Robin Williams’ Death; Destigmatizing Mental Illness

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, a very funny man passed away unexpectedly. Known for wild stand up humor and touching movies, Robin William’s suicide was a shock to fans. William’s death was also a sad reminder that whatever our public veneer may be, anyone can struggle with mental illness. This week, I’d like to focus on the prevalence of mental illness and efforts to end the stigma that keeps so many people from receiving the treatment they deserve.

Mental illness is far more prevalent than public discourse would lead us to believe. True, when a high profile actor dies of a common problem – like William’s suicide or Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose – a slew of articles follow. Collectively, we decry either the lack of discourse, funding for treatment programs, or understanding. These articles are well and good, but more important than increased discussion in public spaces is the discussion we have in our homes, with our children, friends, and family members.

Despite the prevalence of mental illness – nearly one in four Americans suffers some form of mental illness each year – the stigma persists. Feelings of shame accompany struggles with mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. Society and cultures across the globe view mental health problems in a very negative light. This causes social distancing – avoiding and separating ourselves from people who are challenged. If we perceive the person living with a mental illness to be dangerous, we distance ourselves even further. Unfortunately, our perception of danger is almost always wrong. The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent. They are, in fact, much more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators.

Stigma and social distancing lead to “self stigma” in people suffering from mental illness. Left socially isolated and lonely, people with mental illness are much less likely to receive the treatment they need. (Worldwide, 60 percent of the 450 million individuals struggling with some form of mental health problem do not receive treatment of any kind.) The dissolution of a mentally ill person’s social network can be devastating; such isolation is associated with poor physical and mental health, and even early mortality. It’s common sense; humans in peak physical and mental fitness agonize when isolated from others. We rely on our communities in sickness and in health.

If you or a loved one are living with mental illness (or have in the past) I’ll say what you’ve no doubt heard before, but may need to hear again: you are not alone. Your experience is not exceptional; it’s far more common than you may realize. There’s not an easy path through mental illness; few health articles about the topic end with a brief list of wellness suggestions. There are many resources available on the Internet that can help improve understanding and point you to real-world sources of help. I’ve listed a few below. Be well.

From the CDC: Attitudes Towards Mental Health

Other sources for help with Mental Illness and Addiction:

NIMH: Men and Depression

National Institute of Mental Health

Movember: Men’s Mental Health

The Stigma of Mental Illness is Making Us Sicker

www.aa.org  Alcoholics Anonymous

www.nami.org National Alliance on Mental Illness

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Are “Superfoods” Another Super Myth? One Quick Read That May Help You Decide…

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

If poorly drawn ads on the Internet are to be believed, common problems such as unwanted belly fat and a case of diabetes can be solved with “One weird trick.” It’s unbelievable enough that most of us chose not to take the bait. But the advertisers must have some success – the “trick” ads are ubiquitous. (The ads are so common that Slate even covered the strategies of “one weird trick” marketing.) We might pat ourselves on the back for passing up obvious chicanery, but how often do we buy into another trend with better marketing – superfoods?

Have you tried a superfood yet? How is the term even defined? “Superfood” is not a scientific term – it just refers to a food that is nutrient-rich and considered to be especially beneficial to health. Oatmeal, spinach, wheatgrass, and acai berries have all been labeled superfoods. When a new superfood is “discovered” there’s often a frenzy of excitement on blogs and in the media. New products appear on shelves and new dishes show up in restaurants. The foods designated as superfoods seem to be continually expanding, so how do we decide which to add to our grocery list and which aren’t worth the purchase?

Generally speaking, the best way to decide which superfoods to throw in the shopping cart is to use common sense. Any fruit or vegetable is likely to have at least one article dedicated to its superior properties – for good reason. Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is the simplest and most effective diet for good health. Try to pick what’s in season and eat locally if you can. Put a variety of color on your plate. Pair green broccoli with white lima beans on a Monday and try different pairings all week. Reading about the “superfood”qualities of kale or watermelon may inspire you to try something new. Just don’t let superfoods become your sole focus. Variety is important and so is a reasonably priced trip to the grocery store.

It’s hard to find the harm in superfoods. It’s a marketing strategy, pure and simple, but at least this trend mostly encourages consumers to load up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meat. Anecdotal experience can hold a powerful sway over some of us, however, and one good experience with a superfood may make someone a lifelong convert. If the worst thing that happens is a family member’s insistence that he be allowed to make kale chips for every holiday gathering, who minds?

Some Shape readers were so devoted to an early morning lemon water detox, that an article debunking overhyped claims of the drink was soon awash in angry comments. In a nutshell, drinking lemon water in the mornings isn’t going to make drastic positive changes in your health. Proponents of the drink have claimed that the lemon juice improves digestion, boosts your body’s ability to absorb minerals and detoxifies your body. As the author (a doctor) points out, “detoxification” is term so often bandied about that it doesn’t have much meaning. What does your body need detoxified? If drinking lemon juice and warm water perks you up in the morning and makes you feel better, keep doing it. (Starting the day with a big glass of plain old water is excellent for your health.)

No superfood is likely to do all that its adherents claim it will, so when you see a headline sporting the term “superfood”, read it with a critical eye. (A diet heavy in chia seeds won’t likely be the reason for dramatic weight loss, as some have claimed. But you might find you really enjoy the tiny seeds in your smoothie!) There’s no reason to spend tons of cash on the superfood du jour. The old superfoods – fruits, vegetables and whole grains – are just as good for your health.

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While you sleep, parts of your body are hard at work

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

If you’re reading this article before your morning coffee, sleep is probably still on your mind. The satisfaction of getting under cover and laying your head on a pillow at the end of the day is second to none. We crave rest the way we crave food and water and we need it just as much. Scientists have studied why we need sleep for decades; on the face of it, our need for sleep doesn’t make any sense. In sleep, even the most fearsome and powerful are defenseless. Sleep leaves us vulnerable; it is a dangerous undertaking in the wild. Evolution should have cured us of our need for sleep, but it didn’t. We know sleep is essential to our survival, but we’re still learning what sleep does for our bodies and our health.

A good night’s sleep protects us from becoming ill after exposure to a virus. The seven to eight hours we need to rest each night is the time our immune systems need to release proteins called cytokines. Some cytokines need to increase their presence when we’re under stress or are fighting infection or inflammation. Depriving ourselves of sleep may reduce production of these helpful proteins. Sleep deficiency also causes lower levels of infection fighting antibodies and cells. Getting enough sleep helps to keep us healthy and helps us recover when we do get sick.

Earlier this year, scientists made an exciting discovery about sleep and our brains. Our bodies are efficient machines, but they’re not without waste. When we exercise, for example, toxic byproducts such as lactic acid accumulate in our muscle cells. We’re not harmed by the process because our lymphatic system clears the byproducts out. Our brains are hard at work and they, too, create waste. It was thought at one time that the brain recycled its waste, but studies in mice, baboons, dogs and goats have all shown that the brain doesn’t rely on recycling. Instead, a system of waste removal (through the newly named glymphatic system) is at work during sleep.

Researchers theorize that in sleep, the fluid-filled area between tissue cells in the brain (interstitial space) is mostly used to physically remove daily waste created by brain cells.  Interstitial space accounts for about 20 percent of the brain’s total volume. Human studies haven’t yet occurred, but are in the works. Scientists will study fluid moving through the interstitial space to see if it does indeed cleanse our brains. The potential implications of these findings on our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s could be far reaching – to learn more about this fascinating topic, please follow this link.

As we learn more about the role of sleep, its importance to our health is further highlighted. It’s troubling, then, that so many adults report not getting enough sleep or being sleep deprived. Sleep deficiency is when we get less than the six to eight hours a night adults need. (Children, infants and pregnant women in the first trimester need more.) If you’re running on less than six hours, you are sleep deprived. You might feel used to it, but your body isn’t, and we can’t condition our bodies to need less sleep.

Do your body (and yourself) a favor; make it a priority to get a solid seven (or at least six!) hours of sleep a night.

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The Most Important Room in Our Home for Better Health

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Tech that tracks your health is increasingly popular and sophisticated. Last week, tech blogs were atwitter over a new device created by San Francisco based company Hello that promises to track every aspect of your sleep. The device, a smartly designed sphere, is called Sense. It is a sleep tracker capable of monitoring ambient light, temperature and humidity, particulate matter in the air, noise and your movements. In the morning, an accompanying app provides you with a report that details your sleep and rates it with a “Sleep Score.” It’s not on the market yet, but interest is high. After debuting on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Sense raised $120,000 in a few hours – mostly thanks to more than 4,000 $99 pledges that functioned as a pre-order for the product.

In the promotional video for Sense, Hello co-founder James Proud says, “Nobody’s even thinking about the most important room of our lives and how it impacts us.” Well, while no company may have created a sensor as all-inclusive as Sense, I have to disagree that no one is thinking about it.

Sleep is the subject of a great deal of research. Even so, we’re still not sure why we need sleep, but it doesn’t take a degree to know that sleep matters. (There will be more on this and the fascinating research on the physiology of the brain during sleep, in next week’s column.) Sleep is restorative, both emotionally and physically. I’ve written before about the importance of sleep and tips for getting a solid night’s rest. A slew of studies exist touting the benefits of sleep and the detriment to health when sleep doesn’t come easy. One factor that keeps us from a good night’s sleep is an emotion many of us find hard to control: stress.

When we don’t get enough sleep, our stress levels can rise. But when we’re stressed, it’s hard to fall asleep and difficult to get the restful, deep sleep our bodies need. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We’re not built for modern-day stress. Stress hormones are a cocktail that help us deal with danger – quite helpful when you’re in a fight-or-flight scenario, less so when you’re worried about a wedding, your job or a fight with your partner. Our stress hormones don’t automatically lower when we fall asleep, and instead keep working on our brains, urging us to wake up and face the problem. (Check out this NPR article, but don’t let it stress you out!)

If stress is interfering with your sleep, start integrating healthy bedtime habits into your routine. It’s easier said than done, I know. Take the TV out of your bedroom. Kick out all the tech, in fact. (The light from screens keeps your brain on “daytime” mode.) Start an evening wind-down after dinner. Read, do some stretching, take a crack at a crossword. Find an activity that relaxes you. Keep a routine, going to bed at the same time each night and waking at the same time every morning. Finally, reserve the bed for sleeping! Don’t carry in a laptop and crank out one more email. Your bed should signify – and be – a restful place.

Teasing out the effect of sleep on our bodies and the myriad effects of sleep on our health is fascinating. Come back next week for another look at sleep! 

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Body Image: Why It Matters and How to View It Positively

Body Image: Why It Matters and How to View It Positively

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

For the last two weeks, I’ve written about fat. Fat is necessary for our survival. It belongs in our diet and in our bodies in reasonable amounts, providing energy, cushioning our muscles and organs and metabolizing essential vitamins. But it’s easy to get too much of a good thing.

Obesity is the cause of health problems and unhealthy sources of dietary fat and fat in excess do no one any favors. “Fat” is a dirty word applied to food and people with snide derision. To finish up this series, I thought it fitting to focus on body image, an integral concept that is part and parcel in our discussions about fat.

The physical traits we find appealing in men and women today are not timeless; idealized bodies are the product of culture. In western society, women with Rubenesque bodies were once considered the peak of perfection. society would deem chubby today were, until the 20th century, celebrated for their size. Larger bodies were a sign of good health, wealth and elevated social status.

For women, the standards have changed dramatically. Waif-like figures — slim, tall and toned — make the cover of magazines. Men, too, magazine covers and advertisements unanimously tall, muscled and impeccably physically fit.

How we feel about our body matters. Our worth should not be determined by the world (or in our own minds) by our physical appearance. But to say that our appearance doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t, is to avoid and deny reality.

The ideal body of the American culture is increasingly demanding and narrow. In the US, the rate of development of eating disorders has been increasing steadily since 1950. Though more prevalent in women, men can and do suffer from disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge eating and body dysmorphia.

The health consequences of eating disorders are devastating, both for those suffering and their friends and family. (A discussion of eating disorders deserves its own article. For more information about eating disorders, signs and symptoms, how to seek help and how to offer it, I’ve included a list of links below.)

There is no list that can encompass a “cure” for improving your body image. Every one of us is different, affected by diverse cultural and familial influences and internalized “standards.” I’ve listed a few of the ways to begin or sustain a positive body image below. In the links provided after this article, you can find even more.

Take a moment to marvel. The next time you start cataloguing your perceived physical flaws, reflect instead on all that your body does for you. Every day, your legs carry you from place to place. Your heart hasn’t skipped a beat — it’s reliably working for you, a dutiful muscle pounding in your chest. Your skin replaces itself every 30 days. What has your body given you?

Keep in mind that there is no “right” body. We look the way we look: varied, diverse, each of us a little different. The bodies we see in advertisements and in media are homogenized and unrealistic. In many cases, they’re literally unreal thanks to editing software like Photoshop. Be critical of the images you see. Though we’re being sold the “ideal,” we can choose (or do our best) not to buy into it.

The time you spend worrying that you’re not good enough is much better spent enjoying yourself with friends, family, a hobby or a good book. Redirect your thoughts to something positive in your life. Keep a list of good things by the mirror or in your wallet if you need to! Try not to wallow in worries about body image.

Get The Facts On Eating Disorders

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Size Bias as a Social Construction

Healthy Body Image

 

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For Good Health, Avoid Trans Fat

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, I wrote about fat. Not all fat is bad — we require a certain amount of fat to live. Taking time to appreciate all that fat does for us is a good counter to advertisements decrying any and all fat in our diets and on our waistline. (Modern conceptions of ideal body image do no one, large or small, any favors, but that’s a topic for another post.)

This week, I’m going to write about “bad” dietary fat. Not all fat is created equal. Partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats have negative effects on your health, even in very small quantities. Bad fat lurks on grocery store shelves and contributes to a litany of health problems, including heart attacks and death from heart disease.

Frozen pizza, heat-em and eat-em cookies and biscuits, microwave popcorn and coffee creamers all have something in common: they contain a man-made fat that’s killing us. Trans fat was invented in the early 1900s, first appearing on shelves as Crisco. Since then, the food industry has used trans fats to flavor foods from crackers to cookies, and to significantly increase the shelf life of processed foods.

In the 1980s, we believed that saturated fat, found primarily in animal sources like lard and butter, was the fat to be avoided.. Such was our fervor that consumer advocacy groups successfully lobbied fast-food companies to stop frying foods in saturated fats and start using partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats.)

In the 1990s, researchers began to link trans fat to increases in LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and sounded the alarm, calling for trans fat to be listed on nutrition labels. It wasn’t until 2006 that nutrition labels began to include trans fats. Consumer knowledge about the dangers of trans fats was high and sales of products with trans fats decreased. As such, many food manufacturers voluntarily reduced or eliminated trans fats from their products.

Trans fats still linger, in processed foods with labels and in foods that are not required to sport a label. Food from restaurants, bakeries, cafeterias and schools may still contain trans fats, and consumers have no way of knowing, without labels, which foods contain the bad fats. California has banned the use of trans fats in restaurants and bakeries. The city of New York requires restaurants, cafeterias and schools to be trans fat-free. These are positive steps; the CDC estimates that a further reduction in trans fats from the American food supply would prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease and 20,000 heart attacks each year.

A product that boasts “Trans fat free!” may in fact contain up to a gram of trans fat. (This practice is legally allowed by the FDA.) Before you buy a food purporting to have no trans fat, take a look at the label. If the ingredients include “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “vegetable shortening,” put it back on the shelf. There is likely no safe level of trans fat and it should be avoided whenever possible.

Let me end with the health mantra all of us should live by: moderation, moderation, moderation. We’re only human. Most of us have a sweet tooth that isn’t always satisfied by an apple or a peach. For meat eaters, the difference between a good cut of meat and a great cut of meat is the right amount of fat. If you’re craving fat, that’s okay, but eat fat from a good source. Trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils are poisons working against good health. Skip the Oreos and processed baked goods and bake a batch of brownies from scratch with a friend. (And make sure to share the spoils.)

There’s much more to discuss on this subject than I can hope to cover here. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the following links.

Shining the Spotlight on Trans Fats

FDA Targets Trans Fat in Processed Foods

A History of Trans Fat

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The Good Side of Fat in Our Diet

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

In the age of health foods, “reduced fat” snacks and diets that purport to cut fat out of your diet and off your waistline, we forget that fat isn’t all that bad. Though much derided, we require a certain amount of fat — in our diets and in our bodies — to survive.

Put aside thoughts of P90X and societal pressure to eliminate fat and take a moment to appreciate what body fat does for you every day. Body fat is essential for regulating body temperature. Fat is your body’s insulation, reducing heat loss. This benefit may seem inconvenient in the heat of a southern summer, but come winter you’ll be appropriately grateful.

Fat acts as a cushion, both for the bottom you’re likely sitting on at the moment and for your internal organs. Fat surrounding our internal organs acts as a shock absorber when we fall or are injured. Brain tissue is rich in fat. Nerves are sheathed in a fatty material, without which they would not function. Each and every cell relies on the fat that helps compose the cell membranes that holds them together.

Dietary fat has become so demonized in recent years that some shy away even from avocados — a fruit full of fat and entirely beneficial. Fat is an essential nutrient, which is why we require a supply of dietary fat to survive. Fat, along with protein and carbohydrate, is a source of energy. We need fat to absorb essential vitamins A, D, E and K and require fat to produce hormones. I don’t want to expound too much, but let the takeaway be that out and out disdain for fat is foolish.

Too much of a good thing is rarely wise, however, and fat is widely available in the modern American diet. Fat makes food taste good and purveyors of processed foods use it to their advantage. You might remember several years ago when “trans fat” became a nutrition buzzword. Trans fat occurs naturally in some foods in small quantities. Now, though, the majority of trans fat found in our diet is artificially created through the partial hydrogenation of oils. Trans fat can increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol.

The other fat to avoid is saturated fat. Saturated fat occurs in animal products. Red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy are all sources of the bad cholesterol-increasing fat. Most Americans over consume meat on a daily basis, which in turn leads to an excess amount of fat in our diets.

We still need fat; we just need to consume it in moderate amounts and get it from healthy sources. The next time you start to crave a fatty meal, seek out fat in the form of monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat or omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that contain these types of good fats include avocado, nuts, olive oil, safflower oil, natural peanut butter, salmon and tuna. I’ve included a list of resources about fat below. Eat in moderation and eat well, everyone!

Why Your Body Needs Some Fat to be Healthy

Why You Need Fats

Dietary Fats: Know Which Types to Choose

6 High-Fat Foods That Are Good For You

Monounsaturated Fats

 

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When It Comes to Sugar Consumption, Moderation is Key

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Children cherish Halloween and birthdays, two opportunities for unapologetic, borderline frantic, gorging on sweets. Adults aren’t immune – there’s a reason an offering of donuts at the office often proves too tempting to resist. Put the blame on our hunter-gatherer ancestors, if you like. We evolved to crave sugar and the energy it provides back when the sweet substance was hard to come by. Today, sugar is cheap, plentiful and present in a growing number of unexpected foods. For modern humans, fighting our neolithic tendencies is an increasingly difficult challengeSugar is a basic (and effective) form of energy in food. Excessive sugar is poisonous to us, so our bodies have adapted to quickly turn sugar in our bloodstream to fat. The sugar, converted into fat, was stored and used to sustain us when times got lean. It wasn’t until very recently that sugar went from a rare, hard-to-come-by treat to its current excessively available status.

We still crave sugar, but it’s not all bad. The natural sugar in fruit accompanies healthy fiber and necessary vitamins, making peaches a treat that’s truly good for you. (Peaches in their natural state, that is. A peach pie, though delicious, won’t benefit you the same way!) The sugar that truly trips up modern humans resides in processed “convenience” foods. Sugar is used to mask unappealing flavors created by the very processing that contributes to the long shelf life of food. Sugar is used to tantalize tastebuds into one (or four, or eight) more bites or sips. Sugar lurks in unexpected places, like yogurt. The next time you go grocery shopping, keep a sharp eye on the nutrition facts – there’s more sugar, in more foods, than we realize.

As the catalogue of articles on this site grows larger, the theme that pervades them is moderation. Don’t spend all day on a treadmill, but don’t spend the majority of the day at rest. You don’t have to become a vegan, but it’s not good to consume a large serving of animal protein every day. I hate to sound like a broken record, but moderation is central to good health. Attempting to cut out sugar entirely is a fool’s errand. No one looks forward to celebrating their next birthday with a vegetable loaf!

To practice moderation in sugar consumption, give some of the following guidelines a try.

  • Don’t keep ready-to-eat sweets or sugary processed snacks in your pantry. As I’ve said before, the place to practice resisting temptation is the grocery store. Cookies, sodas, crackers and chips are better left on store shelves. When you’re tired, stressed or just plain hungry, the quick walk to your pantry will prove too tempting.
  • Quit drinking soda. Oh, the sensation of drinking a cold Coca-Cola out of a glass bottle on a hot summer day. It’s a delicious memory, but it should be a rare occurrence! Sodas are full of high fructose corn syrup, sodium, calories and carbs that your body doesn’t need. Regular soda drinkers will be pleased to note that cutting out the soda habit saves you money and will almost always lead to a need for smaller trousers.
  • Don’t cut out treats entirely, but do learn how to make your own using healthy, whole ingredients – and go heavy on the fruit! Warm fruit compote, easily made with fresh fruit in a pot on the stovetop, is an incredible sweet addition to breakfast. Serve it warm with a bowl of oatmeal or keep it cold to enjoy with yogurt. After dinner, cut thick slices of banana and lay them in the skillet with a little butter until they’re brown. That’s the natural sugar caramelizing. Drizzle the slices with a bit of honey or agave nectar and you have a dessert you won’t forget for a long time.
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Limit Screen Time, Encourage Exercise for Healthier Kids

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Students count down the days until summer vacation. Weeks of freedom await them with nary a pop quiz, project or homework assignment. Ideally, students from kindergarten to high school use their summers productively, taking time to strengthen friendships, pick up a hobby, go outside, get a job, exercise or read for pleasure. Realistically, the temptation to go to bed late, sleep late, stay indoors and watch TV or play video games is often too great.

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released data showing that less than half of all children aged 12 to 15 are aerobically fit. Across race and class lines, children aren’t in good cardiorespiratory shape. Half of boys in the age group meet adequate levels, but only 34 percent of girls were at adequate levels of cardiovascular health. Like adults, children need regular exercise. Ideally, children should spend an hour every day running, jumping and playing (without a screen.)

Children who get regular exercise feel less stressed, do better in school, build healthy bones, muscles and joints and sleep better at night. During the school year in Georgia, physical education classes are mandated. Every student gets the recommended minimum amount of physical activity each week. Students involved in afterschool programs such as soccer, baseball or cross-country far exceed the minimum and reap the benefits.

During summer vacation, physical activity takes a backseat to easy leisure pursuits. What is a walk under the trees compared to the temptations of yet another Angry Bird game for the iPad? Though technology benefits society in many ways, screens are often a scourge. The inclination to forsake the outdoors for the glow of an LED screen the size of a book you should be reading instead is too great even for many adults. For children and teens, the fast-paced, intricate games and TV shows too often win out over the chance to take a walk and listen to the sounds in the trees.

This summer, help kids get the activity they need by fostering a love for the outdoors and outdoor activity. Set a good example for children by staying active and limiting your own screen time. When friends come around, pack a picnic and take a walk around the park. Issue a moratorium on screen time and send kids packing to the yard with a soccer ball. Sign young children up for swim classes and older kids up for swim team. Encourage older children to join sports teams and find fun, non-sedentary activities to do with friends. Most importantly, limit the amount of time you and your family spend in front of a screen. When the tablet, smartphone, television and video games are off, a world of possibilities opens up.

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Recognize and Prevent Heat-Related Conditions

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Spring-cleaning has nothing on summer labor. The yard needs attention, the attic needs to be cleaned out (so does the basement), a community garden needs volunteers and why not add a run around the block in the heat of the afternoon to round out your to-do list?

Warm weather is beckoning us outdoors, but we need to prepare our bodies before giving the summer everything we’ve got. This week, I’m covering the causes, signs and symptoms of heatstroke and other heat related conditions.

Even when we exert ourselves in the comfort of an air-conditioned gym, our body temperature rises. To do the work we ask of them, our muscles burn fat and carbohydrates. The chemical reactions converting the fuel of fat and carbs to energy create heat. The muscles warm first and then the blood circulating through them , producing the rise in core temperature.

The slight rise in temperature that makes us break a sweat tells us that our body is hard at work. But when we exert ourselves in the heat and humidity of summer or simply expose ourselves to high temperatures for too long, we run the risk of heatstroke.

When body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit, you’re having a heatstroke. Children and adults over 65 share an increased risk of heatstroke. Both groups adjust more slowly to high temperatures outside.

Children are loath to take breaks to cool off when they’re having fun, but produce more heat and less sweat during activity than adults do. People over 65 are more likely to be on prescription drugs or have a chronic health condition that affects how their bodies respond to heat. Health conditions, such as heart and lung disease, being overweight or lacking physical fitness also increase your risk of heatstroke.

Heat cramps and heat exhaustion are the first conditions you may suffercan often treat at home. Heat cramps usually occur in the stomach, arms or legs. They’re accompanied by excess sweating, fatigue and thirst. If you’ve ever been on a strenuous run on asphalt on a hot afternoon, you probably remember feeling this way. (Heat cramps are also caused by exposure to high temperatures.) If you’re experiencing heat cramps, find a shady cool spot or head to an air-conditioned area, drink water and a drink with electrolytes, such as Gatorade, and rest until you feel recovered.

If you don’t treat heat cramps, you will progress to heat exhaustion. All the symptoms of heat cramps will persist and be joined by nausea, dizziness or lightheadedness as well as a headache. Heat exhaustion can often be cured with the same treatments used for heat cramps, though the addition of a cool shower may be in order. If symptoms continue, seek medical attention.

Heatstroke is the most severe heat-induced condition and requires immediate medical attention. The symptoms include a 104-degree body temperature, all the symptoms listed above for heat cramps and heat exhaustion, as well as rapid breathing, a racing pulse, flushed skin, vomiting, irritability, confusion, unconsciousness, and a lack of sweating. (Skin may be moist when heatstroke is brought on by physical activity.)

If you notice these symptoms in a friend or loved one, call 911 and take action to cool down the afflicted person. Put them in a cold bath and turn on a fan if you have access. If you’re outside, move them to a shady area and soak them with cool water from a garden hose. Remove extra clothing. If there’s low humidity, wrap them in a wet, cold sheet and fan them. Monitor their body temperature until help arrives.

You can avoid heatstroke, heat cramps and heat exhaustion by taking these precautions.

• Drink water! Stay hydrated so your body is better equipped to handle heat.

• Wear light, loose-fitting clothing.

Condition yourself by easing into regular activity in hot weather, and scale back activity during the hottest part of the day.

• Take a break in the shade with a glass of water or Gatorade when you start to feel fatigued or thirsty.

Our bodies are as resilient as they are fragile. We can run a marathon or complete a triathlon — two sporting odysseys — yet a few degrees difference in body temperature can make us terribly ill. Summer can be a glorious break from our normal routine warm weather often encourages us to be more active. This summer, remember to enjoy the season safely!

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