A Furry Kind Of Healing …

Those of us who are pet owners know how wonderful our pets are. We brag on them, dote on them, etc.  Those of us, who are also parents, may even distinguish between our children as “those with fur” and “those without”. Our pets live with us, play with us and travel with us. They comfort — even mourn — with us. They are a member of our family and we love them. But did you know that these adorable pets … with their soulful eyes … precocious personalities … cunning wit … and slobbery kisses … actually have the ability to heal?

 

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The U.S. Dog Registry divides dogs (of any breed) into three categories:

  • Service Dogs help with a function/s for a person with a disability, i.e. Blind, Deaf, PTSD, MS, etc.
  • Emotional Support Dogs help people with emotional problems by providing support and comfort, i.e. Anxiety, Depression and Mood Disorders.
  • Therapy Dogs provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living centers. They are often sent, in the wake of horrific events, i.e. mass shootings, earthquakes, etc.

But what they all accomplish is that they make a positive impact on the people that they interact with. These pets improve the lives of every human that they touch.

Children with Autism were significantly more engaged, when animal therapy was incorporated into their sessions instead of using the standard approach. The children used more language. They exhibited more social interaction. All positive. All healthful.

Cancer patients have improved from pet therapy, also known as Animal-assisted Therapy or AAT. A session of animal interaction, lasting between 5-15 minutes, provides a welcomed distraction from difficult treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. It brightens their day, lifts their spirits and offers a myriad of benefits overall. In fact, AAT has proven to be so effective time and again for many illnesses that the medical community is embracing the idea more than ever before — regularly including it in patient care.

Seniors, who often live alone, also benefit from owning a pet. A pet can provide mental stimulation, erase loneliness, give them a reason to walk around the block and a companion to do it with. Pet interaction has the ability to lessen, even diminish, overall pain. 

When we are bonding with a pet, whether we have a Chronic illness or not, we are in the company of a dear friend — a confidante. As a result, our blood pressure lowers … muscles relax … stress fades. On the chemical level, a pet decreases cortisol in our blood. It can raise levels of the brain chemical dopamine that makes us feel good. We are happier and more positive. And when we reach out … touching their fur … rubbing their back … talking to them … we experience an increase of immunoglobulin A. That antibody boosts our immune system. Hormones like serotonin, oxytocin and prolactin are released, when we are rubbing that fuzzy belly or rolling a tennis ball across the floor. Our mood is lighter. We’re smiling … laughing … enjoying life.

Have you hugged your pet, today? Have you felt the nuzzle of a cold nose against your cheek? Or was it soft purring? We all should be so lucky. That furry companion, who greets us at the door, is actually good for us!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.prevention.com/health/healthy-living/healing-power-pets

https://www.curetoday.com/community/mike-verano/2015/12/cancer-and-the-healing-power-of-pets

https://www.agingcare.com/articles/benefits-of-elderly-owning-pets-113294.htm

https://www.uclahealth.org/pac/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.psychologytoday.com/therapy-types/animal-assisted-therapy

https://www.oncologynurseadvisor.com/from-cancercare/animal-assisted-therapy-enhances-cancer-care/article/372518/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/pet-therapy/art-20046342

* Photo of Whisky Macallan … my fur-baby, friend, joy and solace.

Be Not Afraid …

I have a confession to make … I love lighthouses. I always have. Back in the 90’s, I actually ventured inside one (1879 Hooper’s Strait Lighthouse). To really appreciate the message and function of a lighthouse, you must experience it both inside and out. From the outside, like a sailor at sea, you appreciate its guiding light. The comfort that it surely provides, during a tempest storm … to breathe easy … home is near. From the inside, you stand by its massive beacon and look out across the distant water … you feel the isolation … the loneliness … and you realize that the lighthouse keeper’s duty was more than just keeping a light on … it was also a biblical reminder … “Be not afraid”.

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Scripture is filled with verses that tell us to reject fear and draw strength from God, i.e. Jeremiah 1:8, Matthew 14:27, Mark 5:36, etc. Yet, in crisis situations, we often forget that. Likewise, Judaism teaches to “Fear not”. And Islam also teaches that one must cope with fear. Like love and the Golden Rule, this is a message that transcends languages and religions. 

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with a Chronic illness, it’s easy to be afraid. The unknown is a scary place. The what-ifs can and do keep you awake at night. I know. I have been there, more than once. If you allow those worst-case scenarios to consume you, it can lead to other problems including additional Chronic illnesses. So it’s important to realize that fear, while a natural instinct, can also be an unnecessary burden in our lives. When I feel fear closing in on me, I always think of a lighthouse. For a moment, I close my eyes and drift back to that warm summer day when I first entered one in Maryland. I remember the salty air and climbing the narrow steps up to the beacon … looking out over the waters of the Chesapeake … and feeling closer to God … at peace. 

The Coronavirus pandemic has heightened fear in millions. We cannot ignore this added health risk, for our sake and that of so many others. It must be acknowledged and taken seriously. Preventative measures, many of which have upended our lives, must be embraced. But we can take comfort that we are not alone. God is with us. And like the lighthouse, we can stand firm. This storm, as dark and scary as it is, will pass. Be not afraid. 

Reference Links:

https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?search=be+not+afraid&searchtype=phrase&spanbegin=1&spanend=73&version1=9

https://reformjudaism.org/%E2%80%9Cfear-not%E2%80%9D

Coping With Fear

*Photo by Cole Wyland on Unsplash

Do You Need To De-stress?

Is it just me or is life a lot more stressful than it used to be? Nowadays, it seems that everywhere I go I find people who are tired, frustrated, upset, worried, etc. Life can always throw you a curve-ball that is stressful. But when you add a pandemic … stress hits a whole new level. And stress on its own isn’t healthy. In fact, stress worsens most pre-existing or Chronic conditions. If you have been feeling the pressure of stress, you aren’t alone. According to the American Institute of Stress, about 77% of the population regularly suffers from the symptoms of stress.  Let’s talk about that …

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Stress can negatively impact your relationships at school, home and/or work. A bad day at the office somehow leads to an argument with your spouse/partner? Or vice-versa? You know what I’m talking about. Stress can also weaken your immune systems, increase your blood pressure, increase blood sugar levels, increase pain, etc. The more you allow it to consume you, the worse you are going to feel. That’s a given. And that makes you more vulnerable to other things, i.e. anxiety, depression, colds, viruses. Thankfully, we can do things to reduce the stress in our lives.

If you feel that stress is getting the best of you, try these simple yet effective ways to de-stress:

  • Limit Social Media/Broadcast Media. Yes, social media can be fun. Unfortunately, it’s also a stressor for millions. So limit your use of it. Binge-watching news and talk-shows can also have a negative impact. Select one or two reputable news broadcasts or shows, watch them and move on. You want to be informed — NOT stressed-out.
  • Meditation/PrayerIt just takes a few minutes to close your eyes and focus on something positive or calming. Likewise, reading from a devotional or engaging in silent prayer has the same soothing results.
  • Breathing Deeply. For five minutes, sit upright with your eyes closed. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
  • Slow Down. Look around you. Admire flowers growing, a butterfly fluttering, etc. Eat slower and enjoy your food. Live in the moment and do so fully. When you focus on your senses, you should feel less tense.
  • Reach Out. Talk to others, face-to-face or on the phone. Share what’s going on with a friend, co-worker, spouse/partner before it becomes a bigger issue. It can provide helpful support and input.
  • Pull-out The Heating-Pad. Just 10 minutes of warmth on your neck and shoulders can allow your body to decompress and ease tension.
  • Laugh Out Loud. Enjoy a good joke or a funny story … at home, in the locker-room, or the break-room. Watch a 30-minute sitcom with your significant other. Laughing lowers your body’s stress hormone (cortisol) and boosts brain chemicals (endorphins) that lighten your mood.
  • Exercise. All forms of exercise, even low-impact ones like yoga and walking, can relax you. It can ease depression and anxiety. 
  • Listen To Music. Soothing music, from classical to nature sounds, can lower your blood pressure and heart-rate. You can even create your favorite playlist for relaxing!
  • Keep A Gratitude Journal. Carry it with you. Set it by your bed and read it every night. Think of the things you are most grateful for, in your life. The people and things that make your life special.

 

Last but not least, realizing that you need to de-stress isn’t a sign of weakness … or age … or illness. It’s a preventative health measure. One that we all can benefit from. So, don’t be reluctant to try it. The healthier that we are, the happier we are. That leads to the more productive we are and so on. And it’s all good. So go for it!

 

 

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hope-relationships/201504/6-natural-ways-de-stress

https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/blissing-out-10-relaxation-techniques-reduce-stress-spot#3

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

https://www.simplypsychology.org/stress-immune.html

https://www.stress.org/daily-life

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/social-media-mental-health-negative-effects-depression-anxiety-addiction-memory-a8307196.html

*Photo by Jared Rice in Unsplash

Chronically Ill In An Outbreak

Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is here. If it hasn’t reached your state, province, territory, or nation, odds are that it will arrive soon. If you or a loved one has a Chronic illness, i.e. Cancer, Diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Asthma, COPD, Heart disease, Lupus, etc., you probably already know that you have a weakened immune system. You’ve probably been told to get a flu shot, take a good vitamin, etc. There’s a reason for that. Because you are chronically ill, you are at a greater risk for colds, flu, viruses, etc., than the general population. That means you are more vulnerable, in this current outbreak. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you to ignore the news, cross your fingers, or hope for the best. I will encourage you to be proactive. So, let’s focus on that …

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According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Coronavirus is spread from person to person. It is also believed that people are most contagious, when they are sickest (showing the most symptoms). It may also be possible to contract the virus from infected surfaces or objects.  When you go out, maintain social distances (3 feet or 1 meter) between yourself and anyone who is sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands (for at least 20 seconds). If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Our hands touch many things. So, please, keep yours clean. If possible, use tissues to sneeze or cough into. Then, promptly dispose of the tissue. Good respiratory hygiene is not only helpful to you, but to others who are around you. Stay home if you don’t feel well. That’s a no-brainer. If you think or know that you have been exposed to COVID-19, don’t wait for symptoms to appear … contact your doctor immediately. And if you have a fever, persistent cough, or difficulty breathing … contact your doctor immediately!

Many have rushed to buy face-masks. However, the CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face-mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases. Face-masks should be worn by individuals who are exhibiting the symptoms of Coronavirus. This protects others from catching it. Face-masks should also be worn by healthcare providers and caregivers who are in close-contact with Coronavirus patients.

As easy as this sounds, buy some Disinfecting Wipes for use at home and at work. Use them. It only takes a few minutes to wipe down surfaces, doorknobs, etc. Buy some facial tissues for home and work. Use them. Make healthy dietary choices and thoroughly cook meat and eggs. Rest. Wash your hands. Exercise some commonsense and good judgement. Last but note least, manage your Chronic disease.

There are no guarantees with the Coronavirus. We cannot ignore it. Nor can we allow ourselves to be consumed by the fear of something that may never happen. But we can take precautionary steps to help prevent it. And that’s more than a wish — that’s action!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/transmission.html

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public

https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/tl-pss_1012920.php

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/prevention-treatment.html

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-51674743

*Photo by Free To Use Sounds on Unsplash

What Is “Heart-Healthy”?

On this last post for Heart month, I thought it might be prudent to revisit the term “Heart-Healthy”. What exactly does it mean? Sadly, in many instances it has become a marketing gimmick. So, please, don’t be fooled by the usage. As a consumer, eating “Heart-Healthy” means that you need to read the labels before you buy.  Being “Heart-Healthy” means that you should adopt healthy eating habits, i.e. vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, legumes, nuts, etc. It means you should limit sweets, desserts, sugary drinks, red meats and processed foods. You should also reduce your consumption of saturated fats, sodium and sugar. Make nutrient-rich choices, instead! You’ll be glad that you did!

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Canned foods are high in sodium. Did you know that? Frozen foods are too.  In fact, about 70% of our sodium intake comes from packaged and prepared foods. While these products are convenient, they aren’t necessarily the healthiest of choices. Know the “Daily Value” of the products that you are buying. Think of it as a tool to finding healthier choices. Read the Nutrition Facts Label. It’s also important to pay attention to serving-size. The accepted rule-of-thumb for sodium is that 5% DV or less per serving is low. And 20% DV or higher is much too high. 

The American Heart Association as well as the American College of Cardiology endorse the DASH diet (which limits sodium and reduces blood pressure) and the Mediterranean diet (which has been proven to improve cardiovascular health). Both can be found in the reference links, below. Both are considered “Heart-Healthy”. And fresh is always best!

This isn’t difficult. We aren’t talking quantum physics, here. We are talking about sensible, healthy eating. Sensible portions. Wise choices. It all leads to living “Heart-Healthy”. If you glean nothing else from this post, remember this, Heart-Healthy is a way to love yourself. And you are worth it!

 

References Links:

https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/

https://sodiumbreakup.heart.org/top_25_foods_that_add_the_most_sodium_to_your_diet

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/dash-diet/art-20048456

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/use-nutrition-facts-label-reduce-your-intake-sodium-your-diet

*Photo by Caroline Attwood on Unsplash

Giving The Gift Of Life …

My cousin was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes, before he started kindergarten. He tried to exercise, to eat healthy, to take his medication, etc. For the most part, he did well. He enjoyed sports, went to college, built a career, married, raised a family, etc. Nothing, including Diabetes, held him back. But, by age 46, his luck had changed. It was clear that he was losing the battle with heart disease. Doctors told Allen that he needed a heart transplant to survive. The news fell on our family like a ton of bricks. Months later, he received the news — a match had been found. For him, as with thousands of others, it was truly the gift of life.

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At any given time, approximately 4,000 people are awaiting a heart transplant.  Some are children. Even infants have undergone the surgery. Why they need a new heart varies, from patient to patient. But the severity of their health situation is the same. They are all fighting to survive.

After decades of research and medical advances, heart transplant surgery still carries risks. But it also has a good success rate. About 85% of patients will survive the first year, after surgery. And 75% will live at least 5 years. Younger patients (age 55 & under) have a 50% chance of surviving a decade or longer. Most of these recipients (over 80%) return to normal living, i.e. working, swimming, cycling, running, etc. As I said, it is truly the gift of life.

If you are already an organ donor, let me say, “Thank you.” For those who may be curious about organ donation, or interested in becoming a donor, please visit https://www.donatelife.net/types-of-donation/heart-donation/ for more details. You can register to become a heart donor, in just a few minutes. It isn’t difficult. If you choose to become an organ, eye, and tissue donor, your decision can make a difference in the lives of more than 75 people! Over 90% of Americans support organ donation. Unfortunately, less than 60% are registered to be a donor. Let’s change that …

Make February of 2020 the month that you chose to give the gift of life!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-transplant

https://www.hopkinsallchildrens.org/Patients-Families/Health-Library/HealthDocNew/When-Your-Child-Needs-a-Heart-Transplant

https://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/heart-failure/qa/how-long-can-you-live-after-a-heart-transplant

https://www.mayoclinic.org/departments-centers/heart-transplant/sections/eligibility/oec-20212191

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/younger_patients_more_likely_to_live_a_decade_or_longer_after_heart_transplant

Heart Donation: Everything you need to know

*Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

Indulge Yourself …

It’s Valentine’s Day. And whether you are madly in love or not, it is permissible to indulge yourself. It’s my humble opinion that you must love yourself first, before you can love others. But how do you indulge yourself and remain “heart healthy”? Hmmm … Well, first, you must think moderation. Second, you need to consider the options that are available. If you want to avoid food indulgences, purchase flowers … jewelry … perfume …  game tickets … concert tickets … a spa day, etc. If you would like to gift an edible to yourself or a loved one, then consider dark chocolate!

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Dark chocolate, eaten in moderation, is a sweet splurge for anyone — even Diabetics. Chocolate is filled with beneficial minerals, i.e. iron, copper, magnesium, zinc. And the cocoa in dark chocolate also contains antioxidants known as flavanols and polyphenols. These antioxidants guard against heart disease and stress. And dark chocolate has anti-inflammatory properties, too. This helps guard against inflammation in your body. Many diseases are negatively impacted by inflammation, i.e. some Cancers, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, etc. A study conducted in 2016 found a positive association between eating dark chocolate and cognitive performance. In other words, improved brain functioning. And that’s beneficial to anyone with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

Does it have to be dark chocolate? Well, the darker the chocolate the healthier it is. Look for 70% dark chocolate or higher. This has the most beneficial properties. Does it have to have nuts or berries? No. But nuts and berries also contain heart-healthy properties. So, if you are thinking red, ripe strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, go for it. Store your chocolate in an air-tight container at approximately 65-70 degrees (chocolate-covered berries will require refrigeration). It’s Valentine’s — have some fun with it. Show you care. Indulge yourself or the one you love with dark chocolate!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.diabetes.co.uk/food/diabetes-and-chocolate.html

https://blogs.webmd.com/diabetes/20180508/yes-you-can-eat-chocolate-with-type-2-diabetes-heres-how

Dark Chocolate

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666316300459

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324747.php#brain-function

*Photo by Jessica Johnston on Unsplash