Use a moisturizer/ sunscreen (SPF 30) always, regardless of season.
Restorative sleep. Beauty sleep. Good sleep hygiene. Safe and restful sleep…sleep…sleep. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know: Sleep is good. And necessary. But how good? And what – if anything — does sleep have to do to with a counterclockwise life?
And not just the obvious, as in the generalized mental and physical recuperative effects of adequate and good-quality slumber.
Here’s the latest word on sleep –not too much (more than 9 hours) but just enough (7-8 hours):
Sleep promotes and helps maintain sharper cognitive function, especially memory. Researchers have long known that lack of sleep impairs reasoning, problem-solving, and attention to detail, among other effects. However, the mechanisms behind sleep benefits in these areas have been unknown. Now University of Rochester Medical Center researchers have discovered a system that drains waste products from the brain. Cerebrospinal fluid, a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, moves through the brain along a series of channels that surround blood vessels. The scientists reported that this brain lymph system can help remove a toxic protein called beta-amyloid from brain tissue. Beta-amyloid is renowned for accumulating in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Other research has shown that brain levels of beta-amyloid decrease during sleep. This is a mouse study…so don’t start jumping up and down (unless you are a rodent). But it is potentially good news.
Sleep contributes to a strong and healthy heart. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) links too little sleep (six hours or less) and too much sleep (10 or more hours) with chronic diseases — including coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, clogging of the arteries anxiety and obesity — in adults age 45 and older. In another study of more than 30,000 adults, those who slept approximately 7 hours a night were far less likely to develop heart disease that those who averaged 5 hours. Poor sleep appears to increase substances in your body, such as c-reactive protein, that indicate inflammation is a problem. Poor sleep also causes the body to produce more stress hormones, which may contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Sleep assists in weigh control. Brain scans in healthy adults reveal that a good night’s sleep effects areas of the brain that regulate desire for high-calorie food. University of California/Berkeley researchers found that people deprived of a good night’s rest are more likely experience urges to eat fattening food. The changes in food desirability encouraged by the sleep-deprived brain may originally have been an important adaptation, they say, adding – unnecessarily – that today they are “maladaptive and no longer benefit our health.”
So there you have it: Sleep as an anti-aging strategy. Sleep in a cool, dark room. Do not watch TV or use electronic devices right before bedtime (something about the particular light waves that are emitted). Progressive muscle relaxation techniquees and deep breathing really work. Are your eyelids getting heavy?Filed under Posts | Comments (2)
Dark chocolate (70% cacao) is YES! an anti-aging health food. Enjoy a square a day. The flavinoids help lower blood pressure and improve lipid profile.
No, this is not a treatise on eating disorders. This is about how our lives, our exciting, creative, counterclockwise lives are often all about bingeing and purging. And it’s not a bad thing.
I go on a novel-reading binge, gobbling up And the Dark Sacred Night, Painted Girls, Astonish Me and Arcadia in less than three weeks (the last three weeks, in fact). The purge is coming up. I’ll probably not read another novel for four or five months, as I purge myself of fabricated worlds and immerse myself in nonfiction. I binge-watch Orange is the New Black, and then I don’t watch television for weeks. I drink three or four cappuccinos a day (remember the fika I wrote about?) in Stockholm. And then go coffee-less for the next month.
I go through a binge cycle on exercise, too. Last week I ran every day. This week I’m not running at all. I go through intense periods of certain activities – circuit training, boxing, Barre3 – and then purge by moving on to something else, something entirely new.
If you think of “bingeing” as giving yourself up entirely to something, immersing yourself, saturating yourself in it, losing yourself in it, then bingeing becomes a vibrant whole-hearted act. A powerful, exhilarating act. But not sustainable. Not meant to be sustainable.
If you think of “purging” as cleansing, sluicing out the brain, the body, the spirit to make way for new “binges,” then the purge is also a powerful and necessary act.
Several years ago I stayed at an agritourismo near Montepulciano run by Fiori, Marzia and their teenage daughter. They had re-built the place, themselves, from a few ancient stone buildings. The gardens, vegetable and flower, were breathtaking. They had a small vineyard, a big field lush with girasole (sunflowers), hand-laid stone patios, honeysuckle-covered verandas and a number of beautifully crafted little outbuildings. How had they accomplished all this, I asked Fiori. Where did all these ideas and all this energy come from? “Ah,” he said, with a big smile, “Marzia…she is a woman of much imaginations.”
I want to be a woman of much imaginations. I think this is a major component of youthfulness as I’ve tried to define it for myself, a cornerstone of living the counterclockwise life. And I think that means bingeing and purging, throwing myself into the great wide open and then, sated, pulling back to recoup, to cleanse, to ready myself for the next adventure.Filed under Posts | Comment (1)
Keep chemicals off your skin! Read, really read, those ingredient labels for body products.
I am my harshest critic.
Have you ever said this about yourself? I have. And I am. And have been kind of proud of it. No one is harder on me than me, I proclaim. I can never please myself, I say, kind of pleased with myself for saying so. I’ve long thought of this as keen-eyed self-judgment and realistic (if harsh) self-assessment, the antidote to all that saccharine love yourself just the way you are/ forgive yourself psychobabble.
Oh, wait. It’s not psychobabble? It’s self-compassion? And it’s actually a healthy (not to mention counterclockwise) trait to nurture? Oops. Will I ever be able to forgive myself for not knowing this?
Self-compassion means recognizing and acknowledging your humanness, which is to say your imperfections and failings, and instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for these inadequacies or shortcomings, being kind and understanding. Things will not always go the way you want them to. You will make mistakes, bump up against your limitations, fall short of your ideals. Guess what? That’s called being human.
In relatively trivial counterclockwise lifestyle terms, this means: So what if you read a great book all weekend instead of sweating at the gym? Are you the worst person on earth because you inhaled a slab of Metropole Bakery carrot cake (just sayin)? Forgot sunscreen? Didn’t drink your 8 glasses of water? Blahblahblah. The time and energy you spend beating yourself up about these “failings” can – that’s right — age you!
It turns out that people who are kind to themselves suffer less stress and anxiety, which translates into less cortisol circulating in their system. Cortisol (the “stress hormone”) increases blood sugar, suppresses the immune system, decreases bone formation and is implicated in systemic inflammation. All bad. People who are stressed and anxious also have higher blood pressure and faster heart rates. Not good. Self-kindness is an anti-aging strategy!
Take this self-compassion test online, and see how you do. I took it, and I came close to flunking. Then I berated myself for my low self-compassion score, thereby showing my lack of self-compassion. Which does have a lovely circularity to it and would make a great New Yorker cartoon. However. Now I shall quit yelling at myself and attempt to embrace my flawed humanity. Or at least my rotten test score.
Thanks to Colleen McKillip, loyal reader and recipient of a free Counterclockwise audiobook, for suggesting this topic. I have another free download to offer to the next reader with a good suggestion for an idea I’ve yet to tackle. Pitch it to me as a “comment” to this post.Filed under Posts | Comments (2)
Yes, go exercise. But just as important: Integrate movement into your regular daily life.
I could make a bundle publishing a book with that title, right? It appeals to that most lucrative, literate and thus far untapped demographic (you know who you are) of counterclockwise cat-lovers.
Alas, no book. Instead, I will give away all my insights for free right here. This is your lucky day. My cat is pretty excited too.
My cat, Sonny, is 15 years old. That’s 76 in people years. (fyi: A cat reaches the approximate human age of 15 during its first year, then 24 at age 2. Each year thereafter, it ages approximately four “cat years” for every calendar year.) He is alert, frisky, fighting-weight, clear-eyed, and soft-furred. From your typical sitting-on-haunches cat position, he can leap 3 feet in the air and nail a landing on the 4-inch wide porch railing. He sleeps soundly. He is happy (as evidenced by incessant purring).
What’s his secret? What does Sonny do right? As cats are said to have 9 lives, here are Sonny’s 9 counterclockwise strategies:
1. He grazes on high-quality, no-garbage food all day, eating a mouthful of food at a time, never a big meal.
2. He stays hydrated.
3. He gets ample physical activity that is integrated into his daily life.
4. He plays.
5. He pals around with someone much much younger than himself (my other cat, Simon, who is a human twentysomething).
6. He continues to challenge himself cognitively and physically by hunting (note semi-revolting pic of Simon chewing bunny guts)
Now, here’s your reward for reading about my cat.
Counterclockwise was just published as an audio book on audible.com. I am offering a FREE download to the first three of you who send me a good (new) idea for a future column for the blog. Just send as a “comment” to this post. The audio book is wonderful, btw, voiced by the very talented actor Hollis McCarthy.Filed under Posts | Comments (10)
Stop. Breathe. Chronic stress harms the hippocampus, the brain’s main memory center.
No, it’s not another superfood.
No, it’s not a new ultimate fitness regimen.
It’s not about fasting, detoxing, botoxing, hormones, enzymes, lotions, lasers or dead skin-eating fish.
It’s about – wait for it – living a life with a sense of purpose. A while back, I wrote about meeting a vigorous, energetic 92-year-old woman who does just that.
You may remember that I’ve also written about a related subject: how volunteering is a powerful anti-aging strategy. Several recent studies found evidence that those who volunteer — which gives them a sense of purpose — live longer than their non-philanthropic counterparts. I mentioned a 2013 study published in the journal Psychology and Aging that found that mid-life adults who volunteered about 4 hours a week were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure 4 years later. Other studies discovered fewer health complaints, higher functional ability, less depression and anxiety, and less incidence of heart disease among volunteers than among matched sets of non-volunteers.
Now more good news in the same vein. Simply stated: People who live with a sense of purpose live longer. National Institute on Aging-funded research based on more than 6,000 mid-life people found that people with a sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of death, compared to their more aimless counterparts. The Canadian researchers controlled for other factors known to affect longevity like gender, age and emotional and psychological well-being. Sense of purpose trumped them all.
And here’s additional good news: It didn’t appear to make a difference when these people found that purpose. It could have been in college. It could have been after retirement. You might be interested to know that “sense of purpose” is not limited to the grandiose – joining the Peace Corps, cleaning up a toxic river, working for a political or social movement. The researchers defined purpose as a “compass or lighthouse that provides an overarching aim and direction in day-to-day lives.”
It could be big, like working for social change. But it could also be intimate like ensuring the well-being of one’s family. Or it could be self-focused, like doing well on the job. Creativity could also give a person a sense of purpose and direction.
Exactly how purpose benefits health is not clear. It might be that individuals with a sense of purpose are also purposeful about their own health and so lead healthier lives than others. But a likely explanation – especially given the research on the health benefits of volunteering – is that sense of purpose increases self-esteem, happiness and optimism, all traits associated with a myriad of health benefits. The researchers hypothesize that a sense of purpose may protect against the harmful effects of stress, one of the great systemic agers.
All of which goes to prove that living a healthy, vigorous and long life is not about anti-aging fads and 7-day make-over promises. It is about building and enjoying a rich, purposeful life. With (dark) chocolate for dessert.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Sun exposure is the #1 cause of premature skin aging. Hard to hear but: TANNED SKIN IS DAMAGED SKIN. Cover up. SPF, always.
It’s complicated. More complicated than you think.
Gone are the days (for most of us) when we brazenly sunbathed, slathered in baby oil, holding aluminum foil-covered reflectors to our faces. (Or was that just me?) We have been well schooled in the evils of El Sol these days, the big one being skin cancer. It is the most common cancer, and far more common in the gray and misty Northwest (where I live) that you would think. It may be that we Northwesterners are so thrilled when we see the sun that we celebrate its appearance with an overabundance of enthusiasm.
The other, less dire message about sun exposure concerns aging, as in premature aging of the skin, aka photoaging. Sun exposure dries out the outer layers of the skin (moist skin is youthful skin) and does damage to the deeper collagen layer that gives skin its resilience. Dermatologists believe that photoaging trumps chronological aging in terms of those sags and wrinkles you don’t want to see. Add to this the solid research that sun exposure may contribute to the development of cataracts, and it’s enough to make you want to live in a cave all year.
Ah, you say, “Not me. I use sunscreen. I’m safe.” Sorry to deliver some potentially bad news on this front. You may want to take a deep breath:
The titanium dioxide nanoparticles increasingly used in sunscreens to protect the skin (the tiny particles directly absorb the radiation from sunlight) are so tiny that some scientists are raising concerns about whether they might do harm by seeping through the skin and into the bloodstream. Back in 2006, the International Agency on Cancer Research classified titanium dioxide as a potential human carcinogen (based mostly on inhalation studies in animals). Although these concerns has been largely dismissed (whew), there are now new concerns focused on the possibility that these nanoparticles could promote skin aging.
Yes, that’s right: The stuff we slather on our skin to prevent damage may, in fact, promote it.
So…sun BAD; sunscreen BAD. Stay out of the sun entirely? Not so fast. There are extraordinary benefits to sun exposure, according to ongoing research. Sunlight is the major source of vitamin D-producing Ultraviolet B radiation. At least 1,000 different genes governing virtually every tissue in the body are now thought to be regulated by D3, the active form of the vitamin, including: calcium metabolism, bone health, neuromuscular and immune system functioning, regulation of hunger, fertility, post-work-our resilience and, get this, the inhibiting the growth of some cancers. There is also research on the possibility of sun exposure reducing blood pressure, cutting heart attacks and reducing the incidence of strokes. (In fact, Scientists at the University of Edinburgh in the UK suggest that the heart-health benefits of sun exposure may outweigh the risk of developing skin cancer.) And, as you probably know, sun exposure has also been associated with reduced risk of seasonal affective disorder.
What to do?
Maybe this will help: Dr. Michael Holick, a vitamin D researcher with Boston University School of Medicine says that “the alarmist view that you should never be exposed to one ray of sunshine without wearing sunscreen has led to a pandemic of vitamin D deficiency and health problems.” We should be cautious. Not freaked.
How about 20 minutes of unprotected basking — unless you 1) have had skin cancer or 2) are very light skinned. Then 1) it’s the cave for you and 2) 10 minutes?
Summertime when the livin’ is easy? Yeah, right.
Non-solar sources of D coming up next. Stay tuned.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
You’ve heard it before … Now do it: Make time for 30+ minutes of cardio-vascluar activity 3-4/x week.
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.Filed under Posts | Comment (1)
An anti-inflammation diet is easy: brightly colored veggies, fish, nuts and seeds.
For years and years — okay decades — I was a cardio-only exerciser. I swam. I biked and hiked. I treadmilled and EFXed. I cross-country skiied. Now that I understand the importance of muscle building and maintenance to overall fitness, health and vitality, I train with weights three times a week. At home, I like the 7-minute workout (app is free), which I repeat three times. At the gym, I alternate between free weights and machines. I also take classes at Barre3, an studio routine that uses very light weights and very small movements and is probably the hardest (and most satisfying) exercise I do right now. All help build muscle, which is far more metabolically active than fat. That means muscle burns more calories, even when you’re not using it — so muscle-maintenance is weight maintenance. But, more important, building and maintaining muscle is a major anti-aging strategy.
More muscle. Less fat. That’s the idea. I’ve written before about the fat-to-lean ratio as a biomarker of aging. Here I want to talk about strength (as a consequence of muscle) as a biomarker.
Older people are “weaker” than younger people because older people have less muscle mass, and the muscle they do have is less dense and works less efficiently. Between the ages of 30 and 70, the average person loses 20 percent of the “motor units” (the bundles of muscle fibers and the associated nerves that make up a muscle) in large and small muscle groups, and 30 percent of all muscle cells. And the cells that remain get smaller. And are marbled with fat. Less muscle equals less strength. Less strength leads to “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” and other such horrors of old(er) age. Less muscle means less endurance. Less endurance leads to less activity which leads to decrease in muscle…and so it goes.
The beauty of this — I know this doesn’t sound beautiful, but hold on — is that the progression (or, really, regression) is linear and logical, and therefore both understandable and fixable. So we can reverse it. Much of the weakness of older people has less do to with the passage of time than it has to do with the passage of time spent on the couch. Lack of strength is not a “natural” consequence of aging. It is a natural consequence of not actively building and maintaining muscle. Emphasis on the actively. Want the energy, stamina, strength and endurance that will keep you healthy and vital? Build muscle. Want a youthful fat-to-lean ratio? Build muscle. When you build muscle you build endurance which helps you…you guess it, build muscle. And you know what? It’s even kind of fun.
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You’ve heard it before … Now do it: Make time for 30+ minutes of cardio-vascluar activity 3-4/x week.
As part of my on-going anti-aging-lifestyle-can-be-fun campaign, I offer you the ultimate in counterclockwise pleasure, the indulgence with benefits, the no-no that is now a yes-yes. That’s’ right: Chocolate. No not candy (still a no-no).
Dark chocolate. At least 65 percent cacao chocolate.
Here some sweet results to ponder as you savor your square of chocolate:
The Mayo Clinic gives its highest rating of “strong” to the scientific evidence linking flavonols (the phytochemicals found in cacao) with decreases in blood pressure. (Remember that blood pressure is a biomarker for aging.) The University of Michigan Medical School has placed dark chocolate on its “Health Foods Pyramid”– a list that “emphasizes foods that nourish the body, sustain energy over time, contain healing qualities and essential nutrients” – because of evidence that it decreases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, reduces the risk of blood clots and increases blood flow in arteries and the heart. Some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack.
Also very promising, according to early research, is dark chocolate’s affect on chronic liver disease (due to decreased high blood pressure and improved blood flow in the liver. High blood pressure in the veins of the liver is commonly associated with cirrhosis.)
And there’s more: In early research, a drink with cocoa flavonols improved mental performance in people with mildly impaired mental abilities, so there’s now ongoing research about dark chocolate and dementia. We’ll have to wait to see about that. (I intend to wait while eating chocolate.) Also, to quote Mayo, “limited study suggests that chocolate may improve mood for a short period of time.” I’m not buying that. I think many of us have “studied” the mood-altering effects of chocolate over time – and found clinically defensible results.
Remember, we’re talking DARK chocolate here. Not milk chocolate (Milk binds to antioxidants in chocolate making them unavailable) or so-called white chocolate (which isn’t chocolate at all and contains no cocoa solids). If you are accustomed to milk chocolate or “semi-sweet” chocolate, the 65 percent–plus stuff will at first taste strange because it is denser, harder and so much less sweet. It is, however, intensely, wonderfully, gloriously chocolaty. Once you try the dark stuff, milk chocolate begins to taste fake and sicky-sweet.
Several caveats before you run out to the story to stock up on bars of 65 percent-plus (I like 77 myself) organic, fair trade chocolate bars: There are measurable amounts of caffeine in dark chocolate – which I think is a good thing. But, if you are sensitive to caffeine, watch it. Also, if you know you’re prone to kidney stones, be careful. Chocolate contains a substance that increases the risk of kidney stone formation. And be aware that chocolate may be a trigger for some (but by no means all) people who suffer from migraines.
That said, the biggest caveat is probably this: The amount of (dark) chocolate studies have found to be most helpful, around 3 ounces (85 grams) a day, can provide up to 450 calories. As my dear friend Jenn Morton says: You can wear it, or you can work it off.Filed under Posts | Comment (0)
Go to bed hungry. (I mean, how many calories do you need to dream?)
When I wrote about the Anti-aging Ick Factor almost a year ago, I never dreamed that I would personally ever participate in any such ickiness. But there I was strolling down Strøget, Copenhagen’s assertively commercial, seemingly endless pedestrian street when I passed a place called Fish Kiss Spa. I assumed it was an unfortunate translation and had nothing to do with actual fish, or kissing, neither of which seemed spa-related. In Stockholm I had noticed a furniture studio with the unfortunate name, Acne. So why not Fish Kiss?
I walked in.
It turned out to be a small room lined with fifteen large fish tanks positioned on a long low ledge that ran under fifteen throne chairs. Not actually thrones but the kind of oversized, quasi-fancy seats you find in upscale pedicure places. Six or seven women were sitting on these throne chairs with their legs submerged in the fish tanks.
And what was in the fish tanks you are wondering? Well, fish, of course, small, dark fish, maybe an inch long. Each tank had perhaps a hundred or so of these fish. It was hard to make an accurate count as most of them were attached to the feet and legs of the women. They were, in fact, nibbling at the skin of the feet and legs of these women.
These fish, the salon attendant told me, were special dead-skin-eating fish from Turkey. They had no teeth. They attached themselves to your submerged parts and… well, ate at you by a combination of gumming and sucking. This process of exfoliation was supposed to make your skin smooth, increase circulation and rejuvenate (as in make young) your feet. “It feels a little weird at first,” the salon lady told me.
Had I not been on vacation, had I not just walked close to 20 miles, much of it on ankle-twisting cobble stone, had I not made the mistake of wearing 15-year-old Chacos with seriously worn webbing, had my husband not dared me…I would have swum right by Fish Kiss Spa.
You can gauge the level of enjoyment I derived from that experience from the photos I’m including here. The spa woman who told me it would feel “weird” at first, said after you got used to it, it would be “relaxing.” Apparently, I never got used to it. Do you remember how it felt when you were a kid and you went swimming in some murky lake and minnows darted around your legs and you screamed? That’s how it felt. Only worse and for 20 minutes. (Hey, I paid for 20 minutes, I was going to get 20 minutes.)
Did the treatment turn back the feet of time (sorry, I couldn’t’ resist). Nope. My feet looked like the same slightly scaly, well used, in severe need of a pedicure feet they were when I walked into Fish Spa.
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