For Healthy Dining, Prepare Easy Meals at Home

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

By the time February rolls around, enthusiasm for resolutions all but disappears and winter fatigue sets in. Comfort food starts to look even more comforting. For most of us, that means meals with lots of carbs, fat and salt. Before you give in to the temptation of quick and easy frozen meals, fried chicken from the deli counter or outsourcing your dinner to a restaurant, read on and recommit yourself to a healthy diet! Nutrition is often forgone in favor of convenience to the detriment of all. Planning ahead, shopping the healthy edges of the grocery store and preparing food at home is easier, cheaper and healthier than you think.

Cooking can feel like a competitive sport. Shows like Chopped and Cupcake Wars only add to this feeling. They’re designed for spectators, not home cooks seeking guidance. What started with The French Chef, Julia Child’s iconic and masterful show, has fallen into a litany of increasingly absurd reality shows centered – tangentially – on cooking. Americans now spend only 27 minutes preparing food each day, but happily pass an average of four and a half hours watching television. We’ve got time to cook. It’s unlikely we have the energy to make a four-course meal on a weeknight, but even beginners can make a tasty, healthy meal in about 30 minutes.

Plan Ahead

Nowhere is impulse shopping more detrimental than at the grocery store. Before heading out, research recipes and plan what you’ll eat each night that week. Make more than you need for a dinner and take leftovers for lunch the next day. An easy way to get started is to list the day and meal, then include ingredients below.

Monday: Chicken, Lentil and Kale Soup

  • Olive Oil
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 bunch carrots
  • Head of garlic
  • 2 32-ounce containers of chicken broth
  • Bunch of fresh basil
  • Bay leaves
  • 2 bunches kale
  • 2 pounds chicken breasts
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 bag dry green lentils

If you were to make this particular recipe (and you should – it’s very tasty and only takes about 25 minutes to prepare) you’d spend most of your time shopping along the walls of the grocery store. Modern grocery stores typically keep fresh ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs and dairy, out of the aisles. When putting together a week of healthy meals, try to shop primarily on the edges of the store. It’s where food with only one ingredient – the best kind – lives.

Start at the Beginning

American cooking skills have been in decline since World War II. If you’re no expert in the kitchen, don’t worry about it. Most of us aren’t!

Choose recipes suited to beginners. The Food Network website allows you to filter by course, main ingredient, and skill level. Good Eats, Alton Brown’s cooking show, is educational, delving into food history, chemistry and cooking techniques while entertaining. Old episodes are available on Amazon Prime, and useful clips can be found on YouTube.

Sites like About, eHow, and The Kitchn are great resources for both beginners and more advanced cooks. About.com even has a special section about cooking with kids. The kitchen awaits!

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Don’t Get Jittery Over Studies: Our Favorite Beverage is Good for Us

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Americans love coffee. We’re the world’s largest consumers of java – 83 percent of adults drink it. Our national average is three cups a day, per person. The history of coffee in America is a long one. The first coffee trader opened shop in Boston in 1670 and by 1688 coffee became the New York City’s breakfast drink of choice. (Before coffee? Beer was considered the best way to start your morning.) During the Civil War, soldiers went to the field with coffee beans as one of their primary rations. Coffee was a standard ration in World War I and World War II. Today, some coffee drinkers spend 45 hours a year waiting in line to get their daily cup from baristas.

Periodically, a study is published cautioning coffee drinkers to cut back or warning about dire health concerns. Last year, a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings suggested that drinking more than 28 cups of coffee per week elevated mortality risk in people under 55. Before you rush to the pantry and throw out your coffee grounds, take comfort in the study’s significant flaws. While the study began in 1971, the researchers only inquired about coffee consumption once, making it impossible to know if the habits of the people they were studying changed over time. Further, the study has been critiqued for not considering the effects of smoking. Many studies in the 1980s failed to adequately control for smoking, which caused coffee’s bad reputation (albeit a short lived one.)

If you’re one of the 83 percent of adults indulging in a cup of coffee (or three) every morning, you can take comfort in the bevy of studies that suggest a myriad of health benefits from your caffeine fix. Studies have linked regular coffee drinking with reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, dementia in later years, and several types of cancer (including skin, prostate, and oral cancer.)

That being said, an espresso at 10 p.m. is probably a bad idea. Drink coffee if you like it but cut yourself off when you get jittery or need to hit the hay soon. Avoid Frappuccinos and whipped cream covered lattes. The sugar (or chocolate, caramel, or vanilla syrups) you add to your drink contain lots of calories we could do without. Half and half may be your additive of choice, but the fat content makes it better suited to a weekend treat. (2 percent milk is a great balance between high fat choices, like whole milk, and skim.)

Coffee is the second-most traded commodity in the world, surpassed only by petroleum oil. The U.S. is the largest consumer nation so the type of coffee we buy has a big impact on the globe. Vote with your dollars and purchase sustainably grown coffee. Shade grown is a great indicator to look for on your bag of beans – coffee grown that way is better for soil quality, biodiversity, and reduces the need for destructive agrochemicals.

Farmers in Latin America work hard to grow coffee but only see a small fraction of the profit. Seek out coffee that’s close to farmers, like Thrive, a collective that shares revenue with the farmers. There’s already incredible information about coffee from bush to bean to cup, so read up if you’d like to learn more!

What do you know about the farmer who grew your coffee?

Everyday Environmentalist: Buy Sustainable Coffee

Coffee, Conservation, and Commerce in the Western Hemisphere

Want to learn more about coffee’s history in America? Pour yourself a cup of coffee and look no further than this infographic from National Geographic.

Click on the image to read the accompanying article – it’s worth it!

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Want to Improve Your Health? There’s an App for That

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Ever had someone pull out their smartphone and tell you in a voice that’s a bit awestruck, “This phone has enough power that it could have sent astronauts to the moon in the 60s?” If you haven’t, you’re not spending enough time with someone who grew up during the space race. They’re right — the computing power in today’s phones is exponentially superior to the humble computers of the sixties. Our phones are now our navigation system, date book, alarm clocks, boom boxes, television screens and newspapers.

New apps are created every day by entrepreneurs hoping to cash in by making our lives easier. This week, I’m sharing some of the best apps for improving your health. Whether it’s eating better, keeping track of progress at the gym, or monitoring your health, there’s an app for that. (There are about 40,000 currently and the number is expected to quadruple by 2016.) Here are a few of my favorites.

Apps for a Healthier Kitchen

  • Fooducate You’ll see this app recommended all over the Internet, and for good reason. Fooducate contains extensive information about almost any product on the grocery shelves. You can scan any item in the grocery store and get a rundown of that products pros and cons, as well as alternatives. Flipping through the free version, you’ll find “Top Graded” foods, complete with nutritional information and a list of things to know like fiber content, how much the food was processed, information on organic foods and if added sweeteners were used. The free version is great for making decisions at the grocery store, but splurge on a premium version (from $1.99 to $9.99) if you’re looking for an app that can help you lose weight and improve your lifestyle. The tips are information heavy, entertaining and encouraging.
  • Whole Foods Market Recipes There are a lot of recipe apps out there. This is one of the best (and it’s free!). The app allows you to filter by main ingredient, course, cuisine, occasion — and its recently been updated to let you use multiple filters at once. There’s also a “Health Starts Here” filter, which contains a trove of savory, sweet and delicious-looking meals. Nutritional information is included with recipes, as are easy-to-follow instructions.

Workout Apps

  • Jefit This app is available for both iPhone and Android. The no-frills version is free, while the Pro Version is $4.99. The free app includes a near encyclopedia of exercises to build muscle using body weight, free weights and machines. The app allows you to search alphabetically (best to use when you already know what you want) or tap an area of the body to pull up exercises for those muscle groups. In addition, each exercise is illustrated by a gif with an actual human being demonstrating proper form. The gif is small, so you may have to squint, but the form is there.You can create your own workouts or select a pre-designed list. Jefit keeps track of how much weight you last lifted and how many reps you completed.
  • Pocket Yoga For some, yoga’s eastern origins and connection with alternative medicine inspire skepticism. That worry will be cast aside after your first few Hatha yoga classes. Really. The National Institutes of Health published a study in March 2013 that found that (at least for middle-aged women) practicing Hatha yoga for 90 minutes a week significantly reduced perceived stress. For those that practiced regularly, perceived stress went down even more. Classes at studios can be expensive, so incorporate yoga into your routine with Pocket Yoga. The app is available for iPhones and costs $2.99. The app includes instructions for 150 poses, timed sessions, and voiceovers to help users remember to focus on their breathing. (If you’re over 50 and still not convinced, check out this Huffington Post article about yoga’s benefits.)

Apps to Keep Track of Your Health
I started to delve into good apps for this section of the article and was overwhelmed first by the sheer number and then by the specificity of these apps. I’m not listing a solid favorite because the app that’s best for you really depends on what your specific needs are right now.

If you’re newly pregnant, there are a bevy of apps ranging from what not to eat, prenatal exercises, fetal kick-counters and contraction timers. Want to improve your health by monitoring your heart rate during exercise but can’t afford a monitor and aren’t great at counting your pulse? Try Instant Heart Rate — all the app requires is that you place your finger over your phone’s camera for a few seconds and it gets a reading.

If you’re diabetic (or taking care of someone who is) there is a veritable cornucopia of apps just for you. Keep track of your blood sugar each time you check it with WaveSense Diabetes Manager – or one of many like it. You’ll be able to record what you were doing before you checked, like exercising or if you just ate a large meal, and get a better handle on how you’re doing.

Our phones are always on us. Heck, for a lot of us, they’ve replaced alarm clocks. Buying a app that fits your needs can help you make smarter, healthier choices. Do your research and find the ones that are right for you and your goals this year — and then get started!

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Get the Skinny on Trendy Weight Loss Diets

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

This time of year, the gym is packed with people trying to make good on New Year’s resolutions to improve their health – some are just hoping to work off weight gained during holiday indulgences. In addition to increased gym attendance, a spate of ads for amazing, simple, and unbelievable diets pop up. Cleanses are touted as a way to lose 10 pounds quick and jump start a healthier you in the new year. Other contemporary crazes include “going Paleo” or juicing to better health.

Before you jump into 2014’s latest craze, spend some time reading about the health benefits of each supposedly incredible diet.

The Cleanse
Cleanses are purported to detoxify your body, removing free radicals and other undesirable impurities. The two-week lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup cleanse was said to be a favorite of Beyoncé Knowles, supposedly a technique she used to lose weight while filming Dreamgirls.

This particular cleanse has been popular for several years, but nutritionists agree that the cleanse (and others like it) are harmful, not helpful. Adherents can lose weight, but the shed pounds are lost mostly in water weight, not in the body fat dieters hope to lose. Further, cleanses usually cost you electrolytes and healthy bacteria in your gut.

Our bodies are equipped to cleanse. Your kidneys, liver and lungs already provide that function each minute of every day. If you’re hoping to boost your body’s ability to run efficiently, start drinking more water. The standard recommended amount is 64 ounces each day. The best way to keep track of your hydration is to monitor the color of your urine. This method may not be suitable for discussion at the table, but it’s the best way to check that you’re getting enough water. Simple guides, like this one from U.S. Army Public Health Command, are easy to follow and understand. Drinking enough water is a great way to kick start weight loss.

Juicing
Drinking your calories has been popular for several years now. Juice bars, where diners can order a purée of kale, ginger, green apples and carrots (or other mixtures) to go, are increasingly popular. Most Whole Foods have a dedicated section of the grocery store just for juicers. To juice at home, you’ll need to invest a fair amount of money. Good juicers often cost more than $100. Truth be told, juicing isn’t worth the cash.

When fruits and vegetables are juiced, fewer vitamins and minerals remain. The pulp contains fiber (which aids digestion in your gut!) while the skin of the fruit is nutrient-rich but both are left behind in the juicing process. Some people chose juices as an occasional treat for an added boost of fruits and vegetables in the day, but others take it as far as a seven-week cleanse. Those long cleanses are no good for your health. Our bodies require protein and (good) fat. Most juice cleanses will also lower your calorie intake to about 1,000 each day, which is too few calories — and nutrients — to safely live on for an extended period of time.

As with water cleanses, juice diets may help you lose weight, but the majority of your loss will come from water weight. Adding more plant-sourced foods to your diet is a great idea, but liquefying them, sans pulp and skin, means missing out on their full nutritional value.

The Paleo Diet
In the modern era, it’s hard to eat like a caveman. That hasn’t stopped a growing number of people from trying! The Paleo diet’s core principle is easy enough to follow: eat only what our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. That means grass-fed meat, fruits and nuts, vegetables and seafood. Dairy, grains, starches and alcohol as well as any and all processed food are out. The Paleo diet has some redeeming factors, but it was still ranked the worst diet of 2014 by U.S. News and World Report.

Cutting out processed food is a great idea no matter what diet you’re following. Increasing your fruit, vegetable and lean meat intake is also a good idea. But Paleo adherents are missing out on the calcium found in dairy, and the diet can be difficult to follow in our modern age. Most of the experts interviewed by U.S. News found that dieters should look elsewhere if they’re seeking to lose weight or improve their heart health. Still, many Paleo recipes are great since they emphasize fresh food, minimal grains, and healthy, lean protein.

Success in Moderation
The path to good health (and often, happiness) lies in moderation. In 2014, cut out processed food – drive thrus, junk food like crackers, chips and cookies bought ready-made at the store, but don’t panic if Publix cupcakes somehow make it into the house. Increase the amount of water you drink if you don’t regularly pass the urine test the Army has helpfully provided.

Remember that fruits and vegetables should be the bulk of your diet, and try to eat meat no more than four times a week. Relax. Exercise, lift some weights, don’t sit all day every day, and plan to spend quality time with people you love. 2014 is going to be a good year!

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Take a Stand to Start the New Year

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Happy New Year! The holiday season is over and it’s time to tackle 2014. In December, I wrote about how to make New Year’s resolutions you can keep. It’s the second week of January – how are you doing so far?

Resolutions to take the dog on more walks, cook meals at home and focus on a healthier lifestyle are often abandoned as we return to business as usual. For a lot of us, that means heading back into the office, working in front of a computer screen for at least eight hours a day. If one of your resolutions was to get healthier, let me provide a concrete activity to make that a reality: stop sitting.

Human beings spent the majority of our history moving. We were hunting and gathering, farming, chasing children, starting fires, carrying water and shouldering burdens for millennia. We are a species that is meant to move.

When we’re seated, the major muscles in our legs and back are at rest, and our metabolisms follow suit. The electrical activity in your muscles slows down and your body only burns about one calorie per minute, a third of what you’d be burning if you were walking. The longer you remain seated, the more widespread the toll on your body. After two weeks of sitting for more than six hours a day, muscles start to atrophy and your maximum oxygen consumption drops. Sitting for extended periods of time every day has been linked to weight gain, heart disease, bone loss, Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol.

Have you been sitting continuously today? As I sit at my computer writing this article, checking email, and occasionally getting off task to read an article or two, I keep my eye on the clock. Take a look at the clock and think about the last time you stood to stretch, grab a cup of coffee, or do a lap around the house or office. If it’s been an hour, stop reading and spend a few minutes walking around. If you’re stuck in an office, do a few lunges!

Breaking up your time spent sitting, even for just a few minutes every hour, may ameliorate the negative effects of sitting. In addition to hourly breaks, remember

that everyone should be getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.

Tips for Reducing Time Spent Sitting and Sedentary

• Cut down on non-essential screen time.

It is all too easy to let a ten-minute break with a tablet turn into the evening’s activity. Try to use your devices only when you need them and avoid distracting sites, apps and games. Conversely, if you’re itching to read a series of entertaining articles, incorporate physical movement. Limit screen time to when you’re on the treadmill or doing the dishes.

• Go on walks.

A family dinner followed by a half hour or more of sitting at the table talking is very pleasant, but you can enjoy their company while taking a walk around the neighborhood. Plan activities that are just that – active. Planning to catch up with friends over coffee? Pick a coffee shop that’s close to a park and take your coffee to go.

• Set a reminder on your phone.

When we’re in the thick of a project, we don’t remember to check the clock. Set an hourly reminder and when it goes off, find a stopping point and take a break. You probably needed one anyway!

• Unplug the TV.

If your daily ritual is to come home from work and decompress with a hour or more of television, take a break from taking a break – unplug your T.V. Spend 10 or 20 minutes with a book, then cook a meal from scratch with your spouse, roommate or on your own. Start a garden or make a simple plan to landscape your yard. Take a magazine to the park and walk until you find a good tree to read under.

And here’s an idea that will really keep you from sitting too long: check out elevating your desktop or laptop so you can work standing up.

Standing and even “walking” desks are becoming more and more common, as standing up while working makes it easy to shift weight from one leg to the other, walk in place, or do lunges several times a day.

As 2014 unfolds, if people stick to their respective commitments to move more, perhaps you’ll see co-workers standing up at work in your office, or maybe you’ll become the first in your company to take a stand to move more while you’re working.

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Holiday Habits and Realistic Resolutions

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Tips on Making Resolutions You Can Stick To

Our minds are occupied with decorations and Christmas gifts we’ve yet to put under the tree, and the new year gets pushed aside. But 2014 is just around the corner and it’s time to start thinking about the changes we hope to make in ourselves! The fireworks that explode to celebrate New Years are accompanied by optimistic personal promises. As January fades to February, resolutions are forsaken or forgotten about. What changes do you hope to make in 2014? This week, I’m discussing resolutions you can stick to and strategies for starting new habits that will last all year.

Resolutions That Last

Forty percent of Americans make New Year’s resolutions each year – only eight percent of us accomplish our goals. Don’t get discouraged by that statistic! Most Americans fall into one of several pitfalls that hinder finishing out the year. Here are a few tips to help you land in that eight percent.

  • Keep your list short and simple. Our lives are fuller than we realize. Work, kids, family, friends, the day-to-day chores of living take up a lot of time. Write out your big list of resolutions. Your first list may have 20 goals! Spend some time looking over what you’ve written, and look for trends. Are “Spend less at restaurants,” “Cook more meals at home,” and “Eat more seasonal vegetables” all our your list? Turn those three resolutions into one actionable goal, like “Pre-cook two healthy dishes on Sundays to have for lunch,” or “Spend two weeknights cooking a vegetarian meal as a family each week.”
  • Reign in your ambition. Instead of, “Lose 40 pounds by March” set a realistic goal with measurable steps. “Attend two weekday morning spin classes at the Y” or “Attend 45-minute strength training class on Wednesday afternoons.”
  • Make your resolutions public. Share them with family and friends, put it on Facebook, Tweet, or start a blog. Blogs abound where authors publicly share their journey to accomplish a goal. Julie Powell, determined to learn how to cook, spent a year chronicling her efforts to prepare every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Your journey probably won’t lead to a book deal and a movie, but staying accountable to others can help you achieve your goals.

Remember that willpower is a muscle. Exercise it! Go further in your goal each day, improving in reasonable increments. Use your imagination, really, to improve your ability to resist things that are bad for you. Can’t stop thinking about the chips and salsa you’re dying to eat instead of the healthy meal you’ve resolved to include in your diet? Think about your plans for the weekend, the project in the yard you want to tackle, or what’s going to happen next in the book you’re reading. The more you exercise your willpower, the easier it is to use. (To read more about improving willpower, click here.)

Habits aren’t formed overnight, but that’s often the unrealistic expectation we have for our resolutions. Habits are formed slowly over time. Establishing a new habit is challenging, but the payoff is great: habits can be hard to shake. And who wants to shake an exercise or good diet habit? I wrote about how habits are formed earlier this year in the column Life Defined By Habit. Here’s a quick overview of the “habit loop.”

  • The cue: This first part of a habit is the trigger that causes you to fall into automatic mode while you carry out the second part of the habit process, behavior.
  • The behavior: The action part of the habit. Brushing your teeth is a process you don’t pay attention to unless your attention is called to it specifically. Otherwise, you’ll perform the behavior and forget it.
  • The reward: At the end of your habit, there’s something your brain likes that helps you remember the action for the future, a reward As you repeat the action, your brain thinks less and less, and habits are formed.

Set realistic, measurable goals, improve your willpower and start some new habits. Join the eight percent in 2014!

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Active Holiday Cheer

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Stay Healthy with These Seasonal Activities to Get You Off the Couch

Brightly colored lights are up in the neighborhood and fir trees have made their way indoors. It’s Christmas time – we’ll share the season with family and friends, tucked away inside by the fire. The slow pace of life at the Christmas season provides a much-needed break from our normal routine, allowing us to recharge before we start another new year.

Too often, though, we overindulge in sweets, rich foods and lounging around during the holiday season. This is the time of year, after all, when we’re most likely to gain weight. We can relax and avoid a sedentary holiday by choosing to participate in holiday cheer that requires some movement. (Consider it a head start on the inevitable resolution to get in shape!)

Go Christmas Tree Chopping

That’s not a typo – I meant chopping, not shopping. There are many Christmas tree farms around Atlanta that let you and your family come out and chop down your own tree. There’s almost nothing so pleasant at Christmas time than walking through rows of fir trees with a mug of hot coffee (or hot chocolate) to keep you warm while you decide which tree is just right. Older children can help cut down the tree, and everyone can walk the farm to find the tree meant for your home. To find a Christmas tree farm, visit the Georgia Christmas Tree Association’s website. Make sure to call ahead to check supply!

Walk Through a Festival of Lights

Christmas wouldn’t be complete without white and colored lights cheering up the night. The Atlanta Botanical Garden lights up the night sky with outdoor walking tours. The gardens are enchanting year round, but are especially beautiful during the holiday season. Garden Lights, Holiday Nights is a sight worth seeing, and sure to be a memorable experience for every family member. Beverages – hot, cold, and with a spirited bite – are available. Dress warmly and bring someone you love to walk with you.

Go Ice Skating

We in the South can feel a bit left out while snow gently falls in other areas of the country. Iconic winter activities, like building snowmen, just aren’t possible down here. But we’ve learned to import some things, and ice-skating is one of them. Atlantic Station boasts the city’s largest open-air ice skating rink. Other rinks are available at Centennial Olympic Park and at Park Tavern in Piedmont Park.

If you’re brave enough to strap on a pair of skates, take the family with you! Ice-skating is a fun and active challenge – after a while in the rink, you’ll have earned a few hours rest in front of the fire.

Caroling

For my last suggestion, a throwback tradition. Victorians began the modern practice of caroling at Christmas. There aren’t as many carolers today as there once were, and it’s a shame. Gather up a group of friends, family, or neighbors and break out the songbook and the wassail. A cold winter’s night spent in good company, walking around the neighborhood admiring the lights and singing to spread good cheer is a holiday experience not soon forgotten.

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Is It Possible to Narrow the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy?

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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Men Much Less Likely to Visit Doctors

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Movember is in its last week. While the less committed have shaved scratchy beards, dedicated Movember supporters are buying mustache trimmers. If you haven’t heard of Movember yet, it’s a movement that asks men to retire their razors and raise awareness about men’s health issues for a month, as I mentioned in a previous column. Movember wants to make taking care of yourself manly while raising money for three illnesses that affect a great number of men.

Movember donates the funds raised to prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s mental health. In the United States, funds raised are allocated to awareness and education, research and living with and beyond cancer and mental illness.
Movember’s official tagline is “Changing the face of men’s health.” The conversation that starts with a mustache hopefully ends with education and regular visits to the doctor. In the United States, women consistently outlive men by about five years. There’s no biological reason for the disparity between the sexes – the difference is a social one. Women are more comfortable discussing their health with friends and much more likely to visit the doctor both for regular checkups and at the first sign of illness.

Men, on the other hand, have an unfortunate tendency to leave the healthcare system after aging out of pediatric care, only to return in their 40s. A study published in 2012 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services found that 74 percent of women had seen a doctor in the last year, compared to 57 percent of men. Young men are less likely to have a usual place for healthcare than their female counterparts.

Testicular cancer is one of the illnesses Movember fundraises for. While relatively rare, testicular cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in young men from 15 to 35 years of age. Treatment of testicular cancer is usually successful. When the cancer is caught early, the cure rate is an astounding 95 percent. Get to know the risk factors and symptoms, and most importantly – get to the doctor!

Risk Factors

● Family History – If your father or brother was diagnosed with testicular cancer, you’re at higher risk.
● Undescended Testes at Birth – Know your medical history. If possible, find a good provider and stick with them. A doctor you’re comfortable with, who knows you and is familiar with your history, is an incredible asset to your overall health.
● Previous Incidence of Testicular Cancer – One in 25 men who develop cancer in one testicle will develop cancer in the other at some stage. Remember – find and stay with a provider you trust to safeguard your health.

Symptoms of Testicular Cancer

● Swelling or a lump in either testicle (these are usually painless.)
● A change in the size or shape of your testicles, or a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum
● Aches or pain in your lower abdomen or groin
● Discomfort or pain in the scrotum or testicle
● A sudden buildup of fluid in your scrotum
● For some men, testicular cancer may occur without any symptoms. The lesson to take from that fact? Visit your doctor regularly!

Men should be familiar with the size, shape and usual level of lumpiness of their testicles. Men with a higher risk of testicular cancer may want to perform a monthly testicular self-exam. For more information on testicular self-exams, please follow the link to the American Cancer Society’s website.

Young, healthy men consider themselves well and don’t often see a good reason for visiting the doctor. But men should consider that we only stay well by taking care of ourselves – eating right, exercising, and visiting the doctor for wellness checkups once a year.

For more information about testicular cancer, including information on diagnosis, treatment, and support, please visit http://us.movember.com/mens-health/testicular-cancer.

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Find the Best Medicare Part D or Advantage Plan with Free Website

When many of the 46 million Medicare enrollees try to navigate the official Medicare website, they are often bombarded with dozens of plans with varying costs and benefits. The daunting task of choosing the best plan leaves many customers with a plan that doesn’t fit their financial or health needs.

Beginning in 2006, the U.S. government began to help pay for the cost of outpatient prescription drugs for people on Medicare. Part D and Advantage plans, which cover the cost of outpatient prescriptions, are voluntary outpatient plans provided through private insurance companies that have contracts with the government. The drug coverage is not provided directly by the government.  More than 50 types of coverage plans exist that include varying types of co-pays, premiums, prescriptions, deductibles and more.

Last year, a study revealed that the average person enrolled in Part D could save $368 a year, with most people saving much more, if they switched to a different plan that would cover the same medicines. The study revealed that only 5 percent of people chose the least expensive plan for their needs.

Thanks to an Atlanta-based internist Dr. Steve Cohen, a new educational website, www.MedicareDrugSavings.org, has been created to help struggling enrollees choose the best plan to cover medication costs. The free, nonprofit website’s main feature is a comprehensive video that explains step-by-step instructions in layman’s terms on how to best select a plan that fits an individual’s financial and health needs.

“After seeing patients struggling to pay for their lifesaving medicine, I knew I had to create a resource to help people save money on their healthcare and hopefully improve their health by making it affordable,” said website founder Dr. Cohen.

In addition to the 17-minute video, the website includes a helpful slideshow for individuals to consult while choosing the best plan for them. The website also features a five-minute video aimed specifically at healthcare professionals, along with printable brochures for professionals to provide to their Medicare patients. There is also  a video for businesses to learn how older relatives of employees and customers can save hundreds to thousands of dollars with a printable handout. The website lists many other resources, such as links to WIC, veteran benefits, and SNAP, to help people with limited income pay for food, housing, and utilities.

The Medicare Drugs Saving website is recommended by the Georgia chapters of the American College of Physicians and American Academy of Family Physicians, the Georgia Council of Aging, the Cobb County Medical Society, and more.

The open enrollment period to change an individual’s Medicare D plan is only open until Dec. 7, with a few exceptions. It is in everyone’s best interest to inform loved ones of this helpful website. Not only will individuals save money; because the state of Georgia helps subsidize more than 304,000 people with low incomes who are on Medicare , this information could potentially save the state and federal governments  $111 million a year. By signing up for the right plan, the 46 million U.S. citizens on Medicare could potentially save the government $16.9 billion a year, which would be split between government agencies that subsidize costs for lower income groups and more affluent people who do not receive such a subsidy.

It is important to realize Medicare has nothing to do with the health exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act.  The website which helps people on Medicare learn to save  money on their insurance is working well  is not affected by the troubles on the  website people use to find a insurance plan under ObamaCare.

For more information and to visit this website, go to www.MedicareDrugSavings.org.

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