I'm not sure what to think of the latest buzz that sitting for more than three hours a day takes two years off your life, particularly such statements as, "Sitting, it turns out, can shorten life expectancy almost as much as smoking can." As with many such generalized studies, I think it's making its splash long before there has been sufficient time for analysis and confirmation or contradiction. Be that as it may, it's clear enough that the human body is more designed for movement than for sitting on our hind ends for extended periods.
The articles I've read about this new study recommend that we watch less television, cut down our computer time, and walk to a colleague's office rather than sending an e-mail. Only the first is at all practical for those whose work involves the computer, and whose colleagues may be half a world away. Our hope, I assume, lies in taking frequent breaks to get up and move around, although the value of such behavior may be hard to sell to an employer who is more worried about productivity than longevity.
But as long as they're considering impracticalities, I'm puzzled by the obvious omission in the articles: Not one has addressed the long hours our children spend sitting in school, with less freedom of motion than an office worker with a swivel chair and the ability to walk at will to the bathroom. When was the last time you heard a serious suggestion to keep school time to under three hours? (Besides here, of course.)
Worse still, consider what we do to our children before school: The hours tightly bound in car seats, or confined in other devices, aka baby shackles. Little time spent on their tummies learning to become mobile. Day care and early school where mobility is discouraged in the name of education or just plain crowd control.
No wonder we don't care to get off our duffs.
So, the CDC wants all of the "baby boom" generation tested for hepatitis C, in a move reminiscent of school teachers who punish the whole class for the misbehavior of the few. I was planning on simply refusing the test, should our doctor suggest it, but now I have a better answer.
The Big Red Bus was at our church today, so we hopped on and donated, after the Eucharist. (Blood in, blood out.) As it happens, testing for hepatitis C is part of the "mini-physical" you get when you donate blood. Now if the doctor asks, I can say, "been there, done that." Several times over, as a matter of fact.
The bad news? Lots of cream and sugar could negate the effect.
The good news? Enjoy your coffee guilt-free. At least the coffee helps negate the effect of the cream and sugar. :) And remember, stress and guilt are bad for you, too!
I haven't read the book myself, but was thrilled to find this review of The Truth about Tummy Time: A Parent's Guide to SIDS, the Back to Sleep Program, Car Seats and More by pediatric physical therapist Stephanie J. Pruitt. It's about time someone from the medical profession admitted that Back to Sleep has led to a significant rise in physical problems and developmental delays in our children.
What I find especially interesting is that Back to Sleep is only part of the problem. See this article, Shackles for Babies, particularly the comments that follow from another pediatric physical therapist. Babies are being left on their backs during the day as well as at night, despite the known value of "tummy time." What's much worse, many are kept for hours on end in baby entertainment devices and rigid baby carriers that keep them in unnatural positions and do far more damage than leaving them on their backs, but free to move. Scary.
Even the strictest adherents of Back to Sleep can make a point of giving their babies freedom to move the rest of the hours of the day.
What's your gut reaction to this story?
There are more than 1,000 varieties of bacteria that live within the human gut, and an average person can have around 300 different varieties of the little critters living within them. Each type of bacteria not only supports one another but support your ability to digest food, stay healthy, and if your gut community is a bit off, perhaps gain weight or develop diabetes.
Or this one?
[The] often-overlooked network of neurons lining our guts that is so extensive some scientists have nicknamed it our "second brain". A deeper understanding of this mass of neural tissue, filled with important neurotransmitters, is revealing that it does much more than merely handle digestion or inflict the occasional nervous pang. The little brain in our innards, in connection with the big one in our skulls, partly determines our mental state and plays key roles in certain diseases throughout the body.
U.C.L.A.'s [Emeran] Mayer is doing work on how the trillions of bacteria in the gut "communicate" with enteric nervous system cells (which they greatly outnumber). His work with the gut's nervous system has led him to think that in coming years psychiatry will need to expand to treat the second brain in addition to the one atop the shoulders.
And from a much older source:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26)
This is a mighty sad article. The British government has issued official guidelines aimed at getting the under-five crowd moving.
The British government says children under five, including infants, should exercise every day. The guidelines recommend children under five be physically active for at least three hours per day, they also say that babies should be doing tummy time or in-swim lessons with their parents to help them gain strength.
Well, good for the British government, if it's really necessary. Is this the fruit of the back-to-sleep campaign, long rides in car seats, baby swings, strollers, bouncy seats, playpens, walkers, baby videos, and other well- and not-so-well-intentioned interventions?
All the under-fives I know (not to mention more than a few five-and-overs) have no problem whatsoever being active for three hours practically every waking minute each day. Every mother of a toddler from the creation of the world has no doubt groaned more than once, "If I could only bottle that energy...."
The British government's expressed concern is with the later risk of adult obesity, but if our toddlers must be prodded to be active, we're looking at more of a problem than that. It's nothing less than a sea change in the development of the human race.
The Raw Milk Revolution: Behind America's Emerging Battle Over Food Rights, by David E. Gumpert (Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, Vermont, 2009)
That the forward to The Raw Milk Revolution was written by Joel Salatin—whose Polyface Farms is the poster child for independent, sustainable farming—gives the reader a good idea of where the book ends up. That's a lot more than the author knew when he began his investigation. He was over 50 when he had his first glass of raw milk, and hadn't given milk of any form much thought for some 30 years.
But for a writer with interests in both small businesses and health, the growing demand for unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk—and the increasing governmental interference with the small dairy farms that are its only source—was a natural field to investigate.
I had my first glass of raw milk at lunch, with a homemade chocolate chip cookie.... Suddenly I was back in my childhood, with my all-time favorite snack. The milk was as creamy and rich tasting as it looked, with a slight sweetness I didn't recall from my childhood milk. ... But I'd be lying if I didn't admit that overhanging the experience was an anxiety-laden question provoked by my American history classes highlighting the importance of pasteurization in saving lives: Might this wonderful milk kill me? I actually went to sleep wondering whether I'd wake up. ... Of course, there was no bad reaction of any sort, and I became a regular customer.
Gumpert is lucky. The places one can legally purchase raw milk are few. In Switzerland Janet lives an easy walk from a local dairy, where she can buy all she wants at a good price. Pennsylvania is one of the few states in the U.S. where raw milk is legal, and Heather can get some for the cost of a long drive and a lot more money than the grocery store charges for their agri-business milk. In Florida we can't buy it legally at any price, except as (very expensive) pet milk, "not for human consumption." (More)
The 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.
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.
(Granchild warning: I don't know if you consider "crap" objectionable, but there are a few instances between 17:00 and 18:30.)
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)
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)
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.
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.
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)
Thinking 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.
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)
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