April 2012

Laugh For Your Health

Last spring I was at a medical conference where I heard a talk about nutrition for surgery patients presented by a prominent surgery professor. Although the information was good, I have to confess that I only remember a small amount of what I heard. What I do remember was that at the end of his very serious lecture, the professor spoke about the importance of laughter for health.

Then, he started stomping around the room laughing. It was hilarious and inspiring to see this senior surgeon in a three-piece suit convulsing in laughter. The audience spontaneously got up and started following suit (pardon the pun). Before I knew it I was laughing uncontrollably. I felt fantastic. During his talk I was having post-lunch fatigue and was fighting to stay awake. After his talk I felt alive, happy and refreshed.

I have always loved to laugh. Recently, I have realized that not only does it feel good, but also there may be health benefits. In 2000, Dr Michael Miller (not a relative) at the University of Maryland did a study, which found that patients with heart disease were less likely to find amusing daily life situations funny when compared to those without heart disease. The question raised was which came first, the lack of humor or the heart disease.

Five years later he conducted a study that may give a hint at the answer. Using healthy volunteers to see the effect of hearty laughter on blood vessels, he found that it dilated and opened blood vessels improving blood flow to the body. Sad or stressful movies had the opposite effect causing constriction and narrowing of blood vessels. The body reacts to laughter in a way that is similar to aerobic exercise.

The take home lesson from this is that in addition to aerobic exercise for wellness you can add a healthy dose of laughter. This is especially useful if you are in a place where you cannot exercise. When you are on an airplane watch a funny movie. If you are stuck at a desk at work, entertain your colleagues with some good jokes, because laughter is good medicine for all. The main side effect is that you may annoy others around you. Engaging them in whatever “funny” business is going on can solve that problem and help them at the same time.

“If taking vitamins doesn’t keep you healthy enough, try more laughter: The most wasted of all days is that on which one has not laughed. “ – Nicolas-Sebastien Chamfort

Music Really Does Soothe The Soul

If I told you there is something that could improve your mood, decrease blood pressure, keep your blood flowing, lower your heart rate, calm you down, boost your immunity, and enhance your ability to learn, would you be interested?

What if I told you that it is free and does not involve medication? Now I have your interest! There is something that will do all of the above and is also quite enjoyable.

It is music!

Studies in England have found that patients who were taught to play music as part of a study for the treatment of depression experienced a reduction in their symptoms by 25%. Research in Italy revealed that listening to Celtic, classical, or Indian (raga) music for 30 minutes a day can significantly lower blood pressure. Researchers in the US found that relaxing music can dilate blood vessels in the body and improve general blood flow. Music that was perceived as stressful (heavy metal as an example) caused the blood vessels to contract and decrease blood flow to the body.

When students were studied by having them listen to six types of music, researchers found their heart rate synced up to the speed of the music regardless of the style and their interest. If the music was lively, their hearts sped up. If the music slowed down, so did their heart rates. It produces an additional calming, immune, and mood boosting effect by lowering cortisol levels, increasing hormones that improve the immune response and raise endorphin levels.

Finally, you have probably heard about the Mozart effect, where listening to Mozart’s music enhances learning. Baroque music, with a 60 beat per minute pattern, particularly activates both the right and left side of the brain. This enables the brain to process information more easily. It also improves recall of information when a particular tune is used during studying and then replayed.

Music is the universal language appealing to all of us while enhancing learning and healing. As medical costs continue to skyrocket, it is nice to know that there is something enjoyable and therapeutic we can do (in addition to your regular preventive evaluation and treatments) to improve our health!

“I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” ~ Billy Joel

What music helps you to feel better and heal?

Flowers Can Help You Feel Fantastic

At my house next to our front door there is a beautiful bush filled with Daphne flowers. It smells wonderful and makes me smile on my way in and out of the house. That got me thinking. Can flowers make us happy? I did a little research and found several studies that do indeed show that flowers can affect our mood in a positive way.

At Rutgers University a behavioral research study has found that flowers elicit a universal reaction that can help people feel happiness. Those who received flowers felt less depressed and anxious after receiving them, and the flowers led to more frequent contact with friends and family.

A study done at Harvard found that when people had freshly cut flowers around the house, they were less anxious. They were happier at work and also expressed more compassion and kindness towards others.

A study done at Texas A&M found that when both men and women were exposed to cut flowers at work, they both had an increase in ideas and solutions to office problems. Men generated more ideas than women, but women had more innovative and creative solutions to problems when flowers were nearby.

Flowers have certain meanings according to those who specialize in that sort of thing (Taken from The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh). If you want to say something specific you might try these: Gerber daisies represent cheerfulness, baby’s breath reveal everlasting love, bird of paradise say magnificence, hyacinth communicate beauty, and jonquils represent desire.

It is spring and flowers are blooming everywhere. If you want to brighten your day or someone else’s bring in some flowers or visit your local flower shop. It will help you to be more productive, tell people how much you appreciate them and keep a smile on your face!

To Be Or Not To Be…..Fit

Today my mother sent me a great picture of herself in a gift shop in Cambodia. She looks fit and happy. It got me thinking about the fact that as we age we have many choices. The major one is to be or not to be fit. I saw what happens both ways in my family. Let me start with my father.

My dad was brilliant but stubborn. He smoked, ate a fat-filled, high sugar diet, and was totally opposed to exercise. He had to quit smoking when he developed bladder cancer and his urologist told him that if he continued to smoke he would not see him in his practice, because a cancer recurrence would be inevitable.

He started eating healthier when his brother developed type 2 diabetes and he realized that he might end up with the same thing. However, he refused to get regular check-ups until he was in his mid 60’s. He did not realize that for most of his adult life he had high blood pressure, because he did not feel it. But, it took its toll on his kidneys in a big way.

By the time he was being seen on a regular basis he was in renal failure. Despite treatment for his hypertension, his kidneys finally failed completely. He made it to 84. He was alert and with-it till the end. Had he been treated for his high blood pressure early on he would still be here. It was amazing that he made it into his 80’s, but his quality of life suffered, especially the last 10 years.

My mother on the other hand has always been a health nut. She was exercising and eating healthy before it was fashionable. She quit eating red meat when she was in her 40’s. She has been walking and going to exercise classes most of her adult life. She now does Pilates, yoga, and is an avid tennis player. She started playing doubles a couple of years ago because her knee was acting up and she couldn’t run as fast in her singles games. She plays bridge, goes to lectures at the local university, and is now traveling around the world.

I cannot say how old she is because she would kill me, but I am 58 and she was not a teen mom so you can kind of guess her age. To look at her you would think that she was in her 60’s. She is committed to keeping her brain and body healthy and has been for most of her life. Fortunately my siblings and I have followed her example.

We have no control over what goes on in the world, but we can control how we treat our bodies. Life can get crazy, but there are choices we can make. You can choose to ignore your health as my father did (and please say hello to him when you see him) or you can follow the path that my mother is on and be well!

“To resist the frigidity of old age, one must combine the body, the mind, and the heart. And to keep these in parallel vigor one must exercise, study, and love.”
Alan Bleasdale

Let’s Talk Menopause 2

In 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative study found that the risks of Premarin and Provera treatment for menopause outweighed the benefits. Since that time, women have been looking for alternative ways to treat their menopausal symptoms.

Bioidentical hormones have taken the place of Premarin and Provera. Bioidentical are so named because they are identical to our natural hormones. The big question is, are they safe? The answer is yes and no. There have been no long-term studies in the United States so we have to look to Europe for some answers.

A study of nearly 100,000 women in France found that those on estrogen alone had a 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer. When estrogen was combined with natural progesterone there was no increased risk for developing breast cancer. They also found that when estrogen was given in the form of a patch or gel there was no increased risk for blood clots. This may also decrease the risk for stroke or heart attack.

Most physicians would agree that treatment of symptomatic women in early menopause is relatively safe. Before starting hormones, it is important to make sure that your mammogram is negative and that they are done yearly. In addition, your risk factors should be reviewed. For instance, I am very reluctant to start women on hormones when they have a mother or sister with a history of breast cancer.

There are some providers out there who will not give women hormones under any circumstance. They are either men who have never had to live through it with their female friends or partners or women who haven’t gotten there yet. If you are suffering and would like hormonal help, there are empathetic, understanding providers out there.
Find them. Have a full discussion so that you understand the benefits and the risks. We are all different. Some women may only need them for months and others may need them for years. There is no need to suffer, but make sure you are comfortable with your decision and that each year you re-evaluate your need for hormones.


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