The Benefits Of Chocolate?

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. A day that often involves flowers and/or sweet indulgences. Some of you may have enjoyed a decadent dessert, after dinner. Others may have gotten a nice box of truffles, as a gift. If this describes you, then take heart. There are benefits to eating chocolate. Healthy ones, at that!

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Cocoa, the key ingredient of chocolate, reduces bad cholesterol (LDL) and can raise your good cholesterol (HDL). This can help to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. 

The Flavanols found in chocolate can lower blood pressure and improve your overall vascular function. Flavanols are a type of Flavanoid. These are plant-based antioxidants. And antioxidants protect the cells in your body from the damage caused by free radicals. Dark chocolate contains more flavanols (45%-80%) than Milk chocolate (5%-7%). Dark chocolate is also packed with minerals, i.e. zinc, iron, selenium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc. So, choose your chocolate wisely!

If eating candy isn’t your thing, consider drinking some hot cocoa. A study conducted at Harvard Medical School found that drinking 2 cups of hot cocoa a day led to increased attention, cognitive functioning, processing, etc. Wow! This can help guard against memory loss. It may even help to prevent illnesses like Alzheimer’s. Adding marshmallows and/or cinnamon is strictly your choice.

I admit, it all sounds too good to be true. But we now have research telling us otherwise. Some research has even linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack. Exactly how much of a role it plays is still being studied. One last note, chocolate does contain calories. Too much consumption can lead to weight gain. So, as with other foods and drink, it’s important to eat in moderation (1-2 ounces or 30-60 grams RDA). Here’s having a truffle to your health!   

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/healthy-chocolate/faq-20058044

https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cocoa-sweet-treat-brain-201502057676

https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/flavonoid-chocolate-8424.html

https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/823208/Chocolate-Alzheimers-Cocoa-boosts-blood-flow-to-the-brain-new-research

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270272.php

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/health-fitness/nutrition/chocolate-10-health-reasons-you-should-eat-more-of-it/

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/antioxidants/introduction.htm

*Photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

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The Greatest Of These Is Love …

We usually talk about Chronic illnesses and treatment, management, awareness, etc. But, for a moment, let’s talk about others effected by the disease — family and especially caregivers. 

No matter the patient’s age, or the specific illness involved, a Chronic condition effects more than one. Family members must also cope. Some may worry about genetic factors. Others may feel guilty, if they live far away. A few may have difficulty accepting the diagnosis at all. Caregivers, God bless them, are juggling everything — the needs of the patient, the family, doctor visits, medications, work, etc.

It isn’t unusual for a caregiver’s life to be drastically changed, by their new role. Some will put their careers on hold — hoping for a return to normalcy in a short time. Others literally see their professional careers end, as the role of caregiver consumes every minute of their day. Many allow their own health and well-being to go on the back-burner. This often creates additional health issues (for the caregiver). Weeks turn into months … then into years. It takes a toll. The caregiver finds himself or herself doing things they had never imagined doing, i.e. administering shots, buying diapers for a parent, protecting the patient’s rights, or watching a child suffer with pain. There is nothing easy about being a caregiver. It is a very mentally, physically and emotionally challenging role. And previous experience in no way means that you are adequately prepared for being a caregiver, again. Each patient, each illness, is different. 

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“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” —             1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV

Twice, in my life, I have had the privilege of being a caregiver. I use the word “privilege”, because in some ways it was rewarding, i.e. close-knit talks, deepened relationships, special moments, etc. It was also highly stressful and at times downright scary. My first experience as a caregiver was for my father, 1989-1990, as he battled cancer. The second for my mother, in 2008, when she battled cancer.

Despite the common denominator, they were two vastly different experiences. My father was terminally ill, upon diagnosis, with lung cancer. He ate anything that he wanted and pretty much did anything he wanted, until his death. No medications to administer (seriously). No use of oxygen (seriously). His radiation treatments also went well. He truly lived every moment of life to the fullest. We should all be so lucky. I realize that, now. But at the time, I lived in high anxiety of what might happen. My mother was just the opposite. With Mom, everything that could go wrong … did go wrong. I charted over 20 medications, daily. She had every unusual side-effect to chemotherapy that a patient could have. No nausea or hair-loss (seriously). In the end, she was beating the cancer but succumbed to the worst of these side-effects (a pulmonary embolism or blood-clot). It was frustrating and heart-wrenching. The last thing that she asked of me was to sing. So, I sang … and sang … as she drifted into an unconscious state … gasping for every breath. I would rest for a couple of hours and start singing again … tears streaming down my cheeks.  Then, I’d pause … pray hard … and sing some more. This went on for 10 days. And by the grace of God, I managed. I was with her, voice and all, till the end.

If you know a caregiver, then you know the love that he or she so unselfishly gives. You may know a few of the burdens that they are carrying, i.e. responsibilities to the patient, their family, their job, etc. You may even know some of their fears. So, please, let them know that you care. Offer to sit with the patient, for a couple of hours. Ask if there is an errand that you can do for them, i.e. pharmacy, supermarket, etc. Drop by with a warm casserole for dinner. It may sound silly, but you’ve just taken a task off of their “to-do” list. You have lightened their load and offered support. Many caregivers will never ask for any help. They have their reasons. And, often times, they will neglect themselves before they do. But you can give them the little boost that keeps them going. Because without that caregiver, rest assured, things would be much worse.  So, give them a break … a hug … show your appreciation … share some love. They need it, as much as the patient does!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/caregiver-stress/art-20044784

https://caregiveraction.org/resources/10-tips-family-caregivers

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers

https://www.stoptheclot.org/about-clots/faqs/faq-blood-clots-cancer/

Living Heart-Healthy

It’s February, my friends! Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. And retailers are stocked with an array of gifts. Couples are making plans for a special evening. Or, maybe, an indulging get-away? Singles are contemplating their next move. And florists, God bless them, are getting ready to work over-time. Romance is definitely in the air — melting this polar vortex. Some enjoy this time of year. Others loathe it. Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Amid the excitement, many of us seem to forget that the heart is more than emotions. It’s about sustaining life. So, for a moment, put down that fancy box of truffles and think. Are you and your loved one living “Heart-Healthy”

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No matter your age, diet and exercise are two key components of living Heart-Healthy. If you (or your loved one) need to lose some weight, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is a great way to start! Watching your salt intake is also important. If you are already living with heart disease, then you probably know how crucial these things are to your health and well-being. It’s vital to make changes that will strengthen your heart. 

This isn’t difficult. Start with a commonsense approach. When you eat, at home or in a restaurant, use portion control. An average serving of meat, fish or chicken is 2-3 ounces.  So, skip that 16-ounce T-bone on the menu and order the 6-ounce filet instead. It’s a little more than average, but not excessive. Eat more fruit and vegetables. Try whole-grains like oats, corn, barley, cracked wheat or quinoa. I highly recommend the latter — WOW! Limit your fats. And, occasionally, treat yourself to something special, i.e. a candy bar, a slice of cheesecake, ice cream, etc. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, with your results!

Exercise, like eating, can be done with a simple commonsense approach. Walking is an easy way to get started. It doesn’t require equipment, or a gym membership — just a comfortable pair of shoes. It also provides couples with an activity that they can share as well. A 30-minute walk takes little time, or effort. But the benefits, physically and emotionally, are endless. If you would prefer something else, talk to your doctor. He or she can discuss exercise options that are safe and effective. Reducing sedentary living is your goal. You can do this!

Let’s be honest. We all have bad habits, in some form. But there are simple ways to overcome these behaviors:

  • Identify Cues. What triggers your bad habit?
  • Disrupt. Once you recognize these cues, you can help throw them off-track!
  • Replace with a good behavior. The new behavior, i.e. a piece of fruit instead of cookies, will prevent your brain from going into auto-pilot.
  • Keep it simple. It will be easier to make the change/s.
  • Think long-term. Remember why you are doing this — a healthier you!
  • Be persistent. Soon your changes will feel like the norm.

Whether Cupid has taken aim at you or not, feel the love this month. Think beyond Valentine’s — beyond February. Love yourself. Think of ways to take care of your health. Make the changes. Positive behaviors will lead to a happier you. A healthier you. And if your loved one will join in … well, that’s the real heart of the matter. So, talk about it. Invest in your future. Take the Heart-Healthy journey, together. You’ll be glad that you did!

 

Reference Links:

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

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/heart-healthy-diet/art-20047702

https://wholegrainscouncil.org/definition-whole-grain

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/heart-healthy-lifestyle-changes

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/mental-health-and-wellbeing/how-to-break-bad-habits-and-change-behaviors

https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/smoking

*Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Fishing For Our Youth …

My uncle used to love to fish. Even when his body was struggling with Chronic illness and he needed a walker to steady himself, he found a way to go fishing. I asked him, once, “What are you fishing for?” I suspected trout, walleye, or crappie. Maybe, catfish. All were common in the waters of Missouri. With a sly grin and a chuckle, he replied, “My youth!”

For those living with Osteoarthritis, or OA, life may feel like one long fishing trip … day after day … week after week … searching … fishing for their youth. The aging process happens to all of us. Some more quickly than others. One day, we are in our prime. The next, we’re getting a certain card in the mail — officially labeling us as “Seniors”. And while we ponder how time took advantage of us … fooled us … turned us into silver versions of our former selves, we must also deal with what it has done to our bodies. Age plays a significant role in many health issues, including OA.

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Osteoarthritis affects about 27M Americans and globally 300M. It is a degenerative joint disease and the most common Chronic illness of the joints. Although people of any age can get OA, it’s usually diagnosed in those over age 65. It is also the leading cause of disability in Seniors. But, please, don’t panic. Every case is different. Most patients will not require joint replacement surgery, in their lifetime. Some will. And while there is no way to reverse the damage done by the disease, there are ways to help OA patients live better.

If you have been recently diagnosed with Osteoarthritis, your Rheumatologist will discuss treatment as well as lifestyle changes with you, i.e. losing weight, reducing your cholesterol, regular exercise, eating healthier choices, medications, etc. As with any Chronic illness, your mindset is extremely important in dealing with OA. Optimism isn’t always easy, especially if you are battling pain and mobility issues. Some days, you may feel pretty overwhelmed. But hang in there. Be patient. Make some changes. You are worth it. You might even be surprised at what you can accomplish … enjoy … and share with others. No, you can’t reel in your youth. None of us are that lucky. But you can feel better … have less pain … be happier … and continue to stay active. And like the millions who are taking this approach, you can enjoy living!

 

 

Reference Links:

https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Osteoarthritis

https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/osteoarthritis/what-is-osteoarthritis.php

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/osteoarthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20351925

https://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/q-and-a/living-with-arthritis/hobbies/does-flying-and-cabin-pressure-affect-oa.aspx

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322603.php

*Photo by William Malott on Unsplash

PT & Chronic Illness Management

What would your reaction be, if your physician suggested Physical Therapy? Would your jaw drop with shock? Would you be frustrated? Confused? Maybe, eager? A lot might just depend upon your perception of Physical Therapy. Most people think of Physical Therapy, or PT, as a postoperative step toward recovery. Others may equate it to a few weeks of treatment following a specific health issue like a stroke. But it is also used for the management of many Chronic illnesses, i.e. Fibromyalgia, Diabetes, various forms of Arthritis, Chronic Pain, COPD, Parkinson’s, etc. Since we know that managing any Chronic illness is the key to living better and healthier, perhaps now is the time to look at the big picture? Think outside the box — beyond any preconceived notion. Talk to your doctor. It’s time to consider what PT can do for you!

 

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If some of you are feeling apprehensive about this idea, I get it. I completely understand. Doctors. Tests. Medicines. Symptoms. Family. Work. You are already doing a juggling act. And it isn’t easy. Physical Therapy is like adding another ball to the mix. But if PT allows you to move more freely … juggle the rest more effectively … isn’t it worth trying? Of course, it is! This is your life that we’re talking about. You want to be able to enjoy it and make the most out of every day.

PT isn’t the Boston Marathon. But it is a way, through simple exercises, to live healthier. Some patients are referred to a physical therapist, by their family doctor or specialist. Others make contact on their own. How you do so may depend upon the requirements of your health insurance. Since physical therapists are licensed healthcare professionals, most plans cover physical therapy, i.e. Medicare, private insurers, etc. A quick phone call can let you know how you should proceed.

Let me put it this way, we already know that exercise can help Chronic conditions. We know that it can prevent many of them, too. Think of PT as a “medical gym” and your physical therapist is your personal trainer. He or She isn’t going to push you beyond your limits. Nobody wants that. They are going to teach you exercises specific to helping your Chronic condition. You will do these exercises together and by yourself at home. And you will see as well as feel the results. With time, you may do additional exercises. You may feel like branching out to swimming, yoga, walking, Pilates, Tai Chi, etc. Perhaps, you’d like to travel? Take your grand-kids camping? Or return to that Saturday golf-league that you once enjoyed? Maybe, you just want to feel better and happier? Discuss your goals with your doctor and your physical therapist. They can help you to reach them.

Millions live with Chronic conditions. They do more than exist. They thrive. They do so by effectively managing their illnesses. It’s time to join them. Let this be the year that you start feeling better — regain control. Live! The choice is yours!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/160645.php

https://www.moveforwardpt.com/Resources/Insurance/Detail/understanding-payment-physical-therapy-services

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise-and-chronic-disease/art-20046049

*Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Consider His Footprints In Your Life …

Most Christians have heard of the prose “Footprints In The Sand”, written by Mary Stevenson in the 1930’s. They may own a copy. It has appeared on many plaques, mugs, t-shirts, etc., over the years. It’s authorship has even been debated. But, for a moment, let’s stick to the message of the poem — not marketing or legal wrangling. The poet reflecting upon her life, asks the Lord, why He wasn’t walking with her through the most difficult of times. And He responds, “The Times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”

Wow! For any Christian, those words are profound. Scripture teaches us, in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” But have you ever stopped to reflect upon how this verse applies to your life? Have you stopped to consider the times, as the poem describes, where just one set of footprints can be seen? How many times has the Lord carried you through the sand of life?

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For many, it’s easier to forget the worst of times than to reflect upon them. They stick the bad and ugly, in a tightly locked box … somewhere in the back of their memory … safe and out-of-the-way. It’s not that they aren’t grateful. It is how they cope. But when you live with a Chronic illness, the struggle can be overwhelming … frustrating … even depressing … for long periods of time. Most of these patients don’t have the luxury of tucking the worst of moments away and forgetting. They live with the initial struggle, daily. Then, there are complications that add to that struggle. The setbacks can seem endless. Scary. Lonely. At such times, even the most devout of Christians may wonder if the Lord has abandoned them.

Does the latter describe how you or a loved one is feeling? If it does, I encourage you to read Mary’s poem. Imagine your life as footprints in the sand — the Lord’s footprints right beside your own. Imagine that long stretch of beach. Sometimes, the sand is warm and enjoyable. The kind that you want to wiggle your toes in. Other times, it feels cold and hard. Unpleasant. Perhaps, it’s even painful to walk on? And then, if you will, consider how many times there was just one set of footprints. His footprints.

The Lord was there, in the worst of times. He has carried both you and me. Not just once or twice. His presence wasn’t fleeting, in our lives. He’s been there for us, many times — taking us through our trials and tribulations … rejoicing in our triumphs. Even when our faith was shaken, the Lord has been there every step of the way. And He will continue to be there … taking this journey called life with us … and carrying us if need be. His strength has lifted us … guided us through our darkest moments. He has answered our prayers … calmed our fears. We weren’t alone. We can see His footprints in the sand. When we needed him, He was with us. And He is with us, now. If you are like me, that knowledge will give you the courage to keep going … to keep walking … to keep fighting every hardship. Warmer sand lies ahead. He will get us there. May God Bless …

 

Reference Links:

http://www.footprints-inthe-sand.com/index.php?page=Poem/Poem.php

*Photo by Christopher Sardegna on Unsplash

Living With Parkinson’s

For millions who live with a chronic illness, it’s easy to recall life before the diagnosis. It’s equally easy to remember the day that the diagnosis was given — falling like a ton of bricks over them. Those living with Parkinson’s Disease understand this. They’ve been there. In fact, for many living with Parkinson’s, there were little if any symptoms in the beginning. But as the disorder progressed, their symptoms worsened. And there was no denying the obvious … something was wrong.

Parkinson’s Disease is caused when nerve cells, called neurons, break down or die in the brain. This loss of neurons leads to abnormal brain activity and many of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, i.e. slowed movement, tremors, speech changes, behavioral changes, rigid muscles, sleep disruption, impaired balance, etc. The exact cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown. However, research has proven that genetics and environment can play a role. And age is a clear risk factor.

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At present, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s. But there are interesting strides being made in medical research. In August of 2018, a clinical trial began treating Parkinson’s patients with stem cells. This trial, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan, is the first of its kind in the world. It follows a highly successful restoration of brain cell function via stem cells, in animal subjects, in 2017.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, it’s essential that you manage your disease. Though no special diet is required, healthy eating is always beneficial. Try to plan a period of rest, in your day. It will help offset fatigue. Avoid a heavy schedule. This will help minimize stress. Avoid extreme physical activity. If you need help, ask a family member or friend to pitch in. Patients with chronic illnesses, like Parkinson’s, need a good support system to lean on. Find yours. Talk to them. Take your medication as directed. Keep those appointments with your doctor and/or therapists. Simple, commonsense remedies, i.e. massage, warm baths, heating pads, etc., help immensely. So, don’t ignore them. Try them. You might be pleasantly surprised. 

Living with Parkinson’s, as with most chronic illnesses, involves change. The more that you are willing to adapt, the easier it will be to manage and live with your disease. Yes, there will be tough times. But, with an optimistic approach and a feasible game-plan, there can be good times as well. Go for it!

 

Reference Links:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2018/worlds-first-clinical-trial-treat-parkinsons-disease-stem-cells/

https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/parkinsons-disease

https://www.webmd.com/parkinsons-disease/guide/parkinsons-daily-activities#4

https://www.michaeljfox.org/foundation/news-detail.php?cdc-selects-parkinson-as-one-of-the-first-diseases-included-in-new-database

*Photo by Sandra Ahn Mode on Unsplash.