinner.

Want to learn more about the hygiene hypothesis? Check out this 2011 Scientific American podcast with host Steve Mirsky and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researcher Kathleen Barnes.  Or read my first article about the hygiene hypothesis, Good and Dirty

 

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What makes exercise a powerful medicine?

Exercise is medicine. It’s a tonic with long-term benefits. We’re realizing more and more that exercise can improve memory and reduce the risk of a host of diseases. It can boost your mood and may help improve relationships. For people with chronic conditions, exercise can be a key part of alleviating symptoms.

Exercise Improves Chronic Conditions Like Parkinsons

People living with Parkinsons struggle with rigid, jerky movements. Over time, they gradually lose control over their muscles. This leads to tremors, loss of balance, and difficulty walking or speaking. The symptoms are treated with medication.

A growing number of people with Parkinsons are finding relief through movement therapies. At the Fight 2 Fitness gym in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Parkinson’s patients learn to box. On any given day there, you might find a group of people hitting punching bags and fighting the effects of Parkinson’s at the same time.

Exercise (everything from tai chi to golfing to drumming) has been shown to lessen symptoms of Parkinsons. Patients often report that their movements are more fluid after a round of golf or a tai chi class. Researchers say that movement therapy helps people at all stages of the disease.

Exercise Is Valuable For Everyone

The days of escaping physical activity because you’re sick are passing. Exercise can help alleviate symptoms for a host of other chronic conditions.

  • Diabetes: Exercising regularly can help insulin do a better job of lowering blood sugar levels.
  • Asthma: People with asthma often find exercise helps control the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.
  • Heart Disease: Strength training can make it easier for people with heart disease to do daily activities by improving muscle strength and endurance. Exercise can also slow disease-related decline in muscle strength.

And don’t forget that exercise is excellent preventative medicine, too.  A 2013 study found that women who exercised regularly significantly reduced their risk of breast cancer. Walking for an hour a day (seven days a week) reduced breast cancer risk by 14 percent.

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Is choosing to vaccinate or not vaccinate a personal choice?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

There were 102 cases of measles in the United States in January 2015. Most of the cases were in California. The majority of people who contracted the measles were unvaccinated. To put things in perspective, there were less than 100 cases per year from 2002 to 2007.

One good thing may come of the January outbreak. Two state senators from California, Ben Allen and Richard Pan (who is also a pediatrician), wrote a bill to abolish religious and personal-belief exemptions for children who wish to attend public school. This is a step in the right direction.

Communities need a vaccination rate of 90 percent or more to prevent outbreaks of the measles. Choosing not to vaccinate yourself or your children is not solely a personal choice. The decision not to vaccinate can profoundly affect the people around you, exposing others to disease.

These “others” include infants too young to be vaccinated, or the immunocompromised, like Rhett Krawitt. Rhett, 6, is now in remission, having fought leukemia for four and a half years. After three rounds of chemotherapy, his immune system is rebuilding. He’s not yet strong enough for vaccines. His parents, Carl and Jodi Krawitt, are campaigning for Rhett’s school district to require immunization as a condition of attendance, only allowing exemptions for medical reasons.

Unvaccinated kids in California were barred from some schools for weeks to prevent spreading the outbreak. Currently, parents in California can use a personal belief exemption to skirt vaccination requirements. Some schools report that 50 to 70 percent of kindergarteners are not fully vaccinated. These low rates of vaccinations are on par with Chad and war-torn South Sudan, Third-World countries ranked near the bottom of the list in terms of human development.

Vaccines have saved millions of lives and will continue to save lives. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and the CDC (along with many other health organizations) strive to vaccinate children in developing nations, sparing millions of children an untimely death. High rates of vaccinations in the United States have made diseases that struck fear in the hearts of our grandparents things of the past. But without the specter of preventable diseases that stole children from their parents a hundred years ago, we’ve forgotten what a miracles vaccines are.

Many in the American anti-vaccine community downplay the severity of preventable diseases like the measles and whooping cough. No, not every child who gets sick dies. But they do suffer needlessly. And some do die, or suffer long-term consequences. The narrative that measles and whooping cough are “not that bad” ignores the privilege that comes with living in the US. Parents and children who live here have access to advanced medical care and treatment. Children in developing nations do not.

Worldwide, there are about 16 million cases, and 195,000 deaths, of whooping cough (pertussis) a year. In 2012, there were 20 pertussis deaths in America. The majority of the deaths were of infants less than three months old.

Measles can cause serious complications for anyone, but children under five and adults over 20 are more likely to suffer complications. Complications include permanent hearing loss from ear infections, brain swelling (that can lead to deafness, convulsions and mental retardation) and death.

Your health and your children’s health matters. Herd immunity matters. Vaccines are a proven, safe way to protect ourselves, the people we love, and society at large. They save lives.

Here’s hoping that a small taste of the reality of preventable diseases – in the form of the current outbreak – will inspire more families to vaccinate.

Bloomberg: Why Measles May Just Be Getting Started

CDC: Pertussis in Other Countries

CDC: Measles Cases and Outbreaks

 

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What makes the return of measles so dangerous and disheartening?

It was declared eradicated, but more than 80 cases of measles in California – most occurring in children whose parents declined vaccination – mean we must redouble our efforts to vaccinate. 

Here’s the latest update on the outbreak, and what you can do to protect your children and yourself.

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

The vaccine debate invites vitriol on both sides. The root of this intense ire is fear; fear of chemicals, of autism, of lessened herd immunity, of deadly diseases we once considered eradicated.

Measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000. (Elimination of a disease is defined by the absence of continuous disease transmission for one year or more in a specific geographical area.)

Measles Fast Facts 

  • •Measles can only survive in a human host. It is one of the most contagious diseases on earth. An infected person can spread the virus by coughing or sneezing. The virus can live for up to two hours in the airspace or on a surface where an infected person coughed or sneezed.
  • •In 2004, there were only 34 cases of measles in the United States. In 2014 there were 644 cases in 27 states (with 23 total outbreaks.) It was the largest number of cases since 2000.
  • •The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine was falsely linked to autism in 2008.
  • •Measles is a leading cause of death among young children. In 2013, there were 145,700 global measles deaths. That’s 400 deaths a day, or 16 deaths an hour.
  • •Global vaccination rates are rising. In 2013, 84 percent of children received one dose of the measles vaccine by age one. Measles vaccinations resulted in a 75 percent drop in measles deaths from 2000 and 2013.
  • •No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but the measles vaccine is close. One dose of the vaccine is 93 percent effective at preventing measles. People that get two doses of vaccines enjoy a 97 percent efficacy rate.

The current outbreak of measles is disheartening, to say the least. As of this writing, the CDC has confirmed 84 cases of measles. The majority of the cases are in California, where statistically significant groups of parents have declined to vaccinate their children. People who refuse vaccines tend to cluster, damaging herd immunity and exacerbating outbreaks.

But in some areas, at least, the anti-vaccination trend shows modest signs of reversing. In Maricopa County, Arizona, health officials reported a 50 percent rise in vaccination requests from last year. Three clinics experienced such large surges that lines formed and extra nurses had to be called in.

Globally, eradication efforts continue with success. The World Health Organization reports that the measles vaccination prevented as estimated 15.6 million deaths. In 2013, about 205 million children were vaccinated in mass vaccination campaigns across 34 countries.

But more can be done. In populations with high rates of malnutrition and insufficient health care, up to 10 percent of measles cases end in death. Unvaccinated children have the highest risk of measles and resulting complications.  Ninety-five percent of deaths due to measles happen in countries with low per-capita incomes and weak health infrastructures.

The Measles and Rubella Initiative is a global partnership to stop measles and rubella. It is a collaborative effort of the WHO, UNICEF, the American Red Cross, the CDC and the United Nations Foundation. You can learn more about the M&R Initiative (and make a donation to the worthy cause!) on their website, http://www.measlesrubellainitiative.org.

Looking to find a way to help at home? The best thing you can do is get vaccinated and make sure your kids are vaccinated, too.

 

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It’s almost February; how are your resolutions? What are you putting on or giving up?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

The first month of the New Year is almost over. How are your resolutions going? Are you still dedicated or have your resolutions fallen by the wayside? Most Americans made at least a couple of resolutions to improve their health. Though the list of potential health resolutions is long, they really boil down to two things: we promised to exercise more and eat better this year.

Resolution One: Get More Exercise

Last year, I wrote about the rapid growth of wearables. What’s on the market today makes the first electronic pedometers look quaint. Today’s wearables are more advanced than ever. The estimated value of the wearable market is worth somewhere between 3 and 5 billion dollars. In addition, there are almost 50,000 health apps at your fingertips.

Investing in a wearable is an attractive idea. They’re trendy and they’re touted as “revolutionary.” Do they help us achieve our health goals or are they yet another gadget we hope will somehow do the work for us? Fewer than half of all people buying wearables use them every day. A third of users abandon their devices after a year.

Consumers are told that some wearables will create valuable data for their doctors. Wearables can create data – reams of it – chronicling steps, heart rate, and daily symptoms. Your doctor might not be able to use it. First, they’d have to analyze what you’d given them to make use of the data. Wearables are intended to promote general wellness. Anything more and they’d be subject to FDA regulation, opening the manufacturers up to massive costs and complex logistics.

So the utility of the wearable is ultimately in the hands of the wearer. If you thrive on data and a device that pings you when you don’t reach your target each day, buy the wearable. If you’re a gadget nut who moves on quickly, save yourself the money. And if you’re thinking of buying a wearable as a gift for a technophobic parent or friend? Best of luck.

Resolution Two: Eat Better

New year, new you. January is a popular time for fad diets that promise to “kick start” our metabolism or health. Here’s the hard truth: there is no miracle diet.

The nutrition knowledge of “the experts” is varied. If you read every headline, “what’s best” seems ever changing. Trends come and go quickly. Remember The Zone? Atkins? The Scarsdale Diet? All are fads of the past and their contemporaries are no better. Juicing and cleanse binges won’t remove toxins from your body, clearing your way to better health. Your liver and kidneys are already great at removing toxins on their own. So drink more water and skip the cleanse.

The only “silver bullet” diet is so simple it lacks a name. Let’s christen it The Reasonable Diet and see if that helps. Here are its principles: Don’t eat too much meat. Eat more servings of vegetables and fruits than other food groups. Have a little olive oil or butter. Stick with whole grains. Eat slowly and until you’re sated, then stop. Don’t save too much room for dessert.

The biggest diet challenge Americans face is our overconsumption of sugar. Americans consume, on average, 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Excessive sugar intake is killing us, resulting in a host of major health problems from insulin resistance to type 2 diabetes to liver failure.

Need a place to start? Ditch fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt and the processed, quick breakfast foods. Have oatmeal with naturally sweet berries instead.

Let’s make 2015 reasonable. And great.

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How can men improve their chances of living as long as women?

Men and women are all eventually headed towards death, but nature tends to come for men first. The gap in life expectancy has shrunk in recent years – from 1990 to 2007, the gap narrowed from seven years to a little over five years in the United States. Women outlive men, it turns out, in every stage of life, starting in the womb.

Miscarriages are mostly male, although there is a slightly higher rate of boy babies born than girls (105 males for every 100 females.) In their early 20s, the male death rate spikes. The increase is unsurprising, considering the violence and bravado that often define that stage of life for men. Young men are headed to war, are more likely to fight, and engage in risky behavior like driving a motorcycle without a helmet. Surprisingly, when researchers control for violent or avoidable death, the female advantage still remains (although the spike disappears completely.)

The gender gap in death rates narrows from the late 20s to the 50s, but death still favors men. In the early 50s, the gender gap widens again, peaking in the 60s and 70s, and then narrows again. Male chances of living to become supercentenarians – someone who lives past 110 – are slim. As of July 2013, nine of the ten living supercentenarians were women. What makes women more durable creatures, outliving men at every stage of life? We’re not really sure, but we’ve got some ideas. What we can be sure of is that the old adage claiming that women are the weaker sex is flawed.

Culture or Genetics?

Human men are not alone in being outlived by their female counterparts. In most species, females live longer than males, suggesting that the gender gap is part of our biology. Possible biological causes are still debated. I’ve listed a few hypotheses below.

• Size For most species, the general rule is that the larger individuals in a species tend (on average) to live shorter lives than their smaller counterparts.

• Onset of cardiovascular disease  If women suffer a heart attack or stroke, they usually do so a decade later than men do. Men typically face heart disease in their 50s, while women are in their 60s or 70s. Estrogen was thought to be the cause of delay, but studies  have shown that may not be the case. We’ve also learned that giving women estrogen post-menopause can be harmful.

• Lower iron levels Women are iron deficient compared to men, especially young women, because of menstruation. Less iron translates into fewer free radicals, molecules that damage our cells and may contribute to aging.

• Value for reproduction Men and women both contribute to the creation of new human beings, but women are responsible for nine months of gestation. It may be that women are more durable – they have to be in order to continue the species.

We’re still not sure if the gender gap is biological. And if it is, there’s not much we can do to control it. The difference in life expectancy may also be  cultural, an area where men can make a change. If you’re looking to narrow the gap, here are a few changes to make today.

• Quit smoking and cut back on the drinks  Our culture has changed a lot since Don Draper’s halcyon days of Lucky Strikes and cocktails from lunch until dinner. Men are still heavier drinkers and more likely to smoke than women. Smoking may not always cause lung cancer, but it will always damage your health from your heart to your brain. Cut it out and you’ll live longer. Alcohol needs to be enjoyed responsibly. Studies have shown that people who indulge in a moderate number of drinks (like a glass of red wine at night) can actually live longer. But hitting the bottle hard does you no favors.

• Seek help with mental illness or depression Mental illness still carries a stigma, making seeking treatment difficult for some. If you’re struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for the help you need. There’s nothing un-masculine about getting the treatment you need and deserve. Depressed men have a higher death rate than depressed women do, especially if they’re older. Men who attempt suicide are more likely to succeed than women are. We must all work together to end the stigmatization of mental illness – there’s no shame in seeking treatment.

• Cut back on the derring-do This is a tough one to tackle. Men and women alike can think back to foolish decisions made in their teens and 20s and be grateful the outcome wasn’t different. We all take risks (our parents tried to warn us!) Talk to the young men in your life. Discuss how to handle dangerous situations with your teenager  – like someone inebriated trying to take the wheel – with your teenager. Communication (and a bit of luck) can help young men make smarter decisions.

 

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