altThe Longevity Project:  Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study, by Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin (Hudson Street Press, New York, 2011)

In the early part of the last century, Dr. Lewis Terman began a long-term study of children identified by their teachers as particularly gifted academically.  Although Terman was interested in intelligence and intellectual leadership, his study left behind a great collection of sociological data, which Friedman, Martin, and their colleagues have mined for information on the factors that predispose human beings to long and productive lives.

The authors expound at length on why the data and their studies are valid, and the results applicable to most people, not just intellectual geniuses.  And the results—no surprise—are much more complicated than conventional wisdom would lead one to believe.  So interesting and complex are the relationships that it would be an insult to the researchers to attempt to distill their findings in a simple review.  But I will note a few items of interest.

  • Conventional wisdom often confuses correlation with causation.  For example, although it is commonly believed that happiness promotes good health, and vice versa, the relationship is not in either direction cause-and-effect.  Rather, the same underlying factors promote both happiness and health.
  • The best personality predictor of longevity—as children and as adults—was what the authors call conscientiousness:  people who were prudent, persistent, dependable, thrifty, detail-oriented, and responsible.

    It is not only that conscientious people have better health habits and healthier brains, but also that they find their way to happier marriages, better friendships, and healthier work situations.  That’s right, conscientious people create healthy long-life pathways for themselves.

  • Another key factor is social network, but as usual, it’s more complicated than simple sociability.  Being an extrovert, having many friends, and abundant social activity do not presage a long life.  Sociability itself, the authors say, is “a wash.” An active social life is a two-edged sword; how it cuts depends on the quality of the friends and of the activities.

    Social ties, however, are critical:  having a large support network is directly correlated with longer life.  Interestingly, feeling loved and cared for did not improve longevity, but helping and caring for others did.

  •  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 4, 2011 at 4:14 pm | Edit
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You may remember Michael Merzenich as one of the major researchers mentioned in The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge.  Merzenich is no doubt a better researcher than a speaker; this lecture is not nearly as good—and certainly not as comprehensive—as the book.  But it will take less than 25 minutes of your time, and is worthwhile if only for his explanation of the dangers of white noise—continuous, disorganized sound—to an infant's brain, and for the hope he holds out to those of us who grew up with the depressing idea that once you reach adulthood (or perhaps early teens, or even age six, depending on who you believe), you are basically stuck with the brain you've got.

Michael Merzenich on re-wiring the brain

 

(Granchild warning:  I don't know if you consider "crap" objectionable, but there are a few instances between 17:00 and 18:30.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, April 9, 2011 at 10:04 am | Edit
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Bad Science:  Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre (Faber and Faber, New York, 2010)

Bad Science was hard to read.  Not because the material is difficult (it's not), nor because I disagree with the author's positions (though sometimes I do), but because it is 258 pages of sneer.  Since Goldacre repeatedly states that he is bending over backwards to give his adversaries as much credit as possible, perhaps the sneer is unintentional, but it is no less an impediment. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, February 28, 2011 at 6:00 am | Edit
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What You Think Is What You Get:  An Introductory Textbook for the Study of the Alexander Technique, by Donald L. Weed (Third Edition, ITM Publications, Bristol, UK, 2004)

I wish I understood this book well enough to review it.  The Wikipedia article on Alexander Technique is currently flagged, “This article may be confusing or unclear to readers.”  Much the same could be said for the book, though I have to say that having read the book makes the article, if not clear, at least familiar.

What You Think Is What You Get is a keeper; it’s just not for beginners, despite the word “introductory” in the title.  I would not have read very far if I had not already seen the Alexander Technique in action.  However, not only do I know how much it helped Janet with her overuse injuries, but I’ve observed several classes and even had a few short lessons myself.  Janet’s Alexander Technique teacher studied under Donald Weed, and her classes are nothing less than remarkable.  Who would have thought that a gentle touch and the suggestion that the student relax a certain shoulder muscle would suddenly make his singing voice deeper and richer?  Or that an almost imperceptible postural change would make a pianist’s music come alive?  Or that being asked, “Do you really need to contract that arm muscle to help you walk across the room?” would visibly improve my walking as well as relieve arm pain I’ve had for years? (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Edit
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For a normal, healthy person dealing only with minor illnesses—including diseases like measles and chicken pox, which were no big deal for most people—in many ways it was better to be living 50 years ago than now.

(An exception would be for normal childbirth, which had been taken over by hospitals and doctors.  Mothers reclaimed their [ahem] birthright in the late 1970s, only to lose it again, and then to partially regain it—it’s the only branch of medicine that I know to be so cyclical.)

I remember doctors making house calls, and doctors who treating the whole family as a unit, which I believe is healthier for all.  They trusted parents to describe symptoms accurately and as often as not the doctors gave advice over the telephone and saved many a trip—even when they were no longer making house calls.  They still had time to talk with their patients; none of this in-and-out-in-15-minutes assembly line stuff.

However—and it’s a big caveat—for serious illnesses and for emergency medicine, now is a much better time to need medical care.  When I was born, polio was still devastating the country and organ transplants were unheard of.  CAT scans didn’t appear until twenty years later.  From babies to bones, from tumors to head trauma—I hope never to need it, but if I do, I’ll take today’s medical technology with gratitude.

It’s just a pity we can’t have the house calls, too.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 27, 2010 at 6:19 am | Edit
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When I give thanks for modern dentistry, I’m not referring to the practice of some dentists, which is to do any dental work that might involve pain using some form of anesthesia.  It is good for children to learn how to handle pain in small doses.   Life is not pain-free, and the habit of seeking medication for every ill is a dangerous one.  Personally, I’d much rather deal with the temporary, minor pain of the dentist’s drill than the risk and after-effects of anesthesia.  Moreover, when the patient is aware of where the dentist is probing, the dentist is more likely to notice if he’s gone too far or found a trouble spot.

That said, the improvements in dentistry since I was a child have been vast.  The drills back then were slow, and much more painful. (Porter’s dentist even used a foot pedal powered drill for a while!)  Today’s high-speed drills are almost a pleasure (I said almost) in comparison.

Thanks to fluoride (however controversial it is when put in public water supplies), to dental sealants, and to better attention given to tooth and gum care, even before a baby gets its first tooth, children have many fewer cavities today.  Orthodontia has made badly crooked teeth a thing of the past.  Onlays, crowns, bridges, and dental implants have greatly extended the life of our natural teeth and delayed the need for dentures.

The need to repair dental caries is so low these days that dentists have taken to whitening teeth to stay in business.  What they’ll do if we ever kick our tremendous sugar habit, I don’t know.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at 6:09 am | Edit
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alt Into the Silent Land:  A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation , by Martin Laird  (Oxford University Press, 2006)

The physical benefits of meditative techniques are well established, and I’d like to be able to take advantage of them.  What has hindered me is that many—though not all—of the studies have focused on Transcendental Meditation (TM), the Eastern religious aspects of which have led me to keep meditation in general at arm’s length since I first learned of it some 40 years ago.  It will not do to gain a physical benefit at a spiritual loss—I can’t help thinking of The Magician’s Nephew, in which Digory was tempted to steal an apple that would have cured his dying mother, but if he had done so, both he and his mother would have later “looked back and said it would have been better to die in that illness.”

Yet Digory, having passed the test, was eventually given another apple, one that healed his mother in the right way. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 8:31 pm | Edit
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altThinking in Pictures:  And Other Reports from My Life with Autism, by Temple Grandin (Vintage, 2006) (Expanded from the original 1995 version)

I’ve already written about Temple Grandin, the movie, which was the inspiration for getting this book from the library.  It’s well worth reading, and the only reason I’m sending back unread the two other books of hers I picked up at the same time is that I realized I must put the brakes on my reading for a while.  At the very least I need to substitute books I won’t be tempted to review.  Smile

Thinking in Pictures would have convinced me, if Grandin’s own commentary on the DVD had not, that the movie is an accurate, if not perfect, portrayal of her life.  It’s fascinating to read about autism from the inside out, as it were, and also interesting to note her opinion that for all the advances we have made in understanding autism and Asperger’s syndrome, as a child in the 1950’s she had a few advantages over today’s children.  School classrooms were well-ordered and quiet; the noise and chaos often seen classrooms now would have been impossible for her to handle.  Parents, teachers, and other adults worked hard to instill good manners and polite behavior into children; these are difficult but essential skills for autistic children to learn, but they are sadly neglected today.  Finally, there were no video games then, which encourage solitary activity; she was forced to interact directly with other children through board games, outdoor play, and other normal, 1950’s-era activities. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 8:24 pm | Edit
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Nobody likes to be sick, and especially nobody likes children to be sick.  But if you are a child, today is a much better time than 50 years ago to face a mild illness.  I don’t mean because of all the new vaccines—I actually look back with some fondness on the days of chicken pox, measles, and German measles.  (I missed out on that other great disease of early childhood, mumps, despite repeated visits to my friend when she was afflicted.)  Nor do I mean the obvious improvements in the treatment of many diseases, and in emergency medicine, not that I’m not grateful for them.

What I’m thankful for is that we have outgrown the sick-children-must-stay-in-bed philosophy.  Bed is fine when you’re too miserable to do anything else, but in the 50’s and 60’s bed rest was still considered an important part of the cure, and often imposed long after the child would have been much better off up and about. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 7:36 am | Edit
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alt Healing through Exercise:  Scientifically-Proven Ways to Prevent and Overcome Illness and Lengthen Your Life, by Jörg Blech  (Da Capo Press, 2009)  Originally published as Heilen mit Bewergung (S. Fischer Verlag, 2009)

We all know exercise is good for us, right?  So who needs yet another book telling us so?

Knowing what we should be doing is one thing, but actually doing it is another, and Healing through Exercise provides motivation in spades.

Beware the cure that is marketed as a panacea, we are told:  if it claims to fix all ills, it’s probably a fraud.  That’s sound advice, but Jörg Blech makes a convincing case that simple, regular exercise is as close to a cure-all as we’ll ever find.  Whether the issue is heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, cholesterol, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, back pain, cancer, impotence, ADHD, depression, brain development, immune system health, stress overload, or “old age,” moderate, regular exercise is essential—and in some cases even sufficient—for preventing illness and restoring health.  We’re more familiar with the preventative side, but Blech cites study after study showing how exercise can even reverse existing damage.  It’s never too late to take advantage of the benefits of exercise.  (Note to self:  this should be incentive to get started at any age, but never an excuse for procrastination.) (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 6, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Edit
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I am thankful for the baby formula that is available today.

I know.  Me, the Notorious Despiser of Artificial Baby Feeding, thankful for infant formula.  But it’s true. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 6:43 am | Edit
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Continuing with the Thanksgiving/Good New Days series, today (and every day) I am thankful for smoke-free restaurants, homes, airplanes, offices, grocery stores, and even bowling alleys!  This is a societal sea-change that is most definitely for the better.

You youngsters simply cannot imagine what it was like. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 3:39 pm | Edit
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altTemple Grandin (HBO, NR)

Why are you reading this post when you could be rushing to your nearest video store (is that phrase as passé as "dialing a phone number"?) and grabbing a copy of Temple Grandin?  It would be trite to say that this is one of the most amazing and inspiring movies I have ever seen, though it is.  It would be understatement to say that Temple Grandin is an incredibly amazing and inspiring person.

"Highly functioning autistic" doesn't begin to describe this brilliant visual thinker—and university professor—whose humane designs have revolutionized livestock handling.  My introduction to Temple Grandin was through her TED lecture, The World Needs All Kinds of Minds.  That's a good place to start, but don't miss the movie.  (As far as I can recall it is completely grandchild safe.) (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 1, 2010 at 7:31 am | Edit
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"Harm reduction," a new term to me, though not a new concept, is a controversial approach to social problems, in which illegal, immoral, or otherwise harmful behaviors are attacked, not at the root, but at the branches:  distributing condoms to slow the spread of AIDS, needle exchange programs for drug addicts, and legalized prostitution, for example.  It is palliative care: attempting to ameliorate the symptoms of an apparently incurable social disorder.

Whether you approve of the idea or think it only exacerbates the problem—like Needle Park in Zurich, one of Switzerland's early experiments, which succeeded in reducing AIDS infections and drug-related deaths, but attracted addicts and professional drug dealers from all over Europe—the following story is heartwarming.  It brings to mind Mother Teresa, who, if she couldn't cure the ills of the lowest and the poorest in Calcutta, at least gave them the touch of a loving hand, and a clean, safe, comfortable place in which to die.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 6:29 am | Edit
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I wrote about xylitol when I discovered it in Japan four years ago, and that remains one of my most popular posts.  Although I did not experiment further with xylitol as a sugar substitute, I continued to use it as a dental rinse, swishing a small spoonful around in my mouth after brushing my teeth at night.

Until I started worrying about the fact that the xylitol I had was made in China, that is.  Chinese manufacturers were caught substituting poisonous substances for more expensive, safe ingredients in toothpaste and children's toys, as I wrote about in 2007, and later in baby formula, candy, and other products containing milk.  I wrote to the manufacturer of my xylitol, seeking reassurance, but received no answer. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 7:14 am | Edit
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