On Thursday of this week, we will celebrate Earth Day. This event was first organized back in 1970 to raise awareness of the deteriorating environment in the United States. In 1990, Earth Day went global, involving millions of people and over 100 countries. Today, Earth Day has become the largest secular observance in the world (EarthDay.org).
Why is it important for us to be concerned about environmental health? We are in constant interaction with the environment and these interactions can affect our quality of health. The levels of air pollution, cleanliness of our drinking water, the safety of our food, preservation of wildlife and land affect us either directly or indirectly.
Healthy People 2020's goal is to promote health to all through a healthy environment, stating that it is central to increasing quality of life and years of healthy life (Healthy People 2020).
Cache Valley is a beautiful place to live. Involving ourselves in the health of our environment here in the valley will help it stay beautiful and enjoyable for generations to come.
There are many ways in which we can be involved in celebrating Earth Day, small ways that take only ourselves.
We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us and are a main part of a healthy diet. But, what all do fruits and vegetables have to offer. Why should we aim to eat at least 5 servings and how can we improve our overall consumption?
Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables every day can help lower blood pressure, reduce our risk for heart disease and stroke, reduce our risk for some types of cancers, and help with digestive problems (Harvard). With thousands of different varieties of fruits and vegetables in the world and with each one containing different vitamins and minerals, it's important to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Let's take a look at the health benefits of some of our most popular fruits and vegetables.
Bananas are the most popular fruit, and we each eat around 26 pounds of bananas every year. Bananas are packed with nutrients, such as fiber, potassium, magnesium, Vitamin C, folate and more. Bananas are 75% water and with their fiber content, can help with digestive health. The potassium in bananas may help reduce heart disease, blood pressure and reduce risk for certain cancers.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away."
Apples are a great source of Vitamin C and fiber. They also carry a variety of antioxidants. Apples may help with acid reflux, diarrhea or constipation. They can also help strengthen the immune system, promote gut health, protect your blood vessels and heart and protect cells from oxidative damage (WebMD).
One of the nation's most popular vegetables, broccoli is packed with nutrients. Broccoli is a great source of Vitamin C and one serving can provide you with 84% of your recommended daily allowance. It also a good source of Vitamin K, calcium, folate and many potent antioxidants. Broccoli may help reduce inflammation, protect against certain types of cancers, reduce risks for heart disease, aid in digestion, promote bone health, and may slow mental decline (healthline).
Americans love potatoes, consuming around 50 pounds per person each year. And, while some people may avoid potatoes due to their higher level of carbs, they are packed with nutrients that can be part of a well balanced diet. A medium russet potato will give you 25% of your daily potassium, 35% of Vitamin C, 30% of Vitamin B6, four grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein (Are potatoes healthy?). Potatoes are packed with antioxidants and can help boost your immune system, lower risks for heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Potatoes are very filling and versatile but make sure to leave the skins on! (healthline).
With fruits and vegetables providing us with many important nutrients that help strengthen our bodies and lower our risks for many chronic illnesses, who wouldn't want to eat more a day. Here are some tips on how to get at least five servings a day. Add a serving of fruit and/or vegetables to every meal. Snack on fruits and vegetables throughout the day. Prep ahead; it is so much easier to snack on vegetables that are already washed and cut up. Try making fruit and vegetable smoothies. Go online. The internet is packed with recipes for vegetables and fruits.
Whatever way you want, aim for at least 5 servings per day.
Last Thursday was the start of a new month and was also a day of pranks and jokes. April Fool's Day has been around for hundreds of years; and, although its origin is unknown, it has been a day celebrated by many countries for playing pranks on coworkers, friends, family members, and even citizens of nations. If you were part of planning a prank or were the person who was on the receiving end of a prank, hopefully you were able to get a good laugh from it.
I'm sure that you have heard the old saying that "laughter is the best medicine." Well, there is some truth to this old saying. Let's take a look at what happens to our bodies when we laugh and what health benefits it can provide.
Check out these videos on why we laugh.
Now that we know why we laugh, let's look at why laughing may be beneficial to our health.
Laughing can provide us with both short term and long term health benefits.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some short term benefits of laughing include: stimulating the heart, lungs, and muscles by increasing the need for oxygen-rich blood. It also increases the release of endorphins (which help relieve stress and pain) from the brain. Because of this, laughter can help reduce stress by activating and relieving the stress response while increasing and decreasing blood pressure, leaving you feeling more relaxed.
Long term health benefits from laughing include strengthening the immune system. Laughter brings more positivity to our lives, which helps reduce negativity and stress, which in turn, helps strengthen the immune system. Laughter can also act as a natural painkiller and help reduce pain. It can also help us cope with the harder challenges of life.
As a health challenge this week, find the positive moments in life. Laugh a little more and enjoy the new month.
As the weather warms, most of us tend to spend more time out of doors. Children, especially, can be seen, and heard, throughout neighborhoods on bicycles, trampolines or just running around in the yard; and, signs for spring sports registrations are also popping up on street corners. Since the month of March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, let us learn more about ways we can protect ourselves, and our children, from suffering from a very common and mild type of brain injury, concussions. The CDC defines concussions as a "type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or by a hit to the body that causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. This sudden movement can cause the brain to bounce around or twist in the skull, creating chemical changes in the brain and sometimes stretching and damaging brain cells (CDC).
According to the Utah Department of Health, thousands of Utahns suffer a concussion, or other type of TBI, every year. Many of these are children. It is estimated that approximately 14 kids suffer a concussion every week at school. Most of these concussions happen during recess or from contact sports. Each concussion should be taken seriously and examined by a doctor. Click on this CDC link for a list of symptoms or watch the video below.
If you suspect your child or teen has suffered a concussion, it is important for them to be examined by a doctor. While many children and teens recover completely from a concussion, it important to know that they can also pose a serious health risk. The Mayo Clinic suggests, that since all head injuries take time to heal, children should rest from any physical and mental activities for a couple of days. It is also very important that a child or teen does not return to a sports activity until a concussion has fully healed. Another blow to the head could make a mild concussion much worse by prolonging symptoms and could lead to more permanent damages. Also, studies show that children who have suffered one concussion are more likely to suffer another (Mayo Clinic).
For more information about concussions in your child athlete, check out the CDC's site for Heads Up by clicking on the Heads Up info graphic. It is a guide created to help parents, coaches, and athletes become more informed about concussions.
It is so important for our children to be active and adventurous. Let us do our part in keeping them safe safe by learning what we can on how to prevent and treat concussions if and when they happen.
It's official; Spring is here! In case you missed its arrival, Spring officially started on Saturday, despite the fact that it snowed pretty heavily during the early afternoon hours. But, with the mild winter we received, precipitation is much needed, so bring on the rain and, maybe, some snow. Even with the storms of rain and snow that generally come with Spring, the days are noticeably warming and the daylight hours continue to increase.
With the days gradually getting warmer, it is a great opportunity to get outside, enjoy nature and get our physical activity levels up. Being outside will also expose you to fresh air and natural light and sunlight, which can help boost your mood, lower stress levels, and provide essential nutrients, like vitamin D.
As a nation, we are not moving enough. Only half of us are getting the necessary physical activity levels. Not getting enough physical activity can raise a person’s risk for certain diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. On the other hand, the benefits from getting the recommended physical activity are many. Besides lowering your risk for the diseases mentioned, adequate exercise can also improve your sleep, cognitive abilities, and bone and musculoskeletal health (CDC).
With the positive benefits greatly outweighing the negative benefits of not getting enough physical activity, then why, as a nation, are we not getting enough? Time is usually a big contributing factor. With work, school, children, and other obligations, sometimes exercise can take a backseat. Most of the time, however, it is because we choose to do something else. At the end of a long day, you may be tempted to turn on the TV in an attempt to unwind. But, if instead of turning on the television, you choose to take a 20-30 minute walk, you may be offering your body much more health benefits such as, reducing stress and anxiety, boosting your mood, and improving the quality of your sleep (Annual Reviews).
Luckily, here in Cache Valley, we have ample opportunity to enjoy nature and receive our daily dose of physical activity. We have plenty of parks for children and grownups to take advantage of. Grab a ball or a Frisbee and get the whole family involved with outdoor games. Take a walk or run on the Logan Riverwalk Trail, Bonneville Shoreline Trail, or through USU's beautiful campus. It might be too early for some of our hiking trails, but take advantage, this spring and summer, of the many hiking trails found in any of the canyons surrounding Cache Valley.
Let us all make a goal this Spring Season to take advantage of our beautiful valley while also raising our physical activity levels. Click on this CDC link to see how much physical activity has been recommended per age group. Let's get outside for a nice walk or run, play games with our children in the parks, and just enjoy nature.
The coming of Spring! With the arrival of this new season comes warmer weather and longer daylight hours. Yesterday was the official start of Daylight Savings Time. We "sprung ahead" and shifted our clocks up one hour. While DST gives our evenings plenty of daylight hours to enjoy more outdoor activities, it also takes away a precious hour of sleep; and, in a nation where the majority of us are not getting adequate sleep, DST can be a negative adjustment in our lives.
Besides Daylight Savings Time, another event taking place this week is Sleep Awareness Week. This campaign was launched over 20 years ago by The National Sleep Foundation and always follows the week of Daylight Savings Time. Its purpose is to raise awareness of the importance of sleep health and why we need to make sleep a high priority in our lives.
First off, how much sleep should we be getting each day?
As we age, our sleep needs change. Click on the CDC image to see what the experts recommend on how much sleep we should get.
Second, why do we need sleep?
"Scientists have explored the question of why we sleep from many different angles. They have examined, for example, what happens when humans or other animals are deprived of sleep. In other studies, they have looked at sleep patterns in a variety of organisms to see if similarities or differences among species might reveal something about sleep's functions. Yet, despite decades of research and many discoveries about other aspects of sleep, the question of why we sleep has been difficult to answer (Healthy Sleep)."
Third, how do we improve our sleep?
There are many steps that we can take to improve our sleep.
1. Be consistent: try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. And, make sure your bedtime will allow you to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
2. Create the perfect sleep atmosphere: a darkened bedroom, minimum noise and the right temperature are some of the things that make sleeping easier.
3. Avoid electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
To learn more about how to improve sleep, click on this link for more sleep tips from The National Sleep Foundation.
So how do we adjust to Daylight Savings Time and the lost hour of sleep?
For many, DST does not have a great affect on their bodies. However, for some, especially those experiencing sleep deprivation, the lost hour can be brutal. The best way to deal with DST is to remain consistent with your bedtime schedule. If possible, try adding a few minutes of extra sleep a night. Also, keep your daily routines the same and don't forget to exercise. If you need to nap, keep it short, no longer than 20 minutes. It may take you up to a week for the body to adjust to the new time change.
This year’s theme, for Nutrition Month, is to personalize your plate: create and adjust your eating habits to meet your nutritional needs. Throughout life, our bodies are changing and so should our diets; what we need at the age of 15 will be different than what we need at the age of 50. Also, with different dietary restrictions and different taste preferences, it is important for you to create your plate according to your individual needs.
If you don't know where to start, click on the My Plate image, which will direct you to the US Department of Agriculture. This page can serve as a great guideline and resource in creating a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of foods.
If you read and practiced last week's blog, your spring cleaning should be in full swing. How about we also concentrate on doing a type of "spring cleaning" with our daily diets. Take the opportunity this month, as spring rolls in, to refresh our eating habits. Make some specific health goals that you would like to work on, not only through this month, but through the entire year. Since spring can bring on a sense of newness or new beginnings, try discovering new foods and flavors. Be adventurous. Nutritious eating is not just about getting more broccoli into your diet, it's about discovering all different kinds of foods. Click on the link below for more information about National Nutrition Month and great tips on how to make changes in your life to be more nutritious.
Spring is near! And, with it comes the old time tradition of spring cleaning. After the long winter months, spring always brings a sense of freshness. A good way to add to that freshness is by deep cleaning our houses and airing them out after having them shut up through the winter. Also, spring cleaning has many health benefits. So, pull out the vacuum and mops and let's clean our way to better health.
Here are ways that a good spring cleaning may contribute to better health-
Today is the perfect time to start your spring cleaning. If the task of cleaning the house from top to bottom seems daunting and stressful, remember that there is no timeline to complete spring cleaning. Traditionally, deep cleaning was customary after the long winters due to the build up of grime that was caused by oil and kerosene lamps and wood-burning stoves. Start with creating a list of all the tasks you want to accomplish and break that list into small, daily or weekly projects.
However you may decide to tackle spring cleaning, remember that it can provide you with health benefits and also give you a sense of accomplishment.
Have you ever heard of radon? If you haven't, you are not alone. Around 40% of Utahns do not know what radon is. However, radon is a big problem in Utah. It is known as a "silent killer" and is the #1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
Let's take a look at what radon is and what we can do to prevent and treat for it.
What is radon?
Radon is a gas that is naturally found in soils and rocks; it is invisible, odorless, tasteless and radioactive. Radon occurs when uranium breaks down in rocks, soil and water. It is found everywhere, outdoors and indoors. Outside, where the air is moving constantly, radon never reaches dangerous, concentrated levels. However, it can become a hazard indoors where the gas can collect in enclosed spaces. Radon gas passes through cracks and openings in the foundation or walls of homes or buildings; and, the lower levels of homes and buildings are more susceptible to higher levels of radon gas. Due to high levels of uranium in its soil, Utah has the potential of having higher levels of radon gas.
Mark Stevens, an environmental scientist for Bear River Health Department, stated that over 50% of homes tested in the Bear River district have had high levels of radon (HJNews).
Why you should be concerned.
Why should you be worried about radon gas in your home? As mentioned previously, radon is a carcinogen that may cause lung cancer. So, when radon levels become too high, they become a risk factor to our health. Bits of radon gas can easily attach itself to dust or other particles in the air and can be inhaled into our lungs. Once inside, these bits of radon gas can give off radiation that may damage the cells and lead to lung cancer.
How to reduce your risk of overexposure.
The best thing you can do to reduce your exposure to radon is to test for it. There is “no safe level" of radon exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that action be taken if levels of radon gas measure above 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). There are two types of tests that are used for radon testing: a short-term test and a long-term test. The EPA recommends starting with a short-term test which can be purchased at home stores for a relatively low cost. A long-term test takes over 90 days but will give a more accurate reading for average year round radon levels. There are also trained contractors that will test the radon levels in your home. If radon levels are testing at high rates, active air fans and sealed piping can be used; but, the EPA recommends hiring a qualified mitigation contractor to lower the levels of radon. Keep your family safe, test your radon levels today.
For more information on radon, please watch the video below and click on the links listed.
As I sat contemplating this week's health topic, I decided a snack was needed in order to get my brain thinking. I immediately set to work in making my favorite snack; I got out the peanut butter jar and a spoon. Then it hit me, like a pound of peanuts, why not dedicate this week's blog to one of my favorite foods that keeps me going, almost daily, Peanut Butter! I knew that peanut butter had some health benefits, but what exactly does it provide and is it really a health food? Let's take a look at what I could find about the good and bad of peanut butter.
A Brief History
First off, let's take a quick glance into the history of peanut butter. For a more detailed history, click on one of the links below:
National Peanut Board
The earliest history we have of peanut butter is from the Aztecs and Incas, who grounded peanuts into a paste. Modern uses of peanut butter in the United States can be attributed to Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. A doctor and early activist for good nutrition and health, he filed a patent in 1895 for a process of creating peanut butter by boiling nuts and making a paste. He saw this as a necessity for many of his patients who had difficulty chewing. Peanut paste offered an easily digestible food that was packed with nutrients. Thanks to Kellogg, and the many contributors and entrepreneurs that followed, this peanut paste of years ago began evolving into the creamy peanut butter we know and love today that has become an American, household staple. The average child graduates high school consuming around 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. (PreparedFoods).
Health Benefits of Peanut Butter
Peanut butter contains many benefits that, in moderation, can be a wonderful addition to a well-balanced diet.
Moderation is Key
Although there are many health benefits to peanut butter, there are also ingredients that make peanut butter not so healthy and why eating it in moderation is important.
Per a serving size of 2 tablespoons, peanut butter is high in calories (approximately 200 calories), fat (16g, 4 of which are saturated fats), sodium (140mg) and added sugars. While most of the fats in peanut butter are the good kind, it is still important to consume in moderation to avoid unwanted weight gain.
As you can see, peanut butter may provide you with many health benefits but eating it in moderation is the key to enjoying this tasty food. So, next time you are in need of a snack to tie you over to your next meal, consider having a small serving of peanut butter. To add even more health benefits to your snack, pair your peanut butter with celery or apples.