Weight training helps boost metabolism.  Add it to your routine 2-3 x/ week.

Adventure, part 2

July 29th, 2015

solo bike2 july 15I wrote about adventure last week – and then promptly went on one. It was no Wild, but it was, for me, both demanding and empowering: I embarked on my first-ever solo biking and camping trip.

The uncomfort zone I inhabited – an adventure is not an adventure if you don’t make yourself at least a little uncomfortable in the process – was not what you might expect. It was not so much about the physical challenge. I’m not saying that riding 70 miles over the coast range on a loaded bike was easy (especially on the lady parts), but I was in shape to do this. Getting my body to perform was a challenge, yes, but I knew I could do it.

The uncomfort zone was the woman-alone thing. Anxieties about the bike: flat tires and broken chains and assorted road mishaps far from bike shops and towns – and often out of cellphone range. Anxieties about camping alone: animals and people who act like animals and things that go bump in the night.

It took maybe 40 miles to stop feeling that particular all-body zing that, for me, signals being on high alert. This embodied anxiety feels almost like a low-level electrical current — not actually unpleasant, but insistent and distracting. But as I cycled through wetlands and pasture lands and forests, as I crossed creeks and skirted farms and edged around a lake, I began to forget all the bad things that could happen – because so many good things were happening: the greener-than-green landscape, the cloudless sky, the smell of mown hay, the solid power of my legs. I didn’t make a decision — Now I am going to cease being a scaredy cat start enjoying myself – but it happened. It’s weird to say that my body, busy pumping out the sweaty miles, actually relaxed. But that’s what happened.

And, after I successfully established my camp site and pitched my tent and started a fire in the fire ring and ate my dinner with my feet dangling in the Siuslaw River, I felt deep-down good. And ready for the next adventure.

Eat a pound of produce a day.  It’s not as hard as it seems.  One good-sized apple is a third of a pound.

Adventure

July 22nd, 2015

bike adventureI am not yet ready to stop having adventures.

Why do I make this proclamation?

It is because having adventures, whole-heartedly pursuing adventures – physical, creative, intellectual, spiritual – is the mark of one who is a curious and engaged.

It is because maintaining (no, not just maintaining, actively fueling) a sense of curiosity and wonder is the cornerstone of a counterclockwise lifestyle. A curious, engaged, adventurous person is, regardless of chronological age, youthful.

And so I say again: I am not yet ready to stop having adventures. And I hope I never will be.

An adventure is an experience that involves risk. It nudges you back to the beginning of a learning curve, which is an exciting, humbling and scary place to be. But it is the place where learning happens, where growth happens. Adventure is about inviting the unexpected and staying flexible and resilient enough to enjoy (or cope creatively with) what happens.

Adventures are individual, idiosyncratic things: a six-day silent mediation retreat is one person’s adventure; three weeks of backcountry hiking is another. A third adventurous soul might sign up for a pudding wrestling contest at a bar (a benefit for a really good cause. Really). These aren’t, as you might have guessed, random adventures. They are, in fact, adventures each of my three children have recently undertaken.

Which brings me to a conversation I overhead yesterday that compelled me to write this post today. I heard a woman at my favorite coffee hang-out say to her friend (after regaling her with what her children were up to), “After all, it’s our kids’ chance to have adventures now. Our time has past.” To which I say: bullshit. No, I didn’t say this out loud at the time. (I am not that kind of adventurous.) But I say it now. I am yelling it now. B U L L S H I T. Listen. This isn’t a zero-sum game. We don’t have to stop having adventures when our kids start having their own. In fact, this is THE time to reinvigorate our own sense of adventure.

Tomorrow I leave for my first-ever overnight solo bike trek.

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller

Calcium (dietary and/ or supplement) PLUS weight-bearing exercise = strong bones.

Our friends the mice

July 15th, 2015

miceWhat’s good news for mice is sometimes good news for (wo)men: So listen up.

Australian and Chinese researchers have made what could be a ground-breaking discovery about one of the mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease. Using mice – genomically so similar to us that it’s kind of scary – the scientists manipulated a receptor  that mediates the toxicity of nerve-damaging signals in the Alzheimer’s brain. In doing so they – hold onto your hats — reversed “behavioral deficits and Alzheimer’s Disease-type pathologies.” You could say, if you wanted to be dramatic about it, that they cured Alzheimer’s. In mice.

Here is my Science for Dummies explanation of what these guys did: We all (mice and [wo]men) have this good receptor that protects our brain from nerve damage and the resulting cell death and amyloid plaque build-up that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s. But we also have a bad receptor that causes nerve damage, which results in, yes, cell death and amyloid build-up. The researchers discovered that, in the Alzheimer’s brain, the bad receptor is winning. When they genetically manipulated the mice’s brains to enhance the good receptor and jazz up (that’s science talk) its protective action, they saw the reversal of amyloid build up and cell death.

Sometimes we get very excited about research that looks ultra promising in mouse models (resveratrol is a great example) only to discover that humans are different enough that the research doesn’t easily transfer. I don’t think we start screaming from the rooftops, “We have cured Alzheimer’s.” The shout-from-the-rooftops breakthrough is the sophisticated way we are coming to understand how the healthy (and the diseased) brain works. What these scientists are discovering about the complex role of various neurotransmitters is very good news.

Meanwhile, we humans are deeply deeply indebted to the lab animals that make research like this possible. Mice and rats account for about 95 percent of all lab animals, and they have been integral to medical breakthroughs in aging, and in cancer and many other diseases. I know there are those who are against using animals in medical research, and my heart is with them. My head, though, acknowledges the leaps in understanding and the resulting amelioration of pain and illness that these little guys have made possible.

Don’t drink soda.  Ever.  Even (especially) diet soda.

‘Tis the season

July 8th, 2015

blueberry selfieMy daughter Lizzie and I picked blueberries for two delightful hours yesterday morning, surely one of my favorite agricultural activities. ‘Tis the season to revel in fresh produce of all kinds, but blueberries have long been on the top of my list. I wanted to spread The Gospel of the Blueberry in this week’s post — and discovered that I wrote about going picking (and the health and anti-aging benefits of blueberries) almost exactly one year ago.  Here is that post. Read it — and then head to the nearest blueberry patch (if you are lucky enough to live near one, or have a garden of your own) or the grocery store. Unsprayed berries, of course.

(July 16, 2014)

My husband, daughter and I spent a few hours last Saturday picking blueberries in the cool of the morning, alternately intent on the task and zoning out to bird songs and soft breezes. Blueberry picking is a delightful activity. Quiet, contemplative, rewarding. Unlike strawberry picking, you get to stand up. Unlike blackberry picking you get to not bleed. And, of course, you get blueberries which, in my opinion, are the apex of deliciousness.

How wonderful, then, that they are also the apex of healthiness. Here are five reasons to enjoy blueberries – lots and lots of them – right now:

1. Blueberries protect against memory loss.
A 2012 study suggested that eating at least one serving of blueberries a week slowed cognitive decline by several years. These promising results came from work by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School researchers which was published in the Annals of Neurology. (Read: high cred) It may be that blueberries protect the brain by clearing toxic proteins that accumulate there, which was the finding of a 2013 mouse study.

2. Blueberries are heart-friendly. Very friendly.
In repeated studies, blueberries (1-2 cups a day) have been found to lower total cholesterol, raise HDL (that’s the good one) and lower triglycerides. At the same time, blueberries have been shown to help protect LDL (the bad one) from damage that could lead to clogging of the arteries. Blueberries powerful antioxidant phytochemicals also help protect the cells lining the blood vessel walls. And the most recent research points to blueberries’ role in increasing the activity of an enzyme associated with better cardiovascular function. And then there’s blood pressure. In those with high blood pressure, blueberries have significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. In those with health blood pressure, blueberries have been shown to help maintain these healthy pressures.

3. Blueberries provide antioxidant support throughout the body.
Blueberries’ phytochemicals don’t just work wonders within the cardiovascular system. They provide support for virtually every body system studied to date. That includes muscles, nerves and the digestive tract. In preliminary animal studies, one of the powerful antioxidants in blueberries (anthocyanins) helped protect the retina from oxidative damage.

4. Blueberries help with blood sugar regulation.
A recent study that included blueberries along with other low Glycemic Index fruits, found the combination to have a favorable impact on blood sugar regulation in those already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Participants in the study who consumed at last 3 servings of low-GI fruits per day (including blueberries) saw significant improvement in their regulation of blood sugar over a three-month period of time.

5. Blueberries might have important anti-cancer benefits.
It’s too early to tell, but the studies done on human cells in the lab and on lab animals appear promising. So far breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancers of the small intestine have been studied. The hope is that blueberry consumption may lower the risk of these cancer types.

Unlike other foods that are packed with healthy benefits – like nuts, for example, or que lastima, chocolate — blueberries are not packed with calories. One cup has only 80-85 calories. That serving provides 30 percent of your vitamin K needs, 25 percent of manganese, 20 percent of vitamin C and a surprising 15 percent of daily fiber requirements. Such a deal.

And, new studies make it clear that we can freeze blueberries without doing damage to their delicate antioxidants. Which is a relief, as we picked about 35 quarts Saturday morning.

Eat a pound of produce a day.  It’s not as hard as it seems.  One good-sized apple is a third of a pound.

One Pill Makes You Younger…

July 1st, 2015

pillIs there – could there be – an anti-aging pill?

I write about the hope and hype of “anti-aging” – and by anti-aging, you know I mean prolonging (and enjoying) a healthy, vibrant, engaged and meaningful life for as long as possible. Most times there’s a whiff of hope and a shitload of hype. Most times there’s a sliver of interesting or provocative research that morphs overnight into products and treatments shilled by internet hucksters. Hope becomes hype in a heartbeat.

But this may be changing.

One of the big problems in the world of anti-aging – that is, the multi-billion dollar industry that has grown up around the evolving science of aging – is the lack of substantial, credible research. I am not talking about research that investigates how we age. That’s coming along nicely, and as you know from reading this blog, the news is very good. And I’m not talking about the research that explores connections between our bad habits (smoking, sedentary lifestyle, stress, diet) or our good habits (exercise, diet, sleep) and aging. We are getting excellent, thought-provoking data on that. Again, I’ve written about this quite a bit here.

I am talking about credible research on “remedies,” those substances (from HGH to CoQ-10, bio-identical hormones to resveratrol) hawked in books or on the web that promise to stop aging in its tracks, turn back the hands of time and cure what ails ya.

When you look for the research to back up the claims and promises, you don’t find it. The gold-standard studies (large scale, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled) are not there. The reasons for this are interesting and complicated – too complicated to write about here. (I do, however, explain this in my book, Counterclockwise). But there is change in the air.

Doctors and scientists want drug regulators and research funding agencies to consider medicines that delay age-related disease as legitimate drugs. Such treatments have a physiological basis, researchers say, and could extend a person’s healthy years by slowing down the processes that underlie common diseases of aging — making them worthy of government approval. (And government – that is, FDA – approval depends on consistent evidence gleaned from large-scale, gold-standard studies.) Please know that I know that some horrific drugs have been approved by the FDA, and some potentially life-saving ones have not. This is not a perfect system.

The first drug scientists would like to subject to rigorous gold-standard research is metformin, which suppresses glucose production by the liver and increases sensitivity to insulin. The drug has been used for more than 60 years (in the treatment of diabetes). It is safe and prolongs healthy life and lifespan in worms and in some mouse strains. Data also suggest that it could delay heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline and death in people with diabetes. There are plans for a 5-7 year study involving several thousand people at 15 research centers around the country.

And who knows, in the next decade there might well be an anti-aging pill.

Use a moisturizer/ sunscreen (SPF 30) always, regardless of season.

Zen and the Art of Bike Riding

June 24th, 2015

photo I just returned, sore lady parts and all, from a 2-day, 136-mile bike trip out and back to the coast. What I love about long-distance bike riding is not what you’d think. I don’t love it because of the physical challenge, the way it works all the big muscles, the great cardio. I don’t love it because it takes me outside, for hours and hours, into the glory that is Oregon. Well, of course I love it for all that. But that’s not the big reason.

The big reason is how obvious and no-nonsense life lessons are when you’re out there on a bike for hours and hours. The lessons are delivered, in your face. No mushy aphorisms-to-live-by, no bumpersticker-like words of inspiration. Just immediate, lived experience.

Here’s what I mean: One minute you’re tooling down this back road and there’s no traffic and the wind is at your back and the air is sweet with new mown hay. On either side of the road, the foxglove and larkspur are in full bloom. And your companion (who happens to be your wonderful, amazing middle son Zane) calls your attention to a red-winged blackbird. And the two of you say, almost in unison, “It doesn’t get better than this.”

Five minutes, maybe more like 3 minutes later, the wind picks up and shifts and is hammering your face and all of a sudden there’s nasty gravel all over the shoulder and you run over the decaying but still redolent carcass of a skunk. And you think: Shit. What just happened? This is how quickly life changes. And you realize: Just because it truly sucks right now doesn’t mean it will suck five minutes from now. And you think: Life turns on a dime. And isn’t that kind of grand.

You can be philosophical – okay, you have to be philosophical – when you are powering up a seemingly interminable 7 percent grade or when the late afternoon sun is scorching your back as you sweat through the final 15 to home. This is when Zane and I curse loudly, pick the bugs from our teeth and yell to each other, remind each other: “It’s all good miles.” The downhill-sweet-hay miles and the uphill-log-trucks-on-your ass miles, the skunk miles, the watching-a-great-blue-heron-dive-for-a-fish miles. It’s all good miles.

Get it?

I’m beginning to.

Z and me bike

A fast, easy, nutrition-rich, anti-aging breakfast: Plain Greek yogurt, blueberries, chopped almonds, green tea.

Joy

June 17th, 2015

photoPleasure is planned.

Joy happens.

Pleasure is what you feel eating a plate of grilled fresh sardines at a little taverna in Crete with the sun dipping down over the Agean. It took four airplanes to get here, and countless hours poring over airbnb apartments to find a cool and funky place to stay, and concerted exploration of tripadvisor and yelp to find the taverna. And then you had to walk a mile to get here. But now here you are. And it’s lovely. It’s delightful. It’s a pleasure.

Joy is when you are crouched filthy and sweaty in the garden pulling the umpteenth thistle from in between the tomato plants, and you look up to see the cat walking on the edge of the raised-bed box, all slinky and graceful, sinuous and supple, and for no reason he stops and turns his head to look at you, and his eyes are as green as grass, and it takes your breath away. And in the place of that breath joy floods in.

What does this have to do with counterclockwise living?

Everything.

Packaged foods?  Oh no you don’t.  Unless you want trans fats, refined grains, HFCS.

How to age quickly, badly

June 10th, 2015

badprisonfoodLet’s say, for some perverse reason, you wanted to organize your life to accelerate the aging process, to do everything you could to promote early chronic illness and set yourself up for low energy, foggy thinking, dark moods, disability, a night stand crammed with medicine bottles and, oh yeah, premature death.

Here’s what you would do: Get yourself incarcerated.

In prison you will eat poorly. (This, for example, is the Federal Bureau of Prison’s Certified Food menu offering for breakfast: “pkg grits, 3 slices bread, skim milk, 2 pkg jelly, 2 margarine.”) Ramen with crushed potato chips and mystery meat is purported to be dinner favorite.
You will have limited opportunities to be physically active.
You will have limited access to the outdoors (and none to nature).
You will live in a high-stress environment over which you have no control.
You will have limited, truncated or nonexistent relationships with family.
You will lack the opportunity to be alone (except if being punished).
You will have poor sleep hygiene.
You will lack meaningful work.

(Prior to this age-accelerating experience, you will have lived the first few decades of your life with little or no health care, and the chances are decent that you would have already significantly impaired your health with a substance abuse problem.)

People in prison are categorized by the system as “old” at age 50 – or sometimes 55. However old they are chronologically, research suggests that they are, due to incarceration, an average of 10 years older biologically. These “old” inmates suffer from the chronic conditions of unhealthy aging: arthritis, hypertension, ulcers, diabetes and heart disease. Also hep C, cancer, early dementia. According to research conducted by Jonathan Turley, a law professor and director of the Project for Older Prisoners, an “elderly” prisoner will experience an average of 3 chronic illnesses during his or her time behind bars. Not surprisingly, medical expenses for older prisoners are between 3 and 9 times higher than for other prisoners.

We know what ages us, what makes us sick, what robs us of vitality. Unlike those in prison, we are free to make good choices every day. What choices did you make today?

Act young.  But not in a creepy way.

Eat Chocolate. Lose Weight

June 3rd, 2015

chocolate-barsI’ve extolled the health benefits of dark chocolate as part of the counterclockwise lifestyle. In fact, I’ve written on the subject not once but twice passing along credible research that suggests dark chocolate (very dark, and just a little) significantly lowers LDL, reduces inflammation, is a powerful scavenger of free radicals, has beneficial effects on the lining of blood vessels and the lymphatic system, has beneficial effects on cognitive function, and may directly influence insulin resistance and, in turn, reduce the risk of diabetes.

Now I’m alerting you to another good news chocolate study. This one links eating dark chocolate with weight loss. The study found that people on a low-carb diet lost weight 10 percent faster if they ate a chocolate bar every day. The research was conducted by a team of German scientists led by Johannes Bohannon, research director of the Institute of Diet and Health. It was published in The International Archives of Medicine.

And it was a fraud.

A scam created by Bohannon to show how bad science can fool journalists (and us).

Yes, he actually did conduct a study. One group followed a low-carb diet. One group followed the low-carb diet and ate a chocolate bar every day. The third continued to eat whatever they usually ate. At the end of  21 days, people in both of the two diet groups had lost an average of 5 pounds, but the people on the low-carb diet plus chocolate lost the weight 10 percent faster.

So where’s the bad science?

*The number of subjects studied was…15.
*The composition of each 5-person group was not controlled.
*The food intake and weight data were completely self-reported.
*Then, during one “beer-fueled weekend,” the research team (friends gathered by Bohannon) madly crunched every number they could think of until they came up with something statistically significant . The trick, as Bohannon explained it, is to measure a large number of things about a small number of people. With 18 separate measurements and 15 people, they had a 60 percent chance of hitting on something. Which they did. “The results,” said Bohannon, “are meaningless, and the health claims …are utterly unfounded.”

Now might be the time to tell you that Bohannan’s “Institute of Diet and Health” is actually just a website he created and that The International Archives of Medicine – which accepted the study within 24 hours of submission — is a non-peer reviewed journal that charges (in this case 600 euros) to publish manuscripts.

News about the study made international headlines, including a front-page story in Bild, Europe’s largest daily newspaper, coverage in the Irish Examiner, Cosmopolitan’s German website, the Times of India, both the German and Indian sites of the Huffington Post, Shape magazine, and TV shows in the U.S. and Australia.

The take home message here is not that chocolate isn’t a weight-loss strategy. Duh. It’s that bad science happens to good people. Like us. And that in the world of health, nutrition and antiaging – where billions can be made by selling “scientifically proven” products — we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled. Also, dammit, journalists who cover science ought to know something about…scientific inquiry.

Sleep in a cool room (temperature not décor).

Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen

May 27th, 2015

garden 2Planting my garden this past week (so very late due to cold damp May and lots of April travel), I’ve been focused on the future glory of fresh vegetables. Which is much better than focusing on the current reality of thistles and morning glory and slugs. Some produce is startlingly better if you grow it yourself – tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries, for example.  But for other crops –potatoes and garlic come to mind – the distinction between “home-grown” and “store-bought” is lost on me.slug

What about the distinction between “organic” and whatever you want to call the other stuff – “pesticide-enhanced”? There is ongoing unresolved controversy about the distinction (if there is one) between the nutritional value of organically grown produce versus non-organics. There can be a distinction (but not always) in taste. There is always a glaring distinction in cost. So…following the “you are what you eat” motto that is central to living a counterclockwise life, what should we be buying/growing/eating as we move into these months of fruit and vegetable splendor and magnificence?

I wanted to remind myself (and I am now reminding you) about the so-call Dirty Dozen, the fruits and vegetables that you absolutely want to buy organic (or grow yourself) because of pesticide load.

Researchers at the Environmental Working Group, a U.S. non-profit that specializes in research and advocacy, conducted extensive (and ongoing) analysis to determine the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. Here they are (in order): Apples, peaches, nectarines, strawberries, grapes, celery, spinach, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, snap peas, potatoes, hot peppers. So buy organic or grow yourself. Or, if neither is a possibility, avoid.

You can add to your avoid or buy organic list: beef (strong suggestion of connection between hormones given to cattle and cancer in humans) and milk from rBST or rBGH-treated cows (17% of dairy cows are treated with the hormone). Oh, and by the way: Don’t buy microwave popcorn even if the popcorn is “organic.” The linings of microwave-popcorn bags may contain a toxic chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (used to prevent the food from sticking to the paper), which, according to the EPA, is a likely carcinogen.

And now, for the Don’t Worry list, the Clean 15 with the lowest pesticide load. This is courtesy of Dr, Andrew Weil: avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage , sweet peas (frozen), onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe (domestic), cauliflower, sweet potatoes.

Now go plant something.