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From time to time, I get asked about health information that is circulating in emails on the internet.  Some examples include:

I always investigate the claims made in these emails and invariably find the majority are false.  

For the sake of your well-being and peace of mind, I recommend you develop some healthy skepticism if you receive one of these alarming emails, even if it comes from someone you know or what seems to be a credible source.  

How do you check the veracity of these warnings?  Here are a few tips:
  • copy and paste a key sentence from the email into your favourite search engine and end the search phrase with the word "hoax"
  • go to http://www.snopes.com/info/search/searchtips.asp to conduct your search
  • if the email makes reference to credible sources of information such as Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Health or Health Canada, double check that those organizations have actually said whatever was attributed to them

If that sounds like too much work, consider this
If you forward one of those emails to someone who acts on the information, believing it to be truthful because it came from you, and that person suffers as a result, you bear some responsibility for the harm they experience.  Be wise, be a bit skeptical.

 
 
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My brother, sharp guy that he is, recently shared a brief article with me that comments on the costs of workplace stress

We all know that stress can undermine health.  It won't surprise you that workplaces have been found to be a significant source of stress.  This article put Canada's cost of work-related stress at $22 billion in lost productivity. 

Today, I came across an article in Forbes about the waste, costs and harm generated in the American healthcare system.  The same observations apply in Canada.

What’s the connection? Actually, there are several.  Healthcare workplaces are often highly stressful.  Healthcare workers, including doctors, are stressed.  Stressed workers are more likely to make errors in judgment.  Their stress may also heighten anxiety about the consequences of errors, driving them to either cover up mistakes, or engage in the kind of “cover your ass” activities that make organizations bureaucratic, inefficient and ineffective. 

Few workplaces do much to mitigate workplace stress.  Larger companies may offer their employees Employee Assistance Programs that include psychological counseling, as if there should be no limit to the amount of stress an individual can handle, and if you can’t handle it you just need some coaching.  No one seems to be questioning the reasonableness of burgeoning workloads and 24-7 accessibility.  For employees in smaller companies that don’t have these programs, there may be no help at all.

As a result, we have stressed-out healthcare workers attempting to remedy their own degrading health and that of other stressed-out workers and failing (since a $22 billion loss in productivity must surely be viewed as a collective failure) because all the attention is on the response to stress, not the causes of it.

So, what do we do about it?

My suggestions:

  • Be proactive about your own stress management.  If you need guidance on how to recognize stress in yourself and what to do about it, have a look at these articles.
  • Be sensitive to those around you who seem to be struggling with stress.  If you think your workplace is a hotbed for it, get a group of like-minded employees together to discuss what makes your workplace stressful and what would help make it less so.
  • Generate some positive, cost-conscious suggestions for making your workplace less stressful.  See if there are ways to decrease stress and maintain or increase productivity.  Recognize that reducing absenteeism will increase productivity.  Involve your employer/manager in the discussion.

The costs of workplace stress are individual AND collective.  Billions of dollars are being wasted because employers are not considering how work practices contribute to stress and illness.  It’s time to get our business and industry leaders engaged in positive, creative discussions about stress mitigation.

 
 
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My brother recently shared a short essay that pertained to topics that I also write about often: gratitude, cultivated happiness and their impacts on resilience and overall health.  I thought you might enjoy reading it too.  

THE BACK NINE HOLES

Here it is... the back nine of my life and it catches me by surprise ... How did I get here so fast? Where did the years go and where did my youth go? 

I remember well seeing older people through the years and thinking that those older people were years away from me and that I was only on the first hole and the back nine was so far off that I could not fathom it or imagine fully what it would be like. 

But, here it is ... my friends are retired and getting gray ... they move slower and I see an older person now. Some are in better and some worse shape than me ... but, I see the great change ... Not like the ones that I remember who were young and vibrant ... but, like me, their age is beginning to show and we are now those older folks that we used to see and never thought we'd become. 

Each day now, I find that just taking a shower is a real target for the day! And taking a nap is not a treat anymore ... it's mandatory! Because if I don't on my own free will ... I may just fall asleep where I sit! 

And so ... now I enter into this new season of my life unprepared for all the aches and pains and the loss of strength and ability to go and do things that I wish I had done ... and never did !!! But, at least I know, that though I'm on the back nine, and I'm not sure how long it will last ... 2 or 3, or 15 or 20 years ? ... this I do know, that when it's over on this earth...it's over. Does a new adventure begin? I really don't know. Yes, I have regrets. There are things I wish I hadn't done ... things I should have done ... but there are many things I'm happy to have done. It's all in a lifetime. 

If you're not on the back nine yet ... let me remind you, that it will be here faster than you think. So, whatever you would like to accomplish in your life, please do it quickly! Don't put things off too long!! Life goes by quickly. Do what you can today, as you can never be sure whether you're on the back nine or not! 

You have no promise that you will see all the seasons of your life ... so, live for today and say all the things that you want your loved ones to remember ... and hope that they appreciate and love you for all the things that you have done for them in all the years past !!! 

"Life" is a gift. The way you live your life is your gift to those who come after. Make it a fantastic one. LIVE IT WELL! ENJOY TODAY! DO SOMETHING FUN! BE HAPPY ! HAVE A GREAT DAY Remember "It is health that is real wealth and not those pieces of gold and silver. LIVE HAPPY IN 2014!

 
 
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I won't give you any advice on making health-related New Year's resolutions.  People rarely keep their resolutions, and I don't want to waste your time.

Health-related goals, though, are another matter.  Resolutions can seem punitive ("I resolve to give up [something]") whereas goals are more positive, or that's how it seems to me, at least.

Goals can be motivating, especially when they are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bounded).  Here's an example of a SMART goal vs a resolution:

Resolution: I'm going to stop smoking.
SMART Goal: I'm going to decrease the number of cigarettes I smoke by one each day and then stay a non-smoker when I make it to zero.

You could make that SMART goal even smarter by defining the number of days it will take you to reach zero.

Everyone has health goals but there is one in particular that strikes me as most important: cultivating happiness.  Happy people tend to be healthier and more resilient.

Happiness is not all in your mind, or in your heart.  New research seeks to clarify the mind-body connection by highlighting bodily sensations associated with specific feelings.  The researchers found that emotions like depression and happiness seem to manifest as sensations throughout the body, whereas some other emotions, such as envy, were more localized.  While the researchers didn't comment on this, it seems possible that the more an emotion expresses itself through bodily sensation, the greater its potential to impact on your health.

What would your SMART goal related to health and happiness look like?

 
 
Laughing is one of the best things you can do for your health.  This web search produced over 74,000 scholarly articles and studies on the health benefits of laughter.  Among its various health benefits, laughter has been found to:
  • Counter the effects of anger, anxiety, depression and stress.
  • Reduce your risk of a heart attack.
  • Increase the number of calories you burn (woot!).

This time of year can be a period of stress and great sadness, when people remember loved ones who are no longer near and feel out-of-step with the image of the holidays that is marketed to them.  Sensitivity and an opportunity to laugh, or at least smile, can help ease the strain and bolster health.

The following video got me giggling...I hope it does the same for you.  
 
 
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It must be natural health care bashing season again.  In the past week, NDs in Ontario have been criticized for wanting to maintain the status quo with respect to their scope of practice, and some so-called "experts" have ignored aspects of the scientific process, in which studies are vetted for their limitations, in order to twist the findings of those studies to support a call to action against the use of vitamins and minerals.

On Sunday, Timothy Caulfield had an opinion piece published in the Toronto Star that states:

"If provincial governments grant naturopaths their wish and make them a self-regulating profession, they will be putting patients' well-being at risk."

The article then goes on to talk about the response of the Ontario Medical Association to changes in regulations applying to Ontario naturopathic doctors, characterizing it as a valiant battle to preserve "patient safety and, more fundamentally, the role of science in the Canadian health care system".  What nonsense.


 
 
Holiday stress, like stress at any time, can leave us feeling frazzled.  Here are a few tips for keeping your cool, stressing less and enjoying more.
 
 
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Research has shown that people who consistently perceive themselves to be happy engage in certain behaviours on a regular basis that contribute to their happiness.  Adopting these behaviours can help less happy people change their state.

Here is a list of some of the things happy people do:

Express Gratitude
We all have wants and needs, some of which have been met, and some which are unfulfilled.  If you don't appreciate what you already have, the fulfillment of your unmet wants and needs will not make you happier.  Happiness begins when you value what you have now.

Cultivate Optimism
Optimism is the foundation for resiliency, and resiliency is what gets you through the tough times in the best way.  Hope for the future is what enables people to tolerate their current, less than ideal, conditions; you can only have hope if you are optimistic enough to believe that different conditions are possible.

Avoid Over-Thinking and Social Comparison
Happy people don't agonize over past decisions or compare themselves to others.

Practice Acts of Kindness
Helping someone promotes positive feelings in several ways.  It takes your mind off your own situation, helps you to appreciate what you have, and may result in feelings of being appreciated by others.  There is no downside to being kind because "kindness is its own reward".

Nurture Social Relationships
Meaningful relationships bring all kinds of rewards.  Those relationships don't have to be deep or long-lasting, although those are the kind that are associated with the greatest levels of happiness.  Nor do they have to be relationships with people; relationships with pets/wildlife can be some of life's greatest treasures.

Develop Strategies for Coping
Life will always toss you a curve ball at some point.  Learning to "bounce back" by developing coping strategies in response to smaller setbacks can make it much easier to handle the bigger crises down the road.  Not sure what those strategies should be?  Check out these posts on gratitude and stress management for some ideas.

Forgive
"Why should I forgive..." Here's why: resentment, disdain, hatred and so on are toxic.  They will literally make you sick.  Understand that forgiving is not the same as forgetting.  It's about doing what is in YOUR best interests, not letting the other person off the hook.  You can forgive someone and still hold them accountable.  
Forgiveness is about cultivating empathy, letting go of a negative situation and moving on. 

Experience More "Flow"
Being in a state of "flow" occurs when you are so involved with what you are doing that you don't notice the passage of time.  You can learn more about flow by reading Dr. Steve Wright's excellent article on the subject.

Stop and Smell the Roses
Ferris Bueller said "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."  Slow down enough to enjoy the peak moments in your life.  

Commit
Happy people have a sense of purpose.  Goals are purposeful.  Set goals that reflect your values and commit to them.  Make your commitments to yourself as important as the commitments you make to others.

Engage Your Spirituality
The happiest, most resilient people are those with a system of spiritual beliefs.  The nature of those beliefs is less important than having them.  In other words, any set of beliefs that help you to shape a realistic, optimistic perspective on your life will benefit you.

Look After Your Body
Physical well-being may not be essential for happiness, but it definitely helps.  While some people cultivate the skills for happiness through the trials of poor health, caring for yourself when you are well promotes happiness too.

 
 
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As an authority on fitness, I always get asked my opinion on what’s the “best” exercise to shed fat.  I often bite my tongue when posed these kinds of questions as the answer is invariably, it depends.  It depends on your current fitness level, past medical history, future goals, level of commitment, realistic energy/time allowance to the program…and the list goes on.  I also get asked about what the ideal fat loss diet is, and once again my response is invariably…you guessed it…it depends.

It’s interesting, I always get asked about exercise and diet when it comes to weight management.  But there’s one other key piece to the fat loss puzzle that is often left out of the equation.  As this is often where I direct people who tell me, “I’m working out now and I’m eating better…why am I still not losing fat?”.

What is that puzzle piece?

NEAT.

That’s right, NEAT.  Non-exercise activity thermogenesis.


 
 
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No matter where you live, affordable healthcare has become an area of concern, discussion and debate.  

Whenever healthcare costs come under scrutiny, there seems to be a coincident increase in the number of "concerns" expressed by the conventional medical community about natural or traditional (read "less expensive") forms of healthcare.  I don't think that's a matter of happenstance.