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.

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 Last Straw For Plastic Straws?

Depending on what social circles you run in, you may or may not have seen the recently viral hate on plastic straws. The hate isn’t new, but going by the ban of plastic straws, and other plastic utensils in Seattle this July, it certainly has gotten much more attention. This ban’s planning actually started in September of last year. Perhaps others have seen this as a long brewing storm even before Seattle since they’re the latest city to make the ban, but on social media it is sparking debates.

People are arguing over what is more impactful way to deal with the Earth’s depleting resources: banning plastic items as they are often single use, going vegan and reducing methane emissions from animals, or finding ways around daily fossil fuel use. Other arguments are that while this movement has the right idea that corporations need to step up and do their part, not just individuals.

A counter-voice to the plastic straw ban has come from people with disabilities who need to use plastic straws to live an easier life because using straws made out of alternative materials are not as effective. Metal straws heat up too much when used for hot liquids and are potentially dangerous for people with physical ticks/spasms/seizures.  Paper straws are a major suggestion, but can deteriorate too quickly and for people with pica, may not last long enough to be of any real use. Some people from the UK have suggested that if those with disabilities need a plastic straw that they should get a prescription for it.

Others call certain tactics unnecessary guilt trips such as a server asking a customer if they will be needing straws or if they’d rather save the turtles.

The internet has various clashing opinions surrounding the plastic straw debate. Some observers may see this as one more argument that the internet has dreamed up, but more than one group is taking it seriously. Starbucks has decided its last straw will be done with in 2020. With all the locations that Starbucks owns, it could have a serious impact, but as with every major decision a business makes not everyone will be happy. Maybe this topic will fade away into obscurity in the upcoming weeks or maybe it will be a jumping point for more environmental discussions and future practices.

Sleep Deprivation is Killing Us

We live in a society where sleep is undervalued. Burning the midnight oil is not only acceptable but encouraged. We hustle through our lives, stretching the day as far as we can to make the most of it. Even with the perspective that health is a lifestyle, we may be digging our own graves by oil lamp.

In fact, a modern life can conflict directly with sleep. The screens we depend on emit light that simulates sunlight and keeps us awake. Long commutes keep us out of our house for longer periods of time and may result in less sleep as we try to balance our work and home lives.

Even the economy pushes our limits — with about 7 million people working multiple jobs and countless more driving the kids all over town and generally rushing through each hour in the day, it’s a wonder we get any sleep at all.

Furthermore, many people consider sleeping a sign of laziness. It’s hard to get enough sleep when others judge you for it.

What Is Sleep Deprivation?

Sleep deprivation is defined as getting less than seven hours of sleep each night. Some people may need more sleep than others — up to nine hours — but it’s a good idea to aim for at least seven hours if you’re getting less than that. According to Professor Matthew Walker, “no aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation.”

In fact, not getting enough sleep can affect your sex drive, memory, skin, weight, and judgment and can contribute to depressive symptoms. Furthermore, it can even lead to an early death: sleep deprivation can increase your chances of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and more — the same things healthy nutrition habits aim to combat.

What Can We Do About It?

The short answer: sleep more.

For many, that’s easier said than done. Perhaps the first thing that should change is the stigma. Sleep is essential. It prepares you for life and should not be used as a resource to be traded in. So, the next time you’re thinking of waking up early to fit in a run, think about the sleep you’ll lose. If health is a lifestyle, it can’t be complete without good sleeping habits.

Here are some things you can do to improve your sleep:

  • Set a bedtime and stick to it every night — even on weekends.
  • Schedule enough time to get at least seven hours of sleep each night.
  • Stop looking at screens two hours before bedtime. The blue light from screens keeps you awake the same way sunlight does.
  • Start winding down at least half an hour before going to bed.
    • Hot baths can help with this.
    • Meditation does wonders for letting go of the day and preparing for sleep.
    • Yoga is also great for relaxing your body and centering your mind.
  • Regulate your sleeping environment. Most people sleep best in a cool, dark, and quiet room. Find what works for you and stick with it.

It might take some practice to get into good sleeping habits. Give it some time and evaluate the difference. Do you feel less stressed? More productive? Happier? Is it worth it? Only you can answer that, but we’re confident you’ll agree it is.

West Nile Virus Makes an Appearance in Kentucky

Recently, news broke about the West Nile Virus making an appearance in Louisville, Kentucky. While this can be scary, it’s common this time of year. Before you worry too much, most cases of West Nile Virus are non-fatal. If you’re careful, you should have nothing to worry about.

However, if you start experiencing symptoms, visit your doctor.

What is West Nile Virus?

West Nile Virus may sound like an exotic and dangerous disease, but not as threatening as it sounds.

Transmitted primarily by mosquitoes, West Nile is an infection that usually appears between June and September. It’s been seen in all 48 contiguous states.

About 80 percent of people diagnosed with West Nile Virus have no symptoms. The remaining 20 percent of infected people will experience some mild symptoms that show up 3 to 14 days after the bite:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Joint pains
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Rash

Only 1 percent of infected people experience serious symptoms. Serious cases of West Nile Virus affect the nervous system and can include inflammation of the brain. If you experience any of the following symptoms, go see your doctor as soon as you can:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Muscle weakness
  • Vision loss
  • Numbness or paralysis

Though West Nile Virus does not have a cure, symptoms generally fade on their own, though it’s not uncommon to feel fatigued and weak for a few weeks.

For serious cases, recovery can take several weeks or months, and in some rare cases of severe illness, permanent brain damage can result. According to the CDC, “about 1 in 10 people who develop severe illness affecting the central nervous system die.” But remember, that’s 1 in 10 of the 1 percent of serious cases. That comes out to 0.1 percent of infected people.

Prevention

Since the primary way to get West Nile Virus is from a mosquito bite, the best way to prevent it is to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes.

  • Cover up. Wear clothing that covers your skin. Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks are a great start.
  • Apply insect repellent.
  • Use screens. Check the screens on your windows and doors and make sure there are no gaps where mosquitoes can enter.
  • Use netting. Cover playpens, strollers, or any outside area with mosquito netting to keep them out.
  • Eliminate standing water. Mosquitoes have a close relationship with standing water. While you can’t do anything about public lakes in the area, you can drain personal ponds and clear up puddles around your house. If you can’t get rid of water, try to move it; mosquitoes don’t lay eggs in moving water. For example, keep fountains running.

The most important thing to remember is to contact your doctor if you start experiencing symptoms, especially the serious ones. Otherwise, try not to worry too much. West Nile Virus sounds scary, but most cases aren’t even noticeable.

Do a Puzzle, Prevent Dementia?

What’s the most important muscle in the body?

Dr. Santosh Kesari, neuro-oncologist and chair of the Department of Translational Neuro-oncology and Neurotherapeutics at the John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California, might argue it’s the brain. And with credentials like that, it’s hard to argue.

Just like your leg muscles get stronger the more stairs you climb, your brain gets stronger the more it works out. Kesari explained that doing activities that connect different parts of your brain will strengthen those connections over time. In a study conducted at Exeter Medical School, researchers evaluated those connections based on how often the participant did word puzzles and how they performed on cognitive tests.

Keith Wesnes, professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Exeter Medical School, and his team “found direct relationships between the frequency of word puzzle use and the speed and accuracy of performance on nine cognitive tasks assessing a range of aspects of function including attention, reasoning, and memory” for participants over the age of 50.

The more time participants dedicated to puzzles, the better their brain function was, to the extent that some individuals were performing at levels 10 years younger than their age.

While the survey is not enough for doctors to start prescribing word puzzles to patients, it is enough to suggest a connection. However, at this stage, it’s impossible to tell the nature of the connection. Do the puzzles improve brain function? Or are people with better brain function naturally drawn to puzzles?

According to Wesnes, the next step is to conduct clinical trials to see whether encouraging people to start doing word puzzles regularly improves brain function.

Puzzles to Prevent Dementia?

For some, the obvious application of this knowledge is in the prevention of dementia.

Dementia is a category of diseases that involve memory loss and deterioration of other mental functions. Alzheimer’s is perhaps the most well-known form of dementia, but multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s also fall into the category.

While dementia is not curable, websites like Healthline and Alzheimer’s provide recommendations to try to prevent it.

Until more research has been done on puzzles, experts recommend healthy habits to prevent dementia:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat healthy foods, especially including Omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Get enough quality sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

Of course, you can still do puzzles if you want — we just can’t guarantee it’ll prevent dementia.

Doctors Prescribing Natural Solutions — Literally

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the state’s Department of Health have a new program that allows doctors to prescribe a free day at a state park or recreation area. Doctors write prescriptions similar to the ones used for medications that patients can use to waive entrance fees to the parks.

Similar programs exist in dozens of places across the country, including Baltimore’s “Docs in the Park” and Albuquerque’s “Prescriptions Trails.” You can check out the available programs on ParkRx.org.

These programs are part of a prescribing parks movement. Doctors across the nation are prescribing parks to get people to go outside. Using an iconic prescription pad adds weight to doctors’ suggestions that patients get exercise. But it also gets them outside. While physical activity is the most important thing you can do for overall health and wellness, being in nature helps. Time spent in nature is associated with higher activity levels and mental health benefits.

Spending time in nature reduces stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that nature also improves attention and impacts attention deficit disorders. Physical benefits include better health, longer lives, fewer chronic diseases that traditionally come from inactivity, and more.

ParkRx is a network linking park prescription programs across the nation. They believe the programs will be “key players in preventative health for the future of public health.”

Dr. Robert Zarr is a major proponent of ParkRx and prescribed parks. He focuses on the idea that nature is another option in the treatment arsenal, but it has fewer possible side effects. Dr. Zarr recommends that when doctors prescribe a park to a patient, they should talk about the parks in the area that would fit into the patient’s life the best. Similar to prescribing medication, patients are more likely to act on specific instructions than vague ones.

Dr. Zarr admits a second reason for prescribing parks to patients: he wants to help save the planet. He believes that we must take steps to protect and conserve the environment, and the first step is seeing its value. When you go outside and enjoy nature, he argues, you come to know it and value it. The appreciation naturally leads to a desire to preserve it.

The prescribing parks movement is growing, and with the recent moves toward preventative health, we’re not surprised. If your doctor gives you a park prescription, are you going to fill it?

Driving Home Healthy Habits — Health for Truck Drivers

It’s difficult to fit health and wellness habits into any schedule, but what if you’re job is to drive for days at a time? Truck drivers not only sit all day long, but the on-the-road lifestyle doesn’t afford itself to healthy habits. In fact, the trucker lifestyle leads to many health concerns, like lack of exercise and lung disease from diesel fumes.

That’s changing thanks to health initiatives and companies like Rolling Strong, a provider of mobile health and wellness for truck drivers. Rolling Strong focuses on helping those in the truck driving profession develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle. They avoid fad diets and short-term solutions in favor of healthy habits for a long, high-quality life.

Rolling Strong’s program includes coaches for the drivers to give them the information and encouragement they need to be healthy in their industry. To keep drivers engaged, they do peer-to-peer competitions, incentive programs based on effort or results, special events and more. The mobile platform is available through their existing fleet management system as well as on mobile phones.

The best thing about the Rolling Strong program is that it has value outside the truck driving profession. The same principles about health outlined in the program can be used by anyone:

  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Sleep
  • Stress Management
  • Weight Management

All of those are inherent in a healthy lifestyle. Improving any or all of those in your day-to-day life will lead to much better health overall — for everyone. Some basic advice is to drink water, practice portion control and get some cardio every day. That’s the same advice you’ll get from doctors and wellness coaches.

Drinking more water and eating smaller portions may be easier to implement than cardio, but Rolling Strong has some good advice: start small and simple. Drivers are encouraged to walk around their truck and up the stairs whenever possible.

Doing small things like that will add up. Small practices like taking the stairs and parking at the far end of the parking lot is advice anyone can follow to start incorporating more exercise into your life.

Maybe some day we’ll all strive to be as healthy as a truck driver.

Wearable Wellness Technology for Kids

If you’re a parent, you know that your kid’s health is very important. You may even find yourself worrying about it every now and then (or more often if you’re a worrier). There are things you can do to make sure your kids are healthy, like feeding them well-rounded meals and limiting screen time in favor for play time. But have you ever wished for help with that? There is a solution in wearable technology.

Wearable fitness technology is common for adults these days, but there’s been a lack of wearable technology for kids. Until now. Good Parents Inc. started a kickstarter campaign for a wellness tracker for kids called Kiddo. It provides real-time health management for parents of kids age 3 to 10. This might just be the answer for parents who worry about their kid’s health and want the data to make informed decisions.

Kiddo collects information by tracking activity levels, skin temperature, heart rate and perspiration. Through the Kiddo app you can see whether your kid is stressed, hydrated and well-rested, based on Kiddo’s groundbreaking algorithms on children’s health and wellness development. It will even notify you if something is wrong, though we hope to never get those notifications.

Kiddo gathers all information and provides a status overviews you can quickly look at, including health, emotion, nutrition, activity and goals. Each day you can input the food your kid ate and get suggestions based on the status overview from the day. You can even set goals like brushing teeth and kids will get rewards if they’ve achieved them.

Not only are Kiddos great for parents, but kids will love them too. Each device has a detachable top cover (instead of a screen) so the kid can use whatever cover they want to that day. There are several covers, including dinosaurs, monsters and superhero and sea animals.

Kids will also have access to motion-based games that promote activity, like karaoke, rock band and rock, paper, scissors. All games are controlled by the parent or guardian through the app to reduce the screen-time the kids get.

All of these features come together into one very promising product for kids health. Childhood obesity is becoming a major problem in America, so anything that will help promote health and wellbeing in our kids is welcome.

The Kiddo kickstarter reached their funding goal in under 24 hours.

Fresh Food Prescriptions are the Future of Preventative Healthcare

Healthcare has been getting a lot of publicity lately as many attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act have been taking up a lot of media bandwidth. But some people believe that the whole healthcare system is instead a disease-care system because of the way it reacts to disease instead of preventing it. This can be very costly for many people, especially those with long-term health concerns.

In Pennsylvania, Geisinger Health System recently debuted their Fresh Food Pharmacy that offers food to low-income diabetic patients to keep their Type 2 diabetes under control. In addition to healthy foods, such as whole-grain pasta and beans, patients receive one-on-one guidance from dietitians, wellness classes and workshops, recipes and instruction on how to cook the fresh foods.

Tom Shicowich, one of the patients in the pilot program, said he used to live off of fast food or frozen meals. Over the first year in the program, he lost 45 pounds and is much more active. He cooks dinner every night with his girlfriend.

People with Type 2 diabetes are at higher risk of complications. That means more trips to the doctor for related issues, such as skin problems, nerve damage, poor circulation, hearing problems, eye problems, high blood pressure and kidney damage. Doctor visits for these issues add up and end up costing the patient and medical facility a lot.

Because the Fresh Food Pharmacy gives low-income patients fresh groceries weekly for free, some people worried that it would cost the Geisinger Health System too much. But they disagreed. To feed one patient for a year costs them about $1,000, but with the health improvements they are seeing in patients, they are saving $8,000 or more. This estimate comes from improvements in hemoglobin A1C levels (used to track diabetes) and a decrease in doctor visits due to complications.

The Fresh Food Pharmacy is an excellent taste of what lifestyle-modification programs can do, and how much they can reduce health care costs. These programs aren’t very prevalent though, but if you don’t know of one in your area, you can always take it into your own hands. There are plenty of resources available to help you change your lifestyle to be more healthy.