SHOOTING FROM THE HIP

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Yesterday I met a charming Millenial who just started working at the DMV!  I was there to get that new ID card we all have to have by 2020. He said that he has been, “in training” and this was his very, first day, “out front with the public.” As I laid out my driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, social security card, bank statement AND electric bill, his supervisor, an officious, older woman, stood straight over his shoulder.

As he scoured through my papers, I made small talk and learned that he still lived at home with his parents and this was his first ‘real’ job. As he picked up the final paper, he paused and looked hard at the form where I had filled out my height, weight and hair color. Then he looked directly at me.

 “Um, It says here that your hair color is brown,” he questioned, looking closely at my scalp.

 “Well, yes,” I replied. “I mean I thought about putting ‘gray’ but it’s always been brown. So, um, what do you think I should put down?”

He started to speak but the woman behind him must have nudged or pinched him because he suddenly clammed up. I wanted to hear him out.

 “Let me rephrase that,” I continued. “If a policeman should pull me over to give me a ticket, not that I would ever speed mind you, would he find my hair to be brown or gray?”

 “Well,” he said, considering his words carefully, “I would say that once your hair was probably more brown than gray but now it’s probably more gray than brown.”

 The woman behind him went red in the face and her eyes actually bulged.

 “Oh, perfect!” I laughed. “Then please cross out ‘brown’ and put ‘gray’ down instead. I so appreciate you clarifying this for me.”

“Oh, you’re welcome,” he said quite pleased with himself. “I’m glad I could be of help.”

 God bless the Millennials. Don’t you just love their spunk? Sure they’re moving back home and rotating jobs faster than you can snap your fingers but so what? They shoot straight from the hip. For someone my age who worries about breaking one, it’s refreshing. As it happens, I gave birth to two Millennials. My oldest just turned me on to this song. Thought I’d share it with you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDDP2lX5ZHA

 

 

SHAKE IT UP!

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 Put down your Sudoku pencils! Science says that if we really want to stay sharp, we need to shake things up and think out of the box. In a recent study researchers concluded that standardized games are not particularly effective in improving brain performance. Experts now recommend that we use real-world activities instead. “Almost any silly suggestion can work,” says David Eagleman, neuroscientist and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Drive home via a different route or brush your teeth with your opposite hand.”

So, I’ve started using my left foot to drive around town. The tricky part is keeping my right leg out of the way. Now I just need more finesse when braking so the drivers around me don’t think I’m on crack. Yesterday, I faced a new challenge: As I waited for a car to back out of a parking space, some jerk in a Porsche suddenly zoomed out in front of me and took it! Oh boy was I mad. However, instead of cursing and flipping him off, I took a good, long look as he got out of his car and entered a nearby restaurant.

After parking, I headed straight for that restaurant. I didn’t care if he was with a bunch of businessmen or out on a date. He was going to hear from me. I whooshed past the maître’d and searched hard for the very, tall guy that I’d seen emerge from the Porsche. Bingo! He was alone at the bar, already halfway through a beer.

 “Hi!” I said with a big smile, sitting down next to him. “Are you aware of what just transpired between us outside?” He was genuinely confused.

 “You purposefully took the parking space that you saw me waiting for and even ran your stop sign to do it.”

 He looked down sheepishly and I had the sense that drinking on his lunch hour was common.

“Someone did that to me here last week,” he stammered.

 “That’s hardly an excuse,” I said. “Look, it seems like you’re having a rough time right now but if you start being nicer to the folks around you, things just might get better.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

 “Thank God,” I laughed. “For a minute there I thought I might have to beat you up!”

 He smiled.  Me, too.  See what happens when you shake things up?  Now, open your icebox and ask the dog what she’d like for dinner.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY TRIBE

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Much ado is made of the importance of diet, exercise, sleep and lack of stress in order for us to age healthfully. What is less known is the impact that community has on us psychologically. According to research, our connections with others greatly impact both our physical and mental health.  “We are stronger when we come together,” Sebastian Junger writes in, “Tribe.” He warns, however, that in America, “we are rich enough as a society to not need each other much,” and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

In a 1979 study on civil violence from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, the authors concluded that, “When people are actively engaged in a cause their lives have more purpose which results in an improvement in their mental health.” (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0022399979900515) This is one explanation for why both suicides and terrorist rampages decline during wartime and natural disasters.

The “Nun Study” begun in the 1980’s, found that social connections with others could actually overshadow physiological realities. An elder nun whose brain showed significant Alzheimer’s disease and plaque lesions exhibited almost no cognitive impairment during her lifetime. Yet, another nun with only minor pathology was highly dysfunctional. The difference? The first nun had a vast network of social connections while the second had none. (https://www.psychiatry.umn.edu/research/research-labs-and-programs/nun-study)

In the last 40 years, I have lived in seven states and 10 cities. Each time that I move, I begin connecting.  I visit the police station, post office, library, supermarket, attend churches, local events and join the gym.  I am always looking for trustworthy, simpatico comrades of both sexes. In hindsight, I was building my tribes without even realizing it! Above is a photo from my recent birthday party. While I’ve known three of these women for more than 50 years, the others I just met in the last two. However, I believe that every one of them would take me in or bail me out of jail if necessary and I would do the same for them.

So who is in your ‘tribe’? Who are, “The people around you that you would both help feed and defend,” asks Junger? Who has your best interest at heart and brings out your highest self? Your answer may not even include your own family. Without these social networks, Junger says that we are just, “dead inside.” So, whether you are 17 or 70, it is never too late to start building your own tribe. Remember, all friends were once total strangers.

 

PULL THE PLUG!

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You can pull that cord smack out of the wall and nobody in this hospital is gonna come anytime soon. Same goes for the handheld remote they give you with a large, red “NURSE” button. It’s all an illusion. Now, I am very grateful for the new knee, which my surgeon just put in. However, I was quite unprepared for the treatment that would follow.

 My nurse, Idga, (short for I Don’t Give A), helps me to the bathroom for a quick pee and disappears. As I gingerly sit down, the seat suddenly lurches sideways, sending a wrenching pain up my operated leg. Since Idga told me “not to move” without her, I pull the cord and wait. No one comes. Eventually, I maneuver myself to a stand by gripping the sink and pull it again. Nothing. Nervously, I call out, “Hello?” Finally, unable to stand much longer, I yodel, “You Who” in my loudest, operatic soprano.

 Idga swishes in. “You’re not supposed to walk on your own!” she scolds.

 “Well, the cord doesn’t work because I pulled and pulled and no one came.”

 “The cord works perfectly fine,” she hisses. “There are other people in this hospital besides you!”

 During my stay, Idga refuses to give me my pajamas so I can take off the itchy hospital gown, places the blood drain from my knee on the tray where I’m eating, purposely unplugs my iPhone and ignores my pleas for pain meds. When my husband insists that she give me ‘something,’ she grabs Toradol and shoves it into my IV so fast that the pain makes me gasp. “Inject Toradol by IV bolus over no less than 15 seconds,” Google says, otherwise it burns entering the vein.  Yup.

 Ironically, the hospital that impeccably sanitized me BEFORE my operation paid zippo attention to hygiene afterwards. Several people handle a breathing apparatus that I’m supposed to use to avoid pneumonia. One even drops it on the floor and hands it back to me. When Idga changes my bandage, she drops the gauze on the floor, picks it up and slaps it over my wound. (I know the floor is filthy because the yellow socks they insist I wear are black after only a few trips to the bathroom). The first afternoon, I throw up into the trashcan next to my bed and ask everyone, including Idga, to please take it out. It even has a removable, plastic liner but remains right there until I leave three days later.

 So, should you find yourself in a hospital, please be better prepared than I was:

  1.  Hit ‘record’ on your iPhone right at the get go when your nurse comes in. Explain that you’re making a documentary on ‘kindness and compassion.’
  2. Bring earplugs to deafen the constant noise from the floor loudspeaker, an eye patch to shut out the light from countless people coming and going and antibacterial wipes for your bed rails, door knobs and anything you touch!
  3. Bring your own water. The stuff they give you tastes like something from an airplane sink.  Actually, it’s worse.
  4. Keep your overnight bag within reach.  Otherwise, you may wrench off your hospital garb and be stark naked when you discover that you need your PJ’s.
  5. Bring an advocate, a whistle and a sense of humor if you plan to survive.  

 P. S.  The following day, a nice, young man–not hospital personnel–actually fixed my toilet seat!!

A LEG TO STAND ON

cropped-helen-leg-up-w-sky1.jpgBy the time you read this, they’ll be wheeling me into surgery for “total arthroplasty;” a knee replacement, or as my husband fondly describes it: “Basically, they’re gonna saw your leg in half and then hammer it back together with plastic/metal parts.” Sounds about right. 15 years ago, two sets of doctors in two different states told me that I needed double knee replacements. So, I quit running, took up swimming and learned to navigate differently, like taking stairs sideways and employing ample use of the lob in my tennis game. Anything to avoid the scalpel!

 As a result, I had more years on these knees than the medical profession deemed possible. They have jumped out of airplanes, ridden motorcycles, run thousands of miles, danced the Twist, tapped the Time Step, moonwalked, rocked babies, hiked the Grand Canyon, planted gardens and planked. They even marched me out to centerfield at 26 major league ball stadiums to sing the anthem. However, they are tired and who can blame them?

 Now don’t get me wrong; I am absolutely terrified of all things medical. If there’s even a hypodermic needle on a TV show, I look away. So, I will not be waltzing into the hospital with a big smile on my face. Nope. Thanks to my stubbornness, I will now be limping in on crutches. The pain is so severe that I figure anything the doctor does has to be better than this. And aren’t I lucky? Imagine if I were this crippled back in the 50’s? I wouldn’t even have the option of replacing my knee!

 I have dreaded this day for 15 years but now embrace it. I no longer can count on my knees to hold me up. Yesterday, as I hobbled into the gym, the left one gave out as it does suddenly and lurched me straight into a much older man walking with his wife. Terrified of falling, I gripped his upper body for dear life. He froze. Finally, I steadied myself and let go. He just stared at me without saying a word. “I’m so sorry,” I sputtered. “You’ll have to forgive me, this is how I meet men!” “Oh,” he smiled as if suddenly understanding, “Next time, I’ll be ready for you!” By then, of course, I do hope to have at least one, good leg to stand on. 🙂

 

A BICYCLE BUILT FOR YOU

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Hey kids: If you want to slow down your aging process, lengthen your telomeres! How do you do that? Telomeres are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. As they become shorter, their structural integrity weakens, which causes cells to age and die younger. In recent studies, shorter telomeres have become associated with a broad range of aging-related diseases, including cancer, stroke, obesity, diabetes, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.

Recently, a significant link between irisin levels in the blood and telomere length has been discovered. Irisin is a hormone released from muscle cells after endurance exercise and it extends your telomere length! People who have higher irisin levels are “biologically younger” than those with lower levels of the hormone. Not only that, irisin reprograms the body’s fat cells to burn energy instead of storing it.

When irisin levels rise through aerobic exercise, the hormone switches on genes that convert white fat into “good” brown fat. This is beneficial because brown fat burns off more calories beyond just the energy used to do the actual aerobic exercise. This helps you maintain a healthy BMI, avoid obesity and conditions like type-2 diabetes. In addition, irisin stimulates the growth of neurons and improves cognition!

So, how do you up your irisin? Eat plenty of citrus, berries, carrots, tomatoes, nuts and whole grains. Then, take a ride on your bike or a brisk walk. Irisin levels increase with regular aerobic exercise like biking or swimming, but not during short-term bursts of anaerobic muscle activity, like yoga. Exercise is already known to have wide-ranging benefits, from cardiovascular protection to weight loss. Now, there is a molecular link between keeping active and a healthy aging process.

Oh, and while you’re at it, toss a little choline into your diet. It reduces levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that acts as a neurotoxin and contributes to Alzheimer’s by forming amyloid plaques in your brain. It also causes inflammation and can lead to neuronal death. Eggs, liver, peanuts, meats and dairy foods will up your choline in no time!

 

PICK A PECK OF POMEGRANATES!

 

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In the average human gut, we carry a thousand different species of bacteria, literally trillions of cells that weigh about three pounds. Believe it or not, this ‘microbiome’ inside of us actually plays a role in autism, anxiety, depression and many other disorders. To prove that theory, scientists have actually given ‘calm’ mice gut microbes from ‘anxious’ ones and sent them straight into overdrive.

 What does this mean for us? Well, it means that we really are what we eat. In another study done at UCLA, researchers gave healthy women brain scans to test their emotional responses to visual stimuli.  They then fed half the women yogurt (which is a probiotic) twice a day, while the others received none. After 12 weeks, they re-administered the scans. The yogurt eaters reacted far more calmly to the images than the other group and showed markedly measurable differences in their stress levels. They believe that the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, which then led to the production of compounds that ultimately modified their brain chemistry.

 Our gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine and GABA all of which play a key role in mood. They also generate other neuroactive chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression. In fact, your microbiome can activate the vagus nerve, which is the main line of communication between the gut and the brain.  So, if you have a ‘gut instinct’ about something, you’re probably right.  Since 80% of your immune tissue is in your digestive tract, which by itself influences both mood and behavior, you need to protect it. 

 What does all this mean?   That inside of us we already have ‘natural’ anti depressants IF we keep ourselves healthy! Someday, scientists say that we will even be able to use our own bodies as healing mechanisms instead of prescription pills. Until then, keep your insides well fed. You might consider starting with pomegranates.  They may well be the perfect stocking stuffer for your loved ones.  Here are just some of their benefits:

  1. nutrient dense (contain vitamin C & K, folate & potassium)
  2. powerful antioxidant
  3. anti inflammatory
  4. may help fight both prostate and breast cancer
  5. lowers blood pressure
  6. can relieve arthritis and joint pain
  7. significantly lowers triglycerides
  8. fights bacterial & fungal infections
  9. improves both memory and exercise performance
  10. develops patience— it takes time to retrieve those 613 fruity arils!