How to Improve Your Chances to Live Longer

There really IS something that’s better than the alternative – thinking positively about the future. This article detailing a longitudinal study by Yale researchers, reports that the brains of those whose attitudes towards aging were negative showed shrinkage in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is important for memory formation. And the same brains also showed a buildup of protein plaques and twists associated with Alzheimer’s.

Is this another chicken vs the egg example? Well, does it really matter? Even if the correlation is that hippocampus shrinkage and protein plaque buildup come before the negative thoughts, humans can control thoughts. So think positively about what aging brings you. Freedom from working from 9 to 5. Lower costs at matinee movies. Senior discounts at many restaurants. Celebrate! Don’t castigate. Applaud the future. Don’t condemn it.

What do you have to lose?

Advertisements

connect, respect, protect

tv_flashpoint01I hate to admit this about any television program, but I’ve become a Flashpoint junkie.  I never watched this Canadian television program when it debuted, but ION Television bought up the rights to the series from CBS and has been rebroadcasting the seasons nearly every day recently. I recorded them without realizing what the series was about. The title was intriguing enough to catch my eye.

Initially, I thought this series would be so easy for Second City TV, if it still existed, to parody. Instead of the three and sometimes even four black vans with dark-tinted windows and flashing blue lights making their way in single file through Toronto’s downtown streets without problems, I’d like to see them encounter normal downtown traffic, preventing the last vehicle from keeping up with the others, peeling off one more at successive traffic lights until they are each on their own. Or, instead of the six members of Team One jumping out fully covered in their armored vests, pants held tight just above the knee with a holster for weapon or equipment, and carrying high-power long guns, able to jog from the vans to the site of the emergency without breaking a sweat or even breathing heavily from exertion, I’d like to see one of them trip on that gear and fall down, knocking the others over like dominoes.

But I’m willing to suspend my disbelief regarding all their gear because I am charmed by their motto — connect, respect, protect — and by how they approach both those they are there to protect and those they need protecting from.

Unlike episodes of U.S. cop shows where the SWAT team arrives with a battering ram to break down the door so those with the long guns can start shooting at anyone in sight, Team One members follow their motto — protecting those who need it, respecting everyone in the area, and connecting with those holding guns, knives, bombs, or hostages to defuse the situation, ideally without anyone being injured. Like all law enforcement officers Flashpoint team members train to keep fit physically as well as to maintain their sharp shooter skills, but they also train to improve their negotiation skills and to recognize behavioral clues that indicate state of mind so they can adjust their plan accordingly. They use the clues to determine how to connect with victims and witnesses, to gather information to learn the suspect’s motivation, and to help anticipate what the suspect will do next.

I’ve picked up some negotiation tactics myself as a result of watching the shows.

  • First, establish rapport by telling the other person your name and asking for his.
  • Second, point out that nothing done up to this point is irreversible. It is possible to end the standoff right here and right now.
  • Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others.
  • Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now, and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.
  • Only use force when necessary, and deadly force is always the last option.

These tactics are appropriate in less than life-threatening situations as well — well the first four anyway. Imagine a situation when a friend has disappointed you, or you feel that you have disappointed a friend. First, establish rapport — with the other person or even with another side of yourself — by finding common ground, something to agree on. Second, point out that the friendship is still what is important. It is possible to close the distance between one another right here and right now. Third, you always have a choice, but some choices are better than others. Fourth, consider the consequences of the choice you are contemplating now and then consider the consequences of other choices so you can identify the best option, the best choice, for now.

Perhaps I am just rationalizing my Flashpoint habit by finding something positive, some lesson, some take away — it isn’t just entertainment; it’s educational, too! But the clincher for me is that motto — protect, respect, connect. A good story that illustrates the power of those three words is worth telling, and retelling. If you haven’t watched Flashpoint yet, I encourage you to check it out.

a guide to healthy aging for women

Healthy Aging for Women

For more about the infographic, see here.

The infographic above represents the top diseases that affect women as we age as well as strategies to address them. I was surprised to see autoimmune diseases on the chart, and even more surprised that 75% of sufferers of autoimmune diseases are women. I guess I am in good company with my Graves disease diagnosis. The National Institutes of Health website has an informative page with information about the more than 80 different autoimmune diseases, the suspected causes, and available treatments, but there is little known about the triggers that bring on the diseases.

I have my own theory to explain the rise in autoimmune diseases: I believe the change in our diet over the years, especially the increase in processed foods with preservatives and remnants of pesticides and herbicides used to increase crop yield, is playing a significant role.

In 2012, National Public Radio reported on recent research into the good bacteria in our bodies and their role in our health.

The human body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 of those cells is actually — human. The rest are from bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms.

“The human we see in the mirror is made up of more microbes than human,” said Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health, who’s leading the Human Microbiome Project.

“The definition of a human microbiome is all the microbial microbes that live in and on our bodies but also all the genes — all the metabolic capabilities they bring to supporting human health,” she said.

These microbes aren’t just along for the ride. They’re there for a reason. We have a symbiotic relationship with them — we give them a place to live, and they help keep us alive.

“They belong in and on our bodies; they help support our health; they help digest our food and provide many kinds of protective mechanisms for human health,” Proctor said.

And for the past 75 years, we have been killing off the microbes that used to live in our digestive system through the addition of preservatives that make it possible for us to keep the products on our shelves longer. It makes sense to me that if the preservatives kill off the bacteria the food processors don’t want in their products, then the preservatives will continue to do the same work in my gut.

A July 2014 New York Times article reported on studies by Dr. Martin J. Blaser who concludes that we are losing the variety of microbes that used to be part of each human organism.

Dr. Martin J. Blaser, a specialist in infectious diseases at the New York University School of Medicine and the director of the Human Microbiome Program, has studied the role of bacteria in disease for more than three decades. His research extends well beyond infectious diseases to  autoimmune conditions and other ailments that have been increasing sharply worldwide.

In his new book, “Missing Microbes,” Dr. Blaser links the declining variety within the microbiome to our increased susceptibility to serious, often chronic conditions,  from allergies and celiac disease to Type 1 diabetes and obesity. He and others primarily blame antibiotics for the connection.

I am a convert to the organic food movement. I plan to eat what doesn’t come with preservatives, antibiotics, pesticides, or herbicides in order to get everything my body needs, not a limited selection offered up by food processors. I want grass-fed beef and free range chickens. I want fish from the sea, not from a farm. As I shift my diet, I’ll be looking for improvements in my Graves disease and diabetes. And I’ll pass on my observations, subjective and based on limited data though they may be.

get out of diet prison!

In prison, those things withheld from an by katerha, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  katerha 

A former colleague, Noel Dickover, has just shared his 20-month journey to better health, during which he has lost 100 pounds. But his goal is not tied to a number. His goal is to live a healthier life. That’s my goal, too. Noel’s story inspires me. I no longer care about my weight. Instead, I care about my depression, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, diabetes, and Graves disease diagnoses.

First Noel addresses diets, redefining them as a sure-fire way to gain wait in the long term. He equates being on a diet with being in a psychic prison. My own experience with Jenny Craig eventually brought me to the same conclusion. It only took two years for my weight to soar up again, past what my starting point had been when I joined Jenny Craig.

Noel then takes on exercise programs, pointing out that like diets, they focus on numbers – number of squats, number of reps, number of steps. This leads to overdoing things, which leads to injuries, which leads to failure. My experience exactly.

Noel’s approach has been to make small changes that he could incorporate into his routine. Gradual changes, at the pace his body accepted. Stretching instead of heavy exercises. Many small meals instead of three big meals. Real food instead of processed foods.

Real food. I’ve just started reading Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. In addition to recipes, Fallon includes descriptions of what processing foods does to the nutritional value. For example:

Extraction: Oils naturally occurring in fruits, nuts and seeds must first be extracted. In the old days this extraction was achieved by slow-moving stone presses. But oils processed in large factories are obtained by crushing the oil-bearing seeds and heating them to 230 degrees Farenheit. The oil is then squeezed out at pressures from 10 to 20 tons per inch, thereby generating more heat. During this process the oils are exposed to damaging light and oxygen. In order to extract the last 10 percent of the oil from crushed seeds, processor treat the pulp with one of a number of solvents – usually hexane. The solvent is then boiled off, although up to 100 parts per million may remain in the oil. Such solvents, themselves toxic, also retain the toxic pesticides adhering to seeds and grains before processing begins.

That description was enough to send me off to the health food store to look for cold pressed oil and organic food.

Noel’s journey followed these principles:

  • Clear direction, but no clear, measurable end point;
  • Heal at your body’s pace;
  • Experiment before deciding;
  • Changes must be enjoyable; and 
  • No restrictions, just better decisions.

Thanks, Noel. I’m right behind you.

retirement week one – baking

rhubarb upside down cakeOne of my goals for the first week of retirement was to try out a few recipes I had stuffed away in a drawer for when I could find more time.  The first was rhubarb upside down cake.

Since I haven’t lived in one place long enough to start a garden for more than 30 years, I haven’t had any rhubarb to pick for at least that long. This spring we found small rhubarb plants at Lowe’s. We planted three in our small garden, right next to the rosemary bush. When the stalks were big enough to cut, I began looking for recipes. After trying a couple of rhubarb cake recipes, I found the upside down cake recipe.

rhubarb upside down cake with ice creamI didn’t have a springform cake pan and I didn’t have a large enough cake pan to hold the batter. I compensated by lining the edge of my 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper to extend the height. The result was delicious, especially with ice cream.

The complete recipe can be found here.

heart shaped wafflesAnother recipe I couldn’t wait to try is for Norwegian waffles. I’ve had the waffle iron for several months (it bakes five hearts with the points in the center so the waffle comes out with a scalloped edge) and the waffle recipe for even longer. We serve the waffles at the House of Norway in Balboa Park on Sunday afternoons. A key ingredient in these waffles is cardamom which gives off an enticing fragrance while they are baking, just the kind of aroma that draws people into the House of Norway to find out just where it comes from.

Find the complete recipe here.

And finally, I found a recipe for orange zest scones from Laura Gummerman’s lemon sconesblog, A Beautiful Mess, which I thought I could make with lemons instead. But lemon juice is so much stronger than orange juice that I knew I had to compensate with more sugar. Instead of just squeezing lemons for the juice and adding sugar, I took a page out of a Norwegian lemon tart recipe I found in August 2015 Viking magazine which calls for slicing two lemons very thinly and then putting them into a bowl, pouring 2 cups of sugar over the slices and letting them sit for at least 8 hours. The sugar draws out the juice and adds enough sweet to it, turning the juice into a very thin syrup.

For the complete recipe, check here.

 

 

rhubarb upside down cake

From the New York Times

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, more to grease pans
  • 1 ½ pounds rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2-inch cubes about 4 cups
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • Zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs
  • cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Nutritional Information

Nutritional analysis per serving (8 servings) 652 calories; 33 grams fat; 20 grams saturated fat; 1 gram trans fat; 8 grams mono-unsaturated fat; 1 gram poly-unsaturated fat; 83 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams dietary fiber; 52 grams sugars; 7 grams protein; 173 milligrams cholesterol; 254 milligrams sodium

Note: Nutrient information is not available for all ingredients. Amount is based on available data.
PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Butter the paper and sides of the pan. Wrap two layers of foil under the pan, and place it on a buttered baking sheet.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix rhubarb, cornstarch and 1/2 cup granulated sugar.
  3. Mix the brown sugar and 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk until smooth and bubbling, about 2 minutes.
  4. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt.
  5. Whip 2 sticks butter in a mixer with a paddle attachment for 2 minutes.
  6. With your fingers, blend the remaining 1 cup sugar with lemon zest until the mixture is uniform in color.
  7. Cream together with the butter at medium-high speed until it is light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl halfway through.
  8. Add the vanilla and mix well.
  9. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  10. Mix in the sour cream, then the lemon juice. (It’s O.K. if the mixture looks curdled.)
  11. With the mixer set to low speed, add the flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until well combined. Scrape down the mixer bowl in between the additions.
  12. Pour the brown-sugar mixture into the cake pan, then spoon in the rhubarb and its juices. Spoon in the batter so it covers all of the rhubarb. Smooth out the top.
  13. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top of the cake is firm to touch and a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out without any large, moist crumbs.
  14. Place the pan on a wire rack, and cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the cake, place a plate on top of the pan and turn it upside-down. Release the cake from the pan while still warm or else it will stick.

norwegian waffles

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 pound melted butter, cooled slightly
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sour cream

PREPARATION

  1. Mix eggs, flour, sugar, melted butter, and cardamom together in a bowl.
  2. Dissolve baking soda in water and add to the mixture.
  3. Stir in sour cream
  4. Thin down, if needed, with water.
  5. Spoon about 1/3 cup batter on a waffle iron (Norwegian waffles are usually shaped with five heart-shaped pieces connected in a circle).
  6. Serve with sour cream and raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, or lingonberry jam.