Even if For a Single Day, Peace on Earth is Worth Celebrating

Every year on September 21, nations around the world celebrate International Day of Peace (also known as “Peace Day”). Established by the United Nations (UN) in 1981, this holiday focuses on strengthening the ideals of peace among all nations and people. In 2001, the UN General Assembly voted to make the holiday a period of nonviolence and cease-fire. The UN asks all nations and people to celebrate the day by ceasing hostilities and spreading awareness of issues related to peace.

“Although it may seem hopelessly distant, the dream of peace pulses in the lives of people everywhere.”  – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Each year, a ceremony takes place at the UN Headquarters in New York City, where the Peace Bell is rung. The Peace Bell was donated by the UN Associations of Japan in 1954 as a symbol of hope and peace and was cast from coins and other metals from 60 nations around the world. The bell is traditionally only rung twice a year: once on the first day of spring to symbolize the commitment of the world to peace and care of the earth, and six months later on Peace Day.

Right to Peace

A theme is chosen yearly; this year’s theme is “Right to Peace” in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document was created by representatives of many backgrounds from nations all over the world and was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. The Declaration is a milestone in human rights; it recognizes all people from every nation as equal and states that this recognition is the foundation of peace, freedom, and justice in the world. To this day, the Declaration is the most translated document in the world and is available in over 500 languages. Interestingly, although there are 30 articles in the document stating a range of human rights, “Right to Peace” isn’t one of them. It’s for this reason that the UN picked this as the theme for this year’s Peace Day; they ask, “What does ‘Right to Peace” mean to you?

How to Celebrate

Many cities around the world have Peace Day celebrations. Some of the activities typically held are conferences, workshops, marches, art exhibits, meditations, multicultural dialogs, and musical celebrations. The UN urges everyone internationally to take part in celebrating Peace Day, regardless of whether or not it’s at an organized event. Whether it’s observing a moment of silence, writing about peace, reflecting on how to bring more peace to your community or doing a small act of kindness for a stranger, there are many ways to celebrate the holiday in a meaningful way.

Routine Check-ups Save You Time and Money

When was the last time you had an annual medical or dental exam? They’re easy to overlook when you feel healthy, but routine check-ups are an important part of lifelong health maintenance. Young adults are generally more likely to put them off, often because they lack health insurance or assume that they’re too young to have health problems. You may think, “wouldn’t I know if something was wrong?” Not always. Chronic diseases can have a quiet onset, and often people don’t notice symptoms until the disease has progressed to a more advanced stage. While going to the doctor and dentist may appear to eat up valuable time and money, the benefit of monitoring your health is completely worth it.

Prevention is the Best Medicine

Routine check-ups can help your doctor spot health concerns that may become serious conditions in the future. Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer can all be screened for before they become worse. If you discover your blood sugar is borderline high (prediabetes) you might be able to make healthier life choices and possibly prevent the disease from progressing. If you wait until you have actual symptoms of diabetes, you may have to use a medication like insulin to manage it. Wouldn’t it be better to know that you’re at risk and make the necessary changes to avoid medications or future complications?

Spend Time to Save Time

Going to the doctor often feels like a test of patience; on a busy day, it can feel like endless waiting. The time you feel like you’re wasting at a routine check-up is actually saving you time in the future; imagine being diagnosed with a disease that requires you to go to regular consultations or diagnostics. These would take even more time out of your life. Even going to get a flu shot will save you time; getting sick is one of the worst time wasters! There are few things as frustrating as having a million things to do, but being too sick to move.

Cut Future Medical Costs

Many people say that they don’t get routine check-ups because of the cost. Most health insurance covers part (sometimes all) of the cost of an annual preventive care exam; even if you don’t have insurance, paying for an exam now may save you a lot of money later. Some diseases need surgeries or specialist care once they’ve progressed, which are significantly more costly than trips to a general practitioner. Medications for disease management can also add up, particularly medications that you’ll need to take for the rest of your life. The American Diabetes Association reports that people diagnosed with diabetes have an average medical expenditure of $16,752 per year, with about $9,601 attributed to diabetes. Routine dental exams are also something you don’t want to put off; a cavity might only need a filling today, but require a root canal or crown years down the road. If you wait too long, you may even lose the tooth!

Protect Your Finances

Besides the medical bills from health conditions, you may have to take sick days or long-term medical leave. While some companies offer sick pay, it may not be enough to offset the income loss, particularly if you need to be out of work for an extended period of time. Having little or no income can increase reliance on credit cards, putting you at risk for debt. If you’re able to work, you may suffer a loss of productivity from your symptoms, jeopardizing your position.

Taking care of yourself is an investment; the time and money you spend with routine check-ups will hopefully pay off with better health in the future!

Blue Light: Hype or Legitimate Health Concern?

By now, most of us have heard something about blue light and the ill effects it can cause our vision. Is it all hype, or are the screens we use daily damaging our eyes? Blue light is a natural light wave that’s emitted from the sun, but it also comes from tablets, cell phones, and other devices. This type of light is called high-energy visible light (HEV). Blue light can penetrate back to the retina of the eye, which is why most optometrists recommend the use of sunglasses when going outside. The blue light emitted from our devices is actually at a higher range than that of the sun, but most of us don’t use any kind of eyewear to block out a device’s harmful light. Sadly, device manufacturers haven’t made much effort to reduce this type of light in their products, so it’s important to be aware of how this type of light affects our health.

Blue Light Accumulates in Our Eyes Over Time

Americans now spend nearly half a day looking at some form of screen, making it more important than ever to be aware of the damage blue light can cause. As adults age, our eyes retain energy from light. This means that all the blue light we’ve been exposed to essentially “builds up” at the back of our eyes. This can create increased eye strain, dry eyes, and exhaustion. Blue light can also negatively affect the cells in our eyes, leading to macular degeneration, which can slowly cause blindness.

Young Eyes Are Especially at Risk with Blue Light

While blue light is an issue for adults, it’s especially damaging to young people’s eyes. Until 14 years old, a person’s cornea isn’t fully developed, so their eyes lack the protection that an older person’s eyes would have — especially if they’re looking at devices a lot. Increased exposure to HEV has been linked to nearsightedness in children. Nearsightedness is also now one of the most common eye issues in the world.

Blue Light Affects More Than Just Our Eyes

Researchers have suggested that blue light affects more than our vision. Physician Charles Czesler, director of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, has said that blue light is a “growing public health concern” and states that having excess exposure to blue light at night causes profound health problems. Research has suggested that exposure to blue light at night can disrupt our circadian rhythm, making it harder to sleep or have quality sleep.  It’s also been linked to weight gain, depression, cancer, and heart disease. The American Medical Association has even said that there is a possibility the LED street lights many cities have started using could “contribute to the risk of chronic disease.”

Some Solutions to Combat Blue Light

Between what we know and what we suspect about blue light, it’s important to give our eyes — and bodies — a break. As Richard Stevens, a light at night researcher put it, we have become “darkness deprived.” It’s recommended to set a “digital curfew” to help combat the night-time effects of blue light. Experts say it’s best to stop using any devices or screens at least a half hour prior to going to bed. If you’re having trouble relaxing, reading a book can be an excellent way to calm your body and mind. For your vision, try to use a blue light filter on your devices whenever possible. Taking device breaks can help; we’ve been somewhat conditioned to always have a screen to look at, but it can be healthy and freeing to take a break for a bit.

 

The Benefits of Reading

Americans are reading for fun less than we have in the past. Why is that? It seems the majority of reading we do tends to be out of utility: emails, text messages, news stories, and social media posts. Some have suggested that reading for pleasure has been displaced by technology and new media; some have blamed it on our busy lives. Whatever the cause, the decline in recreational reading is unfortunate because evidence suggests that there are mental and physical benefits to be had from getting lost in a good book.

De-Stress With A Good Book

Reading has been shown to be one of the most effective methods of stress relief because of its ability to distract us from our daily lives. One study suggests that it’s able to reduce our stress levels by 68 percent — that’s significant! It only takes six minutes of recreational reading to lower our heart rates and ease tension in our muscles, allowing us to still reap the benefits if we’re short on time. According to neuropsychologist David Lewis, it doesn’t matter what kind of book you read as long as you are actively engaged in reading it.

Expand Your Vocabulary

Remember vocabulary lists in grade school? We were forced to learn definitions of words, often with little or no context, making it a bit of a chore. Reading is an excellent way to expand your vocabulary organically; it allows you to discover new words you may not know and give you a reason to look up what they mean. Once you’ve read the meaning of the word, you can return to your book and see how the word fits into the sentence. Chances are, you’ll remember that word and have better recall the next time you see it.

Exercise Your Brain

Reading is like sending your brain to the gym. Unlike watching a video or listening to music, it allows us to stop, think, and process what we’ve encountered. This is more work for our brains because it requires greater concentration and comprehension. Studies suggest reading can increase our memory, reasoning, and problem-solving abilities. Reading a physical book (rather than an e-book) can also provide better brain benefits because of the physiological link it provides.

Reduce the Risk of Age-Related Cognitive Decline

According to one study, people who take part in mentally stimulating activities throughout their lifetime show slower cognitive decline as they age compared to those who don’t. While people who read throughout their lives showed the most benefit, those who had recently taken up regular reading showed improvement as well, suggesting it’s never too late to start. It’s also been suggested that reading can maintain and build brain cells, helping to compensate with damage caused by Alzheimer’s, dementia, and regular aging.

Increase Your Empathy

Have you ever felt like you were living vicariously through your favorite novel? According to neuroscientists, reading fiction affects the brain as if we were experiencing the story in real life. Reading a sentence like, “Mary picked up the rock,” actually activates the area of our brains linked to physically picking something up. Reading fiction affects the empathetic parts of our brain in the same way, allowing us to empathize with the character and apply that perspective to the real world.

Get Reading!

It can be hard to get into the habit of recreational reading if you haven’t done it for a while, but the best way is to find a book that really interests you. Start by reading a couple pages, then work up to a chapter. Who knows, you may find you can’t put it down!

 

5 Tips for Improving Your Mood Right Now

A large and fast car cut you off on your way to work and it ruined your morning. As soon as you get to work, you find out your projects haven’t been approved and you need to start over on several drafts. Your boss also expects you to attend two meetings today, and you’re functioning on little sleep with no coffee. You can feel a dark cloud approaching your mental horizon. If this sounds relatable, just know you are not alone. There are many techniques to cope with stress in a healthy way, and you can start many of them right now.

Emergency Meditation Break

Close your eyes and breathe deeply three times. Take your time with your inhales and exhales. Some people find it helpful to count 4 beats as they breathe in, hold 4 seconds, then breathe out 6–8 beats. If you are sitting in your office or cubicle reading this, and you are feeling overwhelmed, my first tip is to stop everything you’re doing, including reading this article and try this exercise.

Reading Hour

Find the time to grab a fun book and get cozy in a quiet place. A daily reader, like a meditation or prayer book, could enhance your reflective time. You could also get a trashy romance or high octane spy thriller. No one is judging you. The point is to take the time to make yourself a priority and let your brain have fun downtime.

Hot, Hot Bath

One of the easiest ways to reset your happy meter is to take a relaxing hot bath. Light a candle or two, turn off the lights, and let the steaming water wash away your anxieties. If you don’t have a bathtub, find a friend with a hot tub at their apartment complex. Immersing yourself in water is the rejuvenation you need. You could also use a bath bomb soap to make your bath colorful! Be sure to read about their safety before you invest in a set, or try all natural, homemade recipes for your bath.

Mmm…Massage

A back massage can do a world of good for someone who holds stress in their shoulders. Take your time to find someone you really connect with or ask around. Massages can be expensive, but if you can afford it once in a while, your back will thank you.

Find Gratitude in the Moment

Let the Universe work its magic. Trust the process. Find a phrase, prayer, or mantra that helps you focus on the positives. Taking a moment to look at the big picture, from the micro level of molecules to the cosmic level of the galaxy, could boost your mood. Appreciate the awe that is life and being alive right now.  

Taking the time for self-care may be difficult for some people at first. They are either accustomed to putting others’ needs before their own or they don’t think about self-care in these restorative ways. They could think that watching TV and loading up on sugar, carbs, and alcohol are healthy coping mechanisms. I will let you in on a little secret: they aren’t. Find ways to release your stress that help you grow and relax. You deserve to be happy, but you need to work on it if you want it. The next time you are feeling the stress creep up on you, look at this list, or make your own.

Professional help may be necessary if you experience mental health symptoms that differ from normal stress. There are a wealth of resources for you to access to get the help you need. I hope these tips helped you, and if they didn’t, keep looking for what works for you.

Cookies, Books, Free Perks at Libraries: Reading is Amazing, Reports FEBC

Today, September 6, everyone around the world is encouraged to celebrate Read a Book Day with their favorite book, a poetry collection, e-book, and more. We offer specific tips to make this day especially memorable. Don’t take our word for it, though. Try it for yourself!

Books With a Side of Cookies

What better way to enjoy your book than with a sweet treat to help you celebrate. Maybe you share a home or office with people who have dietary restrictions, but you also want to share your love of books and treats with them. Why not set up a small table with a few books from different genres, with a plate of treats that they could eat? Dairy-free and gluten-free treats like these are a hit with my colleagues. You could even ask your office manager if they could incorporate a special 20-30 minutes on Read a Book Day for treats and talking about favorite books.

Why is Reading Good for You?

The experts say a few top benefits for reading every day include mental stimulation, stress reduction, and gaining knowledge. Keeping your brain active by reading real books is the key here — tweets and Facebook posts don’t count, sorry not sorry. Have you also ever noticed that reading an engrossing novel makes you forget all of your worries? Hence the effect of stress reduction when you get lost in a good book. You could learn new vocabulary, more facts, or novel ways of approaching obstacles by reading on a consistent basis. You could also improve your memory, which then improves the pathways in your brain (synapses).

Visit Your Local Library — for the Perks!

Free stuff at the library? Yep, it’s a thing, and if you’re not aware, then you better go check it out. For example, a free or low-cost library card could get you free eBooks, newspapers, DVDs, movies to stream, and free wi-fi. Some libraries even offer access to personal development programs, like LinkedIn-owned Lynda.com, where you can pretty much learn everything you need to know about various careers, from marketing, to photography, business, and so much more. You might also just need a quiet space to study, relax, or think. This is not a drill: go to your library!

Share These Quotes on Social Media

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” -Maya Angelou

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” -Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

“The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.” -Pablo Neruda

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” -Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Why are you still reading this blog? Go read a book!

The Evolving Science of the Evolution of Giving

Why do we give? And what do we get from it?

Science has known for a while that giving is good for you.  A 2008 Harvard Business School study found that giving money to someone else made people happier than spending the same amount of money on themselves. Research, in 2006, showed that giving to charity activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. In 1999, a study showed that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five year period.

We have been less clear, though, on why this is.

Are we hardwired to give?

A more recent study involving toddlers, discussed on Hidden Brain, suggests that giving may be hardwired.  

Researchers gave toddlers a stash of edible treats and told that a puppet really liked eating treats. The toddlers faces were recorded as they gave and received treats. Researchers measured their smiles and found they increased considerably when they gave away their treats. For researchers, it was significant that these children were too young to have reliably learned from home what they should or shouldn’t do with the treats. This indicates that this behavior may be established within us and enhanced or limited by family and social pressures.

Based on this information, we may give to others because it is to our evolutionary advantage. Charity helped us survive. We give because we need each other. More individuals live when there is cooperation and altruism.

Altruism and Empathy All Up in Our Heads

A 2012 study from Nature Neuroscience found that when monkeys gave to others in their group, the parts of their brain associated with social reward lit up. For humans, this may have become a larger and larger part of the brain. It seems that altruism and empathy may have grown to more efficiently pass along our genes since the earliest humans survived by relying on each other in harsh environmental conditions. It may be one of the main things that separated us from our primate cousins.

The conclusion, then, is that we’re all in this together. Time and time again, researchers have demonstrated that our genes and brains have evolved so that we are compassionate, cooperative teammates that foster community.

It might be good to remember on the International Day of Charity that being altruistic and kind to one another makes us feel better because it benefits us all. We live well when others live well.

 

Aretha Franklin Leaves a Rich Musical Legacy and No Will

Aretha, we having nothing but R-E-S-P-E-C-T for you. Your voice was an epiphany for generations of listeners, and your presence on any stage was absolutely spellbinding. Did you see her full takeover of a Kennedy Center Carole King tribute and watch her make a sitting U.S. president shed a tear?

For all her greatness, though, she will also be remembered for a legacy that she didn’t leave. She reminds us all to put a will in place. The Queen of Soul, only 76 when she died of pancreatic cancer, died intestate, meaning she had never written a will. This leaves the state to determine how her four adult sons and a niece will split up her assets.  

A Singular Performer, an Ordinary Omission

Though a singular performer, Aretha is part of the American majority. Nearly 60 percent of U.S adults don’t have a will. This is a big deal for a lot of reasons.

First of all, having a will makes it easier on your loved ones. The death of a family member can be emotionally devastating. This high stress can be exponentially escalated by family squabbles over the unexpressed wishes of someone who is no longer around to advocate for themselves.

Even with few assets to divide, it can be intolerably upsetting to decide where even the smallest items end up. Additionally, If you have minor children and no will, a judge without intimate knowledge of the family decides who winds up guardian.

One daunting task for those writing a will is to pick an executor, someone who will liquidate accounts, ensure assets go to designated beneficiaries, pay any outstanding debt, and sell any real estate. Experts suggest it be someone that you trust and is financially savvy enough to deal with the many details that will arise.

Writing a will allows you to name beneficiaries for retirement accounts and life insurance accounts. These accounts do not go to surviving family members, but only to named beneficiaries. Writing a will can force you to face whether these are up to date.

Write a Living Will While You’re Alive

A living will is a health care directive that outlines your wishes if you become incapacitated. It can help your loved ones with agonizing choices about life saving measures. Again, this can stop families from fighting over how to care for you in highly charged emotional moments. You can also grant a person power of attorney, so that if you become incapacitated someone you trust can handle your financial affairs while you are living, but unable to manage your own affairs.

Finally, advisors suggest following up on your will, once you make one. Life inevitably changes due to divorce or the evolving nature of relationships. As things change, update your will to reflect those changes.

Aretha left behind an incredible wealth of musical treasure that will be mined for decades, bringing her gospel fervor and heavenly voice to everyday people and secular songs that shaped R & B in the sixties and seventies. She also reminds us to write a will, making it, if not easier, at least a little less hard, to deal with the unfillable void of losing a loved one.  

Low Cost High Intensity Sports Increase Fitness on a Budget

Low cost, high intensity sports are a great way to increase your fitness while on a budget, especially for those attempting to rebuild their lives. Attempts to lower calories without exercise by dieting can lead to yo-yoing weight gain and loss. It has also been associated with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and elevated levels of cortisol. On the other hand, you can eat more satisfying meals and increase your fitness burning calories with high energy workouts.

Team Sports

First on the list of low-cost workouts is competitive sports such as basketball, soccer, touch-football, or tennis. Basketball, soccer, and football can burn up 710 calories per hour. Doubles tennis burns calories a bit slower, at just over 500 calories. Still, the great thing about burning calories in competitive sports is that you can get lost in the fun and competition. When you are playing instead of exercising, you can completely forget that you are working out.

Individual Sports

If you want to get out there on your own, running only requires shoes and shorts and a path or road. And, even at a slow pace, you can burn 600 calories per hour and more than 1000 calories per hour if you run at a fast or moderate pace. No matter where you live, you can get a great workout in for almost no cost. Running is associated with disease prevention and decreased anxiety and even boosts in memory, mood, and creativity.

Cycling requires a bike, though there is no need to purchase a carbon fiber, electronic shifting high-tech machine. Any working bike in good order can be the spinning foundation for a great workout. You can burn well over 700 calories an hour at a high intensity pace. But you can even burn 300 calories an hour at a moderate pace. Cycling has the added benefit of being lower impact than running or many team sports which can be hard on joints. Among the many health benefits of cycling, perhaps the most startling is recent research that shows cycling to be as effective as current pharmaceutical treatments for Parkinson’s disease.

Though swimming is somewhat restrictive because it requires a body of water, either natural or manmade, it is even lower impact than cycling. In addition, it is generally considered safer, since crashing on a bike can lead to highly traumatic injuries. Swimming burns 800 calories or more per hour depending on stroke and intensity. Swimming has been associated with decreases in triglycerides, blood pressure, and total cholesterol and improvements in core strength and skeletal muscle mass.

Going to the Gym at Home

Of course,  you can do traditional gym workouts at home. You can jump rope almost anywhere with only a strand of rope and burn over 600 calories per hour.  Additionally, you can lift weights at home. Low weight and high-repetition workouts burn more than 400 calories per hour, increase muscle mass and metabolism.

So skip that diet and take a step toward taking care of your body. Low cost, high intensity activities are a great place to stop yo-yoing. Unless you’re actually yo-yoing. Then you can burn 100 calories in around 25 minutes of Walking-the-dog.